Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Halloween and other (more European) Holidays

Before I forget (and before it becomes irrelevant), I thought I'd mention that, while the Belgians do do Halloween, it is not as big a deal as in the US.  People still put up decorations and have parties, and the kids dress up to get candy, but the day isn't as important.  I saw about as many costumed people walking around the 28th as the 31st as the 2nd of November, and it was never very many.

The real holiday was "Toussaint," a Belgian (French? European?) all saints day on November 1st, and we had the week off from school.  It was nice to be able to sleep in and to not have homework.  I spent some time with some friends from my school, meeting them in Liège or at their houses (I'm getting to be a bus expert... it's very exciting) and a lot of time with the other AFSers.

Whenever I ask Belgians if they like traveling in Belgium, they seem sort of indifferent; a "been there, done that" attitude, so it's really nice having a lot of other foreign students to travel with.  On Monday, for Halloween, I went with a girl and a boy from the Liège area to Leuven, where AFS Flanders was having a day for all the Flemmish-speaking exchange students.  We went along on their see-the-city activity and then to an AFS-sponsored party afterwards.  It's always fun to meet new exchange students (and I got to see again the two Americans (and girl from MAINE) in Flanders), but it was really weird for me to not be able to speak French with them.  Everyone of course spoke English-- and spoke it far better than anyone spoke Dutch-- but I still felt like that made it harder to communicate.

Bug Statue in Leuven

On Friday, I went to Maastricht, again with AFSers.  We walked around the city, which was really cute, and did some shopping because everything is European and we can't help ourselves.  We ate a lunch of Broodje Haring (a herring with onions in a bun), of which nobody was a big fan, at the Marketplein, a big open-air market in downtown Maastricht.  We saw the city hall and walked along the river (which is the same one as in Liège... you can bike or take a boat all the way up) and had dinner at a very tourist-targeted restaurant near the station.  It came with large bowls of fries and mayonnaise, which we decided are better in Belgium (we're not at all impartial, but ah well).

Looking over the Meuse to Maastricht

AFS organized an activity for us on Sunday, which included driving around to various artisans in the Belgian countryside and learning about their crafts.  We got to taste honey, cheese, pékêt (fancy Belgian liquor), and syrup and watched lots of home videos about their being made.  I heard more than I ever thought I would about bees and milk, and saw flavors of liquor that I never thought possible (for example: cactus, Speculoos (a type of cookie), and celery).  We also saw a cemetery for American soldiers who fought in World War II, which surprised all of us because we had no idea we were near the German border (we aren't all up on our Belgian geography yet).  The weather was typically Belgian, i.e. cold and misty, but the food was enough to cheer most everybody up.

And now it's back to school.  Back to getting up early and packing lunch and taking the bus every day.  It's fun seeing everybody again, but first period grades come out this week so everybody's stressing a little.  I try to mention as little as possible that my points here don't affect my graduation in the States and that I therefore don't mind too much as long as I'm not completely failing.  (Which I don't think I am... but I guess I'll have to wait until Wednesday to see.)

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