Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sister Week

A picture is worth a thousand words, which means I should not even attempt to describe this whole week; between the two cameras, Greta and I probably took the better part of a thousand photos.  Instead, I give you the week in pictures:

Day 1:  Liège
Mini walking tour, trip to the Batte, return home 
to meet the family, early dinner, early bedtime

Day 2:  Liège
Walking tour: the infamous stairs, 
my school, shops, and of course frites

Day 3: Malmedy 
(with a brief interlude in Verviers while we waited for the bus)

Day 4: Slightly lacking in photos 
due to the sleeping in, recovering from Carnaval, 
long trip home, and movie night

Day 5: Bruges!
Walking walking walking tour, a composite of walks from the Bruges website,
with many many In Bruges references

(I feel this photo needs explaining... we accidentally bought buttermilk;
even though 'lait battu' translates to 'beaten milk,' it is not homogenized milk)

Day 6: Brussles
After a late arrival due to lack of buses, we made a mini
walk and finished with some bulk chocolate and Belgian TV

(Moules-frites = Mussels+fries = official dish of Belgium)

(These are out of order because I stole them from my sister's camera)

Top of the Liège stairs


(Everyone was running and we got scared)


Monday, February 20, 2012

Greta's Here!!!

A couple of weeks ago, my host family told me they were going to Morocco over vacation; I mentioned it to my mother, who mentioned it to my sister, who somehow found a relatively inexpensive flight over to keep me company this week.

She flew in yesterday morning, and I took the train to meet her in Brussels Central station.  We greeted each other with a nice long, sqealing hug, then went to walk around Brussels for 45 minutes or so while we waited for the train.  We made a brief visit to the Grand Place and a stop for waffles (with strawberries and chocolate for me and bananas and nutella for her), which we ate on the train.  The current plan is to make a longer visit to Brussels before she flies out at the end of this week.

We got into the station in Liège, walked down the pretty 'Boulevard d'Arvoy' past the park and down to the Meuse (the river), my intent being to show off all the very nicest-looking parts of Liège first.  We took a few scenery pictures on a bridge, then continued down to the Batte (the big open-air Sunday market).  We walked up and down the entire market, which took a couple hours, and restrained ourselves to just €18 total of purchases (on a black dress for me for the Cabaret in March) and a small shoulder bag for Greta).  We looped back and I took her through the Place St Lambert, then through the Carré to Place Cathedrale (I'd explain more where these things are, but it might be easiest just to use Google Maps).  It was starting to snow, so we stepped inside a café for some hot chocolate.  The 'Relax Café,' as it was called, boasted about its "real Italian hot chocolate," and, having tasted real Italian hot chocolate once before in our lives, we were pretty skeptical.  We ordered two anyway and were pleasantly surprised to find (what I think is) the closest thing I've had to that hot chocolate since.  Dark chocolate, and very very thick cocoa... I went to the bathroom, and when I came back a thin film had solidified on the top of my drink.

We sat inside drinking and admiring the enormous snowflakes, which despite being bigger than half-dollar coins, didn't accumulate on the ground.  We took a brief tour inside the cathedral, something I haven't actually done before-- yay for visitors making you do touristy stuff! then took the bus home.  I introduced her to my host family, got her (sort of) unpacked, set up her bed, and generally settled in.  It was a bit difficult communicating with my host family since they don't speak English and Greta doesn't speak French, but with me as a translator and both confused parties just smiling a lot, I think it worked out.  Maybe.

Greta and I made pasta and red sauce with meat and veggies, which turned out well but in massive proportions, so we may have to eat leftovers for several days, here.  We then tidied up, got into our pyjamas and snuggled up under the covers to talk until she got too tired.  (My room has a way of always being the coldest place in the house... here and in Maine, so it's often best to wrap yourself in blankets before doing anything.)

I have a busy, touristy week planned for Greta, showing her Liège, carnival in Malmedy, Brussels... pictures to come later!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Yes Yes Yes it's that time of year here too!  The time when nobody (literally, nobody) wants anything but for the week to be over so they can finally be on vacation.  Apparently at lovely Liège 1, this is normally crunch time because the bulletins come out the week we come back, but due to the administration accidentally saying that they would come out before, all the teachers rushed to give enough tests and assignments to fill up their grade books last week.  So I've had a relaxing time of watching movies (lots and lots of movies) and otherwise goofing off in class.

In French this week we've been watching 'Jesus Camp' (which is in English with subtitles, so I sit in the back and really relax), which apparently ties back to our course because they use a lot of persuasion techniques that we could use, or at the very least be aware of, when writing; this weeks' hour of Geography was spent telling jokes-- Belgian, American, and Brazilian, thanks to the other exchange student in my class-- and unfortunately for the native French speakers, explaining them to me; the two back-to-back hours of History were supposed to be spent watching a film, but it ended up being one hour of film and a 5-minute-turned-into-10-turned-into-60-minute break which the boys spent playing cards and the girls spent gossiping with the teacher; in Morales we watched "La Morte Suspendue" (= "Touching the Void"); in Gym we ditched handball and hockey to play ping pong, which ended up being the most physically vigorous and dangerous sport we've done so far.  Somehow, no Belgian girl is willing to sprint after the handball if it gets away from her or whack at the stick of another girl to get the ball, but they will sprint across the room to get a ping pong ball back and sting each other with the balls.

On Wednesday a bunch of AFSers organized to meet up in the carré after school, something that I could technically do every Wednesday but don't because I'm so outnumbered by Rotary exchange students.  After a good amount of dancing and talking and a slightly over-the-top amount of chanting (Rotary kids in Belgium have this weird song into which they break out spontaneously and often, a mixture of "Australian" (Aussie Aussie Aussie --Oi Oi Oi...), Portuguese, and Spanish, and which I don't know or understand), we went out into the rainy streets and said goodbye.  I ended up missing my bus by about 20 seconds, so ended up going to get some fries for dinner before going home.  I felt pretty silly going by myself into one of Liège's many pita/kebab/frites joints by myself on a Wednesday evening-- especially since I was rained-on and still carrying my school stuff-- but my fries got delivered with the worker's number on the tray.  Not that I'll do anything with it, but it was fun all the same.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I'll be keeping busy next week because MY SISTER'S COMING TO VISIT ME and I'll get to show her all around.  aaaaaaahhhhhhh so excited!

I hope everyone else (who has one) has a great vacation!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Said an extra, final goodbye to Tess today with a trip to Maastricht with Andres, from Argentina.  The city was all decked out in red, yellow, and green because it was apparently Bob Marley's birthday last week, and even if we missed the festivities, it was fun to see all the decorations: flags, streamers, and even the bottom half of a sculpted swimmer (complete with flippers) sticking out of the road.
We did some walking and some picture-taking and some eating, but I was really glad to get to see Tess again.  And to get to... not make fun of, but, admire? ...her accent once more.  Andres and I had a good time with "movie" and "thirteen."  At least we didn't make her compare "beer" and "bear" (their sounding exactly the same never fails to be amusing, especially when the New Zealanders try to convince us they sound different).

We unfortunately had to get back pretty early: Andres because he's been a bit sick, Tess because she had to pack, and me because the auditions for the Cabaret were tonight and I had to be there for the rhétos medley.  We said goodbye at Guillemins (where they witched trains and I took the bus), and somehow avoided tears; although there may have been some red eyes on the respective rides home.

The audition went pretty well!  As hopeless as my group has been feeling, we finally had costumes and props and the correct music, and after a few hours of practice with the other numbers of the rhéto medley, we actually had a pretty good go.  The teachers judging us even said we had punch!  Even if it was super-delayed (about 2 1/2 hours) and was really nerve-wracking, it was a lot of fun and we have a pretty good chance of being in the Cabaret, I think.

Anyway, it's getting late here,
I'll just give you one last treasure before I call it a night:

Trying to be Kiwi <3


nooooo  (but yay but no but...)
The halfway point of my time in Belgium has officially passed.  I didn't do any crazy celebrating (no tragus piercings or parties or tattoos... unlike some other AFSers I know) but I don't feel like I really missed out.  It's exciting to think that I'm halfway to getting to see my friends, my dog, sleep in my own bed, and do all the Maine-y stuff that I've missed (going out in sweatpants, cross-country skiing, doing sports, baking, jaywalking...).  BUT.  It's so hard to think about going home.  I've gotten so used to taking buses and trains everywhere, having beer and fries within a 100-meter radius at basically all times, speaking French, and being able to hit up other exchange students on Facebook to organize parties and trips and general hanging out.

We had the mid-stay camp this weekend at a château outside of Charleroi (one of the bigger cities in Wallonia, in the southeastern part of the country).  Because Sofia lives waay out there and would have had to have gotten up at a ridiculous hour to make it there in time, she slept at my house Friday night.  We hung out and ate pizza in Liège for a while, then came back to my house to listen to music, paint nails, and pack.  We were able to sleep in (8 am...) and take the 9:50 train, getting there around 11-ish.  We met up with five other exchange students on the train, who got on in Namur (1/2-way between Liège and Charleroi); two Americans, a Dane, a Norwegian, and an Icelander (Icelandic? Icelandian?).

We were a little confused about what to do when we finally got to the station, but we fortunately found a giant group of AFSers, and we all searched out the bus together.  There was one poor, poor Belgian woman on the bus, who had to deal with us 50 - 60 or so foreigners shouting (especially spanish) to each other about how excited we were to see each other and updating everyone on our Belgian lives.  Several stops later we were told to get off (and couldn't help wondering if the Belgian woman had plotted against us to have a tranquil rest-of-the-way home) at an empty-looking, snowy bus stop that ended up being several kilometers too early.  We walked one direction, realized it wasn't right, turned around, turned around again, and were generally lost for about 15 minutes before someone started leading us in the right direction.  It was so pretty and snowy (and cold!) on the way to the château, and we had fun catching up.

The weekend was (a little too) full of AFS activities that had to to with sharing our problems, reflecting on our year so far and what's going to happen in the future, talk out our feelings, and all that good stuff.  We were a little annoyed to have to be separated from our already-formed groups and especially to be separated from the six-monthers who leave this weekend.  I couldn't help but wonder if it wouldn't be more productive to just put us in the château without any structure and let us talk out our problems at our leisure.  Because that is a lot of what we talk about with each other.

Still, the games such were kind of amusing, and we had a joke-telling competition in which a Japanese girl literally made me cry:  
Pourquoi la mer c'est bleu?
Parce qu'il y a beaucoup de poissons [qui font] bleubleubleubleu

Why is the sea blue?
There are a lot of fish [who go] bluebleubleubleu

I don't know if this was so funny because "bleubleu" sounds a lot more like "blub blub" than "blueblue" does, or if it was something about her accent, or if it was because I was more tired than I thought, but it was one of the highlights of my night.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to fit as many people into one room as possible and avoiding the midnight curfew.  We tried using the bathrooms as common ground for girls and guys to hang out, but all got sent to bed around one.  There were two determined girls in my room who stayed up after the volunteers (who went to bed around 2:30) to try to meet up, but everyone else had fallen asleep and we ended up just being really tired for the next morning.

It was filled with the same types of activities as the day before, although a little less fun because my group was in the basement and there wasn't heat :(
We ended with some free time (and a rendition of the banana song) before saying our goodbyes and heading back out to the bus stop.  It really sucked having to say goodbye to 2/3 of my favorite Kiwis: a girl named Tess and one named Melissa, who come from parts of New Zealand that I really should know, but I actually don't.  The North Island at least (no?).  We did make a pinky promise to meet up next summer (oh yeah mom, I'll be going to Cancun), and if either of them are ever tempted to come to Maine --maybe? disregard everything I may have said this year, it's a pretty nice place-- I would love to show them around.

Anyway, I got home late Sunday (9:30-ish), tired, sad, worried about my departure, but generally glad about the weekend.  

To everyone who's leaving:  I'll miss you so much; I hope your stay was amazing and that you have a great time going home!  Let's meet up again as soon as I have money again after this year!
Bisous, Audrey

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Belgians and Tissues

It's that time of year again.  When every high schooler inevitably starts coughing and/or sniffling and/or sneezing.  Back in the states, it means sitting miserably in class trying to postpone the embarrassingly runny nose with frequent tiny sniffs because you forgot tissues and the teacher's personal stash is empty and the toilet paper and paper towels from the bathroom are the least desirable things to put on your face except maybe sand paper.  In Belgium, this is not the case.  There are tissue dispensers in the hallways, tissues in the bathrooms, and tissues in the bookbags of every single student.  Asking someone if they have a tissue (mouchoir) is no longer a halfhearted and helpless matter.  And if you somehow manage to forget, one or two sniffs in class will get you an offer of a tissue from the girl sitting next to you.

I think I'll be taking these mouchoir packs back with me.  Even if blowing your nose in front of everybody isn't as acceptable in Maine as it is here (although apparently people here think that sniffling is just as rude/embarrassing/annoying as we think blowing your nose is back home).

À la prochaine (et la prochaine mouchoir!)