Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pictures from Antwerp

Antwerp train station

On the Antwerp hand with a random child
(who didn't move an inch during the 5 minutes we took photos)

Posing with the handsome mannequin

Thanks to yet another grève on Monday, I have a nice long weekend to catch up on my sleep and my homework.

I've had a pretty busy weekend so far: On friday I went to visit my AFS friends Karamea and Sofia in Sofia's town, Ovifat, way out in the country.  We ate hamburgers with her family and two Rotary friends and played charades, pick-up sticks, and various other games with her two little sisters.  There was a slight mishap when my bus got to Ovifat before Sofia's, but she was able to call her parents to bring me to her house, and they were really nice about giving me refreshments and talking to me while we waited.  I am not generally the type of person who drinks a lot of water or juice during the day, but I have discovered that it makes Belgians uncomfortable if I refuse their offer of something to drink.  The first time it's alright, but they then ask me again and again, with more and more confused looks on their faces-- it's simpler to just ask for 'eau plate' or non-sparkling water.

After our hamburgers, all us exchange students went to the Bal de Rhétos (a dance to raise money for the senior class) for Sofia and Karamea's school.  We danced the night away in a giant room full of lights and speakers, which I was surprised to see was full-- my school has had a Bal de Rhétos with a lot fewer people there, despite my school being about 4 times as large as theirs.  I think it was because students from other surrounding schools were invited to this one (not to mine) and because there are not a lot of other parties out in Ovifat.  It was a little too smoky and sticky (people just threw their plastic cups on the ground when they finished) near the front of the room, so I hung out more in the middle.  We left around 3 am, which is really early for Belgians, had a snack, and got to sleep around four.

On Saturday I had to get up early to catch the 8:20 bus to the train station because I was meeting some friends from school to go to Antwerp.  We left at 10 and had a picnic breakfast on the train: clementines, croissants, chocolate, and a type of banana bread-type cake.  We got to Antwerp (Anvers to the Walloons or Antwerpen to the Flemish) around noon and walked around taking pictures and looking at all the sales.  We found a secondhand store with a lot of very interesting clothes, although a lot of the "more fashionable" stores had much more bizarre items.  We ate lunch at McDonald's, or rather, ate our packed lunches at a table in McDonald's because it was warm.  A couple people looked at us like we were doing something criminal, but most didn't seem to even noticed.  We justified it to ourselves by leaving the table perfectly clean, unlike the fry-and-sesame-seed-covered tables that everyone else left.

We walked around until around 7, when we went back to the train station to get Starbucks coffees before the train home.  Apparently there are only a few Starbucks in Belgium, and only in the biggest cities, so the girls from my school were really excited.  I was at least excited to sit down in the big comfy couches after walking so much that day.  After some candy, talking, dancing, and other energetic things (due to the candy and coffee), we got into Liège.  All the buses were full of crazy drunk people going to the TransArdentes music festival (I'm not entirely sure what it was, but I've seen posters and now buses with their destination listed as 'LES TRANSARDENTES') so we ended up walking most of the way to Place St. Lambert.  I took a very empty bus back to Othée, where I got back and accidentally set off my house alarm.  I fortunately got the code right after a few tries, so I don't think I disturbed too many people.

Today I'll be doing a lot of relaxing, as well as choreographing a dance for my school's Cabaret in March.  I signed up to be in the opening number of the Rhétos medley-- the finishing act with all the seniors-- and will be doing part of 'Money' and 'Cabaret' from Cabaret.  Other groups are doing Gimme Gimme from Mamma Mia, Singin' in the Rain, Cell Block Tango from Chicago, etc.  Nobody in my group could agree on anything during our brainstorming session, so I told them that if they really wanted, I could work on something over the weekend (I was expecting someone would step in and say that we could do it as a group or something), and everybody liked that idea.  Thankfully, I've done enough musicals in my life (that is, three) to know some basic steps and I think it will turn out all right.

Well, that's my day so far.  Bonne week-end!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's already been another week!  I hate thinking about how much time has already gone by; the mid-stay camp for the Belgium exchange students is coming up and will find me saying goodbye to a bunch of friends who were only here for a semester.  Just a few days later is the end of the second period at school. (This I'm not entirely sorry about, as I've nearly used up all my tardies for this period).

That being said, it is kind of nice to have school mostly figured out.  I no longer have to look at my assignment book every hour to see which class I have next, and my friends and I basically have a designated table in the locale des rhétos (I guess senior lounge?) during lunch.  The people in the school have finally figured out that I can understand them better when they speak French than when they try to speak to me in English.  I do still trip up the stairs, however.  They are ever-so-slightly wider than normal stairs, which means that towards the top I step off the side and almost fall.

Not tons has happened since the last time I wrote.  Highlights:

Fire drill last Tuesday.  Instead of the cranky alarm I'm used to, the headmistress' voice came on the intercom telling everyone to remain calm and evacuate the building.  I'm not sure if it was a recording or if she actually has to stay inside the burning school to tell people to get out.  It was unfortunately raining, and our attempts to hide next to the building where we would be dry were unsuccessful.  Apparently it's the only one all year, so I was a little disappointed that it was during English and not, say, Morale (what? did I say that?) and on a rainy day.

My French teacher has been replaced.  She was mysteriously absent the first week and nobody has heard any news... the replacement doesn't even know if she's here temporarily or until the end of the year.  She also didn't realize that I wasn't Belgian-- having a name like Audrey, which some Belgians also have, instead of an "American name" like Brittany or Katelyn really surprises people.  She asked me to read aloud in class, and got a disappointed look on her face when I finished and gave me a  "Il faut s'entraîner un peu, hein?" (you need to practice a little, huh?)  To my surprise, everyone in my class burst out saying that no, I'm American and I read super-bien, which was fun to hear.  One of them also told me my accent was cute and that they liked it when I read because it sounded a little like singing.

I gave a small speech on the Republican Primaries for my English class, which didn't go so well.  I tried to speak slowly and use simple language, but there are some election terms that don't have obvious synonyms.  My teacher wanted me to explain some of the candidates' platforms, but I don't think anyone understood my bit about Ron Paul wanting to return to the gold standard. Ah well.  The teacher, at least, seemed to be interested; everyone else said they weren't interested in politics, but I don't know if it was because it was true or because they didn't want to have to explain Belgian politics to me.

My little brother has been adorably attached to me this week.  Everything from convincing me to play his Lego video game to shooting things with his nerf gun to helping me clean my room today.  He told me that I help him clean his salle des jeux (playroom) so he would help me clean mine.  His job on the windows and mirrors had to be touched up a bit, but I melted a little inside when he wanted to help clean.

There's a grève scheduled again for Monday-- no buses or trains, teachers not coming, and people standing in front of the school to prevent people from entering (or so they say, some people seem dubious)-- so I'll have plenty of time to write about the weekend.

Bonne nuit!

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's finally cold in Belgium!  Still no snow, but one can always hope.  Even though last year was apparently one of the snowiest ever in Liège (I have heard "horror stories" of people having to shovel *gasp* and walk through snowy streets), I have not seen any so far that has lasted more than 5 minutes on the ground.  In fact, this is apparently the warmest winter in recorded Belgian history (average 11.5˚ C).  I'm holding out for at least a dusting, although I'm worried that my finally buying a fancy (looking) Belgian coat will ensure warm weather for the rest of my stay.

Which brings me to the next exciting thing about janvier 2012 (deux mille douze, not twenty-twelve)... the SOLDES!  All throughout this month, as Belgian shop owners prepare for their spring lines (already), all the store are having giant sales.  This, so far, is ranging from -20% to -70%-20% (which I think makes -76%, but my math skills are getting a little shaky), and apparently the discounts get bigger and bigger throughout the month.  I already bought my jacket (25€) and a blouse (4€), and hopefully I can restrain myself from spending all my money on sales.

School is not really helping:  Today, for example, I had two teachers (each with two hors of courses) absent today, so I had 4 hours at lunch, which I spent walking around stores with some girls in my class.  I didn't buy anything, but if this happens much more I'm not sure I won't.  It's still really bizarre for me not to have substitutes, and not always quite as nice as it sounds, but ah well.  I'm sure I'll get my fair share of classes this week.  I hope everyone else is having a slightly more satisfying school week so far.

À tantôt!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bonne Année!

Or should I say "Gott Nytt år!"

I just got back from 9 days of skiing in the Swedish mountains over New Years with the family of the AFS student we had in Maine a few years back.  It's tricky going from "I think I'm starting to finally get the language and exchange rate down" to having to hear a totally new language and see everything cost a seemingly-ridiculous amount of money before conversion into the US dollar.  The division by 7 to go from Swedish kronor to to dollars was easier than the understanding Swedish, but I am now a self-proclaimed expert on Swedish numbers and saying "I like ice cream" (Jag gillar glass), and apparently say 'hej' convincingly enough that someone on the plane thought I was Scandinavian.

The skiing in Sweden was really nice, with, in general, great views of Norway and Sweden, not too freezing temperatures (with the exception of one day at  -18˚ C or just under 0˚ F), and plenty of snow.  Being the spoiled American skiier that I am, I had a hard time riding all the T-bars up the mountain and liked to ski as much as possible near the couple of chair lifts.  By the end of the trip, as I started to be less out-of-shape, I was able to go on more of the T-bars without complaint from my legs.  We ventured one day into Norway, which was fun for many reasons– the higher mountains, longer slopes, more snow, novelty of being in a new country, and the getting to see the extremely low-key border between Sweden and Norway.  The only thing that alerted me to the fact that I was in a new country was the line on the GPS and the fact that the signs changed color (the Swedes could see that they were in a different language, but I am not that skilled).  Norway didn't even have a sign.

It was a New Years a lot like what I think New Years is like in the Maine ski mountains, although I was told that shellfish is the traditional dish, and I'm not sure that's true in Maine.  The biggest indicator that I was in Sweden was the blasting of ABBA's "Happy New Year" during the fireworks.  (And all the Volvos driving around.)

Unfortunately, it's now back to school, getting up early, and perpetually drizzly weather instead of snow.  As much as I love Belgium, it could stand to be a little more ski-friendly.