Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Because London rocks!

Ciao everyone! I’m currently in this nice little Italian café in LONDON, sipping one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had paired with a rather mediocre croissant (hey, France and Belgium have spoiled me!). Though it’s only the beginning of my first full day in London, I can tell you right now that I’ve fallen in love! Ok, ok, I know that’s not too hard for me, and that I’m quite the floozy when it comes to new places, but on top of that, London really is a fantastic city.

Let me tell you about my new crush….
I arrived yesterday about 1pm at London-Heathrow airport and since I only had a carry-on, I proceeded right to passport control and customs (which were non-existent). Conveniently, there is a tube (subway) stop right at the airport, so I bought an Oyster Card (discounted multi-use card) and hopped on. I’m pretty good at navigating that kind of thing so I got to my stop without any problems. I’m kind of in the South part of “zone 1” (the central part of London, It’s a huge metropolitan area with like 8 zones, but zone 1 is the largest) so I was assuming it would be kind of quiet. I step out of my tube stop and am suddenly hit with the sound of cars and double-decker busses wizzing by (on the left side of the road, of course) and in my first, swift coup d’oeil I see skyscrapers, a huge and beautiful church and an old style English pub—all within 50 yards of where I’m standing! Oh and I forgot to mention, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN! It’s fine though, I quickly whipped out my umbrella (prepared traveler) and deduced that it was a nice change from the snow and subzero temperatures in Belgium.

It was at this point that I realized that I never looked up how to get to my hostel from the tube stop ahead of time. Merde! What a Claire thing to do! I was about to ask someone how to get there when I noticed that there was a nice little map right behind me. With the help of the map and my amazing navigating skills (and modest, too!) I was at the hostel quicker than you can say “Why is Claire so cocky about her navigating skills?” The hostel I chose (yes, at least I did that ahead of time) is a small little pub with even smaller rooms upstairs. When I walk in, the pub is practically empty (not that I blame them, it’s just going on 3pm) aside from two boys watching football (typical) and the bartendress (is that what a female bartender is called?) at the bar. She get’s me set up in my room, which I share with 11 other people (teeeeeny with triple bunk bunk beds)! I don’t really mind though, it’s not like I’m hanging out in my room all day.

After I put my stuff away, I was off! I didn’t really know where to go so. I decided I would take the tube to Liverpool Street (just cuz) and see what I could find. I get out of the stop, umbrelly in one hand, camera in the other and BAM!, I’m in LONDON, baby! It’s kind of hard to describe but I get this intense energy and adrenaline from big cities that can’t be contained! I just walk around for about 20 minutes, taking everything in and trying to get some pictures without getting my camera too wet, and then I see it….. STARBUCKS! It was just like in the movies, where a light shines down from the skies and you can hear a choir of angels singing “aahhhhhh”. I know what you’re thinking, “What’s so great about Starbucks? They’re practically on every corner.” Well, I live in a country with one single Starbucks (which is rumored to be in the airport, though I have never seen it) and no sort of alternative, whatsoever. They’re just not coffee people I suppose. So after I enjoy the caramel frapuccino of a lifetime, I’m out again. And at this point, the weather is just plain nasty! So I give up on taking pictures and put my camera away, trying to not let the terrible weather dampen (ha ha) my spirits.

After walking around aimlessly for a while, right when the rain was about to get to me for good (yes, I was thinking about just heading back to the hostel. It was that bad.), I stumble along a little place called St. Paul’s Cathedral. I can’t even put it into words, but it was just so beautiful. No, beautiful isn’t enough, more like overwhelmingly mind blowing but in a calming and serene way (that still doesn’t do it justice, but sorry folks, it’s the best I’ve got). Just seeing it lit up in all it’s elegance (even with part of it covered in scaffolding) just put me at ease and I completely forgot how wet (soaking!) and peeved I was. If that wasn’t enough, the inside was about 7 million times more awe-inspiring (still fishing for the right word)! I was lucky enough to walk in just in the midst of the choral mass. To see the beautiful works of architecture and art accompanied by a live choir singing hymns was just sublime. Now to give you an idea of the grandiose of this cathedral, it’s the second largest in the world (just a bit smaller than St. Peter’s in the Vatican). I always get a wonderful, humbling feeling in these beautiful churches as I imagine their history and holiness, but this was the strongest I’ve ever felt. If that wasn’t a spiritual experience then I don’t know what is!

Anyway, after that wonderful experience, I decided that I was in the mood for a stroll. Even though it was raining, I decided I would walk down to the river and see the bridges. So toughing out the rain, I walked for about half an hour until I hit the river. With the bridges, the London Eye, and Big Ben all in view, I was having a true London moment. Haha. I then decided that since my hostel turned out to cost less than I had anticipated, that I would fork out the 18 pounds to go on the London Eye. I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, soaring over London at night and seeing it all lit up was breathtaking, but I guess I was just kinda lonely ad I guess I didn’t think it was quite worth $28. Traveling alone has its benefits but I think I’d much prefer to go with a family or friends. Oh well, I’m still loving my time here.

So after that I was hungry so I found a pub and got a burger and a beer. Actually, a Belgian beer to be precise! Haha. I know, I’m horrible, I should have tried a real English Ale. I was just a little overwhelmed because I had walked for hours and was soaking wet and didn’t want to take the time to try to find something that I have so little knowledge of! So I just went with something I know… Leffe! (And it was great, by the way!)

So after that, I just went back to the hostel and went to bed. I don’t really know all that’s in store for me today (except VAMPIRE WEEKEND tonight!!!) but as for the moment; I’m just stalling until 10 so I can get a towel to shower. Well, looks like that’s in two minutes!

Pip pip cheerio! :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

new name

It means "year of wonders" in Latin. For some reason, I'm really into Latin right now. It's just such a beatiful language and everything sounds so deeply profound, yet simple at the same time. But anyway, I was looking through some Latin phrases and I came along this one and thought it was a perfect description of my life here in Belgium.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Ok, so I know I completely suck at blogging. But to be honest, nothing really interesting has happened. Ok, so that's not completely true... a lot of interesting stuff has happened but I just have been too lazy to blog....

After Christmas, my mother and sister came to visit! We had a great time in Namur and on our excursions as well! They met my host family and one of my good friends, Kamil. Everyone got along great, so there were no problems there. They even got to live through one of my typical confused-exchange-student experiences on New Years Eve! You see, they were invited to a party by my host parents, which I believed was at my house... but as it turned out, when they arrived we learned t
hat we were actually going to another town to their close friends house, AND spending the night! Everything turned out fine though and we had a wonderful time! ...Now, I could go into detail about their trip, but instead, I'll direct you to my mother's blog (it's a link) of the trip. She has daily posts that are sure to be more eloquent and informative than anything that I could muster up!

So let's see... after they left, there was...January. January was rather barren, to say the least. Actually, it was more than that. I'm just gonna come out and say it plainly; January SUCKED! It was probably the most emotional month for me thus far, to the point where the thought of coming home actually crossed my mind for the first time. But anyways, I was just a mess and I don't really want to talk about it...

February! Now February, what a great month this is so far! You could say I've had a renaissance after my January crash. Actually, it's been pretty average, but I guess everything just seems better after being so terrible.

Last weekend was the AFS Mid-Stay camp thing. I took a train out to I-don't-know-where and stayed in this big place out in the woods. It was pretty fun actually! We spent waaaay too much time talking about our feelings and playing awkward games but it was nice seeing everyone again (even though I didn't recognize most! Whoops!) and I met a lot of new people. I had bundles of fun!
Here's a bonus picture of some of my exchange student friends:

left to right is Kelly (New Zealand), Jade (New Zealand), Me, Henriette (Norway)
I actually don't even know Henriette but she seems cool, and I love her face in this picture! haha.

So in other news, the weather still sucks (snow, snow, more snow, rain, cold, and snow) but it's almost Spring so I'm being optimistic! I should be though, I have a lot to look forward to! London in less than a week now, Morocco in late March, several parties, a few concerts and some much missed sunshine! I can honestly say that I'm so excited for these next few months. They're gonna be great! =)

oh, and I love Belgium!!!