sunnuntai 24. maaliskuuta 2013

ode to Belgium

Sounds like: evergreen french songs, autotuned r&b and carneval music.
Smells like: warm waffles, beer and antique furniture

I ended up in Belgium by accident, but I could never be happier for it.

Belgium is the center of Europe. The country is a melting pot of surrounding cultures; France, Holland, Germany and Great-Britain. For example in the traditional foods eaten in Belgium, on top of specialities  from here there are also the best picks from the neighbor countries. You can see elements of other cultures everyday.

Due to it's compact size, belgium is easy to explore, yet discovering the whole country would take a lifetime. For a country this small, there is an incredible number of interesting and relatively big cities; Anvers with it's gorgeous strain station and enormous shopping street, Bruges with the canals and beautiful historical buildings (and british tourists), Gent with the castle, Leuven with the student life, Charleroi (not going to say anything about charleroi), Namur, Hasselt and at last my favourites; Brussels and Liege, of which everyone reading this blog must have some kind of a picture. And even though my exchange is, as supposed to, more about the people than the country, Belgium as a country will forever feel like home to me. I will remember the streets, the bars and the weird unlogical style of belgian architecture, and they will always remind me of the times I spent here. The cornershop in Liege, right by the cathedral, where you can get the best waffles in the country, the jewellery shop with the angry lady next to our bar in the carre, the train stations, some of them beautiful and some, well, not so much, but where all the best adventures started.

Belgium has strong traditions that are easy to get affected on. Who wouldn't love a beer festival? Belgian people are generous, kind, helpful and they certainly like to party. I don't even have to mention the food; chocolate, mussels, fries, waffles, the list goes on. People here actively participate in organizing events such as town festivals, garage sales, carnivals, or just dinner gatherings with friends. People hold on to being polite and treating others warmly - they greet the bus driver when they get on and thank him when they get off.

The village culture is one of the characteristics of the country that you also see everyday. In finland (and I think I can speak for other northern countries as well) if you live in the suburbs, you might, if you're lucky, find one grocery store in the area, but for everything else you have to go all the way to the center of the town or city. Whereas in here, every neighborhood has their own bakery, butcher shop, friterie, sandwicherie, restaurants and pubs. The people know which bakery has the best baguette or pain au chocolat in the area and which friterie sells the crispiest fries. For this reason, even if they live close, they only go to the center for the saturday morning market or when they have to buy something special.  The exception for this of course is young people, who often go for a drink after school with friends, especially on friday afternoons, when all the bars in town are full of students socializing.

One thing that makes Belgium so great is the modesty. Unlike many european countries, like France, Spain and Italy, Belgium is not on top of the list for most famous tourist attractions, nor is it remarkably famous for arts, or having a bunch of internationally known people. Due to this, when you come to Belgium, you don't have specific expectations, a postcard picture in your head of what the country should be like. The stereotype of Belgium and belgians is usually mainly constructed by the fact that they have chocolate and beer (which is very true). But without further stereotype of the country, people coming here let the country surprise them, and usually see the diversity of the culture better as well as other things that Belgium has to offer. If you're already expecting something specific, you keep looking for those things and don't as easily see all the amazing stuff outside your stereotype, outside the postcard picture in your head.

I sometimes find myself being distractingly enthusiastic about the differences between belgium and finland in every aspect; culture, geography, language, people, food and traditions. Fortunately I have my fellow exchange students, with whom I can spend hours talking about these things. I'm sure that when I go home people will think I'm crazy. But that's only because they haven't seen the same as I have, and knowing that, I can do nothing but be grateful for this opportunity.


tiistai 19. maaliskuuta 2013

Moments of happiness

Today I've had many. I woke up late and made myself the best ever chicken salad for lunch. There was sun outside and we decided to put up our pingpong -table and play beerpong (with juice though, i mean it was tuesday morning). I felt calm and happy for the whole afternoon and enjoyed the sun. Then I organized my plans for the spring a little. I have so many things coming up, with people who I love visiting and trips with friends. More about those later but I was stressing about planning these things really hard but today I got it all figured out and I'm just happy I have the possibility and privilege to do all of this. Now I'm listening to rihanna's "stay" on repeat and the song (and the video) just gives me shivers and makes me feel serene. I'll go and sleep a good night and tomorrow it's Liege day, which means great people and a lot of fun.




sunnuntai 17. maaliskuuta 2013

The perfect weekend in Bruges

I've had one of the best weekends here so far. I'm appreciating this country more and more every day. It keeps amazing me how such a rich culture and history fits into these 30 000 square kilometers, into this tiny country, that would fit 11 times inside Finland. 

On friday, I decided to stay home to sleep a good night, since I knew I had to wake up early next morning to catch the train to Bruges. However, my hostsister turned me around and convinced me to go out with them to an S-party, where you had to be dressed as something starting with the letter S. I find it incredible how belgians always seem to have costumes for every situation (I guess this is due to the lively carneval-culture). With an hour notice we came up with four costumes at our house, all starting with the letter S. Instead of my creative suggestions, such as sauerkraut, saturnus and a smurf, we ended up as a secretary, a soldier, a scientist and a sheriff. The night was fun and the costumes creative. This kind of thing would never happen in Finland, a well-organized theme party, where everyone is dressed up and no one stands in the corner in the fear of not knowing how to dance good enough. 

The next morning I forced myself out of bed at 7.45, packed my backpack and head towards the "venice of the north". Sofie, Michelle and Greg joined me, and at noon we were walking on the cobblestone streets between medieval flemish houses. Only after a two-hour train ride we were like in a different world. We checked in to our hostel, which was a charming old cinema turned youth-hostel in the very center of the city. The receptionist told us about a free walking tour around the city, and of course we took the offer. Our guide was a loud american girl with a big smile, and the two-hour tour covered the most important sights and the town history, as well as the beer and other necessities. As we were all budget travelers, we got tips for the best restaurants with reasonable prices (bruges is really expensive), the best bars and all the free activities you could do. I was very impressed of the amount of things I learned just in the two hours. (The facebook page for the tours: http://www.facebook.com/pages/In-Brugge-Walking-Tour/192035627537938?fref=ts )

After the tour we walked around a bit, visited the "wall of beers", a wall displaying all of the over a thousand different belgian beers, and the glasses designed for them. Then we took a break, ate some waffles, and then searched the narrowest street in town, de garre, and the rustic, medieval style bar with the same name in the end of it. We then ordered house beers, also named de garre, after the street. This place is the only place in the world you can get this specific beer, which is a blonde brew with 12,5% alcohol, so strong they only serve three per customer. After sitting for a good while sipping the beer and  snacking the cheese that they served with it, we went next door to an italian restaurant. It was a nice place and afterwards we walked back to our hostel. We sat a few hours in the hostel's bar, that is said to be the nicest in the city, decorated with posters of old rock bands, old pinball machines and pool tables. 

In the morning we packed our things and left the hostel to eat a huge brunch at my favourite place, le pain quotidien. Then we walked to the cathedral to see Michelangelo's Madonna and the child, which is the only work of Michelangelo to leave Italy while he was still alive. Unfortunately the cathedral was under renovation work and the area with the sculpture was closed. From the cathedral we went to see the ruins of an old church (visiting a chocolate store on the way), and then to visit the Basilica of the holy blood. It is a church originally built in the 12th century, famous for being the repository of a venerated phial claimed to contain the blood of jesus christ on a cloth. The legend says that the dried blood turns liquid during times of radical change or war in the world. 

At three o'clock we got our bags from the hostel and headed towards the train station, from where we took the train to ghent, which is only 20 minutes away. We only stayed there for a couple of hours, but still saw some great places, visited a medieval castle, walked along the canals and ate dinner. We were so lucky, since it was supposed to rain for the whole weekend, but instead we had sun almost the whole time with the exception of a 15 minute brief fall of water. At seven we got into the train with the direction of Liege and Verviers. Two hours in the train passed really fast thanks to our deep conversations with Sofie, and here I am now, home, happy, tired and full of chocolate. 

I have monday and tuesday off school so I'm going to sleep a lot and load my batteries. Only a week left before a silence retreat that I'm doing with school, in a monastery near the french border, and after that we'll have two weeks of easter holiday. My best friend will fly here for 5 days during the two weeks, I'm so exited to show her all of this awesomeness. 

PS. I'll throw in a bunch of photos taken with my phone but I'll make another post with more photos  when I get them from Sofie next week. 


This was the first one of the three bachelor parties we ran into..

The astrid park





The second highest brick church in the world, our lady church

spring..


View over Ghent
On the top of the castle
Another view from the castle
Flemish houses by the canal


This is about as unique as beer gets.
The venice of the north

The bar at our hostel


Breakfast at le pain quotidien

Ghent canalside

A courtyard in bruges

The queen and her castle




tiistai 12. maaliskuuta 2013

Sunsnowrainsunrainsnow

Sää on ollut ihan naurettavan kaksinaamainen viime viikot. Ensin pikku lumikerros suli pois ja aurinko paistoi niin että sain toivoa keväästä ja heitin takin kaappiin. Puistot oli täynnä ihmisiä viettämässä kevään ensimmäistä piknikkiä ja linnut lensi takaisin. Tätä kesti kaksi päivää, jonka jälkeen satoi vettä, ja nyt viimeyön aikana satoin 20 cm lunta. Se siitä keväästä. Täällä on ollut harvinaisen luminen talvi, ja oon jo saanut kylmästä tarpeeksi. Saan joka päivä kommentteja ettei mulla pitäis olla kylmä koska oon Lapista. Niimpä niin.. Jokatapauksessa, sään ja lämpötilan vaihtelu 20 asteen haarukalla parin vuorokauden sisään saa mutkin vähän ailahtelevaksi. Se voi myös johtua siitä, että lämmintä oli loppuviikosta (viikonloppu!), ja lumimyrsky maanantaina ja tiistaina. 

Vietin mun viime perjantain vapaapäivän kävellen koko päivän ympäri Brysseliä (yllätys!) ja iltapäivästä tapasin Jamesin ja Frederiken, lusmuiltiin iltaan asti ja tultiin junalla kotiin. Lauantaina menin Sofien kanssa Stavelotin karnevaaleihin. Tavallisesti rauhallinen pikkukylä oli täynnä ihmisiä, biletelttoja ja musiikkia. Kaikki oli pukeutunu ja asut oli kaikkea maan ja taivaan väliltä. Näitä tapahtumia saisi olla Suomessakin enemmän. 

Suunitelmissa on viettää viikonloppu Gentissä, toivottavasti sää paranee siihen mennessä. Nyt vietän iltapäivät sisällä tuon lumimyrskyn takia ja koitan saada jotain koulujuttuja tehtyä. Kirja olis luettavana, ei paksu onneksi mutta ranskaksi siihen menee kolminkertainen aika jokatapauksessa. Laitoin myös äidin Suomesta lähettämään pari kirjaa mulle, käyn aikuislukion kautta netissä pari kurssia nyt kevään aikana että saan syksyltä edes jotain vähemmälle. 

The weather has been ridiculously bipolar for the last weeks. First the thin layer of snow melted and sun came out so that I got hopeful and threw my coat to the closet. The parks were full of people enjoying the sun and the first picnic of the year, the birds came back. This lasted for two days, followed by rain, and now a snowstorm last night and today. That's it for the spring then. It has been a lot more snow than usually here this winter, and I've had enough of the cold already. Everyday I get comments on how I'm not supposed to be cold since I'm from Lapland.. Anyway, the temperature changing 20 celsius in just two days makes me a little bipolar too. Although it can also be because it was warm in the beginning of the weekend and now the snowstorm in the beginning of the school week..

I spent my day off on friday by wondering around in Brussels (surprise..) and in the afternoon I met James and Freddie, we hang around all evening and took the train home. On saturday I went to the carneval in Stavelot with Sofie. Normally a calm tiny village was filled with people, party tents and music. Everyone was dressed up and the costumes were everything you could imagine. We should have more things like these in Finland too.

Our plan is to spend the weekend in Gent, I hope the weather gets better before that. Now I'm spending my evenings at the house escaping from the cold and trying to get some schoolwork done (...). I have a book to read, it's not thick but in french it will take three times longer anyway. I also told my mom to send me some schoolbooks, I will complete a couple courses via internet during the spring so my workload for the fall would get even a little bit smaller..


La meuse 
Houses in Brussels
Fancy toilet -selfie

Sunny wednesday in Liege


Brussels
Tartelettes au citron for Sofie!








sunnuntai 10. maaliskuuta 2013

How people treat you

"Every person you meet, every single one, is looking for their story. You become a part of it by how you treat them"

I don't know who was the wise person to say this, but since I saw this quote, I've been carrying it in my mind and trying to take the advice it gives. All the people you meet affect you, and vice versa, in one way or another. Everyone's creating their story, and you can affect theirs, by the way you act and the things you say. Negative people affect in a negative way, so if you can, why not be the positive one?

While being on exchange, I've met so many people, who I'll probably never see again after going back home. There's a lot of people that I know I'll keep in touch with and see them many times in the future, but there's many, who I wont come that close with. But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter, it doesn't mean there's no point in getting to know someone when you know you'll maybe never see again. They become a part of your story. Maybe they gave you an idea, maybe they inspired you in one way or another, maybe they just made you smile.

maanantai 4. maaliskuuta 2013

Time's running out

200 päivää tulee neljän päivän päästä täyteen. Jos voisin, sanoisin 200 päivää sitten murehtineelle itselleni että tää aika menee niin nopeaa ohi että siitä ei riitä sekuntiakaan pahaan mieleen. Musta tuntuu kuitenkin että jossain päivien 50-70 kohdalla murehtiminen loppui kokonaan, ja avasin silmät tälle kaikelle, tajusin että elän niitä päiviä, joita tulen aina muistelemaan parhaina aikoina. Mun ei kuitenkaan  tarvisi sanoa, että ota jokainen hetki vastaan ja nauti siitä. Sen olen tehnyt sanomattakin. Pelottaa, että kun tää vuosi on ohi ja tuun kotiin, tuntuu että tää kaikki on ollut unta, että ei oikeastaan edes tunnu että olisi ikinä lähtenytkään.

Pariisin matka oli jonkinlainen virstanpylväs tähän vuoteen. Se merkkasi kulunutta puolta vuotta ja sai ymmärtämään että aika tuntuu kiihtyvän. Matkasta on jo melkein kolme viikkoa, ja heti kun saan muilta matkakuvat, laitan ison postauksen tänne. Pariisista kotiuduttuani oon ollut tähän asti enemmän tai vähemmän kipeänä kokoajan. Muutaman päivän olin koulusta pois, sitten fiilis oli taas parempi, mutta kuume palasi alle viikon päästä takaisin. Sitten paranin taas ja nyt kurkku oireilee tosi pahasti. Tämän kevätflunssan takia mun viikot on ollut aika laiskoja, ja jotain ohjelmaa on ollut lähinnä viikonloppuisin.   Oon käynyt ulkona, istunut Sofien kanssa viettämässä sunnuntaita syöden ja maailmaa parantaen, Viettänyt aikaa Brysselissä ja käynyt lähikylien karnevaaleissa.

Tänään oli ensimmäinen täysin pilvetön päivä kuukausiin. Aurinko paistoi kirkkaalta taivaalta ja lämpötila kohosi 12 asteeseen. Oli tosi keväinen olo koko päivän. Kaupoissa on jo viikkoja ollut pääsiäiskamppanjat ja säätiedotukset lupaa lämpenevää. Kesää on aina ikävä, kenelläpä ei, mutta pelkään yhtä paljon sen tuloa kuin odotan.

200 days is up in four days. If I could, I would say to myself  200 days ago that the time will pass by so fast that there's not one second to use for worrying. But fortunately somewhere between the days 50 and 70 the worrying had a full stop and I opened my eyes to all of this. I realized I'm now living the days I will always remember as the best times of my life. What I wouldn't need to say to myself though, is to take in every single moment and enjoy it. That I've done anyway. I'm afraid that after this year is over and I go home, I'll feel as if everything had been a dream, that it doesn't even feel I ever left. 

The trip to Paris was some kind of a landmark to this year. It marked the passed six months and made me understand how time seems to go faster everyday. It's been almost three weeks since the trip and as soon as I get the photos from the others I will do a big post about it. After Paris I've been more or less sick the whole time. For a few days I stayed home, then I felt better again, and less than a week after that I was in bed again with fever. I then got better but now my throat has been hurting really bad for a couple of days. Because of this spring flu or whatever, my weeks have been pretty lazy and on top of school I've left the house mainly on the weekends. I've gone out a couple of times, spent one sunday with Sofie sitting in restaurants eating and talking for hours, spent time in Brussels and gone to carnevals in villages nearby. 

Today was the first day without any clouds for months. The sun was shining from the clear blue sky and the temperature got up to 12 celsius. I was in a spring spirit the whole day. In the stores they've had easter up for weeks already, and the weather's going to get warmer. I always miss summer, who doesn't, but at the same time I'm so afraid of it coming too soon. 

Here's a bunch of random photos from the last couple of weeks. My head is messing up the languages (the amount that's left of them) so try to ignore clumsiness in my english.