Monday, July 28, 2008

final thoughts...

So here I am, at the end of my stay in Strasbourg. I have a sunburned left foot, sunburned shoulders, and some beautiful photos to show for it. I got here yesterday at around 2. Checked into my hostel, which is badass, and took a walk around the city. Found my way to the city center, crossing over bridge after bridge over the river, and found the center. The cathedral was massive – extreme example of gothic architecture. Then I walked my way down the waterfront. Found “Petite France” which is the old city, very quaint and cute. The architecture here is so strongly influenced by Germany. It’s quite a change from Tours, which is SOOOO French. I’ve also heard more German than I ever have in my entire life. ENTIRE life. Some of the signs are in German and French too, it’s crazy. So I got myself a sandwich late that night, went to bed early, and called it a day. After several nights of not sleeping very much, it felt good to be in bed. OH! I forgot that I had reserved a private room. Which cost a bit more but was all they had available here. I saw why when at least three or four tour groups of German/English teenagers came in here. It’s been all right except for the 400 euros I paid to the landlord. But whatever, it’s my vacation.
So that was the first night. Today I went and saw the inside of the cathedral – which was insanely gorgeous. So very gothic, so very detailed, the stained glass windows were beautiful. So was the organ. And the Astronomical Clock! Oh goodness. I made an offering, said a prayer for those I loved, and then made my way down to the boat landing. (I’m having trouble writing certain words here, been in France too long) I took an hour and ten minute long boat ride around the city. Saw a lot of the sites, including the buildings of the European Parliament, quite the contrast against the old fashioned buildings… quite swanky. Then I took a walk around the city some more, got some lunch, and headed towards a museum that displays the art of the cathedral. It had a special exhibition going on showcasing the art in the Alsace area and more specifically Strasbourg around 1400. Quite cool, quite cool. Took another walk around the city, stopped and sat on a bench on the river for a while, and then grabbed some dinner. Came back to the hostel, repacked, and I’m ready to head off to Bruges tomorrow, which is about an all day trip. No biggie, I’ve got three nights there. Early train the last day for Amsterdam. But until then, I’m in the land of beer and fries and chocolate. Oh! And Diamonds, apparently they do a lot of diamonds there. I’m planning on going to that museum!

So I have just arrived in Amsterdam, the hostel is nice and I had a Thai meal, which was a bit more than I have been spending on food lately but it was sooooo good. So, now to put in my two cents on Bruges.
I loved Belgium. Really did. I arrived there at around 9:30 on Wednesday night, got dropped off at my hostel by a very nice taxi driver, checked in, tossed my bags up the super scary spiral staircase into my tiny room/sweet locker for my big bag. Then I popped back downstairs because… the downstairs of the hostel was a bar! Well, at night it was, during the day it was a free breakfast buffet for guests/hangout/game spot. So I went down, had a beer, and then started chatting with a local, who gave me some tips on where to visit, what to do, and his opinion on the Belgian culture. That was a cool thing about the bar in our hostel – because it had the best deals on beer, we had locals and the hostel guests going there, so you really met a wide range of people. I went to bed early, and got up fairly early the next day. Took a shower, ate some breakfast, and headed out. First thing about Bruges – it’s all these medieval buildings that have been conserved extremely well. I was shocked. It’s all castles and fairy tale lookin’ things… it was adorable. I was also in heaven because, as my family well knows, I LOVE turrets on buildings, I want to have a turret on my house. Don’t know why, but I do. TURRETS WERE EVERYWHERE! So I wandered my way around, saw the beautiful old cute tiny city with the canals, and somehow landed at the Groeninge museum – which has TONS of Flemish artwork. Oh, I forgot to include the detail that all Bruges city public museums cost… ONE EURO if you’re under 26. Amazing. So I went in, spent a good hour or so there, because the art was really spectacular – a lot of religious art that was similar to some of the French art I studied at MHC, and some crazy twists on the themes of the artwork. Then I wandered up the canal a bit to find the Gruuthuse museum, which has a lot of old Belgian/Flemish/Bruges cultural items in there, to learn a little bit about the history of the city, the people, and of course the culture. With that, I got into the Our Lady Virgin chapel, which has one of the very few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy. It was a beautiful sculpture of the Virgin and the baby Jesus, and the cathedral itself was also beautiful. Then I stumbled on the diamond museum, which I had wanted to go to anyways, so I figured I’d stop in. Not as exciting as the other three I went to, BUT it did show me how diamonds were made and how to best judge diamonds, and explained how both Bruges and Antwerp were big diamond/merchant cities. Then I stopped for some fries (I’m in Belgium people – it totally counts as lunch) and on my way to the little fry hut I found the brewery I had wanted to tour (it was weird, I literally fell on every site I wanted to see, without even really looking at the map). So I ate my fries and got a ticket to see the inside of the only remaining brewery in Bruges (there used to be between 30 and 35). Its still family owned, and has won the world beer cup in California two years running. Congrats Haalf Moon brewery. I wound up going with the French section on the tour, because there were about 12 of us, and about 8 million English speakers. We were then given a free beer at their bar, and I sat down with these older French people and had a nice chat before returning to my hostel, where I found three guys from Singapore who had stayed in my room the night before. I sat down with them in the bar (ordered a coke, after the beer at the brewery I figured I’d had enough, considering it was before 4 in the afternoon) and talked with them for a while. They’ve had some crazy travel adventures. Then this lovely Australian girl named Ziggy sat down next to us, and we got to talking. She then “adopted” me as her travel buddy, which was absolutely wonderful. I went off to get dinner, came back and met her, joined her for a beer and a game of scrabble in the bar later. Another local who wanted to practice his English joined us in our game, and a nice guy from Kent, England named Jay, who was also traveling alone. Turns out the two of them were coming to Amsterdam too. So there you have it… we are now a traveling crew of three J Oh and I won scrabble. The next day, Ziggy and I went to Gent, to see another town and to check out their medieval castle, complete with extremely graphic torture museum. We headed back to Bruges to see the new movie with Colin Farrell in it, called… “In Bruges”. We felt we really HAD to see the movie. It was required. So we saw it in this old theater (literally, a theater) and quite liked it. It was cool because we had just done our sightseeing of Bruges, and we could see all those sites in the movie! Then it was back to the hostel to pack and get ready to travel today. I got up early, got the bus, took the train, and landed here in Amsterdam. Ziggy and Jay will be arriving shortly, and I think we will begin our sightseeing tomorrow.

So, when I arrived in Amsterdam, it was ridiculously hot and hazy and insane. I was sweating buckets. Took a walk around, took me a lot longer to find my hostel than I thought, and then I went and got my first Thai food in a long time. Was amazing… Ziggy arrived, and we went out for a night on the town. Wound up at a bar which was manned by two crazy old ladies, somehow we stayed out til 5am, we still don’t quite know how. The next day, we went to the Anne Frank house – the weather was much different, rainy and cold and grey. After the Anne Frank house we spent the afternoon at a café eating cookies and drinking tea, while playing various card games and hangman. Went out for Indian, called it a night. The next day, we went with a friend of ours from Bruges named Zoe to the torture museum and to an art gallery called foam, and we had bagel sandwiches for lunch! Then ziggy and I headed to the Van Gogh museum, which was quite wonderful as far as museums go. Then it was still rainy and crappy, so we decided to see a movie, we saw Iron Man. Not a bad flick. Then Italian dinner… then bedtime. The next day, which was yesterday, we went to the… DOCTORS! Because Hilary “I can’t eat fresh fruit” Park decided to try a freshly made mango juice, and broke out in hives. Must say, it’s quite a sexy look when you’re traveling and taking off jackets in airports – people must think I have leprosy or something. And then we took a walk around the flower market, hung out at my hostel, took it easy for the day.

The funny thing about Amsterdam is that there are parts that are so stereotypically Amsterdam – all cute and quaint with little canals and cute old buildings, and then you have the main streets which reminded me a bit of Vegas with the casinos and the lights and the flashing and the amount of people. I liked Amsterdam well enough – I really did. I had a good time and it was fun to see the sights and be naughty and walk around the Red Light district, but I’m not sure if it’s someplace I feel I HAVE to go back and see. I’d willingly go back to Belgium, check out Antwerp and Brussels, and of course I’d go back to France (there’s so much left there that I want to do). Maybe I can try another city in Holland, one that’s not quite so reputable and see if I enjoy it more. I realize this Amsterdam update is shorter than the others – but I’m not feeling overly inspired. This could be due to the fact that I had an awful experience leaving this morning – my hostel is divided into separate buildings, and I was staying in one that wasn’t attached to the main desk. The building that is attached is supposed to open at 6am. I get down there at 645, and there’s nobody. Ring the bell three times, wait until 715, and leave. They have my luggage, I have my key. I wrote them a SCATHING e-mail explaining that if they are under video surveillance like they claim to be, then they can watch and see that I was there, and whoever was supposed to be working, wasn’t. Then the airport – was just insanity. I waited in this long line to do a self check-in to get my boarding passes, but still had to go check my bags at a desk. There was no line system, it was literally like corralling sheep. I hated it. And I was already cranky due to the experience in the hostel this morning.

So here I am, waiting to get to Boston from Dublin (love this airport – and the Irish people, so friendly!) final thoughts on this whole thing? And I mean whole as in starting September 20, 2007, when I arrived in Paris and met Katie to go to this city called Tours, where I’d spend nine months of my life getting to know some of the most amazing people and coming face to face with some incredible situations. Simone once asked me “Did you ever, ever in your life think that you’d be spending Easter of 2008 in the house of a guy from La Réunion, celebrating in the Italian fashion, with Italians and French people?” I looked him straight in the face and said no, but that I saw no problem with it.

I don’t think I ever would have imagined myself being where I am today. Ever. I would have never imagined myself as the type of girl to run off to France, get a job, move in with a stranger, and basically put myself into as many awkward and complicated situations as possible. I never thought I was the type of person who would have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, and REALLY meet them, get to know them, be friends with them, visit them, create a real friendship with them. I never thought I would go back to teaching. Nor did I think I would ever deal with this age group (because honestly, from age 5-15 I can do without ). But I was here, I taught my kids, I tested them, I graded them. I was here, I reached out, met new people, and fell in love with them. And the whole time I was here it was one turn after another, one moment after another, none of them the same, none of them really predictable.

I said it before, I’ll say it again. This trip has made me reach into myself and find parts of myself that I never knew existed. I reacted in ways I never thought possible to situations I always thought I’d be prepared for.

But I grew. I grew so much. I taught, tested, and graded my kids, and all the while I was running up against some of the biggest, best, and scariest lessons I had dealt with in my life. And I’m a greater person for it.

I know I’ve changed, I’ve shifted some. But it feels good. It feels more… me.

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