Monday, December 29, 2014

All about Berlin

Long time, no post. With the end of the semester and being home for the holidays, it was difficult to find time to write a post about Berlin. Ending the semester with a highlight for sure! For the last trip this semester, I traveled with a few friends to Berlin for less than 48 hours. We arrived late Friday night and left on Sunday afternoon, so it was a blitz trip for sure.

Eastside Gallery

On Saturday, we ventured on a tour around the highlights of Berlin. With an American tour guide from Missouri, we visited the highlights of Berlin including the Brandenburg Gate, seeing the hotel where Michael Jackson infamously held his son Blanket outside on the balcony. Subsequently, we saw the Reichstag, the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Hitler's bunker, which is appropriately a half-paved parking lot near some not-so-nice housing. Of course, we visited the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. In just a few hours, we saw most of the city, especially the historical sections. After this tour, we decided it would be best to go to the Eastside Gallery, since we still possessed a bit of daylight. For those of you that do not know, the Eastside Gallery is the section of the wall that is covered in murals and paintings. It was incredible and I am so glad that we had the opportunity to see such an incredible historical monument.

Brandenburg Gate

Laughing at the Eastside Gallery

My very first Christmas Market!

One of the main reasons we chose to go to Germany in December was to visit the famed Christmas markets. In the heart of the city, we wandered through the stalls, seeing schnitzel and pretzels, gluhwine and baked goods. Of course, one could buy everything from wooden ornaments to glass to sculptures and any other Christmas good that could be imagined. Music drifted over the entire crowd, only adding to the ambiance. After this market, we took a short break before heading to another one.

Wooden figurines at the Christmas market

A nutcracker in Germany!

At our final market, we searched for more Christmas goods. It wouldn't have been a complete trip to Germany without some goulash and potatoes and schnitzel for meat-eaters. At the market, we sat in a a communal tent and ate with other people in the warmth of this tent to escape from the chill of the German winter. To end the night, we watch a lovely boy band sing some acapella music.

Nighttime Christmas market in Berlin

The lights in Berlin

Goulash and potatoes--this is the best meal I had my entire trip!
On Sunday morning, we checked out of the hostel and made our way to another Christmas market ( I told you that we were not messing around with shopping)! What really stands out about this final market was the ice luge that we could ride for a mere 1.50 euro. Like children, our eyes grew wide and we payed our fare to ride down this slide in the city. Of course, it was such a rush to ride down this hill in the middle of the city with my friends beside me. It was absolutely amazing to do and I loved getting the chance to do it! After riding this slide, it was time to go back to Belgium!

Post-ice luge laughs-it was such a rush!

After riding the slide, we warmed up with some German hot chocolate!
Overall, Berlin was my favorite trip this entire semester. Not only was it historically important and interesting, we also got to do things that we never would have been able to do anywhere else, like riding an ice slide! Even though I have already been, I think I might go back to Berlin again in the spring!

German Pretzel

 Schneeballen, which is a German shortbread cookie ball covered in fudge and powdered sugar and it was so yummy!

I hope you have all enjoyed  hearing all about Berlin!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dank je Sinterklaasje!

Hello my dear readers! This past week, Sinterklaas paid a visit to the Loyola Huis here in Leuven. For Belgians, Sinterklaas is an important holiday tradition, almost more important than Christmas! On the sixth of December, Sinterklaas and his helper Zwarte Piet come down the chimney and give good little boys and girls presents in their shoes, much like St. Nicholas Day in the United States. Children leave their shoes out by the chimney the night before with a carrot and sugar cube for the horse Sinterklaas rides, Slecht-weer-vandaag which means "horrible weather today" in Dutch, a letter for Sinterklaas, and a beer for Zwarte Piet (which is so different from milk and cookies for Santa)! This year, the Belgians that live in my house organized a Sinterklaas celebration for the internationals in the house and it was a wonderful time!

The students in the Loyola house waiting for Sinterklaas to arrive!

Sinterklaas entering the Loyola Huis!

Sinterklaas and his helpers
Since the Belgians went home this past weekend to celebrate Sinterklaas with their families, we celebrated the Thursday before. On Wednesday, everyone in the house put his or her show outside of their door with their beer, sugar, carrot and a letter to Sinterklaas. On Thursday morning, there were bags of treats sitting in our shoes! On Thursday night, the Belgians put on a show to celebrate Sinterklaas! Zwarte Piet entered the common room throwing candy and cookies and singing for Sinterklaas to enter and celebrate with us! Throughout the evening, Sinterklaas announced the results of a survey we took about the members of our house, like who is the smartest person in the house or the best dancer. Shockingly, I won Best Dutch Speaker, which was quite a surprise. In order to receive my chocolate Sinterklaas figurine, I was required to translate a video about Erasmus (which is what Europeans call "study abroad"). I, along with two other girls, translated the "interesting" video our Belgian comrades showed. Throughout the night, all of the members of the house had to do other crazy tasks, like catching whipped cream off of their hands or whipping and egg into meringue as fast as they could or having a dance-off in order to receive candy and prizes! For me, this was incredibly different than any other holiday celebration I have ever experienced and I enjoyed it so much!

Zwarte Piet clapping for Sinterklaas

My face upon finding out that I was voted Best Dutch Speaker--the face of pure terror!

There is nothing like the celebration for Sinterklaas and I am incredibly thankful for the Belgians in my house for organizing an event that is so important to their culture! I, along with many members in the house, had a wonderful time celebrating our first Sinterklaas! It is a wonderful tradition and I liked it so much, I might even celebrate next year when I am back in the United States! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about a traditional  Belgian holiday celebration! Tot ziens!

 A nice shot of Zwarte Piet dancing!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

Today in the United States is the celebration of Thanksgiving. Families gather around the table to stuff their faces and celebrate everything for which they are thankful. Of course, it is not a holiday in Europe so today is a regular Thursday, complete with classes and presentations. While I am not the biggest Thanksgiving fan (I'd like to get right to Christmas and I am not fond of Thanksgiving dinner really at all if I am being honest), I cannot help but think about Thanksgiving in America today; I have so much to be thankful for. I would like to say thank you to all of the people who aided in sending me to Europe, especially my parents and siblings. Nothing I have ever done, and nothing I will ever be, could happen without them and I am forever grateful to them for giving me everything I could ever want and more. I am thankful for the love and support I have found in the people of the world and I am grateful every moment for the people that have decided to make an appearance in my life; every one of you has made an impact and I am forever indebted to all of you. Even though I might not get to be with my immediate family today, I get to be with my new Nachbar Huis/ European family, and that is a blessing in itself. I'm excited to share this meal with friends for the first time. I am thankful for everything I posses that I do want,yet I also give thanks for the things I do not have that I do not want. I'm incredibly thankful for this life and the people I get to share it with. I hope every single one of you enjoys your Thanksgiving, whether you're celebrating at home, or are in a country thousands of miles away. Today is not about the meal, but about being thankful for the beauty of the world and the people who put that beauty there. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Insta Recap #6

Hello lovely readers! Another week has gone by, and as of yesterday, I will be back in the United States for the Christmas holiday in one month! Time truly flies at hyper-speed here in Leuven! Here is my sixth Instagram recap, so let's get started!

In Leuven, there is a coffee shop called Coffee College and they have the best caramel latte titled "The Graduate!" I am by no means a coffee drinker, but this drink is stellar! Plus, the cute message doesn't hurt!

At the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam it seemed appropriate to take a picture with the man himself!

What kind of a tourist would I be if I didn't take a picture in front of the I Amsterdam sign and post in on social media? Answer: a really bad one.

In Amsterdam, I was on a mad hunt for clogs and I found the perfect fit with this giant yellow one! I also purchased a clog charm for my charm bracelet! In reality, i find clogs to be somewhat impractical, but I fell in love with them in the Netherlands!

Finally, it was my brother's 22nd birthday yesterday, so I posted this picture of us in Michigan! Cannot wait to see him and my sister in a month!

Thank you all so much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed my instagram pictures from this week! Stay tuned for more posts soon!

Monday, November 17, 2014

GUESS WHERE I AM(sterdam)?

My title lied: I am no longer in Amsterdam. Even though I am no longer in Amsterdam, I spent the last 36 or so hours of the weekend jaunting around Amsterdam. I haven't done more than a day trip in quite some time, so going to Amsterdam was exactly what I needed.

In front of the famous "I AMsterdam" sign

Of course, we stopped at quite a few museums including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijks Museum, the Rembrandt House, and the Anne Frank House. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, so I thoroughly enjoyed seeing many of his works including "The Potato Eaters" and "Crows in a wheat field." Van Gogh sure did love a good wheat field every now and again. The museum was four floors taking viewers on a journey of the progression of Van Gogh's art. The Rijks Museum carries a wide variety of paintings including many famous ones like "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt, "The Milkmaid" by Vermeer, and a YSL dress inspired by a Mondrian. The Rembrandt House is a model of the home the artist lived in, each room a vignette of his life. The last museum of the trip was the Anne Frank, the highlight of the trip for me. It was an incredibly moving experience to see a place I read and learned about in school in reality. Stepping into this piece of history overwhelmed me when I though about the suffering of the Frank family and that this was the last place they were all together before being sent to the camps. Nothing can describe what going to the Anne Frank house meant to me, only that it was the highlight of my trip for sure.

With Van Gogh 

Selfie with "The Night Watch"


Amsterdam is a gorgeous city built around canals. Even in the rain, Amsterdam is stunning and I feel in love after an hour of being there. Of course, there are hoards of people riding bikes or pedestrians attempting to shield themselves from the rain. To avoid the rain, I kept stopping into cafes to warm up. My favorite was called De Laaste Kruimel or The Last Crumb. It was incredibly cozy inside and it resembled and Anthropologie catalog mixed with a typical French cafe. I actually ate there on Saturday and Sunday to get goat cheese quiche or a goat cheese sandwich (goat cheese was recurring this weekend as I also ate it on a salad one night).

Inside De Laaste Kruimel

A good chunk of my trip revolved around one thing:clogs. When I think of Amsterdam, I think of wheels of orange cheese and bright, yellow wooden clogs. Granted, no one in the Netherlands actually wears these clogs, but I wanted to see them nonetheless. Before coming to Leuven, my parents gave me a charm bracelet to fill, so in Amsterdam I was on the hunt for a silver clog charm which I found without any difficulty. Searching for charms has been a fun activity for me when I travel, so I enjoyed the hunt in a souvenir shop in Amsterdam. On top of buying a clog, I sat in a gigantic clog for the perfect photo op!

My gigantic yellow Clog
Amsterdam might now be in the running for my favorite city in Europe (after Leuven of course!) Despite the dreary weather, I loved seeing the picturesque canals and enjoying the art and history of such a charming city!

 Even in the rain, the canals, complete with fall foliage and bikes, are stunning!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Loyola vs. Leuven

Nothing compares to school at KU Leuven. Absolutely nothing. Since I have been in Leuven for a bit over two months which is crazy in its own right, I encountered numerous questions about how the system here in Leuven is and I thought the best way to talk about school would be to compare school in Leuven with that of Loyola.

First and foremost, class is less frequent at KU than it is at Loyola. For example, classes at KU Leuven meet only once a week for two hours, while the classes at Loyola meet two to three times a week for either fifty minutes or an hour and 15 minutes a session. With this in mind, there is a lot more time in between classes here at KU Leuven which means that there is more work to be done in between classes when compared to Loyola. With classes meeting less frequently, there is much more work to be done, meaning I have to pace myself to do the work throughout the week in order to stay on top of my work. Even though I like the Loyola system a bit better, I appreciate the fact that the KU Leuven system forces me to be independent and do the work at my own pace. This is a life skill I desperately needed to learn and school is forcing me to do just that.

On top of only meeting twice a week, the type of work done for courses in Leuven is greatly different than the work done for classes in the States. At Loyola, there are readings throughout the semester, coupled with papers, quizzes, and small assignments all of which culminate for the final exam. At KU Leuven, the only assignments throughout the semester consist of reading a a lot of it! At KU Leuven, my evaluation in my courses comes from final exams or papers or a mix of the two. There are no other assignments and nothing help to help my grade if I do not do well on exams.I have to say, I am nervous about only having one grade for the entire class that rests on a single exam. However, since exams haven't happened yet and I do not know how I will do, I cannot yet determine whether or not I like this system or the system at Loyola better.I will keep you posted on exams and how it goes!

Speaking of exams, the exam period in Leuven is extremely different than that at Loyola. For starters, the exam period at Loyola takes place before the Christmas break and spans over two weeks with a single study day before exams begin. At KU Leuven, exams take place after the Christmas holiday. Not only that, we get three weeks of study period before exams start in January, not a single day. On top of that, the exam period lasts for the entire month of January. After exams, we get a week off before classes start in February. While we have much more time to prepare for exams in Leuven, I wish exams were before the Christmas break. I am going home for the holidays and I wish I wouldn't have to study during that time, but I cannot change what is. During my Christmas break, it will be a mix of visiting family, celebrating the holidays, and studying.

At KU, it's also very uncommon to buy textbooks. At Loyola, it would be common to spend hundreds of dollars on books. At KU, students are upset if they have to spend 20 euro. All of the professors put the readings online, so no one has to buy anything. This term, I bought one book that cost under $20. It is most certainly a relief to my pocket and means more money for traveling! I have to say, the European system is hands down better than the US system in this regard!

My favorite part of KU Leuven is the lack of campus. At Loyola, we all live on campus in dorms and all of the school buildings are within a fifteen minute walk away from any other building. Since the school is so consolidated, there is also little interaction with people outside the Loyola community. Loyola is also a lot smaller, with around 4,800 undergraduate students. At KU Leuven there really is no campus. Since KU has over 40,000 students, it would be very hard to have a campus in a city. Instead of a campus, there are academic buildings scattered all around they city. Leuven is a small city, so most of the buildings are fairly close together and an easy walk or bike ride away from where I live. I really enjoy being able to  explore the city when I go to class or even just see people out and about. I also get to see more people out and about in Leuven than I ever get to see in Baltimore. I enjoy getting an off campus experience and it makes me feel like I really get to know the city of Leuven!

Another struggle I've had is through my required Dutch course. I really want to learn Dutch, but I'm finding it very hard to keep English, Spanish, and Dutch all separate in my mind. Every time I cannot think of the word in Dutch, I always revert back to Spanish, thinking somehow that might be the answer. I'm a bit discouraged with Dutch but I have to keep working at it to keep getting better. It's also hard to practice Dutch because people always speak English after they hear my Dutch attempt, as if they could sense I'm an American. I'll keep practicing and will hopefully continue to improve!

My final verdict? Each system has positives and each system has negatives. I enjoy each for different reasons and appreciate each system for what they are! I hope you all enjoyed the comparison between Loyola and KU Leuven and the school systems!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Insta recap #5

Hi readers! I do not have much in the way of Instagram posts as of late. However, I enjoy these Instagram recaps as a way for me to reflect on what I have been up to as of late. Even though I only have two pictures this week, I decided to post them anyway.

I found this picture of my parents from our summer trip to Traverse City, Michigan and I had to post it. I think that I am at the point in the semester that homesickness is starting to kick in a bit, since I have been away for a few months. Posting a picture of my parents reminded me of home.

For Halloween, four of the girls in my unit decided to stay, so we took a group photo in our decorated kitchen. They really enjoyed dressing up for their first Halloween as Pippy Longstocking, a sailor, me as a flapper, a dead schoolgirl, and a Barbie! Such a fun night!

Thanks for reading my blog! I have quite a number of interesting posts planned, so stay tuned!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Belgian Halloween

Hello readers! Of course, Halloween is a favorite holiday among my American comrades, yet this holiday has not really caught on in Europe. Since I, along with a handful of other Americans live in an international dorm, we took on the responsibility to put on a Halloween celebration for our friends here! For the most part, this will be the first Halloween celebration for many of the people in the house!

Of course, dressing up was mandatory and some people got really into it! Since I didn't want to buy anything, I decided to be a flapper this year. I had a headband that fit it perfectly. The only problem was not everyone, especially the internationals knew what I was! Some people in the house were scary, some were funny, but every costume was great! My roommates went as Barbie and a zombie school girl. Some other great costumes were a dinosaur, a bug, three blind mice, and an old man. There was also an abundance of skulls and surgery victims!

Flappers and Lumberjacks!

Myself with my roommate and friend Ashley
To start off the festivities, we participated in the annual Nachbar Huis kitchen decorating contest! I'm president of unit 1,the smallest in the house with 5 of our 7 residents staying for the Halloween celebration. With that in mind. We had a lot of work to do to decorate! For the entire afternoon, we made decorations to decorate our kitchen for a "Haunted Dinner." We made gravestones, splattered blood on a tablecloth, and made nasty dishes to sit with while we ate! We didn't win, but we did win the award for Funniest Decorations for our sign of "real fear" including Ikea on Saturdays, public bathrooms, my Dutch final, and student loans! Unit 1 had an awesome time decorating and then sitting in our kitchen to have dinner before our house party!

Kitchen decorating preparations

Haunted Dinner

The beauties of Unit 1!
What Halloween would be complete without a Halloween party! We rented the common room to put on a party for our housemates and it was a blast! The internationals know how to party! One of the Americans decorated the room with cobwebs and balloons- it looked awesome! Of course, we listened to music and danced, all while eating candy and taking pictures of our crazy costumes! After a while at the house, many of us went out to dance at the Oud Markt to end our night!

House Halloween Party

Halloween is such an American Holiday and I was glad to share it with my friends in the house! My roommates said they had the best Halloween and they absolutely loved dressing up and decorating the kitchen! While it wasn't an American Halloween, it was awesome to give so many people their first Halloween and to share a bit of America with the internationals! I hope you all had as nice to a holiday as I did!

 Unit 1

 My roommate is scary!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Belgische broodjes and my Thursday tradition

When most people think of Belgium they usually think of a few food items: Beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries. Why all of these things are certainly prevalent in Belgium, one of the most popular foods here are Belgische broodjes or Belgian sandwiches. These sandwiches, sold everywhere in Leuven are foot-long subs on French baguettes that put all other bread to shame. On the sandwich, there can be a myriad of toppings from ham and cheese to kip curry (chicken curry), a Belgian favorite and can be toasted or open-faced. Sandwiches are also rarely served with sides, unless its a sit down restaurant where fries are usually the side. Of course, no sandwich would be complete without mayonnaise. They are then wrapped in a napkin and rubber band to keep them together and placed in these wax bags so you can walk and eat and nothing falls out. Whoever said that Europeans don;t walk and eat has never been to Leuven and seen the hordes of people walking around gnawing on baguettes. 
Every Thursday, I have Ethics from 11 to 1 and Pop Culture from 2 to 4, so I always eat lunch in between classes. Usually, that consists of a Belgische broodje from my favorite sandwich shop. Its on the Tiensestraat and has a bright yellow sign, so it's pretty hard to miss. Outside the cafe are a few tables and chairs littered with students enjoying their lunch or a quick break from classes. Inside the cafe, popular American music is constantly playing in the background, mixing with the sounds of Dutch conversations. Every time I go, I eat the vegetarisch broodje which consists of sprouts, cucumber, tomato, eggs, corn, and mayonnaise all layered between the perfect pieces of French bread. The best part is that it only costs 2.90 euro and it's a massive sandwich-the first time I ate there I couldn't eat the entire thing! Now, I can eat the whole thing no problem, probably because of all the walking and biking I do in Leuven (I have never walked or biked this much ever), To accompany my sandwich, I always drink a classic coke. Sometimes, I sit at a small white table and eat my sandwich, but more often than not I channel my inner Belgian and walk and eat my sandwich, stopping to pet dogs along the way or popping into a shop. It has become one of my Thursday traditions and I cannot imagine going anywhere else for my on the go lunch. This little cafe tucked away in the Tiensestraat is one of my little spots in Leuven, one of my own hidden treasures. This little tradition, even though it's small, is one of the reasons I love Leuven as much as I do. It's the joy from a routine activity, like this one, that makes Leuven so magical. And now, I really want a broodje...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Insta recap #4

Hello readers! Today I'm coming yo you all with another insta recap! It's been a while since I've done one, because I hadn't been Instagramming as much recently.  I went to Flanders field last Friday and Cologne, Germany on Saturday, which you may already have known; I have been quite the busy bee lately! Not only that, but the semester is already halfway over- time really flies! Without further ado, onto the pictures!

The bike shed at Loyola is always chock full of bikes! Actually, Leuven is always littered with bikes!

 My roommate, Pili, made a quiche one night for dinner! She was so proud of her cooking skills!

At Flanders field in the trenches with five other girls! It was certainly cozy in there...

Bavarian pretzels in Cologne! Such a great snack and nothing like the pretzels you get at the mall!!!
I hope you all enjoyed my post! Stay tuned for more posts about life in Leuven! Much love!

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Finally, I can check Germany off of my list of countries to conquer. This Saturday the 18 of October my entire house went on a trip to Cologne, Germany. Since it is only two hours away, we took a bus and had a wonderful time!

After a few hours on the bus, we arrived in Cologne and had a bit of free time, Most of Cologne was destroyed during the second World War, so it is a very modern city. For an hour, we walked around the city and it was mostly shops and a few restaurants. For lunch, I had my very own Bavarian pretzel with cheese and it was yummy!

Pretzels are the best!
With full stomachs, we visited the Cologne Cathedral. According to legend, the church houses the bones of the Three Wise Men and the entire church was built to honor them. The church, like many other Gothic churches, has beautiful stained glass windows but there was one in particular that really stood out. Since some of the church had to be renovated after World War II, one of the windows was blown out and replaced with regular glass. Instead of recreating the old stained glass window in 2007 a new, modern stained glass window was placed in the cathedral. Instead of depicting scenes from the life of Christ, it is a geometric grid of colorful squares, the same colors present in the other windows of the church. In this church, this window has been a point of controversy, since it does not fit the style of the church. I however, found it to be beautiful and felt it fit the church well in combining the old with the new.
Cathedral of Cologne
The highlight of Cologne was certainly the Ludwig Museum of Art, which houses a collection of modern art. Inside the museum are Russian avant-garde paintings, Picasso masterpieces, a gallery of photographs, and other works of modern art. For me, the best thing about modern art is the way it makes me think about what I am seeing. Not only that, but modern art usually incorporates the viewer into the piece, and I find the interactivity to increase its appeal. The special exhibit was all about pop art. In this exhibit, they showed pieces from Andy Warhol like the Campbell's soup cans and his screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. There were also pieces by Lichtenstein and installations by Robert Rauschenberg that were wonderful to see in person, Honestly, I loved the pop art and could have spent hours wandering through the special exhibit. My favorite work of the day was Jasper Johns "Map 1967-1971." It is a large work of a map cut into triangles and rearranged. If you ever visit Cologne, the Ludwig should be the first stop on your trip!

Jasper Johns "Map 1967-1971"

Cheesing inside the Ludwig as Batman!
Cologne is a beautiful city and I am so glad I got to go to Germany with some of my housemates!

Cathedral of Cologne from the rooftop of the Ludwig!