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!