Thursday, May 28, 2015

9 months down, one to go: 9 small things I will miss about Leuven

Nine months ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Leuven after being here for one month. as of today, I have one month left in Leuven. Thirty days, that's it. Needless to say, ten months goes faster than I ever imagined. I remember writing that first post, finding it unbelievable that I had already been in Leuven for a month. Now, I cannot believe I have but four weeks left in Europe. My heart is heavy and the only adjective that can seen to capture my feelings is bittersweet. On one hand, I will miss Leuven deeply. I'll miss my friends, the Loyola International Nachbar Huis, and jetting all across Europe. On the other hand, I love home and I cannot wait to see my parents and my friends I haven't seen since Christmas. Plus, my siblings are coming home, so I have a lot to look forward to seeing when I return to the United States. Reflecting on having just thirty days left, I realize I will miss so many things. In honor of the nine months I have spent in Leuven, I decided to round up 9 random things I will miss about Leuven.

1. Really good coffee
I admit, before coming to Europe I really didn't drink much coffee. After this year, I grew to enjoy coffee quite a bit and Europe has some really great coffee shops. I am going to miss vanilla latte's from one particular cafe in Leuven. Not that America has bad coffee, but Europe's coffee is pretty spectacular.

2. Mandatory recycling and expensive garbage bags
Bet you didn't think garbage would end up on this list, did ya? Hear me out: I am so much more of the waste I generate when I have to buy garbage bags and I am required to recycle. Plus, the garbage bags for garbage that cannot be recycled is over two euros, so I never want to have garbage that goes into those bags due to their expense. I feel really great being able to recycle so much and I respect Belgium for making citizens recycle and compost food. It is eco-friendly and honestly, it is so simple.

3. Ryanair
Alright, so flying on Ryanair isn't the most comfortable or glamorous, but I cannot complain when it gets me to Prague for 15 euro. I am so deeply going to miss cheap flights that allow me to explore the world on a random weekend. Dear USA, please get Ryanair!

4. Everything in walking (or biking) distance
Everything in Leuven is within walking distance or can be biked. I love being freed from cars and being self-sufficient by powering my transportation myself. Of course, it is ecological which is awesome, but it is also less expensive and honestly nicer than driving and it doesn't take much time at all. Since everything is withing walking distance, I can absolutely do everything I could possibly need to do. Not relying on a car is more convenient and easier and I will miss the simplicity of walking or riding my bike,

5. The farmer's market
On Sunday, nothing in Leuven is open, so the farmer's market becomes quite the event and a ritual I look forward to. I walk to the farmer's market in the morning and come home to cook a beautiful breakfast with my fresh produce before most of the world is even awake. I am sad this ritual will be ending at the end of next month. It is so peaceful and something I look forward to every weekend.

6. Zara down the street
I am obsessed with Zara and I will miss having one to pop into just up the road. My closet will be sad about that, but my wallet will be joyful.

7. The lack of textbooks
This year, I bought one book for college, setting me back a small fifteen euro. At home, I would easily spend ten times that. I will miss not having to buy textbooks and having to lug them around.

8. Cobblestone streets
Cobblestone streets are beautiful and serve as reminders that their were people on this earth before us who fashioned these pathways and there will be people after us who will use the same paths. Plus, walking along a cobblestone street just feels like you are a part of a fairy tale.

9. Dutch
I admit, I don' speak any Dutch but I will miss hearing it everyday. There is something beautiful about hearing another language that reminds me of being an outsider and for whatever reason, I like that. Plus, Dutch has grown on me and now I think it sounds cute when I hear it.

So, there you have it. 9 smalls things out of a million that I will miss about my European home. Can exams be over already so I can enjoy my last month here?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sentiments on the selfie stick

Confession: I used a selfie stick. I am somewhat proud of it.

Before I reunited with my parents in Rome, they passed a week in Paris. Since it was just the two of them, sometimes they struggled taking photographs with both of them in the frame, or there merely were not any people around to ask to snap a photo, something that has likely plagued travelers for years. In order to combat this, my dad succumbed to pressure, purchasing a selfie stick. For those of you who are unaware of this device, it is a pole that attaches to a cell phone that allows one to take a selfie from further away, allowing a larger frame. Through the duration of their travels, my dad continued using the selfie stick over and over. Soon, it became an obsession for him. In three weeks he took over 2,000 photographs. Don't worry, not all of them were selfies, but a lot of them certainly were! Even though it was incredibly embarrassing at times to use the selfie stick, it certainly had pros and cons and got me thinking about photography and life through a lens.

When my mom first told me they bought a selfie stick, I gasped. My parents tend to be the cool trendy parents; my mother wears purple-tone hair and my father bought overalls in Paris! My parents rock cooler-than-average parent status. When I think of the owners of selfie sticks, I imagine narcissistic teenage girls posting one-too-many selfies on Instagram, not trendy globe-trotting parents. After spending a few days with them and the selfie stick in action, I noted some of the appeal. It allowed my family to take pictures of ourselves in areas when we were the only people around.  As my father put it, he wants photos of himself with my mom or with me, not just photos of beautiful places with no one in them. To him, photos of beautiful landscapes aren't as special as ones containing people. This extendable phone arm allowed my parents the ability to have photos of all of us without having to ask others do help us. At first, using the selfie stick was a bit embarrassing, but after a while, I did not mind as much. I chose not to care what others thought and I decided to enjoy taking the photos so that I would have lasting souvenirs, making the fleeting embarrassment easier to bear.

My father made a valid point about wanting to possess photographs with people in the frame. They make photos of beautiful places like the Eiffel Tower all the more personal. It is one thing to have a picture of a gorgeous location, but these places are made all the more beautiful through the inclusion of loved ones. He furthered his point by saying that if he wants a picture of a beautiful building, like the Colosseum, he can find a more stunning one from another source. The sentiment of my father is something I certainly agree with wholeheartedly. I much prefer having pictures containing people. For me, they help me remember the feelings I held in that particular place, reminding me of the energy of the moment. Often in my travels, I have found that the photographs I possess of  locations rarely make the cut for photo albums or scrapbooks. I choose people pictures over photos lacking subjects any day of the week.

After talking with my dad about his feelings on photographs, I thought about my own ideas on the topic. As I said, I agree that it is 100 times better to have photos with people in the frame. That goes without saying. I think my dad is right in expressing that if I want photographs of a certain landmark, it is incredibly easy to find better, higher quality pictures in gift shops on postcards, on the internet, in educational books, or magazines. There is no lack of beautiful pictures of famous landscapes at one's fingertips. As someone who takes all of their photographs on an iPhone (Full disclosure: all the pictures on my bog have come from the iPhone and I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed with the quality!), I completely understand that my pictures will not compare to anything a professional captures. I do not expect perfect pictures and I actually enjoy some of the imperfections; imperfection mirrors real life. However, If I want a stunning photo of St. Peter's Basilica, I can look to some incredible photographers to find a stunning photo that will remind me of that place. I have an incredible amount of respect for photographers. It is an art form about which I know very little of which I am completely in awe when I see stunning photos captured by professional eyes. With that in mind, I would prefer photos of people that I take and look to professional photographs for locations.

Looking to professional photographers brings me to another point I have mentioned on my blog; sometimes I do not like taking photographs in certain situations. Allow me to elaborate:in certain situations it is better to look and enjoy with the eyes rather than look at the world through a viewfinder. Do not get me wrong: Take photos. Take as many as you can within reason. But in museums, do you really need to take a picture of the art on the walls? If you want a picture of the "Mona Lisa," you will find a perfect one in the gift shop that will be infinitely better than anything you can take on your selfie stick. Maybe I am jaded-I got smacked in the face at the Louvre by a tourist with a long-lens camera taking photos of every single work of art in each and every room. Instead of really looking at the artwork, they look at the world through viewfinders. So much of life is spent looking but not really seeing. For me, it is about being present in the moment. Look with your eyes, not with the camera. Do yourself a favor and see the world fully.

Thinking about photographs, I know I truly love them. They are some of the best souvenirs, lasting a lifetime and taking up no room in that over-stuffed suitcase. So here's what I have learned about photographs: buy the selfie stick and take as many photographs as you can. With technology that holds thousands of pictures, click away and take as many as you can. You will never regret it. However, be selective of what you choose to snap. Remember that it is important to document the trip, but you will never look back at that picture of that random street in that random city with no one in the frame, but you will enjoy the pictures of your family and friends. If you want a beautiful picture of a famous place, support a photographer and buy prints that will remind you of the places you visited through a gorgeous piece of art.

Take photos and see the world! xoxo--C

Friday, May 8, 2015

Insta Recap #9

Well hello to my fabulous readers! I cannot believe I am already in my ninth month of living in Leuven! This past month of April, I posted up a storm and I have to say I love writing more! With that being said, I haven't done an Instagram recap in a loooong time! Without further ado, let's get into the recap!

Before my flight to Florence got choppy, I couldn't help but enjoy the view of the Swiss alps from my window seat! 

Parc Guell in Barcelona looked just like a gingerbread house in a surrealist version of "Hansel and Gretel!"

On a rainy Leuven Tuesday, I posted this mural from the Eastside Gallery Wall in Berlin for some much needed weekly motivation. "Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things that can alter teh face of the world."

I shared this photo in my post regarding the Big Splash in Leuven! Can you believe this is my library and this is a school sponsored event?

Friday was May 1st, Labor Day in Europe, making it a holiday so everything was closed. As such, I went for a long walk around Leuven and I spent time in the Groot Begijnhof and I fell in love with these gorgeous lion heads.

 I cannot believe that I only have two more months left in Leuven-time is flying fast. I hope you all enjoy my surge in posting and I hope to continue this streak!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Never Tacky, Just Gaudi

When my parents came to Europe, they didn't plan the entire trip; they played a lot of it by ear. This meant coming to Rome earlier than they imagined and they did not plan what they wanted to do after we finished with the Loyola group in Rome. Endless travel plans danced through our heads. Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Venice. This list was endless. We had the world at our feet. Our second to last night in Rome, we knew it was time to pick a new location. Somehow, we settled on sunny and warm Barcelona! A few clicks later, the arrangements were made.

In Barcelona, we spent quite a bit of time exploring the city which meant one thing: looking at the artwork of Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi is a Spanish artist responsible for the gorgeous Sagrada Familia. The detailing of Gaudi's work includes soft, curved lines, wrought iron, and splashy stained glass windows. The architecture is incredibly unique and once you see the style of Gaudi, it is simple to identify even more of his work. As luck would have it, much of Gaudi's work is scattered around Barcelona. The work of Gaudi has become symbolic of Barcelona and this unique style of architecture is certainly a sight to behold!

Our first Gaudi was La Pedrera during a long night walk in search of tapas. La Pedrera is a residential building and a UNSECO world heritage site as well! Very few architects have the style of Gaudi and it was stunning to see in person. Just down the street is another Guell masterpiece La Casa Batlo. It is another residential building with the gorgeous curved architecture and colors reminiscent of the other Gaudi buildings. Unfortunately, we were only able to see these two buildings at night, so I am sure that it is a different experience during the day. I found La Casa Batlo to be stunning at night, so I highly recommend checking it out at night when it is all lit up!
La Pedrera

Casa Batlo

The next morning, we climbed the Parc Guell. This park is at the top of a gigantic hill; so large, in fact, they have escalators to help people to the top. Needless to say, we needed all the help we could get in making it to the top.  As the name sounds, it is a gorgeous park where we hiked and saw amazing cacti and the natural foliage of Barcelona. Being so high above the city, it offers a breath-taking view of Barcelona; we could even see La Sagrada Familia from the hills. After wandering the natural side of the park, we stepped into Gaudi's masterpiece. So much of the park is full of gorgeous candy-colored mosaics, curved lines, and buildings reminiscent of gingerbread houses. In the sunshine, the buildings sparkled. After walking and hiking around this gorgeous park, we made our way to have a Spanish lunch!

The view from Parc Guell

Inside the Parc

A gorgeous mosaic

Gorgeous Gaudi

Our final Gaudi work came in arguably the most famous building in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. It is a stunning church that I have seen over the internet and in other study abroad pictures, so I knew we must see it when we were there. Unfortunately, the façade was undergoing maintenance while we were there, so the view from the ground was less spectacular than it could have been had it not been covered in plastic and scaffolding. Either way, the steeple of the church reminded me of the piles of wet sand I used to drip onto sandcastles. (Due to the plastic on the façade, I chose not to take pictures and bought a postcard instead with the façade uncovered.)

When it comes to Barcelona, checking out the Gaudi architecture is highly recommended by me! WE had a wonderful time seeing buildings so typical of Barcelona. Seeing many of these buildings allowed us to compare one with another, which allowed us to notice the nuances in each building. If you get a chance, be sure to visit some of the Gaudi building in Barcelona! Stay tuned for upcoming posts!

Doesn't it look like a gingerbread house?