Hello all! Have you had good holidays and starts to 2014? I hope so! Obviously this has been a dry spell for blog posts—but I’m sure you’ve all found other things to do anyway 🙂 I’ll try to be brief as I catch up and let a few pictures do the talking! (and Speed Read, of course, at the end)
Christmas Travels in Europe:
For the holidays I spent two wonderful weeks traveling and seeing family & friends. First, to Prague for five days to see cousin Jon, Natasha, and their cat Kenzo. We decorated a (very tiny!) Christmas tree, made risotto, walked around and saw the lights in the city center, and took a day trip to Dresden—my first time ever in Germany. Dresden had the cute classic Christmas markets that pop up all over Europe around when Thanksgiving should be; also little groups of children caroling on street corners and a million different kinds of sausages.
Christmas day I went to Mass in Czech and had no idea what was happening. But then, I figured that’s probably what it felt like to the regular people in the early Church when the entire Mass was in Latin—it also gave me the chance to admire the stained glass. The whole holiday was wonderful, so even though I was far from home, I spent good quality time with family.
Coolest Prague things: Clock in the city center, learning how to cook risotto (kinda), being cozy on a couch and not having to do homework!!
From Prague I hopped on an overnight bus to Brussels. That wasn’t so bad as I thought it would be—we stopped a lot and the seats had their own movie screens, so I just watched movies all night (probably not the best format to see The Hobbit, but that’s ok). In Brussels, I was reunited with Ellie, one of my lovely Notre Dame/first study abroad/Minnesota friends and her friend Heidi, also lovely, and we set about exploring the city. Brussels was packed with folks there on their vacations—I overheard a lot of French and German, British accents, Italian, Turkish (I think??). But I knew I wasn’t in Spain anymore when it was Friday night and all of the store fronts and even restaurants were closing! In Madrid, dinner time doesn’t even really start til 8:30. Brussels had great Christmas markets, and they were huge and all over the place. They also light up their central cathedral and have a coordinated lights and music show every hour or so that lights up all the buildings—pretty neat.
Coolest Brussels things: European Parliament (spent a whole afternoon there!), Belgian history museum (sounds super boring, but was really interactive and put together well), a bar called Delirium (their logo is a pink elephant, which is awesome, and they had a really great Christmas beer)
We also took day trips to Bruges and Antwerp while we were in Brussels. Bruges is the kind of town that just makes you want to check into a bed and breakfast, curl up with a cup of tea by the fire, and watch everyone pass along the canals and bridges. Even though it has its share of modern store fronts and things, a lot of the town still has what I imagine an old-Europe feel would be like. Plus it smells like waffles and vanilla, and I’ll never complain about that!
Antwerp was a nicer city than I expected it to be. It’s a coastal town and has a big main avenue that goes right through the city center to the water, and that avenue makes you feel like you’re in a big city with all the ads and international stores (H&M is literally everywhere), but we also found side streets too narrow for cars that were very quiet, full of classic store fronts and antique shops and old pubs (like, 100+ years old).
On to Edinburgh!
The three of us flew from Brussels to Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. Aside from getting a few liquids confiscated at security, this trip was uneventful. Our airplane only had 7 people in it! While the airports were quiet, the streets were not. In Edinburgh, NYE is called Hogmanay, which basically implies a huge street party with concerts and drinks and tons of people all night long. We joined the party, naturally, and had a really good time, especially with the countdown to midnight and the fireworks. It’s the first time I’ve attempted a big event like that at New Year’s, and it was a blast celebrating midnight with that many people from all over the world.
The rest of the time in Edinburgh was just lovely. We were able to take our time exploring the city, and there was a lot to see! The city was built up basically by adding one layer on top of another, so it has lots of nooks and crannies, winding streets, alleys that lead down to other streets, and lots of hills. We visited the castle up on the hill, Greyfriars Kirk (church), where we stumbled upon a wonderful concert with lively highland music playing (five fiddlers rocking out on stage) –this church is also the home of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who faithfully sat by his master’s grave for fourteen years til he died. There’s a cute little statue of the dog (there isn’t one of his master…priorities 🙂
We also climbed up Arthur’s Seat on one of the few days that the sun came out—basically, Arthur’s Seat is a gigantic hill in a park between the city and the water. A ton of Scots were there walking with their dogs and their children, though most of the people doing the actual climbing were foreigners like Ellie and me. I imagine the Scots are over it by now.
One of my favorite days was the one we spent taking a tour through the Highlands from Edinburgh to Loch Ness and back. I got to see snow for the first time this winter as we drove through Glen Coe and little mountains and rolling hills. Even in winter, it’s still greener than central Spain! We were lucky with the weather again and the sun came out when we reached Loch Ness, so we got a lovely sunset. It’s a really narrow lake, but super long and super deep. I’m not surprised they haven’t found Nessie yet.
Coolest Scottish things: Tried a haggis and cheese sandwich and it was actually tasty; petting a “Highland coo” (Scottish cow, long shaggy hair with horns); deeelicious beer; cupcakes and tea on my birthday
And that sums up my Christmas break! I’ve had about a month now in Madrid without classes, but don’t worry, I was keeping busy! Between starting a climbing class, reading for my thesis, going to movies, tutoring, helping welcome the new undergrads to Madrid, hiking on the nice days, and just resting for real, I never got bored. Classes began again on Thursday, and I feel 100% ready for them. Okay more like 78% ready, but close enough. I hope y’all my readers are well, and please do stay warm and protect yourselves from the arctic weather over there!
CHRISTMAS. It was lovely. Nuff said.
- Realizing that I am apparently wearing the same clothes in 95% of the photos we took, since we were always outside and I was always wearing my coat!
- Currywurst: tried it in Dresden. It’s supposed to be delicious, but the version we had was ketchup with curry powder, so not my most favorite dining experience…
- Belgium was the best for snack foods—famous for fries, waffles, chocolate, and beer (but none of the fries were better than my local spot, Convention Grill!)
- Don’t try baking things after climbing class—the mixing motion is really, really hard when you’ve destroyed your forearm muscles and fingers with an hour of dangling from them.
- Family for Christmas and reuniting with close friends are the best, even (especially) when you’re far from home