Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daily Half-Marathons

This last weekend, I adventured to Brussels, Belgium to visit Elizabeth, who is studying abroad there for the semester. I took the Eurostar train from London to Brussels which was very odd. I didn't want to think about the fact that I was on a train underwater while I was on the train, so I still don't even know exactly how it worked! It was a quick journey (2 hours) to the city and I arrived around dinner time in Brussels. Elizabeth had been working (she nanny's for a family in her neighborhood) so she wasn't able to meet me at the train station, but gave me directions to her apartment. It was very odd upon arriving because I realized I was in my first country where English was not the preferred language! Good thing I took enough French to know the basics of reading the signs and being able to ask simple questions! I made sure to also practicing saying "I speak French really badly!" just in case.

Elizabeth's apartment was very simple to get to and I got to take many forms of transportation to get there. The city was huge and had tons of things to look at. Elizabeth lives in an upper-end of Brussels so when I got off the tram, I was surrounded by high-end stores. I easily found her apartment and was greeted by one of her friends that also lives there. The apartment has a few rooms that are taken by people in her program. I hung out with her friend, Brielle, until Elizabeth returned home from nannying. That evening we spent hanging around her apartment, making dinner, and catching up! We had both finished an exhausting week so it was very relaxing.
Elizabeth and I in front of the historical arch I forgot the name of...

Elizabeth's roommate, Catherine, also had two friends visiting for the weekend, so the apartment was full starting Friday morning! Elizabeth had one last class to go to Friday morning so I hung with her roommate and friends. I felt much more American in the city than I had in England, simply because everyone was speaking French. One of the girls with us is studying in France (the other, in Prague) so she was much better at communicating than the rest of us. Elizabeth met up with us while we were out and we headed to lunch at an Irish pub, ironically. We spent the rest of the day exploring more shops and seeing parts of the city.

That evening, I met even more of Elizabeth's friends from her program in preparation for going out that night. Her program was hosting a party at a nearby club which was a lot of fun. It was cool to meet most of her friends of the semester and experience the night life in Brussels. It was a lot different than England! Our late evening turned into a very late morning the next day, so Saturday seemed very short. We ended up eating at a cafe in her neighborhood that lasted hours upon hours. It took the restaurant 40 minutes to take our order, and then an hour and a half to get us our food! We were absolutely starving and did not appreciate the lack of service. I had even ordered ever-so politely (Je vousdrais le London et le cafe, c'il vous plait) yet the waiters could not have cared less about us. It was extremely bizarre and most aggravating. The only upside was that when the food finally arrived, it was delicious. But I probably would have thought the same of McDonald's by that time!!
Elizabeth and I on the metro headed toward "Les You"

The rest of the day was spent exploring their neighborhood and all the eclectic shops and unique boutiques. I was quickly learning that Brussels is extremely expensive and was beginning to be very thankful for the prices in England. Elizabeth and I headed downtown later on to see some of the most historical sights (that I can no longer remember the names of...I was so brain dead from the week that I pretty much floated around all weekend long!) and sign her up for the big half-marathon that she was going to participate the next morning. That evening we went out to meet up with some of her friends again, but kept it an early evening due to her plans for the next morning.

So on Sunday, we woke up early and headed out to the beginning of the marathon! Elizabeth had always wanted to run a half-marathon and was so excited that her first would take place abroad. It was bad timing that it was happening the weekend I was visiting, but I didn't mind. I was excited to see her finish! I saw her off at the beginning under the historical arch, and then took the metro to the finish line. It was finishing in another historical place, Grand Place (you have to say it in the French accent even though it looks English), so I got the chance to look around the market and shops as well as the beautiful buildings. To pass the time, I watched the winners of the half-marathon and all the race's crazy happenings. It was pretty entertaining. However, Elizabeth's guesstimated finishing time came and went, and no sign of her. I began to panic about making my train but tried to wait patiently. Eventually, I gave up, knowing that I needed to head out to leave in order to make my train!
A monument on the walk to Grand Place

It was a mad rush getting back to the metro to get my things from Elizabeth's apartment. Luckily, we met up at the same time at her apartment. It ended up that people at the marathon had completely misdirected her in the opposite direction to collect her things and it took her over an hour(!) to locate her belongings! We ran to find a taxi to get us to the train station, and I ran through security and customs (well, I stopped at both to take care of them) and ran to the train. Although the Belgique people had not been very friendly toward me during the weekend, they were surprisingly very nice at the train station in my efforts to make the train. I arrived onto the train at 1:57 with the departure time being 1:59. I was dripping with sweat and wheezing. Elizabeth was not the only one to run the half-marathon that day.

It was definitely one of my most stressful moments, but I knew I would have one of those experiences while being here and so I'm extremely thankful it's over. Phew. The only other hitch to my day was that my train from London to Grantham broke down and so I was two hours later arriving than planned. But hey, it could have been much, much worse.
One of the main buildings in Grand Place

This week has been going on pretty normally for the most part, except for the extremely thick pressure of stress, homework, presentations, tests, and papers around the manor. I've kept mostly to myself this week for fear of the stress outbreaks amongst the rest of the student body. Today however, I head to the Lake District, 4 hours north of the stress and out into the most beautiful area of England! It should be quite the experience!

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