Monday, February 23

farewell!

Monday, February 23
All of us except Lexi! (Amanda, Kaitlyn, Rachel, Brittany, Kathy, Me, Caroline, Chris)

After Carnaval is our week-long break, kind of like Spring Break. So, I leave tonight for a week in Eastern Europe with eight amazing people! I'm going with Amanda, Brittany, Caroline, Chris, Kaitlyn, Kathy, Lexie, and Rachel.

Here's our plan:
Prague, Czech Republic for 3 days
Vienna, Austria for 2 days
Budapest, Hungary for 2 days

Lexi and Me

We leave tonight and will be back next Monday morning. Have a great week! :)

Sunday, February 22

crazy carnaval

Sunday, February 22
Carnaval is like Mardi Gras + Halloween.

And, it is kind of insane. Every night, starting last Thursday or so, people dress up and head over to the Vrijthof, a square in the city, for dancing, drinking, and eating. That crowd is mostly students. It's a lot of fun! Here is us getting ready. By the way, you can dress up like anything you can possibly imagine...and you'll never be the craziest one, oh believe me.

Goofy makeup is pretty much necessary to blend in.

Me, Caroline, and Kathy, posing like creepy dolls.

Amanda, Kaitlyn, and Rachel- gogo gals

One of the best things is that you meet so many people because you are all squished up together dancing and running around. Random people will come up to you and say hi...good times. I met people from all over the world in the past two days- Spain, Costa Rica, Germany...

Caroline, random Maastricht guy, Jonathan, Me

Pana, Katie, Claire, Me- after we almost got squished because it was so crowded

I won't lie to you. Carnaval is all about partying. We were kind of shocked to see the Vrijthof at night- all of that trash on the ground? It's broken beer glasses and plastic cups, and this was only at like midnight. So we were sure to wear sturdy boots when we went out!

We did make the mistake of dressing up for the opening ceremony! Though there were a few people in costume, we were in the minority. Today, however, at the parade, something like 95% of the crowd (parents, children, grandparents, students, everyone) was dressed up. It was drizzly but that didn't stop anyone!

And there are NO limitations on what you can wear. I have video footage of everything...so I'll put it up asap! Among the crazy things we saw:

These dudes walked the wrong way down the parade route.

Terrifying...so naturally we attempted to recreate the monster. We also saw a group of guys dressed up like that afro painter guy from PBS, someone with a Hugh Laurie mask on, 20+ Elvises, the monks from Monty Python, a thousand people time-transported either from Victorian England or the American 60s, and a ton of adorable coordinated families.

Thursday, February 19

things i miss

Thursday, February 19
Grocery shopping, or boodschappen, is different here.

Some things I have noticed. Paprika flavored chips are really popular. There are actually a lot of cool chip flavors, including one called "Cool American" which I suspect is rather similar to our "Cool Ranch." People really like chocolate/hazelnut spread. I can't believe Nutella isn't more popular back home. And I never knew there were so many kinds of cheese. French fries are served with anything and everything, including formal dinners. And I have received numerous sandwiches adorned with cucumbers.

Aside from the exciting new flavors of foods, shopping for food here is kind of a beast. For one, we can't read the instructions on anything. Or for that matter even know what we are buying...for instance, tonight a supposed batch of chicken nuggets turned out to be sausage pieces! It's really kind of fun though. I know I am becoming more adventurous with the foods I eat out of necessity, and that's okay.

But what I miss the most about America right now will seem soooo simple and funny to you. It's grocery baggers. Here in Europe, there are none. In fact, you even have to bring your own bags. So shopping is a little crazy here-- you have to hurry and stuff everything into whatever sack you have before the next person in line can start their transaction. It's crazy! I can't believe there is a place where not only do they bag your groceries for you, they even volunteer to push your cart to your car and put the bags in your trunk!!

So does that make us lazy Americans? I don't think so. I think that people are more independent here than I had imagined. And things that we consider "services" seem to be things Europeans never really envisioned someone else doing for them. But Americans are more independent in other senses- like pride in your own car. Here, public transportation is the main and popular way of getting around. And it's efficient. But at home, being able to drive oneself somewhere is a privilege and made convenient. It's interesting to compare the differences between cultures like this-- and to see that there are pluses and negatives on both sides!

Wednesday, February 18

happiness is

Wednesday, February 18
...finding the Burrito Bar in Maastricht. A delicious taste of home- think Chipotle. And homemade guacamole. I will be going back. Multiple times.

video

fit for a king...a really rich king

Sunday morning, we headed to one of the most enormous, ornate, and famous palaces ever. On our way to Versailles, we were treated to an accordion concert on the train! It was probably a homeless man looking for some cash, but we danced a little.

Versailles is definitely a tourist attraction. Luckily, we arrived early enough to avoid most of the crowds. This place was insane. It was filled with art comparable to the Louvre! Statues galore, enormous paintings...definitely a museum in itself.


There were some awesome war paintings there, including this amazing one. Look closely...the horse is actually EATING that guy's hand...and he looks confused about it!

Question: Do all museums have this amazing deal where you can take pictures of anything you want? Because that's how it was in France. I feel like that is unusual, but we loved it!

Descartes and other famous Frenchies were on display along a hall of glory near the Hall of Mirrors.

Here is the famous Hall of Mirrors-- it was certainly magnificent. And Louis XIV got to walk by it every day, since his main rooms were located behind the hall.

After our touring, we ate at a delicious cafe nearby. I have to say, the food in France spoiled me. Baguettes are amazing, as is everything else I ate. Also, their brownies are more like large cubes of fudge...mmm. And I just want to say that I am so thankful for all of the waiters who tried their best to accommodate us with English and explanations of what menu items were. They were all so helpful and friendly.

Tuesday, February 17

free tour

Tuesday, February 17
(One of the greatest things about France-- crepes! And Nutella, which I had never heard of before Europe. I am now a devoted fan!)

We found a free tour in Paris...naturally, we signed up. For four hours, Crazy James (he was on Big Brother) led us around the city. We saw just about everything, so here is a taste!

He had a pink mohawk-- thus, if we got lost, he was easy to find!

We met at the Fountain of St. Michel- there were a ton of us!

While it was hilarious, I would call our tour PG-13. But so are some of the statues in France.

It was a blissfully nice day-- gorgeous sky and people lounging by the ponds at the Tuileries Gardens!

Fantastic Rodin statues at the Gardens.

Notre Dame was quite imposing! We were able to go inside while the organ was playing!

James told us about this AMAZING bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. - two stories with books floor to ceiling, complete with ladder. Hello, design for my future living room!

Our reunion was sadly very short, but I met up with Paige and Julia!! They are both studying in France this semester. :)

i love the eiffel tower

I'll be honest. I took over 100 pictures of this structure, the famous Eiffel Tower. And I can't figure it out.

It is just so familiar, but really, it's a huge hunk of metal. Huge. And yet, it was absolutely breathtaking in person every single time I saw it- we went during the day and at night.

Saturday afternoon, we waited in the long long line to travel to the very top of the tower. It was worth every minute of waiting- the weather was beautiful, it was Valentine's day (plus a thousand smoochy couples and a rowdy group of Irish students) and well, why not?

We got a panoramic view of the entire city- here's a taste. Note the amazing sky.


At night, every hour, the tower lights up with flashing lights- sounds tacky, but no. It was awesome.
Some of the pictures we all took as a group on another camera were unfortunately lost- but don't worry- I at least tried to take some pictures with people in them! If I can figure out how to put video up, I have a video!

Monday, February 16

that time i sat on the holy grail

Monday, February 16
The Louvre.

It is so cliche to say this but the building itself is a work of art. We went on Friday-- amazingly, it is free for students every Friday nights! I can't add much to this art, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I will say that the Mona Lisa is smaller than you would think, and that I have never been in a bigger set of buildings in my life. And the entrance is cool- you actually go under that glass pyramid on escalators to the lobby. The pyramid is controversial still, and I am not surprised- it is magnificent, but a complete contrast to the formal buildings that comprise the museum.


One of the fantastic things about the museum was that you could walk up to just about anything you wanted to see....even Caesar's bust. Also, you could take a picture of anything. We found a lot of crazy statues to recreate later. ;) They had ballrooms-worth of marble sculpture and giant portraits. Glorious.
We decided to have a photoshoot by the inverted pyramid. You may remember this site as the location of Mary's remains- the holy grail- in the DaVinci Code. If that's the case, well, I sat on the holy grail.

Back: Chris, Amanda, Lexi, Me, Brittany
Front: Kathy, Kaitlyn, Rachel, Pana