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Of Waffles and Chocolate June 20, 2012

Posted by williamsessions in Travel Log.
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Our trip from Rome to Ghent required two days so we stopped midway in Lucern, Switzerland. Here we stayed just one night before getting up early the next morning to continue to Ghent.

We arrived in Ghent late in the evening, which required that our welcome dinner be moved to the next day. Our hotel was situated in the more historic part of Ghent, with open stone squares and several Gothic cathedrals. Rather unanimously, however, at the forefront of the group’s mind were promises of delicious Belgian chocolate and waffles

On our first full day in Belgium, we took the bus north to the town of Bruges. The town was small and felt almost quaint in its architecture and cobblestone streets. There were numerous canals and gardens that divided the town, giving it a very pleasant feel. We had a brief walking tour of the town before having the afternoon free. A few of us decided to find waffles for lunch and I ordered mine with ice cream and raspberry syrup. Truthfully, it was one of the best waffles I have ever had the privilege of consuming. After lunch, a large number of people from our group rented bicycles and rode out of the city and followed one of the canals about 20 miles out of the city. The weather and countryside were absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and we moved at a brisk pace.

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We returned about 3 hours later and, with a little over an hour to spare before we needed to be back at the bus, several friends and I sought out a chocolate shop. I purchased about 7 or 8 pieces, which were gone before we had traveled more than a couple blocks toward the bus. Having tasted the wonders of Belgian waffles and chocolate, my life may very well be one step closer to complete.

The following day, we again took the bus out of Ghent, this time south to Brussels. Here we went to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts where we toured for a couple hours. The museum had a special Stanley Kubrick exhibition going on that, as a photographer, I thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, I chose one of his photographs, from his series Sketches from Portugal for one of the works in my art journal I needed to keep for class. After lunch, we visited a 10 story museum dedicated to the history of musical instruments. The coolest part of the museum was that, at most of the exhibits, there was a place where you could connect a pair of headphones and listen to sounds and music of the various instruments. It was neat to see some of the “ancestors” of modern day instruments. Next we were led on a brief walking tour of Brussels that conveniently ended at the Delirium Café, a bar serving over 2,000 different kinds of beer. After a couple hours there, we worked our way back to the bus to take us back to Ghent.

The last full day in Belgium, we remained in Ghent. The itinerary for the day was short and consisted of music class in the morning followed by a brief tour of St. Bavo Cathedral. Interestingly, there was a modern art exhibition going on inside the church, with many pieces making various religious or philosophical statements. The main reason for our visit, however, was the Ghent altarpiece, a polyptych (multi-paneled work) by the Flanders artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck. There was some interesting history behind the work, including how the lower left of the work was stolen and never recovered. The afternoon was spent eating, resting, and packing for Paris, our final stop before Oxford.

May 22-24: Belgium August 10, 2010

Posted by Stefanie Olivier in Travel Log.
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Spending only a mere three months within Europe, my travel group and I had to scramble to see as many of the countries of that diverse continent as possible. Consequently, our first trip, which included Brussels and Bruges (both of which are located in Belgium), was planned very hastily since our travel group congregated only two days before that adventure. And yet, I have never had so much fun doing things spontaneously.

Immediately after we arrived in Brussels, our eyes were assaulted by the impressive Cathedral of St. Michael, which is located very closely to the city’s train station. It was difficult to believe that this cathedral has been standing there since 1047! After our eyes had feasted on both the outside and the interior of the building, we started looking for a café where our mouths could feast on traditional Belgian food. Contrarily, we bought everything but traditional Belgian food (Italian lasagna, French Croque-monsieurs, Irish beer); however, we did get a complementary concert of Belgian accordion music right at our table.

The free accordion music wasn’t the only surprise we got. As soon as we reached our hotel, crowds of spectators gathered on the streets and loud music signaled the start of a parade, the Zinneke Parade that claims to “celebrate Brussels culture.” Who could’ve predicted our luck of getting to our hotel on the exact date and at the exact time of this remarkable parade? Even more luckily, we were able to enjoy the parade from the comfort of our hotel rooms! Later that evening, after we visited Brussels main square, the Grand Place, and marveled at the surrounding architecture while laying on the warm cement in the center of the Grand Place, we finally got our share of the Belgian delicacy “Moules et Frites” (mussels and fries). That was the perfect ending to a great first day in Belgium, but even more excitement was yet to come.

The first of these came in the form of the Musical Instrument Museum, the first place we visited the following day. This seemingly endless museum contains virtually every musical instrument ever invented, from the harp to the balalaika. Its lively music and hands-on activities made our next museum, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, relatively boring in comparison. But trying to guess the meaning behind every masterpiece, even those consisting of single lines, was a fun diversion!

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We spent the remainder of our weekend in Bruges. If there is something I remember about Bruges, it is its breathtaking architecture. Even getting lost while searching for an affordable dinner in this town was pleasant because of the collage of varied rooftops that forms Bruges’s skyline. After our dinner, we went to gaze at the highest of these rooftops in Bruges’s main square, the Burg Square. The lights cast on the buildings made the architecture seem even more remarkable.

Throughout our last day in Belgium, we rented bicycles. I can’t think of a better investment of my money. For several hours we spent riding across the bridges that give Bruges the title “Venice of the north,” all the while comparing the windmills that were scattered all across the town. After pedaling up one hill to view one of these windmills from up close, we bought Brie and baguettes at a local grocery store and went to have a picnic in one of Bruges’s many parks. It must have been either the siestas we took in that park or the thought that we would be leaving soon that made us drag our feet while we admired Bruges’s Saint Salvator Cathedral and tasted samples of the inventory of a local chocolatier. As we took our seats on the train that carried us back from Bruges to reality, I vowed to myself to never forget the first spontaneous weekend I spent with my fellow Techies in Europe. And I haven’t yet.

Au revoir au Continent! July 21, 2010

Posted by luciabird in Travel Log.
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On our way to Berlin, we stopped at Terezín, which was once an internment camp for Jews and other enemies of Nazi Germany during WWII.  Although sobering, this was a very educational experience.  After reading so many books about the Holocaust in school and on my own, actually witnessing a camp was both disturbing and enlightening.  Our first night in Berlin, I was a tad sick and had to make a quick trip to the hospital.  The efficiency of the Germans is no joke; I was in and out of the Emergency Room within three hours!  The best part of Berlin was definitely the music!  First, we saw the Berlin Philharmonic as part of our music curriculum.  We were in nosebleed seats at the very top of the concert hall, but the acoustics were so perfect that I felt like I could hear every instrument very clearly. (more…)

From Berlin to Bruges to Paris… July 18, 2010

Posted by Megan Sweeney in Travel Log.
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I know it’s been a while but the last part of traveling and my first few weeks at Oxford have flown by! Since I last wrote we finished up the travel portion, stopping in Berlin, Bruges, and Paris. Right after our welcome dinner in Berlin, our bus driver (definitely the best, and funniest, of all the groups!) took us on a driving tour. We saw the Berlin wall, a monument to those who were killed in the Holocaust, and Charlie’s Checkpoint. Of course we visited several museums…but my favorite part of Berlin was getting to see the Berlin Philharmonic. Aside from having nosebleed seats, the concert was fantastic.

Bruges was a nice change compared to Berlin and Paris because it was so much smaller. We couldwalk everywhere, and it was a lot easier to explore on our own. Not to mention, Belgium chocolate is delicious; we ended up buying some everyday  we were there! We also took a day trip to Brussels, and since our bus driver was from  Belgium he took us on a short walking tour of the main sites. My personal favorite was the Manneken Pis. It is a statue of a little boy peeing, and the legend goes there  was an explosive that had been lit and the little boy saved the city by urinating on it. (more…)

Times gone by… July 10, 2010

Posted by aellertson3 in Travel Log.
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Hey everyone! I’m writing to you now from Oxford, England after concluding the first four weeks of travel as part of the Oxford Study Abroad. Most recently I have visited the cities of Prague, Berlin, Brussels, Bruges, and Paris. In Prague, the highlights of my trip included an opera performance of Carmen at the National Theater, and exploring across the Charles Bridge up to the marvelous overlook of Castle Hill. Evenings in Prague were almost as entertaining as the days, to see the city lit up along the canal, and to sample Prague’s exceptional night life. (more…)