Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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If this is the beginning of spring

Two more weeks until daylight saving time begins. Two more weeks until our second annual training school. Two more weeks until I head back to France. Hooray!

I know I mentioned that there hasn’t been much sunshine in Louvain-la-Neuve lately, but when when there is sun, this is quite a relaxing place to be at. Ever since the trip to Ghent, I’ve stayed in Louvain-la-Neuve every weekend – gasp! Weekend afternoon walks became my activity of choice here, especially pleasant during the two weekends when it was warm and sunny out! Spring was definitely coming, right?

Wrong. Weather here fluctuates like the lottery. When I thought the sunny weather meant that it was the beginning of spring, Mother Nature burst my bubble by sending snow last week. Splendid. For two or three days I felt like we were back in that period of time at the beginning of February when Europe was invaded by a sudden cold attack. I almost had to get my scarf and gloves out again. Not amusing.

I am glad, however, that I did take advantage of those warm days and left the house to enjoy the rarity. My favourite place in Louvain-la-Neuve is definitely the lake. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with the lake for a nice, relaxing afternoon.

On this day, my original destination was actually not the lake. I began by wandering through some residential areas of LLN, stumbling upon some new, unvisited places, before somehow ending back at the lake, as always. Really, how far could you go?

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One year – then, now, and favourites

It’s been one year since I arrived in France.

It’s been one year since I started this blog.

It’s been one year since I stepped into this exciting stage in my life.

It’s really been one year. Wow.

I want to make this a comprehensive and representative post of the past year, in Bordeaux, in Louvain-la-Neuve, and really, just Europe in general (minus the one month back in Canada).

What changed since I first stepped foot into Bordeaux? What didn’t change? Let’s try chart form.

As another school year has just begun (yup, second year thesis student now!) I thought I’d take a memory trip back and list some “favourites” of the year in photos. This will definitely be a fun entry to write and also to look back on in the future!

Favourite place in Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse at night, by the Miroir d’Eau

Without a doubt, it is the Miroir d’Eau, or Water Mirror by the riverside. I like to take strolls at night after dinner and somehow I often end up here to chill or just watch the reflection of Place de la Bourse in the water while waiting for the mist to come out every 15 minutes. When it is not too cold, I love to take off my shoes and dip my feet into the water, sometimes having water fights with my buddies who come along. It’s one of those places that makes you feel like you’re truly in France, carefree and relaxed.

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Bruges, or is it Brugge?

Some thoughts before the actual entry: After May, when I head back to Bordeaux, it’ll be time to stay in one place and cease travelling for a bit. Sometimes travelling too much makes me forget to appreciate the mere prospect of being able to travel. I see one place in Europe, and then another, and then another. Then I begin to compare, and I see that many aspects of European cities are similar. Then I lose the desire to explore, that wanderlust that so strongly captured me when I started travelling. I don’t want that to happen. I want to retain that curiosity and that “kick” that makes me want to see more of the world. That’s precisely why I need to slow down for a bit, to rest, to get some weekend sleep-in time back and enjoy the relaxation of just being in one city where I feel I belong, the place where I can call home, albeit temporarily. I cannot be back in Toronto every weekend, so Bordeaux is the next most logical place to call home for the time being. Bordeaux, how I miss you.

After the weekend getaway to the Netherlands, my weekly city explorations continued with Bruges, a good ol’ city in Belgium located in the Flemish region of the country. If there was one city in Belgium I wanted to visit besides Brussels, it was Bruges.

I had been struggling with the name of the city throughout my research of what to do once I got there. Should I just go by the English name of Bruges, where the “g” is pronounced as in “gentle” and the “s” is silent, or the Dutch version of Brugge, where the “g” is pronounced as in “girl”? I decided that Bruges sounded more pleasing to the ears – personal preference, no offence to the Dutch language – and so, unlike Den Haag where I chose to keep using the Dutch name, I am sticking with Bruges, even though they say Brugge everywhere in the actual city anyway.

What is Bruges known for? Like Amsterdam, it is called “Venice of the North” because of the water canals that traverse the city. (I really gotta visit the real Venice sometime.) Bruges is also a chocolate city, selling some of the finest chocolate in Belgium, which itself is the chocolate capital of the world. So expectations were definitely high.

I only took 199 photos during this short day trip, one short of 200. After sorting them out, I picked the ones that seemed most representative of the city of Bruges. Without further ado, let’s go on to the pictures, and I’ll talk about some afterthoughts a little later on.

First impression of Bruges, within 5 minutes of getting off the train. This is near the Beguinage of Bruges, which is supposedly a peaceful and quiet area away from the city centre where you’d hope to take a nice stroll away from the crowds. Unfortunately, Bruges is so infested with tourists and travellers (like me) that it’s almost impossible to find any corner of the city without a large crowd.

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Around the lake in 20 minutes

Week 2 in Louvain-la-Neuve, and to be very blunt, I don’t like the place very much…

…which is okay, because the main headquarter is in Bordeaux and I will be going back there for most of my stay.

What don’t I like about LLN? Well, being a student town in a country where beer is the beverage of choice, you can expect a lot of parties and “soirées” nightly. It is not uncommon to hear rowdy (and probably drunk) students outside the window at 1:30 am, and the result is a very stinky city caused by alcohol-induced vomit. Broken beer bottles around the city in the morning make it even more obvious.

I’m surviving, though. I think the only thing that bothers me a lot is the odour, and everything else is just your normal Waterloo-like scene.

Oh, laundry is ridiculously expensive, as in more expensive than my lunch. I thought laundry cost was high at V1, but here it’s more than double, AND in Euros. I guess I’ll have to decrease the expected frequency of doing laundry here.

Last week I took a walk around a man-made lake in LLN. The weather was mediocre and the sky was mostly gray, but I have the feeling that the area around the lake will be quite pretty during the summertime.

La Mie d’Oli, a restaurant that serves sandwiches and pizza for lunch. I just thought I’d let Oliver know that there’s a restaurant named after him in Belgium, and that he should feel very proud to be making international influence.

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Paris, days 3 and 4

If I were to compare Paris with Bordeaux, I would say that Paris is an audacious beauty whereas Bordeaux is an elegant beauty. Three months in Bordeaux, and my impression of it hasn’t changed from the beginning – it is still as elegant as ever. Paris, shouldering the responsibility of representing the entire nation of France, tends to be bold and splendid, flashing its grandiosity as if saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m Paris!” Bordeaux, while beautiful, hides in a corner and radiates its own delicate style.

Of course, they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I’m biased towards Bordeaux because I live here, and so I am able to immerse myself within this city more finely and appreciate the little exquisite details of a Bordelais life.

During the trip to Paris, I started a list of “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” throughout my travel. Now, the list may very well be specific to Paris, because it’s the only city I’ve visited in Europe so far. I will review this list once I get a chance to go around a bit more. Anyway, here I present 3 top “DO’s” and “DON’Ts” of being in Paris by myself for the first time.

DO

Research before traveling. Even though I was almost sure that I was going with plan “no plan” during my visit, it was still nice to know where I would have liked to visit and what to look out for. For example, there was no way I would have known that Trocadéro is THE place to go to see the Tour Eiffel, unless I looked it up beforehand. I didn’t have a set itinerary, so my schedule was quite spontaneous. However, I definitely took some time to familiarize myself with the metro system before venturing out and prepared myself for facing some scam/pickpocketing attempts – it was well worth the effort, because I did encounter some rather sketchy folks in Paris. Know what you’re doing so you’re not caught off guard by unpleasant surprises.

Observe people. There’s no fun rushing and constantly being on the go from one place to the next. Sometimes I love spending time sitting on a bench and just watch people for a few moments. The way they speak, the way they walk, the way the act – so diverse, especially in a city of tourists. I also enjoyed glancing at passengers on the train and trying to differentiate between visitors and locals of the city.

Be aware of your surroundings. Self-explanatory. Not being colourblind definitely helps in metro stations, because sometimes colours say more than numbers or words – no offense intended for those of you who ARE colourblind. Being in a completely new environment, no one is going to accommodate you, so you will have to adapt to find your way around. Read signs fast and avoid looking like you’re lost – even if you are lost – and becoming the next target for pickpocketing.

DON’T

Don’t put on your headphones. Paris is a large city, and a large tourist city. One thing I liked about it was that you could hear a myriad of foreign languages wherever you go. Also, there are often random musicians that would hop on the metro, play music, and ask for money (of course you don’t have to give). I ditched my headphones for 4 days and immersed myself not only visually, but also in an audio experience. Sometimes it’s just fun to hear a conversation spoken neither in English nor French, and contemplate the types of people that came from all over the world to just pass by each other in this city. Quite a thought.

Don’t be afraid. I’ve been told countless horror stories about pickpocketing in Paris and the messed up gangs and random acts of violence in public. As a solo traveler for the first time, I was a little intimidated at first, but that fear was quickly overcome by the desire to explore and the excitement of discovery. Paris wasn’t all that scary, and while you may indeed encounter some sketchy people, as long as you are cautious and use some common sense, the experience should be in general a positive and very pleasant one.

Don’t be a fool. This goes without saying, and it ties in with some of my previous points. If some random lady comes up to you on les Champs-Élysées and asks you to help her buy a limited edition LV bag to bring back to China for her friends because she couldn’t buy more than one (yes, she will offer you the money too), you ignore – or if you’re nice, politely tell her no – and walk away. Think (quickly, as is required sometimes) before you act and frankly, just try not to do something too stupid that could get you in a whole lot of trouble.

Anyway, that’s already quite a lot of words. This post took long enough to put up, a lot longer than I had anticipated due to being busy and exhausted the previous week. I do apologize for the delay. Here’s your weekly dose of photo spam, though next week it should revert back to the normal Bordeaux scenes. As with the previous entry, mouseover each photo for a brief description and click on it for a larger version.

Musée du Louvre

The famous Musée du Louvre was my first stop on day 3. I originally intended to go in and drown myself in art and culture for a full day, and I was even ready to pay, though I would have had a chance at getting free admission for being a EU “citizen” under 25. However, when I saw the line-up in front of the pyramid, I gave it a second thought. Then I walked slowly from the beginning to the end of the line and that itself took me 10 minutes – perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like it. I estimated that getting in would have taken 2 to 3 hours of time, and immediately I discarded the idea of joining the line. A date with Mona Lisa will have to wait till next time, when there is someone to line up with me.

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