Engagement!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have very exciting news for you! I am now engaged to my fiancé Tony! We plan to get married next summer, after I finish my Master’s degree at U of T.  Life is incredibly exciting!

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Tony and Hanna

It has been a while since I last wrote, so let me share some stories about the past few weeks. The weekend of March 23rd, I joined the Hungarian Scouts for a weekend close to Zurich. It was wonderful to be surrounded by lots of screaming monkeys again! It was great fun to sing and play games with them, and very nice to see that many of them spoke Hungarian perfectly, despite having been born in Switzerland! Their parents did an excellent job of keeping their cultural heritage alive in their families.

The weekend after, Lea and I went to Rome for Easter. We were very lucky to receive tickets from a priest friend of ours, to the Saturday evening Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope! We stayed with various absolutely wonderful friends the whole time we were in Rome, and ETH paid for our train tickets (they were covered by the course we were taking at the FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization) so our trip ended up being quite inexpensive. It is incredible how cheaply it is possible to travel in Europe if you have just a bit of an adventurous spark in you…

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Tony and Hanna in Italy

You have probably seen Lea’s description of our fantastic experiences in Rome already, so I’ll skip to the week after: I went to Transylvania for a week with my then-boyfriend Tony. Transylvania is very interesting, since parts are still deeply rooted in Hungarian culture, and yet in the 1900’s was annexed to Romania. There are still hundreds of kilometers of towns where the population is largely Hungarian, except for the civil servants. Since Transylvania has all the salt mines, and much of the manufacturing and production industry in Romania, Romania has great interest in keeping this part as its own territory, despite some separatist movements. Anyway, it was very interesting to see the “invisible” conflict between the people: i.e. a constant competition of which nation had more flags up, etc.

I flew from Rome to Kolozsvar, where I met Tony. We slept at the house of a Pastor of the Reformed Church, and it was very interesting to talk to him and his wife about how they balanced parenthood with constantly serving the people of the church. They have 6 children, all of whom are musicians with perfect pitch! The next morning we went to Deva, to visit an ancient castle ruin, and an orphanage. The castle was beautiful; set at the top of a cliff with a sheer drop on all sides. It is inaccessible except for a winding, steep path up the slope. Naturally we let our imaginations run and came up with all sorts of stories about possible battles and sieges the castle must have faced in its long history.

But the orphanage was an even deeper experience, due to its fascinating story. There is a priest in Transylvania who recognized the need to give homes to children who come from starving and abusive families, so 30 years ago, he started the first “Arva Haz” (Orphanage). Since then, he has opened approximately one new house a year, each with a couple hundred children. The system is very well thought out: volunteer families move in to the community with their own children, and “adopt” (not legally, just practically) approximately another 10 children. So the “adopted’ children grow up in a family unit, although they all have their meals together in a big cafeteria etc. It is very difficult for these families, not just due to the emotional and physical stress due to caring for ~13 kids, many of whom bear deep psychological scars from childhood experiences at home, but also financially: they receive only 20 Euros per kid per month from the state. This means they have to somehow feed the children from about 50 cents a day. This is of course impossible, so they rely greatly on donations from local supermarkets, etc. but it is a constant battle to make ends meet. It is interesting to note that when we talked to many of the children, they all declared that they were quite happy to be living with their surrogate families. In fact when given the choice to go home to their biological families for the summer break, many children prefer to stay in the safety and loving surroundings of their surrogate families rather than return to the violence they experienced at home… It was heartrending to hear one of the 15 year old boys tell us he wants to be a priest, and that he’s glad that that he was born into such a horrible family, because this way he can commiserate with and have far greater empathy for all the poor he will serve when he will become a priest for these communities… Many of the youth end up going to college or university, and grow up to lead relatively normal lives as adults, thanks to the loving care they received from their surrogate families. It is truly an incredible sacrifice for the surrogate parent volunteers to devote their whole life to raising not just their own, but many other people’s children too while still working full-time. These moments make me realize just how much it is possible to give of one’s life.

After Deva we went to Zabola, to visit an old aristocratic family. They own about 10,000 acres, enormous forests, and live in a beautiful old renovated castle. In Canada, many people think that these old noble families have completely died out in Europe, but actually they still exist! The young couple has two small children, for whom life is a paradise: running around outside in the fields and forests all day, going horseback riding, etc. Although there is a huge difference between the income of this family (mainly from the business of sustainably logging their forests) and the average income of families in the villages surrounding them, they commit themselves to accomplishing so much good in the villages, raising the standard of living, providing cultural opportunities, etc.

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Zabola Castle

We then went to visit the “Csango”, a group of Hungarians who still very strongly adhere to their own flavor of Hungarian traditions and culture. After the veritable palace at Zabola, it was quite the change to be in a village where over 80% of the families had no regular income, and just lived on subsistence farming. There were no paved roads, most people used horse drawn wagons instead of cars, and although the people dressed modernly, there were houses without running water. It was absolutely fascinating to speak with the villagers. 100 years ago, this community lived completely independently of its surroundings, producing all their own food, creating their  own furniture, using sheep’s wool and flax for making their own clothes, etc. They had no need for and no dependence on the outside world. However, the youth of the village were taken to fight in the world wars, and then the Communists destroyed their mills, making them dependent on bread from outside sources, and bulldozed down their farms etc. The community tried hard to remain as independent as possible from the Communists, but over the last 50 years, the community has fallen prey to a more sinister danger: globalized culture through the TV. Today, the farmers come home from work, and instead of sitting down with their families around the dinner table to discuss a day’s work well done, they come home and plop themselves in front of the television set, and drool over the Hollywood stars. The effect on their lives is really terrible. Whereas for the last 400 years, their ancestors lived quite contentedly as a farming community, they now aspire to have fancy cars, they are no longer satisfied with small houses, they want to drink Coca-Cola and in fact spend hard earned wages to buy one cherished bottle. Altogether they want to pursue and implement Western society as quickly as possible. What they don’t realize, is that adopting Western society with its materialistic approach to life will not bring them more happiness than they currently have. Unfortunately, the splendid life they see on TV is a false chimera: they don’t know the gory details of life behind the Hollywood scenes; they simply allow themselves to be misled by what they see on the screen. The result of this is that many of the young people today leave the villages to go work in Western countries such as Italy, where they have the satisfaction that they are “working in the West” but actually usually end up working and living in awful conditions. Many of them are very lonely “out West”, through a lack of cultural integration and generally have worse lives than they would at home caring for their cows and sheep. The lure of a capitalistic glamorous life providing happiness is the greatest deception of our civilization today!

A few of the other highlights of the trip were horseback riding in Csikszerda, a concert by the famous children’s choir at Szentegyhaza, and best of all: we had the opportunity to go paragliding at Csiksomlyo! It was an incredible experience to be flying through the air over the beautiful countryside! After paragliding, Tony made a big show of having forgotten his passport in the Csango village, so we went back, and ended up going on a hike in the neighboring hill. At the top of a little Csango mountain, we found a tiny wooden chapel magically filled with roses, and Tony asked for my hand with a beautiful song he had composed. It was wonderfully romantic! After some minutes of crying and laughing from joy, I said yes! So we plan to be married next summer after I finish university. Life is so exciting!

That’s all for now!

Cheers,

Hanna and Lea

March Showers Bring April Flowers

There is little doubt in my mind that many of you have heard of the “impending war” that North Korea is supposedly preparing to bring to South Korea. On Facebook many of my friends have been sending me well-wishing messages telling me to be careful, to pay attention to the news, or even to get out of the country altogether. Some fellow exchange students from the United States took it upon themselves to do just that and after finally reading some of the news reports that prompted such messages and actions I’ll admit that the situation does seem daunting.

However, here in Seoul it’s pretty hard to be scared as everything seems to be business as usual. Even the Korean friends I’ve talked to seem unfazed and just shrug it off with a sort of “North Korea’s always doing this” attitude. Even from a scholarly standpoint it seems that the odds of North Korea actually trying anything are pretty slim for a number of reasons. Regardless, it’s difficult to get worked up over something that the locals themselves don’t seem too worried by.

But perhaps one of the main reasons why it’s so easy to be dismissive of the situation is the beautiful flowers all around Seoul! Yes my friends, it is spring and thus cherry blossoms are blooming all over Seoul! All one has to do is walk down the street and they can be seen just about anywhere! On top of this there are various flora blooming all over campus making for fantastic photo opportunities! All this mixed with the brisk yet warm spring weather makes for a beautiful and peaceful setting which makes it easy to forget that to the North is a hostile nation supposedly preparing for war (which I’m convinced it isn’t). Anyway check out pictures below!

Clearing some common travel concerns up.

So. This is the end of month six of my internship with three weeks to go. Work is wrapping up, and due dates are impending on me and I will say I’m not really ready to be done this adventure. And I thought it would be a good time to write a blog about why I came here and what I’d hope to achieve and what makes leaving friends and family behind worth trying out new experiences in new places.

I wish I could travel BUT I don’t have time/money/skills/I’m a student/I have debt/I have work. 

I’ve been contacted by so many people, many of them who I haven’t talked to in years while I’ve been abroad. Most of these people have been friends of mine on facebook who I knew at some point in my life. Many of them express jealousy at my travels, or slight awe that I’m willing to go abroad for this long. Cumulatively I’ve spent about a year in Africa at this point and its definitely meant that I’ve had to sacrifice things for this experience. I gave up graduating with many of my friends, I gave up spending Christmas with my family, I missed birthdays, and christmases. I’ve dealt with homesickness, and medical emergencies in a foreign setting. It’s cost me a year of my life where I didn’t make any money, pushed back graduating, lost friendships and relationships.

However, I would not go back and change my decision to come here. In fact, if I could go back in time, I would likely have made the decision to try and find a way to stay longer. You do miss out on things traveling, and it isn’t always cheap. I feel pretty blessed to be here and to have met the people I’ve gotten a chance to meet while traveling. I value all of my experiences abroad, but at the same time–there is no ‘luck’ in me being here. I spent hours and hours searching for a way to afford to come here. I filled out applications, visas, got medical tests, worked long hours, and spent a lot of time researching South Africa. The thing is, if you want to travel -there’s a way to do it. Regardless of how much you make, or where you are in your life, you just have to really want it, and be flexible in where you are willing to go. You might not be able to find a way to go spend a semester in Vienna for cheap, but there are other ways and places to go. The world is a beautiful wonderful place and if you’re open to it–you can find a way to see different parts of it.

And you need to get over the idea of it being the ‘right time’ to travel. There may never be a great time to pack up your life for six months to go do something new somewhere new. You might have to come to the conclusion that it might put you in some debt, or it might put you off graduating in four years, or you might have to shell out a grand for an airline ticket. I had a really good friend of mine who passed away while he was here pretty suddenly. He loved his family, and missed them, but he was also having the time of his life abroad and meeting new people. He was twenty one, and if anything, that just proves that you shouldn’t put off new experiences for when you are older. You might not ever be older.

Plus there are huge benefits to traveling when you are young. You, for example, are much more willing to sleep on other people’s couches to save ten bucks. Couch surfing, is not always for the weak of heart, but it’s a great way to meet locals and see new things. Young people seem to be more okay with eating strange cheap foods from vendors, or subside on a diet of rice and beans. If you want to see how far you can stretch your money, now is the time to do it.

Language barriers intimidate me. 

So learn some before you go abroad! People everywhere seem to know a little English, but it’s easy enough to learn some basic phrases for wherever you are going. Just do your research, be prepared, and never ever doubt the power of some decent charades for getting a basic message across. If you have a smart phone, considering downloading language phrase apps or writing out important information on paper so you can show locals. I had a friend who did this with Afrikaans and she learned more than the rest of us, and made some really diverse friends because people always appreciate when you make an effort to learn their native language. It’s manners really.

How do you plan this stuff? How do you know where to go? Get around? Find housing? 

Research my friend! Lonely Planet books, and websites! Check out travellers blogs–there’re THOUSANDS of them, and many of them are very comprehensive. Hostelworld has great reviews on places to stay, and really all you need is to spend some quality time on google.

Weren’t you worried about your own personal safety in a place like South Africa?

No. And Yes. I was worried the first time I came here because I had never gone on a massive trip like this by myself. And it IS intimidating. However, traveling safely mainly has to do with how aware you are of where you are, and the consequences of your actions. If you go into townships at night, or ride the train with a sparkly new shiny phone–you’ll probably have some trouble. If you’re smart and avoid situations like that, you’ll likely be fine. There’s always that random chance something might go wrong, but a lot of being safe is being self-aware. You might have to come to the conclusion that if you want to have a smart phone here, that at some point it might get stolen. Or if you want to work in a township, or visit a more ‘dangerous’ area, you might get mugged. So weigh situations before you walk into them, because most of the time–not all the time, the stories I hear about people getting in trouble are when they engage in behaviour that is probably not very smart in the first place. I’ve had friends who had stuff stolen out of their cars–you never leave stuff in cars here. I’ve had friends who have been mugged in townships who were carrying valuables on them and thus what would have been a simply rattling experience, turned into a fairly expensive one. I even had a friend mugged in a grocery store where they lost a lot of money and credit cards/debit cards-but they lost it because they had a lot of money on them, and if they hadn’t it would have minimized the trouble.

One of the simplest things I’d say can to minimize your headaches here, or while traveling is to only carry cash if you can avoid carrying cards. They’re kind of a huge headache to get replaced, especially in a country where the mail isn’t very reliable. Same goes for passports or driver’s licenses. If you need them, carry copies when possible.

(I’m not saying that these thefts were at all the fault of those who were robbed, in an ideal world no one would have to worry about their possessions, but we don’t live in that world yet, so in the mean time do what you can to save yourself the trouble of replacing cameras and credit cards)

Well nothing bad’s happened to you..

Sure it has! I’ve sprained an ankle and spent three weeks on crutches, discovered an allergy to a very common antibiotic, been mugged, had personal property stolen in a hostel, broken a camera, screwed up a bus ticket, had friends pass away, had friends get into fights in bars, and gotten very very lost many many times.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is shit happens. None of these events made me regret coming here. And most of my friends who have had a bad event/thing happen to them will say the same thing. The good things about traveling always outweigh the bad things. It was all still worth it.

Still intimidated?

I had a very close friend visit me while I was here. I’ve known her for ages, and frankly the first couple days were a little rough–mostly because I don’t think I appreciated how nerve-racking it can be going somewhere completely new for the first time. The fact is, traveling is something that requires a minor leap of faith to do, and for some people that leap comes more naturally than for others. If this is you, maybe try and find projects or programs where you have more support. You might have to pay a little more money in order to find a way to go abroad with a friend, or to go abroad with your school, but if you feel more comfortable, you’ll try more new things and you’ll get a lot more out of it. You only get as much out of a trip as you’re willing to put in.

Conclusion

Travel. Travel as much as you can, wherever you can, and don’t be afraid to skip off the beaten path and find your own adventures in crazy places all over the world. Travel in Canada, or go abroad, just challenge yourself with new things and perspectives. And learn things while you do it. As fun as it is getting drunk in bars and skydiving or whatever crazy stunts people like to do while abroad, take the time to learn about the place you are in, talk to locals and meet new people.

A lot of my best conversations occur in odd places, like cafes and on trains. People are genuinely interested in sharing their culture with tourists, and hearing about your home country. People are wonderful and if you are open to meeting them, you’ll broaden yourself to whole new experiences.

 

LandR

All roads lead to Rome


I hope you had a wonderful Easter and for all University of Toronto students, I hope all your exams are going well. Here in Brussels, we have our final exams at the end of May, beginning of June. Therefore, we had 2 weeks of vacation for Easter. Most students went back home or travelled around Europe. My friends and I decided to go to Rome, Italy to visit this beautiful and sunny country and also to pay a visit to a friend that studied in Brussels the first semester. We thought we would be a small group, however another friend also decided to go Rome the same period as us, an Italian friend decided to go back home to Rome and at the airport we met friends that took the same plane as us. Also, when we got to Rome our Italian friend told us that other friends were going to come as well. It seemed that every exchange students in Brussels was going to Rome, it seemed that literally all roads led to Rome.

Orange trees

On the streets of Rome, there are Orange trees everywhere; it’s beautiful. Also in each specific neighbourhood the street name represents cities, old Roman populations or another specific theme. I really like this idea.

Coliseum

The Coliseum

Coliseum

Inside the Coliseum. Have you ever wondered where the “thumbs up/down” action come from? Well when there was a battle inside the Coliseum, before the winner killed his opponent he looked at the emperor; if he gave a thumbs up the person lived, if it was a thumbs down the person died.

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Arches in Rome inspired the French to build their famous Arc de Triomphe (cf. post about Paris in November)

 

 


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Circus Maximus

The second dome on the right you can see is St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

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We visited Vittoriano and Campidoglio (the Capitol Hill), the seat of the Major.

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Piazza di Spagno (Spanish steps). On top there is Church Trinitei dei Monti

Piazza di Spagna (Spanish steps). On top there is Church Trinita dei Monti.

In the movie Roman Holiday there is a scene filmed at the Spanish Steps with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

The Pantheon, "Pan" means every and "theon" divinity. Inside you can find tombs of Margherita of Savoy and Raphaël.

The Pantheon, “Pan” means “every” and “theon” means “divinity”. Inside you can find tombs of Margherita of Savoy and Raphaël.

 

Quirino Theatre

Quirino Theatre

 

The Fountain of Trevi

The Fountain of Trevi

 

With our back to the Fountain we threw coins in the Fountain.

With our back to the Fountain we threw coins in the Fountain.

The Fontana of Trevi is the biggest fountain in Rome and is seen in a lot of movies such as La Dolce Vita.

We took stairs and on our left was Quirinole and on our right was a magnificent view of Rome.

We took stairs and on our left was Quirinole and on our right was a magnificent view of Rome.

Quirinole - official residence of the President

Quirinole – official residence of the President

We visited the Vatican, it is surrounded by a wall so can distinguish Rome from the Vatican. I learned that day that the Vatican is country separate from Rome, the Pope rules over it and if you live there you have a Vatican passport. However only the people who work at the Vatican live there.

We visited the Vatican. It is surrounded by a wall so you can distinguish Rome from the Vatican. I learned that day that the Vatican is a country separate from Italy. The Pope rules over it and if you live there you have a Vatican passport. However, only the people who work at the Vatican live there and have the Vatican passport.

St. Peter’s Basilica, this is where the Pope gives his speeches.

You have to stand on this circle…

...and when you stand on it you can see all the columns aligned perfectly.

…and when you stand on it you can see all the columns aligned perfectly. On top there are statues of popes, they were all made by the same artist.

Here is a picture of the columns from another angle, as you can see unlike the previous pictures you can see all the columns even the ones behind.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

The tomb of Pope Jean Paul II

The tomb of Pope John Paul II.

Saint Peter, the first pope.

Saint Peter, the first pope.

Climbing the

Climbing the dome.

As a little broke students we decided to take the stairs instead of the elevators to go on top of the dome. It was quite an adventure, as you can see the hallways where not always straight.

As a little bit broke students we decided to take the stairs instead of the elevators to go on top of the dome because it was cheaper. As you can see it was quite an adventure because the hallways where not always straight!!

Saint Peter's Square

Saint Peter’s Square

The Vatican's parc/garden.

The Vatican’s park/garden.

One of the statue of a pope from up close.

One of the statues of a pope from up close.

One of the guards near an entrance of the Vatican. They have really colourful uniforms.

One of the guards near an entrance of the Vatican. They have really colourful uniforms!

Sunset on the Vatican.

Sunset on the Vatican.

Castel Saint Angelo

Castel Saint Angelo

Saint Angelo Bridge, there are beautiful statues on the bridge.

Saint Angelo Bridge, there are beautiful statues on the bridge.

The Palace of Juctice

The Palace of Justice

Sunset

The river is called Tevere in Italian or Tiber River in English. When you cross the river you get to Isola Tiberna, Tiberna Island.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Campo de Fiori, this is the place where all the executions took place.

Campo de Fiori, this is the place where all the executions took place. The statue is Giordano Bruno, an intellectual who was burned for heresy.

A very cute church, it seems that Romans like to build churches in every corners of their town.

A very cute church, it seems that Romans like to build churches in every corner of their town.

Fountain delle Tartarughe at Piazza Matei

Fountain delle Tartarughe at Piazza Matei.

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

There are stairs at Piazza del Popolo, up those stairs is a beautiful garden and this is the view on top.

There are stairs at Piazza del Popolo, up those stairs is the beautiful garden Villa Borghese and this is the view on top.

View on Piazza del Popolo

View on Piazza del Popolo

An interesting clock that works with water.

An interesting clock that works with water.

We visited the Garden of Oranges, a very romantic garden which as you can guess is filled with oranges. This is the view of Rome from the garden.

We visited the Garden of Oranges, a very romantic garden which as you can guess is filled with oranges. This is the view of Rome from the garden.

You can see from afar

You can see on the right Vittoriano.

After the Garden of Oranges, we went to the Door of the Knights of the Order of Malta. Inside the door there is a little hole and guess what building you can see!!

After the Garden of Oranges, we went to the Door of the Knights of the Order of Malta. Inside the door there is a little hole and guess what building you can see!! …Saint Peter’s Basilica!

The Forum at night, this is where there was the Palace of Peace. However, one should not forget that Romans where cruel at times and there was often a lot blood everywhere, in particular in the Coliseum.

The Forum at night, this is where there was the Palace of Peace. However, one should not forget that Romans where cruel at times and there was often a lot blood everywhere, in particular in the Coliseum.

The same evening we saw the Sacred Zone, this is where Julius Caesar died, and the old Italian Jewish Ghetto where there is a very big synagogue. This synagogue is surrounded by police stations and it is very well controlled because it is in a sensitive place where Nazis killed a lot of Italian Jews. I haven’t watched to many Italian movies and unfortunately I am not too familiar with them, however there is one film that really touched me called Life is Beautiful ( La vitta è bella) it is the story about an Italian Jew married to a Christian woman, the movie is about their romance when they met and the horror that occurred during WWII; I haven’t smiled and cried at the same time in a movie before. You can borrow it from Media Commons VideoDVD750028 or at Kelly Library PN1997.V58 1997 DVD SMS. For a movie that is a little more light hearted I suggest you to watch Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani), you can borrow it at Kelly library PN1997 .P36 2002 DVD SMS. It is really funny.

We also visited the Imperial Fora, it is quite big and everywhere there are ruins, beautiful views and plants.

At the very back you can see Vittoriano

Inside the Imperial Fora, at the very back you can see Vittoriano

View of the Coliseum from the Imperial Fora

View of the Coliseum from the Imperial Fora

Bocca della Verità; Mouth of Truth. In the past they put a criminals hand in the mouth and he lied or was accused of a crime one shopped off his hand. Today lovers go there, and put the hand of their partner in it and ask the Bocca della Verità if their lovers does indeed love them.

Bocca della Verità; Mouth of Truth. In the past they put a criminal’s hand in the mouth and if he lied or was accused of a crime, his hand was chopped off. Today lovers go there, and put the hand of their partner in it and ask the Bocca della Verità if their lover does indeed love them.

On via Ripetta there is one modern building and fountain. Personally  I think it fits perfectly with the landscape because the colour is the same as the buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, Italians were outraged by this building because they wanted to keep the old building theme throughout the city. But then my question is, how can you build new buildings if they always look old...?

On via Ripetta there is one modern building and fountain. Personally I think it fits perfectly with the landscape because the colour is the same as the buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, Italians were outraged by this building because they wanted to keep the old building theme throughout the city. But then my question is, how can you build new buildings if they always look old…?

Italians have the best food in the world, pizza, pasta, ice cream… In Rome I wasn’t at all disappointed by the food! Every evening we went to eat gelato and our dinners at restaurants were great. Also one evening my friend cooked spaghetti carbonara for us, with bacon from his town, eggs, parmiggiano and contrary to what we get served in northern Europe, no cream in the sauce. I can’t wait to prepare his recipe!

This is Giolitti, it is famous ice cream shop with lots of  delicious ice cream with different tastes. Apparently very time Obama comes to Rome, he brings his girls there for ice cream.

This is Giolitti, it is a famous ice cream shop with lots of delicious ice cream with different tastes.  In Italy they also put on top of the ice cream a very lovely crème fraîche. Apparently every time Obama comes to Rome, he brings his girls there for ice cream. Also, the European Parliament is close to Giolitti’s.

A restaurant where you get free insults with your food, crazy Italians!

A restaurant where you get free insults with your food. Crazy Italians!

Wine and chocolate bar with very funny erotic names, very very crazy Italians!!

Wine and chocolate bars with very funny erotic names. Very, very, crazy Italians!!

Close up of the menu!

Close up of the menu!

A historical caffé, an espresso only costs 1.20 Euro and it is DELICIOUS!

An historical caffé, an espresso only costs 1.20 Euro and it is DELICIOUS!

One evening we also went to Saint Lorenzo neighbourhood, where all the young people hang out on weekends. It was great to go to an “underground” place in Rome and not only to touristic places. On our way we passed Verano Cemetery, where a famous (and insane?) Italian proposed to his girlfriend. On the streets there are lots of small flower shops, Italians are intrigued and don’t know why they are open everyday, 24/7. Also in the city they sell University of Rome sweaters, there are lots of university there however University of Rome doesn’t exist! Hence it is funny to see all the tourist wearing them! These are a few Roman mysteries!

The last day we went to a very big park and sunbathed. I tried to appreciate as much as possible the sun because in Belgium it's always grey and it's always raining.

The last day we went to a very big park and sunbathed. I tried to appreciate as much as possible the sun and the intensely blue sky because although I love Belgium, it’s unfortunately always grey and it’s always raining. It’s weird but I felt the sky in Rome was a darker more intense blue colour than in Belgium.

I really had an awesome time in Rome. The fabulous sunny weather, the great Italian hospitality from my friends who were so kind not only to host my friends and I, but also to be the greatest guides one can have! Grazie mille for showing us your great city, I saw lots of things, I learned a lot and can honestly say that it’s an amazingly beautiful city. And thank you to the friends that travelled with me, I hope my insomnia, craziness, my loudness didn’t bother you too much. Hopefully you didn’t get a Nazanin-overload!

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures – Thornton Wilder

ciao,

Nazanin

 

Deutschland: Berlin, Heidelberg & Frankfurt


Well what an incredible German experience this trip was! I had the fortunate opportunity to meet my best friend Constantino, who studied with me in Barcelona during the first six months, in his beautiful country of Germany!

There was no better way I could have imagined touring around Germany rather then having a local who had spent a significant amount of time in each city! We began our adventure by meeting at Berlin Tegel Airport, and from that point on I sat back and let my ‘incredibly knowledgeable’ guide lead me through eras of history, development, and the current economic political powerhouse of Europe. From Berlin Mitte, the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, Charlottenberg and many Curry Würste, Berlin treated us so well that I am already itching to go back!

From there, we caught a quick German Wings flight from Tegel to Stuttgart where Constantino got us quickly and ‘efficiently’ up to Heidelberg. It was a perfect day touring around Heidelberg before my ‘ Erste WG Party diese nacht’ (first German House Party) with our friends ‘Moritz, Öetinger und Wahrscheiner’. After speaking German all night long, a good rest was needed before we were off to Frankfurt.

We met Constantino’s incredible family in Frankfurt the next day where they showed us around the financial centre of continental Europe and their lives in that incredible city! After a quick view from Maintower and then a visit to Bad Homberg, we settled for a great dinner at ‘Mon Amie Maxie’!

On Top of Main Tower Frankfurt! Flying Home over Lake Geneva and the Alps Ebbelwoi! Römer, Frankfurt ECB European Central Bank Frankfurt Stock Exchange Commerz Bank from Maintower Deutshce Bank World Headquarters Frankfurt Old Opera House Heidelberg Heidelberg From Barcelona to Heidelberg! Berlin Berlin Dom and Fernsehturm Bradenburger Tor DSC02445 Original Berlin Wall War Time Building Brandenburger Tor Berlin Wall inbetween Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag Reichstag Building from Republik Square Reichstag Brandenburger Tor from the Reichstag Reichstag Building Ritter Sport Store! Best Curry Wurst in Berlin! Berliner Dom and History Berliner Dom Only in Germany…. Berlin by Night!

South African Beaches

My family has never been particularly avid beach-goers. We went occasionally throughout my childhood, but the trips were far and few between, preferring instead to go on camping trips and hikes, and I loved all of those trips as a child. However, this year, I’ve gotten to live near the ocean for the first time in my life and have made the fairly easy transition into a beach loving human, so I wanted to do a post on beaches in South Africa that way I could share some of my favourites.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay is likely the beach visited by the most tourists in Cape Town. You can take a mini bus from Cape Town straight to the ocean for like R6 and its usually packed with sunbathers under hired umbrellas. There are never very many people swimming, its always freezing and therefore most people avoid the water as much as they can. However it doesn’t get as much wind as Muizenberg does which makes it a nice place to read and sleep. Behind the beach, there is a street full of seafood restaurants and shops to grab a sundowner and explore. It lies between Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, and you can see it from Lion’s Head really well on your way up.

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Long Beach 

This beach lies near Nordhoek and took a while to find so if you want to check it out I suggest you get better directions then we did. It’s massive, and you walk over some dunes to get to it. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very nice when we went there, but on the plus side, it was great shots and I had a great time hanging out with some surfers I met from Hawaii.

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Onrus Beach

I spent my Christmas break at Onrus with some friends who worked as life guards employed by the city. While I didn’t surf here, the boogie boarding was tons of fun, and they had record high waves this summer. Some of them reached close to 8 meters which kept the lifeguards busy. Instead of the day after Christmas being Boxing Day, here it’s Beach Day. And it was PACKED. I also spent New Year’s on this beach, and it was great to be out there with hundreds of other people and big beautiful lanterns being launched into the air. Everyone counted down to midnight, and the water was warm enough we even went for a swim post-midnight.

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Jeffrey’s Bay

Jeffrey’s Bay is a surf destination that is regarded as having one of the best right hand point breaks in the world, and is home to the Billabong PRO ASP World Tour every year. I am not the greatest surfer so I stuck mostly to the beach pictured below. Lessons were cheap and there is a huge number of discounted factory shops from RipCurl to Billabong in town. It’s a quiet sleepy place with sick surf and the hostel was a ton of fun to just hang around and meet people. The water here is much warmer than in Cape Town, and was 20+C the entire week I was there. Best surfing is in winter though, so check it out if you can get there between June-August.

 

 

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West Coach National Park

Located on the west coast of the continent this dreamy beach was a wonderful day trip out of Cape Town. It’s about a two hour drive away through mostly uninhabited countryside, we passed several species of antelope and ostriches as we drove in. The bottom picture is of the ocean coast, and the picture with me walking towards the boats is on the lagoon side where the water is much warmer and calmer.

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 Llandudno

This was my favourite beach, mostly because there were huge granite boulders next to it that you could climb. Situated nearish Hout Bay, its a tiny secluded beach with hard surf (and frankly hard climbing). The water is freezing, but it’s kind of an amazing place to spend a day and gets overlooked by a lot of tourists for the more popular (and not as nice) Camps Bay and Clifton beaches.

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bouldering

** for those interested in climbing here the guide can be found online: Bouldering Guide 

Cape Agulhas 

I went out with some friends to visit Cape Agulhas for a weekend and to get a chance to go to the Southern Most Point of Africa. The trip was tons of fun, and we got to see massive sting rays as well! Which was pretty incredible on its own. The beach was spacious and the water was pretty warm. You could walk straight along it to a dock where they bring in all of the fish from the boats in big green boxes. It was super busy and smelled of fish and fresh blood, but I love old boats and it was definitely a favorite spot of mine.

 

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stingray

Some random Sting Ray Facts: 

  • Distant cousin of sharks
  • Belong to the Batoidea family (cartilaginous fish family)
  • Eyes lie on top of their heads so they have to rely on smell and electroreceptors to sense their prey.
  • Their stings are almost never fatal and instead generally just result in a really painful cut/sore.
  • The sting ray above is a Smooth Sting Ray and they can weigh up to 770 lbs and measure up to 6 feet in diameter, and 14 feet long.

Friday Photo: Boulder’s Beach (more penguins!)

 

 

 

 

 

penguins on their own

 

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Boulder’s Beach & Simon’s Town

The second picture is mainly for my parents for making fun of the fact that there hasn’t been a single picture with both me and a penguin together. So here’s some proof that I did actually see these adorable birdies in person.

Boulders beach is really cool and home to tons of penguins! Skip the pay to get in beaches and keep walking down the trail and you’ll get to a beach where you can wonder around with these tiny birds for free. Just be respectful and don’t pet them. They bite!

Poland: 2 days, 3 cities

If you are reading this blog, it might be because you are a student and you are wondering if you should go on a student exchange program or not. Going abroad is a very special experience and you learn a lot about yourself, how to handle unknown and difficult situations and you also meet a lot of different people from different places around the world. First semester I met very friendly Polish students (from Silesia). Unfortunately they had to leave Brussels and go back to their home university for the 2nd term. I’ve never been to Poland, therefore with a friend we decided to go visit them in March. Our flight was Saturday morning…

Day 1: Warsaw – Capital City of Poland

The first words that come to my mind when I think of Poland are Chopin the very famous musician and pianist, and also Marie Curie because that’s where she was born. I also think about the sad disasters of Auschwitz and the fact that the Polish government had to reconstruct a lot of their buildings. Yet before going to this trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I didn’t have a mental image of Polish architecture, thus I just let myself get surprised by the adventure. The first thing that I didn’t know was that although Poland is a part of the Schengen Agreement, they don’t have the Euro yet. However, I was astonished to see that even on a weekend there was no difficulty at all to find exchange offices in town. After changing my money, we started going to the city center of Warsaw and visiting Poland….

Stalin built the Palace of Culture. From up close I found that the building looked much smaller than in pictures. Polish people don’t really like the building because it was built by Stalin during the communist period. There is a joke in Poland: “What is the most beautiful view in Warsaw? On top of the Palace of Culture, because that’s the only place where you cannot see it!!”.

The Palace of Culture

The Palace of Culture

There are lots of different statues around the Palace of Culture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took this picture at the top of the Palace of Culture. At the very back you can see a big round building. This is where some matches of the Soccer Euro Cup took place in 2012.

Shopping Mall

This is a Shopping Mall, with the most unusual architecture. Brussels doesn’t have malls, all the shops are outside because it isn’t as cold as Poland or Canada.

This is the Museum of Technology. Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture, there was a huge line and we didn’t want to wait 1 hour in a -15 degrees Celsius weather.

This is the Palace of Warsaw. It is located in the Old Town.

 

On the right is the Palace and the left, the green building is where we had lunch. We had some very delicious Polish soup, such as Zurek. Also on a square nearby, there is a statue of a mermaid with a sword. This statue is a symbol of Warsaw.

The Presidential Palace

The Palace Near the Water is located in a park. The park is really big and with all the snow it was extremely beautiful, but it was really cold. Near the main entrance we saw wild female and male peacocks. I was so surprised to see them, I was really not expecting to see them. They are really beautiful creatures.

Saturday evening, we took the train to go to Katowice, where my Polish friends live. Depending on the type of train the trip can be between 3 and 5 hours. We took the fastest train which took 3 hours.

Day 2: Katowice and Krakow

Katowice is a small city compared to Warsaw and Krakow, however it has a lot of charm. On Sunday when we visited the city, it was the weekend before Easter and a lot of people were in church and were carrying flowers, called palm leaves. My friends showed us the industrial neighbourhood in which miners used to live. Today people still live there, but it is a poorer district than in the past.

Industrial neighbourhood, at the very back there is a church.

 

Krakow

There is a salt mine near Krakow. We visited the salt mine, I was very impressed by it because it was bigger than I expected. Miners did beautiful sculptures inside and there are saturated salt lakes. When you go inside you cannot smell the salt very much, however when you leave the mine you can feel the difference in the air. Some people sleep there and stay a couple of days in the mine. Furthermore, there are lots of small chapels inside and there is a big one in which there are Sunday services every week and where you can get married. Some music concerts are also held there because of the nice echo. After visiting the salt mine we decided to visit the city centre.

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Beautiful Church in the city centre

Beautiful church in the city centre. Due to the fact that is was the Sunday before Easter Sunday, the church was full of people and we couldn’t see everything inside. Nevertheless, inside there were a lot of colours, in particular gold, and I found it very majestic.

On the left and on the right there is a church, the one on the right is built later.

On the left and on the right there is a church, the one on the right was built later.

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Krakow has a legend about a dragon, therefore there is a dragon near Krakow Palace.
Krakow has a legend about a dragon, therefore near the Palace (pictures below) there is a big statue of a dragon.
Krakow PalaceKrakow Palace
Day 3: Warsaw/ Back to Brussels
On Monday morning we took the train back to Warsaw from Katowice. Sadly it was a very short weekend, yet I really enjoyed it and I was able not only to see my 2 favourite Polish friends, but also visit a new country and culture. I was amazed by the fact that Poland has so many churches and palaces and I really would like to visit it again in the future.
until next time,
cheers,
Nazanin
P.S. Special thanks to my 2 Polish friends and my friend who travelled with me.

The Last of the North Island: caves, museum, and ferry

Hi People!

Anyone who has travelled abroad will know the feeling of “the unknown” that you have before you leave for your adventure. Before you arrive in the new country, you really don’t know what to expect, or even what is worth trying to see. Luckily for me, one of my best friends has done a lot of travelling herself, and when she was in New Zealand she went black-water tubing. She loved it so much, that she and her lovely mother covered the cost for Andrew and I to go (thanks!).

About to enter the caves

About to enter the caves

Based solely on the description of black-water tubing, I would have never enrolled without encouragement…but I’m so glad we did! Basically, the adventure is composed of suiting up in a wetsuit and helmet, grabbing a tiny inner tube, and climbing into an underground cave. THEN, without hesitation, we all jump backwards off a waterfall into cool, dark, eel-infested waters. Okay, so it was a small waterfall, and the eels are pretty friendly. But still.

Learning how to raft up. Look Mom, no hands!

Learning how to raft up. Look Mom, no hands!

Oops! Almost stepped on a 3-inch diameter eel. Sorry bud!

Oops! Almost stepped on a 3-inch diameter eel. Sorry bud!

It was so dark down there that we had to sit very still for a slow shutter on this one.

It was really amazing! The caves are in Waitomo, and they are actually filled with glow worms. It is so dark down there that the worms are all you can see. To be honest, I would have turned around and done it again if I could!

The light at the end of the tunnel! What an awesome ride

The light at the end of the tunnel! What an awesome ride

One of our tubing guides, Scuba, suggested that we go on a short hike near where we exited the caves. After hot showers and lunch, we headed back to that area, and started the trail. It really was amazing! There were all kinds of caves along the way that you could go into and explore.

The last city on the North Island that we visited was Wellington. After a long two weeks of camping and wilderness, we were glad to have a friend (nickname “Quiche”) in Wellington to stay with. Even though she was a new friend, she generously offered her couch to our aching backs. We were only in the city for one day, so we took advantage of that time to visit the national museum (Te Papa), which was absolutely great (and payment by donation). Quiche brought us out to a local pub to meet some of her other friends, and then we left early the next day for our ferry to the South Island (finally!).

The day we took the ferry was a real milestone for me: the first time I’ve ever had seasickness. The Cook Straight is not known for its calmness. Andrew, who was also seasick, just reminded me that I pretended I was not seasick, and instead mocked him mercilessly for being a wimp… he just found out my secret.

Check back soon for road washout, Abel Tasman park, and maybe even fur seals! Take care!