Buns, A National Park, and An Exam

Two words: Kanelbullens Dag.

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Translation: Cinnamon Bun Day. Some people may question why a country would have a national Cinnamon Bun Day…I however, am not one of those people. Instead, I wonder, why does Canada not have a day dedicated to the celebration of these delightful cinnamon swirls of buttery, doughy goodness? Kanelbullens Dag was on Friday, the 4th of October. To celebrate, a group of my classmates and I gathered together to bake some of these delightful treats using a recipe from the local newspaper. Since there were nine of us, we clearly decided to do the logical thing and double the recipe. The result: Several mini mountains of buns piled around the kitchen table. With the aid of cream cheese frosting, we managed to defeat the numerous buns and eventually everyone was able to roll themselves home.

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In other sweetness news, I finally got around to volunteering at my Nation….for the bakery of course. The Nations are the heart of Lund’s student life. When you register at Lund, you have to option to pay a small fee to join Stundentlund. By joining, you get to register with one nation, although you can attend any nation regardless of which one you registered for. All the Nations hold pub nights, dinners, sittnings (not a spelling mistake), lunches, brunches, game nights, movie nights…you get the idea. All of these event nights are run by students and rely completely on student volunteers. However, if you volunteer you get treated pretty well. While working, you will get a decent meal, possibly some booze (if you are helping for a dinner or pub), plus you will get a “thank you” ticket either to attend a sittning, get free entrance to a pub night, or have a free Sunday brunch. Working at the bakery was ace. I got to bake lingonberry cake, strawberry crumble, and jam filled cookies. Other volunteers worked on baking some bread and making us pizza for dinner that night. I worked just under four hours, and got to head home with a bag full of treats and a full stomach. A fair trade in my opinion.

As for school related business, this past Friday the 11th was my exam. So different from U of T. This is the only exam I will be writing for my Marine Ecology class, and as such, it is worth 50% of my overall grade. There is something nice about writing the exam while still having three weeks of class remaining. I guess I just like the thought of being able to work on my final two projects without having to worry about coming home and reviewing all my lecture notes. The exam itself was quite fair. It was about twenty short answer questions and we were given five hours to complete it. I found this to be astounding. From what I have heard, most Swedish exams are four to five hours in length. Not because the exam is massive, but because the professors want you to have time to think. Actually, we were even allowed to leave the lecture room for coffee breaks. There were no monitors outside of the classroom. It is completely a trust based system. Just one more reason why I continue to love Lund, and Sweden, more and more.

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Since my exam was on Friday, I decided to give myself a study free weekend. Instead, I did some baking, ate dinner with some friends, and took a hike in Söderasen National Park to experience the fall colours. Yes, there are definitely lots of similarities to Ontario’s fall colours (as you can see from the photos), but there are still subtle differences. These differences however, are difficult to name, yet easy to understand when out hiking.

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Until next time,

Abby

*All photos came from fellow classmates this week.

Student Life at Hertie

Guten tag!

Since my first post a couple of weeks ago, things in Berlin have not really settled down! I feel as though it’s been just as busy as it was in the first month. A quasi-routine has partially taken form, punctuated by regular class attendance and thanks to greater familiarity with my surroundings. I can now comfortably navigate my way around the city using public transport, know where my local post office, grocery store and Rossman (like a Shopper’s Drug Mart) are, and some common German phrases and expressions have sunk in, thankfully allowing for a somewhat better understanding of what’s happening around me. But the excitement and novelty of being here has not diminished… I only wish time would slow down!

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Carolyn & I in front of the Hertie School on our first day.

I’ll start this post off with school. Certain aspects of classes at the Hertie School of Governance are a bit different than they are back home. The course syllabus, which up till now I’ve known as a strict (unchangeable) roadmap for a class in terms of requirements and due dates, is not set in stone here — at least not in my classes. Near the beginning of the term, a couple professors asked for student input regarding what topics were, and were not, of interest. If there was strong interest in one topic relative to another, they accommodated this and adjusted the readings accordingly. It’s been nice to see a little more flexibility when it comes to course content and student preferences. Another little joy: in one class, the professor noted that, “unlike American schools,” he has only assigned one required reading per week, on the condition that students actually complete it. To me, this is a refreshing and very welcome change from what I’ve grown used to — an almost exhaustive and impossibly long list of required (and recommended) readings that realistically is not completed by more than a couple of students. None of this is to say that Hertie students are not learning equally as much or covering just as much content! It is only the approach that is different. Hertie students, in fact, are some of the smartest and hardest working I’ve seen, and the library and study rooms throughout the building are full on a daily basis.

An interesting German custom is that after every lecture and/or student presentation, the audience knocks on their tables and desks instead of clapping. This is only done in academic settings. It was funny to see and hear the first couple of times, as no one but the German students knew what was going on. I find it to be a nice little gesture of acknowledgment that is somehow more suitable than clapping, as though it were a performance.

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Berlin Wall tribute line at Checkpoint Charlie.

The Hertie School of Governance itself is located in the former East Berlin and the building used to house the Ministry of Foreign Trade of the former GDR. As one professor pointed out on the topic of film, this means that just a little more than 20 years ago, it was forbidden to watch Western movies within these walls… hard to believe! Walk just a couple of blocks south from school and you get to Checkpoint Charlie, the notorious Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin.

The nice thing about Hertie is that all the classes are in the same 5-floor building. A cute little cafeteria is situated on the second floor and run by an adorable and kind elderly pair of Germans. The tables are occupied by students all day for group meetings, studying, lunch breaks and simply for socializing. Just around the corner is the library. There is no need to trek across a big campus, and no matter where you are in the building, you always see a familiar face.

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The halls of the Hertie School.

These familiar faces — new friends — have been such an important part of this experience. It’s with them that I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the many nooks and crannies of Berlin. One Sunday we explored a big park called Mauerpark, which hosts a huge market and a karaoke show. We managed to coax Emily (who may or may not have secretly wanted to) to sing a song and she rocked it in front of a big old audience! There are more social opportunities here than there is the time. Outings with Hertie students; dinner parties with my German roommates, which have culminated in singing old German sailor songs; exploring of nightlife; trying out cafes, restaurants, bars; traveling with friends; and participating in Hertie events (there’s a cool club called Cinema Politica that hosts independent, political film screenings) … this is the stuff that has made for a fantastically fun and enjoyable time.

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Admiring the Prague Castle (so beautiful!) with a great group of friends.

And speaking of travel… a recent highlight was a weekend trip to Prague with a close group of exchange students. Toooooo much fun! Travel to and from was easy and cheap by bus and only took 4.5 hours from Berlin. We had a lovely time. The old town is beautiful, the city is very affordable, and Czech food is delicious (arguably better than German)! Lots of meat and dumplings. The Czech version of Goulash soup is a must-have as well. Although we could only stay 2 nights and couldn’t see as much of the city as we wanted to, I rest assured knowing that leaving a few things in a place undone means there is a good reason to go back someday.

In recent news, Germany saw the re-election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor. I learned that in this country there is about a 70% voter turnout rate, which is quite high compared to the roughly 50-55% range in the US. “Voting is just something you do here,” as one professor put it. On October 3rd, Germans celebrated the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or the Day of German Unity, a public holiday commemorating the anniversary of German reunification in 1990 (for various reasons reunification is not commemorated on the day that the Berlin Wall came down, which is November 9).

It’s getting kind of cold and rainy in Berlin as the fall closes in, but in a place as incredible as this it’s hard for that to bring you down… so until next time! Cheers!

Mari

London Paris Adventure!!!

Well Hot Damn.

Where to even begin?

My first 3 weeks have been a whirlwind. In first week of school here at Holloway (and most Universities I think) there are no classes. Be prepared to meet people, never sleep and do as the Roman’s do!
In my case England has quite a lively pub culture and I found myself awash with people who were all too happy to buy me that one last drink.

If, dear reader, you ever find your self in England I highly recommend sampling Kopparberg Pear Cider. On top of being cheap (about 2.70£), the bubbling brew is delicious and the comically large bottles it comes in really do give one a sense of accomplishment once finished.
Staying up until 5am discussing theology, life, politics, impossible scenarios or dancing, running, laughing or not going to bed at all are the norm for the first few days and you will make some incredible friends.

As an insomniac and part time anarchist I didn’t find the lack of sleep too perturbing (though even I would have struggled with any more than 2 weeks, I highly recommend ear plugs, eye masks and any kind of over the counter sleep aids).

I’ve been running on adrenalin, ginger beer and friendship.

On my first weekend I was swept away by my aunt Jan, who was in the UK for business, to London. Here she showed me an incredible pub constructed from an old series of tunnels, which were once used by ships to transport crates and barrels of supplies. The tables are jam-packed deep underground into low ceilinged tunnels (I was perfectly comfortable, standing at a whopping 5 foot 5 inches) that leak and smell of smoke and musk. Iron grating reminiscent from the time of their use still section off some of the tunnels from the rest of the restaurant. There are no windows and so candles stuck in the tops of wine bottles light the whole place. The food is fantastic!

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The bar is tucked into an alley next to a busy street with tantalizing smells of curry, hair spray, colonel, cigarettes, pastries and perfume. Many men in suits hang half way out of pub windows, almost all the way gone after a long day at work. Everyone is dressed to the height of fashion and eager to say hello to a passing stranger or have some fun.

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LONDON!

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LONDON!

After going to bed well into the am my aunt and I had a lay-in before taking another romp around London. We ran into a trio of hilarious men, one of whom had stolen a traffic cone and explained quite impassionedly that he wanted to find the perfect spot for it in London. I recommended he place it next to Big Ben; then it could be Little Ben.

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Big Ben…IN LONDON!

The trio…

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After this we ran into a man playing the flute and a biker, both of who were lovely and happy to dance with me on the streets.

The Thames sparkled under the London Eye in the now fading light of the street lamps, boats rocked gently on the water, people chattered excitedly as they passed by and I can genuinely say the moment was a perfect one.

Museums, especially ones with free admission, are my favorite thing. The Royal Museum of Surgeons in London features a fantastic array of specimens; from preserved human fetuses (not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but endlessly fascinating to me) to some of the first blood transfusion devises. Thousands of insects, reptiles, amphibians and other, stranger things in jars decorate the walls next to sets of massive horns, antlers and surgical instruments. How anyone survived the last few hundred years is a mystery to me.
One particularly peculiar artifact was a false nose attached to glass-less wire frames, which was worn by a woman in the 16th century who had lost her nose to syphilis.
On the top floor are all the surgical devices as well as a looping documentary of current day medical practices/surgeries.

Pictures are prohibited in the museum as I found out after taking one, but I will display it here for you. Don’t tell any one!

Circulatory System of a Human Baby

The circulatory system of a Human baby.

Me in the Skelo-suit

Me in the skelo-suit.

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Skelo-booty

After a few hours in the museum, (and make no mistake, I loved every second of it!) I was starting to feel an overwhelming sense of my own demise and the fact that all things end, and that everything I do will eventually be forgotten and that ultimately, I am a dot on a spec of dust floating through space and time with absolutely no significance.

Luckily my aunt Jan was there to break this existential crisis by telling me quite unexpectedly the next morning that she was taking me to Paris for the rest of the weekend. To this I responded, “Meh, well I suppose if we have to…”

Paris, obviously, is amazing. The architecture alone is worth the trip.

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I have heard many stereotypes attributed to the French; that they are rude, racist etc., etc. This was not my experience at all; everyone was lovely and I had ample opportunity to use my spoken French and comprehension of the French language.

I generally try to avoid tourist traps. My travel plans are usually to find someone who knows what they are doing and follow them. I have no interest in standing in line to see something up close that I can view from a far. Instead I aim to create an experience; I want to meet the people, eat the food, and speak the language. All things which can be done relatively cheaply and, in my mind at least, create a more lasting experience.
That being said, I did feel the need to visit the Catacombs. My visit was unfortunately rushed as our trip was ending and our flight left within a matter of hours. And so after making two new poly-linguistic friends in the line, paying my 4 euros and rushing down a seemingly never ending spiral stair case I was able to see piles upon piles of bones. Femurs stacked in 5-foot piles, all mounted by or decorated with skulls in various states of completeness. The catacombs are dark and damp and generally give one an overpowering sensation of what it must have been like during the plague when so many ill fell dead in the streets that they had to by buried en mass in an endless network of tunnels under the city.

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My aunt had opted not to come with me; she had instead gone back to the hotel to prepare our things in the interest of a quick get away. It was something of a comical scene; me running out of a labyrinth of death to appear, blinking from the light, heart pounding from my sprint up the last of the stairs, only to fly desperately into a French taxi to meet my Aunt with a high five and a squeal of delight that we were not to miss our plane. I sort of regret not coming away from the experience with a cursed skull or a fragment of patella bone. Incidentally; don’t steal bone from the catacombs; the security will check your bags and also the soulless, empty sockets of hundreds of dead skulls will judge you.

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He’s judging you.

We did go see the Arch de Triumph, though we stood several feet from it as the 300000 lane round about with no cross walk permitted entree to only the most foolish of daredevils. I saw Le Tour Eiffel from a respectable distance instead of climbing to its peak.

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But the experience. Visiting flea markets and chic interior design stores that trump any IKEA, eating crescents and actually speaking French. I was even able to have an accordion lesson, thanks to the kindness of my aunt, and my instructor, Danielle, was an absolute peach! Dressed in a bubbly pink poodle skirt, she sat with remarkable patience as I struggled through the keys and the correct movements. The accordion was the same one she had played as a girl and won many trophies with. The entire lesson had been in French and I was certainly feeling I deserved the delectable sparkling wine I was offered by Danielle’s husband after our playing. The accordion shop also happened to be a winery.

To end a perfect experience my aunt then took me to a delightful restaurant where I left sketches on all the napkins. One of these I stuck to the kitchen door and the staff left me a delightful thank you note for my work. From dinner we then proceeded to a cabaret bar where an incredible performance lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. The singers; a stunning selection of men and women with incredibly powerful voices absolutely rocked the house; they danced on tables, encouraging patrons to join them (which I of course did) as they jigged and belted out a combination of French jazz and English pop music.
I remained sober through all of these endeavors because when I requested a rum and coke I was given a mini coke-a-cola and nearly a liter of rum to mix with it. I am no captain Jack Sparrow and such a hefty amount of rum was beyond me.

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Me at the cabaret bar with my liter of rum.

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My auntie.

Vie de France!

I know I am missing details, but too much has happened for me to cover in less than a novel of epic scale.

Now that my classes have started I am starting to feel the pressure. I have two drama classes; Devising and Australian Theatre which are fantastically interesting and do not have exams, only final papers. And one biology class: Invertebrate Physiology. The biology class, which consists of 50 page readings, 2-hour lectures and a 4-hour lab, is making me sweat. And it’s only the first week!

Tata for now!

I know I will have loads to report soon!

Observations on Higher Learning in Scotland

Before I came to Scotland, I was under the impression that Universities operated essentially the same way, regardless what country you happen to be located in. This, I have since found out, is not the case. The University of Glasgow is very different from U of T, and not just because it’s about three times as old. Five weeks in and I think I’ve learned enough to create a pretty good crash course in how to survive University: UK style.

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[Get used to the fact that you will be taking classes in rooms three times as old as your home country!]
Do your prep work!
The Socratic Method is alive and well here in Scotland. (If you’ve never heard of the Socratic method, watch The Paper Chase.) Before every class readings and questions are assigned and the professors expect you to be prepared. By this I don’t mean skimming the article two hours before the class and showing up to lecture ready to have the topic explained to you. An unnamed student who may or may not be the author of this post foolishly didn’t read the last article assigned for Advanced International Law this week… bad decision! Here, when you show up to class expect to be asked questions and to defend an opinion. The professors here assume you already know the content, as far as they’re concerned, their job is to facilitate discussion of the content.

So, now that the Socratic method has scared you into thinking “Oh no! I didn’t do all the readings this week! I don’t want to be shamed again in front of my peers! I guess I’ll just skip that class…” I hate to break it to you, you can’t, because…

Attendance, it’s mandatory
In Scotland, attendance is mandatory, even if there is no participation mark. At first I was a bit taken aback by this. In North America it’s up to me how I want to learn the content! If I want to pay x number of dollars to just learn it in my room and just show up to the exam, why can’t I? But then it dawned on me… No one else here is paying x number of dollars. University here is free (!!!!) for Scottish students. So, I suspect the requirement of attendance is the university’s way of  making sure the system isn’t abused by someone not serious about their studies.

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Plus, once you get used to the teaching style, you’ll want to be there every week because…

Studying Law doesn’t exactly mean the same thing over here
It may be called a law class, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be studying any law. Subjects are a lot less compartmentalized than in North America, which is really cool! The aforementioned Advanced International Law Class includes topics on politics, economics, philosophy… as well as some law. This seems to be especially true of the upper year classes which really focus on broad concepts and theories rather than black-letter law. Bonus: With all the politics added to my classes I’ll be able to discuss the Euro Crisis at smart parties without sounding like a complete idiot. Thank you, Glasgow.

Reconsider your wardrobe
It is embarrassing to admit, but my sweatpants and Uggs Thursday uniform was not well received over here in Glasgow. Rule of thumb: Wear what you would for a night out on the town in Toronto, put on panty hose, throw a scarf over anything low cut and it’s appropriate for class. [This of course makes going for a night out in Glasgow that much harder… think cocktail dresses, blow outs, and a lot of eye make up]. Honestly… I still haven’t got this one down. That, more than everything else is what sets me apart from the locals (well… other than the accent and inability to count the British coins properly).

Student Unions, they’re where it’s at!
I had never even heard of a Student Union (at least, in the type that I am talking about) until I got here. Student unions at the University of Glasgow are like fraternities, except anyone can join and you don’t have to pay them any money or run around in a funny costume to show how much you want to be a member. They are a cross between a cafeteria, social club, bar, gym, library, event venue and student government. Pretty much all the clubs at the university are affiliated with one of the Unions and that is where all the major social events are held.

So there you go! With these tips in mind you’ll be a pro at navigating UK University in no time!

Fitness Abroad

Fitness is a big part of my life. Not only does it keep me in shape, but I feel great and my mind is a lot sharper (and I need all the help I can get in that department!). Staying fit was one of my biggest concerns about travelling around Europe. Keeping up with the gym and eating healthy isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do while you’re living out of a backpack.

Throughout my travels, however, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to maintain a (pretty much) healthy lifestyle, while still enjoying all that a culture has to offer. And I can attest that at the end of my three-week travels, I felt great, and didn’t have a gut… So there’s always that!

Italy - swimming is definitely a fun way to stay fit!

Swimming in Italy is definitely a fun way to stay fit.

Tip #1 – Make the time

The best thing about backpacking, fitness-wise, is that you’re walking all the time – so it’s nice to think of it as cancelling out a lot of the extravagant eating you’ll be doing while “sampling” a new culture. That’s why when I had downtime I tried to find good toning and strengthening exercises to keep my body from getting too soft.

It really isn’t hard during the afternoons or evenings that you have a few hours to yourself to fit in a quick workout in order to keep your body energized. Searching up a 10/20-minute ab workout on my phone via wifi, then heading back to my hostel room and throwing in a quick workout before I got showered and changed for the night’s activities was an easy way to keep up with some of my usual fitness activities.

Tip #2 – Find a gym

For the exercises/workouts that require equipment, you can’t exactly do these in your room… And I wasn’t really feeling carrying around a couple of weights in my backpack.

Many gyms offer a one-day pass to check out the facilities, and travelling is the perfect time to take advantage of that. It’s a great way to get access to equipment you obviously wouldn’t while on the go, and ultimately keep your muscles and tone from totally disappearing.

During these gym days, I stayed away from cardio – I’d been getting more than enough walking in through my backpacking adventures. So the gym days were mainly aimed at weight lifting, and using the machines to strengthen up and tone.

Tip #3 – Eat healthy

Apparently salads don't always have to be boring

Salads don’t always have to be boring!

 

My main concern with eating healthy during my travels was not what I ordered while I was at a restaurant. One of the best parts of travelling is the cuisine – it’s exciting to sample all of the cultural delicacies each country has to offer… You only live once, right?

It was during my before mentioned “down time”, the times I was walking/traveling or resting up in my hostel or grabbing a bite before a night out, that I made sure to choose the healthiest foods I could.

I focused mainly on whole foods during these times – fruits, vegetables, even those pre-made salads you find in grocery stores. Quick, easy to grab-and-go, and inexpensive. It’s important to also grab a source of protein to keep you energized for your long travels. Nuts, trail mix, and even little bags of cheese were saviours for me – once again, very easy to grab on the go.

In the end, it’s not about sacrificing the enjoyment of a new culture in order to stay healthy, but rather just including healthy choices within your travels whenever you can.

Having said that, if given a choice between a boring salad and an exciting exotic dessert – choose the dessert. You can always work it off when you get back home! 😉

French macaroons - you don't always have to think fitness!

French macaroons – now how can you say no to that?!

Obviously this is not a step-by-step guide, but just a few smart choices to keep in mind. Of course, it’s important to not overdo it! But just keep these tips in mind and, trust me, you’ll feel all the better for it.

 

Safe (and healthy) travels!

Patrick

Weekends

As it is approaching mid-term time at Sciences Po (and surely at U of T as well), I feel it best to discuss more lighthearted topics.

My previous posts have focused on the more practical and academic aspects of my sojourn, but one must never overlook the perks of studying in Europe. What can an exchange student do during the weekends? Well, besides catching up on your readings, consider:

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View of Eiffel Tower from Champs de Mars, around 9pm Paris time

1. Picnic at Champs de Mars, watching the night fall and the Eiffel Tower light up.

It is a magical experience to see the horizon darken, and the normally steel-tipped silhouette of the Eiffel Tower light up in faint red, then yellow, before sparkling in brilliant white on every full hour. There will be others spread out on the grass with their bread, cheese and wine. But it does not feel crowded, even on a Friday evening. There are hitches of course: those who walk around selling bottles of wine, or worse, those who walk around not selling anything, but seemingly content to ramble or stare at your group before invariably moving on to bother others. But the company of your friends, the spectacular view, and the rowdy group of Spanish students off to the side, playing their guitars, singing and dancing by their lit candles more than make up for it.

The Tranquile Luxembourg Garden

The Tranquile Luxembourg Garden

2. Picnic at Luxembourg Garden

This is extremely similar to the first activity. But do this during the day, on one of those increasingly rare sunny days where the sun lights up the grass and the sand and the pink and purple flowers of the Luxembourg Garden. Not many people seem to have picnics at the Luxembourg, most sit near the central fountain or in the chairs placed in the shaded areas to watch others play tennis. Trust me, this is a completely different experience from a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. Completely different.

Paris is a ridiculously good place for picnics. The Tuileries Garden is also a very popular area. Or, if you are ambitious, you can always take the 45 minute train out to Versailles, and have a picnic in the gardens where Louis XIV and the royalty once strolled.

The dark and creepy caverns of Paris' underworld.

The dark and creepy caverns of Paris’ underworld.

3. Visit the Catacombs

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The Empire of the Dead

This is a very ‘touristy’ activity and not for everyone. But allow yourself the morbid indulgence of visiting the mass graves of Paris’ dead over the ages. The Catacombs of Paris also contains geological wonders, and fossil remains. But it is perhaps the most famous for the dead that have been relocated here from the various graves of Paris during the city’s long history. Prepare yourself for a long wait (we queued for close to 2 hours), long, dark and damp passageways, and frankly chilling poetic verses etched on the walls.

Beware that the catacombs are accessed through slightly claustrophobic and steep stairs.

Brussels – Grand Place

4. Leave the Country

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Belgian fries are fried twice, and most famously topped with mayonnaise. Extremely unhealthy, but so very delicious.

The advantage of living in Europe is the proximity of other countries. It is completely feasible to pack a light bag, and take the one hour Thalys train ride to Belgium for 2 days. Visit Brussels with its magnificent Grand Place, Brugge with its fairytale-esque medieval buildings. Try the chocolates, fries, beer, mussels and all the specialties of Belgium.

Beautiful chocolate displays

Beautiful chocolate displays

A friendly reminder that Belgium is not just a French-speaking country. I reflexively said ‘Bonjour’ to a shopkeeper in Brugge, and was given quite an extensive lesson on the social tension between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Belgians. It was an enlightening experience, and the shopkeeper was impressive in his mastery of English, French and Dutch. Perhaps something to keep in mind when you visit.

 

These are just a few suggestions based on what I did over my weekends. The options are endless! For now, I will leave you with a few more photos of beautiful Belgium (:

(Again, photo policy: do not redistribute)

Brussels – Grand Place

Brussels – Grand Place

 

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Brugge – Windmills

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Brugge

 

London Living

Hello again CIE readers! I’ve had a busy couple of weeks here in London.

My classes only began on the 30th of September, so I’ve been spending my time getting to know my new home. So far, I’ve been to Covent Garden, Chinatown, Oxford Circus, and all around Southwark, which is the area where my residence is located, on London’s South Bank. However, London is a huge city, so I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what there is to discover. Here are some photos I took while on the run!

Borough Market in Southwark

Borough Market in Southwark

Leadenhall Market, where some of the Diagon Alley scenes of Harry Potter were filmed

Leadenhall Market, where some of the Diagon Alley scenes of Harry Potter were filmed

Chinatown

Chinatown

Oxford Street

Oxford Street

At King’s College, classes may have just started, but I spent most of last week attending induction events and lectures, learning all I need to know for the next year. I also attended the Freshers Fair, where students can sign up for clubs and societies that interest them. Here’s a photo of my flatmates and I at the fair, from the photography club booth:

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Of course, I signed up for far too many clubs and my inbox is flooded… After much internal debate and consideration, I’ve decided to stick with The King’s Players, the largest theatre group at King’s College, and the dance society.

I’m sure I’ll be plenty busy now, especially since classes have started. I was worried that the teaching system here would differ greatly from the one I’m used to in Toronto, but it’s actually quite similar. I have lectures and seminars (tutorials) for each course, and a few assessments each semester. The major difference is that my final assignments will be due after Christmas break, rather than before. Also, for one of my courses (Shakespeare’s London), I occasionally get to have my lectures at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre! It’s just one of the benefits of studying English Literature in London.

On another note, it hasn’t rained for 5 days now. Should I be scared? I’m scared.

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I’m expecting a flood in the next couple of days… But business will continue as usual.

Talk soon,

Veronika

First Month in Berlin

Hallo again readers!

Well I have been here in Berlin for almost a full month now. Quite a bit has happened since I wrote last so I will let you all get caught up with this blog entry :)

Berlin's Museum Insel (island) on an overcast day

Berlin’s Museum Insel (island)

First I should mention that the German university semester schedule is different than the Canadian one. The year begins in mid-October, not the beginning of September. So you may ask why I am here so early? The Humboldt University gives all its international students the option to take an intensive German language course in preparation for the start of the actual school year. I took advantage of this offer.

The course really lives up to its intensive name: five days a week with 4.5 hours per day of pure German, German and more German training. But I am learning a lot and meeting students and newly found friends from all over the globe. Most of the students are from European countries (quite a lot from Spain and France I noticed), but others are from as far as Australia, Japan and even a few from Canada.

The past week our class went to two different theatres (our instructor is an avid theatre enthusiast). We went to the Deutsches Theatre, which is THE theatre of Germany. If you are acting on that stage, you made it big and you are the best of the best. We also went to a smaller improv theatre, which I personally found funny and more entertaining.

The old Deutsches Theatre, a bit small on the inside

The old Deutsches Theatre, a bit small on the inside, not what I expected.

There were a few headaches that I suffered as well since the last blog. In order to live in Berlin, everyone must apply for an “Anmeldebestätigung” or in other words, a document that says you are registered with the city. I went to the office bright and early (which was far away only because I didn’t know there was one in my very own neighbourhood), to find out that you need an appointment. So I had to return the next day and then there were some miscommunications with the application and I didn’t bring the right documents because I thought it was something else (you can’t blame me when dealing with the complex German language, and legal language that is!) ….. and yah. In the end though, I got it stamped and I am living here legally now.

Me acting like a tourist

Me acting like a tourist

Headache number 2: Simply put, I got pinched with a fine. Here in Berlin, you don’t have to pay upon entering the trains, buses, trams, etc. Anyone can easily be a “Schwarzfahrer” (a Black Rider in literal translation, also known as someone who doesn’t pay a fare). But there are controllers of the “Deutsche Bahn” (the German train company) and their sole purpose is to travel around the city and unexpectedly check everyone’s ticket. These guys and gals DO NOT look like they work for the DB. They have no official uniforms, they wear the plainest clothes and some could (no joke) even pass for looking as homeless- kind of like undercover cops.

Anyways, I bought myself a week ticket and validated it on a Thursday night at about 11pm (bad idea). Go forward in time to the next Thursday: I am sitting in the S-Bahn train going to class and these controllers come suddenly through the train and loudly ask all passengers to show their tickets. I am sitting there thinking all is good, nothing to worry about, as I of course have my valid ticket. He asks me for mine, takes it, looks at it for an unusually long time and then tells me it is not “gültig” (valid). I was then explained that a week ticket is only good for “7” days. That meant it expired the day before, Wednesday. I tried to explain to him that I bought it Thursday night and that I thought it would subsequently be valid until the next Thursday night. Makes sense, right? I said I didn’t know the rules exactly, but he simply didn’t budge. In the end, I had to pay 40 Euros at the main station office, and that hurts. That’s over 50 bucks for us Canadians. But now I know and I will be sure not to make that mistake again.

Well, I am trying to enjoy this last week of language class and freedom before the start of the semester. It’s go-time in two weeks. I am a bit unsure about how I will do when the semester starts. I don’t know how well I will be able to keep up in normal, fast-spoken German lectures. I think I will do fine after some time and hey, I am only getting better as each day progresses.

See you again in zwei Wochen! (two weeks)

A mini "Oktoberfest" in full swing at Alexanderplatz

A mini “Oktoberfest” in full swing at Berlin’s well-known Alexanderplatz