Travelling in Europe…Amsterdam

There is an Erasmus club at ULB called Erasmus ULB Brussels Express which organizes a lot of activities and trips for all the student in exchange at ULB. They organized a trip to Amsterdam for a weekend. A lot of Erasmus student were motivated to go because the price was only 50 Euro for the transportation, the hotel and breakfast. And they were also motivated for other reasons…

It was very well organized, we had an entire bus only for us and we drove until Amsterdam and back with it. I was really excited because I knew so many Erasmus people who were going on this trip. When we arrived on Saturday morning, we decided to go to the city, towards the central station and then walk a bit in the city. We were quite a big group and it was quite funny and unfortunate at the same time to lose people on our way (thank goodness for the invention of cell phones). Furthermore, while we are cruising around town it was amusing to see other Erasmus students suddenly entering the bus or while taking pictures to see familiar faces on boats.

 Central station

Houses in Amsterdam are very narrow and sometimes you have the feeling that they have been built by an architect who drank one too many Heineken because they are not always very straight. Houses are very narrow because in the past you had to pay property tax according to how wide your house was. Thus there is a house 2.02 meters wide and 6 meters deep, which is ironically linked to the widest house in Amsterdam called the Trip House. The Trip House owners built it for their servant, who declared that he would be happy if his house was as wide as his master’s front door.

Amsterdam is very well known for their canals, and thus is also called Venice of the North. Some people don’t live in a house, but rather in boats or houseboats (a houseboat is meant to live in it, stay put and not to sail around like a real boat). I think it must be quite different and difficult to live in such a small place, but at the same time it must be quite awesome, the rocking of the water, the view and how many people can say that they are living in a boat??

Amsterdam at night is beautiful especially near the canals, Amsterdam’s beauty is very well sang by a Belgian singer: Dans le Port d’Amsterdam (Jacques Brel) and the city is also used in music videos Lightning Bolt (Jake Bugg).

There are also a lot of bicycles and very little cars because there are not a lot of parking spots or they are very expensive. It truly is a city of bicycles and as a pedestrian you feel that you have less rights than them, i.e. the sidewalk is divided between pedestrians and bicycles but 3/4 of the place is for the bicycles, they drive really fast and don’t slow down if they see a pedestrian, while walking you get attacked from all the directions. The worse is the fact that nobody wears helmets and at night the bikes don’t have lights. Hence, before crossing a street I looked left and right, but when I started walking there was suddenly a bike that came out of nowhere and almost hit me (I learned quite a few nice Dutch words that day…).

“My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclist ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing thei bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them” Terry Prachett

We wanted to rent a bike in Amsterdam and also be part of the bike revolution, nevertheless renting is very difficult…they requested an identity card, a visa card, deposit money and then you got a bike. In Brussels there are Villo (mash-up between ville (city) and vélo (bike) ), which are bikes that are located almost everywhere in the city and are a lot easier (weirdly enough) to rent than those in Amsterdam.

The city is also well known for their famous beer Heineken (left is a picture of the Heineken brewery), the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum (the museum’s roof looks like a bathtub, it’s really beautiful), the Flower Market at Muntplein (which only sells flower bulbs in the winter), the Red-Light District and the coffee shops. We were all very motivated to see museums however the prices were too expensive and they didn’t even have a reduced price for students. As young eager students we were quite disappointed and upset with their view towards education and motivating the youth.

The Red-Light District and the coffee shops are very controversial places. Prostitution is legal in Holland and this district is where all these activities take place, in the evening there are lights and when all hustle and bustle become alive. The place is regulated and there are cameras everywhere, hence it’s illegal to take pictures. The other controversy is the legalization of marijuana and coffee shops serve it in all the formats you want.

Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Joordan is hip neighbourhood that used to be poor and is located in the Nord-West side of the centre. This is also the place where you can find Anne Frank’s house. Anne Frank is young girl who wrote The Diary of Anne Frank (Robarts D810.J4F7131972). She fled Germany and then lived in Amsterdam to flee the Nazis during the Second World War. When the Nazis occupied Holland, Anne Frank and her family decided to hide behind a bookcase. In her journal she describes not only her life in hiding but also her life as a teenage girl. The house can be visited (short video of Anne Frank’s house), however it is mostly empty and at the end of the tour there is a section with more general information about the war and questions that make you think.

My favorite quote :

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”

Ghetto is where Jewish families lived during the Nazi occupation. There is gated section because people do live in some of the houses in the district.

After a very long and adventurous weekend, we left Amsterdam Sunday evening with minds and hearts full of memories. Usually I don’t like to sleep in buses or trains, therefore I brought with me the last few pages of a book for my French literature class. The book is called Keetje (hard to find but worth the search) and is written by a Belgian writer Neel Doff; the main character Keetje is a young Dutch girl from Amsterdam that is forced into prostitution by her parents, then flees this life and lives in Brussels (lol yes, I know the irony of me reading this book travelling Amsterdam – Brussels).

until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

P.S. Weirdest things I saw in Amsterdam: a small hut that is supposed to be a police station (picture below Politie), in the city there’s a shop where you can go to the washroom (not for free of course) and where there is a gift shop. Finally, a vending machine for hamburgers (FEBO), because apparently fast food restaurants aren’t fast enough.

 

Saint-V

Last Tuesday (Nov. 20th) was Saint-Verhaegen, or also called Saint-V and there was no class because this is the day ULB (University of Brussels; Université Libre de Bruxelles) celebrates the founder of the university Théodore Verhaegen. The entire day, there are festivities in the city and the clubs (or cercles like they call them here) wear their hats (called penne), rope and using a big decorated truck they drive from the university to the centre. Below is a picture of their special hat and an explanation of a cercle in my ULB agenda.

At 12:30 p.m. there was at the Town Center “Verre de l’amitié” (English: drink of friendship), which was organised by the mayor Freddy Thielemans. They served free beer, juice and also free brioche sandwiches with “poulet curry” (chicken with curry) and “americain préparé” (steak tartar) (both are Belgian specialities). It was awesome to see young students with their hats and old people wearing their old hats celebrating together. It was particularly funny to see grownups with suits wearing their old hats.

Then we decided to go see the Mannekin Pis with his ULB costume. At one point instead of urinating vertically he urinated horizontally and sprayed on purpose a lot of people. Moreover, they also served free fruity beer, however you had to have your own cup with you. Thus a lot of people brought their cups and some even brought kitchen measuring cups or put a string on their cup to hang on their neck. Then we saw all the trucks and cercles from the university, there was music and for 10 Euros you could get unlimited beer from the back of their truck for the entire day. Sometimes they even used very unsual ways to serve beer like for example a watering can (see picture below).

I think Belgium is the only country where people are running behind trucks to get beer in the middle of the afternoon and it seems totally normal. Belgians are not only friendly but they also have a sense of humour and are not afraid to have a good time. I personally love Brussels, its people, its beer and all its craziness that comes with it…

Dog driving a car (?!?)

Musician that randomly plays accordion for money on the middle of the street in my neighbourhood.

Kisses from Brussels – the city where there is never a dull moment

sincerely,

Nazanin

Travelling in Europe…Paris

Brussels is known as the capital of Europe because it is in the heart of Europe and it is really easy to travel to a lot of countries. There are buses that you can take to Paris or Amsterdam for 12.50 Euro, which is an AWESOME price it’s almost what I pay to go to UofT and back from where I live. So I’ve decided to go to Paris during our statuary holidays, All Saints Day.

We decided to go to Paris Wednesday and come back on Saturday, unfortunately with the bus trip we were really there for only 2 full days. However, we made the best of it and we tried to see a lot of things. I’ve visited Paris before, thus I knew a little bit the city and where to go (weirdly enough people thought like I knew really well the city, I was asked for direction 3-4 times…). Nevertheless, the metro (English: subway) is really well made and it is really easy to navigate through the city even if it’s your first time there. Wednesday evening we decided to see Paris at night, personally I think it’s when it’s the most charming  because of all the lights. The Eiffel Tower has 2 types of lights, there is one where it is all the time illuminated then there is one where there are a lot of lights blinking like if a million people on the Eiffel Tower are taking pictures (that’s my favorite one). Walking in Paris at night is special, very different and almost magical just like in the movie Midnight in Paris.

In Brussels I met a Parisian student in exchange in Brussels, who worked in Versailles and because he was going home for the holiday, we were extremely lucky to have a private guide show us around Versailles the next day. I learned a lot, he showed us several fountains and buildings, and he explained that Washington DC architecture was influenced by Versailles. The castle and the property is very big and I was really amazed by how they maintained the park so well, the hedges were perfectly straight and some were cut in shapes of rectangles using…wait for it… helicopters!! how cool is that? We were also lucky with the weather, it was so sunny that we really could enjoy every minute of the park, the castle, the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon, house of Marie-Antoinette and Grand Canal. The castle is spectacular especially the ceilings, I did my best to capture some pictures of the remarkable rooms.

Walking around I really felt a weird sensation because so many important people were walking, breathing, talking, touching the same things as me in the past; Travelling is almost like talking with those of another century (René Descartes).

(picture below) À TOUTES LES GLOIRES DE LA FRANCE (ENGLISH: To all the  glories of France)

 

Here are a few pictures of bedrooms

The next day we went to see the famous cathedral Notre-Dame the Paris, who is well-known because of Victor Hugo. It was beautiful especially the stained glass, however what I didn’t like about it was that everything was commercialized, you went inside you had to pay to see things, to light a candle was very expensive and they had a souvenir shop. Nevertheless, I liked the 2 guestbooks they had in which people, residents or travelers left messages. There is also a beautiful bridge that is filled with locks left by lovers behind the cathedral. Unfortunately it started to rain, therefore we decided to go to the Louvre a bit earlier than planned instead of walking near the Seine river.

France’s motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité (English: Liberty Equality Fraternity)

Hotel-Dieu is a hospital, it has a nice name “Hotel-of-God”.

In France ex-president Sarkozy had a great idea, he made all the museums in France for people under 26 free. This gives a great opportunity to young people and students to visit museums and learn new things. The Louvre has a lot of art sculpture, paintings and work of arts. It is for a non-art/history student sometimes overwhelming because there are so many beautiful things to see and learn. I truly believe that to really enjoy the Louvre one has to visit each room for at least one day. The most well-known painting is the Mona Lisa (la Joconde) and there’s always so many people around that take pictures. Fortunately, we decided to go to the Louvre the entire afternoon until 9p.m., it was great not only because there were less people but also because we felt like we were in The Da Vinci Code.

After the Louvre we met other Canadian and Belgian students from Brussels, it was nice and funny to meet new people from Brussels in Paris. We had a great time, sadly there isn’t enough hours in a day and we had to leave the next day.

Before we took our bus in the morning, we saw the Arc de Triomphe (English: Arch of Triumph) near the Champs Elysées. On it and beneath it are all the names of the generals and wars fought.

Until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

P.S. special thanks to my friend who travelled with me and to our Parisian friend, who was so kind to show us around his home town.

 

Liège

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” Rosalia de Castro

Liège is a city that is in the Wallon side of Belgium (Francophone side). It is bigger than Bruges and it has a university. The city has less of a fairytale landscape than Bruges, however the train station Gare de Liège-Guillemins is spectacular and was built by a Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava Valls. Unfortunately when I went to Liège, it was raining a lot and I couldn’t take as many pictures as I wanted.

Cathédrale Saint-Lambert is a cathedral that used to exist until the revolution of 1794, now the place where it used to stand is called place Saint-Lambert and they have big posts to show where it used to stand. The building you see below used to be the where the priests who ruled the city lived and today it is also the Palais de Justice (English: Law court). Nevertheless, it is very old and non-fuctional therefore they build another more modern building that they are also using.

There are several cathedrals and churches in Liège because it was ruled by priests. Here is Cathédrale Saint-Paul.

Liège has 2 specialities, first there is the well-known Gaufre Liègeoise (Waffles of Liège) and they also have Peket, it is an alcoholic drink. Below is a Peket Flambé.

There is a river that flows through the city and it is called la Meuse. La Meuse is a very long river that passes through Holland, Belgium and France. In Liège they have a saying : “Liège sans sa Meuse, c’est Meuse sans son Liège” (English: Liège without its Meuse, is Meuse without its Liège.”)

Here are a few more pictures.

 

Living in Brussels

Living in Brussels has been an adventure everyday and I feel like I am getting to know the city, the University of Brussels and the population a little better everyday. First of all, there is also something that is very special in Brussels, it is called TD. TD should not be confused with TP (travaux pratiques or lab/tutorials), or travail à domicile (homework). TD is the abbreviation for thé dansant and is basically a party. But the TD in Brussels is a place near the Plaine Campus of ULB and it is Monday to Thursday. You get to party, but you need to wear old/dirty clothes. The music is great, beer price is reasonable, people throw their plastic beer glass after they are done drinking; people are there to have a great time.

Secondly, ULB has great school spirit and you can feel and see it everywhere you go on the campus. There are a lot of clubs (or cercle like they say here at ULB: University Libre de Bruxelles). There are cercles for each faculty (e.g. psychology faculty), but there are also “regional” faculties (e.g. there is a cercle for all the Luxembourgish students studying at ULB, and yes Luxembourg is a country, a very small country). All the members of a cercle wear a very unique uniform; they wear a robe that can have different colors and signs. And they wear a kind of baseball hat, that is longer at the front than regular hats. On each hat there are stars for each time they passed a grade and there are also other pictures or signs on it. However, to be part of a cercle you have to be baptized (bâtemes in French, or bizutage in France). There are several things in this baptism that you have to do before you get accepted and it lasts 3 weeks. In Canada we have froshweek, but it’s organized by the university and usually there is no alcohol involved. In France bizutage is illegal, but in Belgium it isn’t illegal but they are not allowed to do everything.

Finally, Brussels is a very cosmopolitan city not only because it’s in the heart of Europe and there is a European Parliament, but also because ULB accepts a lot of student exchange programs. I was invited to a Taiwanese lunch and I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many people from different countries (I met Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish, Canadian and Russian students).

The host played the Ukalele and we listened to music from different countries (link to video is here). I really felt that afternoon the spirit of a student exchange program or Erasmus. Furthermore, I feel that Belgians are very friendly and they do not hesitate to talk to you and give you advice in the train, in the supermarket, when you ask them a question etc. Therefore I feel that Brussels’ population, Erasmus students and Belgians really made me feel welcome in their city.

Until next time,

sincerely,

Nazanin

Trip to Bruges

Every year there is a special day at the University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles; ULB) and it is called Nocturne (English: Night/Nocturnal). It is a unique celebration that is organized by the university and starting at 6p.m. there are music concerts, food and drinks all over the campus.

 

Jupiler sponsored Nocturne and gave free cowboy hats.

This is a bracelet they gave us after buying a ticket.

 

I must say that I really enjoyed going to Nocturne, however the only problem was that the next day I was going to Bruges, a trip organized by the Eramus Club of ULB.  I slept only a few hours, yet I was super excited to go to Bruges. On my way to Bruges, I kept thinking of the movie In Bruges with Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrel. Here are a few pictures:

 

Back To School

Its this time of year again…back to school. At uoft (University of Toronto) usually when school starts I sort of have  90%, have my schedule set, I just need to wait if I can get in 1 or 2 courses I was waitlisted. Then the 2nd week, my schedule is done and I don’t need to worry about it until 2nd semester in January. Here in the University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles; ULB), it was a completely different story…

As uoft students we are very lucky we can take almost any courses we want abroad and then when we come back we can get some of the course approved. However, we are advised to pre-approve our courses before we go so that it is easier later to get a credit. What I noticed was that the university system is different than uoft’s and even Canada’s I think. When you are in a faculty, they give you a list of courses every year and then you have no choice and take these courses. At uoft it is good that we can choose our courses, but sometimes it is really difficult to make your schedule and know when to take which course. Also, their bachelor lasts only 3 years but in Ontario it is 4 years.  Therefore, as a 4th year undergraduate student I needed to take 1st or 2nd year master courses (which I am excited about but at the same time worried).

My second difficulty was to find courses that match my program, and then after I found some and got them approved, I did not know the schedule of the courses. I had to wait until the first day of school when ULB puts all the schedules on GeHol. I was extremely lost, because their system GeHol is not as easy to understand like Rosi (really?? Weirdly enough, yes). There are courses that start the 4th week of school (I don’t know why), some courses don’t show where it is going to be held, some courses are held one week in one building then another week in another building. Furthermore, the profs warn us to look at GeHol everyday because there might be changes (OMG!). Something that surprised me most, was that some profs did not come to class the 1st week of class  (yes I did say prof!! No idea why, disorganization?). Therefore, after waiting a long time in the classroom students just left.

After I organized (with a lot of difficulty and very little help) my schedule I needed to find the locations of the classes. At uoft St. George Campus each building has a name and if you have the name of a building you can easily find it on a map of the campus. At ULB it is completely different, the first letter is the name of the campus, then each building has a letter and each entrance has a letter. Then they add the floor level (which is sometimes confusing because the main floor can be the 2nd floor) and then the room number. For example S.UD2.218A. : S means Solbosch campus, building U, entrance D, 2nd floor and room 218A. Next time you have a course at University College and you think that the layout is confusing, please think of me and how atypical and complicated the ULB campus is. Nevertheless, the campus is smaller than uoft’s St. George Campus and I am sure that after a few weeks I’ll know the campus and its organization by heart.

Until next time,

A-Little-Bit-Lost-Nazanin

Bruxelles/Brussels

Here are a few pictures of Brussels. It is a very old city and you can see at the Grande Place ( literal translation “big place”) a lot of old buildings and that’s also the place were big events such as concerts take place. What I love the most about the city is the fact that you can smell waffles and chocolate every where, hmmmm!!!

Tintin was created by a Belgian artist Hergé. Here you can see Tintin, Milou (or Snowy) and Capitaine Haddock.

 

After eating an excellent waffle you should not forget to visit Brussels’ iconic Mannequin Pis (Dutch, translation Little Man Who Pees) (or in French le Petit Julien). There are several legends about this little boy, but the most famous one is that where was a fire but no one noticed it except a little boy, who peed on it thus saving the city. The Mannequin Pis has a lot of costumes, and on special occasions he wears them. Also, Jeanneke Pis is the female version of the Mannequin Pis.

There are a lot of paved streets in Brussels because it is very old. The city looks great and the paving gives a lot of character, but they are not good for high heels… or even your feet. Furthermore, the sidewalks have trees and I think it embellishes the city. However what I like the most about the city is the heart shaped red lights <3

I heart Brussels

Trip to Woluwé

old windmill

Windmill and an interesting looking horse, not cow

A Lion is a symbol of Belgium

City Hall where people get married

First trip to Woluwé a small town near Brussels. It is a very charming city, very small but I recommend to visit it and walk in the forest near the canals.

 

 

Mi casa es su casa

I grew up in a home, in which we always had guests and my mom always told our family and friends to feel at home; mi casa es su casa. I always liked to have a home full of people and laughter echoing throughout the house. Therefore, when I decided to study abroad in Europe for 1 year, I told my friends not hesitate to visit me in Brussels. However before I could invite people in my home, I needed to find a flat. I believe this is one of the hardest things you have to do abroad.

The University of Brussels told me that exchange students could not live on res. for the academic year, but gave me a lot of websites that I could visit. Thus, in Toronto I looked at a lot of websites and tried to contact a lot of people. Also, I looked at a few Facebook groups and contacted my friends in Brussels in order to find something. I found it very difficult to find and contact people from Toronto not only because of the 6 hours time difference, but also because there was only a phone number and no email. Also, I could not make an appointment for the following week when I would arrive in Europe because the apartments would no longer be available.

The other problem I faced, was the kind of apartment I wanted to have. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have a studio or rent a room with other people, or even rent a room in somebody’s house. To make things a little bit easier, I decided to see anything I would get an appointment.

I arrived in Brussels pleased that I had a few appointments to see rooms. I printed a small map from google maps because I didn’t have a map from Brussels and thought with it I could navigate easily through the city. But, unfortunately for me and my orientation skills, I was completely and utterly unprepared. I got used to the horizontal and vertical street configuration in Canada, but in Brussels these don’t exist, the city is filled with small streets, roads and paths and there is very little organization. The sun burning, my heart sinking, my mind racing and being confused, I was lost (“Au secours!”). Thank goodness however, Brussels has very friendly habitants and has a lot of tourists, therefore I asked for direction and I was able to know approximately where I was and where to go.

Brussels flats are very different from Toronto’s, most of them don’t have a washing machine inside the apartment or even in the building. However, Brussels is filled with small shops with washing machines and dryers, called “wasserette”. Also, one of the small studios I saw, although quite livable, was very peculiar. It had two rooms, one room was the kitchen and the other was the bedroom. There was no separate room for the bathroom, therefore the shower was in the kitchen and the toilet was outside in the garden. Yes, you read it correctly outside.

After a few days of stress, a lot of worries and continuing to search the Internet, my friend messaged me on Facebook and offered me a room in her apartment because one of her roommates was leaving (phew, merci Facebook).

Now that I have a room, if you are near Brussels you are more than welcome to visit me,

Yours truly,

Nazanin