A Lot of Ground to Cover

Alright, this is going to be a little bit lengthy because I have been such a failure at blogging the last little while. I actually find myself feeling guilty during the day when I don’t blog…I suppose the main reason I feel that way is because I know that my mom and grandma are reading it and I really don’t want to disappoint them! You might think I’m kidding, but I really like the fact that they are reading so I don’t want to anger the readers :). I am about to cover three days full of Belgian and Dutch excitement, so hang on, the ride is about to start!

Monday

It’s a little bit surprising how difficult it is for me to remember what happened on Wednesday. No, it isn’t because I have been drunk on Belgian beer the whole time, it’s just because we pack our days so full that Wednesday seems like forever ago! It’s a good thing that I took notes!

Our day started off with a trip back to the Canadian Mission. I don’t want to expose any national secrets here, but let’s  just say that the security at the Canadian Mission is much more ‘friendly’ than that of the American Mission. The security guard at the Canadian Mission remembered us from the day before and was rather accommodating when doing our security checks haha. As I think I mentioned before, the Canadians don’t take your electronic devices, they just kindly ask you not to use them! After clearing ‘security’ we headed upstairs for a session on Canadian media coverage of the EU. A member of the Mission’s communications staff, Susanne Connolly briefed us on the media interplay between Europe and Canada. The basic consensus was that Europe didn’t really care too much about what was happening in Canada, and when they did it was usually because of something bad like the oil sands, Czech visas or seal meat. On the flip side, the Canadian media doesn’t have a single correspondent stationed in Brussels. The fact that our major news agencies do not staff city where the European Union functions out of is just short of appalling. Some of the most interesting and groundbreaking policy work is done by the European Union. Most of this work goes unnoticed by Canadians and often leaves us behind in our understanding of the world. This point was picked up quite passionately by a Canadian journalist by the name of Leigh Phillips. Leigh is a Canadian who just happens to be working as a foreign correspondent in Brussels for an online publication called the euObserver. Leigh’s work and the work of the publication can be found at http://euobserver.com. Leigh was one of the most interesting speakers we have had over the course of our time in Belgium. His perspective as a journalist was very much aligned with my own view of the world (which may or may not be a good thing…all I know is that there would be a lot more left wing politics in Canada if more Canadians thought like us…) and he provided me with some really interesting insight in the journalism profession. I really would like to get into what Leigh spoke about, but I fear that I won’t do his opinions justice. It’s also getting kind of late here, and I still need to cover 2 more days before signing off! Yikes! Leigh spoke about everything from the EU’s perception of our current Prime Minister to the media crisis that is sweeping across the world. He gave me enough to think about for quite some time, so perhaps I will start blogging on specific discussion points from his talk when I get some free time. I also had the privilege to have lunch with Leigh, Dr. Brooks and a couple of other interested students from our class. It was really interesting to get his take on journalism and on the world.

After lunch the group met up and made the trek to the Brasserie Cantillon, an authentic Belgian Brewery. We received an extraordinarily interesting tour from an extraordinarily sarcastic tour guide and had a great time learning about the brewing process. The brewery is one of only a few operations in Belgium still to use a natural fermentation process. Essentially this means that they produce the liquid part of the beer and then expose it to the open air to allow the natural yeast in the air to induce fermentation. An interesting fact to know is that when using this method you should only brew in the winter. The winter is a fairly ‘clean’ season biologically speaking. This means that there are fewer kinds of yeast floating around in the air. The fewer kinds of yeast the more likely you are to get a good tasting, consistent and safe beer to drink. If you try to brew in warm weather you end up with many different kinds of yeast combining to create an often undrinkable product. We had an opportunity to try the beer made at the brewery at the end of the tour and found it to be unlike anything we had ever drank before. It was almost sour in taste and fell somewhere in between the taste of wine and beer. We also tried some of their naturally made ‘kriek’ (cherry) beer which was also sour, but very refreshing. The beer is sour because no additional sugar is added to the mix when the fruit is added.

That was pretty much it for Monday. As is the case every night, we had a nice dinner in Leuven and then actually retired rather early for bed as we had to be up rather early to catch the train to Den Hague and the International Criminal Court.

Tuesday

As I alluded to earlier, our day yesterday was to consist of a train ride to Den Hague, Holland where we would spend the day at the International Criminal Court and EuroJust. What transpired was a comedy of errors that ultimately led us to Amsterdam instead of Den Hague. The first thing that happened was that the train we planned to travel randomly did not come. This forced us to pick a different train that required us to make a number of connections before actually getting on one that would go directly to the Hague. So, we hopped onto the train and trundled off to our next stop. When we got to the next stop we found our connecting train, but realized that it would only take us to Antwerp which is not nearly Den Hague. We were told that we must make a connection at Antwerp and then we would be on track for Den Hague. I should mention that our professor, Dr. Brooks was with us for this whole journey, so we were in it together. So, we waited for the train to Antwerp. It was late. Finally we got on the train to Antwerp with still a decent hope of getting to Den Hague on time. However, the train Gods must have been conspiring against us…When we arrived in Antwerp we figured out which train we had to take next only to see it delayed by 12, then 28 then 42 minutes, then 1 hour then 1.5 hours before it finally showed up. At this point, even despite the late trains, we still held out hope that we would get to the ICC. Dr. Brooks had called and explained our situation and they were willing to accommodate our lateness. Things were going along swimmingly until we saw the first sign for Den Hague. We stopped at a station in the Hague and saw that we needed to get to the next one. So, we stayed on the train. This was a BIG mistake…Within seconds the train had accelerated to full speed and the next station in Den Hague was merely a blur in the window. Off we sped into the country, moving further and further from where we wanted to be! The end destination of the train was Amsterdam, which was kind of interesting to some people, but ultimately we wanted to honour our appointments in the Hague. So, when the train finally stopped another 45km later at Schipol Airport in the Netherlands we attempted to get off the train and head back to Den Hague. Again, the train Gods must have hated us, because as we tried to disembark the car doors started to shut! Dr. Brooks and Monica had left the train first and were left panicked looking on the other side of the glass. We tried to get the doors to open again, but they wouldn’t! Luckily Dr. Brooks and Monica managed to get back on the train through another car’s open door, but, that meant that we were on the train until Amsterdam. Within 20 minutes we found ourselves standing, bewildered, on the platform of the Amsterdam Central train station. We had missed all of our meetings by this point and Dr. Brooks just threw his hands in the air. The day turned into a cultural day in Amsterdam haha! We took a canal cruise of the famous city before being turned lose to do some exploring. I went off with a group of Windsor students and we trekked all the way across the city to the Van Gough Museum. I am not a huge art connoisseur, but I found that my new found mental capacity to find meanings in obscure English literature helped me to finally understand what art was all about. In the process of seeking out the museums and travelling the canals we passed through the infamous “Red Light District” and rather contrastingly, the house of Anne Frank. My overall impression of Amsterdam was that it was kind of a dirty city (both physically and metaphorically…) but contained a great deal of cultural significance. I have to say though…I have never smelled quite so much pot in my entire life. If you think it’s a stereotype of Amsterdam, trust me, it isn’t…The only place that I may have smelled more pot this year was in O’Neil Ridley Residence at Huron…Just saying…After touring Amsterdam we got back on the train (with some trepidation) and headed back to Leuven. This time we nailed the transfers and connections and made it back to Leuven with little difficulty. It was quite a day, and we didn’t get back to the Irish College until about 10:30pm after leaving it at about 7:30am. It was a great day though, and one of those stories that will be told over and over again, probably with great embellishment!

Today

Today was another eventful day, although it was far more ‘by the book’ than our trip to Den Hague/Amsterdam. We traveled by train to the medieval city of Brugge for a full ‘cultural day’. The city’s architecture is well preserved medieval in style and features endless postcard opportunities. We climbed the town’s Belfry Tower for a great view of Belgium and realized just how difficult it would have been to ‘storm’ a belfry tower! It was tiring enough to climb the 366 steep steps to the top of the tower…can you imagine doing that with armor and a sword? It would have been slow going! I guess that’s why the built towers…

After exploring Brugge for a considerable amount of time we headed back to Leuven. I immediately headed out for a run. I actually knew exactly where I was going today and didn’t even get a little bit lost! After my run I went for dinner with Melanie and Helena at a restaurant called Domus. We have gone their twice now and I have become quite partial to their spaghetti bolognaise. It’s a pretty standard kind of dish, but there’s something about the way they make it that changes it just enough to make it amazing! I also had an iced tea, thinking that it would be similar to what we have in Canada…I suppose that it was, but it was carbonated…It was kind of weird to be drinking carbonated iced tea. I can’t say that I actually enjoyed it. Also, it kind of tasted like beer which was weird…I can assure you that it wasn’t because it came in a clearly labelled, sealed can haha! Anyway, as you may or may not realize by the time of this post, it is almost 2am here in Leuven. My roommates went out to party but I stayed behind to do some catching up on life! Everything is going to start again when I get home on Monday, so I need to be ready to push ‘play’.

Anyway, hopefully there has been something interesting in this blog…My deepest apologies for the great gap between posts!

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