Belgium

I’ve lost count now of how many times I’ve been to Brussels. I’ve got the entire routine down, memorized, and I almost hate that because the trip is an enormous hassle. But always in the end, despite the extra-lengths of getting to and from Brussels via Spain is without a doubt worth ever second of the annoying journey.

As always I sat on the plane, and then the bus, and then the train, nervously and anxiously and excitedly awaiting my arrival at Chez Peebles. My palms were sweating and despite being exhausted, I couldn’t sleep for a second on the plane due to my unnerving excitement. Continue reading

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Moving on and moving forward

My last two blog posts were rushed and even a bit forced. I’ve looked back upon them and I’ll leave them as they stand, but they really represent a lack of thought and time. The reason for this is because I had been traveling a lot, the hot summer heat was taking it’s toll, and I was growing anxious about the future that I just couldn’t bring myself to concentrate. However, I’ll leave them there as some sort of testament to what was happening. I’ve also neglected to write about my trip to Barcelona and Italy, and now, it’s been several weeks, and I’ve returned to the United States that I see no point writing about them (at least in depth).

However, something needs to be said. I’ve left my blog inactive for too long.

First, I am all set up in Barcelona. I spent four days energetically searching for the best flat I could find for my new future there.  I stayed with my co-worker Sarah’s friend, Michelle, for the second time and she has been so much help I cannot let it go unmentioned. After seeing about fifteen different apartments, I had narrowed them all down to two (it was easy weeding out the rest, but I was really torn between two great places). But I know I made the right decision in the end: after calling up the guys that I’m going to be living with, I went over to my future home my last morning in Barcelona (10 am mind you) to pick up my contract and pay the rent, etc., I found the guys sitting in the living room already with beers cracked open.

This tells to me two things: 1) that it’s going to be impossible to study in my new house (but that’s alright because I never study at home anyway); and 2) that I have definitely made the right decision.

I’ll be living with three seemingly chill and fun guys from Alicante (Bachelor pad, anyone?!) and that makes me stoked: Barcelona is a very, very international city. And by that, I mean everywhere you go, English is spoken. It’s not like Madrid where even in the tourist areas, people speak to you first in Spanish, and then if they realize you don’t understand, they will hit you up in English. It’s not like that in Barcelona; they just immediately speak to you in English. That makes me nervous that I won’t be using my Spanish there. But now that I’ve got a flat with Spanish guys, I know that I’ll be surrounding myself in a Spanish community away from all the tourists.  Not to mention that I’m going to a Spanish school, so I’m sure to be completely immersed in Spanish and far from the language of the tourists.

I’m also afraid that I’m going to like Barcelona more than Madrid, which is difficult for me to even write because Madrid has been the center of my life since I can even remember. It’s always been Madrid, Madrid, Madrid. And now I’m a traitor. But Barcelona has so much to offer me, other than the school I have chosen because I think it’s the best option for me. The entire city is littered with skateboarders, there are skate-punk bars with old fish-tail skateboards hanging on the walls.  There is a beach. Oh goodness, there is a beach! I’ve never lived with the beach before and I will certainly be taking advantage of that as much as possible. Not to mention that Barcelona is absolutely stunning, especially with the Gaudí architecture that covers the city. To say the least, I can’t wait to get there and take the next step of my Spanish adventure.

Skateboarders in Barcelona

After my quick but productive trip to Barcelona, I flew out to Brescia, Italy for Carlo’s university graduation.

Carlo graduating!

It was my last weekend in Europe before flying home and then making my new move to Barcelona and it was incredible. I spent it with my best friends (even Chloé flew out from Brussels for it!), Carlo, and his friends and family. Again, I owe his family everything for their incredible hospitality. We spent the days eating and relaxing and riding bikes through the Italian countryside; and we spent our nights out on the town.

Chloé, going for a ride in Carlo’s sweet luxury car

I quickly realized that Italian is similar enough to Spanish, and after having lived with Carlo for the past year and a half, I quickly picked up on Italian. It makes me a bit disappointed that I didn’t choose to study that this year instead of French, because I can make out almost every word spoken in Italy (whether I understand the words meaning is another issue), but in French, all I hear is an unintelligible chain of vous-vous’s and je-je’s.  So naturally, I’m now highly inclined to learning Italian since after only four short days, I was picking up verbs and expressions and it felt invigorating communicating in a third language, basing it off of my second. I’m not saying I can really speak Italian, but it’s pretty easy to start to see the differences and similarities between Spanish and Italian.  Anyway, at the end of the trip, we all returned to Madrid for one last night. I said my goodbyes to Julian, Beltran, Carlo, and La Martola, and the following morning, I caught my flight back to the good old US of A.

Being home has certainly been interesting. At first it’s been pretty difficult to manage my world once again in English. Now I’ve got the flow back, but maybe I’m losing my Spanish as my natural English flow returns to me. Nah! I have met several Spaniards here (go figure!) and I definitely still got it. Being at home is really great seeing my friends and of course my family, but I miss Europe already.

Here’s why I have to go back:

The environment, my world: There I speak several languages. I know people from all over the world. I have places to stay in about 10 different countries. The countries themselves are so close and travel is so easy and cheap that I just can’t give it up. I love travelling around and visiting friends. I miss going to see Chloé in Brussels and drinking Belgium’s amazing beers. I miss Italy and Carlo’s mother’s kitchen that seems to always be active making incredible Italian dishes that still make me salivate just thinking about them. I miss all the guys in Madrid and eating Shawarma kebabs from the Lebanese guy’s bar right next to my old flat with Marta. I miss all the botellones (plaza parties), all the Chinese people wandering the streets selling us 1-euro beers, I miss the jamones, I miss the buildings and the streets and the history. I miss being a foreigner; it’s difficult, especially in Spain with their massive amounts of impossible and frustrating red tape, but it’s worth it.

If I go home now, it’s almost as if it was all for nothing. That’s really unfair for me to say because it has certainly not been for nothing, but now I’ve got Europe figured out and I speak two (and a little more) languages and if I go home, that’s all going to be lost. So I am returning. And it’s to make myself a marketable international citizen. I’m going to school to learn all the things I need to know to start my career there or wherever, but it’s going get me somewhere where I can use all these new skills I have acquired living in Madrid for two years. It’s not going to be easy (especially considering I still have no job in Barcelona), but I can’t wait to close my eyes, jump in head first and when I come up, see what it’s like on the other side.

Write more later,

Graham

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Brussels II

Brussels has been the place I’ve given most attention to in the past year because I so desperately wanted to study there for my Master’s. However, after my previous visit, we’ve all seen my great disappointment in the school I found there. I would have looked into other schools but it seems that French is such a fundamental element to their education that I would fall short of understanding.  Regardless, Brussels continues to be a place that I like better and better.

I went out there last week to visit Chloé for three reasons. One was to just pass the time since I’ve finished working. The other was to see Chloé (and Olivia of course). But third, it was also Chloé’s birthday.

I arrived Thursday morning bright and early. I had the entire city to myself. Not even Chloé was there at the moment, she was in Amsterdam visiting family. She left me the keys to her flat at the newspaper stand across the street from her place. She wrote me out a script to tell the man in French. I entered, said, “Bonjour” the best that I could, and I tried to read the note Chloé left me with the most authentic French accent I could muster. The guy looked at me strangely at first, but then understood what I meant. He laughed and handed me the keys and then in a broken English accent said, “There you are.”  I smiled, grabbed the keys, and left, proud that I was already speaking French.

The rest of the day was spent alone, wandering Brussels getting to discover it for myself. I had always been accompanied by Chloé but this time I got to make my own agenda.

After eating lunch, I went to the Atomium. I’m not entirely sure what it is but it’s this giant sculpture in the form of an atom. Chloé told me it was boring and not worth the visit which is why she had never taken me, but I know that it’s an icon of Brussels so I wanted to see it for myself.

Afterwards, I returned to the city center and went to the Modern Art Museum and saw a special photography exhibit by Stanley Kubrick. It was absolutely wonderful. He has always been one of my favorite directors but I didn’t know he was such a talented photographer.

Eventually I made it back to Chloé’s house, pretty tired from having walked so much and having slept only a few hours the night before. I ended up falling asleep on her couch only to be woken by her and Olivia a few hours later.

The rest of my trip was spent meeting all of Chloé’s friends around town. Our first night we went to a small get-together to drink, talk, and watch Italy beat Germany in the EuroCup.  The people at the party were all wonderful, inviting, and seemed to have really gotten a kick out of having an American there.  Most of us were pretty divided by language since my French is so elementary as well as their English. But I ended up getting the attention of all these Belgian guys as we discussed anything from music to politics. I’d see a few of them, including the girl that had the party again at Chloé’s birthday.

The next day we were pretty groggy and I was still overtired from not sleeping the night before, so we took it easy. At night, we went out with some more of Chloé’s friends, had a few delicious Belgian beers and then called it a night. My favorite part was the bike ride home. We rented bikes to get from point A to point B. I dearly miss cruising through cities on bike, especially at night. When I move to Barcelona in August, I am definitely getting one.

On Saturday, we woke up and had a picnic in this gorgeous park. We sat there for several hours just talking, eating and reading. To all of our surprise despite the cloudy day, we all ended up getting pretty sun burnt. Go figure getting burnt in a place famous for having considerably dreadful weather year round.

Eventually we made our way back to Chloé’s flat to prepare for her birthday party. We made food and got cocktails already. Chloé had devised a fun game for her birthday: everyone had to wear a name tag with the name of the first street they lived on. Then, everyone was given a Hawaiian lei and if you called the person by their real name, you had to give it up.  Some people ended up with several lei’s and others with none.

Chloé’s birthday was a blast. There were so many people there and everyone was kind enough to make an effort to speak English so that I could understand. When they did speak in French, I tried so hard to understand but it only resulted in me getting a really bad headache. Once the moment came for us to all go out, we went to a wild karaoke bar until about six in the morning when we went home for me to grab my bag and then head directly to the airport since I had a morning flight.

Brussels, as boring as Chloé says it is, continues to amaze me. It’s always a riot for me. I love the quaintness of the city, but also it’s grandiose internationalness. I felt like a complete loser there, only being capable of speaking two languages. There you meet people who speak several languages, have family all over the world and are just so downright international. I guess I hold my own as being a cien por cien American, but everyone there is just so well educated and interesting.  I really hope to move there after my master’s to attempt to make myself more international. Even just talking to the people, I feel like I’m learning so much. In the few days I was there, I feel like I learned more French, more about other countries, more about my own country and just about things in general than I have in college. Not only was it a trip for pleasure, but for knowledge. And those are always the best kinds of trips.

Missing Chloé and Olivia as always. Hope to see them soon.

Write more later,

Graham

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