vineri, 7 august 2009

3 weeks in Belgium

BEST Summer Course

Couchsurfing Week

BEST Summer Course

I really hope that most of you, reading my blog knows something about BEST. The biggest student organization in Europe for students interested in engineering and applied sciences. It is the acronym of Board of European Students in Technology.

One of their main activities/projects are the Summer Courses. More than 80 this summer and I guess that all of them were more than excellent. I can tell you for sure that the one I had in Liege was mind blowing, fascinating, exceptional and highly professional. The BESTies in Liege are professional during the courses, the BEC, the company visits, the PARTIES and during the exam(yes, we had one there also). One of the most well organized and well prepared student activity I saw. Thanks David!

I won’t give to many details about the Summer Course because the ones involved(organizers & participants) know very well how was it or how Martina said “What happens in Belgium, stays in Belgium” :D. Cantus, games, Martians, Prayon, Biowanze, killing virgins in the forest at 4 am, birthday songs in 15 languages, singing contest with Standards supporters in the bus, 7:30 jogging, climbing on the pillars from the Cathedral in Liege, hugging unknown Germans, pub crawling, reproducing Haribo bears, beer tasting, chease tasting, biking to Maastricht, swimming in the North Sea, Hawaiian party, International Evening, sheaps head, the brain of the pig, Slivovica, Borowicza, Tuica, Sangria, torrential rain in Maastrich, the lion sleeps tonight, Viollet du Peket and many more.

I’m looking forward for the next Summer Course because it was amazing.

Couchsurfing week

It’s not necessary to explain what is Couchsurfing just because you can find plenty of information on the Internet. After the course this was awesome again. Shortly, CS is the best way to know a country and the people living there.

It was like this: Liege – Brugge – Bruxelles – Ghent – Antwerpen – Mechelen – Bruxelles – Home. One week in the major cities in Belgium. New people, new customs.

Brugge – The most important touristic city in Belgium, the most developed harbor of Belgium in the Middle Ages, peaceful and chill. The nickname for this town is “The Venice of the North” because of the canals from and surrounding the inhabited part. The experience there didn’t started as I was expecting. I’ve agreed with my host to wait him in the train station with the Romanian flag on the backpack as identifier. The train arrived to early and I was sitting on a bench in the train station with my flag in the wind. Next to me were three ladies from Romania(I can’t say that I was missing my people so much but anyway, they were Romanians there). No need to start a conversation with them because In saw and heard what were them speaking. “Look at that guy, with the flag up! How can he do something like this? It’s now ok to show where are you from in the train station”. For them I looked like the last man in the world and they weren’t ashamed to show me this. That pissed me off but I was so relaxed after the SC and I was not willing to reply to them although my mind was already searching for a response “What’s your problem with my flag? Are you ashamed to be a Romanian? That’s bad for you because I am proud to be Romanian and I can take out my second flag from my backpack. You came to Belgium to escape my country?” In your face! I hate this kind of people.

My host there was a Canadian guy, living and working internationally. I think that from all my hosts he traveled the most. His living philosophy was simple “I’m a contract worker and as long as I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid but I have enough time to travel”. One of the nicest parts of CS is that you get a local as a guide in the city so Andrew explained me in a non touristic style the history of Brugge and why it’s so well preserved and you can’t see chimneys in and around the city. As I told you before, Brugge was the first main harbor in Belgium for quite a long time. Afterwards, the city lost this status and Antwerpen and the economy started to sink. In the 1800s the Industrial Revolution came but the people in Brugge didn’t had the money to invest in factories or a larger harbor so, the economy was going bad again. In the late 1800 some English soldiers came and “discovered” how beautiful is Brugge. This was the start for a touristic town. The 20th century “proved” that Brugges is the ultimate touristic town in Belgium. The economy is boosting now and the prices are for high class tourists.

Remember, I’m a surfer, not a tourist, so I could find a place to eat and drink cheap. Lots of spaghetti for just 3 euro. The Jupiler I drank there was bought from the money I earned that day “working” at the lock nearby. I left Andrews home at 8 in the morning and after leaving my luggage at the train station I went to see the wind mills and the locks on the canal with the moving bridges. Normal people don’t go to see mills and locks in Brugge but I’m a surfer and a future engineer :D. Sitting around and taking pictures I was asked by some Frenchman to tight his ship. Ok, I will, no problem for me, I’ve never did this before so let’s try. It were about 30-40 minutes of sitting in the sun with the rope in my hands and it was worthy. 5 Euros and the experience of having a ship in my hands :D. Lazy Frenchmen!. It was easier for them to ask me to tight the boat then to jump on the shore and do it himself.

I left Brugge on the 20th of July and I went to Bruxelles for the Military parade and for the National Holyday .

Bruxelles – the capital city of Belgium(hope you knew that!) has about 1 million inhabitants and is very very lucky that hosts the European Institutions. My host there was Albert, a 47 year old man. We had a great time there. Let’s start with The Magic Flying Thunderbirds and the concert we had near the Palace of Justice. Belgians really know how to have fun. The concert lasted until 1 o’clock in the morning and the concert place was full. Singing, dancing and beering :D with the Bruxellers . The after party(because it had to be an after party !) lasted till 4 am in the Depot. I’ve remembered my first meeting with a CSer. Toon from … Brussel. We stayed in the city late in the night and had laughed a lot. Enjoy Couchsurfing!

Next day, the 21st of July was the National Day. Big boys with big toys – the military parade! It was intriguing to see the NATO flag on/in the Cinquantenaire triumphal arch. Normally and especially during the National day, the Belgian flag should hang there but let’s say that NATO is special. Thanks to NATO or just because it’s HQ is in Bruxelles I could see troops from each NATO country. I remember only the Romanians(who were looking definitely Romanian – just like prototypes) and the Canadians with some “well-grown” ladies (1.90m). As an appreciation sign, when the Policeman came by bike and by seg-way people applauded them. That’s nice. The Belgians are very proud of their activity in the First World War so I saw a tent from that period with the main activities behind the battle field. Tipping at a old writing machine, drawing maps and calculating routes and of course, smoking pipe. Last evening in Brussel was spent indoor, in Albert’s apartment. I dressed myself with the national costume and started the tuica tasting. Relaxing again and eventually we went to sleep at 11 pm (yes, for real. In Liege and in the other places I’ve been it’s very easy to characterize my sleeping program “yesterday night I slept today in the morning”).

Gentse Feesten came after Brussel (the Dutch spelling of the capital city. ) Gent is waiting, here I come!

Gent - the most important student city in Belgium, with 60 000 students a year, known for it’s three towers and for the Gentse Feesten. The three towers are from the Saint-Nicholas Church, the Belfry and the Saint Bravo Cathedral. It is said that people coming from the surroundings saw the towers before arriving in the city and thought that they were near.

Herman was my host there. His house was a CSer paradise because almost anytime there were surfers there. When I arrived, two girls from Indonesia just left but two Germans were there waiting for me. After my departure some people arrived a few hours later. It was the first real couch I slept on. “Let’s have a beer!” was his favorite expression with the surfers. I agreed with him and had 6 wonderful beers from small breweries. Klokke Roland was my favorite. I had beer testing(again) with 7 more types of beer(from 7.5 to 11%). Each beer had her story. Herman knows beer(his father was a beer merchant) so I was again lucky enough to see the bottle of the best beer in the world. The first night out lasted until 2 am and ended with 2 live concerts: rock and jazz. One of the photos from the rock concert will definitely enter in my concerts gallery.

Next day came very rapidly and at 6 am the sun was up and the rain was pouring. Back to sleep. The same happened at 11 o’clock. Back to bed. Eventually we departed at about 1 o’clock to our target that day. No museums, no architecture, no pubs, no touristic stuff. It was motor/engine stuff. We went to a village nearby to the Harley Davidson shop. “Thank you for not touching this bike” was written near each motorcycle. Fortunately, taking pictures was allowed so let’s do it. I don’t think that a Harley shop needs any presentation. For me was fascinating to sit and breath near 20 bikes. Eventually I received the approval (after buying something) to sit on a bike. Immediately I felt the wind in my face, the sound of the engine, the road under my wheels. This is freedom, this is travelling, this is life! After Harley, we visited the BMW shop. Totally opposite from the stuff I saw at Harley. High-tech bikes, clothing with fibers and polyesters, LED lights on the bike and the engine is installed transversely on the bike. Harley has the typical V2 engine inline with the wheels. For now I can’t say that I prefer one or another but for hardcore enduro, off road and long(very long) travelling I’ll choose a BMW. Bicycles followed this two amazing shops. It was a 2 storey store full of bicycles. High tech again, disc brakes, oil brakes, rapid-fire shifters and bikes with a price tag of 1700 Euros. Ferrari ended the tour in the village of engines. 10 of them in the showroom just for us.

Couchsurfing meeting in the evening with 20 interesting people. The guy from Morocco who was studying in Cluj-Napoca and spoke Romanian was the biggest surprise for me that evening. Another Romanian was there and we could have a chat to remember our language. After 1 week in Austria I’ve answered to my mother in English so it was useful to speak some Romanian before going home. 20 different people with 20 different stories and 20 different reasons to travel. This is Couchsurfing and this is the reason I travel this way.

Antwerpen – the 2nd largest harbor in Europe after Rotterdam receives it’s name after a legend with a giant and a local hero. Brabo(the hero) cut Antigons hand and threw it in the river. The Dutch words for this (for throwing a hand) is “ant” – for hand and “werpen” for throwing. Now you can see AntWerpen. Nice legend.

Jochem was my host there and we had a funny event before I left. It was the most interested in Romania and in the culture provided by my country. Atentive, metallist and very very open minded. I saw the city mostly by foot but sometime the rain pushed me in the tram or in the metro(they use tram also for the metro and it’s quite confusing ). The tram is nice especially when you sit next to old ladies. I was near the window looking at some girls in the street when the lady next to me told me something in Dutch. “Sorry but I don’t speak Dutch”. “Ok, I can speak English then” she told me. “You were looking at the beautiful young scenery through the window. How do you find them?” “Nice” I’ve answered. The event was also funny, never expected to be asked by an old lady how are the girls in Belgium :D.

Something that I saw in Antwerpen. The Palace of Justice, the Meir, the Opera and the Photo Museum. In the Photo Museum I’ve seen Nick Hannes exhibition – Red Journey. In 2007 and 2008, Belgian freelance photographer traveled across the former Soviet Union by bus and train in search of remnants of the region's Communist past and signs of recent social transition and evolutions. He visited Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Moldova, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and brought back images that bear a lot of nostalgia for the past, a capitalism that might have spread a bit too fast in some cases, a few vodka and blondes clichés we'll never get tired of, some amazingly beautiful landscapes and a time that seems to pass at varying speeds. It was the first time I’ve been so close to a photographer awarded with the Nikon Press Photo Award.

Back home(at Jochems place) after a long and tiring time spent in the city I’ve eaten 400 g of tomato soup at once. E-mails for one hour and then back again in the city – to Nevelfest and to the power metal concerts. 3 bands, some good photos and cold beer. Do you know that the Belgian girls comb their hair after head banging? I didn’t so I’ve took a photo to remember – the girls is combing and her boyfriend realized what I was doing and smiled in the blur. Hope that you’ll enjoy the photo. During the concert I’ve agreed with Jochem to stay a bit longer and he will wait me home. If he sleeps I’ll ring the bell for longer hoping he’ll wake up. It didn’t happened so for 20 minutes I was ringing and thinking at a solution to enter his home. The first floor was not very high and I could easily climb there but the windows were closed, so I’ll sleep outside. No, I won’t, it’s to cold and I’m tired. Eventually it turned out very fine because Jochems neighbors were Romanians and in the end they opened the front door. I’m inside now and I still have a open door to pass till I get in my sleeping bag. Not. The apartments door was closed so I’ve spend another 5 minutes to open it.

From this event I’ve learned something important. Don’t go outside in Belgium without a jacket or something to dress when the night is coming. Romanians are not lock pickers, they simply know how to handle and how to manage a situation. In the morning the host told me “So, I wasn’t dreaming that you entered the house.” “See you in the Carpathians, Jochem!”

Mechelen – it’s not a touristic town but It has the Free Map for Young Travelers so it’s good for my collection. I’ve spent and hour in that town although I could stay more and play beach volley with the girls in the Grote Markt. For 3 euro and 50 bani(not cents) I’ve bought the special glass for the Trippel Karmelit from the flee market. Thanks!

Brussel – again – but this time I had a special purpose. The Royal Museum for Armed Forces and Military Museum. It just can’t be described in words. Wonderful. Only one short mention: in the section with the Belgica expedition to Antarctica there were 7-10 photos, a tent and a sledge. Only two photos have names. Adrien de Gerlache (the commandant and the ship owner) and Emil Racovita (the well known Romanian biologist). For me that’s something. Thank you Belgium! Before going to my host (this time a Romanian guy) I’ve spent the Sunday afternoon just like the people living in Bruxelles. Took my shirt of and rested on my mat in the grass from the Cinquantenaire Park. An hour laying in the park listening jazz from a nearby band was the cherry on the cake for this 3 week experience.

Lucian, my host that night is a mountaineer so we talked a lot about mountains(normally !). There, I’ve realized that I’m a responsible person and how bad is this responsibility for my travelling passion. He was going back home(to Romania) on the 7th of August with free seats in the car and I could easily join him. I still had 200 Euros with me and France was only a hitch hike away. 2 more weeks of travelling. It would have been nice but I had a plane to catch. I went for the plane. Thank you Lucian and Ruxandra.

I’ve landed in Bucharest and on the night train back home I had an interesting dream. Usually I don’t dream or don’t remember the dreams in the morning. It was like this: I’ve been in Berlin with Leo(the Berliner), Slavka and Nadja. Nothing to do, we were hanging around when Nadja remembered that she had to catch the bus to Tallinn and she had a free ticket for me. Good, Estonia here I come! Immediately I phoned my parents and told them that I won’t come home in a month. “Aren’t you tired? Do you still have money and clean clothes? ” asked my mother. “Don’t worry, I’m ok.” “Good, then phone me when you arrive in the Castle of Tallinn.” “Thanks”. My father told me very simple “Go and see Estonia! Just send text messages to me when you feel alone because I know that’s hard to be alone in a foreign country.” Thank you for growing me up and for the everyday support!

I’m young. I’m traveling. I have time to sleep at home. These were the three things I kept in mind during this trip. 3 sentences for 3 weeks. It’s enough. Live simple, enjoy what are you doing and don’t be afraid. I was all alone, all by myself and I was relaxed and chilled the 3 weeks. Go out, try, taste, experiment. It’s good for you!

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