Little Pieces of Home

As midterms are underway (and preventing me from blogging), I wanted to drop a BIG note of thanks for the love I’ve been receiving since abroad! From notes from my mom, emails and Facebook posts from family and friends, my weekly comics and gossip notes from Mem and Pep, to the amazing care package I received today from Harry, I’m am overjoyed to hear from all or you- your support means the world to me 🙂




A Student of the Moment – Bruges, 21 September 2013

Hi Again 🙂


Spent last Saturday traveling with my history class, yet again, to the beautiful city of Bruges: the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.  I was immediately struck by the beauty of the city: the old architecture, the canals, the swans (Bruges is known for their upkeep of swans- a portion of the city taxes are actually allocated towards the upkeep of the swans!), and the novelty shops.  While we had a wonderful, full day of visiting museums, churches, and monuments, the one down side to Bruges that I noticed was the incredibly large number of tourists: everywhere.  As we weaved through small alleys packed with languages such as English, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish, my group was left to consider the question – how do we define the makeup of our group?

To anyone seeing us chase down our professor, wildly waving something above her head to attract our attention, we were tourists, exploring Bruges like so many others.  However, when you hear many of us cracking jokes in French slang, asking locals questions in French or broken Dutch, and even giving presentations on various artifacts in Bruges’ history, it’s clear that we may be slightly more educated than your typical tourist (minus the fact that we had huge cameras slung around our necks.)  When overhearing our conversation, our teacher posed that we should classify ourselves as historians visiting Bruges to conduct research on Belgian and European history.  And while that is true and satisfied a good number of my peers, this title still created a level of disconnect for me.  Was I really just an academic exploring a country with the motive of pursuing my studies? Was I a tourist, trying to capture the beauty of a city through the lens of a camera?  While I definitely felt disoriented in this new city, I was content and surprised with my ability to get around Brussels, and also thrilled when mistaken for a Belgian and asked for directions. 

Although I would typically argue that labels aren’t important in many circumstances, the question of categorization fascinated me throughout the rest of my adventures; after much deliberation, I realized that there really isn’t one general title that can be used to define the students abroad at Vesalius, let alone my history class. For many students, studying abroad is a chance to travel and explore: to see as much of a city or as many countries as your timeline and budget will allow.  For others, it’s visiting archives, and examining artifacts to learn their relevance in the makeup of a country’s history.  But for a small number students, studying abroad is about total and full immersion. It’s about sleeping in because that’s what people do! It’s about taking photos to capture memories, but not using your camera as a means of separation from being fully engaged in the moment.  It means not being afraid to speak French, or getting lost; and importantly, asking for help or asking questions when they come to mind.  Full immersion is a test, not only of your academic ability to succeed at an international university while balancing a desire to travel, but also of courage and leadership; one must be ready to expose all vulnerabilities in order to uncover new lessons about different cultures, different subjects, and, most important, oneself.  You must be ready to be a student of the moment.


Below, I’ve attached the itinerary and photos from my trip to Bruges. Enjoy!


Trip to Bruges  (Sunday, September 21)

8:40 — Meet in ticket-hall of Gare Centrale.

8:59 — Train for Bruges and Ostend leaves. (Next train for Bruges: 9:21- destination Knokke)

10:01 — Train arrives in Bruges. Walk across the boulevard (the last wall around Bruges) towards Our Lady’s Church.

10:20 — Before  entering the 14th c. St Jan Hospital

10:40 — Get in St Jan Hospital, where we see the paintings by Hans Memling: The triptych with St John the Baptist and the Evangelist, the Reliquary of Ursula (with view of Cologne cathedral’s choir), the diptych of Martin Nieuwenhove with the Virgin, portrait of a woman and two other small triptychs.

11:20 — Across the street, we enter Onze Lieve Vrouw kerk (Church of Our Lady). See the Madonna statue by Michelangelo (1502), then walk in the choir where are the tombs of Charles the Bold and of Mary of Burgundy and the Calvary altarpiece (c. 1534) by the mannerist painter Bernard van Orley.  In a side chapel, the tomb of Lanchals, treasurer of Maximilian of Habsburg, and on the other side of the choir the oratory of the Gruuthuse family who had become rich from the sale of the gruut necessary for making beer at the time, hence their name: ‘house of the gruut’.

12:00 — Walk around the church to reach the Gruuthuse palace. Pass by the statue of 19th c. priest and poet Guido Gezelle (19th c.) and go to Simon Stevin square where we break for lunch.

13:10 — Meet at the statue of Simon Stevin. Walk to Cloth Hall where the cloth used to be sold.  Above the building stands the Belfry

13:30 — Get to the center of the Grote Markt by the statue of Jan Breydel & Pieter De Coninck  (heroes of the Battle of the Golden Spurs -July 11, 1302). Observe the guildhouses, the Kraenenburg where Maximilian was imprisoned in 1488, and the Provincial Government building (previously the Waterhall).

13:50 — Walk into the Hanseatic past of Bruges (House of the Genoese and ter Beurze).  On J.Van Eyckplein, see the Old Toll House and the Poorters’ (merchants) Lodge.

14:10 — Walk along the canal (Spinolarei) to get to Jerusalemstraat.

14:20 — Visit the 15th c. Jerusalem Church.

14:50 — Walk to the Burg. See the location of St Donatian church (first a Carolingian, then Romanesque, finally Gothic church for which Van Eyck painted the Madonna we will see in  the Groeninge Museum).

15:00 — On the Burg stand: the Brugse Vrij (old government for Bruges’ countryside) with its mantelpiece (Lanceloot Blondeel -1528) showing Charles V’s genealogy, the neoGothic City Hall and double church: Romanesque St Basil and Gothic Holy Blood Chapel. We will get in the Brugse Vrij and the double church.

15:45 — Through the Blinde Ezelstraat, (Blind Donkey alley) reach the Fish Market and then Huidevettersplein (Tanners place). Walk along the Dijver passing by the Europa College to get into the Groeningen Museum.

16:00-16:50  — In the museum, we see the “Flemish Primitives” (Van Eyck, Vander Weyden, Memling, Bosch, David) but also paintings from the 16th to the 20th c.

17:00 — Leave the museum and walk towards the station passing by of the Beguinage, the Minnewater (Love Lake) and the Poertoren (powder tower).

17:59 — Train leaves (direction  Eupen) to arrive at Brussels Central at 19:01


The Queen of the Domestic Kingdom- Antwerp, 28 October 2013




Highlight of Antwerp: we walk into a room in the Pieter Paul Rubens house, and our professor points to a wooden box on top of stand with a huge iron crank onto top.  The machine stands to be about my height.  Upon asking if any of the students know what the box does, and after a serious of ridiculous responses (music box, crank flashlight, etc) I reply that it’s an iron. My teacher’s eyes light up as she exclaims my brilliance; thus, I was deemed by my friend, Nina, to be the Queen of Domestic Kingdom- wherever I go, I can spot a good, household appliance.  Enjoy!



8:25 — Meet at Gare Centrale.


8:37 — Train leaves for Antwerp. (Train first passed at Midi station leaving at 8:33)


9:22 — Train arrives in Antwerp at Central Station.  We take the Keyserlei, then the Meir.  See the statue of Antwerp painter David Teniers and look at the eclectic buildings.  Further on the left side of the Meir, look at the18th c. Osterrieth house (now a bank) in Rococo style


9:45 — Pass by the statue of Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) and by a modern sculpture of a huge hand, symbol of Antwerp.  Walk to Groen Plaats where is the statue of Rubens (1577-1640) and where one discovers the Cathedral, the largest church in Belgium. Turn on Nationale straat (street of Antwerp’s fashion designers).  Take the first street on the right (Steenhouwersvest) to get to Vrijdag Markt (Friday flee market).


10:20 — Visit Plantin-Moretus Museum where one learns about the history of printing in the  printing house founded by Christophe Plantin in the 16th c.


12:00 – Walk to Steenhouwersvest where lived Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) who became, after Rubens’death the greatest painter in Antwerp.  Take Hoogstraat to the right until we enter by doorway into the picturesque Vlaeykensgang alley which brings us  close to the cathedral by way of Pelgrimstraat. Walk to the Grote Markt with its guildhouses, its Renaissance Stadhuis (Townhall) built in 1564 by Cornelis De  Vriendt and the fountain of Silvius Brabo by Jeff Lambeaux (19th c). 


12:25 — Break for lunch.



13:25 — Meet in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady. Enter and visit.


14:20 — By Suikerrui get to the terrace over the Scheldt.  See the panorama: the harbor (Bonaparte dock nearby), the left bank and on the right bank, the imposing eclectic buildings of the Hansa and the towers of the Cathedral.


14:35 — Walk to the Steen (stone), the medieval fortress, which houses today the National Maritime Museum.  Cross the road and walk to the Vleeshuis, the Butchers’ Hall built in 1504.


14:50 — By Oude Beurs and Wolstraat to Hendrik Conscience Square, called after the Antwerp-born author of the Lion of Flanders (1812-83).We will look at the facade of St. Charles Borromeo (1621), a Baroque church that used to have a ceiling decorated by Rubens until it was destroyed by fire in 1718.


15:45 — Return to the Meir where we see the Old Stock Exchange, a neo-gothic building dating from


1872, an exhibition hall today, and built on the site of the original “Beurs” of 1531 which had burned


in 1856. The 1531 Antwerp’s Beurs was the first Stock Exchange building and served as a model to  those of Amsterdam and London.  Walk on Meir to Wapper Square.


16:00 — Visit the house of Pieter Paul Rubens


17:00 — Walk to the station.  Trains for Brussels (45 -50 minutes) leave at the hour 38 and 03.




Weekly Happenings- Reflections from Week 6

Realizing that most of my recent blogs have been to commemorate trips or big events I’ve experienced while abroad, I decided to craft this post to give some insight in on a ‘typical’ week in Brussels.  Below are a few synopses into my past week- Enjoy!


22 Sunday

“No Car Day” in Brussels- all citizens in Brussels are prohibited from using their cars unless they apply for special permission from the government (and you can get a fine if you don’t!) While the public transportation systems do still run, it’s very limited! Downtown, there are huge street fairs, and in the suburb neighborhoods like mine, everyone rides bikes, goes for walks/runs, and visits outside.  What a great way to help the environment!


23 Monday

My host family’s home is 35 minutes away from the university: a 23 minute bus ride, a 2 minute walk to the transfer station, a 7 minute tram ride, and a 3 minute walk.  That is, it’s a 35 minute commute on a good day, typically meaning that I either arrive 10 minutes early, or (more likely) at least 15 minutes late.  And while I factor in delays when determining what time I leave for school in the morning, it doesn’t always work out as planned.  After arriving 40 minutes late to class, I nervously count down the minutes to our class break where I know I’ll have to approach my professor (COUNT DRACULA, I’m so serious) and explain my tardiness.  90 minutes into the class, however, not one, but three students enter the classroom tardy.  I was off the hook, and my professor assured me that, while those students’ grades would feel the delay, mine was safe J (plus I got pain au chocolat from my host mom for breakfast, so solid morning!)


My boss called me a genius… twice… for developing interrogative, uncomfortable, challenging questions for a magazine article, focused on interviewing the owner of a new company that will allow Belgians to order American beer online (yes, this is a real thing)


24     Tuesday

Press Conference Day!  Tuesday I attended two press conferences on behalf of (A)WAY magazine.  The first one was to celebrate the one year anniversary of Pink Ribbon: Amie pour la Vie, a non-profit that works to raise awareness about breast cancer by encouraging prevention and screening.  Funded through the King Budoin Foundation, the organization promotes projects, including  clinical research in the areas of quality of life, information on all aspects of the management of breast cancer, and improving quality of care for patients.  Suffering from a serious Relay withdrawal, this press conference was exactly what I needed to channel my passion towards learning more about various resources available in my new home to help caregivers and victims of cancer.  The second press conference was to honor women scientists in Belgium who have done extraordinary work; as you can imagine, the feminist inside me was smiling J I thoroughly enjoyed my press pass, being introduced to new people, and enjoying the complementary drinks and snacks. J


25     Wednesday

French test and oral presentation on Jean Paul Sartre- if you think philosophy is difficult in English, think of how hard it is to explain existentialism in French! Hopefully I did okay!!

26     Thursday

The first night all semester that I didn’t have homework- in the words of my host mom ‘it’s a miracle.’  Spent the night catching up on my American TV shows, plus some good ole Boy Meets World.  It never ceases to amaze me how even when I take the very last baguette at the Delhaize down the street, the bread and cheese I have for a midnight snack is so so so good!  That honestly may be the hardest part about returning to the states… Dad- bring an extra suitcase for snacks!


27     Friday

Fun filled, busy day! Didn’t have classes, so I slept in and then met Caitlin and Ben for some exploring/ clothes shopping (got a beautiful cream knitted sweater and a new earring for my cartilage) and sushi, then met up with Emily and Elizabeth for drinks.  We tried to make our way downtown for a concert taking place in the Grand Place to celebrate the French holiday, but it was blocked off – too bad, I love Stromae! We ended up getting fries instead, and turning in early for our adventure to Antwerp!



Cologne and Aachen

Yesterday was the five week marker of my arrival in Brussels- eeeek!! Where has the time gone?! Of course, my parents will laugh and tell you about how I called them twice within the first three days in tears, begging to come home. And now, I can’t believe that I’m almost halfway done with this incredibly adventure! As the first round of assessments are taking place, I’m so excited to be traveling with my European Studies course throughout Europe! I’ve attached below the itinerary from my weekend in Cologne and Aachen (14-15 September), along with the photos I took.  I tried to upload the pictures after each of the stops, but please bear with me!  Spent a wonderful day Bruges yesterday – look for those photos soon!! Love to all and thanks for following my blog xo 🙂

Saturday, September 14

8:00 a.m.         Get on coach (De Strycker or Bus & Co) in front of Vesalius College.

8:10                 Departure.

We watch the beginning of the BBC series I Claudius based on Robert Graves’ eponymous novel. An amateur historian, Claudius, Rome’s fourth emperor, recounts the intrigues at the imperial court.  The story begins with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the battle of Actium (31 BC) by his grand parents, Augustus and Livia.

**This is actually a great movie! I highly recommend it for all history buffs (and even those like me who like an exciting plot twists!)

±10:00                         Student presentations on Roman Burial rites

10:45               Arrival in Köln. The bus drops us near the Cathedral (Dom).

First, we get in the Choir because it closes at noon. There, you will see the 10th c. Gero crucifix, the shrine of Nicolas de Verdun (1184) and Stephan Lochner’s altarpiece of the City patrons (1440). Then we see the nave before looking at the exterior of the Dom. Student presentation on the Cathedral (**that was me! I rocked it!!)


12:00               Break for lunch (picnic lunch provided)


13:00               Go to the entrance of the Praetorium (Kleine Buddengasse) where a tour guide will be waiting for us. She will show us the excavations of the praetorium and what remains of the Roman sewers.  Then we will walk to the Romisch-


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      Germanisches Museum where our guided tour continues.

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15:30               The guide leaves but we stay to enjoy among others the glass collection.

16:30               Pass by the modern Ludwig Museum and enjoy the view of the Rhine.

17:10               Take the Hohenzollernbrücke that leads across the Rhine to Deutz where is our hostel and where the Romans had a fort called Divitia (the word became Deutz).

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18:45               Meet in lobby. Take the bridge in opposite direction to go to dinner.

19:15               Dinner at Gaffel Haus restaurant, Altermarkt 20

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After dinner you are on your own to enjoy Cologne by night.  There is no curfew at the hostel but remember that you need some sleep to be able to get on the next day.

Sunday, September 15

8:15-9:00         Breakfast.

9:00                 Place luggage on bus, then walk across the Rhine.  Walk to the Dom.

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9:30                 All courageous students are invited to climb up the towers (500 steps!).  

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10:00               Walk to Fischmarkt (where was the medieval Fish market) and the nearby

Romanesque Church Gross St Martin.

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10:20               Visit the Wallraf Richartz Museum (Obenmarspforten street).

We will see first the 15th c. paintings of the Cologne region.

Student presentations on Stefan Lochner

Afterwards, we will see the highlights of the rich museum collection.

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12:30               Leave the museum. Just in front is the ground of extensive excavations that will soon be a museum to the Jewish past of Cologne.  In this neighborhood lived the Jews since the 3rd c. In the Middle Ages they built a Synagogue that was razed down after their expulsion in 1424. The 12th c. Jewish ritual bath, the Mikwe, survived.  This is situated close to the Rathaus (town hall) built on top of the praetorium we visited on Saturday.  There took place the meetings of the Hanse.

                        Most of the Rathaus was destroyed in WWII except for a Renaissance wing.



12:45               Break up for lunch.

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(The railing at the top of the tower is where we climbed earlier!!

13:45               Meet by the Roman North gate in front of the Cathedral and walk to where our bus is parked to go to AACHEN.

Student presentation on Roman Leisure

We start watching Gladiator (Directed by Ridley Scott, 2000). The movie begins with the victory of the Roman army against the Germans on the Danube and death of emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), who, in the story, planned to appoint the victor, general Maximus, as his successor but his son Commodus takes power.

14:50               Arrive in Aachen.  Walk by the Rathaus that was built on the location of

Charlemagne’s palace. From there we walk to the Dom.

Student presentation on Charlemagne

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15:30               Guided visit of the Cathedral and the Treasury.

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17:00               Tour is over.

Coffee or tea break.

17:45               Walk back to the bus where you will receive a snack before we start driving back.

On the road to Brussels, we will watch the rest of Gladiator or at least most of it.

±20:00             Arrival in Brussels.