Three days have passed since Belgium and we arrive in Portugal in less than 8 hours. This is the first time I’ve been able to catch up on blogging because classes are starting to get a little crazy. We have had 6 days of each class so far and already I have had 2 tests in one of my classes. In the other class we just handed in a paper worth 20% of our grade. I can’t complain too much because to reward myself today I had a massage in the spa. It’s crazy to think how fast time goes here. One month ago I was boarding the plane with my family to start on this adventure.
Belgium was absolutely amazing! I couldn’t ask for a better port. The first day I had a field lab for my Leadership Development class. My class headed to Brussels which was a little over an hour and a half away. Our first stop was NATO where we met with two speakers. The first speaker worked for NATO in Afghanistan during 9/11. He spoke to us about the current situation in Afghanistan and why certain decisions were made. He also spoke about the goals for the future Afghanistan and how NATO and the US in particular will play a role in their future success. The second speaker gave us an overall description of NATO and was able to answer any questions we had. I was surprised by how much I learned visiting NATO. It was interesting to hear their side of what is going on in Afghanistan and to challenge my previous views on the situation. After lunch we went to the EU Parliament and had a tour and listened to a speaker. It was interesting to be able to compare Europe’s government to the US. For dinner we went to an Italian place in Antwerp’s center. There is a cluster of Italian restaurants. They didn’t speak any English and I definitely don’t speak Italian so ordering was very interesting. We did figure out halfway through the conversation that our common language was Spanish. Who would’ve known!
The second day I took a day trip to Amsterdam with my friends Carrie, Paige, Barrett, and Braxton. On the way I tasted my first Belgian Waffle, which was amazing! We took a train out of Antwerp (their train station is gorgeous) in the morning. We walked around and grabbed some lunch. It’s amazing how different their culture truly is. We wanted to go walk through the red light district to say we have experienced it but didn’t know who to ask for directions. A guy our age, Mark, saw that we looked lost and we started talking to him. He told us he had finished class early and was locked out of his house so he would love to show us. He ended up being our tour guide for the entire day. He showed us all around the city and took us to the Anne Frank house which was heartbreaking. It is amazing to think that we stood where she did many years ago. Amsterdam was an unforgettable experience and it was great to see it with a local.
The next three days were spent in Paris. The first night we found the Eiffel Tower and went out to a nice dinner. The second day we did an on-off bus so we had transportation. We saw all the major sites like Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, and the Louvre. Paris is beautiful! For dinner we ate by the Eiffel Tower on the patio. When we were just finishing paying our bill the tower started to sparkle. It was one of those travel moments you’ll never forget. The twinkling goes off on the hour for five minutes at night so we grabbed some crepes and sat across the road by the fountains. Unbelievable. That night I went back to the hotel and was fortunate enough to skype my family. It definitely made my day seeing all of them, and what better day than my parents anniversary! Those 45 minutes seemed like 5. The next morning we got up extremely early and hiked up the Eiffel Tower. To get to the top you can walk to the second level and then have to take a lift. I definitely got my exercise for the day. At the top they have champagne and perfect places to take pictures. We had to rush back to make the bus back to Antwerp. When we got back we went out to dinner and walked around town with some friends.
The last day I hung out with my usual friend group. We haven’t been able to all hang out much in ports because we signed up for different trips. It was a nice end to the trip. We went to the Antwerp Zoo, which is the oldest zoo in Europe. We walked around for a while then went and bought Belgian Chocolates before heading back to the ship.
Right now Semester at Sea is trying to figure out if it is safe enough for us to stop in Morocco coming up. That’s the big question and gossip floating around the ship. Although we are traveling the world and learning a lot about it we are sometimes cut off from the world. Without the internet we don’t normally stay up to date with current events. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Otherwise I can’t complain. I am forever grateful for the opportunity I have been given and every morning when we eat breakfast out by the ocean I can’t believe this is real life. Studying with the sound of the ocean is surprisingly calming! Well I’m off to pack for Portugal. 3 days in Portugal, one day between (which I have no class) and then off to Spain!
Me, Paige, Jessie (my roommate), Jake
A few of us at the zoo