Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Archipiélago de Colón (aka. Galapagos Islands)

This week I hope to get you - all my loyal blog followers - up to speed on my last few months so get ready for it! It’s been an exciting time and I’m just itching to share it with all of you!

And I’ll start with last month where I was in the Galapagos Islands! Yes, you just read that right. (Here’s where you open a new internet screen and check where the Galapagos Islands are.) It shouldn't surprise you that it took us about 40 hours door-to-door travelling from Belgium. That included one overnight stay in the Guayaquil airport.

You might be surprised to know (like I was) that there are over 18 islands in the Galapagos but only 4 are inhabited. A great majority of the islands, 97%, are national park; and on the remaining 3% there are only about 23,000 people. I’ve put a little map for you below and circled the islands we were able to go to, some are close and only a 20 min shuttle boat ride from the Baltra airport to Santa Cruz – our “home”. And some are far away with a big ocean we never could have made it there on the transport boats.

The islands are BEAUTIFUL each one is so unique and different. It was an amazing trip and there are so many pictures I could share with you all (over 450!) - but I won’t. I think it's better to just share with you some of my favorite pics of the flora & fauna and the people...

North Seymour Island and a marine iguana

Tortoise at the Charles Darwin Station, Santa Cruz Island

The beach at Isabela Island

Blue-footed Boobies on North Seymour Island

Sea lion pup on North Seymour

Owner of an organic coffee plantation on Santa Cruz Island

Flamingos on Isabela Island

Traditional Ecuadorian dancers at the Ms. Puerto Ayora pageant on Santa Cruz Island

Me on Bartolome Island, Pinnacle rock in the distance

My fantastic (and last) MBA team! Sean, Nick, Kelly, me, Paula, Gert, Tara & Iulia
While we were on the islands we volunteered with Galapagos ICE, a USA based NGO that is dedicated to improving healthcare and education for residents of the Galapagos Islands. Working daily with Emily, the President & Founder, and Eric, the Executive Director, refueled me after my long MBA year. Now I feel like I'm ready to get back to the real world! Or almost. ;-)

Coming soon another post...the final days of MBA and graduation! :)

See you soon!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tearing down the wall

Note - The delay in posting was due to China's internet censorship. :(

Greetings from China! Monday (6 July) was the first day of our study trip to China and I am overwhelmed by all I am seeing and tasting in Beijing! I wanted to share with you some of my first reactions of this new city, new country, and new continent for me that might interest you. This message below will be posted on my blog once I leave China (yes, China not only blocks facebook but my little blogspot too).

Beijing loves fast food. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and even DQ. I only broke my “will not eat at USA fast food restaurants outside of the USA” rule once to have a Green Tea Blizzard. It sort of tasted like home! J

I don’t know that much about Chinese history. There are Emperors and dynasties that sound familiar but I’m not able to say who came when or even in what order. I realized this when I was walking around the Old & New Summer Place. History in this area of the world is completely unknown to me and I don’t like that. Also unknown to me was the amount of pollution in the air – look at the pics below, the white clouds are not fog but SMOG.

Old Summer Palace

New Summer Palace
Beijingers are extremely helpful and friendly. Two minutes after I open a map people not only ask if they can help me but they offer to lead me to my destination. This is has turned out to be a lifesaver because many people do not speak English (even within the tourist destinations).

We are one in a million. There are so many Chinese tourists in Beijing that foreign tourists stick out like a sore thumb. So that said often times when we’re walking we find people are taking our picture…so we started taking their picture back!

Me (purple shirt) and Paula (blond hair) with Chinese tourists
The view is always worth it. Earlier in the week my classmate Paula (from Ireland) & I did a day bike & hike tour of the Great Wall in a non-touristy area. It was hot and sunny and the Great Wall isn’t a really easy climb, it’s steep and there are many broken steps, but the view was worth it!

Did you know the Great Wall was so steep?

The Great Wall

Yes, Beijing is a great city to visit but I don’t think I could live. There are just SO many people and the city is SO huge that I think I would get lost daily.

See you later!

PS: To my family & friends in the USA, I hope you had a great 4th of July! I truly missed the celebration, the picnic-ing, the parades, the boating, the fireworks and most importantly seeing all of you!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I just finished another busy month at school. For the last 8-odd weeks we have been “working” at companies for our In Company Project, think unpaid internship. But our projects came to a full stop this past week with our paper and defense. I’ll post more about that later, but today I’d like to share with you my trip to Normandy at the beginning of this month.

June 2 is a holiday in Belgium and my work was closed on the 2nd & 3rd so I took a long weekend and went to the Normandy area of France. Also with the Anniversary of D-Day (June 6) being so close I thought it would be a great time to visit and it was! Unfortunately the Anniversary was on Monday and I had to get back to work so I wasn’t able to attend any of the memorial services.

Normandy has been on my list to visit for years but at my grandfather’s funeral I decided I needed to go to Normandy. Now I wouldn’t describe my family as a military family, but both my grandfathers and my father served in the Army. My grandfather that passed away was stationed at a POW camp in the USA during WW2. At his burial the flag was draped over his coffin, the bugler played Taps and the poem In Flanders Fields was read. We are a patriotic family. We grew up going to church on Memorial Day, flying the flag on the 4th of July (impressive because my parents don’t have a flagpole), and buying poppies from the Vets. Yes, I needed to go to Normandy.

I went solo and traveled by train, but for any of you thinking of visiting you really must rent a car. I would have been able to see so much more if I had my own wheels, note trains do not go to the landing beaches and they also cannot pull over so you can explore the markers along the side of the road.

In addition to the WW2 sites, there were 2 things in my guidebook that I wanted to see: Mount St. Michel and the Monet gardens.

Mount St. Michel is a rocky island (when low tide) on the northern coast of France. There is a monastery dedicated to Saint Michael (as in the Archangel). It is a maze of narrow passageways and is a completely unique place. It is one of the most visited places in all of France and I will confirm that…there were so many people!
Mount St Michel in the distance on the left and the long line of cars waiting to get in.

Mount St Michel & me.

After MSM I traveled to the Brittany American Cemetery. This was one of the times I wish I had a car. The cemetery is located 3 km outside of a city that the trains or buses don’t even go to, so I taxied it. I wanted to go to this cemetery because my grandmother told me the best man from their wedding is buried there.
Leonard Wistrcill, S Sgt 47 Inf BN 5 Armd Div, Minnesota Aug 12 1944

I arrived close to closing time and the cemetery was quiet and peaceful.

Saturday I took a mini-van tour and was able to see many places that no train would take me to. We started at the German Cemetery that has a large mass grave for over 300 unknown soldiers in the center.

Sainte Mere Eglise is the site of a large paratrooper landing on D-Day. The church honors those soldiers by depicting them as angles in the stained glass windows.

We also went to see the landing beaches: Utah and Omaha. It was a cold gray day and the wind held the voices from the past.

Omaha Beach

There were also stops on the cliff at Pointe du Hoc & Longues sur Mer to see the bombing craters and the remains of the pillboxes.

The sea of gravestones at the Normandy American Cemetery marked the end of our tour.

The day was subdued and many times we would load back in the min-van and reflect on what happened 67 years ago.

I had one more stop on my trip, Monet’s gardens. Remember from my Easter blog that I was able to see Monet’s Water Liles series, well now I was able to go to his water lily pond. Art came to life before my eyes and I was filled with inspiration.

If you weren't able to tell by the length of this post, Normany is an amazing place and I'm glad I was able to see it!

See you later!


PS - Click HERE to see all my pics.

Monday, May 30, 2011

My Belgian Birthday

All I wanted for my bday was: Waffles, Chocolate, Beer, Fries, Music, Sun, and to celebrate with FRIENDS

Yesterday was my birthday and Brussels organized a huge weekend festival for me: The Jazz Marathon. There was over 100 free concerts in the public squares outdoors  and inside clubs across the city. Ok, maybe it wasn’t all for me, but it was perfect way to spend my birthday.

My birthday always falls on/near the Memorial Day holiday weekend so I’ve gotten used to celebrating it over a few days. Now Belgium does not celebrate Memorial Day, but I was still able to spread the celebration across Saturday and Sunday to make it last longer.

Saturday evening I met a group at one of the outdoor squares for the Jazz Marathon. We were so close to the Marcolini chocolcate shop I had to stop in and get some. Marcolini is said to be one of the best chocolate shops in the world and it's located right in Brussels! Unfortunately the prices are not really student-budget friendly so I hadn't been there before. If you're wondering, normal sized chocolate bars run about 9€ ($14)! So this definitely was just going to be a little tasting, we got 5 little pieces of chocolate (each about the size of a key on the computer) for 2.70€ ($4). My choice was dark chocolate with citron (lemon) which is my new favorite.

After the chocolates, we headed to another square where the band did Michael Jackson songs! It was such a fun night singing to his 70s and 80s hits and listening to the group's French monologues between each song.

On the way back to the train station we stopped at a waffle shop and had a Brussels waffle. The Brussels waffle is the same as the Belgian waffles we usually have for breakfast in the USA. (Note: it’s not my favorite that is the Liege waffles with the crystallized sugar inside.)

On Sunday I was back in Brussels at the big square – Grand Place. We arrive just as the music was starting at 3pm and since the sun was so warm, we just sat there for hours. Sitting there in the sun I had my Belgian beer & fries.

It really was such a nice relaxing weekend and I had a GREAT time with my friends. I’m not sure where I’ll be next year on my bday, but I will always remember my big 31.

But if I do happen to forget where I was, here’s my birthday picture in front of the Manneken Pis (thanks for the idea Grandma Irene!).

See you later!

PS. View all the pics online by clicking HERE.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I love Paris in the springtime.

Paris is lovely in the springtime. As you may remember I spent one day there in March and I vowed to return again, well over Easter break I did. I went there with a few classmates and fell in love with the city.
The temp was 25C (~80F) and there were people out everywhere! The parks and the streets were filled with people. Actually, every place I went to was filled with people. So many people that the queues outside the Louvre and at the Eiffel Tower were hours long. I decided that I didn’t go to Paris to wait in line and I vowed (once again) to return. I think I’ll never go up the Eiffel Tower because when I do, I’ll probably saw now I’ve done it all in Paris and I don’t need to return. L

Even though I didn’t do the “big ticket” items I did get around and see the city.

I went to the Eiffel Tower at night and took a boat tour. (I had a lot of fun playing with my new camera this trip!)

I went to the early Easter mass at Notre Dame and it turned up that it was a special mass for the Boy Scouts. The place was packed and I had to sit on the floor. (I thought of you Katey & Mark!)

An alumnus from last year’s class and fellow American invited us over for Easter brunch – THANKS AGAIN ROB (I’m so upset I forgot to take a pic of the event!). The menu was a mix of the best of USA, France & Belgium: French toast, crepes, mimosas, jello shots, can o’ cheese and chocolate fondue. Delicious!  Similar to my new Thanksgiving Tequilla tradition - I think I will have to make Easter jello shots next year. I wonder if mom still has those jello egg molds?

After brunch we took a hike up to the Sacré Cœur for amazing views of the city. We found ourselves in a swarm of people which was far worse than being at the mall on a Saturday afternoon!

Later that night a few of us went to Bar Hemingway at the Ritz. This small bar was a hang of Hemingways and was named after him. To say this place was exclusive is an understatement; I’m surprised they didn’t kick us out. Cocktails here ranged from expensive to really expensive to extremely expensive (one was 500 = $750).  We each ordered one drink and took about 3 hours to drink it, just to get our money’s worth!  Drinks for ladies come with a rose I guess Hemingway sure knew how to treat a woman.

This brings me to my last day in Paris. Easter Monday is a holiday and I found out too late that the museum I really wanted (d’Orsay) was closed but we found l’Orangerie open that’s home to Monet’s water lilies collection. I was shocked to discover that these paintings are huge and so much more beautiful than the pics in a book.

Before I left Paris I set out to find the Statue of Liberty Replica…or the Statue of Liberty. It was an item marked on my tourist map and I wanted to see it for myself. Here it is!
It’s 1/5th the size of the original and faces her bigger sister to the west in NYC.

So these are my highlights from Easter in Paris 2011. I apologize that this post is longer than normal, but as you can see there is just so much to do in Paris. The first time I visited the City of Lights it was for 1 day, this time it was for 3 days, next time I think I’ll need to spend a week there. Hopefully I can fit that in before the end of the school year!

Au revoir!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Home sweet home

Well it’s about time I show you my little studio. While I wanted to show it to you months ago, I never quite got around to it. There are many reasons you haven’t seen it before, either I was too busy with school, off travelling somewhere, or my place was just a mess. Yesterday when I was grocery shopping I picked up a 6 pack of TP and I realized, this may be my last purchase of TP in Leuven. Who knew TP would bring on so many memories?!?!?
So there’s no time like now to share with you pics from the place I have called home for the past 8 months.

When first arrived in Leuven I walked around with a classmate for 2 days looking at studios. There were some that were so small I don't know if an adult would fit and some were so unpractical with a shower in the kitchen. My most favorite one though was one we never saw. We saw the Mt Everest stairway and said, no not worth it. After all those, I found this stuido: ground floor, near shopping, grocery and laundry.

Bedroom area
Fridge, office and dining area

Living area

Kitchen area with bathroom door open

As you can see it's not that big and the kitchen is essentially in a pass through to the bathroom. But it's home. Some weeks I was on campus from breakfast through dinner so I really didn't need much more than this. There are only 2 things I really wished I had - an oven and a freezer. But if you can find that in a studio in Leuven you're lucky.

My large things were provided by my landlord - bed, closet, desk, & table. And I was able to buy many things from last years student's (lamps, storage drawers, ironing board). Everything else was purchased in 2 mega trips to Ikea.

And that's it, this is my home. While I do love it, I definately hope my next place is bigger and has interior walls. :)

Happy Sunday everyone! See you later!