Saturday, 29 November 2008

Zeeland: Cottage Getaway

Ah, IMMIT! Our last semester together; we decided to spend some quality bonding time together in a remote cottage getaway.

The place: Center Parcs, Zeeland ["Sealand" I guess], a resort built on a reclaimed piece of land in the south west of The Netherlands. The Dutch are masters of land reclamation and dijk [dike] building. When entering the resort, there was a sign of Nederlands with a cross through it [signifying that you are leaving the Netherlands :|.

The resort: several cottages built along the harbor and west coast, with facilities including several swimming pools and 3 water slides, saunas [which were added costs], and some expensive restaurants/bars. In all, it was quite expensive, so we just used the facilities which were included in the initial cottage rental fee. The Caribia hotel pools in Turku and the cottages in Lapland were much better; this place was not really that beautiful either [considering the weather and rainy/cloudy atmosphere of winter] but it was still enjoyable and spent with good company. It may have been more enjoyable in summer.

It was quite crowded surprisingly, apparently a lot of Dutch people crave the hot tropical resort ambiance in the cold winters here [plus it's cheaper in winter]. We touched the North Sea, spent time in some of the Dutch "country-side", swam in outdoor heated pools, and even met Sinterklaas [the Dutch version of Santa Claus, who is really a Saint that arrives by boat to most of the harbors in The Netherlands during Christmas].

For more pictures see:


Sunday, 23 November 2008

Welcome Winter: Snow in The Netherlands

Today was the first snowfall in Tilburg for the winter season! Yay! It's so different; and amazing how the atmosphere changes within a couple of months. This tree is the same one I took a picture of in fall. Now, it's just snow, snow, soft white glowing winter snow! Ah, memories of Finland...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Belgium: Brussels & Bruges

For the international student festival at IAE in Aix [France] last year, I had the opportunity to befriend the first Ukrainian girl that I've ever met in my life. This year, almost by chance, we re-discovered each other in the cyber-realm. It just so happened that she was working in Belgium, and being the friendly person that she is, I was offered accommodation there, in Brussels, if ever I decided to visit.

This semester I really hadn't traveled much; so being the travel-enthusiast that I always was, and having never visited Belgium before, and considering my desire to taste Belgian beer, fries, and culture, I decided to visit [obviously; considering this post].

It was indeed exciting, bringing up a sense of nostalgia as I sat on the Dutch train to Brussels actually hearing passengers speaking French. It's such a delicate beautiful language compared to the coarse German-like Dutch language. As I switched trains to the Belgian line, I immediately felt the multiculturalism of Belgium, since the train conductors announced the stops in Three languages: Flemish, French, and English, [unlike the Dutch-only announcements here in the Netherlands]. Getting off the train in Brussels, I immediately felt somehow comfortable, since the signs were all in three languages as well, people spoke familiar languages to me [I could even understand some Flemish since it's similar to Dutch]. Of course the main purpose of this is because Brussels is some-what of the European political capital [the de-facto capital city of the European Union]; it hosts most of the national embassies, and is a melting-pot of nationalities.

Brussels is a nice city [although people say it's not the best of Belgium], I liked it, with semi modern, semi antique buildings, squares, shops, and of course the cobble stoned streets. Everywhere you turn, you can find stalls selling fries [Belgium is the birthplace of 'French fries'], Belgian chocolate [which is amazing], and Belgian waffles with sugar, chocolate or ice cream toppings. Reading a corny but compact tourist guide [a short list of things you should do/try in Brussels], I had lunch at a nice tourist-trap restaurant [located on a beautiful restaurant street] selling what was supposed to be a very traditional or at least very typical 'Brusselian' dish: Mussels [hm, mussels from Brussels], or Moules as they are called, with fries [and of course a Belgian beer].

I spent about 20 minutes walking to see a statue that was supposed to be really famous only to find a tiny statue of a boy urinating called "Manneken Pis", which is seen as a symbol of French and Dutch cohabitation in Brussels. Anyways, after seeing the city in one day, I met Yuliya [my Ukrainian friend], and delved right into the night-life of Brussels. Trying some dark beers along the way, we finally ended up in an underground party with drunken ravers which was just too much for us, so we went home for the night.

Day two in Belgium, we spent in the charming miniature city of Bruges. Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium and is located in the northwest of the country. The historic city centre is veined with canals [sometimes being called the Venice of the North] and is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. The movie 'in Bruges' even contests to claim it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world and that it is a "fairytale city"! It's a great movie that shows the best of the town. I'd say, it's...well, beautiful, but maybe not the most beautiful: a very romantic city however, with narrow paths between old buildings and a gorgeous central square. There was even a heavily hail shower in the mid-afternoon [something I have never seen before, but that amazed me [the weather was quite bad but I enjoyed the visit none-the-less].

There are a lot of things in Belgium that I did not get the opportunity to see/visit due to the limitation on time. For example, Brussels is famous for its Flower carpet in the central square [but it was just too cold, and not the season for it]. I did, however, see what I wanted to see, [as much as I could], ate/sampled the famous foods/drinks, saw two popular Belgian cities, was amazed by the mixed breed of French-Dutch looking girls, and got to meet my good friend once more.

For more pictures see:

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Lacuna Coil & Bullet for my Valentine Concert

Continuing my concert series, I had booked tickets to see Lacuna Coil and Bullet for my valentine on the 18th of November. This time attended with Marcos, Jeffery and Cristina [a girl from Guatemala]. I really went only for Lacuna Coil and their singer Cristina Scabbia's beautiful vocals, but Bullet for my Valentine turned out to be quite OK as well.

The only problem at this concert was that Lacuna who was an opening band, played for a mere 15 minutes and then left. Also it was held at 013 and the drinks were quite expensive there as usual. It was nice, however, listening to the live music of this band that I grew up on. I didn't get much pictures though, since it was a bit dark, and I was not that close to the stage, I did get some videos, but they're a bit large to upload.

For more pictures, see:

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Hague: Political Capital of The Netherlands

The Hague also known as "Den Haag" or "'s-Gravenhage" means "The Count's Wood" and is the third-largest city in the Netherlands after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. It is located in the west of the country, in the province of South Holland, of which it is also the provincial capital. The Hague is the de facto seat of government, but, somewhat anomalously, not the official capital of the Netherlands. [source]

The IMMIT group was offered free travel and tickets to a "Day of International Students" to be hosted by Nuffic in the world forum complex in Den Haag. What a great [and free] opportunity to see the city of Den Haag as well as partake in intercultural events/workshops and the meeting of other international students in The Netherlands. Of course a major incentive for this event was the free T-shirt, dinner and drinks!

So a group of about 8 of us atteneded the event and Ting Ting even won the fasion show competition with her chinese attire, Merie also entered the competition. We had little time to see the city and spent most of our time at the event, however we saw enough to determine that it's an "ok" city, not that beautiful, but cool enough. It's just that there's not much motivation left for traveling, most of the cities are very similar and have nothing new or exciting to offer.

For more pictures, see: