Sleeping with Strangers

Pretty hot blog title, am I right? While it’s not exactly what you’re thinking, I’d like to think that it’s probably more interesting than a one-night stand. For the past 4 months, I haven’t been able to shut up about this amazing concept called, “couchsurfing” (CS). It has been one of the greatest things I’ve had the privilege of encountering in my young adult life and is exactly what you’re thinking – sleeping on random people’s couches. Before you go crazy, I promise you that it’s safe – if you let it. Essentially, it’s a social networking site that connects people by bringing together strangers from all around the world and (hopefully) forming unlikely friendships. You sign up for a profile on couchsurfing.org and can register as:

  1. Someone who’d only like to meet up.
  2. Someone who’d like to surf.
  3. Someone who’d like to host.

It started in September when my friend, Katie, approached the idea of couchsurfing on our annual trip to NYC. I’d always wanted to try it, but none of my friends would do it with me when I studied abroad in Europe and I was too hesitant to try it by myself…considering I’m a small girl and all, but that has certainly changed over time.

Since September, I’ve shared all sorts of great conversations with some pretty incredible people. My progression with couchsurfing began with just a meet up to surfing in NYC to finally hosting in MY new home in New York. While there are other important contributions surrounding my recent move to NYC (new job being one of them), there’s no doubt that couchsurfing significantly influenced my decision to pack up my bags and move 650 miles north where I barely knew a handful of people.

The first person I met through CS was Michael from Germany. He happened to be surfing at his friend’s place in my part of the world in beautiful Charlotte, NC before heading on a two-month internship in Argentina. One day of constant laughter easily turned into three after we realized how well we got along with each other. It honestly felt like we’d known each other for forever.

Michael and I at Metalmorphosis in Charlotte, NC.

Michael and I at Metalmorphosis in Charlotte, NC.

The second person I met was Evan. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he’s got the heart of gold. Truthfully, I have nothing but kind words for him. He welcomed Katie and I to lobsters the first night we got to his place and his hospitality only got better from there. His strong relationships with his two roommates alone illustrate how down-to-earth and genuine he is as a person. Anyone would be lucky to have him as their host. What has made me fall in love with couchsurfing has been how it breaks down the fear of going beyond just meeting a stranger. You’re fully embraced to a new way of life and a new culture; however, you must make that decision in order for it to take place. By allowing a stranger to truly enter your life, you’ve got to let yourself be vulnerable. Sure, not everyone who comes in your life will become your best friend, but it’s important to try to understand new perspectives. Otherwise, you’ll end up being another human in the world who just comes and goes which is frighteningly too easy to let happen. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve already started to unfortunately let that occur here. Without Evan, I’m not sure I would’ve gone through with the move to NYC from little ole South Carolina.

Myself, Evan, and Katie.

Me, Evan, and Katie.

The third person I met was Hugo, a traveller from Portugal. I actually ended up stealing him from Evan after I met him at a dinner party at Evan’s. I’d just moved to Brooklyn two days prior to meeting Hugo when I learned he was staying in NYC for two weeks. He said he didn’t know where he’d be staying after his time with Evan was up so I extended the opportunity to let him crash at my place. Together, we explored the city and were consumed in some deep conversations. At 22, he’s so wise beyond his years and I loved even the moments when we didn’t have to say anything. Our silence never felt awkward. He made me want to travel more of the world. We talked about music, films, books, relationships, food, travel, everything. There was never the feeling of forced conversation. Everything was so organic, refreshing, and delightfully surprising.

Hugo and I on top of the Rockefeller Center.

Hugo and I on top of the Rockefeller Center.

What couchsurfing has done for me has been monumental whether it’s abundantly clear or not. While Michael and Hugo have been back in Europe for awhile, I still get to see Evan when we’re not too absorbed in this bustling city. Today, I hung out with him after he spent the month of December traveling throughout Europe and Asia. We caught up on the past month of each other’s absence. While NYC has been one hell of a ride (in the best way possible), I want to note that it’s not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to seem. A lot of people struggle…not necessarily financially, but in deeper ways.

Today, specifically, I feel more confused than ever on what I want to accomplish in life. It’s a pretty damn scary thought as I meet more and more talented people here in NYC, but it’s also oddly comforting. I think that if I so much knew what I wanted to do, I’d be terrified that I’d come to a halt. I left our “coffee date” thinking to myself that I need to apologize less and just embrace who I am right now in order to resolve some conflicts in my life. As the daily quote in my building currently says, “Life is short, and it is up to you to make it sweet.” I ask you to follow me as I explore this route and break the barrier of just passing by everyday strangers.

xoxo,

Diemmy

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C’est La Vie

I wrote this poem in Belgium last year. The grammar may or may not be perfect, but it certainly came from my heart:

La vie est un rêve, quelque chose qui est comique,
Mais de temps en temps, elle peut être romantique

Comme un couple d’amoureux au Sacré-Cœur,
L’endroit où l’amant lui donne des fleurs;

Cependant, la vie est également une tragédie.
Tout cela grâce à la maladie.

Nous vivons dans un monde plein de gens fous.
Ce qui est normal? Est-il pour tous ?

Je ne sais pas si tu me demandes.
Tu dois attendre.

En fait, je ne comprends pas pour toi !
Ça fait longtemps pour moi
Et mon seul souhait est de te revoir.

Tu as quitté ce monde trop tôt
Que je ne pouvais pas dire les mots.

J’étais jeune
Et tu étais mon capitaine.

Et maintenant, quoi ?
Je ne sais pas quoi.
Je ne sais pas quoi.

Je suis plus âgée, plus sage, plus forte
Même après ton mort.

Et voilà !
C’est parce que je sais que tu es là.

N’importe quoi, tu me manques !
Comme un enfant.

La vie n’est pas une tragédie
Ou d’une maladie.

La vie est un rêve, quelque chose qui est comique,
Mais de temps en temps, elle peut être romantique.

Donc, viens à la maison.
Pour cette raison :

Je t’aime.
Je t’aime.

———–

The English translation:

Life is a dream, something that is comical,
But from time to time, it can be romantic

Like a loving couple at the Sacré-Cœur,
The place where the lover gives her flowers;

However, life is equally a tragedy.
All thanks to the disease.

We live in a world full of crazy people.
What’s normal? Is it for everyone?

I don’t know if you ask me.
You must wait.

In fact, I don’t understand for you!
It’s been a long time for me
And my only wish is to see you.

You left this world too soon
That I couldn’t say the words.

I was young
And you were my captain.

And now, what?
I don’t know what.
I don’t know what.

I’m older, wiser, stronger
Even after your death.

And there you are!
It’s because I know that you’re there.

Whatever, I miss you!
Like a child.

Life is not a tragedy
Or a disease.

Life is a dream, something that is comical,
But from time to time, it can be romantic.

Therefore, come home.
For this reason:

I love you.
I love you.

A Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self

Gabi Moskowitz couldn’t have said it any better in this blog post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gabi-moskowitz/letter-to-my-22-year-old-self_b_4960012.html

If you’re older, how much do you agree with Gabi? If you’re around my age (22), how optimistic are you? 

I’m thrilled about my future. Not only do people typically become more intelligent as they get older, but I find them to grow more beautifully as well. I mean that wholeheartedly…unless you get yourself into hard drugs, then that’s another story…

xoxo,

Diemmy

Absence Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder – Part 2

In exactly 2 weeks, one of my really good friends, Whitni, will be venturing off for Barcelona to study architecture. My emotions for her first European adventure oscillate between excitement and envy. In honor of her soon-to-be “love at first sight” experience, I want to recapture the rest of my Barca trip from this past May.

Bhavisha, my travel partner, and I spent a wonderful day checking out the city with our new American friend, Arthur (Art). Unfortunately, Art would be checking out of the hostel the following morning since space was limited in our room. Before going to bed, we exchanged information so that we could meet up the next day.

Art and I attempted a selfie.

Art and I attempted a selfie.

As I’d traveled to Dublin, Prague, and Munich without having done any shopping on this 2-week tour, I wanted to take advantage of some of my favorite Spanish stores while in Barcelona: ZaraPull&Bear, and Bershka. Living out of this Deuter backpack was great (packed to the brim, it even passed Ryanair‘s strict cabin baggage allowance! **Ryanair has changed their cabin baggage policy over the past year for the better. To allow wiggle room in their one bag of 55 x 40 x 20 cm limit, passengers may now carry with them an additional bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cm). As wonderful as this was, I still desperately needed to buy a few pieces of clothing since we didn’t have time to do laundry in over a week. Yuck!

Bhavisha and I raced around La Rambla, a popular tourist street (0.75 mi) known for their shopping, pickpocketing, and prostitutes. So long as you’re attentive to your belongings and surroundings, you’ll be fine. In fact, I walked along the street alone at 4:30 in the morning last year to catch the aerobus and left perfectly OK.

See those trees? They provide awesome shade for  La Rambla.

See those trees? They provide awesome shade for La Rambla.

Anyway, as we were walking around the street, I entered either 3 or 4 DIFFERENT Zaras! It almost felt like I was on this one street I visited in Seattle where there was a Starbucks on every single block. Between Zara, Pull&Bear, and Bershka, I ended up with a couple nice tops, a dress, shorts, and two scarves. If you’re not familiar with shopping in Spain, Zara, Pull&Bear, and Bershka are all owned under The Fashion Group. They provide tasteful, up-to-date styles at uniquely affordable prices. Louis Vuitton Fashion Director, Daniel Piette, once described Zara as “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.” Do shop at these places if you can.

Side note: if you ever need WiFi, go to the Apple Store at Passeig de Gràcia.

A few hours later, we met up with Art at Casa Battló to visit the Casa Museu Gaudí and Park Güell. As they are both situated on a hill, we took about 6 or 7 outdoor escalators to reach our destination. At the top of the hill, we found a convenience shop where Art and I bought Spanish beers to savor while enjoying the views throughout Park Güell. Everything was so beautiful and you could see more amazing views of the city.

Walking/sweating around Park Güell with a scenic view of Barcelona behind me.

Walking/sweating around Park Güell with a scenic view of Barcelona behind me.

The Casa Museu Gaudí, or Gaudí’s home, was quaint. For a creative man, I was expecting a lot from his home, but it was rather humble. The tour took around 10 minutes to examine and then we were off to another interesting part of our trip.

As we were leaving the hill, rain was on its way. We stopped by one of the street vendors to check out some earrings for Art’s friend. All of the earrings are poked through cheap umbrellas and when police come by, these Pakastani men quickly close up the umbrellas and run away since this popular type of selling is illegal. While we were checking out the earrings, this exact thing happened, so we ended up with no earrings that day!

You'll find these umbrellas with earrings attached to them EVERYWHERE in Barcelona.

You’ll find these umbrellas with earrings attached to them EVERYWHERE in Barcelona.

With the rain starting to trickle down, we became hungry. We ended up at Las Empas for great empanadas, good beer (they had an extensive Belgian beer list), and more fun conversations. They also offer free WiFi, an essential for foreign travelers.

Still craving for Spanish food, we looked up “best paella in Barcelona” because it was everyone’s last night in Barcelona and Art hadn’t experienced paella at all! We found ourselves eating the BEST paella ever at Bosque Palermo. The waitress knew very little English, but she was hilarious and even gave us a discount on the paella! Only €20 for a huge pan for the 3 of us. Art noticed that the couple beside me were speaking English, so he encouraged me to ask if they were Americans as well. We found out that Phil and Maggie, the couple, were on a 12-day vacation in Spain from Los Angeles. Phil started a comedy group many years ago and when one of his guys left the group, he needed to hire someone else. One of the other members suggested bringing in this guy named Steve Carell to the group, so Phil gave him a shot. Long story short, THE MAN NEXT TO US HELPED DISCOVER ONE OF MY FAVORITE ACTORS! Phil and Maggie were one of the nicest, funniest, and certainly most interesting couples I’ve met. They were very modest as well, which made me love them even more.

Best paella I've ever eaten.

Best paella I’ve ever eaten.

Not wanting the night to end, we all got drinks at a small bar and just appreciated the city that gave us some incredibly fun, yet simple memories. We said our “see ya later” to Art and went back to our hostel one last time.

The next morning consisted of toasted manchego cheese sandwiches, chocolate and churros, La Boqueria, La Sagrada Família (which I still haven’t made time to enter inside after two Barca visits), and our next flight to Brussels!

Spain is famous for their manchego cheese as well as their chocolate (cup) and churros.

Spain is famous for their manchego cheese as well as their chocolate (cup) and churros.

While we didn’t befriend actual Spaniards, some of our favorite souvenirs remain close to Barcelona. There’s no wonder why I was dying to go back and still do to this day. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

xoxo,

Diemmy

Absence Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder – Part 1

After visiting my friend, Katie, in Barcelona for 2.5 days last year, I grew an insatiable desire to revisit a city that once teased me. Missing a city like Barcelona is similar to missing a great romance. When you feel like you have all the time in the world, you don’t truly learn to appreciate something (or someone) until it’s no longer with you. During that absence, you begin to wonder, “What if I had done this or that instead? Would things be the same if we met again? Or would it be better or worse?”

I was dying to know the answers. After a 14-month absence, I got to eat, breathe, and sleep Barcelona once again this past May. Known for its eclectic environment and outrageous nightlife, I was hungry to feel the city in my blood and bones. On the first night, my travel partner, Bhavisha, and I had a nice dinner composed of patatas bravas, paella, and a pitcher of sangria. Allowing ourselves to digest for a bit, we finally hopped into a cab to test out the highly popular club, Razzmatazz. At €17, you, too, can get lost in the five clubs in one, sip on a decent complimentary drink, and have a not-so-enchanting Canadian guy kiss you. At least I can say I’ve experienced the Barcelona nightlife!

Our delicious patatas bravas topped with aioli.

The following day was a breath of fresh air when Bhavisha and I befriended our new Russian/Armenian/Californian/Bostonian friend, Arthur. As Bhavisha and I were about to head out of the hostel to eat lunch at Wok to Walk, one of my favorite restaurants in Europe, Arthur came back to the 10-bed hostel room we shared. Briefly chitchatting about our plan for the day, I invited him to eat with us. Skeptical about the restaurant recommendation at first, one bite and he was hooked (he even ate at the restaurant location in Amsterdam a few days later).

Anyway, keeping things more low-key than I had anticipated, the three of us decided to walk to the beach and actually spent about 2 hours people watching and getting to know each other. I can’t decide what entertained us the most – the purposefully divided nationalities selling us products and services every 3 minutes (the Indians sold mojitos and blankets, the Pakistanis sold earrings, the Africans braided hair, and the Asians gave massages) or the topless woman lying with her husband, who was publicly fondling her breasts around children.

If you look on the far right, you can see an Indian man trying to sell a beach blanket. I can’t imagine locals enjoying the beach with all of these sellers. We, the 3 Americans, just found it amusing.

At any rate, we couldn’t let the beach consume our limited time left in Barcelona, so we eventually decided to take a cable car ride at the suggestion of a Danish man living in Barcelona. At €16, you can witness spectacular panoramic views of the city from Montjuïc. Sights you’ll see on the actual hill are the Hotel Miramar, beautiful gardens, and overpriced restaurants (although, my sister went to Barcelona three weeks after me and said she had amazing sangria at one of the restaurants there overlooking the city). After exploring the area, we went back to mainland and enjoyed a pitcher of sangria at a nearby restaurant. We shared details of our pasts, interests, and plans for the future. For a guy just a few years older than me, he surprised me by being so open about his life to strangers; however, it felt like we’d known each other for years. Isn’t it sometimes strange when you’ve just met a person and it feels like you’ve known them for years, yet there are people in your life with whom you’ve known for years, yet still don’t really know them?

Here we are on the Montjuïc hill with beautiful Barcelona in the background. Me (left), Art (middle), and Bhavisha (right).

Once we finished our sangria, we walked around the city for a few hours before grabbing dinner at Cervecería Catalana. No matter when you arrive, the line will be out the door because it’s that great. What appeared as an upscale restaurant turned out to be surprisingly budget friendly. We ordered one too many tapas and a few drinks that came just under €50 for the three of us combined. Our meal ranged from classic manchego cheese and patatas bravas to Spanish omelettes and prawns. With good food and beer, interesting conversations, and a breathtaking city, what more could you ask for in life?

This picture doesn’t do our tapas meal justice, but I appreciated Art giving me the bird at the top of the photo. I know he loved my million food pictures.

The day was simple, yet relaxing…and still one of my favorite cities. My Czech friend, Tereza, always said, “If the weather’s nice, you better not go to museums. Go out and see the city.” I’d like to think that we accomplished that. The following day was more touristy, but I’ll get to that later.

Besos,

Diemmy

Acknowledgement Goes A Long Way

Sure, getting recognition for receiving that prestigious award or being promoted to a higher position are great and dandy, but sometimes, other things naturally take precedence.

No matter who you are, there are times in this world when we feel like no one notices us. Even Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela felt that way because in the end, we are all just human. It’s not exactly a matter of knowing people realize what grand accomplishments you’ve achieved in life, but rather knowing people see what’s underneath the semi-facade we illustrate. Before you twist my words, I’m not saying that we are necessarily fake, but society does suggest that we should express our “happier sides” because the sheer sign of any other emotion gets dramatized. Celebrities and other public figures, in particular, understand this like the back of their hand.

Iconic Princess Diana hid mountains of frustration for years.

Iconic Princess Diana hid mountains of frustration from the public and the British Royal Family for years.

I’m covering this now because I woke up today feeling like a little girl who lost her favorite doll. Before this post, I felt like no one could hear all of my shouting. This means nothing to you, right? I’m discussing my job search post-college. It’s been exactly 2 months today since I’ve graduated from university, yet I either haven’t gotten my “dream job” or just haven’t liked the offers that I have had. Thankfully, I have an extremely supportive family and group of friends.

This morning, I didn’t talk much. Essentially, I was just a zombie. When my Mother noticed this unusual behavior from me, her simple question, “Why are you so sad?” really hit home for me. She instantly knew/knows my frustrations with the job search. As cliché as it sounds, she really is the most amazing mother in the world. “It takes time,” she said, “and remember that it’s only been 2 months since you’ve graduated from college. Relax. Read, eat well, and exercise. Enjoy the time you have off and be thankful that you don’t have any bills or college debt to pay like other kids post-undergrad. I know greater things are ahead of you.”

My Mom doesn't like having her photos being posted in the cloud, but this is how I feel like our relationship is like...except, she was the girl holding me up this morning.

My Mom doesn’t like having her photos being posted in the cloud, but this is how I feel our relationship is like…except, she was the girl holding me up this morning.

Anyway, knowing that this is a travel blog, you’re probably wondering how on Earth this relates to traveling at all. I’ve traveled to a couple places alone when I was in Europe, but it was really on my recent trip that I met someone particularly great right off the bat.

It was in my hostel in Brussels, where I met this girl. I entered the room for the first time, quite late at about 9 or 9:30 P.M., expecting to see the room with 10 beds like I had booked, but was surprised to only see 3. One for me, one for my traveling partner, and one for the girl who was already semi-asleep in the third bed. I saw a Target bag in the room and asked, “Is that YOUR Target bag?” That’s what really sparked our conversation. She was from California and was traveling alone for 40 days after happily quitting her banking job of 4 years. We didn’t talk much that night because I was meeting up with a friend at Delirium Cafe soon after, but I knew I wanted to get to know her better the following day. When my friend and I woke up the next morning, our new Californian friend brought us some apples from the hostel’s breakfast service. How sweet, right? We ended up hanging out that entire day, which happened to be hers and our last full day in Belgium, and boy did we laugh so much until our stomachs couldn’t handle it anymore. I can honestly say that she’s downright one of the most fun people I’ve ever met in my life and I can’t wait to meet up with her somewhere cool one day. I’ll be posting all about our interesting experiences together in a future post.

Keri, my Californian friend, and I at the bar inside our hostel the night before saying, "see ya later, alligator."

Keri, my Californian friend, and I at the bar inside our hostel the night before saying, “see ya on the other side…of the world, that is.”

So what’s the takeaway from this? Acknowledge the presence of others and be welcoming. You never know how much the smallest piece of recognition – the genuine desire to learn the feelings, the emotions, and the true characters – of others could lead you. Whether it’s asking, “Why are you so sad?” or “Is that your Target bag?” I ask you to be curious in life.

xoxo,

Diemmy

Belgium: A Hidden Gem that Happened to Knockout the US in the World Cup

I don’t know about you, but I was on the edge of my seat while watching the Belgium vs. USA World Cup game last week. Before the game started, a number of my friends texted me with questions on who I’d be rooting for since both countries share a special place in my heart. Born and raised in the US, I was quickly reminded that, in comparison, I had only lived in Belgium for less than 5 months last year, but that’s got to be enough time to fall in love with a country, right? It only came naturally that I began cursing Belgium in favor of the US team. Guess I really am an American at heart. I mean, Tim Howard, though. Need I say more? Either way, I couldn’t be too upset because “my” team still technically advanced…if only for a few more days until Argentina knocked them out.

The Belgium vs. USA World Cup Match on July 1, 2014

The Belgium vs. USA World Cup Match on July 1, 2014

Today, I’m here to tell you why Brussels, Belgium is such a gem. Situated in such a small country, it’s surprisingly got a lot of spunk. Even though I lived only an hour train ride away from Brussels, I didn’t take advantage of the country’s capital until the last 5 days I was there before boarding that plane back to the US. I really only used the city as the “layover destination” to get me from point A to point B. Thankfully, my friends, Katie & Barbara, visited me for a few days, which meant I had to learn how to be a tour guide of Brussels. Had they not visited me, I would’ve never realized how fun and charming the city is…which was one of the main reasons that made me eager to revisit it this past May.

So where have I been and what do I have to say about these places?

Bars:

Delirium Cafe – Known for its extensive beer list from around the world (over 2,000). You can spot an American in there from a mile away, which means that you typically won’t find yourself surrounded by many locals. My two absolute favorite beers are Kasteel Rouge (8%) & Montagnarde (9%). For a girl who only weighs 105 lbs (47.6 kg), these two beers guarantee to have me feeling a nice buzz in no time.

Photo Above: Me (left), Barbara (middle), and Katie (right) at Delirium Cafe. I kind of stole that Delirium glass, too. #noregrets

Me (left), Barbara (middle), and Katie (right) at Delirium Cafe. I kind of stole that Delirium glass, too. #noregrets

Coaster – God, this place is in the top three for making the best cocktails I’ve ever had. The other two locations are in Dresden, Germany and Charlotte, NC USA. It’s got an excellent hipstery environment. I’ve visited this place a few times, courtesy of my Belgian friend, without running into any tourists. It’s a cramped place and a bit more difficult to find, but certainly well worth the wait. Make sure to check out their Facebook page to see what deals are going the night you visit.

Choice of lighting throughout Coaster in my favorite liquor container.

Choice of lighting throughout Coaster in my favorite liquor container.

Restaurants:

Le Marmiton – It’s a little on the pricier side, setting you back at around €35 or $50 per person. With that being said, what I had was a delicious three course meal with bottled water, red wine, and white wine. If memory serves me right, I had ardenne ham, chicken, and lemon sorbet. All were delicious and the service is superb. Located in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert near the Grand Place, this restaurant attracts a decent amount of tourists and locals alike.

Delicious ardenne ham at Le Marmiton

Delicious ardenne ham at Le Marmiton

Sushi Shop – One thing I immediately noticed studying abroad was the slim selection of sushi restaurants in Europe. I went here to meet up with one of my Belgian roommates from the semester before studying abroad (I lived in the international community at Clemson). This is her go-to spot. Apparently, there’s a location in NYC, but I had never been. I ordered the “Cool Mix” which consists of 6 california rolls, 6 maki spicy tuna rolls, and 6 shrimp rolls. This delicious mix will set you back  €14,90 or around $22, which is the normal price for a standard sushi restaurant in the US. Brussels has multiple locations for you to choose.

AJi – All you can eat sushi for €20 or $28.50. You get 6 flavorful dumplings and then all-you-can-eat sushi. Warning: if you order too many rolls and cannot finish them, it’s an extra €1 per piece of sushi! Also, it’s typically closed on Wednesdays. The service is very helpful to explain any questions you may have about the menu.

Rue des Bouchers – A street that thrives on trapping tourists with their inexpensive deals. They have men standing outside each restaurant inviting you to come in with their deals that can beat their neighboring counterparts. I actually like these places because you can get decent mussels for around €10 or $14. At that price, you can get a starter of your choice (smoked salmon, salad, etc.), mussels and fries, a Belgian waffle, and a complimentary Belgian beer (usually a Jupiler, an inexpensive Belgian beer). Not a fan of the fries or the waffle, but the others are fine, especially at that price. You can’t leave Brussels without having their mussels 😉

Mussels and fries at a restaurant in the Rue des Bouchers

Mussels and fries at a restaurant in the Rue des Bouchers

Stella Artois – I had waterzooi, a Belgian stew. At around €15 for this dish, you can try it too. It wasn’t as memorable as other dishes that I’ve had, but the cute waiter made the visit worth it. While you’re at it, you’ve got to order the famous Stella Artois beer that beer lovers seem to love worldwide (it’s not a personal favorite of mine, though).

Danish Tavern – I would never go back here again. The service was below subpar and pricy for what they have to offer. I had chicken, veggies, and rice. The only reason why I even went here was because it was my first day in Brussels and all the girls were starving for anything close to the hotel after an 8.5 hour flight.

First meal in Belgium at a Danish restaurant. To be fair, one of the girls at dinner with us, Mette, is half Danish! Though it wasn't quite yummy, it looked very presentable.

First meal in Belgium at a Danish restaurant. To be fair, one of the girls at dinner with us, Mette, is half Danish! Though it wasn’t quite yummy, it looked very presentable.

Chocolate Shops:

Neuhaus – It’s a luxury chocolate shop that lets you sample select pralines. Not a single one will disappoint you and you simply can’t leave without getting some truffles, too! Want to visit the first ever Neuhaus shop? It’s located in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.

Leonidas – It’s another luxury chocolate shop. You can get a generous gift box full of pralines for under €20.

Picture I took from Google of Belgian pralines. How magical do they look?!

Picture I took from Google of Belgian pralines. How magical do they look?!

Godiva – Did you know that Godiva was a Belgian chocolate company? Pretty standard place as you can get these chocolates in your local grocery store.

Delhaize – It’s a Belgian grocery store known as Food Lion in the United States. Before you judge, let me tell you that they have good Belgian chocolate too! My absolute favorite happens to be the affordable Côte d’Or brand that all Belgians keep stocked up in their homes because it’s also that good.

Great Belgian chocolate at an even greater price. Hershey's deserves to burn in Hell next to this chocolate.

Great Belgian chocolate at an even greater price. Hershey’s deserves to burn in Hell next to this chocolate.

Sites:

Grand Place – You simply cannot visit Brussels and not see the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of the most beautiful city centres I’ve seen, especially at nighttime when all the surrounding buildings are lit up in changing colors.

Every 2 years, the Grand Place is covered in a detailed carpet design of 700,000 begonias with the aid of 120 volunteers. This is your lucky year, too! You can see it in person between August 14-17, 2014. Send me a begonia or two :)

Every 2 years, the Grand Place is covered in a detailed carpet design of 700,000 begonias with the aid of 120 volunteers. This is your lucky year, too! You can see it in person between August 14-17, 2014. Send me a begonia or two 🙂

Town Hall – Located in the Grand Place, you’ll quickly notice that the building is not symmetrical. You might get told that the architect committed suicide after realizing the belfry was not in the middle, but that’s just a legend. It would’ve been pretty shameful if that seemingly lack of precision was actually made on accident.

Les Galeries de Saint Hubert – Want to see something GORGEOUS? Visit this place, the oldest shopping arcade in the world. It holds a number of luxury boutiques, chocolate shops, and restaurants.

Another photo courtesy of Google images (mine were all taken on my old iPhone 4, as embarrassing as it is to admit. I forgot my camera charger in the US at the time). Just like the Eiffel Tower, this arcade took my breath away in person. Might have also had something to do with the below freezing temperatures last January ;)

Another photo courtesy of Google images (mine were all taken on my old iPhone 4, as embarrassing as it is to admit. I forgot my camera charger in the US at the time). Just like the Eiffel Tower, this arcade took my breath away in person. Might have also had something to do with the below freezing temperatures last January 😉

Palais de Justice – This building is one of my absolute favorites in Brussels. Its architecture is awe-inspiring and boasts spectacular views of the city. If you go on the bridge that attaches to a full glass elevator, jump on it and it will bounce like crazy. It’s both a scary and cool feeling.

Jardin du Petit Sablon – I love this quaint garden so much. You’ll be happy you visited, especially when the tulips are in full bloom. It’s also on the way to the top of the hill where the Palais de Justice is situated.

My poor iPhone 4 photo quality did not do the Jardin du Petit Sablon justice at all!

My poor iPhone 4 photo quality did not do the Jardin du Petit Sablon justice at all!

Parc Léopold – Simply beautiful park. You’ll see friends and family alike enjoying the scenery. Between everyone’s picnics entailing fresh baguettes and crisp, cold beer, you’ll want to join in, too. Locals also love to jog around here. I don’t blame them.

Belgian Comic Strip Center – I went here for a field trip to learn to engage in the Belgian culture. Cute museum, but I would have never willingly entered on my free time. Unlike me, if you’re into comics, then you’d have a ball.

European Union – Want to learn more about the EU and how it operates? Visit this place for FREE. Unfortunately, I never entered inside because it was closed by the time I got there, but it looks pretty swanky from the exterior.

What's stopping you from visiting Brussels? It's diverse, affordable, and downright beautiful. Plus, it's situated in the heart of Europe. No excuses not to visit!

What’s stopping you from visiting Brussels? It’s diverse, affordable, and downright beautiful. Plus, it’s situated in the heart of Europe. No excuses not to visit!

Now, I haven’t posted every single destination I’ve visited in Brussels, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment. Remember, I’ll be posting another post about Brussels in the future from the experiences I had in May 2014.

xoxo,

Diemmy

Fernweh – a crave for travel; being homesick for a place you’ve never been

Who knew a simple word like “fernweh” originated from the German language? I’m only joking. If you bear to be around me long enough to hear about my travel experiences, you’ll quickly realize how in love I am with all things German. After all, I’ve visited 7 cities over 4 separate trips to Germany in the past year. I’m not saying that’s an insane amount, but when I could’ve easily traveled to other places, my heart always gravitated towards Germany. I haven’t decided whether it’s due to the beautiful people, the food, the beer, or the sites. Whatever it may be, they’ve all proven worthy enough to return.

Anyway, it pains me that it’s been an entire week since I last blogged about anything. As you can imagine, life gets busy sometimes. It’s a shameful, but too true of an excuse. On top of that, my less than 2-year-old laptop has taken a turn for the worst and is currently getting a motherboard replacement. I’m hoping to get it back within the next couple of days to make blogging a bit easier. Until then, I wanted to write a little something. My post about Belgium is currently in the works. I know I keep dragging that idea along, but I promise I’ll release it as soon as possible. For now, I wanted to share with you my “fernweh” sentiments. Where do you want to go where you’ve never visited? I literally want to travel everywhere, but places that I’m dying to visit one day comprise of the following:

  1. The Amazon Rainforest
  2. The Everglades
  3. Greenland
  4. Arizona
  5. Turkey
  6. Antarctica
  7. Scotland
  8. Vietnam
  9. Tanzania
  10. Russia

If you’ve been to any of these places and have recommendations, I’d be thrilled to get your feedback.

xoxo,

Diemmy

Welcome to Belgium – Land of the disorganized, beer-loving souls

“Belgium? You studied the Belgian language there, huh? Wait, no, they speak German there because it’s that one city in Germany, right?”

You must forgive these people we call Americans. Don’t get me wrong; I love the United States a lot and as much as I joke about moving abroad, I can be certain that I’ll be living in the US for the remainder of my life according to my own liking. I suppose that my longtime fascination with Belgium put me under the assumption that everyone in this world knew that Belgium was at least its own country. Clearly, I was wrong about that. The amount of ignorance I came across with Belgium became so vast that I grew to be impressed when meeting people who actually knew it was its own country. They got brownie points if they knew it was the country that had a large population of French and Dutch-speaking people…and they garnered even more points if they knew that German was the third official language. Enough about this, let me move to the core subject: Belgium.

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Photo above: There’s Belgium. That little green country neighboring Holland, France, Germany, & Luxembourg. The northern half is Flanders: the Dutch-speaking population. The southern half is Wallonia: the French-speaking population. They don’t get along quite well with each other. The tiny spot in the middle, where Flanders is located, is Brussels, the capital city of Belgium.

So what’s the fuss about Belgium? If you read my last post, you should know by now that I studied French in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium at Université catholique de Louvain last January to May 2013. While in Belgium, I visited Brussels, Ixelles, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Wavre, Charleroi, & Namur. Though I said I’ll cover each city I visited, this little blog post will serve as yet another introductory post – this time, just on Belgium since I spent the majority of my time there. I wanted to cover the basics before I truly delved into the specifics.

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Photo above: Map of Belgium. Louvain-la-Neuve is too small to even make it on this map, but to give you an idea of its location, it’s close to Namur, the city that’s kind of in the middle.

What is Belgium famous for?

  1. Beer – over 800 beers are produced in this tiny country, where the average Belgian consumes an average of 150 litres of beer per person per year.
  2. Chocolate – they produce over 220K tonnes of chocolate per year. The pralines were invented in Brussels by a man named Jean Neuhaus. I’ll eventually share my pretty interesting story about my recent visit to the first ever Neuhaus shop in the world. Stay tuned 😉
  3. Mussels – I never knew just how much I loved mussels until I studied in Belgium. I could eat it all day, everyday.
  4. Fries – I’m not the biggest fan of fries, but the Belgian fries are something else. You have to eat it with sauce andalouse – perfection. It’s quite unfortunate that the sauce isn’t sold in the US. Good thing I purchased enough to last me a few years.
  5. Lace – I don’t personally care too much for stuff like this, but it’s pretty.
  6. Tintin – You know, that famous comic with the boy and his dog? I actually had to create a Tintin comic for one of my classes.
  7. Going 589 days with no elected government – Yeah, shit got real.
  8. Cities – Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, & Antwerp

I’ll write soon to let you know why you should spare a few days out of your next European adventure to enjoy Belgium. If anything, you’ll be happy you tasted any of the food/drink items listed above.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about this tiny country, please take a few extra minutes to watch this YouTube clip. You won’t be disappointed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ceg6NQKHd70

xoxo,

Diemmy

Allow me to introduce you to my Europe

Last year, I studied abroad in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium at Université catholique de Louvain between January and May 2013 aka snowmageddon as Belgium experienced its coldest winter in decades. I left for the US on May 24, 2013 wearing a thick jacket, scarf, gloves, boots, and a hat. If you’re anyone who’s anyone in my life, you should be fully aware that the harsh winter didn’t stop me from enjoying one of the best decisions I could’ve made in my life. Why Belgium, though? The following three reasons pretty much sum it all:

  1. Since I was 10, I’d always wanted to further my education in the French language and culture; however, when I was 14, the age when I decided I was going to study abroad in college, I knew I didn’t want to go to France as I considered it to be “cliché.” I knew I still wanted to be in Europe and with Belgium having a significant French-speaking population, I was adamant on studying abroad there.
  2. Belgium is situated in the heart of Europe, providing easy access to travel around the continent.
  3. I befriended numerous Belgians, including one of my roommates and now best friends, who studied abroad at my home school, Clemson University, while I was a sophomore in college.

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Now, let me tell you a little more about my actual study abroad experience. My program consisted of a whopping 14 Clemson girls, who were all taking French classes to advance their French education. We had 4 classes all taught in French: 2 with just the Clemson girls and 2 with students from around the world. The international classes had people from every continent in the world…well, except for Antarctica 😉 None of us had Friday classes, so I made sure to take advantage of that…whether it meant I’d be traveling with friends or solo, which I did a couple of times. For the most part, I traveled with friends nearly every single weekend. I can only remember spending two full weekends in Belgium and one of those weekends was spent traveling somewhere interesting outside of Louvain-la-Neuve.

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 Photo above:  Louvain-la-Neuve town centre

In total, I traveled throughout 10 different countries:

  1. Belgium – Brussels, Ixelles, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Wavre, Charleroi, & Namur.
  2. England – London
  3. Ireland – Dublin & Bray
  4. Spain – Barcelona
  5. Germany – Köln, Freiburg, Berlin, & Dresden
  6. Switzerland – Basel
  7. France – Paris
  8. Italy – Rome, Florence, & Venice
  9. The Netherlands – Amsterdam & Maastricht
  10. The Czech Republic – Prague

In my blog posts, I’ll recapture my moments in each city as much as I can. Why didn’t I start this blog earlier? As in, why wasn’t I blogging when I was actually traveling last year? To be honest with you, I was simply lazy and thought I would remember everything forever, but now, I realize how much I’m forgetting the little things. I keep telling myself that I just cannot afford to forget some of the best months of my life. Not only that, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve received a lot of travel advice by reading through other people’s blogs that I thought I’d create my own to share with whoever stumbles across my page.

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 Photo above: Happy as can be in front of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain in May 2014

Since coming back to the States in May 2013, I was itching to go back to Europe as soon as I could, so what did I do? After I graduated from college last month, I spent the last two weeks of May 2014 traveling throughout Europe again. I revisited many of the places I went to last year, mainly because the friend I was traveling with had never visited Europe and wanted to go to the cities I had already seen. Honestly, I wasn’t complaining. My weekend trips didn’t quite cut it last year, so I used this year’s trip as an excuse to discover things I’d missed in the past. Don’t worry, I also visited new places. The following locations will also be discussed in future blog posts from different perspectives than last year’s journey. 14 days, 11 cities, 8 flights, 5 countries, and 2 girls. Here’s the jam-packed list:

  1. Ireland – Dublin
  2. The Czech Republic – Prague, Český Krumlov, Hluboká nad Vltavou, Telč, & Holašovice
  3. Germany – Munich, Schwangau, & Füssen
  4. Spain – Barcelona
  5. Belgium – Brussels

For more domestic travel advice, I also visited NYC for the second time and Asheville, NC between the big Euro trips. I’ll be back to actually blog about all of these cities as much as I can soon. Just wanted to give you all an introduction for what’s in store!

xoxo,

Diemmy