Feeling sentimental

So, as I think back over these 4 months I still cannot figure out where the time went. I knew that I would love the Netherlands but I had no idea how attached I would get. There were times I felt miserable but in hindsight is wasn’t because of the place it was because of circumstances. For example, Dutch class and midterms but come on I would have been miserable because of that regardless of where I was located in the world. Some things I’m not going to miss about the Netherlands (more so Europe in general) is how without fail a conversation about how much America sucks will arise, paying for public restrooms, no ice or free refills, narrower selection on menus, stores closing at 6 pm, not understanding anything anyone is saying, and the exchange rate from dollar to euro. But, if I could transport my sister, parents, dog and friends here I’d be set at least for another year. I love it that much. Their attitude towards life is something I’m going to carry with me when I get back. They work hard to play hard. They enjoy spending time with family and friends and make it a priority to do so. I think the “American dream” gets in the way of that sometimes. We HAVE TO enjoy what we have while we have it. When it’s nice out they sit outside reading, drinking tea and chatting. What could be better? Weekend trips to the beach or another town (or country), shopping breaks in the middle of the day, gah I’m going to miss it here! I prefer the American way of higher education but that’s most likely because it’s what I’m used to. I’m also probably pretty biased because I love Peace College so much. I’m not sure what my life holds for me when I get back to North Carolina but what I was doing before isn’t going to cut it. I’m going to be a college graduate in less than a week. That’s almost hard for me to believe. If you knew me in high school you know I didn’t take school very seriously. But, the past 4 years I have made a complete transformation. 2010 is a terrible representation of who I am. I was depressed after my break up with my boyfriend of 3.5 years and I became someone I don’t think anyone liked including me. I finally feel myself again. I’m in tears as I write this because it feels so freeing. This is the exact reason I came here. Last semester I made an attempt to ‘get better.’ I made new friends and started doing new things but it wasn’t me and therefore it didn’t work. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get home. I know I’m going to get a job, place to live, etc but other than that I’m starting over. I had built my life around being with someone who didn’t end up doing the same for me. So, last year I was confused. What was I supposed to now? I still don’t know but my attitude is entirely different about it now. It’s okay not to know. I’m so happy that no matter what happens I know it will be okay. For those of you who I met while in the Netherlands- thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being my friends, thank you for all the fun times, thank you for teaching me it’s okay to be myself and it’s okay to except people exactly as they are. I don’t have to agree with everything everyone does but I should love them regardless. I’m a human being so sometimes that’s hard but it’s gotten easier here. And, for those of you back in the states I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done. To my parents and family who helped me get here financially I’m forever grateful. All of you who made an effort to keep in touch with me it means more than you know. You’d be surprised how many people made little to no effort to even talk to me via Facebook. I’m excited about getting back and writing a new chapter in my life. I’m sad to leave. Thursday is going to be a hard day. Not only am I deathly afraid of flying but I have to say goodbye to one of the best experiences I’ll ever have and some of the best people I’ve ever met. If any of you ever want a beach vacation I am from one of the best beaches in the US!

Someone said to me “you guys will never see each other again” but for some reason I think they’re wrong.

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Queen’s Day

Yesterday was Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. Some of us decided that we were going to stay in Leiden for Queen’s Day instead of venturing to Amsterdam. We love Leiden and we wanted to stay here and all be together. The crowd’s in Amsterdam would have been insanity and we probably would have all gotten split up. So, we all woke up early and went over to Diana’s to drink mimosas (fitting since they’re orange) in the courtyard of her apartment. The morning started out very chilly. I left my building without a sweater but I had faith that it would warm up and it did. We all sat outside for a few hours listening to music, talking and playing around.

Some of the group

Me

Afterward we walked over to the square where the DJ’s were playing but realized we were a bit early so we got drinks and walked over to the park where we like to hangout. It was still early at this point and there were already many people highly intoxicated and the police were starting to make a presence in Leiden (too bad they aren’t intimidating at all lol). Then it was finally time to head over to CityMoves which is a festival in Leiden on Queen’s Day. There were two DJ’s on when we got there and they were great. They definitely set the mood for the next DJ. The headliner was Armin van Buuren the world’s best DJ 4 years in a row. And we learned that he really deserves that title. He was absolutely amazing and so much fun! Yesterday will always be one of the best days of my life. I’ll never forget looking around and seeing a sea of orange around me, everyone with huge smiles on their faces in pure bliss. Everyone was so happy, nobody was fighting and it was everything I could have asked for and more. We were American’s but that day we were honorary Dutch people!

Armin van Buuren

At the end of his set Armin was given a Royal Dutch distinction, as Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands named him Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau. This was a surprise to the crowd as well as him. It was amazing to see- you could tell he was so humbled by it as this huge crowd of people cheered for him. It was quite the show. At this point it was after 5 PM and we were all beat so we went back to our buildings to eat and rest.

Best day ever

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Het Loo and Kröller-Müller

Today we had out last ‘excursion’ together (tear)! We woke up early and took a bus about two hours away from Leiden to the Het Loo palace in Apeldoorn. It is a former hunting lodge of the Dutch royal family.

Since it was just a hunting lodge it really wasn’t that big in comparison to say Versailles but nonetheless it was beautiful. The rooms were kept almost exactly as they were when the family used the palace. The last person to live there was the current Queen’s grandfather who was an avid hunter. There was an enormous bear skin rug (with the HUGE head still attached) in one of the rooms. One of the workers at the palace told us it was a brown bear from North America. He also had a room full of dear heads, antlers, etc which was rather creepy. This weekend is quite a ‘royal’ weekend in Europe. Not only are William and Kate getting married in England but in the Netherlands they celebrate Queen Beatrix’s birthday although her actual birthday is January 31st; the actual Queen’s birthday that was on 30th of April was Queen Juliana. So, tomorrow is a national holiday in the Netherlands. We will be dressing up in our orange and having all sorts of fun! Back to our adventure today… the palace was BEAUTIFUL and made me wish I had an elaborate palace to live in. Sigh. The ‘backyard’ was a large, elegant garden with several fountains.

After seeing the palace and the gardens we saw what used to be the stables, the cars and carriages the family once used. All of which were beautiful and so stinkin’ expensive looking. When we were finished here we got back on the bus and headed to Kröller-Müller which was about 15 minutes away from Het Loo. I had no idea what to expect. I had Googled it before we left but I was under the impression it was just a museum. But, in reality it is a nature reserve (De Hoge Veluwe National Park), a rather large one, as well as a museum. I can’t really describe the terrain that well so I’m going to post a pictures so you can get an idea.

It truly did not feel like we were in the Netherlands. The park/museum had bikes for us to use so we rode around for a good 2 hours stopping every once in a while to take pictures like these:

As you can see we had a wonderful time. It was beautiful weather as well. Earlier in the week they were predicting rain so we were ecstatic they were wrong (but what else is new). After our bike ride and photo shoots we made our way back to the museum. Upon arrival we learned that it has the second largest collection of Van Gogh in the world. We also learned that we (by we I mean most Americans) butcher Van Gogh’s name. The museum was very contemporary and the current exhibits were well… a little unusual. The artists used strange mediums such as parrot semen (don’t ask me how he acquired that because I don’t know), blood (his own), urine (also his own), thumb tacks, nails, as well as bugs (from China). Needless to say this section of the museum was interesting. Here are some examples:


Made of thumb tacks and nails.


Made of bugs (minus the sculpture of the person). It’s actually a representation of the ceiling of King Albert’s palace in Brussels, Belgium.

There were also classic artists (a lot of Van Gogh like I mentioned earlier) and sculptures in this museum- it was quite large. There were also massive sculptures outside in the gardens. Unfortunately, there was a large group of French middle schoolers at the museum while we were there. One thing we all were shocked by was seeing some of them smoking. That’s something I’ll never get used to. It’s going to be nice to be around less cigarette smoke when I get back to the US. When we were finished walking around the museum we all sat outside on the grass and enjoyed the sunshine. One of our professors even showed us some of his Japanese gymnastics- he learned it in Japan 10 years ago. He stood on his head! As you can see today was a WONDERFUL day! I had such an amazing time and I’m getting really sad about leaving. Tomorrow is Queen’s Day so we’re going to enjoy ourselves and celebrate our time in the Netherlands!

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1987742532375.119244.1207657232&l=6a16b7732d

^Pictures are here if you’re interested!

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Eindhoven and Cologne

Before I begin I’m going to share a picture I took on a train that was so packed there was no where to sit. We had to sit on the floor in the area between train cars. What glamorous lives we live!

Like peas in a pod

After Belgium my friends Diana, Dorien and I took a series of trains to Eindhoven (Netherlands). Dorien’s grandmother has an apartment there. Her grandmother currently lives in NYC so she was not there so we had the place to ourselves. On the way there we had a fiasco with the trains- surprise surprise right? Well, we made it to Venlo station just fine but then we could hear announcements over the loud speaker concerning out train but couldn’t understand them so we were asking the people on the platform but no one could give us a definite answer. Finally we realized that everyone was leaving the platform and getting on a bus! So we rushed to get on the bus and just barely made it on. It was jam packed full of people. As we were pulling out of the station a guy (who I’m almost positive as intoxicated) ran after the bus and started banging on the window. The bus driver couldn’t let him on even if she wanted to because the bus was so full people were basically on top of one another. We finally made it to the nearest train station where we raced to find the right platform to catch the next connecting train to our next change over location which this time was in Germany. After a series of trains and a bus we made it Cologne! It is very evident once you cross the border into Germany because it looks distinctly different than the Netherlands. One thing we immediately noticed was that so many Germans were carrying around beer(s) sometimes even an entire case of them! This was unusual because in the Netherlands we can’t have open containers in public unless at a cafe/bar. First thing we did when we arrived in Cologne was put our bags in a luggage hold in the train station because we couldn’t check into our hostel yet. Then we walked to the El De house which was a Gestapo prison during WWII. (http://www.museenkoeln.de/homepage/default.asp?s=172) We went downstairs first where the prisoners were held. It was a pretty intense experience. Just to know that human beings were held captive and tortured down there for opposing the Nazi’s was very sad. There were translations of what was written on the cell walls. The ones that pulled at my heart strings the most were “There is no love in this life,” “Waiting for the Americans to arrive,” “I hope the Americans arrive soon.” It was hard to believe that things like this prison really existed at one time. The prison was also where many Nazi documents were stored. The upstairs of the museum was an exhibit of the documentation and history of WWII.

Cell inside Gestapo

After Gestapo we walked along the Reine river. On the way we saw a large crowd of people holding up skateboards and cheering on the stairs adjacent to the cathedral and train station. There must have been some event involving skateboarders that weekend. The river is not far from the train station/cathedral which are right beside one another. It was awesome to see the Reine river from another country. I’ve been to Rotterdam where the Reine river meets the ocean. We walked around and took pictures before deciding to take the metro to our hostel.

Dorien and I by the Reine

We found out that the Cologne underground system is very easy to navigate- thankfully! We made it to our hostel and were surprised to find out how quaint it was. It was an old house so it had a homey feel too it. We asked the caretaker at the hostel for restaurant suggestions for good typically Germany food. He pointed us directly across the street to one of his favorite, and convenient, spots to eat. So we decided to try it. We were delighted to find out how reasonably priced and delicious it was. I got schnitzel with mushrooms, cream sauce and potatoes. Dorien got the same as I did and Diana got a pancake filled with bacon which I tried and it was delicious! We all got German beers as well. We decided to try a Radler/Alster which are 60/40 mixes of beer and lemonade or German soda. They were amazing- we loved them! During dinner a marching band came down the street and stopped a few buildings down from where we were sitting and played songs. We aren’t sure exactly why but it added to the experience. Overall our authentic German dinner was a success!

My dinner

After dinner we decided to explore the area around our hostel. It was mostly residential area and it was beautiful. We happened upon two parks, two churches, an old Mercedes firetruck, a garden with Easter decorations, shops and many beautiful homes. We took pictures in front of our ‘future homes’ deciding that we would all live on this one street with huge beautiful houses and gardens. We stopped in one of the parks to play around. We even played life size rock, paper, scissors which was hilarious. Diana got a video of it so we can remember it forever. The people at the park probably thought we were nutty but we had fun. On the way back we stopped to get ice cream. Dorien and I got caramel and Diana got frozen yogurt. It was quite delicious.

Life size game of rock, paper, scissors

After our adventure we headed back to the hostel to turn in for the night. We had been going nonstop since Wednesday when we left for Belgium so we were exhausted and our feet hurt terribly.

The next morning we woke up early and got ready to attend mass at the famous Cologne Cathedral. We knew that it was going to be packed so we wanted to get there early. We also needed to put our things in the luggage hold once again since hostel check out time was between 9-11 and mass was at 10. The mass was such an amazing experience. The sermon was in German and the prayers were in Latin so I didn’t understand 99% of what was being said but I could make out “Christ is risen” multiple times. After mass we walked around the exterior of the church to take pictures of the cathedral and the square before heading to our next destination.

Crowd at Easter mass

Our next destination was the Schokoladenmuseum or Chocolate Museum! (http://www.chocolatemuseum-cologne.com/) This museum was huge! The first floor was all about the cocoa beans themselves and there was even a small recreation of a tropical rain forest. Next was a recreation of a Lindt chocolate factory. There were even machines in service making and packaging chocolate that you could purchase. There was a large chocolate fountain with gold leaves on it and a women dipping wafers into chocolate and handing them out- I had one and it was yummy. As you walked through the museum you could see how they create hollow chocolate products such as easter bunnies, different types of packaging, and advertising throughout the years. There was also a section on the history of chocolate including a section on ancient Mexican civilizations. There was another section where they explained exactly what goes into each type of Lindt chocolate (dark, milk, white). I enjoyed the museum a lot it was informative and interactive. I even got some chocolate for my sister and I at the shop afterward.

Chocolate museum Cologne

After such a jam packed morning we had a picnic at a park along the river. We had brought our own bread, cheese and lunch meat with us to Cologne in order to save money which was a brilliant idea. We ate our sandwiches and relaxed in the sun for a while. And of course Diana and Dorien talked me into having a photoshoot. If you know me you know I don’t like to have my picture taken but if you know them you know they love to take pictures of people so I caved.

Dorien and I in the park

The last thing we did before leaving Cologne to head back to Eindhoven was venture around town once more. We found a few statues, walked through ‘Old Town’ and took pictures of and with pretty flowers we found.

Me next to a flower garden

It doesn’t end there! We headed to the train station and got on a train back to Eindhoven. Everything started out fine just as it always does but then yet another train fiasco happened. We got to the station where we were supposed to connect back to Venlo and guess what? There was a fire! We don’t know if it was on the train or the track but our train was canceled nonetheless. So we had to wait an extra hour at the station for the next train going to that station. A very nice German guy helped us figure out what to do. He was even willing to miss his train to help us out but no worries he didn’t miss it. We also met another American during this whole debacle. He is in the American Air Force and stationed in the Netherlands. He was a cool guy. We talked about what it’s like to live in the Netherlands. He’s lived in Spain, Turkey and Germany and it was obvious the Netherlands isn’t his favorite. You don’t realize how distinct Dutch culture is until you leave it for a while. I think I’ve gotten so used to it I don’t realize exactly how distinct it is from the rest of Europe. I’m not saying good or bad I’m just saying distinct. Finally our train came and we got to our next connection just fine. Then alas we made it back to Eindhoven! Next on our agenda was to make Easter dinner which we had grocery shopped for Friday before we left for Cologne. We made mashed potatoes, green beans, chicken and bruschetta as a starter. Needless to say it was delicious! We set up the patio furniture on the balcony of the apartment and ate outside. The weather was gorgeous and the food was delicious. It was the perfect was to end an amazing 5 day, 3 country trip with wonderful people!

Preparing Easter dinner

We went to sleep at a decent hour so we could wake up and catch an early train back to Leiden where I am writing this from at the moment. It feels great to be back in Leiden- I love it here. It is crazy to think I will be back in North Carolina in a matter of days. I won’t think about it now because I will get sad!

Tot ziens allemaal!

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.2026694706155.124803.1207657232&l=dfbee1cd9a
^Link to the Eindhoven/Cologne album!

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Belgium

This past Weds-Fri I went to Belgium. First on the agenda was Brussels. We took a train from Leiden to Brussels but on the way there a minor fiasco happened. When purchasing the tickets many of us clicked that we had a discount card but we noted that we had free travel within the Netherlands instead of discounted travel thinking it was the same thing because the names of the two cards are the same. So, we ended up having to pay 20 euro for the ticket after one of the workers checked out tickets and told us they were invalid for the trip we were on. After that mishap we arrived in Brussels and walked to our hostel. All 18 of us were on this trip so we split up into a couple of rooms. Diana, Isabel and Dorien and I were all in a room together. The rooms were relatively nice. Just two bunkbeds, shelves and a sink. After getting situated we ventured out into the city. We walked through a park that at one time was intended for royalty. Supposedly wild animals were released in that park for the royalty to hunt. There was a big beautiful fountain and lots of trees.

Park/fountain

We saw the building that houses the American Mission to the European Union. There were security guards outside who kept an eye on us as we walked past. Next we went to the complex where the European Union Parliament is housed. We had a lecture about the EU and then were able to see the room where Parliament convenes. I love government proceedings like that so I was intrigued.There are 26 languages spoken in the EU Parliament so it was cool to see all the translation booths and to learn that they sit according to political party not nation.

EU Parliament

After the EU we walked back to the hostel. On the way back we saw the royal palace where King Albert lives. It was gigantic and had a beautiful garden.

Royal Palace

Once we got back we had some down time. A few girls and I went shopping in a shopping district. I bought an orange dress for Queens Day (which is quickly approaching)! Then we had dinner at the hostel- lasagna. It was… hostel food I suppose. Afterward we went downstairs to check out the hostel bar. It very much so resembled a frat house basement. When we walked in the only person there was the bar tender. Most people got beers (not me, I was saving money) and we sat down and hungout. At one point some people started singing karaoke which was hilarious and the bartender (and now his friend as well) seemed to get a kick out of it. I, being the party pooper I am, went to bed before the rest of the group that went to the bar.

Belgian fruit beer

The next day we ate breakfast at the hostel. It was just typical toast, cereal and then there was spaghetti lol. It was 8 o’clock so that was a little unusual but the Czech sports team staying in the hostel seemed to like it. Then, once again, we walked around Brussels. I realized how beautiful it really is there. French architecture is evident throughout the city. We went into St. Michael’s Cathedral which reminded me of Notre Dame.

St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral

Then we ventured to the city square. I had no idea that Brussels was such a tourist destination until I visited. There were SO many people in the streets. The city square was beautiful. There are chocolate shops everywhere you look not to mention Belgian waffles! We saw the infamous Manneken Pis, peeing boy statue. And you can’t see the peeing boy statue without seeing the peeing girl statue so we ventured to find it.

Manneken Pis

We learned that the peeing girl statue is right next to a world famous bar that has over 2004 beers called Delirium. (http://www.deliriumcafe.be/)

Delirium

This part of town was full of cafes. The waiters would stand outside trying to get you to come sit down at their cafe. One of them said “you too beautiful” another said “too much Lady Gaga.” Which I’m still not sure what that even means. The men in Brussels are a whole lot more forward than Dutch men. We were honked, whistled, gawked and hollered at many many times. The group split up at lunch time and we all went out separate ways. A couple girls and I went to a small cafe outside of the city center called Zebra Bar. I got a tuna salad sandwich which ended up being very good. The vibe of the cafe was artsy and ambient- I enjoyed it a lot.

Zebra Bar

After lunch we walked back to the city square where we went to the Broodhuis museum. It housed art and other artifacts. The top floor had an exhibit of all the costumes the peeing boy statue has been dressed up in. That was my favorite part. After the museum we walked around the shopping district again- surprise surprise. We did a little window shopping. One of my favorite stores to go into is Zara. They have the cutest clothes and accessories. I got my first European milkshake- strawberry. It was more milky and less thick but delicious nonetheless! The weather for this trip was so perfect. We were all able to wear dresses, t shirts and shorts. There was a park near our hostel that had wooden lounge chairs. It would be a perfect place to lounge during beautiful weather like we had. After walking around the city a bit more most of us went back to the hostel to rest. Brussels is a large city so we did a lot of walking. After dinner a few of us decided to venture back to the city square. We saw our two professors and another student who were going to a local microbrewery so we met up with them there. We sat and talked there for a while. After it got later we decided to go to the famous bar Dillerium. I had not intended to go out that night so I was wearing jeans and a NC State t-shirt. The bar was packed and it was relatively early when we showed up. I had initially intended to hangout and not drink but you can’t go to a bar with 2004 beers and not try one! So I did. I REALLY wish I could remember the name of it because I really enjoyed it. I am going to have to ask the professor who recommended it to me what it was called. I ended up staying at the bar a lot longer than I thought I would. There was live music- even a French rapper! We met some brothers from Philadelphia. They introduced themselves because they could hear our American accent and anytime you spot an American it can be rather comforting. They ended up being a lot of fun! After the bar we went with them to get fries- they got fries we didn’t. Then they decided they also wanted a kebob so we walked with them to get them one of those as well. It was a lot of fun to be silly and hangout with fellow Americans who understand our ridiculous humor. That was such a fun night. And funny thing is the girls I was with and I got in relatively early compared to many of the people in our group. We got in around 2-2:30 and everyone else strolled in around 4-4:30! Brussels night life is crazier than we had imagined!

Picture from night at Delirium

Brussels is a lot more multicultural than the cities I’ve been to in the Netherlands. There was more variety in dress and ethnicity. Another thing is the amount of homeless people. In the Netherlands it is very uncommon, even in Amsterdam, to see a homeless or nomadic person in the streets but they were everywhere in Brussels. It is also cool to hear them speaking in French. Many of the signs were in both French and Dutch. I definitely enjoyed Brussels a lot more than I thought I would.

Next day, bright and early, it was off to Brugge! Brugge is a smaller city near the coast of Belgium. Walking around the city I instantly fell in love. It was quaint and historical. There were baby ducklings everywhere which was also a plus!

Ducklings

We visited an old church, like always. However, it was Good Friday so the church had a little more special meaning for me. There were a lot of flowers, gardens and boats in the canals. After walking for a bit we ate lunch in the city square. We sat on the steps of a church and enjoyed the sun. After lunch we went to the Church of the Holy Blood which houses a relic of the blood of Christ that is available for viewing.

Church of the Holy Blood

Last time we did was go to an art museum. By this point we were so exhausted it was hard to enjoy the museum but we did our best. There are a lot of chocolate shops in Brugge just as in Brussels. Brugge reminded me in some ways of a colonial settlement. Brugge has a very romantic feel to it. I enjoyed it a lot. When we were free to go our separate ways at the end of the day Dorien, Diana and I headed to the train station to begin the second phase of our three country adventure which I will write a separate blog about in the near future!

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.2026547742481.124764.1207657232&l=375a410ecc

^Link to my Belgium photo album.

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Little update

I will be in Brussels and Brugge Belgium, Eindhoven Netherlands and Cologne Germany from Wednesday-Monday. I will be posting lots of pictures and a blog post once I get back from this last adventure (minus Queens Day of course). I’m very much so looking forward to this trip. Belgium will be with the entire group of us. Then I’m off to Eindhoven and Cologne for Easter weekend with Dorien and Diana.

But before I go have to finish some school work… bleh!

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+/-

Things I love (I put pictures when applicable):

Hagelslag (in the Netherlands, chocolade hagelslag or chocolate sprinkles, is used as a sandwich topping)

Vla (type of custard)

Suikerbrood

Pea soup

Frisian bakeries

Canals

Biking

Dutch pancakes

The amount of leisure and family time they spend

Street art


There are so many cool places to sit outside

The water gets hot really quickly

There are so many amazing cities a short train ride away from anywhere you are in the Netherlands

The men dress incredibly well

And there are an abundance of attractive men

People aren’t as loud and obnoxious on trains, in the streets, airports, etc

Springtime in the Netherlands

Living in a smaller, more quaint city than Amsterdam

Living in such a multicultural city

Things I don’t love:

That everything closes so early

I almost get hit by a bike everyday

All the pigeons

They don’t use ice

I have no idea what anyone is saying

Looking nosey when I unknowingly look into someones windows while walking down the street

Grocery shopping is still difficult at times

When people find our I’m American sometimes that seems to be the only thing I am

Feeling stupid because I only know English

It was honestly quite hard to think of things I don’t love about this place. I’ve really grown to be quite fond of it and I feel torn when I think about leaving.

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