Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventuring with Anna

My sister, Anna, is studying abroad in Spain at the moment. But she came to visit me in Belgium and Luxembourg during the last week of Easter vacation. On Tuesday the 19th, she got on the Eurostar in London with her snazzy L.L. Bean backpack, passed through the Chunnel, and three hours later I met her in Bruxelles-Midi. Here she is with the Brussels cityscape. We're right near the Palais de Justice, which is just to the left, out of the picture.

And here I theory I'm crushing the Atomium, but really I'm only crushing the air between the Atomium and the Grand-Place.

An Egg for Easter!
The Grand-Place. I'm pretty sure I take the same picture every time I go to Brussels, but I can't help it. It's so beautiful, especially in the sun, and every time I take the picture it has a different sense, depending on who I'm with.

Voilà, our first legal drink together. Unfortunately, that can't happen again for a while, considering the age will be 21 for me again when I go back.

We headed back to Arlon on the train, using my go-pass. It was a double-decker train, so we sat on top, of course.
On Wednesday, my host mom didn't have to work, so the three of us went to eat lunch in France. I tried boudin noir (blood sausage) for the first time...and it was delicious!

Then, we briefly visited these Roman ruins, and headed to the Abbey of Orval.

This is the entrance to the Abbey. The monks make very delicious beer and cheese. Orval is a brown trappist beer that's pretty well known in Belgium. Actually, after every Allure Libre (the 5k I run on Sunday morning), many of the runners drink one after they finish.

There's a museum that explains the process of's Anna and I standing on part of it:

La Fontaine de Mathilde.

The restored ruins of the old abbey:

On Thursday, Anna and I took the bus into Luxembourg. We visited the Grand Duke's Palace...

...looked out into the valley...
...and crossed a street via bridge.

Afterwards, we went to training at Athletic Club Dampicourt, as my family does most Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anna was happy to throw hammer again.

The next two days were just...chill. We took a lovely walk from Beckerich to Oberpallen on a path that passes the Belgium-Luxembourg border, made cookies, and slept late.

Man, am I lucky.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


At l'Athénée Royal d'Arlon, the week before Easter vacation is called the "Semaine Educative." During this week, students have the option of working in the community, going to interest-oriented courses at school...or going on their class trip. For the past ten years or so, a group of Rhétos (Seniors) has gone to Morocco, and this year the class was small enough so that we could all go together. Out of the 101 Rhétos, almost 90 went on the trip.

So, on April 2nd, I met up with my class at the airport in Brussels at around 7, since we were supposed to fly out at 9:30 pm.

Supposed to.

Our plane ended up getting delayed for more than three hours- we didn't board until 12:45 am. And for some reason, everything in Belgium closes at about 6 pm, 9 if you're lucky. So, we were stuck in a completely empty airport for hours. So, some people slept, others amused themselves on the moving walkway until the airport shut it off out of apparent annoyance, and I played a kind of Mafia with some classmates. This was made a little difficult since I could barely speak (I was sick and had lost my voice on Wednesday...and it only began to come back the following Wednesday), but it was still relatively entertaining.

We arrived in Marrakech in the early hours of the morning, and then boarded the bus for another two hours towards Essaouira. We arrived there at about 6 am. We got our rooms and went to sleep for a few hours before a late breakfast. Then we had some free time, lunch, and we set off to explore the port of Essaouira...

The citrus fruits in Morocco are absolutely wonderful, especially the oranges. There are stands everywhere selling fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice for about 4 dihrams (about 40 euro cents).

Late in the afternoon, we set off again towards Marrakech. On the way, it started to rain. And rain and rain. The road flooded with water as brown as the earth it was running over. We stopped once on the route to take a tour of a place where they produced Argane oil, which is used in both cosmetics and alimentation. The women shown below were cracking and crushing the nuts used to make oil.
We arrived at the Hotel Sangho Privilege, 10 km from Marrakech itself, later that evening. It was the next day that we went into the city. Since we were so many, we were separated into two groups for the entire voyage. On Monday, my group took a winding path through the covered market (souks) and came to a sort of pharmacy. We smelled and tested a variety of herbal remedies, and I bought some spices.
Afterwards, we went to visit the Majorelle Gardens, which pays tribute to Yves Saint-Laurent, who owned the garden during a period of time and whose ashes were scattered in the garden after his death in 2008.

Later in the afternoon, our bus took us into the mountains and we took a hike to see the waterfall. Unfortunately, as it was raining, we weren't able to take the complete path since part of it was flooded. Still, even the dull grey, brown, and green managed to take my breath away.

This was our bridge:
The next day, we left Marrakech and headed off in the direction of Ouarzazate. The trip was supposed to take four hours, but figuring in the Swiss suffering some road rage, his rental car, and really narrow mountain passes...well, my lucky bus got to spend three hours watching 18-wheelers pass dangerously close between our bus and the mountain itself, sometimes mere centimeters from where we sat. I took this picture from inside the bus:
During the three hours on the one mountain pass, it rained, snowed, hailed, and was sunny. When we finally left, there was precipitation covering the windows, so the next couple pictures are a little blurry.

We arrived at the next hotel about an hour before the other group, who had continued and gone on the tours that had been planned for that day. This one was situated in a small village, so we could go explore a bit.

The next morning, my group went on the visits that the other group had done the day before. We first visited a film studio where both Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator were filmed. Then, we went on a tour of the Kasbah, an ancient palace in Ouarzazate.

Though there was no furniture in the palace, some of the walls and surfaces were beautifully painted. This is an example of one of the ceilings:

That afternoon, we were supposed to go tour a small village, as the other group had done in the morning. However, the sun didn't hold out and it began to pour as we got there. Since the roads are dirt (translate: mud), the bus couldn't get through to the village. Instead, we headed back and explored the small village near our hotel, and drank a glass of mint tea with one of the villagers.

In the evening, we had a "Soirée Berbère." The Berbère are the native people in the region, and they came to give a demonstration of a celebration. They were all dressed in traditional clothing, and the women sang and danced while the men played drums. We ate couscous and lamb, and then danced with the women, though a few people tried their hand at drums as well.

And on Thursday, before heading back to Marrakech, we paid a visit to an elementary school in the mountains. Everyone in the class had brought along their unused school supplies, which we gave to the school. We played games with the children and had a snack of cake and, of course, mint tea. The children sang songs in Arabic and my classmates sang back in French.

It's good to see that, no matter where we are in the world and no matter the language, the laughter of children never changes.

"It really makes you think." -Ivan


We returned to Marrakech that day...after we applauded when we passed the place of the accident.

On Friday, our last full day in Morocco, my group went to visit a tannery and the surrounding buildings. It smelled so strongly that they gave us mint leaves to put in our noses.

This building was once a school. We went inside to see the size of the rooms. It's a good thing they were really only for sleeping...the student rooms were about two meters squared, and the only huge difference between their rooms and the professor's was that the professors had a window and a shelf. But the outside was gorgeous, with mosaics and intricately carved.

Check out some of this detailing:

That evening, since it was the last night, we went into Marrakech to eat in the square. Someone in my group managed to haggle with the waiter, and 9 of us ate for 5oo dihrams- roughly 50 euro. After returning to the hotel, I stayed out on the terrace playing cards until after midnight, when I had to leave because the smoke from the hookah at the next table was making me cough too much.

On Saturday morning, I went back to Marrakech with about half the group to return to the souks. I haggled for a scarf for my host mom, as well as some earrings and souvenir leather camels. I bought some Moroccan pastries and a pressed orange juice (mmmmmm) and helped some other people haggle, just for the fun of it.

And then, we took the bus to the airport and said goodbye to Morocco.

And this time the plane was only one hour late.


If you want to see more pictures, check out my Facebook albums:
Morocco One
Morocco Two