Sunday, June 25, 2006

thu fri sat

Seems like a lot of time to catch up on... but, as you can guess, there actually hasn't been much going on... :P

After all the time out on wed, thu I had to recover ;) Fri I ventured out again. Did a fair bit of walking, checked a couple of churches along the way, the new one by the Dam plaza has art exhibits in it, so I learned a bit about Ukrainian artists. I want to try to catch an organ concert there, it should be amazing. Since the red light district was only a couple of blocks over, on the way to the Rembrandt's house, I decided to give it a shot and walk through it. It was a little after noon, after all. What safest time? And yes, I saw the famous prostitutes in the windows. The oddest thing that happened to me while I was walking there was a Dutch guy who started talking to me and walking alongside me, and kept asking, politely enough that I couldn't just flip him off, if it was weird for me to see this. I wasn't about to admit my uneasiness, so I tried to pull off a "eh, I lived in NY, you see anything there." He tried to press the question a couple of times, made small talk, offered to walk me for a little, but he wanted to show me the street where transvestites were. I am not sure what his deal was. Arriving to the New Market (most plazas around here are "markets") he said something like "well, here you are, have fun." And I said bye, and that was it.

I feel odd here in Europe. I was used to people telling me I was "scary" when they didn't know me, and to people being surprised when I say I'm only 5'3", 'cause I seem to carry myself as a taller person (I do have some odd height complex, I can be standing next to someone my same height, and yet I am convinced I am taller... I am always truly surprised by pictures of me next to other people!) But here most people I have spoken to see me as innocent, tiny, cute, perhaps, but overall harmless. Maybe even a bit in need. And people recognize me for the Italian I am, which also didn't happen much in NY... Beyond a bit of hurt pride, 'cause it's cool to be a hard-ass, my main concern is to be seen as the naive little tourist. Traveling alone, it puts me at risk of being harassed, or worse. Best I can pull is a surprised/different reaction once people actually talk to me, 'cause I am smarter/older than I seem (*grumble*). But that's not going to stop anyone from mugging me. I was recently asked why do I insist on trying to keep up an image of someone I'm not. Well, self-preservation, mostly. Who wants to be vulnerable, especially when you don't have the skills to defend yourself, physically or emotionally? I can only hope to pull through with my luck and that I keep running into more nice or harmless people like me... :)

Rembrandt's House was cool. Unlike the one in Antwerp, this was the real deal. Where he lived for 20 years, made his paintings, had his family... the nearby Rembrandt Plein has a bronze sculpture reconstruction of his famous Night Watch painting. It was cool to see it recreated in 3D. Gave me a much better perspective on the painting. Walking the Golden Bend, where some of the nicest canal houses are supposed to be, was a nice experience. And by then I had enough. I made my way back home in time to feed Nestor. And I cracked down and got some pot. I can't be in Amsterdam and not indulge. :P The place I saw along the way didn't have pre-rolled joints like most of the touristy places. So I had to buy some fresh buds and do my own rolling. Which I had seen done plenty times, but I don't personally have that much experience. So I did a bit of a mess... lol. But I managed. Still didn't get much out of it... but dammit, I feel like a local :)

I did take some pictures, but I keep feeling that busting out my huge camera in public is just not gonna be a good idea. Now even more. But, enjoy the few pics I do have.

Today I hung out with the lady of the keys and her daughter at the park nearby for most of the afternoon. In true European fashion, we had blankets, food, and bottles of wine for the afternoon, while naked children bathed in the kiddy pool nearby. I wanted to go out to some club, but I am tired of going out alone and dealing with the anxiety of possibly having to defend myself. Plenty of time tomorrow to go out. The Dutch play Portugal so I'm hanging out with the ladies again, probably to the same lounge as wed. Go Oranjie! :)

Friday, June 23, 2006

u'd think i'd be in a cooffeeshop every day...

...instead, I continue my unhealthy addiction to TV, computer, indoors... Well, I *might* have something to show for the day. Some web help, research, emails... but not really. I figure if I was stoned all day I'd be in a very similar state as when I stare at the two screens... but my lungs are clearer :D

Wed. did turn out to be a somewhat productive day. Passed by Anna Frank's house, the line was too long and didn't care to wait in it while it drizzled. The next nearest museum was the Bible museum. Not a likely choice for a non-religious, almost atheist person like myself... but I had seen brochures about a special exhibit of silver work on books which I wanted to see. Since it was free entry for me, I strolled through the whole thing. Learned a couple more things about the Christian religion. The place is "famous" for the reproduction of the Tabernacle made by the house's last owner, before it became a museum. Also had some egyptian art, and they kept the original kitchen and some rooms from when people lived there. Amsterdam is all about the canals, and the houses alongside them are beautiful pieces of architecture. Seeing them inside is just a cool experience. And the books were damn pretty :D

By the time I made it out, the dreadful, rainy morning had turned into a cloudy sky. I walked home, and when I went out again at 8 it was sunny, as if the day had been nothing but! Crazy weather... I met up with the keys lady, went to a local bar with a friend of hers to watch the game. Several glasses of wine later on their part, and a mixture of beer, sprite, water, and tea for me, we left after a tied 0-0 game, and they decided to go to a local lounge. I followed, not quite feeling 100%, but curious. I tried to have a mini glass of wine myself, managed to make my way to a second, but then I had to give up. I chatted with them and hung out, mostly absorbing the atmosphere and seeing them interact with the people.

I love how I manage to mix being a tourist with mingling with locals. I wish I was getting more of a language learning experience, but everyone speaks English here, even half of the TV is in English, just with Dutch subtitles... it doesn't quite feel much of a displacement. Actually, the second most spoken language with me is Spanish! Seems like the Dutch like latin culture. One girl I met that night had lived in Spain for a couple of years, and we chatted up in Spanish. The bar owner had a bar in Spain before opening the one there... keys lady studied salsa music in the Netherlands for her PhD... I hate to believe in the cultural stereotypes, about "northern" people being cold, but loving the warmth of the "southern" people... but I think I am starting to see it...

Not much more to tell about. I do have some pics, but it's mostly of the books. I got one outside pic, in lousy cloudy light... tomorrow I am kicking my ass outside and staying there until I can't take it anymore! Also going to try and make some sleep up. Kitty is cute and all... but this wanting to be fed by 8am is not fitting my NY time lifestyle... I don't think I've had one full, continuous night of sleep since I got here! Which is not helping my motivation... let's see if closing the door, sleeping early, and using earplugs helps :P

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Amsterdam Tuesday

Ok, this apartment is comfy. It's bright, spacious, homey, clean... it has a kitty, and it's in a decent neighborhood; ethnic, but near a pretty park. The light in the living room all day is amazing, straight in through the almost wall-to-wall windows... :D

Arriving late afternoon Sunday, I took some time to settle in and got some basic groceries (the "night shop" is a cool idea, around Europe. It's a grocery store open when the other stores are closed. Key on Sundays!)

I spent Monday mostly inside, too. Slept in short spans, the other lady that was here the first night I arrived woke up reeeeal early to leave by 6am... Then the kitty wanted to be fed at 8 am... Even with laringitis, he woke me and my sense of responsibility up. Uff. Later I got a chance to try out the kitty toys, the hair brushes, the petting... only thing i can't do yet seems to be pick him up and keep him on my lap. Dunno if he's that way in general or if he's just not a lap cat... It probably would have helped to see him interact more with his owner to get a better sense of him... ah well. Also researched and noted all the Amsterdam walk-throughs I found online. I got a really colorful map now! :D

Today I finally motivated to venture out for a couple of hours. Walked to the south side of the center, saw Leidseplein, big bar/touristy shopping area. Unfortunately I started cramping by the time I got there, stomach, ovaries, all a big mess. It's not always easy being adventurous and carefree when you are a girl... *sigh* So I made my way back home, navigating the network of bridges over the canals... I was able to appreciate some of it even while not feeling well, it's quite pretty, and any other time I'd have loved the way you can't quite make a straight line between most two points... but not today :P

Evening at home, then. I feel kinda lame. Safe, but lame. But I have tentative plans to see the Dutch soccer game tomorrow night at some local bar, with the lady of the keys :) And next week visit the auction house in Aalsmeer, the equivalent of a global Wall Street for the plants business. And tomorrow I am hoping to be better and actually make it to some museum, which always makes me happy :) ...aaaaand, I hope it will make me bust out my camera again. Which I did take with me today, but I saw few tourists, and one big sign to watch for pickpockets... so since I wasn't up for much fighting or running, I opted to keep it safely tucked away. I did look into a cell phone w/camera. Still debating if it's worth spending all the money on the model I think I want...

Well, I manage to write a lot even when I do nothing... lol. Watch out for the next entry! ;) And thank you for the comments and emails! Yey for two-sided indirect communication! ;)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

*grin* broadband is the shit

All is good. Mad hot day to be lugging luggage around... but a quick bus ride, a little walk, a cheap phone call (only 20 cents to call a cell, unbelievable but true...), a lovely lady with keys, and I am already settled with my charge, *with* wireless access. :D

Nestor the cat
This is Nestor, the kitty (well, not quite that young, more of a senior cat...) I will be feeding and petting and cleaning and playing with for the next two weeks. ^.^ Isn't he cute?? I got him purring, and he got so loud, I was worrying he would over-purr himself to exhaustion!! He kept it up even while chasing a little mouse on a string!

Now, to figure out what's around. I did pass by Westerpark on the way here, looked pretty nice... groceries are also a must. Feed the kitty, but feed me, too! :)

off to Amsterdam

After two very tranquil days, dedicated to catching up with people, re-packing, relaxing, and re-organizing things, in just a couple of hours I am off to Amsterdam. There is supposed to be internet in the apartment, but the lady of the house didn't know how it was setup... I am hoping it's not password-protected or that it doesn't require any fancy configuration I have no access to... It would suck to have a blinking modem 5 feet from me, and every day have to walk to some internet cafe just to blog and do email!!

While 2 weeks seems to be a bit much to be sitting in one place, I am hoping it will give me time to be productive. I have several things I want to accomplish:

One, actually reading the myriad of books and magazines I have been lugging around about photography. For all the money I spent on that camera, I keep just taking snapshots. Not really thinking technically. So, while I enjoyed the time away from the camera, I do want to learn to use it better. It will help in the art I want to do.

Two, dedicate my time to some writing. When I set off for this trip, I mentioned to several people that I was thinking about a book. At first it was a more generic "oooh, pretty pictures of places, a travel book." But I also had in mind to do a sort of biography. "Based on a true story!" ;) In keep with the "searching myself" theme. I think the snapshots situation is pushing me to thinking my life is going to have a better shot of being of interest than the random pictures I've been taking, only few of which might be good enough for commercial printing.

I am still debating the need to be private vs the need to let things out... All those artists that do put themselves out there, expose their inner selves... and all those people that love watching/reading them, but yet are so afraid to open up their own world to just the people next to them... It's a control thing, isn't it? You withhold information, you don't let people have control over you, be able to judge you, influence you... On the other hand, your fear of being exposed, and the lack of knowledge, is what really makes you vulnerable, how you are controlled. When you have enough strength to be open, to expose your hurts, it's when *you* take control over them. Plus, it is those people that do not have enough info that are abused by the world. You think you are abnormal, you are ashamed of yourself, while there are a million others like you. Those women that do not know that there is more to the world than an abusive husband. Just need to identify with someone else that did get over it. Boys who grow up with an insane guilt complex from religion or parents, especially about sex, and yet if they were shown that sex is natural, not something to be ashamed of, that there *are* others who didn't grow up with the guilt, that it's ok to enjoy it... What a difference information makes.

Life is life. Morals change across the ages. What was ok a century ago is now a shameful thing... What is ok now was unthinkable only 40 years ago. Humans are beautiful because of their diversity and their versatility. And fear is really the biggest problem of all. The only line to be drawn is the one infringing on another's freedom and well-being. If you enjoy hurting, hurt yourself, not another!

I'm going with the thought that if you are a good, strong person, you have nothing to hide. Yes, even considering that "good" is relative. Leave it to politicians, scammers and liars to master the art of privacy! But even for them, truth is truth. Past facts are un-doable. What ppl do will always have a chance to be known by others.

So, *my* experiences can go into the collective of biographies that help the world identify, and they might feel like there *is* someone out there that does feel the same, that went through the same shit, and came out ok after all! And *that* is a good contribution to the world, I think. Make something useful out of my self-centered being ;)

But, even if I never actually get to the point of publishing, writing it might be a good exercise. There will always be these blog entries to flow through the world.

And then there are still all the places I want to visit around Amsterdam. Hmmm, I hope I can actually get everything done!

So, the next entry is either from my new broadband connection... or the dinky internet shop next door :P

PS) And as an extra insight: for those that have followed from the beginning, did you notice a change from a more "today I did this" structure, to an actual personal thoughts and feelings mode? Maybe *I* am gathering strength...? ;)

Friday, June 16, 2006

cool life experiences

Randomness strikes again. I really liked this week and a half disconnected from my comp, from old friends, from books... anything that kept me from actually facing the world. After I met my new friend in Brussels, Kim, web manager extraordinaire, amazing life survivor, and an inspiration all in herself, we went together off to Ghent, to see the sights for the afternoon, then we parted ways, she going back to Brussels, me to Bruges. Here the interesting stuff started.

Well, about Ghent, it's a *really* pretty city. We did the boat tour, and visited the castle in town. On the boat, there were 5 drunk local women who made the trip interesting. Fun, overall. Tiring and hot, though. I was lugging about my backpack and it was 30 degrees centigrade. Hot. We called it quits around 3pm.

But Bruges takes first prize in Pretty town to visit in Belgium. It is a gorgeous, safe, old town, lots to see and experience, and wonderful local people. While getting there was exhausting--the hostel was ghetto (do "The Passage" if you can, not the "Europe"!) and was outside the center--I met many tourists and nice people on my time outside. I even worked at a restaurant as a busboy! (bus girl??).

But let's start at the beginning. After a cold reception at the hostels, and after visiting a local, *tres ghetto* supermarket (but yummy mini-sausages!!), and after a nap, I headed into town. Since it is light until after 10pm, there is plenty time to stroll around and see the sights. Ended up at a famous local bar, the 't Brugs Beertje. Had some local suggestions (bartender was very nice and knowledgeable!!) and met some guys from Sweden, who enlightened me about their country, and a guy from North carolina, one of them forces of nature, who enjoys life to the fullest. He told his "I was mugged in Brussels" story a couple of times, completely enjoying it! We ended up ambling about Bruges at night together. Fun experience.

The next day I went about town, seeing all the sights. I kept running into two American guys from Nebraska, whom we had met the night before. Completely odd, we kept saying "bye" and then we'd meet in another side of town, a couple of miles away. Nice people :) I didn't enter many places, opting for not spending money on museums here. But I did see the Lace center. Amazing how they braid threads to compose all sorts of forms... I was so impressed that I cracked and bought some souvenirs! The first after the comic books in Spain. The other famous sight was Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child", one of the few works from the guy that are outside of Italy. Free to see, too, which was odd.

For the evening, I looked up a good restaurant. There are these guides for young people that are the shit, with very useful information on where to go and what to do. I discovered them in Antwerp and looked for them in every city afterwards. is the website. They had an Italian restaurant "where they only speak Italian" listed. Figured I'd get a chat in there. Turned out to be quite an experience. I walked in saying "Buongiorno!" in Italian. The owner sat down with me to talk about food and beer. Ended up giving me a card for me to go to a businessman friend of his, and get a free "best beer of the world for 2006" (the Westvleteren Abt 12). He also told me him and one of his friends were going to be at a certain bar to watch the soccer game for that night, so if I wasn't doing anything, I could see them there. You'd think he was trying to hit on me. I have that radar always on, expecting it from any guy that talks to me... with this guy, though, it wasn't quite that way. More of a "here is some company, you seem to need it" kinda feeling. So I told him I'd probably see him there. The bar I wanted to visit was closed, so I went there instead. Found a spot at the bar. Watched the game. It was the bar of the Passage Hostel, Lotsa young ppl about. A group of Argentinians that were cheering on. The game was Germany vs Croatia. After the first time, they show up. Didn't quite exchange words. Just sat down, said hi, acknowledge me there, then watched the game. The friend was an older guy who also worked in the restaurant. At the end of the game, they told me they were gonna play pool in the back. I chatted with some Australian guys for a while, then joined them. Didn't play, but hanged out. On their way out, it had started raining. This, after a whole week of *gorgeous* weather! I even got sunburned. A little tourist tan :) So they offered me an umbrella, and I said I'd bring it back the next day.

Walking home was a long thing. But I hadn't gotten 5 minutes, when the older guy calls me. He was walking my same way, and invited me to another drink. Wary again, but he felt on a good vibe, too, and had worked in my hometown... so we sat down and chatted for a while. Nothing wrong. Just some nice, harmless bonding. Antonio is his name. I finally got to the hostel around 2am. A short night sleep, as I had to check out at 10am. Then I walked to the restaurant again. Actually, first I stopped by the store to look for the beer. Guy there seemed curious as to who I was. Told me the best way to enjoy this young beer was to let it sit in a cool cellar for 4 months... But it would be ok as-is, too :)

After that, showed up at the restaurant. Owner was busy with suppliers and the phone. He said hi but was kinda off after that. I wasn't sure whether to hang around or not. Was offered tea. Then I though I should leave. Was offered pizza. After that, I was offered a job. The other guys working there were wondering who I was. Randomly asked me questions. I had originally turned down the job offer, thinking it was more of a "wanna earn some money?" thing, but it turned out to be more of a "I need help today" gig. A way to repay the food I gobbled up. So once I realized that, I offered help. So I worked as a busboy for the first time in my life. Mad nervous, kept sitting down waiting for someone to leave to clear their table and clean it... but I came out of there feeling grateful. Little things the owner, Alessandro, said, about his life philosophy, his view on things, gave me one of them "wow, this is a Good guy that actually helps make the world a bit better" feelings. Which I don't get often. I sat down with all of them to have lunch. I tried to explain I was just shy. I was told I was *not* shy. Something else, maybe, but not shy. I later was told by someone else that all I have is lack of confidence... Got me thinking.

By 4pm Alessandro was on his way out, he just said bye. I panicked, saying I'd leave, too. He told me the rest of the guys wouldn't bite. I still felt like it was time for me to go. So he ended up offering me a ride to the train station. Along the way he picked up his woman and son. I had a quick insight on his personal life. It felt amazing. I held back tears, of confusion, of relief, of happiness, of nervousness... Once I told them bye, on the way home, I let it all out, Didn't care I was in the middle of a train station. It was an odd feeling, I felt I had just learned something deep, and I was happy for the experience.

So, if you are ever in Bruges, do stop by Trattoria Trium, it's north of the main Market Square, and tell them you know Valeria from the Island of Elba... maybe they'll remember me.

I ended up back in Brussels, called Kim, who was busy but left the apt open for me (isn't she amazing?). So I went to hang out with her doggies (I never thought I'd like lap dogs, but they are just good, too...) and slept. When she got back, we chatted about our experiences from the past couple of days. It's amazing how some times you meet just the right people. We went together to the museum of comic art in Brussels the next day (not quite worth the 7.50EUR...) and parted ways at the train station. But planning the next trip. I am so looking forward to keeping in touch with her. Her life story is amazing, and she is one strong woman.

Now I am back in Tilburg. Due in Amsterdam Sunday for my cat-sitting job. My hosts are still on vacation, they just left me keys (I still don't believe my luck) so I could get in. Life is amazing. Being out there is rewarding. I am thinking I should head down south for the summer, chill and maybe find a part-time job through August, then travel again in September, when things cool and calm down. Hopefully my finances will hold. July and August are high season, no hostels left available, too many tourists about...

I am having visions of a bohemiam life style. Living random places, doing odd jobs like cat- or dog-sitting, traveling, and making art. Letting go of all my "I should, I can't, I oughtta...." and just live for a little. Do what most people experience in their college life... before they get a "real" job and become "adults"...

Then I have to figure out a way to make it all up... but if I can repay a 10th of the goodness I have received during this whole trip, I'd be happy.

Oh, and today marks 3 months of my travels. Amazing, uh?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

leuven, brussels... check, almost check!

Aaaah, the joy of broadband and unlimited time on a computer... It's almost like crack. :P Now, if only I could master this "azerty" keyboard...

So, left Antwerp with no problems, and yet another place to crash while I travel. This is really the life. It's like being an elite bum... Although I am accumulating lots of karma. Once I settle down, it better be in a really nice spot, with at lest 2 guest rooms... so many people to repay back in lodgins! ;) So here is to hoping I figure out this making money thing!

Anyhoo, back to the itinerary. Leuven turned out to be pretty, as promised. It also helped that mother nature finally remembered it is june, and that should mean warm, nice weather. Which she gave plenty of. This whole rest of the week, into the weekend, has been amazing. I am finally starting to miss my summer clothes. Today in the train there were sooo many people with burnt skin. No one was expecting such a revesal of weather!

An afternoon of strolling about allowed me to discover the most picturesque architecture. The town hall is this massively decorated stone building, with a statue of an important person every 2 meters or so. Also strolled through le Beguine, a place formerly used by women who renounced men, but weren't nuns. Widows or spinsters. It's a UNESCO world heritage site. It is now used as dorms for students and faculty. Really cool (enhanced by subconscious envy?). Since it was so nice out, I just laid in parks for whiles. I had dinner in a local brewery, and tasted their beer, which is pumped straight from the production tanks. I'll have to look up the name. quite smooth.

No new friends in this town, just a quiet convo with my roommate over breakfast, but no exchange of contact info. She was from Northern Netherlands. But I got some extra travel info on eastern europe, which was useful. So I headed off to Brussels, to meet a girl I found through the ad I posted in forums. Turns out she is amazingly nice. And so are her two doggies. She is super friendly, yet private and mindful, too. Just one of those people you are happy to know. We spent the afternoon strolling through the center of the city, visiting Grand Place (not quite living up to the hype, IMHO), the mannequin pis statue (another tiny disappointment), and the museums of chocolate and of beer (do not waste your money. They each wanted 5EUR, and you get a tiny room with info you could pull off the internet. They give you one sample in each place, but it's just a waste of time). In the evening we tried to find a place near her apt, got snobbed twice, waitress was just not nice, and finished hanging out at a bar near a concert venue, where tons of cool ppl usually crowd the place. We just pretended like we belonged, too ;)

Today I went off on my own through a museums walk. If you have the stamina to do 5 museums in 7 hours... then I recommend the mont des arts pass (not the belgium pass!) I managed to get to 3, loooved the art nouveau and permanent 20th century collection of the museum of fine arts. Very elegant building, one of those places i would go back just to hang out and get inspired. The royal library was interesting, lots of old typography machines about the hallways... and the museum of musical instruments has a neat system where the headphones you get tune into a radio signal as you approach a showcase, with music of the instrument you are looking at. makes for a bit of a headache, changing music every 4 steps... but cool experience!

So, overall, Brussels is a nice city. A bit too many bums around, many with dogs... but not unmanageable. This evening I joined a new set of hosts, friends of a good friend of mine, who live outside brussels. tomorrow they are headed south, through the countryside and forests of Belgium. I get to see a non-city side of the country!

i do wish i had a camera sometimes... but the freedom of traveling with just a backpack is just too cool :) i really have to look into a multi-functional cell phone purchase.

i have been trying to keep a blog offline, as well. but i think the book idea is finally taking shape. so the notes are mostly for that. and to vent all the personal crap. i am getting inspired. i am struggling with my mind. figuring out the me that *is*, accepting that, rather than fighting to be the me I keep thinking I *should* be... but i have possibilities to unfold. the creative juices are starting to remember what it was like to flow... If I can just get past the ideas, and to the production point, i might actually become a full-fledged artist for real! i think the weather change, the continued support of old friends, and the new social interactions are lifting my spirits. it would be really silly if depression is nothing more than a chemical imbalance. all the crap you go through, and it's just the wrong atoms hanging out in and around you... ah well.

'Hope everyone is well. Do leave a comment when you have time. Those make me feel warm and fuzzy and connected :D

ps) please bear with the lack of editing. i need to fill in the job again :P

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Antwerp.... check!

A quick "I'm alive, all is well" entry before I am off to the train station, to my next destination.

Antwerp is a nice city. A mixture of old-school and modern European life. I hung out in a cobblestone plaza where some students were playing jazz, cruised by the river, did the museums (Reuben's house: not worth it. The other two museums, pretty cool.) Also visited the Kulminator, a bar famous for the insane variety of beers it has. Their menu is a 40 pages catalog!

Met a couple of new people along the way. One, my roommate, from Japan, who's studying French. Unfortunately she was leaving when I arrived. So a short but pleasant conversation was all we could do. Then, yesterday evening, 3 musicians, a sax player, a piano player, and a DJ. They were so nice, they invited me over to their places to listen to music. Wary, but with a good feeling, I went along. Turned out to be a cool night! The mix of live sax over a DJ spinning is a good sound. Hurray for random acquaintances!

So, all is well. I was told Leuven is a tiny student city, not much to see. But that is where most of the local universities are. Just one night there. Then off to Brussels, to see if my random acquaintances continue on a good streak.

Half an hour in an internet cafe doesn't give you much time to think... the length of my posts might finally be under control! ;)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

oops! right, right, pictures!

Silly me. Here are the pics from the weekend. :D

hostels galore... and more geo-caching :)

I am about to embark on a fairly long trip, away from known friends and material property... I figured I'd do one big update before I go crazy trying to work out the logistics of the trip (yeah, I'm leaving in the morning...) :P

Let's see, I headed off to Maastricht on the mid-morning of Fri, Jun 2. I couldn't find accommodations for Sat, so I had to reschedule for an early weekend deal. Liege was the closest town with an available hostel. That is in Belgium. The town I was visiting was in Holland. International travel is so easy to accomplish in Europe ;) Although you'd think this would have taught me to book things in advance... not wait 'til the night before, like I did now... I am stuck with a 2 days gap, no place to stay yet...

Anyhoo, back to the pleasant memories. I'll deal with that in a bit :)

Maastricht is a quaint town, I was told by many it was a must-see, full of history, of important sights... but I was rather bored by it. There *was* one cool bit, the tours to the caves in "mount" st. pietersberg (it's a 300m hill...) they have nearby. These, by the way, are the same caves where the famous vault of fine arts created by the Nazis lies. When they thought they were gonna get invaded, they gathered all the best stuff they had stolen (they keep mentioning Rembrandt's "Night Watch" as the highlight) and put them there, hoping to make a new Nazi museum upon winning the war. They never got to do that, of course.

Fri afternoon I did the boat tour to the southern caves, which was supposed to be the best. You'll see in the pics the high ceilings, which was really the only diff. Only down-side was that it was all in Dutch, so I didn't understand a word. Sat I did the walk to the Northern caves, 2km or so from city center, and this one was in English. That's where I learned all the bits ;) Cool thing they had us do in both tours: they turn down the gas lamps, put them around a bend, and have you walk in total darkness, just following the wall, around a pillar. Interesting sensation. In the first tour, people cheated, opening a cell phone for light!

The hostel I had booked for Fri night was in Liege, in Belgium. I actually liked this town much better. It was a mix of skyscrapers and old buildings... which I love. I arrived in the early evening, walked the 45 mins to the hostel, to get to see the town. Walked into the room, no one was about, so took off with a local map and hiked around. They have a huge staircase that goes to a hill, so I did that one. Then took back roads and reached city center, through the student bars area, and back towards the hostel.

The night was short, I ended up going to bed by 1am, the beds were full, everyone asleep. And by 6:30am, the first one woke up. From there 'til 8:30 I tried to stick to my sleep... I finally grumbled out of bed, said a polite "good morning" and got a "Oh My God you speak English??" in reply. Turns out this young girl had just started *her* pilgrimage through Europe, a planned 2 months, also had a couple of friends to visit, but was hoping to make a random trip. Unfortunately we were headed in opposite directions, she had plans for Barcelona and Valencia after Switzerland... but we walked to the train station together and exchanged emails. If our roads coincide along the way, I might have found a travel companion :)

I headed back to Maastricht early Sat. The other highlight of the trip was to see an old-school mill being prepped to work! I had to go out of the way, take buses, and depend on the kindness of strangers (an old couple that knew exactly where I wanted to go, even though the bus lady didnt...) but it turned out to be really worth it! And they only do this twice a month. I got there right as they were about to turn the mill and set the sails... Nice people. After that I went to see the rest of the caves, I must have walked 15km easily that day. By late afternoon I couldn't find anything else to visit, so hopped on the train, and slept most of the way back to Tilburg.

Sunday was a day at home. Slept *very* late (don't ask the time...) and just did some light travel planning. Too light, as I'm now at loss. Although, luck strikes again! I booked the hostels I did find a spot in, and had a gap for fri and sat night. I resigned myself to finding some place last-minute, paying an insane amount of money... but my ad for a travel companion bore fruit! I made a new friend over the internet, a fellow web designer, from the US, who just moved to Brussels, and could use both the company in her own language, and a guide. Me, armed with my trusty guide and my touristy planner, am more than happy to trade navigational aid for a couch to sleep on for two days!! She just replied by email, it seems it will all work out, after all. This is so cool! :D

Only bit I can't work out is London. I can't find a cheap enough way there, and, more importantly, back... so I might skip it, unless I find a good solution along the way. I do have to be back in Amsterdam by the 18th... as I got the cat-sitting apartment! yey for that, too! The poor lady is so scared to entrust her apartment and cat to a stranger... but I hope to prove how cool an responsible I can be :) I'm glad I made enough of a good impression the day I met her. So I have to go find keys during the day of the 18th. But I have to stop by Tilburg first, to pick up all the stuff I'm leaving here...

So, yeah.


Only other bit left to update on is today's geo-caching. We set of to De Moer, a town nearby, *very* pretty, expensive houses and all. And near a huge nature preserve, with one of those "get clues, solve the puzzle to find the cache."

After a good chunk of walking, with several baby stops, we found it! It was my hosts' first, my second find (but, like, my 4th try...)

Things that went in: a google pen, and a heart-shaped keychain that had been taken from a cache in spain... i thought it appropriate to leave it there. a note in the log hinted to the significance of it... Go find the cache if you're curious ;)

So, that's it. I'm off tomorrow morning. No laptop, no camera, minimal clothes. Just a backpack. See how far I go before cracking ;) Although I plan to keep in touch over internet, at least briefly. Might not be able to do IM, but I'll definitely check gmail, and try to blog along the way. If I can't, I'll try to keep an analog blog, to type in when I get back. I can only hope I manage to work out which kind of modem is in the apt in amsterdam, and hopefully I can get my computer hooked up to it! Europe has a lot more options than the USA in modems. So I am not familiar with all the trappings to be worked out!

Wish me luck, catch up with you all when I get back, as early as June 13, but could be as late as by the time I get to Amsterdam, the night of the 18th...

Friday, June 02, 2006

hrmph... figures

As I go to double-check on the email feature form, I see a post from the developer, who says he will discontinue the service, and to use another sister website,

So I had to re-post the info, all users should have been moved over, and I changed the code on the blog... now I just have to way 24 hrs and see if it works. Please let me know if you experience any problems, like getting double-emails, not getting emails, or any other behavior you don't expect! As of now, the service is set up to send you updates once a day. Hopefully that means new updates only.

Sorry about that!

oooh... now I figured it out!

Most of you know that I had added the "send me an email when you update this blog" option to my blog.

From the start, many friends told me it wasn't working. The one thing that did work was the tracker of who visited the blog. Well, kinda. It gave me very low stats from countries I know no one in... so I figured it was all screwy.

Tonight I finally logged back in, realized what the error in the setup was (although I'm sure I got it right the first time, it just un-did itself! I swear!), so all 18 people that signed up should be getting emails from now on! This will be a good test for it. If you get this in your email, remember to check once in a while to hear about my adventures. This is Val, by the way ;)

So many people I hadn't heard from since I left, and I thought they were all lost in time, but now I realize they did give it a try from the get go. I am soooo sorry I didn't get to fix this earlier. I'm looking forward to hear from ya. 'Hope you get this post. Miss ya all!

- Val

Thursday, June 01, 2006

looking for travel companions

Well, Thursdays are for laying about :) And for planning future trips, like the travel to Maastricht, the oldest town in the Netherlands, down south, in a strip of land sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. I am staying my first night in a Hostel tomorrow, fri! Couldn't find any accommodations in the town, so I'll be hopping over to Liege, in Belgium, for the night. It was too far for a day trip. Let's see how that goes. After that, I am planning on hostelling it aaaall the way through Belgium to London... so it's kinda cool to get a trial night first. I am so spoiled :D

Also, since I'm facing 10 days of travel alone, with no friends nearby, I posted this ad on a couple of forums, to see if it's possible to find a travel companion:


Hello fellow travelers,

I have been traveling through Europe for the past 2 months, solo, but I am tired of doing the touristy things alone. I am looking for a travel companion for the following tentative itinerary:

start tue, june 6 early afternoon in antwerp (I'm coming from the netherlands), stay a night or two. sights of interest: royal museum of fine arts, mayer van den bergh museum, rubens huis.
thu, june 8-10 (or 11) in brussels, for grand-place, brewer's museum, museum of cocoa and chocolate, and, of course, the mannekin pis statue :) Also the Musee Royaux dex Beaux-Arts, and the center for comic strip arts.
mon june 12 from brussels, one day trip to Leuven, to have some Laffe beer, and check out the pretty city
tue june 13 head early to bruges, but stop by during the day in ghent to see the cathedral and the city.
Stay the night in Bruges, and spend the next day checking out the sights. Not sure which, but I'm told it's a must-see town. One thing I know is there is De Halve Maan, a beer museum and brewery.
From there, find a train-ferry-train combination to london. Stay somewhere centric and visit all the major sights. Return trip is on fri, june 16. I'm going back to friends either in the netherlands or france to rest a bit before heading south towards italy.

As you can tell, I love museums, and I love beer :) I am on a pretty tight budget, so it's hostels and cheap transportation all the way. I'll gladly spend money on museum entrances, though, and can live on sandwhiches, even though I like good food. Can't say I'm an energetic and high-spirited companion, I'm more on the shy side. I'll happily try bars and/or clubs, I love to dance and drink, but this trip I'd rather see the sights during the day than drink and party. I'm not much of an early-morning person... but I'll make an effort 'cause most of the cool places close early! Plus it's hard to sleep late when you're in a hostel.

The ideal companion would be another girl who is in a similar situation as I am, traveling solo and with no fixed itinerary, just a desire to travel. I am *definitely* not looking for a hook up, so I'll be wary of single guys. Really, if you are looking for personals ads, go to another site. Don't bother replying to this. I'm also older than I look, I'm close to 30 yrs old, so I'm more keen on the cultural stuff than the late-night partying. I do enjoy my beers, though :) An older person would be cool. Younger people might want to look for others of their own age, unless they're geeky enough to be into museums over partying.

I have been keeping a detailed blog of my travels on blogspot: . You can check that out to know more about me and the places I've visited. If you have something similar, please share it.

My trusty guide for all sight-seeing has been the "Let's go Western Europe on a Budget." It has proven very accurate and useful on all data, from best places to see to transportation. Since it covers so many countries, it is often light on details about smaller cities, but if I stay in a town or country long enough, I buy a specific guide for the place.

If you think you fit the bill, reply to this or send an email to webgirl at the domain name battlegirl dot net. If you're not geeky enough to get that, just reply to this post, I'll keep an eye out for replies. ;)


Think I'll get a reply? I can't be the only one traveling about alone, and checking websites. I do see that on average only 4% of posts to the forums are of solo travelers looking for companions, or info... but I figured it's worth a shot! Also, what is the chance to find traveling skeeves? Most have got to be locals, preying on tourists...

Kinda thought of this a bit late, but still worth a shot!

More info after I come back from the trip to Maastricht. By sat night, when I'll be back, I should know about the apt with the cat in amsterdam, and see if i got replies... wish me luck!

Amsterdam's first impressions

I went to see Gabriele and Nestor today. The apt in Amsterdam opportunity. Turns out she has someone to take care of the cat through the 19th in the morning, but she still needs someone for the rest of the time through the 28th. But she is still meeting another girl, so nothing is sure yet. I should know by Fri! 'Til then, all I can do is plan for some more traveling. I am thinking Belgium and London. If the apt goes through, I'll be back before then. If it doesn't, I'll take it south from there.

Well, this gave me a chance to see Amsterdam for the first time. The one city most guides dedicate themselves to, and I left it for last. Still didn't get to see much today. But I walked from the train station to her place, through a lovely residential area, of old houses over canals. I didn't realize Amsterdam is such a water place. I guess Venice must be like this. The only down point to the walk was the freezing cold. Damn was it chilly! And today was supposed to be nice... *sigh*. I had a sweater on, but I froze my ass off. Gabriele was going to give me one of her old coats 'cause she couldn't believe I was walking around with just what I had! People here are still in coats and scarves...

Anyhoo, after visiting her I took a tram to the Rijksmuseum. The most popular one in Amsterdam... and I'm sure it's lovely... if it wasn't under construction 'til 2008!! They are now reduced to 2 floors of 5 rooms each. Very poor selection. The first floor is all about the Netherlands and how cool their past is, and how they had an empire in the past. Ceramics, doll houses, silverware... The second floor has the masterpieces. Including Rembrandt's "Night Watch". It has a neat little stage, a curtain, and seats in a room all for itself.

I am starting to be quite cynical about art. How artists are exalted and specific paintings over others are popularized... it's ringing a dissonant chord within me. I'm gonna have to mull on this one.

After such a quick walk-through, I looked up for something else that would be within walking distance. The Van Gogh Museum was just across the field. Headed that way. Almost missed it. Even with my museum card I had to pay 10EUR! Again, totally worth it. They had a special exhibit that compared Rembrandt with Caravaggio. Some of the comparisons were a bit sketchy... felt pulled... but it was cool to see paintings side by side, and hear the commentaries from the included audio tour.

Then the rest of the museum was, of course, about Van Gogh. Of the 800 paintings he outputted in his short career, they have about 200. And then about half of his 1,100 drawings. And 700 of his 800 letters to his brother, which follow his thought process throughout his career.

More cynicism. I mean, if you see most of the guy's stuff, it sucks. Or, it's nothing special. It's the efforts of someone learning to do art. So why does he get to be so famous? 'Cause of how his life became public through his letters, I guess. And his contacts with other artists of his time. And how he connected it all in his head, with his writings. He has a couple of pieces that did make a difference in the art world. But you should see all the other stuff he did besides those. The stuff he's famous for seems to be just a couple of things, almost a mistake in technique, which he didn't replicate throughout his career...

What makes "good" art? Or is anything art? Is it all just about the passion? The dedication? If you declare yourself an artist, and just keep at it, no matter whether you are good or not... is that enough? If you know the critics, and get them to talk about you... is it all just about publicity? If you happen to make one revolutionary statement... does that validate your entire career?

I feel all the years I spent learning fine arts didn't really sink in. Or, rather, I learned by memory what was told to me. And promptly forgot it. But the critical analysis kinda got lost. I know I did plenty of thinking and analyzing. But I can't remember any of it now. Nor was it at a grand scale of "what *is* art?" I'm sure my teachers asked the question. Had us read articles on the subject. But I never really cared, or never really realized the impact of the question. Its implications. Its reality.

I recently finished a book, whose main character called herself an "opsimath" which means "one who begins learning late in life." I remembered my father thinking that of himself. That he matured late in life. Before his 30's it was all child's play. I am starting to think it's genetic. He was a genius. While I cannot claim such a high IQ, maybe there's still hope for me for the little things in life... :)

Ah. And the pictures. The pictures! I'm not gonna go such a big stretch again without posting. Although my hard drive is kinda running out of space... *sigh*