Well Friday was the two week mark…although it feels like I’ve been here forever. Thursday I took the train for the first time in my life, and I did it with no one’s help. Had a mini panic attack because I was trying to get my ticket from a machine and it wouldn’t accept my cards and then by the time I found the actual people-manned counter it was 5mn past my train’s departure… Lucky for me I looked up at the schedule and my train said +0h11, which means it was there 11 extra minutes, allowing me to get on it a minute before it left the station. (And coming back I missed the first train because the guy wouldn’t let me on, and then I had to wait 40mn in the cold and rain, the station I was at was outdoor, for the next one I could take back to Namur. Horrible first experiences but the train is easy and convenient.) I was going to Brussels for our huge first meeting in Brussels. By huge, it’s all 3 Belgian districts, 230+ students. And that’s just Rotary students. I was meeting up with a friend early to have breakfast in the Grand Place before we had to meet everyone else. A 8am, there was really no one there. It was great to take pictures without a million tourists in the way. I actually got to get up close and see Mannekin Pis. For the meeting we got to go inside the Royal Palace, eat lunch in the Grand Place at Le Roy Espagna ( I think that was the name), and go inside Parliament, along with presenting our sponsor club banners to Francoise Schepmans, vice president of the Chamber of Representatives of Belgian Parliament. Aurora Sunrise you are proudly displayed in Belgium! Brussels is such a beautiful city. Heck, ALL of Belgium is gorgeous. Yeah yeah so it’s mainly farms, fields, open space, industry, and a handful of “big” cities…but it’s beautiful. Every single part of it. And I think when you can love even the parts the Belgians make fun of (Liege), then you truly love a place. You appreciate it for everything it is. Then Friday I got to see the citadel and Chateau de Namur (where my rotary club’s meetings are held). Yes, chateau is French for castle. That’s right, you heard me, I ATTEND ROTARY MEETINGS IN A CASTLE. I love you Aurora Sunrise, but I think Namur Val Mosan has you beat on a venue. The view from the top of that hill is just spectacular. I could stay up there all day. Oh and I also saw Marche les Dames, where King Albert I was mountain climbing when he took a fatal fall. There is an “A” made of bushes and a stone cross marking where his body was found, along with a little dedication about 10 feet further down the road. It’s not a very tourist spot, not many people know it even exists. But it does. Then yesterday was one of my best days so far. I was taken by my host parents to the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial outside Liege and then to Bastogne (aka Battle of the Bulge). Both were beyond beautiful and extremely sobering, even for my parents who aren’t American. Both places are dedicated to the eternal friendship between the American and Belgian peoples. I cried in both places. That cemetery, I can’t even put into words how it feels to be there, to walk in between those stone crosses and stars of David, to read the names, and just feel this overwhelming wave of emotion overcome you. Seeing all the crosses that read “A fallen comrade in arms known only to God”… broke my heart and still does. No one with the bravery to do what these men did, selflessly sacrifice to save others, deserves to die and be unknown forever. Same with all the names of the missings-they don’t know what happened to them or which one of the unknowns buried there they are. To me, it’s one of the most unjust things. The families never receive assurance and closure, the soldier at rest never is recognized by name for his deeds. But maybe that’s why they care to keep those places so beautiful and respectful-so regardless of whether they know who is who, they are still remembered, appreciated, and loved. And they have this program where every year they have people here “adopt” the soldiers so for a ceremony they do, everyone has someone so they and their sacrifices are never forgotten. The pure love and gratitude shown for what the Americans did for Belgium is amazing. And I will bet you 99.9% of Americans have no idea what we did over here to save them and keep them free, and how thankful they are to us. In school you never go in depth. You talk about the major battles, who won, and the Holocaust and when the war ended. The Holocaust, while I appreciate learning about it so much, does overshadow many of the important events of the war that people need to know. That’s one of my future goals as a history teacher. Well and this is just the cemetery. The war museum and monument is Bastogne is incredible too. The monument is shaped like a giant, 5-point star with all the states, and divisions of the army, air force, etc that aided during the battle. And on the inside there are two giants slabs per point that go from 1 to 10 and tell the story of the battle. You’re also able to climb to the top of the monument and see the surrounding countryside where all the fighting was taking place. The museum is also incredible. You have a set of headphones because there are four voices, real people from that time, who tell you their stories and guide you through the battle and the war. A young boy, a school teacher, an American soldier, and a German soldier. So there’s the traditional reading portions and artifacts, small interview and movie clips, the listenings from the guides, and 3 films. I was there for a little over 4 hours. Yes it takes a while to get through but it is soooooo worth it. And at the end you find out the fate of each person. Their paths keep winding towards each other and finally all four do end up intertwining. The way this was assembled is wonderful and it makes you want to learn and you really care about everything because not only are you getting the history accounts every gets but you’re getting first hand accounts of how it felt to be Belgian, American, and German and you got to understand the different perspectives of each person in the war. Every German was not in on Hitler’s ultimate plan and the Holocaust, that was a select handful of unbelievably twisted individuals-some were just fighting to defend and help their country because that’s what they believed was right at the time. All the preconceptions and ideas that are commonly had about the war aren’t really all that true. History books are biased to the country they’re written for. You have to learn through the perspectives of many to get the full 360 view and comprehension on a subject. Back to how beautiful this country is…the southern landscape is one of my favorite things here now. I had a realization last night in the car that I can’t live the rest of my life without coming back at some point in time. There’s no way I can live in the states forever, no way I can never go out and see more of the world, no way I will ever be able to stop traveling. Now that I’ve gotten a taste, it’s in me for good. I am American, but I don’t belong to America…I belong to the world because that’s where I want to be-out in all corners of the earth discovering new things and exploring and living life at the end of my comfort zone the way it’s supposed to be. Looking at pictures, reading books, and watching videos is never going to satisfy this craving. Life is too short to not try new things and go everywhere. That’s all I’ve been doing since I got here…is trying new things. I had salmon the other night-that makes 4 kinds of fish I’ve tried here already. And lamb…and shrimp…and some vegetables…and it’s crazy. I also had my first Liege waffle and fries this week too. Both so amazing. And I had a cheeseburger Belgian style…not going there again, I can wait til I get back to have burger the way I prefer it. And omg, the 14th I’m going to Pairi Daiza-it’s this MASSIVE garden and animal park (I think like 44+acres). It has an amazing assortment of animals (look it up it’s so incredible). So Randy if you’re reading this, I am staying animal minded! I’m working on planning a time to go visit some animal parks in Antwerp too. 😀 And Mr. Pierski and all my other history teachers, I’m staying history-minded too. And then obviously language since I’m speaking and hearing French all day every day, and taking three languages in school. I must be crazy, but then again, all exchange students are.