Brussels. Now Croatia.

Today I arrived in Pula, Croatia. This past week was spent in Brussels, where I was on the EU Centers of Excellence study abroad program.

The program was great. It was organized by the EU Centers at several universities (Pitt, UW, Berkeley, UNC), so there were a few students from each of those schools. The EU Centers also invited high school teachers from their local area who teach European history. It was a really good crowd and a lot of fun to hang out with the peoples. They put us up all in the same hotel, which further facilitated our having fun.

Last Monday started off with a trip to the European Commission Headquarters, where we sat through a couple hours of briefings on what the EU is, etc. It wasn’t super super exciting. Just a lot of EU stuff. lunch was at this way fancy restaurant (paid for by the Centers, thankfully). After several courses of appetizers, we all thought the meal was finished. Then the waiters brought out huge shanks of lamb. So good. After lunch we hit up the American Mission to the EU (it’s an embassy mission, but to the EU as opposed to a single country). There we received a shockingly dull briefing by a shockingly pompous low ranking staffer.

Tuesday was a visit to the Council of the European Union, where we learned that every single piece of legislation or decree or official anything-that-affects-member-states produced by the EU must be translated into each official language of the EU. There are 23 official languages of the EU. There is a body of about 190,000 legal documents. Every document must be translated into the language of a country and implemented in that country as part of the accession process. So, yeah, the EU has a lot of legal translators. After that stopped by the official propaganda office of the EU. And by that I mean the official information office, where you can get any EU book or map or poster or DVD for free, in any language, and in any quantity. So if you ever need 100 EU coloring books, just stop by there. Then was a trip to the EU External Action Service, which is a new organization that interfaces with the world about important things. Seeing as they’re new and nobody really knows what they do, I feel content to leave the description brief.

On Wednesday we visited the European Parliament. It was cool. And huge. Then Taylor and I met up with Pavel, a friend of her family’s, for lunch in Parliament. He works at the EU Parliament. Seeing as he speaks 13 languages, you think he’d be a translator, and you’d be close. He used to be a translator. Now he does public relations/tours stuff. Cool guy. We told him about our upcoming research project in Bosnia and he said he knew some people he could put us in touch with that work on EU-Bosnia policy. Sweet. Then we visited the EU Parliament’s visitors center. Pretty high tech and cool exhibits, but you definitely get a lot of Orwellian feelings at that place.

Thursday was the last official day of the program. We visited NATO headquarters in the morning, which was really cool. The NATO place. The two people who gave us briefings were American. And they both speak Russian. Also, one of the teachers on our program worked at the Moscow embassy for five years and also speaks Russian. And one of the administrators of our program is Russian. Lots of Russian speakers. Taylor and I then skipped the afternoon part of the program–a visit to the think tank Breugel–because we had an interview set up with a guy from Parliament’s delegation to the Balkans. Pavel came through! So we met with the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen (yeah, actually, he really was. Ask Taylor, even.), Sascha from Serbia, and talked Bosnia in the EU coffee shop. It was a good time. After that, we hit the town with our friends. Really, a great group of kids from all over the country. We found the most incredible local Belgian food place that served what I consider one of the absolutely most delicious meals I have ever had in my life.

That’s kind of how the program was — do EU meetings all day, then hit the town with the other kids (well, I mean, we’re not actually kids, but whatever). Super fun. However dry the speakers were and however hard it was to stay focused during briefings all day was more than made up for by the time spent with the others exploring Brussels in the evenings.

But Brussels itself is not my favorite place. It’s actually quite low on the list. Maybe even in my top 10 least favorite cities on earth. Only slightly better than NYC (worst city on earth?). Dirty. Horrible urban planning, which is the result of the EU purchasing property through land speculation. Litter everywhere. Construction everywhere else. Expensive. Boring. Snobby (how do you get off being snobby when your city is a dump? Mystery.). Maybe I just need to give the city more than one week. But still… I dunno.

So Taylor and I left Brussels. Now we’re at a hostel in Pula. As it turns out, Croatia is the coolest place on earth. And the hottest, because it was 33 celcius (over 91 farenheit) today. But so so so beautiful. Photos and more to come shortly.

Now I gotta end this post, as it is way too long.

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Some words, some photos.

Here are some photos!

A scattering of a few photos from Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Berlin. More to come.

Austria is incredible. All these former imperial capitals are amazingly beautiful, and Vienna is no exception. I’m by no means a fan of imperialism, but I tell you, they really knew what was up in the luxury department. Every building on every street is detailed in every way.

I’ll get more photos up soon. And more words up soon.

Me and Amsterdam. Or a spaceship.

Me and Amsterdam. Or a spaceship.

Charming Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is charming.

Copenhagen is full of amazing palaces. Like this one.
Copenhagen is full of amazing palaces. Like this one.Copenhagen. This is where the Crown Jewels of Denmark are kept.

This is where the crown jewels of Denmark are kept.

Helsinki

Helsinki. Finland also has the best yogurt on earth. And chocolate.

Inner wall and tower of the Berlin Wall.
Inner wall and tower of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie.
Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie.

Austria

Made it to Austria — a 9 hour train ride from Berlin. Made friends with a cool German guy who works in the Vienna Greenpeace office.

More about Germany to come. More about Austria to come. And photos to come. In short, the future is ahead of us. Or, as some classical Greek philosophers might suggest, the Future comes at us from behind, with our backs turned to it, and spreads out before us as the Past. I like that.

ich bin ein berliner

I just finished eating a Boston Creme donut from Dunkin Donuts. Yeah, they have those here. Who would’ve thought?

Today we went to a really high brow reception at the American Academy in Berlin. There was a really fancy two course dinner followed by a really fancy speech by the Polish ambassador followed by a really fancy dessert-and-hobnobbing time. It was all pretty dull. Lots of rich people. But it was cool to be there. The American Academy has an incredible property that sits right on the Wannsee. It was at this lake, not too far from where we were, that Hitler and his cadre settled on the Final Solution. Then during the East/West Germany years, the Wannsee was sort of like the West Berliners’ vacation spot.

Interesting day, for sure. Now I have to figure out how to recover my email account that was apparently hacked. Great.

Berlin is a fascinating city. I mean, they really did just build a wall. And that was that.

just traveling

London – Amsterdam – Copenhagen – Stockholm – Helsinki – Turku – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Berlin.

That’s a short description of the past two weeks. Just got to Berlin from Finland, where we spent a few days with Lari Koivisto and his fiancee. It was great seeing him again, and also great to lighten my pack. You see, I’d been carrying a wedding present all the way from the states… six cans of root beer, six bottles of root beer, and two big glass mugs. A heavy but well-received present.

Finland was great. The sauna was, of course, as good as they say. But perhaps the best kept secret is that Finland makes the BEST yogurt. I always tried to get Valio yogurt in Russia, no matter the price. And I’m happy to say that Valio yogurt is still the absolute best yogurt in the world. And Fazer chocolate. And pretty much all the licorice in Finland.

And now I’m in Deutschland. It’s fun finally getting to come here. And it’s also fun being able to understand a lot of the language. I have a pretty decent passive vocabulary of German — the result of six years of study. Unfortunately, it remains just that: passive. I can’t really speak right now, but it wouldn’t be overly difficult to get to that point. A guy just needs some time, you know?

I picked up a couple of really great vintage ties for 50 cents each at a thrift store. Rad. Also, the apartment we’re staying at is in what used to be East Berlin. As in East Germany. Back in The Day. Also rad. Sometimes I can’t believe how crazy this world is and how crazy it used to be.

And I’m reading this great book Taylor got me called “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair.” It is blowing my mind not just figuratively, but in all the other adverb ways as well.

Now I’m babbling, so I’ll stop.

Suomi. And ferries.

Well. I’m in Finland now. We trained from Copenhagen to Stockholm with no problems. The plan was to catch a ferry from Stockholm to Turku, Finland. So we quickly made our way across Stockholm to the ferry offices to get reservations for the night’s ferry. But of course that ferry doesn’t run anymore in the evenings. We tried to get onto the ferry to Helsinki, but no luck. It was sold out.

We decided to try our luck at a different ferry company that had a ferry for Helsinki leaving that afternoon. By this time it was about 3:40, and the ferry was leaving 4:45 from a port on the other side of the city. We ran like crazy, took the metro back across the city, hopped on a bus, and crossed our fingers that this ferry wasn’t sold out.

And it wasn’t. And we got tickets 10 minutes before the ferry left. Close call.

But hey, now we’re in Finland. We met up with Lari Koivisto, my former mission companion, in Helsinki, then took the train to Turku. We gonna hit up the sauna and eat so much licorice, you won’t even believe it. And as soon as I get a cable to hook up the camera to my computer, there gonna be so much pictures.

 

Back in business. Back in busyness.

Okay. I’m getting this blog back up and running.

Here’s the short. The short of the short.

I’m in Copenhagen right now. Flew into London a week ago. Night bus to the Netherlands. Three days in Amsterdam. Train to Denmark. Now Copenhagen.

And I love it.
And I will write more about my travels–and post photos–in the near future.

Dig.