I returned yesterday from a week long trip to Lueven, Belgium. I was a little nervous about it since I didn't really know anyone going on this trip (a few of the boys had been in classes with me, but they were just acquaintances). We had an absolutely fantastic time! There were 6 of us (all M.A. students) taking it for our Research Skills credit and 5 more Ph.D. or beyond just along for the ride, plus 6 professors. The first day we went to the Belgian Archives and took a walking tour of Leuven. They had said it would be a small town, but I think their version of small and my version of small are two different things. It was probably the size of Galway - maybe a little bigger. We also discovered that Belgian beer is very good.
While walking around, we found that Leuven also has a spire...only there's has a fly on the end of it...
The second day we went to Aachen, Germany, to visit Charlemagne's Cathedral. We had lectures each morning so we didn't get to Aachen until about 1:00 and had our tour at 2:00. We ended up leaving right after the tour at around 5:00 so we didn't have much free time. Probably my only complaint of the whole trip would be that we didn't get all that much free time in our field trip cities. We did get sausages in the market square so that gave us time to explore for our hour of free time at least. The tour was really nice and the guide was very knowledgeable. I think he was pretty excited to get a tour group who was actually interested in all of the historical stuff he had to say! We saw Charlemagne's first coffin, his throne (basically 4 marble slabs put together into a chair - it was for church so he wanted to appear the humble king), and his final coffin (although it only contains 90-some of his bones).
The next day we went to Antwerp and the "big kids" went to Bruges. We went to the print museum in Antwerp, which was absolutely fabulous. Really, I suppose anything that puts me among lots and lots of books I think is amazing, but the museum really was cool. Again, we didn't have a lot of free time, but we did have enough to discover a chocolate drink shop. It was absolutely amazing! After we hyped ourselves up on chocolate, we made our way back to the train station, had the stereotypical running through a European train station to catch our train, and "missed it by that much." We then ran into the professors who had also missed the train so we all ended up taking the next train back together. We then had a group dinner ouy minus the PhD students who weren't back from Bruges yet.
Thursday, we went in to Brussels to tour the EU Parliament building. I wasn't sure how interesting it would be because A) my interests lie in the 400s - slightly before the creation of the EU and B) I'm an American citizen and don't have much to do with the EU (although someone did seriously ask me last year if America was part of the EU *facepalm*) The tour was actually really interesting and now I feel like I need to go to DC and see the American Capitol as well! Again, we didn't have much free time since we got done with lunch around 2:00 and had to be back in Leuven by 5:00 so we went to the Comic Book Museum (Mike and Josh - I would have gotten you Smurfs things, but everything was in French!), then walked around the area by the train station for a bit. We missed the first train we intended to catch back so we thought no problem, there's another in 10 minutes we'll take that. Evidently the one we missed was the express that took 20 minutes and the one we got took 40. We got back to Leuven at a quarter to 5:00 and raced back to the college. Fortunately, the reception at 5:00 was an Irish 5:00 and we had time to relax before the ambassador got there. The reception was for a talk from the Irish Ambassador to the EU, which was extremely interesting. Usually, I don't get into politics much, but she was a very good speaker and really explained a lot of how the EU works.
Friday morning, everybody else left for home and I went to the Henri-Chapelle American Military Cemetery. My Granny's brother, James Carlton, is buried there so I went to go see his grave. I'm pretty sure I'm the first relative who has been there since my Granddad visited on his way home from the war. It really was a very moving experience. The impact of how many men died doesn't really hit you until you're standing, looking out over 8,000 graves and knowing that there are at least 3 more cemeteries in the area that look the same. Caroline, my contact person for this trip, took me out to his grave, rubbed sand from the Normandy beaches into the grooves so that everything would show up in the picture, and placed Belgian and American flags in front of the grave. She gave me all kinds of information about where James was killed, the date he died, and gave me forms for finding out more information about his time in the army. She also asked for any information we had on him to be sent to her as they are trying to collect as much information about each soldier before they are forgotten. There are 8,000 men buried in the cemetery and they only have 500 pictures so far so if you know anyone buried in Henri-Chapelle (or any other foreign military cemetery for that matter), please pass on any information you have!