unstructurally structural

The unstructurally structural ramblings of a South African Engineering student on exchange in Ghent, Belgium

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Welcome back!

So here I am back in Belgium sooner than I thought! Of course nothing says "Welcome back to Belgium!" like heading straight to the first party just after getting off your 20 hour flight! So my trip started off with my second stint of the famous Ardennes weekend! This time I came prepared with a Jack Parow costume for the Bal Marginaal especially for my Belgian friends. What a weekend! I definitely started this trip and the weekend on a very high note!

Just to make sure I knew I was back in Belgium, my body went on strike and confined me to the bed for a week! But I'm back up and at it - planning many crazy activities for this week! Of course you wouldn't know you're back in Belgium if it isn't cold, but I must say the weather really hasn't been that bad!

Not much news to date, but it is awesome being back!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tot wedersiens...

So this will be my last blog entry about my adventures in Gent. I am now back in South Africa and in Stellenbosch finishing my thesis.

The last few weeks in Gent were quite busy, with my parents visiting, going to Italy and Greece and partying at Gentse Feesten. Awesome memories were made and saying goodbye to my amazing friends was really tough!

Being back has been quite an adjustment. Between concentrating on academics and settling back into my “old” life I have been quite busy. It is a weird feeling to come back halfway through the year and knowing that everyone else’s lives have been going on for 6 months while yours have effectively “stood still” for the time you have been gone.

On the positive side it is awesome seeing all my friends back in Stellenbosch and catching up, eating my parents’ food and hearing my own language again. Also, nothing else really compares to the beautiful South African nature!

Today a friend of mine, who was also on exchange recently, sent me a link to the following blog entry by Chelsea Fagan. Chelsea managed to give a very accurate representation of my feelings about Gent and I think just about every exchange students’ feelings after returning home and settling back into everyday life. 

How To Miss Another City 
Stay up late one night scrolling through pictures of your time back there, looking at each one for five, ten minutes at a time, trying as hard as you possibly can to remember every last detail. Feel your whole body ache as you think of the way the food smelled in the busy streets, the way the wind blew just enough to kiss the hem of your shirt, the way the people around you seemed to fold in comfortably like a warm blanket. Remember feeling at home, even if you weren’t. 
See other people who are getting to take a trip to your beloved city, and leave a comment along the lines of “soo jealous.” Say it in that flippant, internet-y, not-actually-that-jealous way, but be profoundly envious of how lucky they are to be going. Feel briefly that they don’t appreciate getting to go to this wonderful place, that they can’t possibly know all of those tucked-away little restaurants or side streets with the beautiful painted shutters on the windows, and wish that you could make them understand how truly lucky they are. Want not so much to take the trip from them as to go along with them, to stow yourself away in a suitcase in the undercarriage of the plane and take them everywhere you fell in love with during your time there, to make them see the city through your eyes. 
Satiate yourself with reading all about your city in your spare time, searching always for new pictures and looking at old haunts on Google Street View, remembering the way the leaves shook on the trees in late September. Realize that, with less and less irony, you are starting to really consider this place Your City. On some level, you feel that you have a connection with it that you can’t fully explain, that exists in the way the soles of your shoes met the pavement on the long walks you took at night, just you and the empty alleyways. Know that it’s ridiculous to consider yourself the owner of an entity as big and as democratic as a city itself, but be nonetheless defensive — as a mother or best friend might be — when you hear anyone speak negatively of it. 
Long to be the person you were again when you were there, to walk the streets with the same confidence and eagerness, to stay out drinking wine and having good conversation, eating too much and sleeping in late. Remember the way you used to take in pleasure more viscerally, more methodically, finding it imperative that things taste good and feel good, that everything be a feast for the senses. Feel rushed where you are now, and deeply miss the time when you were so much more open to change, excited and ready to meet anything that wanted to meet you. Know that you were technically the same person when back in your city, but know also (on some deeper level) that you were a better version of it. 
Spend a lot of time — too much time — looking at tickets online to go back as soon as possible. Think constantly about all the things you could be doing, the things you are missing out on, the people who are growing and changing and having nights out without you. Feel guilty for how much you think about this other place, as though you are cheating on your current city with a beautiful former one that could never be competed with. Save up your money as much as possible, always thinking of the moment the plane will land and you will be back in the right zip code, where you can take off the tedium and discomfort of your daily life the way one might an itchy wool sweater. Long to walk those same streets again, to smell the morning air right before everyone wakes up, the one that is so crisp you feel you could break off a piece of it. Count down the days until you can really be back there. 
Know that, sooner or later, you will have to go back. Imagine the apartment you’ll have, in that perfect city square, with the wood floors and the high ceilings that you imagine will make the rest of your life so much better. Remind yourself that problems exist everywhere, even in your perfect city, but be much more ready to face them in the right geographic location. For now, though, miss your city so much it hurts — romanticize it until you see it almost entirely in warm shades of pink; think of it while lying in bed before you fall sleep; and always, always be ready to go back.
 So I have been keeping busy since I’ve been back home, but ever so often memories from Gent slip back into my mind and I catch myself feeling nostalgic and thinking about the good times, but also feeling a bit sad to have left that behind… I hope to return to Belgium soon.

So for now I will not say goodbye, but rather “until we see each other again”…

Monday, 14 May 2012


Budapest – or in the words of my homeboy, Johann - BudaBEST!

Last week two of my fellow South Africans and I took a trip to Budapest, Hungary to experience some of Eastern Europe. What an awesome experience! I think the reason I enjoyed it so much is because I didn’t have any expectation of how it was going to be. Also it didn’t feel like I was spending too much money cause they don’t try to rob you and take advantage of you being a tourist around every corner! One Hungarian Forinte is roughly about 30 ZAR cent – not bad – and many things are somewhat cheaper than in South Africa which was really nice! With vibes and the weather close to that of Cape Town we immediately fell in love with this stunning and charming city. Plus it was pretty awesome being able to speak Afrikaans all day with each other! This trip was already off to a good start!

We arrived there on Wednesday night. Our first little problem stuck its head out when we couldn’t pay in Euro for a Metro ticket making us run around trying to find an ATM to get some local currency. Luckily we sorted that one out fairly quickly! Then the train arrived – I think our faces said it all – these trains could even make the “nice” South African trains look like luxury. Nevertheless we stuck close to each other and it wasn’t long before we realised we had nothing to worry about. After arriving at the hostel we got dressed and headed out to the highly recommended bar, Szimpla, which was just around the corner from our hostel. There we had a little run in with the Hungarian alcohol – no, we didn’t drink too much – but it had a funny effect on us making our hearts beat really fast and causing our ears to close up, not to mention the MASSIVE headaches we had the next morning! Luckily it didn’t turn out too bad and we got home pretty quickly and safely.

The next day we set out for a tour of all the awesome sites. We walked all around Pest before crossing the bridge to Buda. There we climbed the Citadelle hill to have an amazing view of the Danube river and Pest. Another highlight was climbing the stairs of the Basilica to have a panoramic view of the whole city. That night we arrived at the hostel with sore feet! After going for a drink and some shisha at Szimpla I headed back to the hostel (my feet were killing me) while my homepeeps headed to some other bars.

On Friday we were smarter and hired some bikes to explore the city. I must admit it was one of our better ideas of the trip. We set out riding the bikes and exploring the city. We had a picnic on Margit Island in the park, which was really awesome. The island is situated in the Danube between Buda and Pest and can be reached by crossing a bridge. We also went to the city park which was just as awesome and really HUGE. At night we had our own little pre-party in the hostel living room before setting out to a famous club named Instant which is a really interesting place. There we tried some of the local Hungarian liquor called Palinka, which is a lot like Witblits with different flavours. After this we accidentally found the Hungarian Moulin Rouge, but since entrance wasn’t that cheap we skipped going in. Our final stop of the night was Doboz which Johann and Stephanie found by accident the night before. We set out looking for this club as they couldn’t remember where it was or what it was called and once again we stumbled upon it by accident. There we had another epic time with some entertainment provided by a couple that couldn’t seem to find a private room!

On Saturday morning Stephanie and I left Johann behind and went to the Szechenyi Bath and Spa to soak up some sun in the water! This was definitely also one of the biggest highlights of my time in Budapest. At 13h00 we started our journey to the airport and headed back to Gent tired but sad to leave.

All in all I would say this was one of the more successful and fun trips during my time in Europe. Plus we found the Father City to South Africa’s Mother City which is a huge compliment to Budapest since Cape Town is legendary!

Below is a video made by homeboy Johann of our time in Budapest, enjoy J

Monday, 30 April 2012

Pain(t)balls and bike falls

Yoyo People of the Palace! So my days since Easter have been quite uneventful, thus no reporting back for a while! However, I come bearing news – not very much though!

So last week we went to play paintball at Paintball Gent. Nice place… until you get hit by the first burning paintball! To make matters worse, my South African ally, Johann, was on the enemy team and shot me on the ass. I now have a nice purple bruise right there to remind me of his betrayal. Even though it was painful, I enjoyed running around like a crazed soldier and slipping on paintballs! I would’ve loved to test my barrel roll and diving skills, but unfortunately my left knee was not cooperating. See, what happened was that I wiped out again on my bike while heading to catch the bus for paintball. This fall was not as mild as the previous one and my knee and ankle is still blue and uncooperative!

So since I have no real interesting news, here’s a video that gives you a 5 minute tour of Ghent. It’s really awesome! (Kudos to Julianne for sharing it on her blog)

On the agenda for the next few weeks: Beerbowling, Lieven’s choir concert, Budapest, Dinner at Lieven’s house and, of course, THESIS – DUM DUM DUUUUUUM! Peace J

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Easter break in Germany

As part of my Easter vacation I spent 8 days in Germany. I went to Munich, Berlin and Potsdam, which is a city close to Berlin. I had an awesome experience, mostly travelling on my own, meeting up with friends and meeting new people!

So at first I started my journey on a low-cost airline and before I knew it I was landing at Memmingem airport. What I didn’t know however, was that the bus trip to Munich was going to take an hour and a half. Not the end of the world though and when I arrived in Munich my South African friend, Nico, was there to meet me! We had an awesome time together exploring Munich and on the second night we went on a Beer Challenge/Pub Crawl organised by New Europe. We visited Augustiner Brauhaus, as well as the Hofbrauhaus. This was an awesome experience. What makes Munich and the rest of Bavaria awesome is that the people there are still quite traditional and it’s not weird for them going out in their traditional lederhosen. That was really really awesome as we saw some well-dressed gentleman and ladies! The biggest party happened in the Euro Youth Hostel Pub, where the Beer Challenge ended. This was also the hostel we were staying in. The next morning I had to get up early to catch the bus to Berlin, while Nico was heading to Dubai to visit friends.

So after an eight and a half hour bus ride I arrived in Berlin. Eight and a half hours on a bus was at least not as bad as I expected and I got to see more of Germany, even though it meant just passing through. So arrived in Berlin all alone, but luckily the hostel I was staying in was really easy to find. There I met one of my dorm-mates, Ahmed from Egypt. The next day the two of us went on a free city tour, but halfway through we were so cold we returned to the hostel. I then decided to go find a shopping centre, not that I had any money to spend, but at least it was warm! Then it randomly started to snow! On Saturday night an American guy, Drew, arrived in our dorm, so Sunday the two of us went exploring once again. With no trace of the previous day’s snow and the sun shining we walked and walked and walked and saw everything awesome, returning to the hostel with sore feet. I would highly recommend a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Site and the museum under it to anyone visiting Berlin! That was definitely a the biggest highlight of all the sites I saw and very moving. By the time we got back to the hostel another Egyptian, Sherif, had arrived. He is a friend of Ahmed’s and, of course, in true Egyptian style we found a shisha bar (hubbly for the South Africans, or hookah for anyone else) and each smoked a pipe. They taught me how to blow smoke rings and shared all their shisha secrets, so I’m a pro now! Dan, my friend from New Zealand, arrived on Monday and on Monday night we went to the shisha bar again.

So then on Tuesday morning I bid Berlin, and my new-found friends, goodbye and went to visit Julianne in her hometown of Potsdam. We spent the day exploring the streets and sights of Potsdam and later the day Dan also joined us. The night we went to dinner with Julianne’s German friends and also celebrated one of her friends’ birthday with her. Wednesday led to more exploring and doing random things like taking silly pictures and falling of random turning chairs in parks (right Julianne?). We ended the day playing Rock Band on Wii and having dinner with her mom and brother. Potsdam was definitely my favourite city on the trip and I would recommend a visit to it if any of you ever end up in Germany!

Thursday morning we woke up at 4:10 to catch our plane back to Belgium. Since we were so tired we didn’t pay much attention to the trains when we arrived in Brussels and ended up taking the train that takes almost 2 hours to get to Gent since it stops about 15 times! Finally we made it home and it was good to be back in Gent!

So last night I attended the birthday of the Parochiaal Centrum PAX in Aalter where Lieven lives. Had good food, met the parents (and the rest of Aalter) and had a good laugh at Lieven on a video they made for the birthday of the centre. Just a shame my camera's battery was dead, otherwise I could've had some incriminating evidence! All in all I would say I had a pretty awesome Easter break. Plus it’s awesome to have proper frietjes (Belgian fries) after a 40 day Lent fasting!

Back for more!

Hello peeps! So it’s been a while since I wrote anything here – sorry, my bad! It’s been quite a busy month for me and since the sun was shining most of the time, I preferred being outside rather than inside.

So since the last time I wrote many things have happened! First there was the weekend in the Ardennes (which is the Belgian “mountains”), then there was a lot of social time which included enjoying the spring sun on the Graslei with friends, eating ice cream and, of course, hanging out in Porter House (the Irish Pub where the exchange students meet on Wednesdays).

So spring has finally (and briefly) arrived in Gent. I was sick in bed for most of the first few sunny days, but it wasn’t long before I was up and whizzing around on my bike enjoying the sun. The students like to spend their lunch time on the Graslei enjoying their lunch and a beer. Of course everyone went crazy when they saw the sun, so the Graslei was super busy, but the atmosphere was amazing and it made for an awesome lunch time!

So then we went to the Ardennes. Basically what this entails is assembling 70 exchange students, getting on a bus, driving about 3 hours to the other side of Belgium (in the South) and having a massive house party every night with unlimited beer on tap! This was no doubt one of the most fun weekends I’ve had the pleasure of attending. So after arriving in Arbrefontein, which is a really small town, we had dinner prepared by the owner of Porter House, after which we had a music quiz type activity with the girls against the boys. Of course the girls won – probably due to their amazing dancing skills ;) After this the house party continued until the next morning. Everyone slept till the afternoon and then we went for a “hike” in the mountains (which is basically just very high hills). Then came the much awaited “Bal Marginaal” where everyone was supposed to dress as silly as possible. After which another huge party followed. It is probably unnecessary to mention that most people were either still drunk by the time we got on the bus, or very hung over. It was quite a funny experience for me! We then drove to Dinant to see the famous Citadell Castle. Some of us were brave enough to climb the more or less 250 steps to the top while others opted to take the cable car.

A few Sundays ago we went to Leuven, which is a university town in Belgium kind of like Stellenbosch (probably just less awesome). Another Stellenbosch student, Stephanie, is studying there and she spent a night or two with us in Gent, before we went to Leuven to see where she lives. The weather was great and we had a drink on the Oudemarkt square, where many other people also came to enjoy the sun. After this we played some Rummikub in a little pub/coffee shop close by. Once again the town’s atmosphere was amazing, even though most places were closed since it was Sunday.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

I'm still (barely) alive!

So it’s been a while since I wrote anything here… between being really busy and really sick I sort of haven’t had much time to think about blogging! However, I have returned to bring you yet another post about my travels in Europe!

So my “busy period” basically started out by going to Knokke with my good friend, Lisa, and her mom. Knokke is at the Belgian seaside. I would not call it surfers’ paradise, since the waves are really really small, but I can see how one can have a nice time there in summer! We borrowed some bicycles and had a nice cycle on the boulevard which runs along the seaside. I was then also invited to a family dinner at Lisa’s house, with her parents, sister and good friends of theirs. The food was amazing! I must say it made me miss my own parents’ cooking! I was so full after that I had a struggle getting up the stairs at home!

Lisa and me at the seaside

The week after that was pretty straight forward – basically doing some thesis work and spending some time sick in bed… not so nice. I also had a short stint on the campus radio station, Urgent.fm, talking about my experience in Ghent so far. When asked what I missed most about my country my answer, of course, was the SUN! Also rented a bicycle for the rest of my time here so I can set to work on those sexy legs I have always wanted ;) and dominated the ESN quiz night (most probably thanks to all the practice at the Aandklas quiz nights - man, I miss those!).

Then came the big trip! Paris! Setting out at 6 AM on a Saturday morning after having a bit of a party the night before was not one of the easiest things any of us had to do, but at least the bus ride was a few hours long so we got some sleep! After finally arriving in Paris, having some lunch and checking in at the hostel we got on the metro to meet our guides for the city tour. More than once I wondered what it must’ve looked like when sixty random people are catching the same train and at every stop someone yells out for them to either stay on the train or get off. I have lots of respect for the ESN members accompanying us, as what seemed to be young, grown-up adults, turned out to be dependant 21 year olds acting like they were on a school trip! Thanks to the ESN members for remaining patient and helpful. I, however, cannot say the same about myself. After that there was a LOT of walking and walking and walking and then a little more walking. We got to see a lot of nice sights though and our guide, Adam, whom I will forgive for being half American, was awesome and also very patient. For me the highlight of the city tour was definitely the Arc de Triomphe! After that we set out exploring Paris by ourselves and ended up having some Chinese food for dinner, then a quick visit to the Moulin Rouge and finally back to the hostel for some games and then bed! On Sunday morning sickness started to claim my body and my mind! Not so cool! It was however an enjoyable day that ended in lunch at a charming little cafĂ© and a purchase of Vogue Paris J

Since Monday I have been sick in bed with the nastiest cold I’ve had in a long time. After two visits to the doctor they finally decided that antibiotics will have to save the day – and we’re getting there slowly but surely. Today was also one of the first days we had the nicest weather and Vicky and I enjoyed a sit in the garden in the afternoon – one of the perks of living in a house with a family!