More than one month after my study trip I think it’s about time to tell you something about it, though I already told you about the last part of it: Keukenhof.
The trip was organised by the Institute, which was good and bad at the same time. Rhythms and timing have been quite tight, with meetings and visits all day long, but the good part is that the hotels were very nice and that we had the chance to enjoy two dinners out in fancy restaurants (at least one of them)..
We left Berlin on a Sunday morning around 9am and we spent all day on a bus, since to get to Strasbourg we made a long long tour arriving to Bavaria and then coming up again.. I think it was a matter of saving some money avoiding the French motorways, we crossed the border only at the very last moment. Anyway, around 6pm we finally got to Strasbourg and to our Hotel which was a mix between a student residence and a hotel, though the rooms were very comfortable. On Monday morning our daily planning started quite early since we had to leave at 8.45 am to go and visit the European Court of Human Rights, where we had the opportunity to talk with one of the judges (I won’t mention the names of the people we met, just the general function) which gave us a presentation on how the Court works, decides about the cases, etc… at 10.30 we were already somewhere else! The Council of Europe and an official were waiting for us! There we spent about two hours and then we had some free time to visit the city.
Obligatory destination in Strasbourg is the famous Cathedral and all the little rues around it. I had been before in Strasbourg but the Cathedral is always impressive with its dominant façade. After walking around for a while and eating the most delicious tartelette aux framboises ever, we had to go to the City Hall, where in theory we should have met the mayor of Strasbourg, who unfortunately had another meeting so he couldn’t come. There we have been offered juice, wine and something that looked and tasted very much like the Italian panettone, so don’t really think it was something typical of Strasbourg, although I didn’t ask. After that we were too full to think of food again, so we just decided to go back to our Hotel and chill out in the room.
On Tuesday the morning was free again, and I insisted with my friends to go and see La Petite France, which I hadn’t see the previous time I was there, and wow! That part of town is amazing, seriously, with all these Alsatian houses, bridges and canals!! I loved it! And there I took so many pictures, I couldn’t keep my hand away from the camera 🙂
In the afternoon we had some official visits, it was the turn of the European Parliament and the presentation by a politician, that I didn’t appreciate that much. She was a bit snappy in her answers to our questions and she looked like she was in a rush. The same evening we left for Brussels, stopping on the road for dinner.
The hotel in Brussels was in one of the worst areas of the city and from outside it looked like a crumbling building but the inside was nicer, or so we thought until we got to the lift, it was so small that to go up with the baggage we had to go one at the time and we were at the 6th floor! The lift was really claustrophobic and when we and my roommates saw it we started to worry about the room too. Arrived on top, the 6th floor was the last one, we opened the door and… the room was fantastic, with LCD and en-suite.
Our Wednesday started with the visit of the Council of the European Union, where we met a lovely Italian-British woman who explained us in an all but boring way how the Council works. At lunch I wanted to find at all costs the famous frites that I really enjoyed when I was in Belgium for my Erasmus, but apparently politicians and officials don’t eat fries, so I didn’t manage to find them! Instead I ate a tasty baguette with ham, cheese, salad and mayo… hmm, so good and very cheap! After lunch we walked around a bit in a park near the Institutions (as usual I don’t remember the name).
In the afternoon we had another meeting with a gentleman who worked in direct contact with Mr Van Rompuy and his opinions were all but objective (as you certainly can expect). He told us that everything is working fine in the EU, when is evident that nothing is working fine! But anyway, I guess it’s his job to reassure people that they are doing their job. At 4 we left the Institution district to go and see one of the things that interested me the most in all the Study trip: the International Crisis Group. Apart from the stunning view from their office with rainbow included, we also enjoyed an interesting presentation by one of their analysts. This woman was really prepared and kind to answer all our questions, and we had a lot.
The same evening we had the first dinner in a so-called Italian restaurant. Am saying so-called because as you know I am Italian and am always very skeptical about Italian food abroad, and this time I was right. The first plate was prosciutto e melone (ham and melon), with fried courgette, mushrooms, bruschetta and pizza. Now I know I might seem hypercritical but first of all among us students there are some Muslim people who don’t eat ham and ok is not the restaurant’s fault but of the teacher and organisers who have not thought of it. So since the owners were Italians I tried to tell them if they could make some plates without ham and after being very rude and making fun of the fact that these people don’t eat pork they did it. In that moment I was kind of ashamed to be Italian but let’s move on. The fried courgette was fine even though too oily, the mushrooms too salty and the bruschetta wasn’t really bruschetta!!!! The second course was even worse, with some kind of pasta, but too thick to be pasta and really really weird. I avoided to take the dessert. I was really disappointed by the whole thing… And after everyone was asking me how did I find the dinner since am Italian, and I was like “I am sorry but this is not Italian food”. After that horrible dinner we went back to the hotel to catch some good sleep and getting ready for the day after.
On Thursday the program was tight again, with us packing and leaving the hotel by 8.15. We left the baggages in the bus and went to visit the Visitors’ Centre of the European Commission where we had 3 very boring presentations by three people who work at the Commission.
For lunch we only had one hour and a half, but me and my two partners in crime, my roommates, decided to escape and go for a quick tour in the city centre, at the Grand’ Place. There I took my desired fries and my friends took a gauffre covered with chocolate and banana… After the fries I joined them and tasted a gauffre as well. All this in a rush since we had to be back at the Commission by 2pm. At 2 we were there, full and satisfied of our lunch, ready for the next meeting. There we went in the Room where the Commisson meets and negotiates issues, beautiful room indeed. They treat theirselves quite well…
After that we had a meeting at the Protestant Church in Germany (don’t ask me why we had this meeting) and I have to be honest: I felt asleep… I was so tired of meetings and people talking that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Immediately after this last meeting in Brussels we left for our next destination: The Hague. Again all the evening in a bus, stopping somewhere on the road for dinner. By the way in all these buses transfers I was sleeping so much.. 🙂
Arrived in the Hague quite late at night, around 11pm we found our hotel (Hotel La Ville) which was the best of all the three. And we hadn’t seen the room yet. My roommates have been the same all trip, two fantastic girls: Nyliufer and Aygul, my best friends here in this master. Anyway, we climbed the narrow staircase and then we went inside the room just to find out that the room was a mini-apartment with a kitchen, a couch and a TV… wow!! But the best had still to come…
The morning after, on Friday, we went downstair for breakfast (notice that I didn’t talk about the breakfasts in the other places since they were not remarkable) and we didn’t know where to look for how much stuff was there just for us: croissants, salami, bread, boiled eggs and eggs to cook with a pan ready there, cheese, fruits, yoghurt, chocolate, jam, butter, juice, milk and much more!! So delicious… I didn’t have all of course 🙂 I only eat sweet things in the morning, so ate a croissant with some chocolate, juice, and some fruits… This made our day! At 8.30 we left to go the second thing in which I was interested the most: the International Criminal Court, where we had the chance to speak and ask few (not enough in my opinion) questions to one of the Lawyers who workes in the Lubanga case (for whom doesn’t know Lubanga, he’s a warlord convicted by the ICC for using, abducting and recruiting child soldiers, topic of my thesis). This meeting was interesting and inspiring! After that we went to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court where we had a presentation (the nth one) about this organisation works, bla bla bla… We had lunch on the bus and then a quick visit to the beach of the Hague, quick for lack of time and because it was cold.
In the afternoon we assisted to part of a trial at the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia, in which the accused was defending himself without being a lawyer. Weird huh? Just after the hearing we had another meeting, but we were all so sick of hearing people talking that we didn’t listen that much.
In the evening the second official dinner in the Italian restaurant La Liguria, again! This one was perfect, from the service, to the food, to the atmosphere. Italian music in the background, Italian sympathy and real Italian food. As we got there they brought us Spritz, a cocktail made of wine, Aperol and fizzy water which usually is bitter but this one was just perfect, then they brought (real) bruschetta and some bread to spread with different kind of cheese. And then we could choose if we wanted to drink white or red wine. As usual my choice was white. Then for the main entry we could choose among three plates: lasagne, tortelloni with ricotta cheese and spinach in a Porcini mushroom sauce or linguine with prawns and asparagus and something else. I went for the second one and it was heavenly good. The dessert was not included in the dinner, so we paid it separately. I took tiramisu of course and it really tasted like the homemade one… And it was the best tiramisu ever tried in a restaurant! Almost as good as the one I prepare 🙂
After dinner we went for a walk around the city, although it was raining cats and dogs and then back to the hotel.
On Saturday morning you already know that I went to Keukenhof and after that I went for a walk in the same places of the night before, just to see them in daylight and without the rain! And the afternoon another exhausting bus trip to go back to Berlin where we arrived around 11pm…
It has been an amazing study trip, although the weather has not been that clement. We got good days only the second day in Strasbourg and the last day in The Hague… but after all, good company and wonderful cities made up for the weather.