It’s a Fairytale Town, Isn’t It?

Cyndi and I got a late start, but eventually set out for Bruges. We caught the metro to Central Station and picked up a waffle before we hopped on the train. The waffles in Belgium deserve their reputation. Just a plain hot waffle from a subway vendor is better than any waffles I’ve ever had anywhere else!

It was an hour-long ride to Bruges from Brussels. When we arrived at the train station, we started walking towards the town. Cyndi and Gil had done a walking tour when they were there which came in very handy since she remembered a lot of trivia and had dropped pins on her map for some of the most interesting sites. It was very close to lunchtime so we found a cafe first and ate lunch while we planned our itinerary for the day. The first stop was the Frites Museum. The best part of the Frites Museum was the fun facts!

IMG_9725

Hussy potatoes!

We enjoyed learning more about potatoes.

IMG_9879

My first job was working at Hardee’s so I guess this was a bit like riding a bike?

And of course the instagrammable photo ops!

IMG_9732

We love frites!

The next stop we made was the Choco Story Museum, a museum dedicated to chocolate!

IMG_9737_Facetune_22-11-2017-15-18-25

Tasting what chocolate was like before anyone thought to add the good stuff, like sugar. 

There were lots of interesting facts.

IMG_9742

Oh England!

And of course photo opportunities…

IMG_9738_Facetune_22-11-2017-15-18-04

Conquistadors encountering chocolate don’t look as excited as I would have been.

When we left there, Cyndi showed me a lot of placed from In Bruges she had learned about on her first trip.

Processed with MOLDIV

Movie sites and other places of interest

On the way we decided to stop for a drink, because it is important to stay hydrated.

Processed with MOLDIV

We stopped at Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest continuously operating pub in existence. I had a hot chocolate with rum. I can see why their business model has stood the test of time.

Eventually we walked to the windmills that sat by the canals.

IMG_9815_Facetune_22-11-2017-17-35-18

We arrived just in time to see the drawbridge open

From there we walked back to the city center to do a little souvenir shopping before heading home.

Processed with MOLDIV

Doors of Bruges

Since our trip to Ghent had been cut short and we didn’t visit any candy shops there, we were really excited to find that they had the famous Ghent candy, little noses in Bruges!

IMG_9844

A super helpful Belgian woman explained to me that these were the best candies in the world. I tried them and I can verify that she was absolutely right.

We bought a few more trinkets and then walked back to the train station. We got a little turned around and ended up taking the long way, which worked out very well when we accidentally found ourselves in a street art tunnel that led to the train station.

Processed with MOLDIV

Streetart in Bruges

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?” – Harry, In Bruges

Posted in Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Wouldn’t Love a Pot of Cheese

It was another rainy day in Brussels and Cyndi and I planned to see a few local sights. We bundled up and took the bus to the Cora (it’s like the local Walmart).

IMG_9561_Facetune_21-11-2017-11-22-28

Riding the bus to the Cora

It was a short ride and a long walk and then we wandered up and down the aisles looking for christmas lights and license plate holders. They had everything we needed and Cyndi picked up a few more bags of sausages while we were there. We walked back to the bus and then rode to the stop for the Aldi and picked up some schnitzel for dinner.

IMG_9569.JPG

I really, really wanted Cyndi to make chicken donuts but she wouldn’t go for it!

The rain had let up so we walked home from there. After we unpacked the groceries, we walked to The Open for lunch.

IMG_9575

The cutest restaurant I have ever seen. And that was BEFORE they brought out my pot of melted cheese.

The Open is a local French bistro, about a block from Cyndi’s house. Cyndi suggested we visit since they had the best fondue in town. It was essentially a giant pot of melted racklette cheese with small potatoes in the bottom of the pot. It came with a salad and a trio of meats.

IMG_9583

I would have licked the bowl but there were people in there…

From there we walked to the Arc de Triomphe which is literally two blocks from Cyndi’s apartment.

IMG_9586

There is a lovely view of the Arc from the balcony in my room.

Access to the top of the Arc is through the Military History Museum, so we bought a ticket and went up to the top.

IMG_9674

Looking at the city from the top of the Arc!

The views of the city were amazing! Since our ticket was good for the museum as well, we went down and walked through that as well.

Processed with MOLDIV

Made a few friends while we were there…

The air wing was our favorite part.

IMG_9622

Lots of aircraft in the airwing

Across the parking lot from the military museum is Auto World so of course I wanted to see that!

IMG_9633.JPG

Just missed the American Dream Cars

Sadly the American Dream Cars show doesn’t open until December 15th, long after I leave. But the rest of the cars were pretty amazing.

Processed with MOLDIV

A few of our favorite cars

We walked home from there, it was only two blocks. Cyndi made schnitzel and when Gil got home we had dinner and a movie. It had been a long day so we turned in early so we’d be well rested for our trip to Bruges!

Posted in Getting Around, Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rainy Day in Ghent

Cyndi and I decided to spend the day in Ghent. It was cold and rainy so we bundled up and grabbed some umbrellas and took off. We took the Metro to the train station and arrived early enough to get a hot waffle and a cappuccino before our train arrived. We watched him make our waffles and the sugar was carmalized and formed a crunchy shell.

IMG_9350.jpg

Tastes like heaven

It was a quick 30 minute train ride from Brussels to Ghent and when we arrived we decided to walk to the old city from the train station. We walked along the canal and admired the houses.

IMG_9360

Fancy houseboat on the canal in Ghent

First up on our agenda was a visit to Gravensteen Castle. It was originally built in 1180 and it decayed over time, but the city of Ghent restored it in the late 1800s.

IMG_9380

Gravensteen Castle

I paid for out tickets and we went inside. The top of the castle has some amazing views of the city.

IMG_9405

Admiring Ghent

but the climb up there involves a lot of narrow, twisty steps.

IMG_9425

Creepy!

As we passed through the castle, we also got to see the various torture instruments.

IMG_9430

This was the guillotine they actually used in Ghent

And one room had weapons and armor.

IMG_9391

No idea how they even carried this around!

My favorite room was the throne room.

IMG_9435

TBH I would have preferred a more impressive throne. 

By the time we left the castle it had started to drizzle again. We decided to look for somewhere to eat lunch and I wanted to find some Waterloo Stew, a dish Ghent is supposed to be known for. Cyndi tried to Yelp it, but we weren’t having any luck so we decided to walk towards the cathedral and see if we could read a few menus along the way. That’s when we stumbled across Street Art Alley.

IMG_9455

The entrance to the alley really caught our eye!

We walked through and saw some amazing art.

IMG_9475

Cyndi loved this one.

I took a TON of pictures.

IMG_9495

This one made us laugh.

When we got to the other side we realized we were walking away from the city center so we turned around and walked back through the alley.

IMG_9456

Loved getting a new perspective on the way back!

The rain started coming down harder so we passed the cathedral and walked to a square that was surrounded by restaurants. We searched all the menus but there was no mention of Waterloo Stew. We were getting colder and wetter so we settled on a spot that had Ghent Stew.

IMG_9507

Our server claimed this was the best stew in the city. Made with beef cheek and lavender, it was simmered over sixteen hours and he was right, it was amazing!

When we finished eating, I went inside to pay our tab since Cyndi had conveniently forgotten her wallet. They ran my card twice and it didn’t work either time. They didn’t take Amex so my backup card wasn’t any good either. I was starting to panic when I realized I had 50 Euro in my pocket. Lunch was 45 Euro so I had just enough left to buy bus tickets to get back to the train station. It was raining even harder so we decided to head home and pick up Cyndi’s wallet!

By the time we got home it didn’t seem worth going out in the rain again so Cyndi cooked a delicious dinner and when Gil got home we turned on In Bruges to do some research for our trip on Wednesday.

Posted in Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Giving Thanks for NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sponsors a charity event each year. NATO countries and supporters set up booths where they sell items from their own country to raise money for charity. My sister and brother-in-law took me to this year’s event which was packed! Lots and lots of families wandered through the halls examining the wares from each country. We aren’t allowed to take pictures within the building, so I gave my sister my phone and we set off.

IMG_9549

Photo ban at the NATO Charity Bazaar. 

We saw reindeer hides from Finland (which my sister’s Swedish friends told us make sitting outside in the winter OK), drinking horns from Georgia, and pottery from Poland (another item my sister’s friends highly recommended). As soon as we walked in we saw the Polish stand. While we were looking at the pottery, they convinced us to buy a raffle ticket because every ticket was a winner. I won two different tubs of cosmetics. I don’t read Polish so I have no idea what they do. Cyndi won fish. Three tins of fish.

I picked up a few Christmas gifts for some friends back home which I won’t list here on the off chance that any of them follow this blog (looking at you Bob and Angel!) Canada was my favorite stand because they were passing out shots of my new favorite drink, maple whisky.

In the cafeteria there were stands with native foods. We saw a giant pan of paella passing through on its way to the Spanish stand. The French were making racklette sandwiches. I got a hot dog from Denmark because my brother in law said they were highly recommended (he was right!) I also tried the Moose Milk. This was from the Canadians and it was the Moose Milk that convinced me Canada might be my new favorite country.

After picking up a few more items from Slovenia and Turkey we couldn’t carry much more so we headed home.

IMG_9249

Of course I picked up some maple whisky and Glögg

Cyndi and Gil decided to take me out to dinner at their favorite restaurant Balls and Glory. We hopped on the Metro and rode to Central Station. Then we walked past the Grand Place.

IMG_9263

Friday night the Christmas Markets open which I guess is when they light the tree because it wasn’t lit yet. 

Balls and Glory is a meatball shop, but they are meatballs like you’ve never had before. They flash freeze various sauces and insert them into the center of the meatball. Then it is baked (never fried) and served with a stump (a mash of potatoes, carrots and the vegetable of the day) and a salad. We decided to order multiple meatballs so we could try one of each.

IMG_9277

I was the only one who thought the chicken was the best. Everyone else like the tikka masala better.

After dinner we walked over the St Catherine’s Cathedral.

IMG_9258

Waffle trucks! Too bad we ate too many meatballs…

And then we walked through the Gallery to peek in all the windows of the chocolate shops.

Processed with MOLDIV

So much chocolate…

On our way back to the Metro we passed the Smurf museum. I had been the Smurf Assistant when I worked at Hardees in high school so I insisted we stop for a photo.

IMG_9329_Facetune_19-11-2017-20-27-07

Nice hat!

My first weekend in Brussels was fantastic. Next week we will explore more of the city as well as Ghent and Bruges!

 

 

Posted in Getting Around, Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Marines!

After landing in Luxembourg, I caught a train to Brussels. I upgraded to first class but as soon as I boarded I realized it was clearly a commuter train and there was no difference between the cars except the one I was in was basically empty. I wedged my bags up against the window and settled in. It was a three-hour ride from Luxembourg to the Central Station in Brussels. Thanks to T Mobile, I was in constant contact with my sister while she was at her hair salon and I was riding the rails.

IMG_9151

All alone in the first class car…

I tried to stay awake and broke out my journal to pass the time. I was worried about missing the stop for the central station since all the announcements were in French. I tried really, really hard to stay awake but eventually the gentle motion of the train got to be too much for me and I passed out.

IMG_9157

I woke up occasionally and saw random stations like this…

I was sleeping hard and suddenly realized the train had stopped moving. I looked out the window at what appeared to be a major train station and I heard the announcer speaking a lot of French. I knew just enough French to recognize the words “central station” in the middle of her announcement. I thought, “Oh shit, this must be it!” I grabbed my coat, my suitcase, and my overnight bag and ran to the door. I stuck my head out to make sure it was the right station, but there weren’t any signs. I could see the conductor on the other end of the platform start to get back on board and I didn’t want to miss my stop so I chucked the heavy bag off the train, grabbed my overnighter and my coat and jumped off right before the doors shut. The temperature had climbed to about 1 so I put on my coat and hat and looked around. The station was entirely deserted. No sign of life. At that point a text from Cyndi arrived.

IMG_9540.PNG

Turns out I was nowhere near Central Station.

After I explained to her I was in a different station which had no signs but appeared to be very fancy, she figured out I was at the EU. She sent me a screenshot of her route to the station and it said she should arrive at 2:39. I assumed she was driving so at 2:35 I went out to stand on the curb so she wouldn’t have to park. Turns out I was all wrong about that as well. She had taken the metro to meet me. I waited outside for about 10 minutes and there was no sign of her so I went back into the empty station.

IMG_9169

No people, no signs, no idea where I was…

Cyndi texted me that she had arrived but I still didn’t see any sign of her. She told me she was at the entrance to the station. That’s where I thought I was. She asked me what street I was on though really if there had been any fucking signs at that station I’d have been at the right one! Finally I saw her walking around a corner. I almost wept. I said, “Where is the car? I’m freezing!” She said, “I didn’t drive. I thought you were coming into Central Station and it is just a couple of metro stops from my house. We only need to walk the quarter-mile to the Metro station here because this is the only train station in the city that doesn’t have a Metro station attached.”

When we finally got to Cyndi’s house, Gil was waiting for us. They gave me a quick tour, showered me with gifts, and fixed me a snack. We had just enough time to get pretty before they took me to the Marine Corps Ball.

IMG_9199

Cyndi thought we had a Dynasty vibe going on.

Several of Gil’s co-workers were seated at our table. There was a couple from Hungary, a couple from Poland, and a woman from Italy with her Danish boyfriend. The program was great. Of course my favorite part was when they sliced the cake with the sword.

IMG_9192

Happy birthday, Marines!

We drank wine. A lot of wine.

IMG_9210_Facetune_20-11-2017-22-31-55

Dinner was great, and that’s not the wine talking…

And then they brought out the pièce de la résistance,,,

IMG_9220

Macaroons as big as your head.

Posted in Getting Around, Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#SistersVisit2017

Since my sister Cyndi moved to Brussels, I’ve been planning to spend Thanksgiving at her house. I saved my global upgrades and closely monitored flights to Europe. I thought I’d scored a real deal when I saw flights to Luxembourg were only $600 so I jumped on it! I used my global upgrade certificates and wound up in a business class cabin from Chicago to Amsterdam to Luxembourg on KLM. Of course a couple of days later flights to Brussels dropped to $400, but that didn’t dim my enthusiasm. Besides I’ve never been to Luxembourg!

IMG_9080

I got to the airport a little early, visited the KLM Air France lounge and had some champagne and a stroopwafel while they loaded my plane.

I was sitting in seat 1A, which I believe is the best seat on that plane! The rest of the seats are side by side, which either involves climbing over the person sleeping in the pod next to you or no window. We enjoyed another glass of champagne before take off and then once we did leave I put my feet up and turned on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 while I waited for dinner.

IMG_9093

Preflight beverage!

On their first pass through the cabin, the flight attendants brought out a bowl of mixed nuts and a cocktail called the Flying Dutchman. Dinner came next and included a warm roll, a salad, and some vegetables.

By the time my lemon mousse arrived for dessert, my Tylenol PM had kicked in and I was ready to sleep. That’s the first time we hit the turbulence.

IMG_9125

This was a full cup of tea BEFORE we hit the turbulence.

I tried to imagine the plane was just trying to rock me to sleep and so I flattened my chair, put on my sleep mask and totally crashed. I slept about an hour before we hit the next patch of turbulence. I was clinging to the side of the bed and focusing on not thinking of the wings snapping off and after about ten minutes it finally stopped. I dozed off until it started once again. This time I just rolled over and went back to sleep. When I finally woke up they were already serving breakfast. I chose the frittata and a bowl of fresh fruit.

We landed in Amsterdam without any trouble. I flew through passport control and got to my next gate early so I dropped 2 Euro in a massage chair and relaxed. Boarding the next flight was a little confusing because we passed through the gate and then walked down the jetbridge to a set of stairs and got hustled onto a bus. The bus took off and we drove around the airport and ended up in a parking lot full of planes. I climbed up the stairs and found my seat. KLM must not do upgrades or else they don’t have a lot of frequent fliers traveling to LUX, there were only four of us in the front of the plane so we each got our own row.

IMG_9135

It was zero degrees. And the wind blew hard.

After takeoff they brought us a small bag of lunch with a bottle of juice, a bag of cookies, and a tiny sandwich. I was still stuffed from the first flight so I just had tea and then shut my eyes and took the short way.

IMG_9149 (1)

Flying into Luxembourg

When I woke up we had landed. I collected my bags and went outside to find the train station. Unfortunately, the train station was not anywhere close to the airport. When I asked around they said there was a free bus if I wanted to wait on the curb. I tried, but it was 0 degrees (celcius) and I could tell from the train schedules that if I didn’t catch the 11:00 train to Brussels, I would have to transfer to another train along the way. I finally gave up and caught a taxi.

My taxi driver was a kid from Mexico who had moved to Luxembourg with his parents when he was fifteen. He and I had a great time talking about taco shops and history and we got to the station just in time. I got to the train station just in time to buy my ticket and board my train. Next stop, Brussels!

Posted in Getting Around, Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for Thanksgiving 2017

Since my sister moved to Brussels last summer I decided to spend my holiday break visiting her. When I saw her at my Nephew’s wedding, we outlined a couple of things we could do on my 10 day trip…

img_9035

My bullet journal page where Cyndi and I brainstormed Brussels ideas.

Since our visit, I”ve booked my ticket and started packing my bags. Friday can’t come soon enough!

img_9036

Only halfway through a two-week work trip but as soon as I get home I am off to Brussels, baby!

Five more days…

https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1Ry4Dp3Rp1kUTtf6gxTk6_2OKpk4F_qY8

Posted in Bucket List, Getting Around, Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment