Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chocolate! I mean, BRUSSELS!

Brussels is lovely. It's actually a very small city, almost no need for public transportation at all. First thing this morning, Marnie and I walked to the "Market Square" in Brussels (center of the city a million years old-compared to anything we have in the states anyway)

and met at the Godiva store to begin our 4 hour chocolate tour of the city, because how else does one appropriately begin one's time in Belgium? (I do have to admit I was thinking "Godiva. Not bad chocolate, but it better get better than this. Belgium did not disappoint.)

Off we went. The tour actually ending up doing a fantastic job of including the history of the city, the important building and some of the city's famous Art Nouveau architecture, with frequent chocolate stops.

Now, the chocolate. YUM. I've learned that, although I have a lot more tasting to do be before I can be sure, Madagascar cocoa beans make my favorite chocolate. "It's more bitter, with a longer after taste," or so I'm told. When they had us taste one cookie with chocolate on it and figure out what kind of chocolate I was right on. "It's dark. But only slightly," I say. Correct. 54% to be exact, just barely dark. I'm such a connoisseur :). Marnie and I are doing our chocolate shopping Friday morning before we catch our train back to London. We want them to be as fresh as possible and are mapping out the best route to get us to our favorite chocolates.

During the tour we, of course, stopped by the chocolate museum where we had the opportunity to make our own chocolates. Basically, we got to play in vats of chocolate and dip things them, like marzipan and sugared orange along with making goops of chocolate and piling them with nuts/fruits. It was a very well done tour. I highly recommend it.

After a very much needed, very good, late lunch we came back to the hotel. Marnie read and napped a little while I went to the hotel sauna to get nice and warm. Hottest sauna I've ever been in. Felt good....I then took my turn napping while listening a beautiful bell chorus. A gift from a friend in Santa Rosa, Ca that came up on my ipod at precisely the perfect relaxation moment. Love those bells.

This evening we headed out toward the Market Square again as there is supposed to be all kinds of seasonal concerts, displays, etc going on. It finally felt like Christmas. Everyone really gets into the spirit of things here and Christmas lights and festivals are everywhere. I love it.

We arrive at the Square, which is made up of Baroque designed buildings, complete with gold leafing on the building and ornate statues. It was made even more beautiful by a light show that was going on. The had very pretty, seasonal music pouring into the square with a coordinated lights display, projected directly on the historic buildings. It kind of took my breath away for a moment. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of my trip so far. I especially liked when one building was lit in the shadows of the arches with a deep, foreboding purple. It was awesome. We then meandered around until me went to a restaurant our tour guide suggested, stating that it was, "No BS, just really good food, from a good kitchen, at reasonable prices." He was right. The food was pretty good. He must really like it there because while we were eating, he came in with some friends. (He also gives a beer tour in the afternoons and may have not needed the wine he was drinking as he asked us several times how we heard about the place and showered us with....affection.)

After we eventually were able to stand after dinner (not being hungry wen we started due to the late lunch, and it's sizable deliciousness) we went back to the Christmas fair we ran into last night and hopped on the ferris wheel there. It actually gave a decent view of the city and the skating rink below, along with a slide made of ice that kids were having a good time sliding down. The best part of this for me was that when we got to the very top the world seemed very silent, but the occasional laughter of children would break through and make me smile.

I'm home now, after a hot shower to warm up and really need to be getting to bed as we're heading to Brugge (Bruges) tomorrow morning. Everyone who's been to Belgium says it's the best place to go, like a whole storybook town. We'll just be going by train for the day then headed back to Brussels tomorrow evening.

Maybe one day I'll even post these. Maybe I'll even type up my other hand written notes and you can read all about the fun adventure I'm having right now. Don't think for a minute that I don't love that I'm finally getting to travel the world and see so many wonderful things. And don't think for a minute I'm not coming back with chocolate. :)

Best part is, the chocolate is so good I'm satisfied after one or two pieces. No need to down the whole supply like I do with Hershey's Hugs. Just a nibble here and there and I am at peace.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Voila! Just like that, I'm in Belgium!

I’ve just arrived in Belgium about 2 hours ago. We found our hotel, dropped our bags, and went out to find something to eat. For the first time since I’ve been I’m really excited to eat. Thanks to the concierge, we ended up at a little corner of town with several small cafes, but more importantly for tonight, a Christmas fair with stalls selling fantastic food. Food I could actually smell! (British food has no flavor and hence, no scent.) I had a delicious brat-something with amazing brown, spicy mustard and grilled chunks of onions. Marnie found the Belgian waffles and went to town. The waffle shop had closed by the time I was ready for some dessert. No worries in the morning we have our chocolate tour. That’s right, a 4 hour chocolate tour of Brussels, Belgium. Is there any other way to start our time here?!

Belgium is full of life and I’m already interested and want to see and feel everything. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get very interested in London. There were beautiful things to see there and fantastical soap opera history. And the museums were unbelievable! But in my sad, uneducated, and mind that simple feels and absorbs like a felt much like it’s food...bland. It’s weird I just really couldn’t get into it past the first few days. I think London is a place I would have done much better on my own.

(Well, actually, I think a lot of places I might be better off on my own because I’m inside my own head so much.)

But it would have been a meander, get lost, and then casually find my way home kind of place. I’m glad to have experienced London and have some good plans to enjoy my last few days on my own after I return from Belgium. But I think I can already tell, I’m going to like Belgium even more.

I love the expressiveness of the people. They way they laugh openly, honestly, and often. I don’ t know that I heard much of that at all in London and so it’s absence there makes it’s presence here even sweeter. The people embrace everyone around them. They smile, they talk to each other on the streets. They are polite. Granted this is an initial observation and I’ve only been here a few hours but I do tend to sponge in vibes, which is a big part of why I like to just observe an area for a while. Try to gather information and get a “feel” for a place as I invisibly interact with it. I like it here.

I’ve already heard the terms, “voila!” and “bon appetit” used in passing. Hee hee hee, it made me smile. People really say that. And they do it with a French accent too. Hee hee hee.

I’m off to bed for the evening. I want to get up early and do some stomach-stretching exercises before I head our for my chocolate tour later in the morning.

Good night. And look for back posts that are already but in need of transfer from paper to blog.

p.s. I do have to mention how cool it is that I think in less the time it takes me to drive from San Diego to L.A. I crossed the English Channel (UNDERWATER), and ended up in a different country, with a different language, a completely different culture, and-thank goodness- different food! All in just 2 hours! I wish was I close enough that when I wanted Italian for lunch I could just go and come back in a day. Or crave a pastry and take a 2 hour train ride to France. Anyway, all just cool. Night.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Farewell Wales

Last night I stayed a hotel called The black boy in Newton, Powys, Wales. I learned this morning from the proprietor that it was initially built in 1640. Crazy. I remember thinking how lovely these old buildings are, with their uneven floors and creaking walls, and that nothing this beautiful (old) would be allowed to stand in the U.S. Not that I don’t enjoy the new and (sometimes) convenient functionality of them (a.k.a. elevators) but there so much to be said for quality buildings that are beautiful, charming and stand the test of time. Imagine how many people and memories have been through there in the past 400 years or so.

I didn’t get a picture of it. In fact I came into town, dropped my bags off (that felt good, I’d been dragging them around all day yesterday since checking out the hotel at 10:00 a.m. until I reached my hotel around 3:00pm) and headed off to the library. I’d learned that the library was only open until 5:00pm and I wanted to know what resources were available in case I might be able to get things together in order to have a productive search.

The library actually has quite a few resources including, censuses, vital records information, and even newspapers dating back a while. Sadly, this was a very last minute trip and I didn’t have much information, let alone organized information. My sister and cousin were very quickly responding to my requests for information and it seems I may have been in the very right spot, looking at the very right things. I just didn’t what I was looking at or looking for. I came to the conclusion that I would need several more days and a huge desk to work on where I could spread out all of my papers and piece them together (do some massive [<--- very overused word here]-organizing). An expert wouldn’t hurt either.

I did however, learn how to get started and knowing that information will help my cousin, who, unbeknownst to me is planning a family history trip here in April. The leg work and face to face conversations with the locals, as well as seeing the resources and gaining some very helpful and important contacts should save her a bunch of time when she gets here. So I count it as a win AND I got to see WALES, which has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, double win. Even if I come home empty handed.

Oh, and I guess my inquiries prompted some before unknown information from a woman my sister, Cheri, has been in contact with that led us back another 200 years on one line. Okay, I’m beginning to see that I although I loved my time there and initially thinking I was coming back empty handed in the family records department, this trip did spawn some fruit :) -get the genealogical pun?

And so I saved myself the frustration of rushing to the library this morning and basking in a wealth of information I had was in no position to make sense of. Instead, I found a wonderful Christmas gift for Kira in my last few minutes there.

I will close with this. I LOVE WALES. It’s beautiful. And despite tromping around in the rain, hail, sleet, snow I can’t wait to come back. I imagine if I were here in a different season, I wouldn’t be to help but ride bikes through the country with a big smile on my face.
But tonight I will once again, and gratefully so, unload my bags, take a really hot shower, and sleep very well. I’m exhausted.

Farewell Wales until we meet again....soon!