Three Days in Brussels

I can’t tell you about Brussels without telling you about our super-fancy hotel. Remember how I spent all that time in New York in early 2012? Well, now I’m Platinum with Starwood Hotels and basically travel like a boss (until it lapses… sigh).

Five-star hotel, free breakfast, welcome cookies brought to the room – all for free. It was nice.

We were close to these equally-fancy digs: The Royal Palace.

Royal Palace BrusselsIt was also the last day the Palace was open (apparently it opens for tours in the Summer) but we didn’t go in because we are non-conformists.

We were also very close to the Grand Place – one of the loveliest squares I’ve ever seen. My pictures are pathetic and do not do it justice. Look at all the gold detail on these buildings!

Golden Grand Place

 

When we first arrived, there was a (massively crowded!) beer festival in the square, so you couldn’t really get a sense of how large it was.

Fancy Grand Place Rooftops

We spent a lot of the day Monday in the various bars that make up the Delirium Cafe. Will and I are beer enthusiasts, so Belgium was good to us.

 

Sunday in Brussels

Will and I had a lovely Sunday to spend wandering Brussels. Like most European cities, much of Brussels was closed on this day, so we headed for the parks. We started in Parc royal, a park close to both the royal palace and our hotel.

bench in parc royal

Grand, tree-lined paths leading to a water fountain – it begs for a slow stroll.

From there, we walked out to Parc du Cinquantenaire. The walk there took us past closed-for-the-day business buildings (not so scenic) but was worth it.

chairs in parc du cinquantenaire

I loved this park. We’d stopped along the way to pick up water, cheese, and bread, so we were able to have a wee picnic on the lawn (just like the many Belgian families also taking advantage of this gorgeous day).

Roses in parc du cinquantenaire

The park is enormous – it has gravel paths, several broad, grassy swaths, a museum, tennis courts, and a playground. There were people everywhere – running, playing soccer, hanging out with friends and family. It was so nice to see people actually using a park. I felt like we were surrounded by happy, Norman Rockwell-esque families. Such a perfect way to spend a Sunday.

flowers in parc du cinquantenaire

Two Days in Ghent

Oh, how I loved Ghent.

Korenmarket

But oh, how I didn’t love getting to Ghent.

The train from Bruges only takes about half an hour but those were thirty of the sweatiest minutes of my life. Our train, while adorably vintage, was devoid of any air conditioning, functioning windows, or airflow of any kind. It was brutal.

That night, after resting up, we wandered through nighttime Ghent to get a drink. Ghent is magical after dark when all the buildings are lit up and look like they come from a fairy tale. I gasped audibly each time we turned the corner. We had a drink in a small square near our hotel and then wandered to the other side of Korenmarkt where we could share dessert while listening to an outdoor piano concert nearby.

The next day, we went to Gravensteen (the old castle in the center of town) to climb the tower and take in the view.

Gravensteen

From the top, we could look down on the magical square where we’d had drinks the night before.

Looking Down at Square

See? It is from a fairy tale.

… except that right after we climbed this tower we had to go into the shopping district to get me new shoes. My feet were dying. I’d been so proud of only bringing two pairs of shoes (flats and sneakers) and my feet were covered with dime-sized blisters. At one point in Bruges I’d wanted to sit on the curb and cry. Dramatic, yes, but it would have been effective in getting my point across.

So, yes, having to buy shoes is not the worst thing. Of course, though, having such a specific goal in mind meant there were NO SHOES IN ALL OF GHENT OMG JUST KILL ME and then I started to get all sad that I was wasting our time looking for shoes and potentially wasting our money on shoes. Woe was me. I ended up with maroon leather sneaker-y shoes. They are not gorgeous, but I could walk again.

Back to the fairy tale: like Bruges, Ghent has lovely waterways. Lovely waterways mean many gorgeous bridges and wonderful places to wander.

Canal in Ghent

Our hotel was right on the Leie and we got to watch people gather with wine and blankets along the canal once night fell.

On our second day in Ghent, we were walking past the bell tower when we ran into the couple we’d met in Bruges! I love that couple. I want Will and I to be that couple in fifty years.

Two Days in Bruges

From London, Will and I took the Eurostar to Brussels and then switched to local trains to start our Belgian journey in Bruges. We would spend two days there, two days in Ghent, and three days in Brussels.

Belguim Trip Map

Bruges is a treasure. I went there eleven winters ago and loved it despite the constant, near-horizontal rain that plagued my trip. This time, with Will, the weather was perfect.

Markt Square is packed with beautiful buildings, restaurants, and every other tourist who came to this charming town.

Red Buildings in Markt Square

Markt Square

Below is a (rare!) picture of me. I think Will and I are only in about ten trip pictures total as we both feel more comfortable behind the camera.

Me in Markt Square

Behind me is the old bell tower. When I was 20, I climbed to the top to look down on the beautiful city below (and, also, to get out of the rain!). On this trip, we ate dinner both nights at places with views of the tower and square.

Bruges is also known for its waterways, but I didn’t get many pictures of that. Will and I discussed taking a boat tour of the city, but it was about 100 degrees with full sun and I’m a delicate little flower so peeking at swans is about as close as we got to the water.

Swans and Canals

The best part of Bruges, however, was a couple we met one day at lunch. We’d gone to De Halve Maan and taken a seat at a picnic table in the courtyard. These tables were meant to be shared, so we smiled and scooted over later to allow another couple to sit.

The four of us got to talking and they told us they’d come over from Wales to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary! They were such a joy. Fifty years from now, if the stars align, Will and I will be on vacation and meet a young, honeymooning couple to pay it forward.

Walking in London

Will and I are walkers. We saw a lot of London just by wandering through areas that looked interesting.

After the London Eye, we walked along the Thames on the Jubilee Greenway. We were right across the river from Parliament, so the view was fantastic.

Parliament London

Sometimes, we play a game where every time we come to a corner or fork in the road we are on we take turns picking if we head right or left. This lead us to St Paul’s (which, yes, may have become a destination once its dome was visible in the skyline).

St Paul's London

This was also a good time to stop for coffee and evaluate the best bridge to take us to the other side of the Thames (closer to our apartment). I selected Millennium Bridge.

Millennium Bridge

From there, we walked back home along the Thames and took in all angles of Tower Bridge along the way.

Tower Bridge London

As you can see from our pictures, we had fantastic weather the whole time we were in London. There wasn’t even a threat of cloud cover or rain. Will may argue it was a touch hot, but I was too busy falling in love with this sparkling city to notice.

The London Eye

I’m usually (almost snobbishly) against doing things I consider “touristy”. Yep, it’s childish.

through the eye

However, the London Eye gets me every time. I will stand in that line and pay way too much for a glorified Ferris wheel ride. It’s fantastic. The views are just unbeatable.

pod at the top

This particular trip was special in that the mode (yes, mode! bet you thought you’d never use modes!) of the ages in our pod was approximately 5. No worries, I could take in the view over their heads.

pod with busses

The Honeymoon: Bletchley Park

While in London, Will had one request: that we head out to Bletchley Park to see where the Codebreakers cracked the Nazi code during WWII. This involved a 45-minute trip on a train out of the city to the mansion and grounds.

Bletchley mansion

We had a picnic lunch in the park where I learned that my brightly-colored mint green shoes attracted bees like nobody’s business. I escaped unstung.

In the mansion itself, I loved the detail on the ceiling of the ballroom-turned-conference area.

bletchley park ceiling detail

My favorite exhibit was set up in one of the old Codebreaker huts. It was all about the use of carrier pigeons to pass messages from Nazi-controlled Europe back to the UK. Many flew several trips and survived gunfire and Nazi hawks. The exhibit was called “Pigeons at War!” and the fact that the brochure featured a picture of a pigeon in a wee helmet swiftly endeared it to my heart. I’m generally staunchly anti-pigeon but I now have a new-found respect.

Will liked the exhibit about the life of Alan Turing. The exhibit featured a letter by Gordon Brown issuing a public apology for Turing’s persecution in the fifties which was bittersweet.

We also went to the nearby National Museum of Computing to see the Colossus (a codebreaking computer the size of a room). While I can’t really wrap my head around the details, the mathematics behind deciphering is truly impressive.

On the train home, I introduced Will to the wonders of the Kinder Bueno bar. He is now a convert.

The Honeymoon: Beginning in London

London Title

Will and I recently got back from our three-week honeymoon in Europe. Three weeks is a ridiculously indulgent time to be away and we had a fantastic time.

We started our trip in London. We rented an apartment right by Tower Bridge (in fact, we walked across the bridge almost daily to get to the Tube). For those of you who haven’t rented an apartment before, it’s easy (we went through Airbnb) and kind of awesome. You get to pretend you are a local while saving money on things like food (cook for yourself!) and laundry (we had in-unit washer and dryer). The best.

My favorite thing about London? It’s such a fantastic walking city.

london walk

Will and I are what I refer to as “wanderers.” We have a great time just walking through cities, people-watching and taking it all in. We had perfect (if a touch toasty) weather for our entire stay in London.

50 Memories: Wyoming

wyoming memories

In 2008 a dear friend was getting married in Denver. Another dear friend and I decided to head out to Colorado a few days early to make a long weekend of it. We flew to Denver and drove up to Cheyenne through the craziest windstorm I’ve ever experienced. I thought the wind would blow us off the highway. That night, I thought the wind would uproot our hotel and send it flying.

The next day I realized that my packing job hadn’t been as stellar as I anticipated. I was headed from Denver, post-wedding, on a trip to DC, Dubai, and Hyderabad, India before returning to Chicago. My packing leaned toward business casual and I realized I hadn’t brought any shoes that weren’t heels. To TJ Maxx we went. Later, in Cheyenne, I bought a pair of cowboy boots that I lugged around the world with me.

The wind kept up all weekend. It was crazy by local standards (we asked).

The absolute highlight of the trip (minus, of course, the wedding) was our visit to Terry Bison Ranch. We were the only ones there on a blustery day in early November so Natalie and I got a private tour on a mini-school bus. We rode out into the field and our guide threw pellets that attracted the animals.

First, a temperamental yak; the rest of the mixed herd wouldn’t come near until that guy was sated and ambled off. Next, bison. Bringing up the rear (my favorite!), beefalo! A beefalo is what happens when a randy man-cow (or man-bison) mingles with the ladies of the other herd. Baby bison are actually smaller than baby cows, so mama-cows can have beefalo as easily as mama-bisons. Science. Beefalo are slow because they have cow-legs and bison-bodies. Also, they taste like beef but are lean like bison (or so claimed a coworker when we got to India. I’ve never eaten one).

50 Memories: Wisconsin

wisconsin memories

The main reasons I’ve been to Wisconsin are to enjoy outdoorsy things:

  • My family used to drive up to Simon’s Island to spend a Sunday on Lake Michigan
  • In high school, my favorite place to ski with my sister was Cascade Mountain
  • For two weeks during the summer between 10th and 11th grade I backpacked and canoed through the northern woods with a group of similarly displeased 16 year-olds
  • In college, my then-boyfriend and I logged many hours camping at Devil’s Peak (and nearby Baraboo, home of the Circus Museum)
  • Also in college, my group of friends from high school spent Memorial Day weekend whitewater rafting on the Menomonee
  • The Jelly Belly Factory Tour isn’t very outdoorsy, but it’s in Wisconsin