Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My ABCs of Travel

I'm taking a quick break from the Colors of Brussels because I was tagged ("tag you're it") by my friend Alison at CheeseWeb.eu to come up with my own ABCs of Travel. Alison was tagged by Andrea at Destination Europe and both are great reads! Like them, I was reluctant to participate in the blog memes that are circulating but it ended up being a wonderful walk down memory lane as I recalled some of the places, both near and far, that I've been fortunate enough to visit.

Strasbourg Cathedral from last summer's road trip to France

A: Age of first international trip: Six weeks young! I was born in Haugesund, Norway and shortly thereafter, I started my life in Berkeley, California.

B: Best (foreign) beer: I thought I'd develop a taste for beer after moving to Belgium. It still hasn't happened though I'm now able to sample my husband's Leffe without making a funny face.

C: Cuisine (favorite): That's easy, it would have to be any dish my mother-in-law prepares! I love Moroccan cuisine so whenever we're visiting my husband's family in Fes (Morocco), I savor every mouthful.

My mother-in-law's famous couscous!

D: Destination (favorite and least favorite): Since it's fresh in my memory, my favorite would be my recent trip to the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. My husband, our three kids and I went for a week of great snorkeling, delicious food, beautiful sunsets, and much-needed relaxation. Least favorite might be our trip, one week later, to London. The contrasting weather, 2-day time crunch, and crowds left us missing the Red Sea.

E: Event experienced abroad that made you say “wow": Snorkeling with nurse sharks and stingrays in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean.

F: Favourite mode of transportation: My own two feet, says the person who's afraid to drive in Europe and North Africa!

G: Greatest feeling while travelling: Sounds cliché but learning about the way people used to live (the Maya civilization to the Romans) to everyday life across Europe and the US.

Ancient Maya ruins in Tulum, Mexico

H: Hottest place travelled to: Believe it or not, Norway in June '02 reached degrees hotter than Spain for a few days. It was a stifling 95°F, which wasn't the hottest place I've been but was almost unbearable in a country that's not accustomed to heat waves.

I: Incredible service experienced and where: Hands down, downstairs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

J: Journey that took the longest: My first trip to Morocco in 1988. My husband and I were moving there and, after a tearful good-bye to my family and friends, we flew from San Francisco to Gibraltar, via London. We spent the night on "the rock" then woke-up early the next morning to get ourselves and five bulging suitcases on a ferry to Tangier. After a bumpy ride through the Straight of Gibraltar, we were greeted by my new in-laws. Although I couldn't understand a word that was being spoken, we spent four hours together on the long drive to Fes, stopping at several roadside produce stands along the way. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by approximately 25 rather loud relatives, friends and neighbors (I was so tired that I went to our room and had a mini-meltdown).

K: Keepsake from travels: Christmas tree ornaments and fridge magnets!

L: Let-down sight, why and where: Dare I say the Mona Lisa at the Louvre?

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: It must have been at a young age because I don't remember a specific time. This is why I've tried to instill a love of travel in my own children. Plus, I've been able to enjoy Japan, Australia, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Greece vicariously through their visits.

My son's photo from a class trip to Greece

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: The nicest was probably the Bellagio or Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas but I can't forget the time we were given a penthouse suite in Maui, Hawaii because the occupants of our original room forgot to check out. They must have been on "island time"!

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling: Anything colorful! Murals, flowers, ceramics, people and, yes, these Moroccan slippers.

Colorful Moroccan slippers in the medina

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where: I currently have 29 stamps, most of them are from trips between Belgium, Morocco and the US. The others are from the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, Mexico and Egypt.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. According to popular belief, Sarah Winchester thought the mansion was haunted by the ghosts of people who died from Winchester rifles. The only way to appease these spirits was for continuous construction to be made on the house (around the clock for 38 years).

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Arches National Park in Utah. Absolutely beautiful!

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while travelling: By the time we've paid for a family of five to fly anywhere, there's not much money left over!

T: Touristy thing done: Double decker hop-on hop-off buses (they're really the best way to get an overview of a city).

Unobstructed view from the hop-on hop-off bus in London

U: Unforgettable travel memory: The three months I spent backpacking through Europe in 1986.

V: Visas, how many and for where: Three (Belgium, Egypt and Dominican Republic). My Belgian long-stay visa required a flight to Los Angeles where I spent about 10 minutes handing in my paperwork at the Consulate's office.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while travelling and where: Aside from any glass with my husband, I'd have to say last fall in Rome after learning how to make a delicious lemon and asparagus risotto with my friends Mary Beth, Bob and William.

X: eXcellent view and from where: The sunrise from the summit of Mt. Haleakalā in Maui. It was below freezing and very crowded but well worth it. I captured the sunrise in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico last summer (alone) and it took my breath away.

Sunrise in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Y: Years spent travelling: Since 1965... you do the math.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where: Back home in 2010 when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series!

Okay, folks, who's next? I'm ready to tag the next blogger...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things

There's no better way to get through the blues than to focus on all the things I love about living in Brussels. I'm determined to enjoy the hustle & bustle of this capital city before returning to the suburbs back home. Plus, time flies when you're having fun! Food has to top my list of most favorite things because, hey, a girl's gotta eat! The restaurants are outstanding and the Liege waffles are delicious, especially when topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Next to that are the people I've met from around the world. Seventy nationalities are represented at my son's school alone (no one would pose for a photo - okay, I didn't ask). There's never a dull moment with so many museums, art galleries, festivals and parades. Being the animal-lover that I am, I also adore the cute dogs who are welcome in shops, cafes and restaurants. And because I get so thirsty walking around town, admiring artists in the Grand Place and seasonal park flowers, I rely on my favorite local beverages to stay well-hydrated!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feeling Blue

I've lived in Brussels for five months and although I'm getting more comfortable in my surroundings, living abroad isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Sure, it's convenient to walk around the corner to the boulangerie where I'm still barely able to spit out the words to order a baguette but somehow manage to leave with a rainbow of colorful tarts. Yes, it's great to visit friends and extended family in nearby cities and countries (and even better to play tour guide to my visitors). But I still get the blues and miss my two adult kids (terribly), my cat, the English language, telling time by AM/PM (quick, non-military friends back home, what time is 21:35?), and even Costco. Don't ask me why I miss Costco as I could never fit those super-size products in my minuscule refrigerator and freezer! I'm told expat life gets better after six months which is great except I'll be returning home three months later, probably kicking and screaming. Reining me back to what thankfully keeps me busy and enjoying Brussels, my little blog... I've photographed a few blue things around town (from today's bright blue sky to the famous Belgian Smurfs) that have temporarily taken my mind off of going to Costco with my daughter where I can speak English to buy cat food at 4PM!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Colorful Tales of Manneken Pis

The folklore surrounding Manneken Pis, the bronze fountain statue of a naked boy urinating, is so much grander than its height of just 24 inches! The  most famous legend claims it was fashioned after 2-year-old Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, he was placed in a basket on a tree to encourage his soldiers to fight for him. From there, he urinated on the enemy troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle. Other legends include: a little boy relieved himself on a witch's door who then turned him into a statue, a wealthy merchant's son went missing and was later found urinating in a small garden, a little boy was walking by a hole in the dam that protected the city from floods and saved the day by sticking his private area in it, and a little boy was awoken by a fire and prevented the king's castle from burning down by using the only weapon he had on hand. My favorite fable might be when Brussels was under siege by a foreign power in the 14th century and attackers planned to place explosives at the city walls. Legend has it that a little boy happened to be spying on them so he quickly urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city from ruin. I have two boys so this one's slightly believable. Alas, my Discover Belgium teacher told me not to believe any of these tales - Manneken Pis is just a fountain statue with over 800 costumes (many are gifts from foreign dignitaries), is visited by tens of thousands of people annually, has been stolen seven times and, on occasion, is hooked up to a keg of beer so cups can be filled, from the flow, and given out to people passing by. Sounds a little unbelievable to me!