Monday, June 10, 2013

a vacation! part 2

Part of our trip was spent hanging out with our amazing family, seeing the sights around their house, chilling with the kids, talking late into the night, sharing memories and making new ones. But thanks to their tremendous generosity we had access to a car and took the chance to venture a little farther from home for several mini-road trips. First stop was Belgium with a day and a half in Bruges and a day in Brussels.

Bruges was charming. Step-gabled roofs, canals, cobblestone streets. Visiting, like so many places in Europe, is like stepping back in time a bit. It rained most of the time we were there but umbrellas often make the best souvenirs and a bit of drizzle definitely cuts down on the tourist traffic you have to fight! 

And on day two the sun broke through the clouds and graced us with a bit of blue sky and an opportunity to take off a few of the scarves, jackets and other non-May appropriate apparel.   We also made must-needed stops at the official Frites (French Fry) Museum, and Chocolate Museum. (I did mention that we ate fries and chocolate every single day, right?  Cuz I was serious about that.  These people take their chocolate and fries very seriously.)

Here I am masquerading as a French Fry.  Bet you can't tell which one is me!

Brussels was a bit of a let-down after Bruges. It had some charms of its own, of course, but overall was just a big city. We stopped by the old 1958 World's Fair grounds to take in the Atomium statue and wander through some of the incredible parks nearby. We made a trek to the Manikin Pis fountain (the famous little peeing boy who was much smaller than I'd anticipated, only about 2 feet can almost see him in the photo!)  We also added waffles to our list of foods we ate way too much of. Sometimes they masqueraded as breakfast, other times as dessert, but they were always topped with a variety of goodness in the shape of fruits, chocolate sauce, nutella, and whipped cream (mmm, how they get those crunchy chunks of sugar inside is a delicious mystery I'm determined to master here on this side of the Atlantic, anyone know the secret?)

We also wandered through Cinquantenaire Park, past the Grand Place and the Royal Palace and headquarters of the EU. There were lots of great sites to see but they all seemed a bit flashy and busy compared to the old world feel of Bruges. If you're planning a trip, I'd recommend visiting them in opposite order!

my sis in front of the EU building
We also made an unplanned detour to the Waterloo Battlefield. Not knowing too much about the battle or Napoleon even (other than what little I remember from high school history and what I've culled from reading Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas and from listening to the Abba song) it was quite the education. I'd love to say I can tell you all about it but my brain fails to hold onto dates and things the way it should. Suffice it to say, it was a crushing defeat for Napoleon that changed the fate of the entire European continent. Go here  if you want to know more.

It's also interesting to learn about history from a different point of view. While I always thought of Napoleon as a sort of dictator, slowly taking over the world, a tyrant who must be stopped (a kinder Hitler, perhaps?) in Belgium and France (and probably other places) he is colored more as a revolutionary standing up to the traditional monarchs of the day and putting more power in the people's hands. Regardless, the view from the top of the Lion's Mound (a huge hill erected where it is believed the Duke of Orange was wounded) is spectacular and the displays relating the various accounts of the battles and the lives lost is sobering.
That's the end of your history lesson for today.  More tomorrow!

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