Monday, June 15, 2009

In Bruges

I'm about to relay the most important piece of information for anyone thinking of visiting Bruges. Here it is:

Everything in Bruges closes at 5p.m.

Stores, museums, restaurants, tours. Not-so-shockingly, we learned this the hard way. Granted we visited on a week day so maybe the weekend hours are a bit... extended? All I know is that on Monday, June 6th, 2009, everything closed at 5p.m.

We arrived in Bruges, I believe, just after Noon. We first bought our train tickets for the next day's trip to Paris (tres important!), stopped by the tourist office for a local map and then trekked on foot to our hotel. Upon finding it, we learned that we could not check in until 3pm. I'm sure I had that highlighted somewhere. Huh. Anyways, we then made a quick change of clothes in the bathroom (we were a bit ripe after the walk), stored our luggage and set out about Bruges to find us some food!

After much deliberation, we decided on... Pizza Hut. I know, I know. I can hear what your thinking because we too were like, Pizza Hut? Really? In our defense, Shawn was on the recovering side of food poisoning (seafood pizza) and we needed something cheap, easy and something we knew would be good. Plus, we needed to restore our faith in unauthentic greasy Italian/Americanized food. It was great. We were revived and ready to go. First stop, canal boat tour. Oh wait, before that, dessert run. Shawn purchased ice cream while I chose some delightful little chocolates with marshmallow inside. Can't come to Belgium and not get some chocolate! Two thumbs up!

Back to the canal tours. We found the tour entrances easily enough, bought our tickets and waited our turn. While we waited we got to witness a little tourist girl hurl on the deck of the canal. Poor thing. We knew it was coming; she did not look well. They rinsed it off in time for us to walk over to our boat. Aside from the mental images of the little girls lunch, the tour was lovely. Our guide spoke many languages, including English. Note: English is always translated last and requires about 25 less words than every other language. The guide would rattle of something very elegant sounding for about five minutes and would finish in English with something like, "This is the oldest bridge." We giggled.

Towards the end of our canal boat tour, we learned that the Belfry tower was actually open until 5pm and with 30 minutes to go, we felt we could make it on time. According to our guidebook, which was obviously outdated, the Belfry was closed on Mondays. I KNOW I had that highlighted. In any case, we gambled on our good fortunate and took off for the tower. At 15 minutes until 5pm we came to the stair entrance and saw a sign that said we were too late. No more people were allowed up. I'm telling you, if we had been 15 minutes earlier for everything up to this point on our trip, we could have seen a lot more. However, we would've spent a lot more so... hindsight's 20/20.

With the Belfry climb scratched, we went in search of the chocolate museum. That's right. Being an addict, I was pumped! It took us a while to find it but when we did we were greeted with a familiar sign. The museum closed at 5pm. Grrr. I believe we tried one other stop, I can't remember what it was, but when it too failed, we conceded. We headed back to the hotel, checked in and Shawn took a nice, long nap.

When he was good and rested, we ventured out for supper. By this time it was close to 9 or 10pm so our options were limited. I believe we ate at a place equivalent to McDonald's. Continued shame, I know. With our train departing halfway early in the morning and all our other efforts turning up a bust, we wanted to squeak out as cheap and simple as possible and gear up for Paris. On the upside, we got to eat outside and people-watch. My favorite. We were in the Market, the main square of Bruges. The Belfry was lit up as were all the gorgeous street lamps. Very old world. Very calming. We ate, sat, meandered about the square and then headed in for the night. Beautiful, charming city. Would've been great if more things were open late. I'm not asking for Taco Bell late either... heck, we'd settle for 15 minutes.

The Market Square in the middle of the city. Not sure what the monument was...

The infamous Belfry. On second thought, maybe missing the climb wasn't such a bad thing.

Evidence we were in fact in Bruges on the the boat tour.

We did learn on our tour that the a person's wealth was displayed by how many windows their house had because taxes were figured per window. Also, at the top of nearly every house was a tiny little hole for, you guessed it, passenger pigeons.

P.S. No, we have not seen the movie. A lot of people ask. Since we just cancelled Blockbuster, we'll have to wait for it to appear on cable.

Monday, June 8, 2009

In The Words of Mr. Rogers...

"It's a beautiful day in this BLOGGERHOOD,
A beautiful day for a FOLLOWER,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?"

"It's a neighborly day in this BLOGGERHOOD,
A neighborly day for a FOLLOWER,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?"

"I have always wanted to have a FOLLOWER just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a BLOGGERHOOD with you."

"So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my FOLLOWER?"

"Won't you please,
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my FOLLOWER?"

"Hi BLOGGERHOOD FOLLOWER, I'm glad we're together again.... "

No, I've not gone silly, I'm just trying to recruit you as an official FOLLOWER of this blog. You're obviously visiting the site, you're reading the blog, you're looking at the screen right now so I'm talking to you. Look to your left and you'll see that at the time of this posting, I have one, very lonely, but devoted FOLLOWER. Staci needs a buddy and I need affirmation from readers so if for no other reason then to prevent another Mr. Rogers sing-a-long, answer me this - won't you be my FOLLOWER?

I amsterdam

And now... for the rest of the Dutch story.

When we weren't in route to Beerta, we were experiencing the Netherlands main show: Amsterdam. While some of your minds are already assuming images of marijuana and prostitution, let me distract your attention for a bit because there really is a whole lot more to this crazy city then the aforementioned examples.

First of all, it and all of it's historic canals are gorgeous and unmatched anywhere else we went. There is literally a canal between every street. It's not so much trying to find a destination by it's street address but more by finding which canal to follow to get there. We ventured out one afternoon by ourselves and did quite well, only asking for directions once. Well, actually, the kind stranger saw us looking at a map and offered up some help. That's another GREAT thing about Amsterdam, English is spoken very accurately and very often.
As unique as the canals were the rows and rows of houses. Almost all houses are connected to one another and most are very narrow, but very tall. Quite a few have slanted roofs, windows and doors thanks to the homes leaning on their neighbors, but they're still standing. No space goes unnoticed and no alley goes unused. The same day we ventured out on our own, we made a stop at arguably, the skinniest house in all of Europe. It was no wider than Shawn when he reached out his arms. Talk about narrow-minded!
We also visited some wonderful museums including the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, as well as some beautiful attractions like VondelPark and the Keukenhof (tulip) gardens. You cannot visit Amsterdam without visiting the tulip gardens. The tulip is my favorite flower so to visit this attraction was like following my flora mother ship home. It's like Disneyland for tulips. A tulip garden on steroids. Fields of tulips, sculptures of tulips, greenhouses of tulips, tulips grown in the shape of tulips. Tulipmania. It was ridonkulously amazing and I now have lots of beautiful photos to display and admire should I never receive another tulip again (although I hope that's not the case!).
The greatest thing I found to do in Amsterdam was people-watch! If I could, I would sit at a cafe all day and just watch all the people, rolling by on their way about their day. The main mode of transportation in Amsterdam is the bike. No, not a Harley. A real, two-wheeled, peddled bike. Everyone rides a bike. Men in suites and women in skirts on their way to work, mothers with children in wooden boxes on the front of their bikes, kids riding two to a bike, people out running errands; you name it, they got there on a bike. It was fascinating and we were very envious of everyone's physique. Needless to say, they're a fit bunch.
One remaining fun area was one we walked by nearly every day, Dam Square. There happened to be a carnival occupying the space at the time with some of the scariest rides I've ever seen. Note: I do not enjoy scary carnival rides. It was funny to peruse this area because everything was labeled by the area we were in. So you would see signs to restaurants that read: "Dam BBQ" or "Dam Pub". We got a giggle out of it.

Yes, yes, okay, okay, we did stroll through the infamous red light district and meandered by some coffee shops but were not amused by either. We saw them just to see them and be able to say we saw them when we were asked if we saw them so yes, we did see them. Should you ever visit, I'd highly... er, greatly recommend opening your mind and experiencing the rest of this diverse and very colorful city!


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