Sorry my blog hasn’t been updated for the past 2 weeks! I got back from Europe completely exhausted and overwhelmed by the hundreds of pictures I had taken! LOL
I decided I’d post a travel blog with my journals and photos, along with videos (or links) so you can come along with me! 🙂 The journey is in the reward, or is the reward in the journey? Either way, it was a whirlwind trip traveling through 2 countries and trying to see everything in only a week! Yow!
We saw many cathedrals, ancient buildings, monuments, art, and even the Moulin Rouge! 🙂 We were also lucky that we brought some of our San Diego sunshine with us! We had amazing weather in Paris for the time of year. We were prepared for rain and even a chance of snow, but instead the sun came out and the skies were clear until our last day there!
I’d love to come back someday and spend more time at the Louvre and Versailles! Next time I’d like to go in October so we can see all the autumn leaves. I bet all the trees along the rivers would be a stunning sight!
Anyway, here is Part 1 of the travel blog! 🙂 I’ll get Part 2 up tomorrow night…
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Day One – (2-6-11) Brugge
Brugge was everything I imagined Europe would be! Lots of gothic architecture, and all the streets were made of cobblestones. (Which is actually tricky to navigate.) In movies, the cobblestones always look even and level. In reality, they’re not level and the stones themselves aren’t smooth either, so you really have to be careful not to trip. They also have horses and buggies that tour the streets all day and into the night so when we heard the hooves clacking through the streets we had to be sure we were far to the side.
The canals and old bridges were beautiful, and the Church of our Lady was breathtaking! It’s also the home of one of the few works by Michelangelo outside of Rome. I got a picture of the amaranthine Madonna and her baby. Gorgeous statue.
Then the choir sang. I was so impressed with the teens! They performed a capella in the ancient cathedral without any sleep, and the church had no heat so as they sang you could see their breath puffing out. SO COLD!
But not only did they not whine or complain, their glorious tone filled the cathedral, echoing through the high ceilings like angels. People stopped to listen, entranced by their music.
At lunch Reno and I learned an expensive lesson. No refills on drinks in Europe! And one glass of coke was 4.8 Euros which was about $6!!! Yikes! After Reno had 2 cokes he asked for water and they brought him a sparkling water for another 4.8 euros…
Needless to say we spent more on drinks than we did on food! LOL Whoops! I also discovered the iced tea in Brugge is nothing like back home. They made it with sparkling water and it was a little sweet with an orange for garnish instead of lemon.
We finally got our rooms at the hotel, and instead of napping before dinner, my Mom and I headed into the village. We came across an artist’s shop that displayed a gorgeous pig in the window, so my Mom, who collects pigs, needed to get a better look.
Inside we met the artist and her husband. They were an older couple who live upstairs over the shop. We could see her workshop and she and my Mom swapped business cards. International art friends! Yay! 🙂
Next, I wandered into a lace shop. Brugge used to be known for its lace, but our guide had warned us to ask before buying because these days many of the shops carry lace from Taiwan. Inside the shop, they had a lace weaving table, and the woman working set it up so that I could take some pictures. She was in the middle of weaving a custom lace of King Tut’s mask! Amazing! I bought Panda a handkerchief that the woman had made. It was really fun to meet her.
For dinner, I was introduced to my first Belgium hot chocolate… I could be ruined for life! LOL YUM!!! They brought it in a little pitcher with a cup and a separate dish of whipped cream. For 6 Euros I got enough in the pitcher to fill my cup twice. It was rich and not too sweet. Probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had…
When we got back to the room, I uploaded a few photos to facebook and tried to upload a video of the choir singing, but the internet wasn’t great I my room so I couldn’t get it to load. Bottled water and ice aren’t in plentiful supply in Belgium. Your drinks and water in the restaurants are chilled, but no ice.
Not in San Diego anymore: To turn on the lights in your room you have to use your hotel key! And the switches are down to turn on and up you turn off.
Day Two (2-7-11)
We spent most of today in Ghent. The buildings were similar to Brugge, but the city was MUCH bigger and more modern. I think I enjoyed the ma and pa shops and restaurants in Brugge better.
The Cathedral of Ghent was stunning! They allowed the choir to perform and then gave us a tour. I took a gazillion pictures, but here are a few… 🙂
I finally had my first real Belgian waffle today! They had a waffle-man cooking them at a to-go window. He wrapped it in wax paper and off we went. Reno and I loved the waffles. They were just the right amount of sweet. YUM!!!
We were free for lunch and the boys and I found a sandwich shop. The guy working the counter was very nice and patient with me. Nothing was in English on their menu so we really had to guess. He ended up making me a delicious cheese sandwich of some kind and we got an “Elvis” dessert sandwich that ROCKED!!! It was marshmallow spread, peanut butter and banana! Yum!
We met a pug puppy while we sat in one of the squares. He was so cute and happy to meet Americans… It made me miss Yodette back home! :-/
There were no traffic signals in Ghent and it was nerve wracking to see trolleys, buses, and cars all traveling the same streets while we’re trying to cross the road… Yikes! Most of the people in the city rode bikes everywhere. I’ve never seen so many bikes parked at once! A horde of bikes of all shapes and sizes were outside of every building.
While the cathedrals were majestic and ancient, most of the stores and restaurants in the city were what you would find back home. There was a Tommy Hilfiger store, Levis store and even a Belgian version of Payless and Foot Locker. (Although no white tennis shoes in the windows! Only brown and black walking shoes and boots. No Nikes in sight!) They also had bookstores! 🙂
When we arrived back in Brugge, it felt more like “home”. I recognized some of the streets, and the city runs at a much slower pace. In fact, most of Belgium that we experienced, the people weren’t in a hurry to get places. There were no traffic signals in Ghent and Brugge, and yet we didn’t hear a single car horn. They seemed fine to wait for pedestrians, and horse carriages, buses, bikes and cars all shared the roads.
Many of the shops in Brugge had a bell on the door and when you entered, the owner would come downstairs to greet you. We were lucky that everyone spoke English and they were happy to chat about their city and ask about San Diego.
Seeing Brugge at night is a treat. The canals are quiet. No boats or people, just swans gliding across the water. We had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the swans floating on the pond. The candlelight in the upstairs dining room made the perfect atmosphere for our last night in Brugge. I wish we could have stayed one more day so we could have taken a horse-drawn carriage tour and a boat tour on the canals. Maybe next time?
~~~~~~~~~~~ Day Three – (2-8-11)
Today started VERY early. We packed our bags and headed down for breakfast in the hotel. They had an amazing buffet with everything from eggs and bacon, to crepes and mulberry jam, to cocoa krispies cereal, to fruit, and even had a station of salty meats and fresh breads and cheeses.
I feel SO fat!! I tried to have some grapefruit this morning just to feel like I tried to eat something good for me! LOL
I’ve been very lucky with my chaperoning duties! Reno and his roomie, Brennon, have been very responsible and careful to get to all the assigned meet-up points on time. They’ve also been careful to be respectful of the culture and people. Reno has even been trying some of the food…
We’re on the bus now, heading for Normandy in France. We just crossed the French border as the sun broke over the horizon! Bonjour! Today the kids are singing at the D-Day war memorial, and then tonight they’ll sing with a university choir in Caen. They’re definitely singing on this trip! But they get better every time….
And here is my cool tech moment for the day… I got a new book for my Kindle while we rode on the bus across France!!! How cool is that??? In less than a minute it was loaded and I was reading it!!! Amazing magic! 🙂 <– Great book too! I loved it!
We stopped for lunch at a cafeteria on our way to Normandy. I was very excited because this cafeteria is now the site of my first complete conversation in French!!! Don’t get too excited, it was just me paying for my food, but it was huge for me! LOL
Here’s an instant replay of the conversation…
Cashier: (Told me the total but I had to look at the cash register to see it was 1.95 Euros.)
Me: (Counting out my Euro coins) Un, Deux. (I gave her two 1 Euro coins)
Cashier: (Hands me my change) Merci
Ta da!!! And she didn’t even hear me say Bonjour and switch to English! LOL I felt very continental… 🙂
When we arrived at Normandy, I had no concept of the effect it would have on me. Birds sang over us as we walked quietly with our guide to the memorial which is adjacent to the American cemetery. We rounded the bend and thousands of stark white crosses came into view. Tears filled my eyes. The emotional weight of the cemetery was palpable.
Our guide explained that nearly 10,000 men and 4 women were buried there. Of the crosses just over 300 are for unidentifiable soldiers. All of the crosses are blank as you approach, because the fronts of the markers are facing west. All of these men are still looking toward home. Heart-breaking.
The choir sang our National Anthem at the memorial and then sang Taps. Tears flowed freely from the adults and even some of the teens. I’m glad the kids got a chance to really see and feel the sacrifices that others have made for their freedom. Liberty comes at a very high price.
Across the top of the Memorial it reads: THIS EMBATTLED SHORE, PORTAL OF FREEDOM, IS FOREVER HALLOWED BY THE IDEALS,
THE VALOR AND THE SACRIFICES OF OUR FELLOW COUNTRYMEN
After a visit to the D-Day museum, we drove on to Caen for a concert with the community college there. The kids sang in the college chapel. The college choir had programs announcing the choir from “Californie”… 🙂
The college choir sang two songs and then the Granite Hills kids took over. The kids sang beautifully and the chapel was packed! The audience loved the choir and treated them to 3 encores! The kids sang every song they had, and ended up singing their school’s Alma Mater for the final encore… 🙂
Unlike America, the audience didn’t stand up; their ovation was a unified clap through the chapel until the director offered them another song. Very cool…
The kids left excited and inspired. For many, it was their first encore ever. I thought I would get videos uploaded to facebook at the hotel, but again I was thwarted by the European electricity. I have a converter, but you have to leave it on the low setting, so the power ebbs on an off making my netbook impossible to work on while it’s plugged in. And last night the only plug that actually worked was in the bathroom! LOL Oh well…
I’m definitely learning to appreciate electricity back home… 🙂 Tomorrow we bus off to the island of Mount St. Michel… I can’t wait.
TO BE CONTINUED…