Belgium is more than just chocolate.

When you say Belgium the first thing that comes to mind for many people is chocolate. But Belgium is more than just chocolate (and waffles and frites). Belgium is beauty. Belgium is history. Belgium has been a love affair that I haven’t been able to get over and I probably never will.img_4206.jpg

When my brother backpacked through Europe and ended up in a little city called Bruges I couldn’t even find the city on the map. I knew very little about Belgium and I knew nothing about Bruges. But since he decided to fall in love with a Belgium-born woman and move there I knew I’d have to visit. Little did I know that this would begin my love affair with not just Bruges but travel in general. I will always be grateful to Bruges for opening up my eyes to a world many don’t see. I grew up (and still reside) in the Midwest. I wasn’t used to diversity. I wasn’t used to walking through a city and hearing dozens of different languages. I didn’t fully understand that as open-minded as I thought I was, I was actually very narrow-minded. I credit Bruges and travel for my eventual coming out. Bruges is where I came out to my sister-in-law. Bruges is where I eventually came out to my brother. Bruges is where my now wife proposed to me. Bruges will always have a piece of my heart.

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There is something to see around every corner and some little known museum, shop, restaurant, bar. I’ve been to Bruges 7 or 8 times and every time I am there I see something I haven’t seen before. There are nooks and crannies that only the locals are aware of but luckily I have some pretty amazing guides to show me the unknowns.

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While Belgium isn’t just chocolate I would remiss to say that I haven’t imbibed in the ritual of tasting some amazing chocolate. Go to The Chocolate Line where you can taste some of Dominique Persoone’s more…off the wall ideas. Or if you are feeling especially crazy you can snort a line of chocolate right up your nose. It’s like Studio 54 in the 70’s but with a much better high. FYI, I tried to google how many chocolate shops are in Bruges but I couldn’t find a definite answer. Good luck on your search for ‘the best’ but I would say in my opinion the best is The Chocolate Line. One thing I’ll say about any of the chocolate shops I’ve been in-everyone is extremely knowledgeable about the chocolate they are selling and they love to hand out samples. Happy eating!

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One of my favorite subjects in photography is architecture. I can’t get enough of it. Photographing a city like Bruges is a photographers dream. I can’t get enough of the brick Gothic. I’m amazed every time I walk the city. And I definitely cannot get enough of the churches! We have some impressive churches in the United States but the churches in Europe are incredible. I could spend hours photographing them because around every corner there is something new to see.

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While I could go on and on about just Bruges I can’t ignore a few other spots in Belgium. I have spent a few days in Gent and it is a wonderful city filled with (once again) amazing architecture, churches, even a castle! I’ve strolled along those streets and along the canal wishing I could pack up my life and move there because I really think I must be Dutch in a past life.

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The last time my wife and I went to Bruges we also took a day trip to Ostend with my brother. I had never been there before and I am glad my wife found the Atlantic Wall Museum because it was one of the coolest ‘museums’ I’ve been to. You go through trenches and bunkers with an idea of how the soldiers lived. It was pretty rainy the day we went which I think made for an even more authentic experience.

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We also spent an entire day Diksmuide where we saw a LOT of WWI memorials. We went to Dodengang (Trench of Death), Vladslo German War Cemetery and the Museum Aan De Ijzer. The Trench of Death is a small trench and bunker that you can walk through to try to experience what happened there so many years before. The cemetery is small but beautiful. It was a somber but moving experience.

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Then we went to the Museum Aan De Ijzer which was a really well done museum on WWI. It’s housed in this tower where you can go to the roof and you have a magnificent view of the area. From there you take the stairs down each level where there is different information on each floor. We were with 2 children and even they got a lot out of it. It was very informative.

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When visiting Belgium I really do recommend you see more than just Bruges or Brussels. Really try to explore other areas and get a feel of the entire country. I found the Dutch to be very lovely people and very patient with my very limited Dutch language skills.

But do not ignore Bruges! It may be small and I’m sure many websites and guide books only recommend a few nights but I’ve stayed for up to a week (multiple times) and I always find something to do.

And don’t listen to Colin Farrell in “In Bruges”. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

 

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“Ireland sober is Ireland stiff.”

So.
It’s been awhile.
I would apologize but I have nothing to apologize for.
Life happens.
Plus…I really had nothing to write about.

Now I do.

I love to talk about my travels. I just wish I did more travel to really discuss them. At least we are planning a trip now. I think I should discuss my trips less on Facebook and more on this blog. I think I am starting to annoy my friends. I’m starting to annoy myself!

Ireland
September 18-October 1.

As somebody that absolutely loves to plan trips, let me just say, this one is a doozy but I am loving every single minute of it. I’ve never had to plan a trip for an entire country. I’ve mostly dealt with 1 or 2 cities. But this time we are flying into Belfast, driving up to see Giant’s Causeway, then down to Galway, then to Cork, then up to Dublin. Mind you, these are the areas we are staying in, we won’t just see these few cities. We’ve already book 3 accommodations, need to book 3 more, plus a rental car.

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This is how I plan trips…

Shall I discuss the driving that I am so nervous about even though I won’t even be the one driving? A manual, steering wheel on the opposite side, driving on the other side of the road? My wife says she can do it. I think she is doing her best to reassure me. We considered renting an automatic but that doubled the price on a rental car. We can do it, right? We shall overcome, we shall persevere. We shall…okay I’m done with cliches.

Ireland travelers and Irish readers-if there is one spot (just one!) that you would recommend for us novices, what would it be?

 

 

 

Love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet.

I’m gay.

I am so gay.

I love books about lesbians. I love movies with lesbian characters even though 90 percent of the time somebody ends up dead. I love rainbows. I love lesbian owned businesses. I Twitter stalk lesbian celebrities, pseudo-celebrities, lesbian writers, lesbian journalists. I frequent sites such as AfterEllen.com and Autostraddle. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to go against the ‘norm’ of the United States. I am proud to be in love with a woman. I am proud to be married to a woman.

10 years ago I was so far in the closet I was a part of the drywall. 10 years ago I was terrified somebody would find me out. 10 years ago I would rather drink myself into oblivion than really sit and think about who I was. 10 years ago I refused to admit what I am so proud of today.

I am gay.

And now that I am 31, nearing 32, I have to say this. I have to say it loud and proud. Fuck what people think. Fuck if you think I’m going to hell. Fuck you if you are worried about my salvation. Fuck you if you consider my gay marriage to be less than your straight marriage. Fuck you if you can’t even extend the courtesy to say congratulations to me in my new marriage. Fuck you if you think being gay is  choice.

I refuse to be ashamed anymore. And I refuse to let you get under my skin. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of the love I have with my wife.

I am a gay woman and I am proud.

 

Brugge, Amsterdam and Marriage

So much has happened since my last post. I don’t even know where to start. Maybe from the beginning. I guess that would be the smart option. We came back from our Belgium and Netherlands trip not even a month ago and can I just say what an amazing time we had? I saw more of Belgium which is hard to believe considering the amount of times I’ve spent there. For such a small country there sure is a lot to see. I spent time with family. I bonded with my niece. I ate some chocolate. Drank some beer. We went to so many war museums. The Atlantic Wall Museum in Oostend. Go there. You won’t regret it. The “Trench of Death” in Diksmuide and the Ypres Tower also there. Go there. Again, you won’t regret it. We stayed at Martin’s Brugge again and I have no complaints with it. It is steps away from the main square. It’s clean and the staff is friendly. We had an top floor room with amazing views!

And…I went to Paris.

And I am sad to say this. I don’t know if I should admit it in my blog but I don’t think Paris is my favorite city anymore. Now, I may get a lot of flack for this. And I am willing to deal with the flack. It has been two years since I set foot in that city. We went on a Saturday, which I can imagine was probably not the best day to go. I can deal with tourists. I can deal with being shoved trying to cross the street. I can even deal with one of the birds shitting on my leather jacket as I stood outside of a Starbucks on the Champs de Elysees. What I cannot deal with is the throngs of gypsies/scam artists/aggressiveness that we had to deal with. The amount of scammers I saw and had to deal with was out of control. It was not like this two years ago when we went. I have always defended Paris. We never had problems with people being rude. We never had people talk down to us because we were American. This was my third time to Paris but my least favorite time spent there. I think it will be a very long time before I go back.

But I do have to say, Paris is still an incredibly photogenic city. If you can ignore the bad, just imagine the gorgeous pictures one can take there.

Then we went to Amsterdam. I went to Amsterdam years ago, for not even a full day and I really enjoyed my time there. But this time was really great. Now, sadly, when we finally got to Amsterdam we were incredibly sick. We had very bad colds, sore throats, I spiked a fever a few times. But we pulled through. Two friends from London flew over to spend a day with us which was amazing. I have ‘known’ Grete and David since we started talking on a travel website 8 or 9 years ago. This was our first time meeting and it was like meeting two old friends! We had a blast together. We went to the Anne Frank House. That was an incredibly moving experience. If you go I highly recommend booking tickets ahead of time. You save a lot of time! We got there right after opening and the line was already stretching around the building and down the block. We went to the Resistance Museum which was incredibly informative. I really enjoyed seeing that.  The Prostitution Museum was interesting but I found it more depressing than informative. The Marijuana and Hemp Museum was a lot of fun, lots of cool artifacts and a lot (and I mean a LOT) of history associated with it. We enjoyed our time at a coffeeshop called Basjoe’s. It was right across the canal from our apartment. We went one night and the budtender was very nice and patient with us and we have no complaints with his recommendations for us.

The apartment we booked:

http://www.dekorenbloemen.com/en

I cannot say enough great things about this apartment. It is centrally located. Just a few short minute walk from the Dam Square and the Red Light District. It is quiet, for the most part. With Amsterdam being a city of course there is always noise. The apartment is a basement apartment so we did hear more noise than somebody on the top floor but it didn’t really bother us at all. Just go down the street and you are right in the middle of the tourist track, shops, restaurants, coffeeshops, cafes all within a few minutes. When (yes, WHEN) we go back to Amsterdam I would not hesitate to stay there again.

And this goes without saying but Amsterdam is absolutely gorgeous.

And now for some big news. Big. HUGE!

Last week, on November 5th the gay marriage ban was tossed out for the state of Missouri. Which is great for us. Because we live in Missouri! We were already planning an Illinois wedding for the spring. But guess what we did? We got married on November 7, 2014! We really had no notice, our families couldn’t even come due to it being so last minute. But WE. ARE. MARRIED. In our home state! It was the most amazing day. St Louis City Hall is absolutely beautiful. We were lucky enough that our friend Jenny and her fiance Jon could get off work to be our witnesses. Jenny held our rings, Jon took pictures. We found a minister who was already up there with her church marrying gay couples and she married us with less than 24 hours notice. I still don’t know how we pulled it off. We are married now. I have a wife. She has a wife. Life is good.

Travel plans for the future you ask?

New Orleans next fall. Probably right around November so we can be there for our first wedding anniversary. And for 2016…well…who knows? Right now we are weighing our options. Alaska. Italy. Ireland. Normandy was thrown out there just tonight. We shall see what the next year takes us. Last week I was all about Alaska. This week I envision us in Ireland. This is me we are talking about, by the time 2016 rolls around we could be planning a vacation to Vietnam for all I know.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

I think that sometimes I wear my gay pride as a badge of honor. Some may consider that to be strange but I don’t. It is 2014 and gay men and women are still being persecuted just by being who they are. Do people not understand that? We have come so far but still have so far to go. I love to live openly and freely to show the people who don’t understand this ‘lifestyle’ that we are all the same. My fiance and I love each other, we make dinner together, clean the condo together, go to the grocery store, spend time with our families. We do what every other straight couple does.

When I was a teenager. I was obsessed with Alanis Morissette. I wrote her fan letters. I wrote out her song lyrics and taped them all over my bedroom walls. I realized at 13 this wasn’t a normal fan experience. I imagined kissing her. And I wondered what that would be like. Then I felt ashamed because a girl kissing another girl was wrong. Then people started to realize how obsessed I was with her. My friends and I all read teen magazines. Seventeen, YM, I don’t even remember the others. And some teenager wrote in to one of them asking about their obsession with Alanis and how much they were in love with her. My friends actually thought it was me. The girl said she was 16 or 17 years old and I remember my friend saying “I just assumed you changed your age so that we wouldn’t think it was you.” I was embarrassed and I felt ashamed. Also, for the record, it wasn’t me!

Flash forward throughout high school. I dated a guy, for a little over 2 years. I felt normal being with him. He gave me his class ring, I gave him mine. We went to prom, homecoming, he was a football player and drove a big truck. We’d make out in his bedroom and he’d take me home. I look back now and think that really, all we ever did was make out, watch movies, and make out some more. Was I in love with him? No. When we broke up I thought my heart would break into a million pieces. Because there went my normalcy.

After high school life got a little easier. Mainly because I lost touch with so many friends from school. I moved out of my tiny town. I got a full time job. Spent time in the city, away from all the small towns. I lived with my brother and his girlfriend for awhile. I then moved in with my aunt. I worked random hours. Moved back in with my brothers girlfriend then he moved in. Here and there dated men. Even fell into a relationship that I thought that could end in marriage. All the while thinking ‘is this it?’ My grandpa was a minister. My grandparents were incredibly religious. My parents didn’t understand homosexuality, not at all. I felt incredibly alone, then I started hanging out with this girl from my old job. We’d make out. She claimed she wasn’t gay, or even bisexual. My gaydar is on point but I knew she’d never admit she was anything other than straight. We’d go out, get drunk, make out. Go back to her place and make out and drink some more. I was definitely on a path of destruction. Driving drunk, meeting strange people, inviting them over to hang out. Bar after bar after concert after concert. Drink after drink after drink. I guess in the grand scheme of things it was kind of normal behavior for a 25 year old single female. Or maybe not, maybe I am just trying to make myself feel better. I started to fall for my friend even though I realized it would never work out between us. And I was right. She refused to accept who she was and ended up falling for a guy all wrong for her, married him, and now has a few kids and we never talk after a horrific falling out. Ah. Such is life.

After that debacle one of my friends came out of the closet (and this came way out of left field) and it gave me courage. Even though it was still a long time until I told anyone. I went to see my friend (she lived on the East coast) and she had a new girlfriend. I told my friend “If I was gay, your girlfriend is the type I’d go for” which was basically a hot butch lesbian with short hair, wore flannel, and was all around a cutie. I went home and started watching The L Word and listening to Tegan and Sara. I mean, how gay can somebody get, right? I started very, very casually dating girls. Nothing special, just casual. Hanging out, going to see movies, going to gay bars in St Louis. All the while this was going on I told my parents I was dating this guy or that guy but it was all very ‘casual’. Or I would tell them I was not dating because I really just needed ‘me’ time. I’d nod firmly and puff out my chest a little. Like I was so mature for this, I just needed to be ‘alone’. Then I’d have a girl over and we’d giggle at the deception while inside my heart was breaking over lying to so many people. I finally started to slowly come out to friends. I swore them all to secrecy. The kicker? I don’t think I talked to one friend that was surprised. Most said “yeah, I’ve known” or “really, this is no big surprise to me.” Sigh.

I tried online dating and ended up talking to a girl in Finland. During all that I flew to Belgium for Christmas to see my brother and his wife. I told his wife first. We were in the car, I told her and she slapped my leg and said “I knew it!” We went out to eat after and we giggled over her lesbian encounter the ONE time she had one. We came home that night and my brother wanted to take me out to a bar down the road. His wife told me it was the perfect time to tell him. I didn’t have the courage so she told him. He said “Brittany, I don’t care. Women are beautiful.” Within seconds I felt relief. My best friend, my brother, he knew and I knew he would always have my back.

Things with the girl in Finland took a weird turn when we decided we wanted to meet. Then we decided we didn’t want to date anyone else until we could figure out what ‘this’ was. So I planned a 3 week trip to Finland. But a week before I left to follow my heart, my brother and his wife came to visit. And we had all decided it was time to tell my parents. It didn’t go well. I told my mom, over the phone, on my brothers birthday. To this day I don’t know why I chose that day, of all days. My mom, at first, accepted it whole-heartedly. “Brittany, I love you, you’re my daughter, I’d never feel ashamed.” She told the family (which I said was okay because I didn’t have the energy to come out to everyone else). My step-sisters sent me text messages basically also saying they weren’t surprised. My step-brother too. Even their mother sent me a text congratulating me on coming out. Then my mom told my step-dad and all hell broke loose. To defend my parents, I realize this was all a shock. But I had no idea it would turn into what it did. They just could not get over the fact that I lied to them. And I get it, now, I get it. But what exactly do parents of gay children expect? My step-dad wouldn’t talk to me except to yell at me about lying. We had a surprise party for my brother that same week, a hundred people showed up, and I just tried my best to steer clear of my parents. When people were around my parents were nice to me but it didn’t last. The day before I left for Finland my parents yelled at me about what a liar I was. They refused to take me to the airport and I had to scramble for a ride. Before I left I told my mom I was flying to Finland because I was pretty sure I was in love. That if things worked out they could possibly lose me to Finland (and this girl) forever. That didn’t go over well. And I left. I went to Finland and didn’t even call them from the airport. The only reason I even had contact with them in that 3 weeks is because my sister ended up in the hospital while I was gone and I wanted and needed updates.

Things didn’t work out with the girl in Finland. It was to be expected. I had a lot of baggage. I refuse to blame it all on her or all on me. We were just two women that didn’t work out. 3 years later we are practically best friends and email each other at least once a week. Sometimes I wish I could fly back to Finland to hang out with her, just as best friends. Maybe one of these days I will.

I met Angie a month after the girl from Finland I broke up. I think it may have been love at first sight. We spent that first night together, watching 10 Things I Hate About You and she made me her famous grilled cheese and dip. I spent every weekend with her after that and 4 months later I sold most of my stuff and moved in with her only bringing artwork, books, movies, and clothing. My parents eventually came around. They even felt ashamed at how they acted, what they said. They adored Angie. Angie was there for me when my step-dad got sick, when he died. She was there for me when work was awful and I ended friendships and when people on Facebook upset me. If it wasn’t for my whole process of coming out I would have never found her.

I wrote this blog because, as lame as it sounds, things can and will get better. Find a great group of friends, gay or straight. Because if your family can’t accept you, your friends always will. The more we ‘normalize’ gay the more people will come around. A lot of straight people don’t understand gay pride. They don’t understand why we even have it. The history behind gay pride is in 1969 LGBT people rioted after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, in NYC. It is considered the ‘watershed moment’ for LGBT rights of modern times. Gay people aren’t going anywhere. In reality so many are coming out because they feel more secure coming out when before it was scary. No matter what, it is scary. But it is definitely not the end of the world like I thought it would be. Once I came out I felt instant relief even though I had to do deal with so much bullshit after. I really thought I’d lose my family. And for about 6 months I thought I was losing my family. Things were not okay until I basically told my parents that either they accept me and keep accepting me or I was done. I wasn’t going to deal with flip flopping. Being okay with it, then flipping out about it all over again.

If any parents are reading this, some advice. Don’t accuse your children of being liars. Yes, they lied. But think about it. Why did they lie? Why were they terrified to tell you? How are you reacting as they tell you? Therein lies your answer. These are your children. I don’t care if you are worried about his or her salvation. Think of your child now, in this life and what they are going through.

If I have learned anything in 2014 it is that life is very fragile. You say good-bye to somebody and it could very well be the last time you see them. Make that good-bye count. And make wonderful memories before that last good-bye. Don’t worry about who they prefer to share their bed with.

You have to dream before your dreams can come true.

While sitting here

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Dealing with this

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I dream about

The best advice I can give anyone is to close your mouth and open your mind. Go out and see the world. Because until you do, you haven’t lived. If you can’t afford to right now, don’t worry. Eventually you will. Put a little bit of money aside each check, even 5-10 dollars. Save it. And then go on that amazing trip you’ve yearned for your entire life. It pains me, to see my generation, sitting idly by as their life passes them by. They have no desire to experience something completely out of their comfort zone. They are the stereotype, the typical Stupid American we hear so much about. They have no desire to educate themselves, to realize there is a huge world outside of this country and there is so much to see. Countries filled to the brim with deep, rich history. It was amazing to me to walk around Krakow and imagine life for the Jews during WWII. Or walking through Auschwitz imagining what went on there. To go to Bastogne, Belgium and see the tribute to America. To stroll through Paris and imagine life in the jazz era. You see…I feel like I’ve lived. I feel like I have. And I want to see so much more. This hasn’t quenched this thirst, this incredible need to see more. When I travel I want to feel something.

“Travel is rich with learning opportunities, and the ultimate souvenir is a broader perspective.”-Rick Steves