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

Belgium, A Love Story

We boarded the train to Brussels. It was a very uneventful trip, all we really wanted to do was sleep. After we hit Brussels we walk around the station, lost like 2 normal tourists trying to find the train to Bruges. We finally figure out thanks to the help from somebody who works at the station. As it turns out the last train to Bruges was late so there was a massive amount of people waiting. We finally make it on, we are clueless about our luggage so we are trying to cram it under our seats. We finally gave up and sat down, exhausted, legs all twisted weird trying to accommodate our luggage. I felt bad for our seat-mate! We make it to Bruges and its sleeting outside and we can’t find my brother who was meeting us at the station. We finally realize the little restaurant he told us to meet him at had 2 locations in the station. Finally! We take the bus into the center and check in at the hotel and leave our bags in the room. We stayed at Martin’s Brugge and I HIGHLY recommend it. Its right off the city center, its quiet, its clean, nicely decorated and not too expensive. We had some issues with the wi-fi but other than that absolutely no complaints.

Already Angie is in love with Bruges. I can see it in her eyes. We’ve been in Bruges for 1 hour and she is in love and I am totally okay with that. My brother takes us to an Irish pub called Boru which was amazing! We both had the Irish steak with frites and a salad and it was delicious. It has a great atmosphere, very dark, very Irish. It was a nice relaxing late lunch for us that we desperately needed. In the middle of lunch my brother left to get his daughter from school and Angie and I went back to the center and found Bill (my brother) and his daughter. We hung out, waited for my sister-in-law and then went with them to dinner. Since we had just ate we didn’t eat but I love the bar we went to. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of it but it serves amazing spaghetti. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to sleep. By then we were absolutely exhausted. We slept for a good 12 hours.

The 8th we met up with my brother, sister-in-law and niece and went to his best friends house. I am good friends with his best friend, his wife and I finally was able to meet their little boy. We had a good time over at their house. John made us pancakes which were delicious. We hung out, talked and laughed. We all tried to convince Angie to move but she wouldn’t budge. But maybe if we win the lottery we can buy a summer home there. Right, Angie? Forgot to add we also went to lunch with my sister-in-law and her grandma and that was a fun time. And again, I forgot the name of the restaurant but it was Italian and it was amazing. I’m bad about restaurant names I am realizing.

On the 9th we went to my brothers house, enjoyed some home-made potato soup and visited with the family. We helped put up the Christmas tree and just hung around. It was nice seeing my brother.

On the 10th I honestly don’t remember what we did. I think we walked around a lot and took a lot of pictures. That was basically the gist of our entire Belgium experience. People like Rick Steves and other travel guides say all you need is 2-3 days in Bruges but I don’t believe that. I think that you can spend a week at least in Bruges and still not see it all!

The 11th more walking around and taking pictures.. We met up with Bill and his family and my niece was having a bad day so we ended up going to…wait for…wait…wait…McDonald’s! I know, I know. It was…well it was McDonald’s. Nothing special there!

The 12th we did a ton of shopping. I purchased a lot of souvenirs for people, went to the Christmas market and ate there and people watched for awhile. We relaxed back at the hotel and then went to a romantic dinner at my favorite pizza place in Bruges-Carlitos (address is Hoogstraat 21). We both had a cheese pizza. When you order you get a massive pizza all to yourself. That’s a normal meal there! I’ve been to eat there every trip to Bruges and it never disappoints. I recommend it to everyone.

The morning of the 13th went to Carpe Diem which is a great tea room (address is Wijngaardstraat 8). I highly recommend this place. They have amazing waffles, crepes. All different sorts of toppings for said waffles and crepes. Prices aren’t too bad either. We relaxed there for a good hour and took our time with our meal. Angie had a pancake with bananas, ice cream, cream and chocolate sauce. I had a waffle with powdered sugar, a coffee and orange juice. My mouth may or not be watering thinking about this… After that we went to La Rose a little shop I’ve bought glass rings from. They had no glass rings but I bought a whole ring set (5 rings) for about 30 Euros. The address is Groeninge 1. While pricy everything is hand-made and I really enjoy browsing. The people running the shop are very helpful. After that went to Church of Our Lady which is beautiful! Definitely stop by there if you make it to Bruges. From there went to the Historium (in the main market square) which is like a fusion/interactive museum with videos, smells, scenery, special effects. I really enjoyed it. From there we went to the Salvador Dali exhibit which I have been to but that’s always an enjoyment. I always wonder what it was like to be in Dali’s head! That evening we went to my brothers house for some Flemish stew which was amazing and I want the recipe to make here in the States!

When we made it back to the hotel we were pretty tired, it was cold and it was raining a bit. We settled in and we were both relaxing in bed, on our computers and watching TV. Angie leaned over and handed me a package all wrapped up like they do in Bruges. I was super excited about a gift! I opened it up and it was a beautiful antique silver ring. Then I heard “Will you marry me?” and almost fell off the bed and I am pretty sure I giggled uncontrollably for awhile. Of course I said yes! I’M ENGAGED! ENGAGED!!!The ring!

The 14th, still glowing, we checked out of the hotel and my brother picked us up and we went to his house. I told him I was engaged in the car and he didn’t believe me then yelled at me for not doing it in a proper way! (I’m not a fan of having so much attention on me). He told me to tell his wife at dinner and make it into a big thing so she’ll scream and get all excited. We hung out there, took naps, did laundry. I told Lavinia at dinner and she didn’t believe me (I’m not real good at making big announcements I’ve noticed). We dropped off my niece at her grandma’s to stay over and we went out on the town. We couldn’t find a parking spot and realized there was a marathon going on in Bruges with thousands of people running through the streets. First we headed to Charlie Rockets (Hooghstraat 19) and had some drinks, played some pool, and listened to a band play. It was packed, it was hard to even move but we had a good time. From there we went to Vino Vino (Grauwwerkersstraat 15) which is such a fun place. We ordered some tapas and some drinks and hung out. They had great jazz music playing and it was a lively crowd. I recommend that place to everyone. Its always a good time.

The 15th we did some last minute shopping then packed and got ready to depart the next day for home. I was very sad and not looking forward to a big day of travel but it had to be done. We left on the 16th. The flight was fine, albeit boring (aren’t they all?). It was a very uneventful day and we made it home by 6:30 or so on Sunday.

I had such a great time in Belgium and Paris. It was exactly what I needed after the death of my step-father. I miss our time there but looking at pictures will have to suffice for awhile. No more trips for awhile. I am starting school soon and we want to buy a house and now we have a wedding to plan! I hope you readers have enjoyed my trip report. For awhile it will have to be local updates. But the older I get the more I realize St Louis (and surrounding areas) has a lot to offer and I am looking forward to exploring more of the area while I dream about another European adventure!

EUROPE!

Okay so I lied in the last post. I didn’t update by Friday. Well by last Friday. Today is technically Friday. I am at home sick with what I think could be the flu so what better time to do this?

First things first.

After spending time in Paris and then time in Bruges I have come to the conclusion that I actually prefer Bruges over Paris. I never thought I’d say this but it’s true! Paris is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much to see and so much to do. It was almost overwhelming. With Paris we felt the need to rush. It is a big city, like New York City, lots of people living there, they have places to go, people to see (or the other way around) and while we didn’t come across one rude French person, I didn’t feel like we had the opportunity to really relax while out of our apartment. We had some issues with our apartment as well. While we would go with the company again (they are aware of the problems) there is no way we would choose the same apartment though. All in all though, our time in Paris was fabulous. We didn’t overdo it, we did take our time about things and didn’t rush around every single day. Angie and I work out rather well when it comes to vacationing. We don’t like to have an itinerary planned hour by hour. We kind of wing it as the day goes. And we don’t beat ourselves up over things we missed out on. We are both of the mind set that Paris (and Bruges) aren’t going anywhere so we’ll just have to go back!

I’m going to do a Paris post then do a Bruges one probably tomorrow. It’s a lot to type out all at once!

PARIS

We arrived in Paris at around 9am on Sunday, December 2nd after a long day/night of traveling. We were exhausted (no sleep on the plane for us). We dropped our bags off and went in search of breakfast. I don’t remember the name of the  cafe but our waitress was adorable and was excited we spoke English and seemed excited to speak it with us. Angie didn’t recognize anything on the menu so at 11am she ordered a cheeseburger and a Heineken. I went for the more French breakfast of a croque monsieur (which was amazing I might add). We stopped by the Franprix down the street from the apartment and picked up basic sandwich meat, drinks, chips, that sort of thing. Our plan was to not eat out a lot in Paris. It’s so expensive there to begin with plus we’d eat out a lot in Bruges. We went back to the apartment and both fell asleep. I normally try to stay up all day and just sleep at night but the exhaustion was too much for me. We woke up in the evening and just piddled around the apartment and then went back to bed. Can I just say this apartment was in a PRIME location? It was in the 1st arrondisement 1 block from the Louvre.

On Monday, the 3rd, we were up super early (we both had major issues with jet lag in Paris—it didn’t really go away until we made it to Bruges on the 7th). We got ready and walked to the Louvre to take pictures of the outside. While I have been there before this time was a lot nicer because there was hardly anyone there. The best part of my experience there was being mistaken as native French by some Russian tourists asking for directions. I tried to help them as much as I could with hand signals and everything. The daughter even said “Merci” as they were walking away. It made my day! It was raining and kind of cold so we went to the apartment and warmed up then headed out later on in the afternoon. We WALKED all the way to the Notre Dame and I have to admit—BIG disappointment. No lights were on outside, it looked closed up. Notre Dame is one of my favorite spots in Paris so that disappointed me but we were able to see a lot just walking around. We saw the Eiffel from afar and its so gorgeous when it is lit up against the black sky. We walked across the Pont de l’Archeveche and took pictures of all the locks. Some people call it tacky, others call it beautiful. I call it art and took pictures. In a way it is tacky, in a way it is beautiful, especially the story behind it.

The 4th we were a bit worn out and didn’t leave until later on in the day.  We went to dinner at Louisa Cafe. Definitely a place for tourists but decent food and the waiter was very nice and very patient to the fact that all we could say was ‘bonjour’, ‘merci’, and a smattering of one word French words! We went to see Palais Royal which was right down the street from our apartment. That was a place that Angie definitely wanted to go to but a lot of it was under construction. We had a good time though and took some great pictures. Angie considered running through the columns like in the movie but decided against it. After that we headed to take some pictures of the Louvre at night. One word—STUNNING. Okay I can say a lot more words. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Atmospheric. As we were walking in we heard some haunting music and realized it was coming from somebody playing his bass violin. So beautiful. We walked around for a good hour taking pictures of the exterior. The best part of that experience? Having some American (this is almost embarrassing) yell at us for being in their shot while taking pictures. I am pretty sure they didn’t realize we were American until we started speaking English. Not a very good impression of American tourists going by that group!

The 5th was definitely the most Parisian experience of our time there! We had a Romanian mother and daughter pretend to be lost and ask for directions. While the daughter distracted Angie (and she thought she was distracting me) the mother came up to my side and kind of tried to get behind me (my purse was on the other side). Luckily I knew what was going on and stepped as close as I could to Angie while Angie gave directions (also, this place was practically right down the street). I just quickly grabbed Angie and we walked away. Not 10 minutes later some guy tried the gold ring scam on us. I’ve always wanted to experience this and I wasn’t disappointed. He was ahead of us (not behind us like he should have been) and he picked it up, looked at it like it was the most beautiful ring he has ever seen and asked us if it was ours. Now, mind you, this was a gold band definitely made for a man and probably 3 sizes too big for our finger. He kept trying to get our attention but we walked away. I think its hilarious people fall for this stuff! Roughly 10 minutes later we were at the Ferris wheel taking pictures and we come across a huge protest! Police were out in full force. It was all very French and very organized. They had masks but nobody was wearing them. We were handed some paperwork but it was all in French. I think it had something to do with wages, I’m not really sure.  We when walked to the Theatre Vrai Guinolet which is puppet show that has been there since 1818 and featured in the movie Charade. It was the cutest thing ever. The man running the show was probably 80 years old and scolded us about not knowing 5 languages like he did! I took some video of it, it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

After that we went to the Louvre (again) but this time we went inside. They are open late on Wednesdays and we were hoping it wouldn’t be as busy. It was busy but not overwhelming. I saw the Mona Lisa. It was nice to say I saw it—but I think I would have liked it more if there wasn’t so much fanfare surrounding it. The Louvre is so beautiful on the inside and so overwhelming and we only saw one wing! Winged Victory was my favorite. The placing of it on the staircase was so beautiful. There were many pieces that gave me chills but my favorite part about the Louvre were the ceilings in some of the rooms. So, so, so gorgeous.

Our last day in Paris we packed up, had a big breakfast and walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower. We went across the Pont des Arts, had the ring scam tried on us again, and somebody try to get us to sign a petition. Angie laughed at the guy because he asked us if we spoke English then proceeded to explain the petition in French. Just so everyone knows, I am NOT complaining about these scams tried on us. I found it hysterical and it was all a part of the experience. In a big touristy city scams happen and I was okay with it. It just made for interesting stories. We didn’t go up the Eiffel but we were there when it was lit up which was nice. I love that entire area. Its more residential and since I’d like to maybe own an apartment in Paris one day it was nice to get an idea of the buildings. You know, because one of these days I will win the lottery. We walked around and took pictures and posed in front of the Eiffel and decided to take a cab back to the apartment. There is a little shop a few doors down from the apartment called Oh Mon Cake! so we stopped in there and bought a cupcake and a taramisu which was pretty good. We had to be up at 6am to catch our train to Belgium. We didn’t get any sleep on our last night in Paris. I guess the restaurant next door wanted to give us a proper send-off but forgot to invite us to the massive party they were having that raged on until 3am, complete with neighbors getting pissed and stomping all over the floor until it finally quieted down. We didn’t get much sleep! I called a taxi and he met us at the apartment at 8 and took us to the train station (Paris Nord). What a fun station! We boarded the train and were on our way to Bruges via Brussels…