Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Looking Back...

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It's been almost two weeks since Jennifer and I returned from our 2 week trip to Belgium and France. While we still have many distinct memories of our travels abroad, some of the lines are beginning to blur and the memories are becoming a little hazy.

Looking back through the hundreds of photos that we shot while overseas, I decided that one of the ways I could try to preserve our memories was to create a Google Map highlighting a few of the pictures from some of our destinations.

Feel free to zoom in on the following map to see some of the places we visited. Be
sure to click on the placemarks so that you can see a few photos from each location.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Boundaries... Beyond Belgium

We spent our last day in Europe exploring an interesting region in a different country. Greg drove us out to Maastricht, in The Netherlands, to get the full experience of being in a Dutch city. With a population of just over 100,000, Maastricht didn't have too much of a big city feel, but we found lots of things to do and see to make the short trip well worth our while.

All of us agreed that being in The Netherlands has a totally different feel than Belguim. From the differences in the language, to the inferior 'frites', to the painted stonework on architectural gems, the experience was very unique :-)

Rufus came along for the ride, and he thrived off of the different aromas emanating from the cafes, restaurants and businesses along all the streets and alleys. We had a decent lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes, accompanied by the talents of a school jazz band that was performing just around the corner.

While we can't wait to return to our home and our children tomorrow, we are sad to see our vacation come to an end. Thank you to everyone who followed along with our adventures through this travel blog. While the primary purpose of the blog was to document our trip for your sake, looking over the pictures and generating blog posts was another way for the two of us to reflect on the highlights of our trip while it was taking place.

We hope that you've enjoyed reading about our travels almost as much as we've enjoyed blogging about them :-)

Thanks for reading,

The view across the canal in Maastricht, looking toward the train station.

The view from our outdoor cafe at lunch.

On the fringe of a large square in Maastricht.

Wandering down the cobblestones on a quiet alley in Maastricht.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Last Lazy Day

Waking up to an overcast and rainy morning, Jennifer and I decided to stick close to the house. We started the day off with a leisurely swim in the pool, then had a wonderful lunch upstairs on our own. There was a working lunch taking place in the dining room, so we tried to stay out of sight.

Following lunch, the clouds broke, so Greg decided that the three of us should go into the heart of Brussels one last time to see a few more of the sights. We wandered for several hours up and down some great streets and alleys, stopping repeatedly at outdoor cafes to keep our fluid levels up. When beer and coffee are cheaper than water, it makes ordering a very difficult process :-)

This evening, we had a lovely formal dinner with some VIP guests, then Jennifer and I entertained Rufus with a great game of catch. Although he's still a puppy, he's about 30 kg. and has far more stamina than the two of us put together.

Tomorrow we're off to see the city of Maastricht, just across the border in the Netherlands. Our last full day in Europe should be interesting.

Until then, thanks for reading :-)

We were served a terrific lunch on our own in the family study.

Ross recommended that we visit the carrier pigeon memorial in Brussels... here it is :-)

Another of the many cartoon murals featured around the city... this one featuring the 'Mannekin Pis' ;-)

The back yard of the house where Rufus, a flat coat retriever, loves to retrieve balls thrown deep into the yard.

After a long run and a rousing game of catch, Rufus is taking a little break :-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Seaside Adventure...

Over the last couple of days we've done more than our share of touring around the country. We hopped onto a morning train to the city of Gent, in northern Belguim, yesterday. We only spent about four hours there, but it was sufficient to get a feel for the city. Much more modern than Brugges, but still a lot of very old buildings and several canals winding their way through the city. We walked up and down some very colourful streets, took a tour of the cathedral that houses Von Eyck's 'Adoration of the Lamb', and even peeked into a medieval castle that still stands near the centre of the city.

After making our way back to the train station, we continued on to the city of Oostende, on the North Sea. Oostende is Belgium's second largest port. This beautiful city is filled with seafood restaurants and markets, and the sand beach stretches on as far as the eye can see in both directions down the Belgian coastline. The day that we arrived was hot and sunny, so the beach was buzzing with activity. However, this morning was quite cool and cloudy so the beach had a very different look and feel.

After seeing many of the sights in Oostende, we made our way back to Brussels this afternoon and took a quick tour of the Africa Museum in Tervueren (on the fringe of Brussels) which Jennifer mentioned in an earlier post. This museum contained some very interesting artifacts that King Leopold II 'collected' from the Congo about a century ago.

Tonight, we're heading back into the heart of Brussels for tapas with Greg and Ross :-)

Thanks for reading,

Along the canals in the city of Gent.

An example of the beautiful architecture around every corner in Gent.

All of the graffiti in the city of Gent is found along this one alley.

One of the cathedrals located in the seaside city of Oostende.

Thanks to the beautiful weather the day we arrived, the beach was quite crowded.

One of the many stalls in the fish market at Oostende.

One of the exhibit rooms at the Africa Museum, close to where we're staying in Brussels.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Last Day in Paradise... err, Paris

Today was our last day in Paris and we made the most of it. After a late start this morning, we packed up our big red suitcase and headed out to see some more sites with suitcase in tow. From our hotel, we walked east to see Montmartre, a beautiful area in the north end of the city. In Montmartre, we saw the Sacre Couers (the cathedral pictured above), Moulin Rouge, dozens of seedy looking 'adult' shops, and a fantastic little alley that led up the hill to the cathedral. All of this was done lugging our big red suitcase.

From Montmartre, we hopped onto the Metro and headed back toward the Arc de Triumphe. Our goal was to walk down the Champs de L'Eysees all the way to the Louvre, where we could catch the same water taxi (the Batobus) that we used yesterday to explore the city. While this was a great plan in theory, it was hindered by police barricades that essentially shut down the entire region around the Grand Palais, which was directly in our path. As it turns out, France was hosting some kind of international summit today with Prime Ministers, Presidents and foreign dignitaries from many European countries. While the streets and sidewalks were barricaded for regular folks, there were many police processions leading the vehicles from each country around the main arteries in the city. This resulted in us needing to take an hour long detour to reach our destination. Still, we lugged our big red suitcase along with us :-)

We made our way back to the Eiffel Tower, caught the Batobus, and headed for the Jardins de Plantes, which we thought was a giant green space based on it's appearance on our map. It looked like it might be good for photo ops and feeding the pigeons our leftover baguette. There was, in fact, a huge formal garden, but this area also featured three or four large museums and the 'menagerie' (Zoo) in Paris. Since we only had about two hours until we had to catch our train back to Brussels, we decided to push on a little further to find a place to eat. We discovered Place d'Italia, the Italian quarter, just around the corner from Jardins de Plante, had a bite to eat and an espresso, then caught our train. Our big red suitcase followed us loyally throughout all of these adventures ;-)

Once we arrived back in Brussels, Greg met us at the train station and we returned to the house for another five star meal. We could get used to those! We had a wonderful visit over dinner. We got to share our Paris experience with everyone, then Greg and Ross shared their stories about the weekend that they had in Nimes (in the south of France). In addition, Julien (Ross' 20 year old son who's here for the summer) and his two friends shared their experiences of taking the train to Amsterdam on Saturday night. They arrived in Amsterdam at midnight and left at 7:00 a.m. Those young kids seem to think that they can do anything! All I want to know is -- could they have done it with a big red suitcase in tow ;-)

Thanks for reading,
BTW, we won't be able to post tomorrow as we're spending the night in a little town called Oostende on the North Sea in Belguim. Don't worry, we'll have lots of pictures ready for our next post...

Looking into the window of one of the many 'patisseries' that we walked past today... mmm :-)

The famous Moulin Rouge, at the edge of Montmarte, a district in the northern part of Paris.

This alley in Montmartre had a tonne of character and was absolutely packed with people by midday.

These carousels can be found all over Paris...

A typical view as we walked down the Champs des L'Eysees toward the Louvre

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Symphony of Sights and Sounds

Jennifer and I are a little overwhelmed with all of the sights and sounds that we've taken in since arriving in Paris yesterday. Around every corner, the architecture never ceases to amaze us and there are so many famous landmarks to discover and explore that this is truly a city built for adventure. We walked around the city for about eleven hours today before returning to our hotel room this evening, stopping only briefly for a bite to eat or an espresso :-)

While the Metro system here in Paris is very straightforward, we decided that we'd also take advantage of the boat tours that are available. We bought a two day pass for the 'Batobus', a tour boat that stops at about eight points along both shores of the Seine River. We hopped on and off the tour boat at many popular destinations, including the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and Musée d'Orsay.

As much as we've enjoyed all of the sights along the way, the sounds that we've been bombarded with also lend the the charm and ambience of this amazing city. From the little boy who hopped onto our metro car to belt out a karaoke version of La Bamba before passing his hat around, to the sirens and scooters, to the trumpet players walking down the sidewalk past all the outdoor cafes, there is no shortage of stimulation in Paris.

Another thing that has amazed us are the scam artists who try to take advantage of all the tourists. Last night, we were approached by a gentleman who bent over and picked up a gold wedding ring at our feet. He insisted that we keep and told us that it must be our lucky day... Thirty seconds later, he was tapping me on the shoulder asking if I could spare some euros to buy a sandwich. I politely turned him down and returned his ring, suggesting that he find somene else to give it to. This afternoon, near the Louvre, we saw a well-dressed woman pulling the exact same scam on several other tourists.

Tomorrow's our last day in Paris, and we'll be returning to Brussels for a late dinner with Greg and Ross. Thanks to all who contributed their favourite sights in Paris. We'll try to cover even more of them tomorrow before we have to leave :-)

Thanks for reading,

Preparing to hop on our 'Batobus' cruise boat, with the Louvre in the distance.

Passing the Notre Dame Cathedral from our boat tour on the Seine River.

A quaint flower market that we stumbled upon near Notre Dame Cathedral.

A view of the front of the Notre Dame Cathedral...

There is a tonne of incredible stained glass inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A grand exhibit hall featuring paintings at the Louvre.

There were just a few people crowded around the Mona Lisa, the star attraction at the Louvre...

A thriving district just north of the Hotel de Ville, where we stopped for dinner.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The City of Love...

We made our way to Paris this morning by train. The rail service around Europe is extremely efficient, so our train ride was only about an hour and fifteen minutes by high speed train. We arrived at Paris du Nord train station around 10:00 a.m., took two different metros (subways), then walked about five minutes to end up at our hotel. We're very pleased with our accommodations here in Paris, though they're not much larger than a broom closet :-)
However, our room has everything we need, including WiFi access which we plan to take full advantage of :-)

The weather has been a little warmer than Brussels over the last couple of days, and we even saw the sun once we arrived in Paris. After a quick change of clothing, we left the hotel to start wandering around the area where we're staying. We headed back to Parc de Monceau, where we got off the metro, to take advantage of the free public washrooms. One of the things that we've struggled with is carrying enough change for the wash closets (a.k.a. bathrooms). Amazingly enough, most public washrooms in Belguim and France require you to pay between 30 and 50 euro cents just to use the washroom. In an effort to maximize our tourist dollars, we strive to hold off our urges until we can really get our money's worth at the paid facilities. We don't pass up free washrooms if we can help it ;-}

We managed to see several tourist destinations in our first few hours of pounding the pavement. We strolled past the Arc de Triumphe, then made our way down to the Eiffel Tower. Both of these attractions are breathtaking in real life, but we had little desire to wait in the line-ups to spend our Euros on getting to the top. We might try again earlier in the day tomorrow, as I'm sure the view of Paris is spectacular from either location. We also wound our way leisurely along the Seine River, which winds it's way through the heart of Paris. The are tonnes of different boat tours that operate along the Seine, and we may take advantage of one of these tours over the next couple of days.

We came back to our hotel room for a little rest stop in late afternoon and we haven't yet made it back out onto the streets. All in good time. However, while we were here, we were able to have a nice little visit with Jennifer's family through Skype.

Thanks again for all the comments and feedback on our blog. We're glad that you've been able to keep tabs on our travels abroad. If any of you have favourite sights from Paris that you don't want us to overlook, please post them in the comment section so that we can make arrangements to see them...

Thanks for reading,

The high speed Thalys train that brought us to Paris (100 minutes at 200 km/h)

The pond at Parc de Monceau, a three minute walk from our hotel...

The hotel where we're staying for two nights, the Hotel Parc Monceau

The view from our hotel window :-)

The main entrance / public washroom at Parc de Monceau

The Arc de Triumphe, which we stumbled upon about half an hour into our walk...

The Eiffel Tower, as seen from across the Seine River

A quick visit with Debby and Jim this afternoon through Skype

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