European Vacation (Part Quatre)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

You can catch up by reading Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Day 7

Park & Basilica

This day was all about reminiscing. First we took the Metro to Simonis, which was the stop I had lived at.  We met up with MDB and walked over to the house she grew up in and I had lived for a semester (her parents just recently sold it and moved to France).  Next up was a walk through the park to Basilica Koekelberg- Sacre Couer, one of the 10 largest churches in the world! I once had a view of this from my bedroom window.
Basilica up close

Once inside the basilica we were able to go up to the top which gives an amazing view of the city. Unfortunately the weather was not really cooperating while we were there, but we still got some cool views and a ride in the elevator with a glass top.

View from the top.  
In this picture see if you can see some silvery balls floating in the distance along the horizon (that would be our next stop).

After the basilica we had lunch at my favorite "Snack" shop (Snack Simonis) in all of Brussels. The frites and sandwiches were still as amazing as I had remembered and didn't measure up to any of the other places we tried on this trip.  


Our next stop of the day was Atomium.  Just like the Eiffel Tower, Space Needle and the Unisphere in NY, this structure remains from the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.  The Atomium is an iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times.  Each of the spheres holds a different exhibit (the top one is the panorama view), some are permanent exhibits and others are temporary.  The "bonds" hold stairs, escalators or elevators including the one shown in the picture below which was fun to ride down. 

Cool escalator
After hanging out at Atomium, we headed back to downtown to visit the Musee Magritte Museum.  Rene Magritte has always been one of my favorite artists and I had been to the Magritte House which was his House in Brussels, but this new Museum has a much more extensive collection of his works. Overall I prefer the house tour to the full musuem, but enjoyed the museum (which is attached to the Beaux-Arts Museum). 

Since we only had one day left, we spent the rest of the evening doing some souvenir and chocolate shopping before having some more beer and great food.

Day 8

 For our last day :( we went over to the VUB (Free University of Brussels) where I went to school for the semester and I showed AG around campus, well what I remember about it.  After we went to Colruyt, a supermarket which is kind of like a cross between a Costco and Trader Joes, and stocked up on as much Belgian goodies that our suitcases could hold.  Later that day we got our first and only glimpse of blue sky before going to the chocolate museum.  The chocolate museum was interesting, but the best part was the copious amounts of chocolate samples.  

Brussels Ruins
For our final night, it was Museum Night Fever in Brussels where all the museums were open from 7pm to 1am and had all sorts of fun things going on with DJs and drinks.  We started out at the Jewish Museum, the Belgian Jewish community is very small and we learned a little about it, but since all the exhibits were only in French and Dutch it was a little hard to understand.  I got about 75% of it from my HS french knowledge, but AG was totally lost.  Next up we went to the Royal Library which is similar to the New York Public Library.  They had a fun activity where you could make pop up books or pins from old books.  Our last stop before the museums closed was the Belvue museum of Belgium.  The coolest part of this museum was that is is built on top of an archaeological site which you can explore.  The weirdest part of this museum was that for the event they had Aliens on exhibit??
Are they Belgians or Aliens?
That night/morning we had to say goodbye to MDB and pack up for our flight back to NY. I could go on all day about the trip so let me know if you want to learn more.

It was Shariously an amazing trip - time to start planning the next vacation!

European Vacation (Part Drie)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Welcome back for more vacation recaps.  Drie is Dutch for Three.  Don't forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our European Highlights.

Day 5

Gravensteen Castle
We had a reservation in Bruges for the night of Day 5, and had planned to spend the day there when MDB suggested we go to Ghent as well on our way.  Since she has a special fondness of Ghent, I suggested she come with us to show us around then she could go back to Brussels when we moved on to Brugge.  For most of the day we visited the castle, Gravensteen!  It's a castle that has been around since the middle ages.  In addition to touring the castle's rooms, there is a torture exhibit - see AG with the Guillotine below.

View from the top

More from the top

After the castle we walked around more, had another amazing lunch and stopped in to some shops. At the end of the afternoon MDB parted ways back to Brussels and we caught the train to Bruges.  
Canal in Bruges
 Once in Bruges we walked a mile from the train to our hotel through the beautiful streets.  Bruges is an amazing city, and as one of the most intact medieval cities brings you back hundreds of years in the past.  We stayed at the wonderful Hotel Navarra which was beautiful and had a cool pool in the basement.  We had yet another great dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Olive Tree and walked around the quiet city at night.  Since it is often a day trip for tourists, it was very peaceful at night.
Hotel Pool

The Belfry
Bruges at Night
Bruges at Night

Day 6

Same spot as above during the day
This day was all about Bruges!  First up was a canal tour (you can see some of the canals in the pictures).  Then, we went all the way up to the top of the Belfry. The tall circular tower you see in most pictures here.  It is 366 steps to the top on a narrow staircase, and the only way down is the same way you go up! Our final attraction of the day was the Frites Museum.  For those of you who don't know, the "French Fry" was actually invented in Belgium and Belgians love their Frites!  You can see from the picture below, AG and I actually became Frites.  The museum was touristy, but fun and gave a pretty interesting history of potatoes and of course Frites at the end.

View from Belfry

Too many Frites
After a beautiful day in Bruges we headed back to Brussels and checked into our hotel near the Grand Place and did a little shopping. Back at MDB's apartment, she cooked us and her roommate an amazing meal of Spaghetti Bolognese; one of my favorite meals from when I lived with her and her family.

Only 1 more post of recaps to go - so Shariously stay tuned...

Happy Blogaversary!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy 1-Year Blogging to me!

(Actually this post is a week late)
It has been a great first year and I look forward to the next.

Stats from my first year:

  • Total number of views: 3555
  • Number of unique visitors: 400*
  • Total number of posts: 61
  • Average number of posts per week: 1.17
  • Total number of comments: 13
  • Number of states where blog was viewed: 30
  • Number of searches that resulted in someone clicking my blog: 192
  • Number of searches that don't include "shariously": 92
*Although not accounting for a visitor using multiple devices

Goals for second year:

  • Gain more regular readership
  • Average 2 posts per week
  • Have more reader comments and interaction

How can you help?

You my devoted (hopefully) readers can help me attain these goals. Please leave your responses in the comments or email me.  You can post anonymously if you prefer. 
  • What do you want to read more about? 
  • Which posts are your favorite?
  • Are there any topics you would like me to write about?

I thank you, Shariously, for all the support and help over the past year!
Kisses for all the support!

European Vacation (Part 2)

Monday, March 18, 2013

You can read Part 1 here. And now for European Vacation highlights Part 2

Day 3

Our day started off at Pancakes! Amsterdam.  I didn't know they were so into pancakes in Amsterdam, but they are all over the place.  They are a cross between a French crepe and an American pancake.   After brunch we headed over to the Anne Frank Huis (House).  This is a really great museum.  You walk from room to room in the famous house and annex and really get a new perspective on how Anne and her family lived during the Holocaust.  One thing that's weird, is that even though I've now been to this museum twice, when I envision the attic, I still picture it as the way my imagination first envisioned it when I heard the story as a kid.
Apple pancake
 We walked around a little more and briefly visited the nearby cheese and tulip museums.

Cheese museum
Next up, we walked across the city to the Heineken Brewery, for the Heineken Experience. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.  The "experience" started out a little boring with the history and a bunch of displays about Heineken.  But then it got much better and interactive (you could eat raw barley yuck), with the ability to learn about the beer making process and a simulator ride where we were stuck inside the beer.  There were also tons of fun photos to take (like the ones below) an area where you could watch 50 years of Heineken commercials and the best part, 2 beers at the end.
Next Beer Label?

"Tasting Beers" Not included in the 2 free

 Day 4

After checking out of our hotel and having breakfast we headed to the train station to catch the Thalys to Brussels.  Just 2 hours later we arrived.  Our first stop was my "host sister's" apartment. (FYI - my host sister is one of the daughters, who still lived at home, of the host family that I lived with when I lived in Brussels).  Once in Brussels we had to get some frites, durum and beer right away.  We went to a local snack shop (a place where they sell frites and other kebab and pita foods) and I ordered 2 of my favorite lunchtime sandwiches (one for AG) - a durum poulet avec andaouse, salade et frites (a chicken wrap with andalouse sauce, salad and frites).  They put the frites right in the wrap, I don't know why this hasn't caught on over here. 

Next up was a visit to the Grand Place, Manneken Pis and a beer.  I took advantage of drinking kriek (cherry) bier right from the tap (nothing like the select brands they sell imported to the US).  My host-sister (MDB) took us on a long walk around all the sites and we ended up at another cafe for some more Belgian beer before ending the evening with dinner at a local restaurant and catching up back at MDB's apartment.
The Grande Place

Manneken Pis

If you have any questions about the trip or want some advice for your own Netherlands/Belgium trip - leave me a comment or send me an email.  Shariously, would love to help!

European Vacation (Part 1)

Friday, March 15, 2013

AG and I recently went on an amazing trip to The Netherlands and Belgium.  In college, I spent a semester on a study abroad program in Brussels, Belgium and have wanted to show AG around for the longest time.  We finally got the opportunity and also added Amsterdam to our trip.  I love traveling, and I try my best to squeeze as much activity into my trips as possible.  Over the next few days I'll tell you all about some of the highlights.

Day 1

Inntel Room
We had an 11pm flight to Amsterdam which allowed us get some sleep on the plane and arrive late enough in the day that we just had to stay up for the first day to quickly get over the Jet lag.  We were luckily able to check into our hotel The Inntel, which was perfect for our stay.  It was very centrally located and although the room was small, the beds were very comfy and quiet.

On the canal tour
After finding a cafe for some coffee and food we bought a 48-hr pass (Iamsterdam Card) which includes free admission to 50 attractions and discounts to about 50 others as well as a 2-day transportation card.  Our first stop was the included canal tour.  I always like taking a boat or bus tour when I get to a city to get familiar with it (even if I've been before).

We spent the rest of the day walking around the city visiting the Dam Square and Red Light district before having some Thai food for dinner and calling it an early night.

Day 2
Portuguese Synagogue
Our second day we visited a ton of places!  First was the Hermitage where the temporary Van Gogh exhibit is while the Van Gogh museum is under renovation.  It was a very well done exhibit which focused on all his self-teachings and studies which developed into his famous art work.

Next we moved on to the Jewish Historical Museum which is housed in a series of interconnected buildings which were four former synagogues and told the story of Jews in Amsterdam.   Then we went onto the Portuguese Synagogue which manage to avoid destruction during WWII and is still in use today.

After a delicious lunch at a cafe, we moved on to the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Garden), which had nice greenhouses and was pretty because it was snowing, but I wouldn't recommend visiting in winter if you don't have the iAmsterdam card (free admission).   Then, to end our afternoon we went to Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The Ship Museum), which has a cool 350+ year old ship that you can tour as well as some temporary and permanent exhibits on the Holland ship industry and even a fun simulator ride.

Butterfly exhibit at Hortus Botanicus
Xtra Cold Ice Bar
Our last attraction of the day was Xtra Cold Ice Bar.  This place was cool in only one sense of the word...that it was cold.  They basically bring you into a walk-in freezer, give you two Heinekens and show you a 4-D movie (coldness is the 4th dimension); which, is probably only mildly entertaining even if you are on lots of drugs. This is the definition of a tourist traip, if they had one of these in New York, I'd laugh at tourists who go there and that's probably what the locals did to me.

At least for dinner we had one of the best meals of the trip at a restaurant called Dubbel.

Shariously stay tuned for Part 2!

Papal Conclave Figured Out

Thursday, March 14, 2013

For literally hundreds, maybe thousands of years people have wondered what goes on in the Papal conclave. Well I think I have figured it out!

You know those work conferences, where employees from offices all over the world meet up in some hotel in the middle of nowhere and spend the weekend bonding? That’s exactly what it’s like.

Upon the call, Cardinals show up from around the world and descend on Vatican City. Upon meeting in the lobby of their quarters, Cardinal Dolan says to Cardinal Ricard “we’ve been emailing for all these years, it’s so good to see you in person.” Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles tweeted about the diversity of the Cardinals, many of whom were meeting each other for the first time: "Fascinating meeting Cardinals from all around the world. Stories and needs so different [1].

The tweeting didn’t last long; a strict “no social media” was imposed to keep this secret party conclave under wraps. Luckily, most of the Cards had googled and facebook friended each other before conclave to figure out who the pope-ular ones were. Once all the cardinals are checked in to the Vatican Hotel, they congregate for some ice-breakers and team-building exercises before the buffet dinner. (The Cardinals better leave some room for the chocolate fountain). Most of the first day is spent catching up; most of these guys haven’t seen each other since 2005.

They next few days are just like camp, there are days full of Arts & Crafts where they try to put together new sculptures for St. Pieter’s Square, an afternoon swim and a choice of photography or prayer sessions.

Evening activities are the best part, and what really seals the deal on the next Pope. One night, a disco ball hangs from the Sistine Chapel and they dance the night away. I mean have you seen Michelangelo’s frescoes? Talk about a party. Rumor has it, the first vote is based on the best dancer from disco night.

Until everyone arrives, and it's voting time, the Cards spend their days socializing. And the food! So much to go around. All meals are served in The Pauline Ballroom Chapel - catered breakfast, lunch, dinners plus snacks. On the first voting day, once the last Cardinals have rolled into the chapel, usually wearing pajamas, it’s time to make the first vote for best dancer; here is where top contenders emerged.

Second and third votes (for this year) were based on the evening activities throughout the conclave festivities for karaoke and guitar hero respectively to reduce the number of nominees. By the middle of voting day 2, there were only two left, so a Dance Dance Revolution dance-off determined that Jorge Mario Bergoglio be the winner! Pope!

[1]This is straight from the very reliable