Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

This weekly photo challenge was tough, because a majority of my shots are urban in nature. Cities fascinate me. I’m the first generation in at least a handful that didn’t spend my childhood dodging buses, trolleys or loitering in front of corner candy stores daily. The city is a part of me though and I feel as strongly about it as I do with the pastures of Ireland. Only God and my old soul know why.

Though I have many to choose from, here are a couple of the most recent shots. Enjoy.

Amsterdam Alley

Berlin

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple

Just in the nick of time, for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple, I bring to you, shades of Belgian pottery.

We spent a long while talking to the potter himself at his stand in Bruges, about his technique and his glazes.  You can see a picture of him below as well.  He makes beautiful jewelery as well, but unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of those during our chat.

Hope you’ve all had a wonderful week so far.

Brussels: More Seedy than Chocolatey

On a partly sunny late June morning, our redeye landed in Brussels. With dreams of chocolate and architecture, we waited in the immigration line, eager to hit the cobblestone, rather Belgian stone. Our plan, per Rick Steves, was to peruse the town for a few hours and later ride the rails to Bruges. We hopped the train to city centre, stowed our carry-on suitcases in a locker and approached our first outdoor look at Belgium with a warm welcome from…drunk bums. Upon exiting the main train station in Brussels, we found trash, drunk confrontational homeless people and open outdoor toilets. Yay, we made it!

Don’t get me wrong, we like to make our own adventures but since we were foreigners, I suggested we just keep walking toward the Grand Place or Grote Markt like Rick said and get the heck away from the train station. He did mention Brussels was a little seedy, but Brussels sounds so fancy and French, so the only seediness I envisioned was that of chocolate dipped strawberries. Still, each city has its less desirable areas, so we ventured on and found what our little hearts desired…cappuccinos and chocolate filled pastries amid tall and ornate structures.

It became more and more overcast and eventually started to downpour, but the flowers that lined the windowsills of La Grand Place were still beautiful. The architecture consumed hundreds of pictures on our memory card, with each angle or sculpted archway appearing more intricate and astonishing than the last. This was the Belgium I wanted to see, shortly followed by a little peeing baby. “Let’s go see Mannequin Pis”, I tell my husband. “A pissing mannequin? What? Why?” I expected a response like this, since the only portion of the Belgium book he read was on the beer. But we did find the tiny statue of the baby boy peeing into a fountain, which seems to capture quite the crowd of tourists. It is a national symbol afterall…and there are many different variations that poke fun at the original. I found these much more amusing and not quite G-rated enough to post for your viewing pleasure.

We continued to wander and saw a parade of Belgian police ride through the narrow streets on gorgeous horses. It was a procession that included drumming and what seemed like a ceremonious trot through the main square. And though it was raining and the sight was one that we’d remember, I remember most getting my jeans smattered by….”stuff” from a horse splattering on the Belgian stone. I think that is the most delicate way to put that. Wonderful, a post full of bodily functions. But luckily we had our handy laundry detergent and my husband stopped laughing long enough that I could get cleaned up and we could head over to Bruges, which would hopefully welcome our tired and cranky selves with open arms, clear skies and beer.

Travel Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist, but I pretend to be one when I travel.

In preparation for our ten day European trip, I thought about our prior two trips to Ireland. We had taken large rolling duffels and then I wore a satchel as a day bag. My shoulders were sore and the bag was inconvenient. The second trip in particular was rough because we were caught in the middle of an epic snowstorm. When buses were stuck, we ended up hauling our duffels through snow drifts for what felt like miles to get to our destination. Well, we knew we wouldn’t hit snow this time, but I was not going to be an over packed American. I made rules that I was unsure that we could follow, and they are as follows:

10 Day strict packing list:

  • Carry-on suitcase each; only 1/3 full
  • Rucksack each; nearly empty
  • Money pouch (neck/waist-type)
  • Five pairs each; socks, underwear, tee shirts
  • One pair sneakers; worn there, not packed (I cheated with a pair of sandals too)
  • Two pairs of jeans each, wear one there
  • Two pair each either shorts or capris
  • One quart size bag of liquid toiletries each, each with a 3oz bottle of detergent
  • Small bag of shared necessities; nail clippers, tweezers, band aids, razor, bobby pins, etc.
  • Glasses/belts and other random requirements
  • Ipad, two cameras, eReader (Nook), chargers and spare memory cards
  • One 4-socket power converter.  Charged all electronics in one swoop each night.
  • A long cord aka clothesline

Score one for us. It was the easiest travel trip ever. Since we nearly missed our plane to Brussels, one of the key begging points in allowing us to board was that we had no luggage to check. We were able to fit both our bags in the same train luggage locker at each city we went to, saving time and money when we were unable to check into our room too. Halfway through the trip, we washed our clothes in our sink, hung them up on the cord we cleverly tied across one side of our bedroom and off we went the next morning, fresh, clean and with far less luggage then the over packed tourists who could barely lift the bags up and onto the train.

Laundry in Berlin

The worst would be seeing the retired couples with the elderly men hauling multiple enormous pieces of luggage behind his wife on crowded public transportation.  I gave my husband the go-ahead then and there to berate me if I ever got that bad.  I may not wash our clothes in the sink forever, but maybe one day if we’re fancy we’ll just pay to get them laundered instead.  Who am I kidding?  We’ll never be fancy.

Back to the packing list; for those who may question the possible excessive electronic choices, let me explain.

Ipad, a wonderful gift from our parents saved my shoulders in a big way rather than toting the heavy laptop as we did in years past. But, since there is not Wi-Fi everywhere and we found many Europeans do not offer it for free, the Nook was a great backup to access tour books, maps and translators that were pre-downloaded, thus eliminating the need for the internet and heavy travel books during the travel. In cities like Brussels, where we were limited on time, we used the Nook to do our own walking tour per Rick Steves, saving both time and money. When you have the opportunity though, I do suggest taking a real tour, Rick is wise, but he doesn’t know every nuance.

And there you have it. We came home with smiles, souvenirs that fit in our existing bags (including a real cuckoo clock) and never had to check a bag or pop a painkiller. This my friends, comes in handy when you’re sharing a six person sleeping compartment on a train.

Many stories to follow.