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.

Atlantic City: The Original Vegas

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Saturday was so beautiful in the Northeast. It was the perfect kind of day to spend in the garden, or divert the car towards Atlantic City.

So that’s what we did.

Eighty degrees, cloudless sky and a nice sea breeze. Add that to the smell of funnel cake, sunscreen and slurp down the experience with fresh lemonade, while strolling the boardwalk and recognizing street names you normally see on your Monopoly board.

Steel Pier, Atlantic City

Atlantic City is a diverse mix of people, but it has most everything that Vegas touts, except there’s an ocean and expansive boardwalk. No, Celine Dion isn’t playing Atlantic City every night and I’m ok with that, but there are shows to be seen. There are glitzy and glamorous nightclubs, casinos and hotels. The amusement rides may not be as sparkly and the exterior decor may be a little more worn, but there’s something to be said for the city by the sea.

I grew up being fascinated by films of ladies jumping their horses off diving boards next to Steel Pier and photos of the old timers who wore their Sunday best as they wandered the boards in the early 20th century. I’ve also watched a lot of Boardwalk Empire on HBO, and though I know its primarily fictional stories written for entertainment, I have no doubt that Prohibition brought waves of crime and corruption that still linger today. Feeling that way does take away from the nostalgia of flapper girls and their shiny cigarette cases and replaces it with heroin chic society types that rival fashion models of the 90’s.

Atlantic City is an accessible city. It is a little less sparkly but nice equivalent to a five hour plane right to Nevada from the East Coast. But just like Vegas, don’t wander too far off the “strip” in Atlantic City; unless you’re looking for some non-fiction CSI type experiences. Also, get some saltwater taffy; it’s so good and the remnants of it can be tasted for days since it’ll be stuck in your molars. That might be an exaggeration, but in all honesty, stop at James’.  If taffy isn’t your thing, drop by the Whiskey Tavern in the new Revel casino, order an Old Fashioned and slip into shiny 1925 subway tile heaven.

James’ Salt Water Taffy

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sun

I realize the sun is supposed to set on Galway Bay in Ireland, but I can guarantee that these are early morning shots as we awoke in Salthill, Galway and headed north toward Connemara. Though I thought these might be terrible at the time, capturing the sun this way, I’ve grown to love these because I can almost feel how bright and crisp that morning felt as I revisit these.  The road was icy and the glare was strong, but it was tough to complain after a full Irish breakfast and a long ride to Westport ahead of us.

I love a reason to post about Ireland.


Are Animals More Approachable?

Galway horse, if only we knew your name.

Animals have feelings too. They do. I’ve actually seen my pug cry. They are a very needy and unique breed.

As a lifelong animal lover, I banned myself from going to the animal shelter unless I’m actually ready for a new pet. It’s a hereditary issue as my Mom has the same problem. My childhood seemed like a revolving door of animals I got to name and never got to keep. You see, my Mom would bring home animals and never ran it by my Dad. The animals left but never went far, as they always found a good home at my Grandmothers. This was supposed to make me feel better because I’d know where they are and get to visit. It really wasn’t the same and perhaps why I’m so attached to my dog as an adult.

I started thinking about animals today when I ran across a picture from our first trip to Ireland. All over the country, dogs and other animals seemed to roam freely and have lives of their own. My husband joked that I was an animal whisperer, because if there was a dog, horse, cat or sheep within our vicinity, it always seemed to approach me and just sort of linger for a moment.

We laughed, when in towns big and small, dogs seemed to walk themselves, sans person or leash. They stayed on sidewalks and apart from the occasional “business” matters they attended to, seemed very much a part of the town society. It seemed alarming at first, seeing stray animals. Apart from worrying they’d be hit by cars or if they were hungry, it just seemed sad that they were homeless. It later seemed that maybe this is just how things are there and in fact they just led lives of their own.

The first time we passed a strolling dog, walking himself, my husband greeted him in a comical way by saying, “Good morning Sir”. Because we tend to stick with jokes longer than necessary, this became an ongoing bit that eventually led us to question why we seemed more comfortable saying hello to a passing dog, but not an actual person. We are not anti-social by any means, but perhaps in surroundings that are new, it seemed safer to be outgoing with something that could only respond with a snort or sniff.

As the trip went on, various types of animals crossed our paths from kitty cat to goat. This is one of my favorite pictures, of a beautiful horse that approached us on the side of a road outside of Galway. But I better clarify, that we did eventually find some of the loveliest people to talk to there, that we ever had the pleasure of meeting.