Monday, March 24, 2008

Brussels, Mussels, and Markets

Okay, so I'm a little behind. I tried to trick you all into thinking that our Czech adventures were recent, but in all honesty, it was three weekends ago. I had to get that off my conscience.

Two weekends ago, Tim, Mitchell and I went to Belgium. Brussels, mostly. And friends, I ask you to scrap all of your preconceived notions, and toss your waffle insecurities aside - because I'm here to tell you that you will never taste anything more delicious than a Belgian waffle. (Except for maybe the Nutella/banana crepe that I had in Paris the other day...) Belgians love their chocolate, too, and I wasn't above making that a part of every meal, either.

There were parks that spanned several miles, and cool museums. The city itself was really pretty and fun to walk around, but aside from old churches and regular town square-ish buildings, I'm not sure I have many highlights to share about the architecture or famous monuments. The culture was much more in-your-face than a typical German city, so getting yelled at in French was intimidating at times. We stayed in "Hotel the Moon" which is ALWAYS funny to reference (as are other poorly translated-to-English places we've been such as the "Pizza Go Home" that we went to in Prague).

Allow me to reveal to you, via photographs, my weekend. There are a lot:

Crazy statue on a busy Brussell(ian?) street. No explanation, nothing.

Chocolate everywhere! Above is a sculpture made entirely of chocolate, and since we were there so close to Easter, this stuff was everywhere.

The famous Cologne Cathedral, and the Rhine River. The cathedral is the biggest Gothic church in northern Europe... which means it's really big. (Yes, I know Cologne isn't in Belgium, but we had a layover there on our way home at 4am...)

Walking along a regular Brussels street, we stumbled upon what appeared to be Paradise.

Not sure what this building was. The clouds were cool though, right?

Hotel the Moon!

These wooden figurines were everywhere.
Okay, so these kids bombarded us as we were sitting peacefully on a bench in this park. The boy in the middle proceeded to chant something in French over and over while his friends laughed at our confused reactions. The building in the background was the venue for the Menomena concert we went to.
Tim learned French on a software program years ago and didn't have the chance to use it with real people until this trip. This is Tim extremely excited about the chocolate he just ordered flawlessly in French. What a champ.
This ridiculous legend is a pretty big deal in Brussels, and the corresponding statue is an even bigger deal. I, however, could not bring myself to post such an atrocity on this blog, so if you're curious about it, just Google it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov

Emily, Beth, Bonnie and I recently took Bohemia by storm. I don't know a lot about either of the cities that we went to, except that they were both beautiful and Czech-esque. Two words: potato dumplings. We saw colorful storefronts, icy rivers, old castles, and bears. Bears? Yes, inside the castle wall at Krumlov (and outside the castle itself) were several bears roaming the landscape. I think the city keeps them there for old times sake, and when we saw them, they were just chowing down on platters of fruit. We ate crepes and goulash and pastries and tortes.

The hostel room that Bonnie and I shared had a sign on the door that read "Love Shack." Also: the guy manning the hostel's reception office told us to not be surprised if when we woke up to check out the next morning, we found him passed out on the floor outside of the door, sleeping off his inebriation. Shaaaady. Luckily, when we went to turn in our keys in the morning, he was sitting upright at his desk, and seemed coherent enough.

Anyway -- here are some pictures from the weekend.

My bike.

(I'm obsessed.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Gelato. Oh, and some cities in Italy.

Italy was spectacular. We spent most of our time in Florence, but within the span of five days, we also hit up Rome, Pisa, and Venice. These pictures are all of Florence, since I apparently neglected to take digital pictures of the other cities. The weekend was packed full of walking many miles a day, staring at old buildings, and eating mostly gelato. Mmmm, gelato. The weather was in the 60s in most of th places we went, which was fantastic. The in-your-face demeanor of the people are such a contrast to the straight-laced Bavarians I'm used to. They were so personal and loud, often aggressively trying to sell us "Rolex" watches and weirdly dyed roses. Overall a great trip, and quite possibly my favorite experience thus far. Here's the dirt:

Rome - I guess I hadn't realized that the Colosseum is real. Like, it actually exists over here, and it is old and big. It took me a while to believe that I was standing in front of it, and it wasn't just a figment of history textbooks. Tours to go inside were really expensive, so we walked around the outside for a while before heading to the next stop. We bought day passes for this really cheesy "hop on, hop off" double-decker tour bus that took us around to the main stops - really handy for our attempt to see all of Rome in one day. Other highlights included going inside the Vatican/St. Peter's Cathedral, the Pantheon, gelato by the Trevi Fountain, and seeing ruins all over the place.

Florence - Gelato. We ate gelato every day we were in Italy, and sometimes I'd order two servings in a row to prove to my fellow travelers that I do not in fact have self control. The Duoma Piazza was the most impressive sight with one of the largest, most ornate cathedrals in Europe. We also went to the Academia museum that holds Michaelangelo's famous marble statue of David. One evening we hiked up into the hills between some vineyards and found some great churches and views of Tuscany. (By the way, contrary to the Maestro's declaration to Jerry about there being no places to stay in Tuscany, there are indeed rooms for rent. Don't be fooled.)

Pisa - The tower leans! It leans way more than I thought it did, and honestly made me feel a little uneasy, just looking at it. The city doesn't have much to offer besides the main piazza with the tower and church, but we made good use of our time wandering the run-down yet picturesque streets, and, again eating gelato. Later that day we took a bus about 15 minutes out to the coast to check out a little of the Mediterranean.

Venice - By far my favorite of the four cities. Stepping out of the train station, I was instantly amazed by the Grande Canal. That day I took an entire roll of black and white pictures with the Rebel camera, and I'm pretty excited to see how they'll turn out. I was a little apprehensive of Venice before I got there, because I had heard such mixed opinions from people, ranging from "it's awesome" to "it smells" and "it's too crowded." Luckily for us, we didn't experience either of the latter, and spent six hours roaming the winding cobblestone streets, dodging canals when necessary. San Marcos square is the famous one with all the pigeons that's in a ton of movies, and that was pretty cool to see in real life.