Bruges

I’d wanted to visit Bruges ever since seeing it on a list of European cities that were a must-see. It is often compared to Venice and Amsterdam because of its canals, but the main attraction is the city itself because it is all medieval architecture. A weekend there is definitely enough. We stayed from Friday night to Sunday and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything. Unlike other cities, there isn’t much in the way of museums and art galleries (even though I’m sure you could find some). What we enjoyed doing the most was walking and exploring the city. The weather was amazing, so it made the walking much more enjoyable.

During our walks we found tucked away parks, pretty canal and lake views, and a weekend market (Joe’s favourite!). They had all sorts of clothes and food. The neat thing about the food is that they had massive vans with multiple grilling rotisseries. It was pretty much a meat-lovers galore. Joe got 3 ribs for about 1.50 euros, just to try out. We also took a canal tour, which wasn’t at all exciting, but gave us another view of the city. One thing that was interesting was that buildings in Bruges like to put the date they were built in wrought iron on the outer facades. I caught a few dates, the oldest that I saw being 1579. Hard to believe that was 435 years ago (photos below).

First night in Bruges we went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Really great vibe and thousands of beer to choose from...literally thousands
First night in Bruges we went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Really great vibe and thousands of beer to choose from…literally thousands

 

A taste of Bruges' medieval architecture
A taste of Bruges’ medieval architecture

 

Pretty canal
Pretty canal

 

Minnewater Lake or "The Lake of Love"
Minnewater Lake or “The Lake of Love”

 

Gorgeous and quiet park in the middle of the city. It's connected to a monastery called The Begijnhof
Gorgeous and quiet park in the middle of the city. It’s connected to a monastery called The Begijnhof

 

One of the prettier shots of the canals
One of the prettier shots of the canals

 

Called the Basilica of the Holy Blood. You have to pay 2 euros to see a vial that supposedly holds a cloth with Jesus's blood on it. Every day at 2pm they bring it out for the "veneration of the blood". On Sundays they have special service where they sing hymns and bring out the blood to "venerate it". I had major issues with this. I didn't think it was worth it for 2 euros, nor did I think veneration of blood was ok.
Called the Basilica of the Holy Blood. You have to pay 2 euros to see a vial that supposedly holds a cloth with Jesus’s blood on it. Every day at 2pm they bring it out for the “veneration of the blood”. On Sundays they have special service where they sing hymns and bring out the blood to “venerate it”. I had major issues with this. I didn’t think it was worth it for 2 euros, nor did I think veneration of blood was ok.

 

Oldest building that I saw. Others had 1614 and 1604, but this was definitely the oldest.
Oldest building that I saw. Others had 1614 and 1604, but this was definitely the oldest.

 

And no blog post of mine would be complete, without a panorma of some sort. This spot on the canals is oft photographed and appears in tour books and postcards. I had to get a photo of my own!!

 

Bruges Canal Panorama
Bruges Canal Panorama

Easter in Geneva

We went to Geneva a few weeks ago for the long Easter weekend. The city itself is quite small, but the lake is gorgeous. It’s actually just what we needed because we didn’t want anything too intense since we really needed a break from the hectic-ness of work and city life. The airport is a free 8 minute train ride from Geneva’s train station. When you get to your hotel, if they don’t give it to you already, ask for the free travel card so that you can use the trams and buses for free.

We got to walk around the Old Town, visit the cathedral that John Calvin used to preach at and we also saw the United Nations. On Sunday we rented a car and drove to Montreux which has a famous Jazz festival. Nearby is Chateau Chillon which is located on the eastern end of Lake Geneva. It’s remarkably well preserved and really neat! It sits on a rock that juts out on the lake. The weather was really cooperative and we really enjoyed our time there and in Montreux.

If we had more time we would have tried a glacier walk or gone up to Chamonix or Mont Blanc, but unfortunately we couldn’t. That’s the great thing about Geneva though, there are a lot of day trip or short trip opportunities from there!

 

Jet d'Eau - Lake Geneva
The famous Jet d’Eau – Lake Geneva

 

The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately
The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately

 

Inside St. Pierre Cathedral
Inside St. Pierre Cathedral

 

John Calvin's chair
John Calvin’s chair

 

These organ tubes look a bit like transformers
These organ tubes look a bit like transformers

 

Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!
Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!

 

The broken chair in front of the United Nations.  It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.
The broken chair in front of the United Nations. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.

 

The front of the UN
The front of the UN
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day

 

Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon
Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon

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One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!
One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!

 

National Aquarium

Last week, we were in Virginia to visit my father-in-law. Where we were staying was about an hour from Washington D.C. so we thought we’d be able to see the sights and enjoy being tourists. With the shut down, it didn’t look that likely. Thankfully, it was lifted towards the end of our week but we still planned to do stuff in the area that wasn’t funded by the Federal Government.

I LOVE AQUARIUMS. I love animals, I love zoos, but for some reason I really love sea creatures. A visit to the east coast just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. With my new camera in hand, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to test it out. I’m really pleased with how the photos turned out!

It's hard to tell from this photo, but this 3 flippered sea turtle is 520 pounds heavy. She was rescued from very cold waters and had to amputate her left flipper
It’s hard to tell from this photo, but this 3 flippered sea turtle is 520 pounds heavy. She was rescued from very cold waters and had to amputate her left flipper
We were fortunate enough to catch a feeding time. This is the sea turtle next to a diver. It gives a bit of perspective on her size
We were fortunate enough to catch a feeding time. This is the sea turtle next to a diver. It gives a bit of perspective on her size
Lion fish
Lion fish
This saw fish was lurking near the bottom of the tank.
This sawfish was lurking near the bottom of the tank.
Googly eyes
Googly eyes
The jellyfish were mesmerising. They can be deadly, yet so interesting
The jellyfish were mesmerising. They can be deadly, yet so interesting
These 3 were kind of tangled
These 3 were kind of tangled
This was one of my favourites. It was this pale translucent blue with sparkles. So unique!
This was one of my favourites. It was this pale translucent blue with sparkles. So unique!

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More to come on the rest of our visit!! Stay tuned :O)

 

Spain: Madrid

Sorry for the delay! I’ve been busy and it’s been hard to update the blog 🙂

The last stop on our Spain trip: MADRID! When we were planning this trip, for some reason, both Joe and I were more excited about Barcelona and Valencia than we were about Madrid. Not because of anything we’d heard, but because the sights and things to see in the other two cities seemed to outshine Madrid. It turns out, that we both enjoyed Madrid the most. There was an energy about Madrid that we liked, even though we didn’t really take in as many sights as we did in the previous two cities.

When we arrived, it was Thursday evening. We checked into our hotel, rested up and decided to go out and find a place for dinner. As we were navigating through the Sol area, we noticed it was absolutely rammed with people. We tried to cut through Plaza Major but it was exactly the same. I had no idea why it was so busy. Then we realised that everyone was waiting for a procession for Holy Week as it was the Thursday before Easter! It was all pretty neat.

While we were in Madrid, we encountered some fairly aggressive pickpocket schemes. I’d heard and read about how much worse pickpockets in Spain were, even more so than Paris and Rome. I have a messenger bag that fully zips and both Joe and I are fairly aware tourists so we don’t usually get targeted. Whilst in Madrid, we were around the royal palace area and these 2 girls came up to Joe and I with clipboards asking us to sign some petition. Most people who come up to you and try to sell you stuff or give you stuff to get money in return just move on when you say no. But these girls followed us as we tried to walk away, and one of them even grabbed Joe’s arm. This made me very suspicious. Joe signed the petition and they asked for ID which he refused. We figured if he took out his wallet, they’d grab it. We started following them and saw the harassing other tourists. I was covertly taking photos of them but Joe went off piste and was super obvious. They noticed us and started following us trying to take our cameras, which we of course refused. They realised we wouldn’t give in so they walked away. We saw a police car as we were leaving the area and showed them the photographs of the kids. Realistically unless the police actually catch them doing anything, they can’t do much. We noticed later though that the “petition” method is a common pickpocketing method. Usually while the person is busy signing the clipboard, someone else is trying to take their wallet or something. Something to watch out for if you’re visiting Spain.

The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
The bear and the strawberry tree
The bear and the strawberry tree
In front of the palace
In front of the palace
In front of Parque del Retiro
In front of Parque del Retiro
The weather was perfect for our outing
The weather was perfect for our outing

Spain: Valencia

City stop #2 in Spain: Valencia! Like the orange and paella.

There’s a stall at the Portobello Road market that has paella that my husband absolutely LOVES. When we lived closer to the market, he would go just for the paella and bring it back to eat. He does that now, but not as often since we live farther away. Whenever we have guests in town, we bring them there and the people there know us (well him) really well. When we were discussing where to go in Spain, we chose the obvious cities such as Barcelona and Madrid but we had time for a third. It was basically a done deal when he realised that the chicken paella he is so fond of is called “Paella Valenciana”.

Valencia is a good place to go for a couple days. I have to admit, I had a rough time when we first got there. We went the wrong direction when we exited the train station and ended up in a part of town that was hard to navigate. We ended up finding our way to the nearest metro which looked abandoned (probably because it wasn’t in the main part of town). I think it was compounded by the fact that I was extremely tired from waking up super early to catch the train from Barcelona to Valencia. In any case, we made it to our hotel without too much more delay. After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed back to our hotel to take a much needed nap.

The best way to see the city is to just walk around and explore. There is also the area called the City of Arts and Sciences or Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, that has some good sights as well as the largest aquarium in Europe. Turns out, the weekend we were there was the annual training even for Mercedes Benz salespeople. They had hundreds of Mercedes Benz’s parked for them to test drive, including new 2013 models not yet released. It was pretty neat. The weather was really cooperative while we were there so we got some nice sunshine and got to escape the cold London weather.

The central market in Valencia
The central market in Valencia
Inside L'Oceanografic (the aquarium)
Inside L’Oceanografic (the aquarium)
There's a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid :)
There’s a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid 🙂
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Cute little penguin :)
Cute little penguin 🙂

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Sharks
Sharks
Inside the tunnel viewing area
Inside the tunnel viewing area
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
Outside of L'Umbracle
Outside of L’Umbracle

Before our train to Madrid, we stopped by the bull-fighting museum. It included being able to walk around the bull-fighting ring. I can’t say that I agree with bull-fighting, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos

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Gaudi’s Barcelona

Gaudi. He makes up a lot of the things to see in Barcelona. So many, that it warrants its own post.

We visited 4 Gaudi buildings/locations while in Barcelona. Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Parc Guell (free) and La Sagrada Familia. The Gaudi stuff is quite pricey so if cost is an issue, research which ones you’d like to see, and pick and choose. Since each place is owned and operated by different people, you can’t get 1 ticket to see everything, or get a discount on multiple tickets.

Casa Batllo:

Casa Mila (La Pedrera) – La Pedrera was originally built as an apartment building with spacious flats

La Sagrada Familia – One of the highlights of Barcelona. This amazing structure is still being built, even though Gaudi died in 1926. The different facades are so different from each other and unique in their own right. The interior is colourful and like no other cathedral I’ve ever been in. The size, intricacy and coolness are definitely worth seeing. The building is rich with symbolism and imagery.

Parc Guell – This park has a lot of Gaudi touches in it. It’s free to roam about and explore.

Spain: Barcelona

I love that Easter weekend is a 4-day weekend here. Last year we were took advantage of the extra days and went to Italy. This year, we went to Spain. We decided to do 3 stops this trip: Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. Our first stop was Barcelona. Barcelona is a vibrant city, with a lot to see and do. The main touristy/sightseeing places are Gaudi, which I will blog about in a separate post.

Travelling in Europe can be a bit risky. There are horror stories about people being detained or arrested for not showing proper ID in Greece, and all types of mugging / pickpocketing stories. In our time in London and travelling in Paris and Rome, we’d been warned about pickpockets and heard stories, but thankfully had never been targeted. We had an interesting encounter in Madrid, but I’ll get to that in a separate post 🙂 I don’t think I have heard or read of as many warnings about pickpockets as I had for Barcelona and Spain in general. Apparently, Barcelona and Madrid have some of the higher rates of pickpocketing in Europe. If you’re considering travelling to Barcelona/Madrid, a messenger type bag that you can wear to your side or in front of you is important. A bag that fully zips shut is a must, and keep your valuables (like money and what not) in an inside pocket, so even if someone gets into your main compartment, they can’t easily access your money. Don’t wear fancy jewelry, in fact I left my engagement ring in the safe at the hotel. I probably should have just left it at home before we left. If you’re carrying a camera, and wearing comfortable walking shoes, you’re going to look like a tourist. Even though people say not to look too much like a tourist, sometimes it’s inevitable. Just be aware of your surroundings and your valuables! There’s my 2 cents. Now onto Barcelona!

We arrived in Barcelona and were able to check into our hotel a bit early. There is a main area called Las Ramblas where a lot of vendors, bars and restaurants are. Our hotel was really close to a metro station (Paral.lel) which made it very easy to get around the city. The city itself has a lot to do, but it’s worth going to the beach area as the feel and atmosphere is very different. It was really nice to get some warm sunshine and take in the beach area since London has been so cold these days.

The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there's a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don't usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there’s a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don’t usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps

Later that evening, we walked around the Gothic Quarter, or Barrio Gotic. It was actually one of my favourite places to walk around and explore. There are placas (like the one below), restaurants, dessert places…just lots to see and explore.

Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic
Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic

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Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner :)
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner 🙂
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point

On our last day in Barcelona we went down to the beach area for an amazing seafood lunch and explored the area. The weather was perfect and warm.

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Structure by the beachfront
Structure by the beachfront
I miss palm trees
I miss palm trees
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It's by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It’s by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.