Bruges, Belgium

Waiting for the train to Bruges. 
Bruges and Diksmuide are only about 45 minutes away from each other via train. We arrived half an hour before our desired train, just to make sure that we had all of our ducks in a row. The tiny station had two platforms, so it was impossible to get lost or confused.  After waiting around for a while, we boarded the correct train and pulled into Bruges without any problems. 

We exited the train station, bought a city map, consulted our "what to see in Bruges" app on the ipad, and started exploring. Within five minutes, I wondered how Bruges could possibly get any prettier. It was as though we had walked onto a movie set that had been over run with tourists. Years ago, Chris and I had watched the Colin Farrell film In Bruges (naturally set in Bruges), and we added the city to our "Bucket List." The film did not prepare us for the massive amounts of tourists crowding every street and souvenir shop, but the pushing and shoving didn't take away from our Bruges experience. 

Bruges is rightfully known as "the Venice of the North," and at one time in Her history, Bruges was a chief commercial city. I kept begging Chris to take me on a boat trip through the canals. How romantic would that be?! When in Bruges . . . We soon dropped the idea when we saw a boat cram packed with 30 too many tourists and cameras. The sun was out, and we had healthy legs and good walking shoes; so we decided to just take loads of pictures of every canal we happened upon. 

Pictures don't do this city justice. Could you imagine living in one of these picturesque little cottages? The romance would only be shattered with every heavy laden tourist boat that passed. Maybe you would get used to it. I am sure I could if I had one of these adorable homes! 

Church of Our Lady - Bruges, Belgium.
The Church of our Lady is an interesting building that can be found in the center of Bruges. The spire of the tower reaches 401 feet, making it one of the world's highest brick towers. Unfortunately Chris and I didn't go inside, but one of Michelangelo's only sculptures to leave Italy, Madonna and Child, can be found inside. 
The Belfry in the Town Square. The main building in the movie In Bruges.
Mussels anyone?
We learned that Belgium is known for more than chocolate and beer, it is also known for mussels. I am a sea food lover, but I have never been too fond of mussels. Since we were in Belgium, I thought I would give them another try, and surprisingly I loved them! I guess the cream and butter sauce they were prepared in didn't hurt. 

 A good lunch at Tom Pouce would not be complete without Brugge Zot Beer from the local brewery. 

More water pictures. 
My favorite! In love in Bruges!

This swan was just begging for a jumping picture!

Christmas markets around every corner!
The Belfry at nightfall. 
Sunset in Bruges (in December) is like a Christmas fairytale. 

This is my favorite picture I've ever taken with my little point-an-shoot Cannon. 
Day 2 in Bruges - Breakfast by the Belfry. 
Belgium waffles. 
Chris and I walked into the most touristy place we could find for breakfast. Initially, we had searched for another restaurant that had been recommended, only to find that it was closed until lunch. So we ended up in a super-touristy-overpay-for-everything place. We sat down next to a nice older couple that was getting ready to leave. I casually asked them if they had enjoyed the waffles, and if so, which one did they recommend. The gentleman cracked a smile and even chucked a little bit, 
"Ohhh, honey, we are from Belgium. We would never eat waffles for breakfast."
"What - but when do you eat them then? You do eat them . . . right?"
"Of course, we eat them, but only for tea. They are too sweet for breakfast."
The couple went on their way, and Chris anxiously looked and me and said in a hushed tone,
"Do you think we should get something else?"
"No, we are in Belgium! We will eat Belgium waffles and we will each them with chocolate."
And we did. 
And they were fabulous. 
It was like eating a cookie for breakfast. 
And it was totally worth every penny we over paid. 

We took a tour of the Chocolate museum. Very informative. 
At the end of the tour, there was a chocolate demonstration with samples, of course!
1,500+ beers are brewed in the tiny county of Belgium! 

The biggest bratwurst ever. We had to try one. 
For our final meal, Chris and I decided to try a 5 Euro bratwurst at the outdoor Christmas market. I was not super hungry (or so I said), so I just asked for a few bites of Chris'. There was a long line (which made me think that the food must be pretty good), but it moved quickly. Two men were furiously cooking bratwursts, frying onions, and lathering the buns in ketchup and mustard. I sent Chris to the front of the line as I snapped away on the camera. 

The best ever!
OH MY GOODNESS! It was so good! Absolutely delightful! We could not stop eating! That bratwurst was our favorite meal in Belgium, and it was the cheapest by far! 

I kept asking for one more bite . . .  and then for another. . . . suddenly the massive bratwurst disappeared and we were still hungry for more. Chris said we had to buy a second one because I was obviously hungrier then I had initially let on. It was just so good, I wanted one more bite!

We left Bruges with full bellies and promises of a return trip in the Spring. 


Diksmuide, Belgium

Chris had to take a little trip to Belgium for work, so naturally, I tagged along! 
My knowledge of Belgium (before visiting) = waffles, chocolate and beer. All good things, but we found out that there was so much more to love in the small country of Belgium. 

We stayed in Diksmuide  (literally pronounced "Dick's murder"), a small municipality in the Flemish provence of West Flanders that is widely known for its famous butter. Butter? Butter doesn't seem all that random to me considering I grew up in a state (Oregon) that's known for Tillamook Cheddar cheese.

Diksmuide's Town Hall and St. Nicholas Church.
I was pleasantly surprised when we drove into the quaint town. 
Like most European cities, the heart of Diksmuide is a large town square. A little Christmas market was taking shape when we arrived, and the imposing Gothic steeple of St. Nicholas Church could be seen looming over Town Hall. 

It is a perfect little city with detailed architecture, clean streets, fancy boutiques, and classy pubs on every corner. One would never guess that Diksmuide has such a broken history. During World War I, the city was heavily attacked by German forces, and at one point, the city was flooded in an effort to destroy the Germans. The Germans never took the city, but by the end of WWI, Diksmuide was reduced to a pile of rubble. In the 1920's, the city was completely rebuilt. We heard that a common field trip for British high school students is a visit to the German Military Cemetery where 25,638 soldiers found their resting place. 

The city is peaceful now, of course, but it seems that a different sort of struggle looms over the entire country. The Dutch make up the majority of the Belgian population, but the other people represented are the French, and they don't really see eye to eye. In fact, there was no government for over a year because of the tensions between the two groups of people. The day that we arrived, in fact, a government was finally established but our host seemed dissatisfied and discouraged with the elected choice. I suppose only time will tell, right?

Duvel Belgian beer is Chris' new favorite!
So, the first night we arrived, we were taken out to dinner. Chris' first beer remained his favorite in Belgium. I am not a huge beer fan, but I have to say that I too appreciated the spicy taste of Duvel. If you ever find this beer, try it. We even heard a few locals proclaim that out of the 1,500 local Belgian beers, Duvel is the best. 

Chris + steak = my husband's heaven.
One thing that we've been missing in Serbia is a big, fat, juicy, medium rare steak. Now Serbians eat meat. Don't get me wrong. They eat loads of meat; every type of meat, and they eat it for almost every meal. We like Serbian food, but no where in Serbia have we found a restaurant that prepares steak rare -> med rare, and that's how we like it. We discovered that Belgium is known for its Belgium Blue beef, and they don't even ask you for a temperate when ordering. You get rare -> med rare whether you like it or not. We liked it a lot! So much so that we each had two huge steak meals during our time in Belgium. 

I added a few more pictures of Diksmuide below. Enjoy!

Canals run through the city. Diksmuide is 10 miles from the North Sea.  
Just a sweet park on the outskirts of the town. 
St. Nicholas Church that was rebuilt in the 1920's after the German's bombed the original one.
Inside St. Nicholas Church. 
Bombs that were actually dropped on the city. Now they adorn Town Hall.
Night falling over the town square. 
New friends at Diksmuide's Christmas market
 We met some of the friendliest people in Belgium. The first night in Diksmuide, we decided to take a stroll around the Christmas market. I was hunting for gluhwine (mulled wine), and Chris was on the market for a sausage. As I was ordering, a loud voice behind us insisted that we each try a Duvel "the best beer in Belgium." Wim (The man on the far left in the picture above), insisted that we stay for a beer, and he bought a round. Wim introduced us to his friends and before we knew it, an hour had passed. 

The owner of the booth brought me some home made snail soup. Amazing!
We met the owner of the information center, and he gave us a book on the town. 
We were invited to come back to Belgium, and Wim and his wife even said we could stay at their place in Brussels. We were not expecting such warm and hospitable people, but we are so glad that now we know what to expect next time we visit. 

Good night Diksmuide! Tomorrow, off to the magical town of Bruges!


Am I Homesick?

We have lived in Serbia for five months! 

Can you believe it?
I sure can't!
Where has 2011 gone?! 
It seems time has flown, but then on the other hand, a lot has happened in the past five months. We now feel like Subotica is home, we've made great friends, celebrated a few holidays, learned to understand a lot of the language (although speaking it is another story entirely), found a volunteer opportunity, galavanted around Europe, I just found a part time job (that will be saved for another post), and Chris is enjoying his job, so the first five months have been jam packed. 
Now that we're almost half a year into our overseas adventure, I get this question a lot:
"Are you starting to get homesick? I am sure it's really hard to be away for so long."
I usually respond with a quick "no!" and follow it up with all of the things that Chris and I have found to love about Serbia. 
Usually that's my answer. 
Two weeks ago, my brother and his wife had their first baby. 
A perfect little boy nicknamed "JJ."
Everyone was there to congratulate the new parents. 
My entire family and extended family crowded the waiting room. 
Dad skyped me in the delivery room once mom and JJ were settled.
Our family had grown while I was on the other side of the world. 
It was the first time I cried.
I guess they were both tears of happiness, 
and tears of homesickness. 

JJ's first photo shoot. You are the best www.diphotography.org. 
So, if this is what "homesick" looks like, then yes, I am a little homesick. 

JJ and his loving daddy (my brother). I borrowed this pic from the happy parents.
This picture just cracks me up! I hope he smiles like this when I meet him!

The good news is that I get to see his little face soon! We will be heading back to the States for the only time this year, and I cannot wait to meet the new family member! Congrats to my brother and his beautiful wife. JJ is absolutely perfect!  I know he's excited to meet Uncle Chris and Auntie Lana!


Schonbrunn Palace, Austria

NOTE: This blog contains more pictures than words.

. . . and of course you will find loads of those annoying jumping pictures. (I really love jumping pictures - if you couldn't already tell - and when Chris and I are 80+ years old, we hope to have a thick album of all the jumps we have made around the world.) We're nerds, but whatever! 

Every year, 2.5 million tourists visit Schonbrunn Palace, and if you have ever been, you understand why the Palace is Vienna's most visited attraction. If you are interested, you can read all about the former Hapsburg 1,441-room summer residence by clicking here.

In short, the history of Schonbrunn goes sort of like this:

1548 - The mayor of Vienna transformed Schonbrunn into an estate.
1569 - the Hapsburg's came into the picture, and of course they acquired the estate and all the land.
Emperor Matthias only used the estate for hunting. . .
. . . sounds like a terrible waste of a palace to me!
The next successor, Emperor Ferdinand II loved hunting too, and he basically just threw huge hunting parties at the estate. 
What in the world is a hunting party?!
1683 -The Turkish army invaded Vienna and they destroyed some of Schonbrunn. 
Sad days. 
1728 - Emperor Charpes VI acquires Schonbrunn, but he only uses it to host shooting parties. 
Like a party where you take lots of shots? Kidding.
Charles VI gifted the Palace to his daughter Marie Theresa (she's pretty famous).
Nice gift from Daddy!
Marie Theresa ushered in a brilliant period in Schonbrunn history. 
Marie Theresa made all sorts of additions and changes, and eventually Schonbrunn was home to over 1500 people. 
Too many people in one place - even if there were 1,441 rooms!
1805-1809 - Napoleon occupied the Palace. 
Franz Joseph was the last to call Schonbrunn home. He died in 1916. 
1996 - Schonbrunn Palace is placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

Now there are just loads of tourists. 

Enjoy our pictures! If you every find yourself in Vienna, you have to see Schonbrunn Palace. Even the boys agreed that it was a sight worth seeing in person.  

The jumping started early. 

Neptune Fountain.

Take the hike up the hill. The views are worth the huffing and puffing!
The Gloriette was used as a meeting place before hunting trips. Now it is a cafe/restaurant.

Reece taught us all sorts of new jumps.
Lana = jumping fail. Chris = terrifying!

Of course there was a Chirstmas Market with live music!
A great brewery that we found in Vienna. 
One last burger for the road. 
St. Stephen's Cathedral at night.

Doesn't this make you want to spend more money?! 
U-bahn -> the train station. Time to say bye bye Vienna! 
"You sure you don't want to stay, Lana." I wish that is what he was saying here!
One more coffee for the "road."
Well, Vienna, it is not goodbye, but rather, until we all meet again.