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i’ll always have pictures

can’t believe it’s been a week since i came back from my trip. time flies when you’re battling jetlag and going back to work.

i’ve plowed through 750 pictures and videos and finally decided which ones to post to flickr and which ones to post on my blog. (all blog entries have now been updated with pictures. woot!)

and as i’ve gone through my images, i’m reminded of a really wonderful trip. it is my hope that it won’t be another 15 or so years til i go back to amsterdam. and that i must go back to explore more of belgium. so much to see, so little time.

press play on the amsterdam slideshow or click here to go to flickr.

press play for the belgium slideshow or click here to go to flickr.

my dear europe…until we meet again.

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the little differences

i had to giggle, sigh or shake my head at some of the things i saw on my trip. it’s the little things that makes us oh so different than our european counterparts. here are some things you may not find in your tourist guide:

for lovely boobies, try this lovely jubblies cream from lush. i wonder if we have this particular product in canada?

no surprise i found these items in the red light district. left: the piggy salt and pepper shakers are sure to stir up conversation at the breakfast table. right: oh bunny, what have they done to you? also available as a brown teddy bear.

cannabis lollipops and mushroom tea sold at the waterlooplein flea market. a little pick me up.

oh. yes. they. did. of all the names for all cafes, in all of the world.

i hadn’t seen cherry coke in forever! canada stopped selling it years ago so this sent waves of nostalgia over me. not that i was a big cherry coke drinker. but still.

you can find lots of automats in amsterdam with food for € 1.

the king of all lowriders. i can’t imagine someone riding this on the streets of amsterdam. it was selling for like, a ka-jillion euros at the quicksilver store in the kalvertoren mall on kalverstraat.

brilliant. if ever you get homesick while in amsterdam and get that craving for US/UK items such as tang, chips ahoy cookies or walkers chips, the eichholtz deli certainly provides.

service with a smile in zaans schans. the staff looked quite serious about it too.

marketing win! those belgians got me. you should always be able to see the fruit in the bottle of yoghurt. stir and enjoy.

chocolate needn’t be boring. these were sold in a bruges chocolate shop, alongside chocolate duckies for kids

everyone’s seen condom machines in washrooms. yawn. but have you seen condom machines in the middle of a busy street? good for those spontaneous sexy times. i also spied outdoor tampon machines in brussels too.

at first glance i thought this was an ATM inside of a brussels mcdonalds (like they have in NYC) but nope, it’s touch-screen ordering where you select your meal, pay by debit/cc and walk over to the counter to collect your food. who knew mcdonalds was so tech-savvy? how long before this shows up over here?

some people might look at europeans as same, but different. some may even call culture shock and not be able to speak the same language. but i like to think of europeans like quirky family members who make me laugh. or roll my eyes. we need more quirky on this side of the pond.

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the dark and the light

brussels re-cap V

tuesday, june 29

i had time this morning before my 122pm train to check out the antoine wiertz museum in the leopold district. having been intrigued by his symbolist painting, deux jeunes filles (la belle rosine) at the musee royaux des beaux art’s exhibit, i wanted to go to this museum dedicated just to his works.

deux jeunes filles (la belle rosine) by antoine wiertz

antoine wiertz‘s paintings were interesting yet strange and unnerving. the main exhibition room is floor to high ceiling chock-a-block hung with wiertz’s huge canvases. not one inch of wall space is wasted.

the other rooms were smaller and more claustrophobic which may have been an intentional move as some of the paintings were rather macabre. a rather unusual museum, that’s for sure, but worth a visit. to see my flickr set on the museum, click here.

after meeting michele to return the keys, i hopped on the train to take me back to amsterdam. as much fun as i had in brussels, i felt like i couldn’t breathe the past couple of days. the stifling heatwave was exacerbated by the fact that brussels does not have any body of water running through it. and save for the touristy and “fifth avenue/champs d’elysee-type” streets, many were littered with piles of garbage. even the breezes in brussels were not refreshing. perhaps that why i felt so happy in bruges with its canal and bridges. i thought i was the only one who felt like this, but michele told me her friend said the same exact thing of brussels when they first visited in the summertime.

which is why when i walked out of amsterdam centraal station, i felt at once i could breathe again. my mood and energy instantly perked up. and i was happy to be back.

ivy, my next bnb host, was kind enough to meet me at central station so that we could walk to her place on the brouwersgracht, just 5 minutes away.

the view from ivy’s livingroom window

ivy’s apartment is also a stone’s throw from de poezenboot boat. her apartment is the 2nd floor of a walk-up. the stairs are neck-breakingly steep but once you get up to the unit, the place is light and airy.

watch your step, it’s an ‘effin doozy

not only does ivy have a killer view of the singel canal, but my bedroom has its own sink/vanity. as odd as it looks in a bedroom, it’s actually quite convenient for brushing and washing up.

after setting my things down, i wanted to walk around the city and take in as much of amsterdam as i can before my departure on wednesday. but as i was also pooped from the 3 hour train ride in, i took it easy tonight. ivy went out with her friends until late so i took advantage of her most awesome tv. it’s a philips aurea 2 ambilight LCD tv.

this tv so appeals to the ex-raver in me

ivy told me that it’s actually better on the eyes when watching tv. it’s so rad that i want one. course, it may be a good idea not to get one for fear i’d become a couch potato.

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in bruges

brussels re-cap IV

monday, june 28

i’ve been looking forward to today since i arrived in brussels. today i went to bruges! and can i just say, it’s as beautiful as everyone says. after the one hour train ride, i walked the 20 minutes to town; just follow the stream of people heading there. the city is old europe charm with its pristine cobble stone streets and brick buildings. it’s a place that you just meander. i didn’t really even use my map but just wandered down the streets and ducked into alleys.

course being such a small place, any walking you do will eventually lead you to the city centre. and i must say, i was surprised that it was so “commercialized”. there was no starbucks per se (belgium outlawed any starbucks coffeeshop since they have their own coffee culture), but there were high street stores like h&m and jane norman et al. i felt slightly disappointed to see retail sale signs hung everywhere. i understood though. once you get the tourists to bruges, you have to get them to stay there somehow and spend money. and what better way than shopping? still, it would’ve been more authentic if the stores were only one-of-a-kind local businesses.

i wanted to climb up the 366 steps of the belfort to check the panoramic view of bruges but it was under renovations. the admission price was reduced to € 8 and restricted to certain sections so i passed.

wanting to see the real bruges, i made leave of the shopping streets pronto. i walked to the burg, which used to be the city’s town hall. popped into the st basilius chapel there and sat for a few minutes to take in the choral music coming over the speakers. the 12th-13th century romanesque church with its heavy brick columns and archways looked like an interior of a castle. it had the feeling of being underground which was what i liked about it. i did not go upstairs to the heilig bloedbasiliek aka the basilica of the holy blood where it is said the blood of jesus is preserved in a vial.

leaving the burg, i walked south to take in the groenerei canal and bridges. seeing this and being away from the crowd made me happy. bruges is gorgeous and a definite must see. sure, it’s quiet and not much will probably happen at night, but it’s peaceful and absolutely charming. i’d love to come back for longer than just an afternoon visit. next time.

my last night in brussels i wanted to indulge in authentic belgian waffles. so slapped some strawberries and whipped cream on it and a happy girl i’ll be. the waffles were fresh, sweet and so good.

i came back to pascales and packed for my return tomorrow. pichou has become so used to me that he follows me to the bedroom and just hang outs with me. when i was watching tv, he came over and sexed himself all over my shoes, leaving his scent on them.

seriously, can i just smuggle him out of the country?

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we are all atoms

brussels recap III

sunday, june 27

the more i travel, the more it becomes easier to navigate through a city and its transportation system. or maybe i’m just uber-comfortable with infographics like a subway chart or train routes? the more i travel, the less intimidated i feel. with experience, i know what to look for in terms of markers and noting which direction i’m going and where i’ve come from. usually by the second day in a city, i have it sorta mapped out in my head already.

the last time i was in amsterdam was 15 years ago. that was my first international trip (not counting the US) and i remember how lost i felt in amsterdam. unlike vancouver’s streets being in a grid pattern, amsterdam’s streets are in a spider-webby pattern. one turn down an alley, then another, then another and you can’t retrace your steps. the streets all looks the same. this time to amsterdam, i’m having no problems with directions or streets. oh look how i’ve grown.

today’s adventure lead me to antwerp, an hour train ride from brussels. when i tell locals i’m heading to antwerp, they ask me why? they tell me besides the draw of the art-deco train station, there’s nothing really there. it’s an industrial city. it’s a smear.
and perhaps, i agree with the fact that there’s not much in terms of “attractions”, but there’s the mode museum which is a museum of haute couture and that was worth the trip for me.

the MoMu is currently having an exhibit: zbwlaarctk masters of black in fashion and costume. and i had to check out antwerp, belgium’s fashion capital which spawned avant-garde designers such as ann demeulemeester, martin margiela, olivier theyskens and dries van noten. click here for my flickr set on the exhibition.

i had to decide between next seeing rubenhuis or antwerp’s cathedral of our lady. i chose the cathedral which is the largest gothic church in the lower countries. the cathedral’s current exhibition is reunion: from quienten metsijs to peter paul rubens, so i did get to see some rubens.

the church is way impressive: the elaborately carved pulpit, the cupola dome which looked like a black onion, the schyven organ and the way the exhibit was set up was on both sides of the church. the paintings were hung against blood red banners which set off the colours beautifully. seeing some of the rubens, i was glad to have passed on the rubenhuis. ruben’s works are not really my flavour, although i would’ve probably been appreciative more of his home and studio instead. but can’t do it all in one day.

the reason i had to choose between one or the other was that i wanted to get back to brussels to see the atomium before it closed at 7pm. i got to the atomium just before 5pm and it was still a motherflippin’ scorcher outside. this heatwave europe’s going through is really something. the walk from the subway to the atomium was a lengthy one and being that there was no shade or breeze was a bit taxing on the body.

the music you’re hearing is from the street fair happening under the atomium. ola!

but it was still worth the walking. although a complete tourist trap, the atomium is a sight to see. it’s wow-inspiring like the eiffel tower. it was built for the 1958 world expo in brussels. i liked it because it was a building shaped like an atom. cuz how many buildings in the world are designed like a molecule?

the first thing everyone is required to do upon entering the atomium is to hop in the elevator and in 22 seconds shoot up to the highest point, the viewing station with it’s 360 degree panoramic views.

view of mini europe can be seen from the highest point of the atomium

then we were ushered back to the main floor and told that we can visit all 4 spheres by taking a series of escalators and 80 steps. the escalator ride to the first sphere took 1 minute 15 seconds! but we had to be sure we wanted to do that because once you start on your upward climb, you must go all the way to the last sphere so that you can come down by the 186 steps. you can’t come back the same way you came from.

well, if that didn’t sound ominous. it wasn’t. the atomium is family friendly so that even children can accomplish the climb and descent. and the fact that besides the viewing point, the rest of the atomium spheres are covered so you can’t see out. for those afraid of heights, you don’t actually see how high you are. unlike climbing the eiffel tower.

for dinner, i decided to treat myself to more than just takeaways. i headed to the grand place, found rue des bouchers to try out chez leon which is famous for its mussles and pomme frites. san diego opera’s ed and my tourist guide book had also raved about the mussels. and they were right. the mussels were tres tasty! i got the “smaller” portion for € 12,50. the mussels are cooked in white wine sauce infused with celery. i’m not a huge mussels person but i too, would recommend it.

but i can’t speak so favourably regarding the service at chez leon. perhaps it’s tourist fatigue but ALL the wait staff were just terrible. not friendly at all. my server didn’t even check up on me or say tickety boo during my whole meal. not sure if they think that i must be a tourist, probably don’t speak french or dutch and therefore no effort to communicate was made. but you know, a smile is universal regardless of what language one speaks. just a tip.

another night with pichou. he comes in from somewhere on the roof after it gets dark at 11. eats and drinks and then comes over for cuddles. a nice way to end the night. i wonder if he’s confused at why the strange girl is in his house and where his human is? and i wonder if he’ll notice when i return to amsterdam in a couple of days. i know i’m gonna miss this little guy when i leave.

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a walk on the dark side

brussels re-cap II

saturday, june 26

i think i’ve been duped. on paper, everything seemed so close. on paper, you’d think you can hit 2 places in one day.

note to self: don’t buy eurail’s “unlimited travel for 5 days in one month” pass if you’re only going to be in the country for 5 days. to think, i originally wanted to check out brussels AND antwerp today. then tomorrow i’d go to bruges. and my last day would be spent in luxembourg. with so much to see and do in each place, what was i thinking? it’s like that time when i first went to the uk to kick around in the country for about 8 days. During my trip i also wanted to drive up and see scotland and ireland. i got laughed at for that by my friend mat who knew better.

anyways, i’ve decided to knock luxembourg off my list. unfortunately, with a travel time of 3 hours each way, i’d be spending my last day mostly on the train. and then get on the train the following day to head back to amsterdam? that’s too much train-hopping.

so today i stayed put in brussels.

i headed to the focal point of the city, the grand place. talk about in-your-face architecture! and you wouldn’t think that the narrow alley you’re walking down on would open up to such grandeur: the humungous plaza, rows of guildhouses, sculptures and gilding.

the street beside the grand place there was a french chanteuse with her 2 kids. she sang sad french songs while her little boy dressed in lederhosen walked around with a chapeau for donations. how could i resist? i have a thing for sad french songs.

first stop was to the musee de la ville de bruxelles at the maison du roi. similar to the amsterdam historisch museum, it tells of the city’s history. but more importantly, it houses the 800+ outfits designed for the little pisser himself, brussel’s beloved manneken pis statue including the elvis, cosmonaut, french cook, momo taro & daimyo, chinese mandarin and maharaja looks. and i thought barbie had a killer wardrobe. why, just this past april, manneken pis was dressed as dracula for the zombie parade.

manneken pis is just a short jaunt from the grand place. for a bronze statue, it kicks up a lot of fuss. first off, it’s wrought ironed fenced off and there’s hella lot of tourists jockeying to get as close a look as possible. and while people are ooh’ing and ah’ing, i’m looking at the cheeky little monkey and i imagine a thought bubble hanging in the air. manneken pis is grinning and saying, “i pee on all of you.”

left: manneken pis. right: manneken pis chocolates in white chocolate, strawberry, orange, apple, cherry, banana, raspberry, cassis, milk chocolate and dark chocolate

also at the grand place is the tintin store. tintin the boy wonder and his dog snowy are belgian’s most celebrated comic strip character. since 1929, 200M tintin books have been sold worldwide and translated into 56 languages. i remember reading the adventures of tintin when i was in elementary school.

and here was a store devoted to all things tin tin: t-shirts, games, postcards, key rings, stationery, mugs. and figurines. none of which are cheap. the high quality, copyrighted goods come at wallet breaking prices. the blue lotus figurine set range unbelievably from € 145 to € 189,50. for the serious collector only.

outside the tintin store was something i hadn’t seen before in my travels. i came across many gypsies begging for change. gypsy mothers with their sleeping infant or toddler sitting on a piece of cardboard looking up forlonly. then another gypsy woman would come along to relieve them and have with them another baby or child. or the gypsy women who would go right up to passerby and thrust their cups into their faces, shaking the cup with the few coins already in there. not as aggressive as some homeless bums i’ve encountered in new york but upfront all the same.

with the mercury hitting 28C, i headed back to the air-conditioned musee royaux in the afternoon. michele was working today and was kind enough to comp me a ticket to both the symbolism in belgium exhibit AND entrance to the magritte museum. nice to have friends in high places.

i didn’t know too much about symbolists before the exhibit. but i liked what i saw about it on brochures and banners. it looked very pre-raphaelites to me and that’s my favourite period of art history. michele said the exhibit didn’t rock her boat because the art was too dark.

and she was right. symbolism is the dark, gothic side of romanticism. if we’re speaking literature, the precursors to symbolism in art are edgar allan poe, christina and dante gabriel rossetti, charles baudelaire and william blake.

the symbolist artists featured are mostly belgian: jean deville, fernand khnopff, xavier mellery, leon spilliaert, george minne, joseph middeleer, jan toorop and félicien rops to name but a few.

clockwise from top left: deux femmes by jan toorop, autoportrait by leon spilliaert, pornocrates by felicien rops, une aile bleue by fernand khnopff, the sphinx or the caress by fernand khnopff, les elements en movement by willy schlobach, le cycle des pasiones by jean deville

there was paintings and drawings from the 1890s-1900s artists that were perhaps viewed as diabolical and taboo. some of the works were disturbing but others were fascinating. there were paintings that looked like they were from a modern day graphic novel. and to think that turn of the century artists were imagining all this during such a conservative and puritanical time.

the exhibit lead to the sub-level floors of the musee royaux des beaux art where i stood and contemplated favourites edward burn-jones and salvador dali.

the wedding of psyche by edward burn-jones

la tentation de sainte-antoine by salvador dali

after that exhibit, i headed to the attached magritte museum. every time i see a magritte painting, i hear that brilliant nina simone song, oh sinner man, in my head. ever since i watched the thomas crown affair with pierce brosnan and rene russo, his paintings and song have become inexplicably linked.

the 4 story museum was dedicated to surrealist artist rené magritte’s life and works. you start on the 4th floor which tells of his beginnings and work your way down.

clockwise from top left: la magie noire, memory, the return, the domain of arnheim and scheharazade

ever the romantic, i was more intrigued about his romance and marriage to georgette berger. they were together for life.

what surprised me was that none of his bowler hat series were displayed. i thought for a second that i may have missed it? the security guard told me that the painting, the son of man et al were in houston. magritte had painting those when he was living in the us and there they remain. how ironic. a museum that was a shrine to rené magritte did not possess some of his most famous works.

as shops are closed on sundays in belgium, i made my way to rue neuve which is the main pedestrian shopping with all the high street labels. i’ve noticed that in amsterdam and now here that people SHOP. they have only one late night shopping in a week, (and that’s only til 7pm) so people make sure to take advantage of when a store stays open after they finish work or on the weekend. the shops are packed, especially now that there’s summer madness sales.

i took advantage but the deals weren’t as good as in amsterdam. but hey, i will not have to shop for my summer wardrobe when i get back home now.

the heat was stifling and oppressive so i just got some takeaway sandwiches and headed back to the apartment. i wish i could say that i was taking advantage of the nightlife in amsterdam and brussels but going to these places by myself would not be so much fun. and besides, i always start my day early and stay out for like 8-10 hours, so i need the night to recoup and recharge.

i end my evenings watching tv. in amsterdam, they air dutch programs as well as north american shows, which are in english but with dutch subtitles. in brussels, throw in the mix french programming. some of the US shows are dubbed in french or dutch. i’m finding that holland and belgium are big fans of frasier, CSI, house and that 70s show cuz that’s on every day. it’s funny to see what strikes a chord with a country.

i had to laugh and send a text to sean when i came across a jean claude van damme movie on tv. i was watching the mussels from brussels in his mullet glory, kicking ass on a motorcycle in hard target, while i was in brussels. that’s probably funny only to me.

tonight, pichou graced me with his presence. he ventured gingerly into the livingroom to sniff me out. and little by little, he came to rub up against me and plop himself on the floor, loving all the petting i was lavishing on him.

sure, it’s nice to have the whole apartment to myself. but it’s even nicer to know there’s a little heartbeat in that house with you.

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to brussels i go

now that i’m back in amsterdam and my laptop is all charged up, this is me catch-up blogging:

friday, june 24

today begins my belgium adventures. the train from amsterdam to brussels took 2 tours 44 minutes. i’ve ridden enough longish haul trains to know that what i need: a drink, sandwich, munchies, a book and a seat that won’t give me eye strain.

i’m not prone to motion sickness but my eyes will get wonky if i sit backwards on a train for too long. not from the actual motion, but rather looking out the window and having the scenery rush by you in the wrong direction. so i always make sure i try to grab a forward facing seat, even if that means sitting in the sun. so be it. luckily this train i was on had good ole’ fashioned window curtains.

the ride and scenery were pleasant but i couldn’t wait to get there. three hours on a train is not short. and luckily, the passenger sitting beside me and the one sitting in front of me didn’t suck. that’s also another thing that’s important and completely out of your control when traveling. please be non-smelly, that you had the good sense that your mobile is not ring-toning out the latest and greatest booty-shaking rap / hip hop song and most importantly, that you’re not talking on said mobile obnoxiously. (because i’ve been in the same train car as those people too and they’re worse than a crying baby)

the air bnb place i’m staying at is in the ixelles area of brussels. For $44 CDN/nite. my host, pascale was away in germany this week so i would have her apartment all to myself. i met her friend michele who works at the musee royaux des beaux arts to collect the keys but since she was working until 5pm and couldn’t take me to the apartment just yet, she asked if it’s okay to comp me a ticket so that i could check out the museum in the meantime.

she doesn’t know me very well, does she? yes, i’d be all over that!

the museum is undergoing renovations and split into 3 areas: the musee royaux des beaux art, the margritte museum and the special expo on symbolist artists. i opted for the beaux art museum.

although maybe not as many recognizable artists as british museum or the met, the musee royal des beaux art is striking. the interior architecture of the main building is wow inducing.

so is the view of brussels from the rooftop terrace.

the museum showcase works from rubens, rene magritte, pieter brueghel the younger and pieter brueghel the elder.

the fall of the rebel angels by peter the elder

plus a real life jheronimus bosch! and the bosch triptych, la tentation de saint antoine, wasn’t in a frame or stanchioned off. i could go nose to painting with it. the detail in triptyque de la tentation de saint antoine was nothing short of incredible. definitely more jaw dropping knowing it’s the real enchilada than the bosch art centre.

the temptation of saint antoine by jheronimus bosch

after the museum closed, michele walked me over to pascale’s. it’s a 4 floor walk-up which means, no elevator, tight corners, one suite per floor and a building where you know your neighbours and can hear them too. pascale’s apartment is on the top floor. the apartment itself has 3 floors. the first floor is the “foyer”, where you can also open a window and walk out onto the building’s rooftop, which is all hers. she even has a table and chairs set up for alfresco dining.

the second floor is the livingroom and kitchen. then there’s 2 seperate staircases to go to the top floor. one staircase leading off to the toilet and second bedroom/study. the other staircase leads to the master bedroom and bathroom. the place is very french bohemian: different wall colour in each room, random pictures hung on the wall, postcards and knick knacks everywhere, soft lighting, the smell of incense and the musky air similar to a used bookstore. lots of character. very french.

and the place comes with a cat named monsieu pichou. michele told me that i’d be lucky if i even see the cat during my whole stay as it’s very timid and spend almost all the time outside somewhere on the roof. still i got a quick glimpse of pichou.

on my way to get dinner, i took a wander around the immediate area. i saw the bozar square, the grand place and the exterior to the musical instruments museum. with its wrought iron musical notes, it may be one of the best facades on a building i’ve seen in a long time.

once i got to brussels, all i’ve been hearing around me is french. there’s a huge population of muslims and africans immigrants in brussels and most speak french. signage here are in both french and dutch. there’s hardly any english posted. hospitality people who do speak english are not fluent but can make do. this reminded me of when i was in paris for a week. it was fun because it forced me to recall the french i had learned in school and to speak frenglish.

being in a country where you don’t really hear any english spoken didn’t phase me (don’t i sound so confident with just 5 years of high school french?) what stopped me mid-step was the thought that i was somewhere i’ve never been before. completely by myself. nobody i knew on this end except michele who left me her number in case of emergency. oh, merde. and then after the 5 second mini-freakout passed, i thought to myself, okay, what do i want to check out now? where will this street lead me? let’s find out.

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in brussels

i’ve been in brussels the past couple of days. feeling like quite the winner, i forgot my laptop cord back in amsterdam at robert’s bnb. so i’ve been conserving power until my return on tuesday.

regular scheduled programming will return soon…