Saturday, February 23, 2008

eating my way through belgium

Belgium: land of waffles, beer, french fries, mussels, chocolate, waffles, beer, and chocolate. In that order. Please and thank you. That's my trip to Belgium in a nutshell but I shall elaborate below.

Jess and I took a cab to the Madrid airport at 5am on Thursday morning. The streets were quiet and my eyes struggled to stay open as images of waffles danced in my head. Though I questioned our 7am flight choice, watching the sunrise from the air made it all worth it (even though I was temporarily blinded.) Upon our landing in Brussels we bid farewell to our Spanish speaking skills and plunged into the trilingual world of French, Dutch, and German. After some public transportation mishaps we ended up taking a bus, train, and metro before arriving at our hostel where we dropped our bags and set out exploring.

sunrise from 30,000 feet

We started out walking south on Rue Royale towards Brussel's main park. Soon into our walk Jess made an exciting discovery and screamed "omigod! it's a CONCHA!!" We took advantage of the photo-op and made Amalia proud. (If you don't know what I'm talking about that's okay. Camino de Santiago anyone?) The park itself was pretty barren compared to our Retiro but it was "so Belgium." with it's woven tree branches, frolicking Belgian children, and statues. We walked through the park and then ran across a pretty busy street (we like the thrill of risking our lives) to look at Palais Royal before letting our stomachs guide us towards the center of town where our first Belgian waffles awaited.

concha excitement

now that's an intimidating lion!

We quickly found a spot to have liege waffles, they're circular and the sugar is baked into the dough rather than sprinkled on top. I opted for a waffle with bananas and Jess chose a waffle with nutella. Good choices on both of our parts. We ate and smiled and "omg"-ed a whole bunch. With happy tummies we check out the impressive Grand Place/Grote Markt, the main square of Brussels. We did a couple 360 degree turns, snapped some photos, and headed towards Manneken Pis.

pre-inhalation of waffles

Grand Place

Manneken Pis is a statue of a little boy peeing that has become a Brussels landmark whose origins are not really known. He's a lot smaller than I expected but managed to attract quite a crowd. After taking some obligatory touristy photos, we went into a bar right across from Menneken Pis that was straight out of Harry Potter (I'm talking 100% The Leaky Cauldron...) where we warmed up by a fireplace and sampled some flavored Belgian beers. My favorite was Kriek, a beer that is fermented with sour cherries!

little Manneken Pis!

Belgian beer by the fire

Next stop: french fries. Though not a huge fan of fries myself, I had a few of Jess's and must admit that they were delicious. After the fries we went to look at the Cathedral and then happened upon what is possible the cutest cafe in all of Belgium for some coffee. The owner is a short French man who loves his bright red sweater and a skinny black and white kitty was curled up on a banquette nearby. When he woke up I let him like some cream from my finger and it made my day; Nais, you would have been proud of my cat wooing skills. Ready for dinner, we found our way to Rue des Bouchers, a crowded street filled with fluorescent lights, tourists, and practically identical restaurants. Men from each restaurant stand outside trying to get people to come inside for dinner and the competition is fierce. Our decision was pretty easy once we were offered free glasses of champagne (which somehow translated to three glasses of champagne and three glasses of white wine each. Free.) and a table by the window. We hardly glanced at the menu and braced ourselves for Brussels' mussels. We learned how to eat with a mussel shell and we filled our tums and returned to our hostel exhausted, content, and giggly from the drinks.

Belgian french fries

bonding with the kitty

mussels in Brussels

We woke early the next morning and walked to the train station where we took an hour long train ride to Bruges, which we found to be overwhelmingly cute and straight out of Hansel and Gretl. We walked through the quiet Beguinage, which is sort of like a monastery, and continued on cobblestone roads towards the main square. Horses clip-clopped beside us as we passed chocolate shop after chocolate shop and crossed over picturesque canals (Bruges is sometimes called the Venice of the north). Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" sculpture is housed in a church in Bruges so we stopped in quickly for a look at one of just a few of his works that exists outside of Italy. We then picked a tea room in the main square where we ordered waffles and tea, again without glancing at a menu which we regretted after seeing our 30 euro tab. Our server was a quirky French (?) man who claimed to have hung out a bunch with Colin Farrell while he was in Bruges filming his most recent movie. He also said that part of the movie was filmed inside the restaurant so perhaps the 30 euro tab was worth it after all... After our Belgian waffles (shaped like squares, sugar on top!) we walked around for an hour or two and saw the Bell Tower, the church that is home to what is believed to be a few drops of Christ's coagulated blood (...), and lots of lace and chocolate shops. We hopped on a train back to Brussels that afternoon, took catnaps back at the hostel, headed back to the French cafe with the kitty for dinner, then stocked up on some chocolate before calling it a night.

the Beguinage and a canal

the main square

waffles with fruit, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce
(we don't mess around)

window of a chocolate shop

Again we were up bright and early to catch our flight back to Madrid. Public transportation was again a little tricky but we managed to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. After a brief tiff with some airport security women we were soon back on our way home, a little sad to leave behind two cities that we had completely fallen for. But true love lasts forever (or something like that...) so I'm sure we will return some day!

our plane's shadow in a circular rainbow...just a trick of the sunlight or a fairy?!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


we interrupt this blog to bring you the following news...

my older sister is cooler than your older sister.



booyah grandma!!
(off to Belgium!)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

la bella sevilla

On Friday morning Maya and I groggily dragged ourselves out of bed at 7am to make our way to the Atocha Renfe train station where our program was meeting for our trip to Sevilla. Though I slept the majority of the three hour journey I did catch some sights of the Spanish countryside whizzing by my window when I would open my eyes momentarily to adjust my sleeping posture. We arrived in Sevilla and were greeted by 70 degree weather complete with a shining sun and blue skies. We abandoned our jackets and grabbed our sunnies as all ninety of us made our way towards the hotel. After dropping our bags off we formed a snake-like trail of American tourists as we "zig-zaggy-ando-ed" our way through skinny streets, attempting to balancing ourselves on even skinnier sidewalks. Our directors set us free to wander and grab lunch before meeting up to tour the La Giralda and La Catedral. The cathedral was built on top of a Muslim Mosque from the 12th century and thus retains lots of its Muslim heritage in its layout and architecture. At the time of its completion it was the largest cathedral in the world but has since fallen to third (still impressive!). The exhausting walk to the top of the cathedral's minaret was well worth the resulting views of the city.

La Giralda and the view from its top!
(notice the shadow that it casts on the city)

After the cathedral we made our ways towards the entrance to La Alcazar, the royal palace of Sevilla and one of the best examples of mudejar architecture (the mixing of Muslim and Christian art forms). Walking through the main gates is like entering a completely different world. The gardens surrounding the palace are the most impressive I've seen; they're filled with flowers, orange trees, fountains, and even chirping birds (!). The palace itself is equally as impressive, consisting of a series of courtyards complete with arcos de herradura (the traditional Muslim arches) and countless examples of azulejo (Muslim tiles). After our tour we frolicked around the gardens and almost got lost in the hedge maze, which made Vera very angry.

pretty plant and azulejo

gotta love our azulejo pictures

playing in the hedge maze!!

view from one of the courtyards

the room where the throne used to be

Amalia summons some ducks | I found a bunny!

Tired and cranky from too much walking, Jess and I hunted down some gelato on our way back to the hotel before taking baby re-charge naps. Jess, Maya, Vera, Greta, Steffi, and I went to dinner together and later forced a cab driver to take five of us to Calle Betis where we met up with other people from the program at a few bars. Jess and I retired to our room early and slept like babies. :)

The next morning our group went to Museo de Bellas Artes where we saw lots of works by El Greco and Velazquez. The museum was followed by a walk along the river from Puente de Isabel II to Puente de San Telmo. We were again released by the directors to spend the rest of the day as we pleased. Jess, Maya, Vera, Anoop, and I walked across the bridge to explore Triana. We sat outside right by the water for a drink before wandering through Triana in search of gelato and ceramics. Unfortunately we were unable to find an open ceramics store (siesta time) but we made up for it with amazing gelato. We followed our dessert with a middle eastern lunch by the river where I satisfied my craving for hummus before heading in the general direction of our hotel, stopping to shop on Calle Sierpes. We reunited with our group in the hotel lobby and once again made the trek through the city towards the train station to head home to Madrid. I was once again happy to return home to Maria Rosa but Sevilla left quite an impression on me and I can't wait to return.

a bling bling horsie and a very yellow section of town

the foursome by the river : )

a trip would not be complete without jumping pictures

pretty buildings by the water and an orange tree

I got to talk to Nils and Nais on the phone last night and skype with Bretty which made me miss my cuddly Columbians quite a bit but it was great to hear their voices. After an unsuccessful trip to the Prado (2 hour lines just aren't my thing) it looks like today will be a pretty lazy day other than mine and Jess's outing to a Bikram Yoga center later this evening to try it out. My Monday morning class at Autonoma has also been canceled for tomorrow so I'm happy girl. : )

Thursday, February 14, 2008

el dia de san valentin!

El Dia de San Valentin is nowhere near as huge in Spain as it is in the states but I was not about to let that stop me. My hermanas and I had been working on our hand made Valentines for weeks and baked up a storm the night before: chocolate covered strawberries, shortbread hearts dipped in chocolate, and strawberry jam rings!

the fresas were picked special for us and put into a boquet of strawberries | rolling out the dough (Robbie do you recognize my shirt??)

cookie cutting : )

the valentine we made for our familia and hung on the refrigerator (click to enlarge) | freshly dipped cookies

a valentine's day favorite

Why all the baking? A Valentine's Day party in the park, duh. The weather was gloomy for the first time ever (I so totally jinxed us all in my last post) and February felt like February instead of April but we were all troopers! We packed up our treats, bundled up our bodies, and brought plenty of champagne and blankets (both for warmth) to Retiro Park where we met up with a bunch of girls from our program PLUS Anoop, who was the one lucky guy among plenty of lovely ladies.

goodies! please note the peanutbutterandjellysandwichesintheshapeofhearts

waving around our bottles pre-getting yelled at by guards

very proud of my pb&j skills | lots of love

feeding the ducks the bread scraps apparently made my day...

All in all, a very good Valentine's day. Especially because I received Valentine's Day prezzies from my Gram, Dad, Carolann, and Scooblet earlier this week! I survived my first week at Autonoma but I don't want to dampen Valentine's day with talk of such a dark topic. Off to Sevilla tomorrow for the night! Besos y abrazos!!