Monday, December 23, 2019

WORLD GEOGRAPHY 101: Sweden

Sweden was actually an add-on to our trip.   The original plan was just to visit the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark.   Then I made the mistake of looking at a map and noticing how close Malmo, Sweden is to Copenhagen--just a 30 minute train ride away.  So we flew into Copenhagen, left our luggage in lockers at the airport, met our friends, the Tanners, who'd just moved to Copenhagen earlier that week, then hopped on a train to Sweden.    

We only spent about 1/2 day in Sweden, so we were excited to find these Swedish flags to take a picture and make it extra official that we have visited Sweden.  :)

We wandered around the square of Malmo, 
 

then visited Malmohus Castle, which isn't much to look at from the outside...

 but actually has a very cool museum and aquarium inside.

It was a great way to spend 1/2 day and get to mark another country off our list.



That was country #27 for me, #18 for Adam, and #16 for Ellie.
 

And guess who found postcards, found postage stamps, wrote the postcards, and sent them all in the 1/2 day visit?  
Yep, that would be me, who didn't want to gyp anyone of getting a postcard from a new country.  And who is slightly obsessed with postcards and mail in general.  

Stay tuned for more to come...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

WORLD GEOGRAPHY 101: Belgium

So I told you the story about how our WORLD GEOGRAPHY course came to be in the last post.  It was a happy confluence of circumstances which has allowed us the greater ability to travel right now.  But have I ever told you how I got bit by the travel bug in the first place?  

It's two fold. 
First off, I was born into a family with a bit of a competitive nature.  Mostly the competitiveness is saved for board games and sports, but it's also extended into exploring the world. With 29 countries under my belt now, I still am one of the least well-traveled of my siblings.  My brother Nate has been to 74 countries, two of my siblings are at 60+, and two more are at about 50.   I don't think I'll ever catch them and that's okay, but that won't stop me from seeing what I can in my own due time.

Secondly, I have realized that I  have a deep deep love for other cultures and places.  There's just a yearning in me to see and experience the world from different eyes.  Reading books has provided that for me for many years, but there's just nothing that quite replicates experiencing things first hand.   Combining reading and traveling together turns it from just a surface experience to a transformative experience and I feel so blessed that we have been able to allow our children to have some of those transformative experiences!

So this post is all about our time in Belgium.   Our son-in-law, Garrett, had served his mission in the Netherlands and Belgium, so he gave us the scoop at places we should visit and our first stop was ANTWERP! 

We quickly realized after spending time in the Netherlands and Belgium, that the first place to begin our exploring is the Grote Markt of every town.  Grote Markt means "Great Market Square" and I'm not actually sure if every town has a Grote Markt, but it seemed that many of them did, and they tended to be in the cute old part of town.  The Grote Markt of Antwerp was especially charming and we enjoyed exploring there.


It wasn't very busy that day, so Ellie found it to be a perfect place to try out some of her dancing moves...

I have no idea where she gets her flexibility from!  😜

We thought this statue was completely charming! 

Ordering food in a foreign country is often an interesting experience.   We used google translate to figure out most of the food items...
but somehow we missed how large the pizzas were.  😆


After the Grote Markt, we just wandered around and explored Antwerp...

Steen castle was on my list of places I wanted to visit, but, alas, some heavy duty renovations prevented us from getting a better look than this postcard and across-the-street view.

It rained literally every single day of our trip, but the next day started off especially wet!  

Luckily the rain had let up a little by the time we'd trekked to our next destination of Bruges!

With cute gingerbread style houses, cobblestone streets, and picturesque canals, Bruges is a lovely place to visit!   Normally crawling with tourists, we were grateful to be there in the off-season to enjoy the narrow streets with lighter crowds.

We once again enjoyed exploring the Grote Markt of Bruges.

We also visited the Studhuis Museum and walked to the top of the Belfry Tower of Bruges.  

 According to Wikipedia: "The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower in the centre of Bruges, Belgium. One of the city's most prominent symbols, the belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger."

  
We discovered that it's also a great place to get some exercise...

and get a fantastic view of the city from the top!

Seriously!   Look at this place! 😍

They also had some fun food being sold at the base of the Belfry.

After that we headed to the Gruuthuis Museum.

We may have been feeling a little silly by then...

After that we drove about 30 miles to the lovely town of Ghent!

One of our first stops was to "Graffiti Street", also known as Werregarenstraat.  I'm normally not a huge graffiti fan, but this place was so cool to visit.   What used to be a boring alleyway connecting two larger streets,  is now an ever shifting kaleidoscope of color and street art.  

Our only regret is that we didn't have any tools (spray paint or sharpies) with which we could add our own contributions to the art.

After that we found some fresh "Noses of Ghent" to try.   What are the Noses of Ghent?  Good question.  Let me enlighten you...

In Dutch, the noses are referred to as "Cuberdon". Here's one of the many stands we saw throughout the city.   Apparently there's quite a competition between the stands.

Here's a close-up...
"Known as cuberdons, neuzekes or 'little noses', these vibrantly-coloured soft-centred candies are said to look like noses and originate from the town of Ghent. Mimicking the jelly bean, they have a hard, thin and crisp outer BUT they house a super-sweet, gooey and sticky centre." Source sbs.com

There was so much fuss about them that we bought them from a couple different places, so we could try them out and see which we liked best.   

Frankly they were all too sweet and, in our opinion, totally over-rated.  We recommend sticking with Belgian chocolate, which we had plenty of and enjoyed immensely! 


Next we visited Gravensteen, a medieval castle dating back to the 1100's! 

And we just enjoyed exploring this beautiful place.

Ghent is one of the oldest cities in all of Belgium...

and the history is rich and interesting. 


 After a long day of exploring, we headed to Brussels, where we were staying for the night.  When we found out that Atomium was on our way to the hotel, we decided that a quick stop there was in order. 
Atomium was built for the 1958 World Expo and is still a sight to behold.

It was especially dazzling when it got a little darker and the lights came on.

We ended up staying at Atomium longer than expected and we were pretty exhausted by the time we got to the hotel that night.  

The next day we explored Brussels.

Brussels is a beautiful place...

but it's much bigger than Bruges and Ghent, so it was a lot of walking!

We thought Mannekin Pis (this small statue of a peeing boy) was hilarious and based on the crowds of people that were there, I'd say that it is one of the more popular draws in Brussels!  We were very surprised to find out that Mannekin Pis was created in the 1600's and has been stolen several times over the years.


Of course, we got  Belgian waffles topped with Belgian chocolate every day we were in Belgium.

We were pretty worn out to start the day...

and we had a long trek from the Brussels International Airport where we needed to return the car to the Brussels Charleroi Airport, where we needed to catch our morning flight. 

We saw a little police "show" along the way.   I have no idea what exactly they were doing or why  they were doing it, but they were entertaining. 

Before we started our long trek from one airport to the other, I made sure to get all of my Belgium postcards into the mail.
I may or may not be a little obsessed with sending postcards.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this trip!
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