The Digital Bookshelf | Now I See You

First day back after the weekend, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. There never seems to be enough time in the week or weekend for me to do all the things I want to do. Instead they just rollover into a never-ending to-do list that grows exponentially, with me adding three new items for every one I cross off.

That inexhaustible list also extends to my Kindle.

The only thing I may love more than traveling is curling up with a blanket, a mug of tea, and getting lost in a new book. In San Diego, the sunny days made me feel guilty for staying inside, and so the one upside with the oft rainy Brussels weather is that days spent inside reading are fairly guilt-free.

Now, I will not pretend to be the most critical of readers – I read almost anything and everything, and I can count on one hand (without all fingers) the number of books I have started and stopped. And so, despite my ever-growing book list, I’m always on the hunt for something new and love getting recommendations from others. I share these books first and foremost as record of my reading – my digital bookshelf of sorts – and secondly, in hopes that someone out there is looking for something to read and decides to pick one of these books up, because the joy of reading is something to be shared.

And so, without further ado…

Now I See YouNow I See You | Nicole C. Kear

At nineteen years old, Nicole C. Kear’s biggest concern is choosing a major–until she walks into a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan and gets a life-changing diagnosis. She is going blind, courtesy of an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, and has only a decade or so before Lights Out. Instead of making preparations as the doctor suggests, Kear decides to carpe diem and make the most of the vision she has left. She joins circus school, tears through boyfriends, travels the world, and through all these hi-jinks, she keeps her vision loss a secret.

When Kear becomes a mother, just a few years shy of her vision’s expiration date, she amends her carpe diem strategy, giving up recklessness in order to relish every moment with her kids. Her secret, though, is harder to surrender – and as her vision deteriorates, harder to keep hidden. As her world grows blurred, one thing becomes clear: no matter how hard she fights, she won’t win the battle against blindness. But if she comes clean with her secret, and comes to terms with the loss, she can still win her happy ending.

I read this book from to back in the matter of a few days. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Imagine being told at 19 that you have about a decade before you go blind. That’s just what happened to Nicole Kear, and she relates the experience in a fun and witty memoir. If bad language isn’t your thing, I would probably put this one back on the bookshelf. For all the rest of you, pick it up and give it a read. It is a glimpse into the reality of a life that most people – luckily – will have never have to experience themselves. Eye disease or not, it is a reminder to all that life is meant to be lived.

For those of you that have read it, what were your thoughts?

Rouen ⋅ France

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Rouen was our introduction to Normandy – the first of many stops on that trip – and we were bowled over by this charming town with its half-timbered homes and beautiful churches and cathedrals. Art fans kind can find the largest collection of impressionist art outside Paris at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Claimed by some to be the birthplace of impressionism, Rouen was a favorite of painters such as Gaugin, Pissarro, and especially Monet, whose series of 30+ painting of Rouen’s cathedral is well-known and praised. For those looking for some historical importance, Rouen has got you covered. Joan of Arc was only 13 when she received her first visions of the saints who told her to drive the English out of France. She was victorious in many battles until finally captured at the age of 19. She was brought to Rouen to stand trial and was subsequently burned at the stake.

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The Cathedral of Monet’s paintings is the famous for its butter tower (Tour de Beurre) which was financed by the sale of indulgences to consume butter during Lent.

Rouen Cathedral

The beauty of this cathedral continues to inspire today – we spent a few minutes chatting with and watching an artist paint the cathedral. Wish I had this hanging in my living room.

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The Normandy region is well-known for their half-timbered houses – buildings with exposed wood framing – a style which dates back to the Middle Ages. I personally could not get enough of them. I mean, come on. It feels like my fairy tale stories come to life.

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I promise that we did actually take photos of non-timbered things. The Church of St. Ouen may have been my favorite of Rouen’s four churches we visited. They started building the church in 1318, but the building was halted by the Hundred Year War during which it suffered significant damage. The church was eventually finished in the 15th century, with further additions in the 19th century. It had a small little park dusted with pink petals – perfectly coordinating with my ballet shoes.

normandy-23 normandy-24 normandy-27 normandy-29 normandy-31And among all the churches in Rouen, one of these things is not like the others. The Church of St. Joan of Arc is vastly different from the other churches in this city. Built in 1979, this modern church stands in the center of the ancient market square – right next to the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, which is simply and unceremoniously marked with a plain cross. The structure of the church is meant to evoke the flames that brought Joan of Arc’s life to an early end.

normandy-37 normandy-38 normandy-39My parents are coming out to visit this coming May and a trip to Normandy is on the books. As this is a city which should be experienced by anyone visiting the Normandy region, you can bet that a stop in Rouen in on the itinerary.

Doel • Belgium | The Abandoned City

IMG_0079You might already be aware, but I have a massive love affair with street art (Ghent and Bosnia would be just a couple of examples). On our travels I always keep an eye out to see if I can find great street art to photograph.

Cut to a couple of weekends ago. We had plans to head to the Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, but had a few hours to kill before we wanted to arrive. It had been awhile since our last adventure, so Jared did a quick search to see what was nearby and happened to find an entry on Atlas Obscura about the doomed city of Doel. It promised to provide a bit of adventure for Jared and a lot of great street art for me. This city definitely delivered.

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Doel is a modern-day city which evokes the emptiness of a city abandoned – like the mining and railroad towns which shuttered up seemingly overnight leaving the bones of the city behind. Doel has existed for almost 750 years – having first been mentioned in 1267 as The Doolen. The town is located near the Antwerp ports, and thus as the city looked to expand the ports Doel became a target and victim of that expansion. During the 1970s-1990s, Doel citizens and fellow protesters were able to successfully stave off demolition. However, in 1999 the city was officially scheduled for demolition.

In 2007, a campaign was started called “Doel 2020” to turn the town into an artists’ haven – numerous street artists from not only Belgium (like ROA) but all over Europe have added their touch to this town. However, in 2008 100 riot police were sent in to help carryout the eviction orders. Once a town of 1,000, most of the residents have now left Doel – there are about 20-30 residents remaining in the town and about 200 homes which remain intact. Its been more than a few years that residents received their orders to vacate their homes in Doel – the destruction of this town is imminent. I’m glad we were able to document what we saw there – who knows how much longer it will be around to see.

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Glühkriekwein | Glühwein with a Belgian Twist

Ah, glühwein. If you pass through a market without enjoying at least one mug of Glühwein, then you have not fully embraced the market experience – it is the drinkable essence of a German Christmas market. I don’t know what exactly it is about this magic nectar, but this spiced, warm beverage always brightens my spirits even on the worst of days.

The Belgians have taken the traditional glühwein and given it a Belgian makeover by replacing the traditional wein (wine) with kriek (cherry beer). We recently enjoyed glühkriek at the Christmas Beer Festival, and while the glühkriek on its own was a bit too sweet for us, we decided kriek could be a great addition to the traditional glühwein. And so, we will call this glühkriekwein.

IMG_1836Ingredients:

1 bottle of wine (750 ml)
2 bottles of kriek beer (750 ml total) – we used Lindemans
1/4 cup sugar (50g) – or more if you like it sweeter
2 clementines
4 sticks of cinnamon
15 whole cloves

Grab a heavy bottomed pot and pour in the wine, kriek, sugar, and cinnamon sticks. Cut the clementines in half and push the whole cloves into the flesh (makes it easier to find them later). Put the heat on medium-low and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the fruit and cinnamon sticks, strain if needed. Dish into some mugs and enjoy.

Bonus points if you can find a boot-shaped mug to drink it out of.IMG_1874

Normandy • France | The Route du Cidre

Route du CidreFrance is famous for its wine. It has long been a standard against which other wines are compared (I highly recommend watching Bottle Shock if you haven’t already seen it). So when we began planning our trip to the Normandy region, I was surprised to see that the French in the Normandy region prefer to cheers with a glass of cider instead of wine.

I like to consider myself a bit of a cider connoisseur. While most college-aged kids were developing a sophisticated palate for Bud Light and those other award-winning beers that poor college kids and frat boys would buy, I was instead exploring the world of cider.

A little more research and I discovered that there is actually a Cider Route (Route du Cidre) in the Normandy region, which is a 40km circular route through the Pays d’Auge countryside. Similar to wine tasting, you can stop at the producers to taste their various ciders, pommeau, or calvados. And, if you want to turn it into an educational experience and learn a little about the cider, pommeau, or calvados making process, some of the producers offer tours although the English tour options are limited.

normandy-49Despite a very packed Normandy itinerary, we were able to squeeze in stops at three producers: Pierre Huet, Domaine Dupont, and Manoir de Grandouet.

First stop was Pierre Huet.normandy-50 normandy-51Pierre Huet was offering a tour in English when we arrived, so we decided to join in. While it’s always interesting to hear about the history of the companies, I think Jared and I have both come to the conclusion that one wine/champagne/cider tour is much the same as any other. If you haven’t done one, then definitely have at it. Jared and I were not familiar with pommeau or calvados so it was great to actually hear how you go from an apple to apple brandy. After our brief tour, we headed back to the main building for the big finale: the tastings. normandy-53As part of our tour fee, you get to taste quite a few of their offerings. First up were the ciders, and as you see above there are three types of ciders that they produce . We both got a little taster of both the brut apple cider and the demi-sec pear cider. I favored the pear cider (blame it on the sweet tooth) while Jared preferred the brut (less sweet). But both were quite tasty.  normandy-54Next up was pommeau. Pommeau is essentially a mix of calvados and pure apple juice, and is typically drank as an aperitif. It was, well, I think my tiny taster is all I think I’ll ever feel the need to drink.

And last, we got to try two vintages of calvados (apple brandy) – one was aged 8 years and one was aged 15 years.  Much like the pommeau, I am not sure I’d be able to sip this without grimacing. However, I have seen quite a few tasty cocktails where calvados is the star like these, which have me wishing we’d picked up a bottle or two. Alas, we grabbed a few bottles of cider and then moved on to the next place: Domaine Dupont.normandy-59Domaine Dupont is on some truly beautiful grounds (as the entry above surely shows). Through the windows of the tasting room you can see the seemingly endless rows of apple trees. True artisan cider. And so of course, I so desperately wanted to love their cider. Ultimately Jared and I agreed that the earthiness of the ciders was just a bit too much for us. I do appreciate that they are trying to do something a little different, but I don’t like funk with my cider (just my lambics and guezes thank you very much). They do have quite the impressive selection of calvados though.normandy-57It was late in the afternoon, but we made one final stop at Manoir de Grandouet. This one may have been my favorite (my 12 bottles purchased being no indication…). We pulled off the road towards some nondescript buildings.normandy-61 normandy-60Lucky for us that another person was just loading up their cider haul, otherwise we may have assumed that it was closed it was so quiet and peaceful. The woman running the tastings was incredibly helpful and was willing to give us as many tasters as we wanted. Ultimately, we ended up trying 5 different ciders here – all solid – and actually had a tough time figuring out which ones to buy because we liked them all so much. Lucky for us, cider tasting is a much cheaper affair compared to wine tasting: the typical 75ml cider costs just about EUR 3.normandy-63You know what else the region is well-known for? Camembert. If you have a little more time and want do a real gastronomy tour of the Pays d’Auge region plan to make a stop in Camembert to see how this cheese is made. While you’re there, grab a few goodies to pair with your new ciders.

Iceland | Floating in the Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

I can’t think of a better way to while away a lazy day than soaking in the famed Blue Lagoon. And so that’s what we did for our final day in Iceland.

After a few crazy long work weeks and two busy days exploring Iceland, we were looking forward to some serious relaxation. We caught an early shuttle from our hotel to the Iceland airport, checked in our bags, and then grabbed the shuttle from the airport to the Blue Lagoon.

The day was cold, overcast, and rainy, but that just provided a nice contrast to the warm, milky blue lagoon. We hurriedly hung up our robes, and slipped into the water.

 Oh man. Heaven.

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If I asked you what color the water is, I expect you’d say blue. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. The sun reflects off the silica in the water and the water appears blue; however, the water is actually a milky white color. There is more than 6 million liters of water in the lagoon. And don’t worry about sharing that same bath water with thousands of other folks – the water renews itself every 40 hours.

 In all, we spent about three hours in the lagoon. We grabbed some drinks, did some face masks, explored the perimeter, and sought out the warmest spots.

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With our departure time fast approaching, we finally forced ourselves to exit the lagoon. [My pruned fingers and toes took hours to recover.] After a quick rinse off, we had a few moments to spare so we went up to get a better look at the lagoon:

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I wish we had more time to explore the grounds and take a tour of the premises. I guess it’s an excuse to go back again in the future. Ah, shucks…

A few tips for enjoying the Blue Lagoon:

  • Purchase your entry online in advance, especially if you are planning to be there during the peak times. When we were leaving to go, the lagoon was at capacity so anyone trying to get in had to wait until someone departed. If you book online, you are guaranteed priority access. You can also add in a shuttle to and from the airport. It’s one-stop service.
  • Purchase the Comfort package (or Premium if you are feeling a little extra fancy). You may be tempted to save a few bucks and go for the Standard package, but splurge a little and you won’t have to worry about tacking on any additional add-ons (towels, slippers, robes, etc.).
  • If you’re looking for the warmest water, plant yourself right by the wooden boxes around the perimeter of the lagoon. This is where the hot water gets pumped in and it’s where I spent a good portion of my time.
  • For all the ladies – if you have long hair I highly recommend giving your hair a good coat of conditioner before heading into the lagoon and keeping your hair out of the water as much as possible. It took a couple of weeks of deep conditioning treatments to make my hair feel anything like normal.

And with that, we were off again and on our way to Boston. The stopover was an absolute success, and we are already talking about when we will be able to do it again.

One more Iceland fact for you. Iceland is expecting 1,000,000 tourists in 2015. Are you going to be one of them? We sure hope to be!

Iceland | The Golden Circle

DSC05456-118Our second day found us on the Golden Circle tour which hits three of Iceland’s biggest natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfalls, and Geysir. A bit of a highlight tour if you will. We did the slightly shortened afternoon tour, but I’d recommend doing the full day tour to ensure you have adequate time to walk around at each of the sights.

First stop: Þingvellir National ParkÞingvellir National Park

Þingvellir means “Parliament Plains” and that is the most accurate description of the importance of this location. Þingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament was created in 930 and where it continued to hold its assemblies until 1798. In 1930, the national park was created in order to protect this important historical site, and in 2004 it was deemed a UNESCO world heritage site.Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park Þingvellir National Park

What’s even cooler? It’s also the rift of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American Plates. The plates have been shifting about 2.5 cm per year, so there is a very clear gap between the two tectonic plates. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can actually go diving here. It is supposed to be home to some of the clearest water in the world, and at some of the more narrow points  you can actually touch both the plates at the same time. We didn’t get a chance to do the dive this go around, but I would love to do this in the future.

Given that we only had limited time here, we didn’t get a chance to actually walk down to the actual parliament site. We definitely would have loved to explore the area more and hence the recommendation for the slightly longer tour.

Second stop: Gullfoss waterfalls

Gullfoss means “Golden Falls” and it is said that on a sunny day the water takes on a golden hue.Gullfoss waterfalls Gullfoss waterfalls Gullfoss waterfalls

Apparently at one point some foreign investors had plans to rent Gullfoss and build a hydroelectric powerplant, which would have obviously destroyed the falls. The story goes that Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who was the daughter of Gullfoss’s owner loved the falls so much that she threatened to throw herself into the falls in protest against the plan. To show that her threat was in earnest, she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavík (about 120 km). She was successful in her bid, and we have her to thanks for preserving the beauty of the falls for the enjoyment of all future generations.

If you’re lucky enough, the sun will catch the mist from the falls just perfectly to create a nice little rainbow. We had plenty of mist although not much sun, but we were able to get a little glimpse of a rainbow (squint and you can see it).Gullfoss waterfalls

Third and final stop: GeysirGeysir - Iceland

It was interesting to learn that the English word geyser derives from Geysir, which itself comes from the Icelandic word geysa (to gush). Geysir is said to have been active for 10,000 years and in the mid-1800’s the eruption was said to have reached a height of 170 meters. It’s currently inactive and in a dormant state, so do not expect to see any eruptions from this geyser.

Don’t fret though. Just a short walk away is Strokkur Geysir. Although not as impressive as Geysir, this one erupts about every 5-10 minutes, and the eruptions reaching a height of up to 30 meters. Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - IcelandGeysir - Iceland

Some adventurous souls decide to stand downwind from Strokkur and are rewarded with a blast of warm sulphuric steam/rain when the geyser erupts. Although the brief moment of warm water was tempting, in our older age we are smart enough to know that the warmth is fleeting and all you are left with is damp clothes in the cold air. And so naturally, we positioned ourselves upwind and played the waiting game.Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland Geysir - Iceland

And thar she blows!

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Packed back into the bus, we settled in to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes as we began the drive back to Reykjavík. Did you know that Iceland has more than 600 types of moss? Or that the white substance on the rocks is actually lichen (essentially the pre-moss phase) and not bird poop? Me neither. All the random tidbits of information are what I love most about doing tours, and our tour guide was excellent.

If you’re visiting Iceland and have only limited time to view the sites, I would definitely recommend doing one of the Golden Circle tours as it is the easiest way to see some of Iceland’s most popular spots. Having tackled these, next time we plan to rent a car and head to some of the spots a little more off the beaten (tourist) path.

Iceland | The Land of Fire and Ice

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We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
Led Zeppelin

Iceland is hands down one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. After our brief stopover in July, it rocketed up the list of our favorite places.

Quick aside: Have you heard of Iceland Air’s free stopover? En route either to or from Europe you can stopover in Reykjavík for up to 7 days at no extra charge. With flight prices just a tad higher than those of the other airlines, it was an obvious decision for us. Friends and family – sounds like the perfect thing to do on your way to visit us.

From our walking tour of Reykjavík to our guided tour of the Golden circle, I feel like we learned all sorts of fascinating tidbits about Iceland. Wanna hear?

  • Iceland is nicknamed the land of fire and ice, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. 11% of the island is covered in volcanoes and 11% is covered in glaciers. The remaining is covered in lava rocks, hot springs, and about 600 varieties of the greenest moss.
  • There are about 325,000 people living in Iceland. 150,000 of those live in Reykjavík and that jumps up to 220,000 if you include Reykjavík’s suburbs. That means 2/3 of the entire population of Iceland lives in Reykjavík and its suburbs.
  • Icelanders begin learning English at age 6. As if two languages weren’t enough, they will also start learning Danish at 7 and then will usually pick up a fourth language before or in college. Every single Icelander we met spoke perfect English, and often with only the slightest hint of an accent. It was impressive.
  • The hot water comes from all the hot springs on the island, and provides super cheap heating for all the Icelanders. Word of warning, the water retains that super awesome sulphuric smell. So don’t be shocked when your shower smells slightly of rotten eggs. Don’t worry though, the smell goes away almost immediately once the water is turned off and you won’t be sporting any lingering effects either.
  • The tap water is some of the cleanest in the world. It doesn’t have any special taste, and that’s the beauty behind it. It’s just perfectly natural, clean tasting water. It’s delicious – drink lots while you are in town.
  • As you would expect with an island that has to import almost everything, alcohol can be quite expensive. Because the alcohol is so expensive, the locals like to drink at home before meeting up at the bars. Plus toss in the fact that Icelanders like to party late, and it means that you will be (a) the only person in the bar at 10PM, or (b) one of a group of tourists in a bar at 10PM. The streets were almost empty at 11:30PM, but were hopping when we were heading home at 3AM. The flip side of these late nights? Almost nothing seemed open until at least 10AM, so enjoy a late night out and then sleep in.
  • More than half the population believes in elves. Supposedly there is a law that requires companies filing a building application to include a letter from an elf medium confirming that the building would not disturb any elves living in the area. This is a magical land, so whose to say they don’t exist. Given how beautiful the Icelandic population is, if they do exist I’ll bet they all look like Legolas.

Shortly after arriving in Brussels last year, I stumbled on Kaelene’s blog, and then proceeded to silently stalk it for months.  A few months further down the road a trip was booked, and instead of stalking it became “researching”. I’m pretty sure Jared got sick of the constant links I sent him with “let’d do this!” or “oh my gosh, we have to go here”. And yet, despite that all that, due to our crazy work schedules, we landed in Iceland with ideas but nary a plan.

That first morning, we grabbed a table at Café Paris and planned out our three days. A day in Reykjavík – check. A tour of the Golden Circle – check. Some relaxing at the Blue Lagoon – big check. With the agenda settled, we headed out to explore Reykjavík.

Despite being late July, the weather in Reykjavík was a bit schizophrenic as the sun dipped in and out of the cloud banks. One moment we would be shivering, wishing that we’d packed warmer clothes, and then the next we would be pulling off our sweaters as fast as we could.

We strolled up Skólavörðustígur towards Hallgrímskirkja.

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Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. It’s a plain church – a far cry from the super ornate churches you typically find in Europe – but that simplicity is quite beautiful. Inside the church is one of the most unique organs I have seen to date.

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After checking that out, we jumped in line for what is most definitely the biggest draw of this church: the best view in Reykjavík.

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Isn’t it gorgeous? The brightly colored roofs and buildings are so stinking cute – it’s almost too much to handle.

Back safely on the ground, we made our way down to the harbor.

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The glass structure above is the Harpa, a concert hall  and conference center which opened in 2011. When the financial crisis hit, Harpa was only partially constructed and the money to finish the building was gone. And so, the government stepped in and funded the remaining portion and a few years later it was completed. The plan was to develop the whole area and add a luxury hotel and shopping, but right now it’s just cleared land.

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I’m convinced that Iceland has the most sculptures per square foot than anywhere else in the world – they are seriously all over the city.

Eventually we turned back inland, and headed up to the cemetery. Our tour guide told us that it is tradition to plant a tree when someone dies. Add in the dampness of the air, and what has resulted is these eerily beautiful cemeteries where moss-covered graves are canopied by hundreds of trees. I quite like this tradition.

DSC05230-34 DSC05236-35 DSC05237-36 DSC05240-37 DSC05242-38After a long day of walking and a brief visit to a food festival, we decided to kick up our feet and spend the rest of our day enjoying some of Iceland’s local brews.

2014-07-27 19.16.38-1192014-07-029-32With day one in the books, we eagerly looked forward to day two’s agenda: Golden Circle.

joyeux anniversaire | one year

Today marks the one year anniversary of our arrival in Brussels.

We arrived here with big hopes, and even bigger plans. Brussels would be a chance to re-calibrate. It was a promise to tip the work/life balance a little bit – work a little less, live a little more. While we have haven’t perfected that balance yet, we’ve definitely enjoying discovering our weekends again.

Looking back it feels as though this year has passed in a blur. A wonderful, fantastic blur.

Over the past year, whether by plane, train, or automobile, we have had quite the adventure. In all, we visited 14 countries this year. We discovered some new favorites (hey Croatia and Iceland!) and returned to some old. Each new place has been a tick on the travel bucket list, which seems to grow exponentially faster than we can cross off. A few places found themselves in the one-and-done category, but many we have decided deserve a second or third visit.

I know it’s hard to believe based on the content of this blog so far, but we did do some other things this year aside from travel. Although, the backlog of travel to blog is intimidating.

In our unending quest to find the best Belgian beer (if that’s even possible), we have drunk liters upon liters of beer. From the sourest of sour – oh Cantillon, how we love you – to the rarest of the abbey beers, this is a quest we are in no hurry to complete.

We ate pounds of chocolate, frites, waffles, and speculoos. We now have “our favorite” places for these lovely treats. The scales can attest.

With three classes under our belts, we are officially on our way to learning French. Although a far cry from where we hoped to be at this point, we have mastered at least one important thing: how to order a beer. And really, what else do we really need to know?

After almost a year of living with an embarrassing amount of blank white walls, we finally put some paint up. One step towards making it feel less temporary and more like home.

Looking forward, Year Two will…

…find us sticking around a little closer to home. And honestly? We’re pretty excited. We are looking forward to discovering all that Brussels has to offer.  Visiting the museums and special exhibits. Spending lazy mornings in little cafés. Finally eating at all these restaurants we keep reading about.

…find us making new friends, and reconnecting with old (yo friends – please come visit us, we promise you’ll love it!).

…be the year of family. With Jared’s parents in town next week and mine making the visit in May, we are excited to introduce them to “our” Brussels.

…see us continuing to work on that travel bucket list. On the docket? In a week we’re heading to Ireland – Dublin, Belfast, and the northeast coast. I’ve got a trip planned to Vietnam and Singapore in December. Other plans have us sipping scotch in Scotland, traversing through the blue city in Morocco, seeing the beauty that is Prague, exploring the walls of Carcassonne, and following the sun down to the coast of Spain and Portugal. Oh, the places we will go.

…have us revisiting some of the places we have fallen in love with during the past year. The pull of these places is one we don’t want to resist.

Year One has been one hell of a year. Year Two – let’s do this.

Rome • Italy | When in Rome

DSC05804We celebrated our marriage with a trip to Italy. That honeymoon was big for us, being our first real trip together. All on our own. It was also my first time stepping foot anywhere outside of North America. It was an amazing 2 weeks, and it started a love affair both with travel and Italy. And so, as Rome is just a quick flight away from Brussels it seemed appropriate – dare I say romantic – to return the place that started it all and celebrate our 5 year anniversary.

On that honeymoon trip years ago, we fell in love with the Trastevere neighborhood. It felt a little bit off the beaten path at that point and full of life and amazing little restaurants and bars. So when we looked for a place to stay for this trip we knew it’d be there. The perfect home-base for this quick weekend trip.

Having done the touristy side of Rome the first time around, we decided a much more relaxed agenda fit the bill. And relax we did. Our days were spent seeking out new-to-us sights and making frequent gelato stops to beat the late August heat. Our nights were spent exploring the niches of Trastevere, and drinking wine and prosecco.

A stay in Trastevere would not have been complete with a visit or two the little spot we found and loved years ago: Dar Poeta. If you go, do yourself a favor and take my advice. First, you must, must add the fresh buffala mozarella to your pizza. It’s next level. And second, hard as it may be, save some room and order the nutella-filled dessert calzone. Only then can you waddle back to your hotel.

We had ourselves a pretty good weekend.

The quick photoshoot in the Pantheon. Because why not?DSC05818 DSC05819 DSC05822 DSC05823

The gallon of gelato we consumed.

I was lucky I actually had these photos as most gelato seemed to magically disappear as soon as they were in my hand. Without contest, the best of the weekend was the one on the left – Limone e basilico (lemon and basil). I would eat that for every meal for the rest of my life and die a happy person.

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The disturbing yet fascinating (or fascinating yet disturbing) visit to the Capuchin Crypt

Have you visited it? It felt like a series of macabre dioramas.

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The appreciation of grandiose Roman churches. 

We love us some Roman churches. [By the way, can we tangent for a second to discuss how beautiful the outside of The Duomo is in Florence and yet how amazingly boring the inside is. What gives?] We had already seen all the big well-known churches in Rome, so we sought out some new ones and oh baby. This one.  This is one you have to go see: Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio.

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It’s a very new church, given the ancientness of Rome, having been originally built in the 1600’s. With beautiful multi-hued marble pillars and ornate moldings, lavish is the word I would use to describe the inside of this one. Absolutely gorgeous. But the real kicker is the fresco in the nave. It’s painted in such a way to give the ceiling more depth than it has, so the church appears to be much taller than it actually is. Genius. There is a marble disk on the floor which marks the best spot to stand to take it in. Keep your eye on the ceiling as you walk away and you’ll notice that the ceiling begins to look warped and out of perspective. The other pretty wonderful thing about this church is the cupola. It’s fake! They never got around to building it, so instead a canvas was painted to given the illusion of a cupola. Pretty amazing huh?

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The coin toss into the Trevi Fountain.

Or not. We stopped briefly by the Trevi Fountain, but it was closed for renovations. And so my euro stayed in my pocket, and my wish left un-wished. It was a good wish too. Alas, maybe I’ll just have to save it for the next time we are in town.

The best peep show in town.

Seriously. Stand in line and come your turn take a look through the peephole of the Priory of the Knights of Malta and you will have a perfectly framed  view of St. Peter’s dome.

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The “Fight On!” to our Trojans back home.

Since we couldn’t be at the LA Coliseum cheering our boys on with our fellow SC fans, this Colosseum had to do.

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The river walk to Castel Sant’Angelo.

Jared bust a move.

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The consumption of (many) amazing Italian craft beers.

Baladin – not a bad beer to be found. Hardest part is trying to choose which one to drink next.

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And last but not least, the fans, the flags, and the flares.

We were lucky enough to be in town for A.S. Roma’s season opening football game against Fiorentina. I’d heard about the insanity that is football fandom in Italy. This game did not disappoint.

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