Weekend in Brussels, Belgium

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Rowena and I traveled north to Belgium and spent the weekend in Brussels, in mid January. We stayed in Le Grand Place, which is the core of Brussels. This location was ideal for shopping, culture and restaurants. Belgium is known for its chocolates.
There’s a magnificient indoor shopping gallerie adjacent to Le Grand Place.Both sides of the Gallerie are lined with beautiful specialty shops. There are toy stores, some shops that sell clothing/accessories and of course there are chocolate shops.
I am not a huge chocolate fan, but when you are in this region you can easily become a chocoholic.
There are some reknowned chocolate makers here including Jeff Bruges, Pierre Ledent, Leonides, Chocopolis, Godiva, Neuhaus, Mary etc. Rowena managed to find and buy products from each of these makers and others. This photo shows that after a two day chocolate shopping spree, she could have opened her own shop. I love Rowena’s “living in the moment” attitude toward life and her zest for having fun.
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First day of Rowena's shopping

First day of Rowena’s shopping


Rowena standing on a chair above the bed photographing her shopping after day two.

Rowena standing on a chair above the bed photographing her shopping after day two.


Granted there’s plenty of shopping in Belgium, but there is plenty to see and enjoy here. The architecture is strangely amazing. There are ancient buildings next to or near really modern buildings. The word “modern” is relative. In Europe a building constructed in 1960 would be considered modern.
We took these pictures as we headed toward the magnificient Palace in Brussels.

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Exploring Brussels at dusk

Exploring Brussels at dusk

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On our first day we were aproached by a trio of Girl Scouts. I had no idea the organization was international. These girls were raising money for their troop, but they were not selling the traditional girl scout cookies. They were selling homemade muffins. I am told that it's rare that the home cook will make baked goods. Breads and pastries are sold in Boulangeries — so these girls were making it a point to let us know their muffins were special. They were also selling pieces of dried candy fruit skewered on a stick.
Girl Scouts in Brussels<

We also had to visit Brussel’s famous icon, Mannequin Pis. It’s a small bronze statue depicting a little boy taking piss into a fountain. Often times they dress him in different costumes. When we saw him he was naked but there was a christmas wreath decoration.
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This week I attended a author’s workshop in Montpellier, France. It was held at the Martin Luther King Jr Espace Annex on Boulevard Louis Blanc. As Black History Month is celebrated in the United States, I think it is wonderful that France has recognized the American civil rights leader with a permenant space in his honor. It is one of the large rooms of the Maison de Relations Internationales. In the annex is his portrait with the words to the “I Have A Dream” speech written in both French and English.
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Mlk annex wide shot

Then There Were Three

wally andrew baguetteWhen I picked Wally up from the Gare in the center of Montpellier, I was thrilled to see him.  After I kissed him Hello, I kept playfully hitting him.  I think I needed to physically feel him to know that he has actually arrived.  He was tired after a full 12 hour trip, with a flight from the U.S. to Paris followed by a train ride to the south of France.  We immediately headed to get Andrew.

We met Andrew after school.  He was beyond excited that his Daddy had finally come to France to join us.  He knew Wally was eventually coming, but was beginning to loose hope that his Dad would visit.  He did not expect for his Daddy to pick him up from school.

Their reunion was a precious moment for me.  Andrew is a Daddy’s boy.

Andrew just wants to show Wally every place he has visited in France, so that his Dad can experience it.

 

The Drive Back – Conclusion

After a long rest following my odyssey the night before (being lost for 5 hours) I was refreshed and ready to move onto the next leg of my trip.  I still had a 4 hour drive ahead of me, so a pit stop was inevitable.

I’d read about a chateau in a place called Villenueve-Lebrom.  It had a moat and I’d never seen a moat in-person, so off I went in search of the chateau.  I did find it at the top of a hill just south of Clermont-Ferrand.  It wasn’t easy to find.  At one point my GPS announced “I am not able to guide you from this route.”

Seeing the chateau and the little old village that surrounds it was worth the trip.

villenueve lebron chateau

 

 

The Drive Back – Part 4

It was on the trip from Orleans to my hotel just outside of Clermont-Ferrand when things went haywire!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was lost for five hours in the dark.

We purchased a new GPS device for the trip from Montpellier to Magny Le Hongre, which is where Disneyland is located.  We didn’t want to get lost and miss an opportunity for Andrew to go to Euro Disneyland.

I, of course, have used a GPS in the past and did not feel the need to read the instruction manual.  MISTAKE.  Actually I am not sure that if I had read the instructions that I would have averted what happened next.

I typed the city of Clermont-Ferrand into the Gps.  Next, I typed in the street name.  When the GPS did not recognize that street name in that city, it arbitrarily chose a different city with a corresponding street.  I had no idea that it changed the city automatically and was guiding me somewhere I did not want to go.

That darn GPS lead me down unpaved roads, through unlit narrow alleys and behind French farmhouses.  the GPS guided me past chickens and sheep and then announced “you have arrived at your destination.”  I looked around and questioned out loud “My Destination????  I didn’t ask to come here.”  I feared running out of gas and being forced to spend the night in the car only to have a French farmer knock on my car window in the morning yelling at me in french– or worst calling the authorities to question the foreigner that was trespassing on his land.

At the time, I still had not realized what the GPS was doing, so I reprogrammed it.  The device did the same thing only choosing another arbitrary village to lead me to. It was like ground-hog day.  I relived the experience again in this new village in the middle of the night — awaking sleeping farm animals as I sped past.

It was 2:30 am before I finally arrived at my hotel.  The staff had gone home and I was weary.

 

 

 

 

 

The Drive Back – Part 3

My drive back had to include a stop in Orleans, a city on the Loire River, in Central France.  New Orleans, Louisiana was named after this French city.  I drove through its Centerville (or main area, usually the center of town).  It was a large downtown area of upscale stores.  Since it was just after Christmas people were still crowding the shopping area purchasing after holiday gifts.  I would have parked and walked around a bit, but parking was tight and I just didn’t feel like fighting holiday shoppers — who had the advantage of knowing exactly how to park on the narrow streets of Orleans.  The area  was decked out in lovely holiday lights. 

Centerville in Orleans, France

Centerville in Orleans, France

 

As I reached the edge of the shopping area, I was startled by the ringing of church bells.  I looked up and beheld a phenomenal church.  It was 17:00 (5:00pm) so the bell clanged five times.

church in orleans frande

 

 

The Adventurous Drive Back – Part 2

As I left Versaille, I came across a street named after Victor Hugo, the French literary figure.  It occurred to me that nearly every village, town or city that I have visited in France has a Boulevard, Street (Rue) or Place named Victor Hugo. I decided to keep a photo journal of these streets.

Rue  Victor Hugo in Versailles

Rue Victor Hugo in Versailles

In Versailles Rue Victor Hugo is a residential street

In Versailles Rue Victor Hugo is a residential street

Rue Victor Hugo in Clermont-L'Herault

Rue Victor Hugo in Clermont-L’Herault

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The Adventurous Drive Back Pt. 1

I dropped Wally and Andrew off at Charles De Gaulle Airport, near Paris for their flight back to the U.S. on a Saturday morning.  It was then my intention to drive the 7 hours back southward to Montpellier.

Anyone that knows me…knows that it could not be a simple trip.  Since it is such a long drive, it made common sense to break-up the trip into several “mini” trips. The trek began with a drive through Paris.  As I crossed the Seine River, I received a jolt in my heart as I realized that the Eiffel Tower was just up the river to my left.  I instantly recalled a delicious meal I had many, many years ago at a tiny cafe along the Seine River.  I wonder if that cafe is still there?

I then decided to head to Versailles.

My first trip to Versailles was nearly 20 years ago, when I came to Europe with my Mother.  There is an unforgetable palace in Versailles and I wanted to see it again.  I did not remember the street address but I did remember that it was near a train station.  20 years ago my Mom and I walked from our hotel in the left bank to a train station all the while, I was eating a huge crepe.  I recall tossing the crepe in a trash can near the train station, because I could not eat it all — and French people tend not to walk down the street eating.

Fast forward to my present…I input the train station information into the GPS and off I headed from Paris to Versailles.  Once I arrived at the station, I wasn’t able to see the Palace, but I did see three men standing together having a jovial conversation.  I pulled up and rolled down my window to ask directions.  It’s always amusing to me to ask directions in French, because I know how to say “where is this or that” in french, but I rarely understand the response that is given to me in french.  As soon as the words leave the person’s mouth, I get a glazed over look.  Then I have to slowly remember that “to the left” is “a gauche” and to the right is “a droit.”  I become so preoccupied with those two terms that I forget what else was said to me.  Then the hand signals begin in full force.  It amuses me when French people realize that I do not understand them.  If they don’t speak English they just talk to me louder in French.  This trio spoke French, Portuguese and Spanish.  I settled on the one who spoke some Spanish and managed to be directed to the Palace.  He told me in Spanish that it was to the left at the end of the street and that I could not miss it.  I thought silently “that’s what you think.”  I have spent more time than I care to admit hopelessly lost in France.

I dutifully followed the instructions and to my amazement, there it was, in all it’s splendor.  This is a massive palace and he was correct, I couldn’t miss it.   Hundreds of people were either entering or exiting the palace as they began or completed their tour. Although I opted not to go inside, I recall in vivid detail the palatial interior.  I remember enormous rooms with chandeliers and portraits adorning the walls of men and women that inhabited the palace at one time or another.   I also remember that in one room there is a full cathedral.  It was also the first place that I saw massive yet perfectly manicured gardens.   My photos can’t do this place justice so here are a few from professional photographers.

Palace versailles chandaliers in versailles palace gardens of versailles

 

 

 

Here Comes the Calvary

When Wally arrived in France in mid-December, he was a sight for sore eyes.  I’d missed him so much, which was odd considering I spoke to him via Skype daily. Having him here actually standing in front of me was much better than having him virtual on my computer.

I picked him up at the Gare – St. Roch, which is the train station located in the center of Montpellier.  He’d taken a 7 hour flight followed by a nearly 4 hour train ride.  He looked so good standing there, near a Relay Magazine shop, rolling his luggage.  After a kiss, I continued to nudge him.  I think I just needed to keep touching him to convince myself that he was finally here in France with me.

I was so grateful that he put aside his mounds of paperwork and business obligations to come and experience France with Andrew and me.  Andrew was excited to show his Dad all the places and things that he knew about France.

Wally and me in Comedie --which is the main square of Montpellier, France

Wally and me in Comedie –which is the main square of Montpellier, France

It also meant that I would help with some of the parenting duties.

Market Days

Outdoor open markets are a staple in many French towns.  When Andrew was in France with me we went weekly to the Sunday market in Lattes, France.

Now I travel nearly daily to visit markets around the Languedoc-Rousillon region here in the South of France.  I not only go to the market, but I usually spend some time in the town.  Sometimes I will have a meal, walk along the main center or have a cup of tea.  I spend my mornings visiting then head to my computer to begin writing.

I visited the market and sites in Castries, France

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Following the market I headed up a hill to the church.

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Also there is a castle in Castries.  I was excited to visit but then one of local residents told me that the castle has been closed for the past 15 years and you can only visit the gardens in the spring and summer.  She also informed me that the castle is for sale.  Anyone in the market for a castle?

Here are a few photos from the neighborhoods of Castries.

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