Monday, September 22, 2014

Ghent's University Botanical Gardens and Old Graslei Harbor


I'm back with another post on the magnificent medieval Belgian city of Ghent. In case you missed them, you can read my last two posts about Ghent here and here.  Before arriving in Belgium I was in The Netherlands, you can read all about my adventures in the great city of Amsterdam by following the links below:


As I mentioned before, the weather was less than ideal upon our arrival…  So, when the rain finally cleared up and the sun came out, on our second full day there, we were chomping at the bit to rent bikes from the hotel and go exploring.  We found the largest park on the tourist map and set off to see the sights of Ghent. Turns out, the Ghent University botanical gardens are right next to the park and entry is free, so we had the opportunity to check that out as well.  Please note: bike rentals are the best thing you can do while visiting European cities, you get to explore so much more territory, not to mention make the most of your limited time there.  Many hotels offer bike rentals, and if not, there are several bike rental services where they bring the bikes to your hotel, plenty of bike shops and even self-serve rental stations right on the street throughout popular cities such as Paris and Amsterdam.

As you can see, the day could not have been more perfect for taking a long bike ride...



Folks, this is a real place, I assure you!


Forgive me, but I just can't get enough of this view.  I already want to go back...



The streets were calm, people were out on their bikes, toting children and groceries, running errands and chatting/riding with friends along the way...  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kayaking at Sunset in The Florida Keys


I really love kayaking, and canoeing…  When I was younger, my parents took my siblings and I on a camping trip with a bunch of friends and families from my brother's little league baseball team.  We went canoeing down the Peace River here in Florida, and we camped along its banks for a few nights.  I have great memories from that trip, especially because it was an awesome family vacation, one that we took while my father was still alive.  I was pretty enthusiastic about managing the canoe paddle, even when we were steering through rough waters full of lingering alligators!  So, flash forward many years later, it's no wonder that I fell in love with kayaking so easily.  I would love to go on another canoeing/camping trip, but for now I'll settle for kayaking through the waters of The Florida Keys whenever I visit my uncle.

The last time I took out his canoes was with my brother.  In fact, it was that same day that my aunt wanted to come with us and we all got into a discussion about how nice it would be to have a third kayak (and ideally, perhaps more) so that we could go out in bigger groups.  Well, by the end of the night my aunt and uncle (who have a strong sibling competition going on) were already trolling Craigslist for kayak listings, arguing over who would pay for it.  My family is crazy, but they are pretty awesome. Anyway, flash forward a few months, I've been notified by my uncle that he finally picked up one of the kayaks that they hunted down.  My aunt likes to joke that it's her kayak, but we have yet to make the trip back down to The Keys to take it for a spin.  

All that is to say that the next kayaking adventure will include a party of three.  Back to the actual point of this post, which is the amazing sunset that my brother and I witnessed that day while making our way out to the ocean.  When we finally paddled around the last corner of the canal, the view took my breath away! Suffice it to say we stopped paddling at the mouth of the canal and just stared.  I'll admit, I got a bit emotional because all I could think of was my father and how much he would have loved to be with us at that very moment.  I know he was with us, just not physically.  I leave you with these beautiful photos that I cautiously took with my iPhone (I say cautiously because I am a notorious bull in a china shop, and clumsy, and I've already lost an iPhone to my pool).  But alas, the phone did not slip from my anxiety-ridden fingertips into the seemingly magnetic water surrounding me, so rejoice and enjoy…

P.S. I'll be resuming my travel posts this week.  Catch up on all those here!

Catherine

    


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Medieval Gem of Belgium: The City of Ghent


Our second full day in Ghent is when the sun finally came out, the sky was a crisp vibrant blue, clouds were scarce and the effect on the buildings and overall view was radical! The silhouette of the intricate medieval architecture against the sky was incredibly vivid, making for a view so awesome that everything looked somewhat unreal. Am I being too dramatic? Well it's true, or at least that's how my senses perceived it. I certainly can't be the only person to visit Ghent and feel stunned by its medieval beauty! It was a big improvement compared to the dreariness of when we first arrived two days prior.

Soon enough you'll realize that the spot above - Old Graslei Harbor along the Lys River with the picturesque historic buildings, belfry (clock tower), churches and bridges - becomes a popular hangout for my brother and I during our time in Ghent. Despite the improvement in weather, we seemed to gravitate towards this spot, not just because we were staying right in the middle of it, but because it's truly one of the most, if not the most, beautiful areas in town. We rode bike throughout the city, which isn't too big, and granted we didn't completely explore all parts, but this was certainly the sweet spot: right along the Graslei and Korenlei streets that straddle the Lys River between Saint Michael's Bridge and the Grass Bridge. Oh yes indeed...

I have another post coming up for you, it's about our bike ride through one of the parks in Ghent, as well as the University Botanical Gardens. Speaking of University, when we arrived at the hotel the woman at the desk told us Ghent was a big University town with lots of students and night life, but it wasn't until our second day that we saw any evidence of it! You'll see below what I mean, the hot spot gets crowded with young people picnicking and partying, lovers making out, people with radios dancing and laughing, sunbathers, people with their pets, all types of stuff was going on there! Kind of like in Amsterdam's Vondel Park, except along the quay of the riverside. 

Since we always ended up back in this spot to take a break and hang out for a while next to our parked bikes, I was able to take photos of the same vista throughout the day. It's fascinating how the same view can be so versatile in different levels of light and shadow, with the sky morphing color and clouds whizzing by in the background. I enjoyed seeing the architecture of this medieval city transform throughout the day. Oh, and just wait until you see my post on Ghent at night! All of the buildings light up dramatically to accent the architectural details, it's spectacular. I'm pretty in love with my photos, I hope you will be too… Be sure to notice how the blue of the sky changes throughout the day, and how the buildings transform in the different levels of light as the sun sets. Enjoy!

Catherine


I went shutterhappy cray cray and snapped away to my heart's content on that sunny day...


This was the view to the right when we walked out the hotel doors:


This was the view to the left:


Remember how dull everything looked in my last post on those dreary rainy days? Well take a look at that gold weather vane ship in all its glory against the cerulean blue sky on this perfect day! I could have stared at it for hours, rotating and gleaming in the sun...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ghent: Our First Adventure in Belgium



Ahhh yes, Ghent. Let me tell you about the wonderfully dynamic medieval Ghent, capital and largest city of East Flanders province in the Flemish region of Belgium.  First, I LOVED this city, and I will definitely go back one day.  So you know, back in the Middle Ages Ghent was one of Northern Europe's biggest and wealthiest cities, and it grew to be the second biggest city in Europe by the 13th century - Paris coming first.  The medieval architecture is really impressive, it has been preserved and restored with great care throughout time.     

The day we arrived, it was gloomy and had been raining, the entire city appeared vacant since its inhabitants were likely in hibernation due to the terrible weather.  The result was a very creepy feeling, as we rode the completely empty tram from the desolate train station through the quiet streets, we both wondered what the city might (or might not) hold in store for us. It was while we were on that tram that my brother turned to me and asked "Why did you want to come here? What is here?" I'll admit, for a moment I doubted my better judgment and shook my head in puzzlement, having pondered that same thought in the moments prior. I think my response was something like "Well, I read that Ghent is one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, and I really loved Brugge, so I wanted to see other Belgian cities and this one was highly recommended." My brother raised his eyebrows in momentary skepticism and I turned to look out the window, perhaps in search of something that would reassure me. I'd be lying if I said a part of my brain wasn't already racing through ideas to remedy the potential problem, after all I had booked five days in Ghent. Five days that, at that very moment, seemed excessive and left me wondering what the hell I was thinking when I made that booking. Ironically, those five days ended up being five of the BEST days of the entire trip through Europe, five days I will never ever forget. But first, before I get to the good stuff, my preface must continue. Let me paint the entire picture for you...




Luckily the rain stopped before we arrived at our stop, where we then lugged our stuff off the tram and began walking in the direction that the conductor had pointed us, in search of our hotel. The streets were quiet, the sun was going down, and the sound of our suitcases bumbling down the uneven cobblestone streets was deafening.  But let me tell you, despite the conditions, our short walk from the tram stop to our hotel was impressive!  The rustic medieval architecture is in-your-face fascinating:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Amsterdam: The Beautiful Details



The time has come to say goodbye to Amsterdam, we're catching the train and heading to Belgium!  Ghent, to be exact.   At age fifteen, Belgium left a good impression on me, so I always wanted to return for a longer stay and to see other cities.  This time around, I revisited the charming city of Bruges, and explored Ghent and Brussels for the first time.  I'll be back tomorrow with my first post on Ghent, one of the cities I enjoyed photographing the most.  Okay, so I enjoy photographing everything, everywhere, but Ghent was particularly medieval and unique.  

Enough rambling, back to Amsterdam.  This post is full of statues, monuments, architectural details, sunsets, cool stores, bridges, canals and other special details that I spotted while walking the picturesque streets.  The perfect close to my series of posts on this great city:









In case you're just tuning in now, I'm writing all about my recent travels through Europe.  If you want to know more, check out my introduction post - 37 Days in Europe - for incessant rambling and an itinerary!  ;)

Enjoy…

Catherine


I will never get enough of all these gorgeous carved details that flank every door and building corner...


Monday, July 21, 2014

Amsterdam: Canal Cruising




On many of our long walks and bike rides throughout the city, my brother and I kept seeing people peddling around the canals on these little self-propelled water boats laughing...and struggling.  Maybe you remember the little pedal boat I speak of, from your childhood at the local lake, I know I do!  Anyway, we really wanted to rent one and explore the canals of Amsterdam for ourselves, so we tracked down a rental stations and shazam!

It was really fun, I'm glad we did it.  It was a little exhausting, even for my brother who is Mr. Sportsman and is in tip top shape.  Maneuvering the canals is not a matter for the lazy when you're on these little things, you've got to paddle!  I should also mention how busy the canals are.  We were in Amsterdam during a public holiday, so there were a lot of people in the parks, on the streets, and cruisin' down the canals!  We saw it all, including wine and cheese parties on adorable little motorboats and flat pallet boats with living room furniture sitting on top full of canal loungers!  There are so many unique and beautiful boats in Amsterdam, you can spot them better when you're out on the canal itself amongst them, and not just hypnotized by the view from far on a bridge.  


For example, this view…  I hardly noticed the canal boat rental station…





First, we ended up being good tourist samaritans and paddling out to rescue a boat that had gotten loose as the group of people disembarked in laughter and forgot to tie it up.  Here's the view from our little paddle boat once we'd dealt with that ordeal and paddled out into the canal...