Monday, September 22, 2014

Biking Through Ghent, Belgium: Citadel Park, Ghent 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 in my last two posts on Ghent, the weather was less than ideal upon our arrival…  So, when the rain 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 headed out.  Turns out, the Ghent University botanical gardens were right next to the park and entry was free, so we had the opportunity to check that out too.

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

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!



Beer?  Check!  Ready, set, go!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Medieval Gem of Belgium: The City of Ghent - Life Along the Lys River on Graslei

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...

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...

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!  ;)



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...

DJ Kaskade: Live at Club Air in Amsterdam

In my last post on Amsterdam, I told you all about the circumstances that led up to my brother and I randomly meeting Ryan Raddon, a.k.a. well-known electronic music DJ Kaskade, while out roaming the streets!  After we met him, we walked around the city some more, got a bite to eat, returned to the hotel to shower and change, and then ventured back out on the town to ask around and find the club where he was playing later that night.  After a bit of investigative work we found the club, it's right up the street from the popular Rembrandt Square (or Rembrandtplein).  During the day, Rembrandt Square is buzzing with locals and tourists, its Cafes and Coffeeshops crowded…  But by night, the clubs take over the scene.  At that point, we had already checked out another club right in the square on a previous night, I think it's called Prime.  It was okay, the most enjoyable feature being the digital strips running up the walls and across the ceiling where various graphics play out in sync with the music.

Anyway, we found Club Air and noted its location for later, later being some time around 11 or 11:30pm - then we walked around enjoying the debauchery in the streets until it was time for the show.  Flash forward a couple of hours and it was time, here is the scene in the club when we first walked in:

Great atmosphere!  We hung out on the steps for a while before making our way through the crowd to the front,where we were pleasantly surprised to find a convenient little pocket of space right next to the DJ booth…

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Videos of Nature by TSO Photography

I just saw this on my feed and felt compelled to share it with you.  The video was filmed by TSO Photography over the course of seven days on Spain's highest mountain - El Teide.  Apparently this mountain has a reputation for being one of the best spots in the world to photograph the stars.  I'd like to check it out in person some day!  I hope you enjoy this as  much as I did, nature never ceases to amaze me.  Check out more fascinating videos from TSO Photography on VimeoFacebookTwitterGoogle+, or tumblr.

I'll be back in a little bit with a post on seeing DJ Kaskade (electronic music) perform at Club Air in Amsterdam. As I mentioned in my last post, my brother and I happened upon a poster for this show while we were walking the streets of Amsterdam, and then we met him a few seconds later when he approached us with his cameraman on a bike. Read the full story here.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Amsterdam: The Museumplein and Meeting DJ Kaskade

Museumplein means Museum Square, and there is a big one in Amsterdam. The square is composed of the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum, along with the Concertbebouw concert hall. I'm ashamed to say we did not go to any museums on this visit to The Netherlands, time always eluded us. The day that we finally biked to Museumplein we got carried away walking the entire neighboring Vondelpark beforehand, and by the time we arrived it was too late to visit the museums. As I mentioned in my last post, the sun sets around 10-10:30pm, so we were always caught off guard by time, the prolonged daylight was so deceiving. 

Ok, enough excuses. Bottom line is we arrived too late and decided to hang out and bike around the square instead, checking out all of the cool details on the exterior portion of the Rijksmuseum and its sculptures. There's also a great bikers passage through the Rijksmuseum itself, it allows bikers to enter the Museumplein, like a cool bicycle highway into the museum square and its park areas.  At times, the amount of bicycles whizzing back and forth through there was really intense, I wanted to stare all day.  The culture of riding bikes everywhere is something I love about this city and wish would catch on here in America more.  Granted, I've noticed it in cities here other than Miami, such as Washington, D.C., but not to the same extent as places in Europe, primarily Amsterdam.  I'm trying to get in the habit of riding my own bike more often, but mostly for leisure since getting anywhere in Miami's climate on a bike would mean arriving a hot sweaty mess...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Amsterdam: Coffeeshops, Naughty Shops and the Red Light District

There's no way around it.  If you go to Amsterdam you must take a stroll through the Red Light District and visit some Coffeeshops!  Come on, you can't miss out on some of the things that the city is most popular for, I assure you - it is an unforgettable experience.  Coffeeshops are distinctly different from a Cafe, where coffee and food is sold.  A Coffeeshop sells a variety of pot alongside coffee and beverages.  The whole smoking thing is harmless in my eyes, it's only something that is novel in Amsterdam because of the open atmosphere and tourist industry that powers the coffeeshop culture.  Smoking in public, in the heart of the city, over a cup of coffee and some good conversation is pretty great though.  Add in where you are and the incredibly diverse people watching opportunity and it's a very unique mix.  That's what everyone in Coffeeshops seem to do, hang out and talk, people watch and enjoy the moment.  It's very relaxed and low key, not out of control, at least not from what I've experienced during my many visits to this great city.  

On the other hand, walking through the Red Light District at night on the weekend is a different story!  It's definitely shocking at first, but then shock becomes amusement.  Throngs of rowdy men giddily stumbling around the streets talking and laughing like school boys over the endless female options, who are lounging in the windows wooing and enticing them with blown kisses and sexy gestures.  Yes, there were discreet men too, and lots of curious tourists in general, many curious women included - like me!  Pure debauchery in the streets I tell you, you've gotta see it all go down one day!  Just remember not to take pictures of the prostitutes, they really don't like that!  So yes, this is an inextricable part of Amsterdam, it intertwines and overlaps with all the major parts of the city, it's something you have to see if you ever visit. I support a person's right to do whatever they want with their body, so for me it's not a big deal, though I can't imagine how one does it.  From a practical standpoint, at least the profession is controlled with regular drug and STD testing and taxation, though the Dutch government apparently didn't start taxing the income from prostitution until 2011.  It seems that the crime that arises from prostitution and drug sales has been curbed through legalization, and the city benefits financially from its leniency.  The whole issue surrounding these legalized activities is much more complex, however my personal experience in Amsterdam did not estimate it to be a poor decision.

Moving on.  I didn't take many pictures during our time in this area, but I have a few decent ones.  Also, I have a video that will give you a bit of a feel for what it's like to walk through the super crowded Red Light District along one of the many canals.  The red lights are glowing all around and there is a cacophony of sound vibrating up from all the chatty people crowding the streets.  Unfortunately, I've tried to upload it into this post many times and it never works, I'll have to figure it out and post it separately.

During the day, when you walk through the area of town where the Red Light District heats up at night and the Coffeeshops litter every corner, you're bound to see a lot of of other wicked and naughty establishments that are fun to explore..and for a good laugh.  See for yourself...