Monthly Archives: December 2011

My Favorite Posts of 2011

As 2011 comes to an end, I wanted to post a top ten list of my favorite posts this year but I went over a bit. Oh well.

But readers, I have a question for you. Was there a post I wrote that YOU liked, loved or was otherwise memorable? I’d love to know which one(s)!

There are a variety of ways to search for it through the blog, by date, by category, by tag or by a good old-fashioned search bar. Please write the name of the post or copy the link into the comments below.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2012 to you and your family. Thanks for reading.

And in no particular order:

Love Affair #indie30

Unleashing My Inner Imelda Marcos

You Say It’s a Split-Flap

Bear With Me

Outdoor Space, a Washing Machine, Oh My!

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

How to Shit Around the World

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?


A Little Bit of Springtime

40 Days and 40 Nights

A Family History

Simply Spectacular

Eggs and Bread


First Snowfall of the Season

This is the continuation of a story about my trip to Belgium some eleven years ago…

My first full day in Bruges was the first snowfall of the season.

When I arrived at the hostel, no one was in the six person room, so I dropped my bags and headed out on my own to explore.

Bicycles are a huge part of the way of life in Belgium and a little snow didn’t stop the locals from riding their bikes through Bruges.

As I walked through the countryside, near the windmills high on the hills, I saw children and parents alike sledding down from the windmill starting point.

When I returned to the hostel later in the day, I went to the room to see if anyone was there that I could hang out with for the night. Funny enough, there were a brother and a sister. And they were from New Jersey. More specifically, from the town next to the town where a good friend of mine had grown up. Small world. Two Canadians soon joined and the five of us headed out into the snowy evening to sample Bruges finest beers.

An American, two Australians and a Train to Bruges

I fondly remember using my Let’s Go Europe circa 2000.

Because it was in English, I tended to attract other English speaking travelers. In this particular situation I was waiting for the train to Bruges. A lovely couple from Australia came over to me asking about the status of the train. I probably knew as much as they did but we agreed to join forces and figure it out together.

They must have been in their sixties at the time and we shared a lovely ride to Bruges together talking about our homelands, our travels and what we were planning to see and do in Bruges.

The commuter train to Bruges was packed and the three of us were standing for the better part of the trip. When two seats opened up, the husband offered me one of the seats next to his wife as he stood for the duration of the short train ride.

It’s the simple things that make a solo traveler not so solo.

Belgian Food is more than Beer and Chocolate

During my time in Brussels, I remember visiting the Grand Place, the main square, the Mannekin Pis, a famous landmark (Google it!) and the inside of many bars and chocolate shops…Belgian beers and chocolates anyone?!

I saw many attractions but this post will be solely about food, which, let’s be honest, is an attraction within itself.

First, frites…you could get a paper cone filled with French fries, and before it was handed over, it would be topped with a big squirt of mayonnaise on it.

To some, including the boyfriend, it sounds disgusting when I tell this story, but I remember it being absolutely delicious! Perhaps I imbibed on too many Belgian beers but even sober it sounds delish!

Second, chocolate shops were everywhere. At the end of my trip I had some Belgian money remaining (this was before the Euro) and I just went to a chocolate shop in the train station, I gave the shopkeeper my money and together we filled a bag of chocolate for my train ride home. This served two purposes – getting rid of Belgian money and an edible souvenier.

Third, waffles…I only had them once but they were more of a waffle on the go rather than what we do here in the US, loading them up with fruits and sweets. I remember them being thinner and lighter.

Fourth, beer. The array of beers was incredible. Each beer would be poured in a specific glass with the brand label. The shape and size of the glass was created to ensure the best taste with that particular type of beer. I went into a shop and brought a few bottles and their respective glasses home with me. And not just to London, but these bottles (unopened) made it back to the States with me many months later.

Fifth, I wrote a post about Belgium about ordering fondue in a restaurant and out came mozzarella sticks. A pleasant surprise.

And two other points to note. I have written before about my McDonald’s currency exchange plan. Belgium was the only country where I never saw a McDonalds. Or a Starbucks.

A country known for fries, chocolate, waffles and beer…how could you go wrong in Belgium? Though as I write this post, I have to wonder how prevalent heart disease is in Belgium. Or the increased incidence found in travelers.

How I Picked Belgium, or rather, How the Travel Agent Picked Belgium for me

In December 2000, I was working in a small legal publishing office in London. I had only started the beginning of the month and was still getting to know everyone.

As December had progressed, we had holiday drinks, holiday lunches and a holiday party. If you are curious for the number of parties we had to celebrate, this was in 2000 and the start of economic troubles were not going to surface for a few more months.

In random conversations, officemates were asking one another what they were doing for the holidays. I simply assumed we had a long weekend. The day before the office closed, I found out it would be closed until the New Year.

Sidenote: Do you hear that US-based companies? Giving your employees the week off between Christmas and New Year’s is totally the way to do it.

I wasn’t expecting a visitor from the States for another week and most of my flatmates had gone home for the holidays. So, what’s a girl to do but get out of town for a few days!

After work that day, I promptly visited the closest student travel agency (my university ID did not have dates attended and since I had just graduated, I still looked just the same). I met with a lovely woman who was tending to my last minute travel needs and I told her that I had never been anywhere on the Continent except a long weekend in Paris with a friend just a few weeks before.

I was open to anywhere. I had three (or four), I can’t remember, days, I’d be traveling alone and anywhere would do.

She suggested Belgium via the Eurostar, and I said let’s book it! My early morning departure was booked for Boxing Day, the 26th of December and I only knew I needed to pack warm clothes.

I spent Christmas in my flat making a scrapbook of my time already spent in London from October til December. We did not have television and the internet was a commodity onlyy found at internet cafes, so I amused myself with the radio and my own creativity. Imagine that!

On Boxing Day, I left on my first solo trip to a place where I knew no one and I didn’t really know much about my destination except Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate…and already I was sold!

Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day across the pond…and throughout the Commonwealth.

When I lived in London over Christmas of 2000, Boxing Day was like Christmas Day. Everything was closed. Which would be great if you had no plans.

Except that I had booked an early morning Eurostar train to Brussels, Belgium. At the time I lived in Battersea (just south of the Thames, and also where Prince Harry just visited the police department after a friend’s recent robbery).

I had to book a taxi and pay whatever Boxing Day holiday surcharge because the tube (subway) and trains were closed. The only way across the river would be to take a taxi or swim. I clearly chose the former.

And let’s be honest, had the tube or trains been running, my departure was so early that I probably would have paid the taxi anyway – remember, everything was closed, so no traffic, and I could sleep a little bit longer!

Once on the Eurostar, you would have never known it was a holiday. It was packed with people! I remember speaking with a fellow American who was en route to visit her boyfriend’s family. I had told her that after Brussels I was headed towards Luxembourg or Bruges, I did not know which. She had told me she had visited both and she highly recommended Bruges over Luxembourg.

I kept that info in my back pocket and did act on her advice.

After a day in Brussels, I bought a train ticket to Bruges for the following day.

Note: Bruges was AWESOME and ultimately became one of my favorite cities that I have discovered in Europe. Will elaborate about my experience in the wonderful city in future posts.

If You’re Headed to Sandringham…

As much as we all (ok, me) dream to be part of the Royal Family…I read they have five mandatory wardrobe changes for Christmas.

Five. For ONE day. ONE day.

“Kate will need a casual outfit for breakfast, a smart outfit and a hat for the morning church service, a dress for lunch, a cocktail dress for early evening drinks and a full-length dress for the evening meal,” ABC News’ royal correspondent Kate Nicholl told “GMA,” explaining that the same will be required of all of the attendees at the royal Christmas.

I am going to visit the boyfriend’s family for four days and I packed, four – and could become, five – outfits, if I repeated a little, i.e. jeans.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or are headed for Chinese food and a movie, whatever you are doing, I hope you have as few wardrobe changes as possible.


This post has been saved in my drafts for some time and double-checking again to confirm I am still right, it’s gotten even worse.

Several airlines have annoyed me with recent route changes.

When I was looking for flights to surprise my sister back in November, I was very disappointed in the outbound evening flight offering.

Continental used to run an 8p EWR – PHX. Now, the last flight nonstop flight out is a 6.30.

Update: now it looks like a 5.29p is the latest flight.  ???

Just for the record, JetBlue also took their 8p ish flight away and now a 5.50 is their last flight (JFK – PHX) of the day.

Update: now it looks like a 5.45 is their latest non-stop outbound flight.

And US Air – really? Phoenix is one of your hubs and the last nonstop out of the New York area is a 4.35p? How is that even considered an ‘evening’ flight at this point?

Update: now a 4.12p

Note: this is not completely scientific. I checked flights during January 2012 on random Thursdays and Fridays outbound and Sundays and Mondays for the return. And this is the information I found.

If I wanted to kill a vacation day flying I would have already been flying Southwest – which for the record is a good airline the two times I have flown them (not in or out of NYC). Southwest’s flight schedule for cross country flights does not match my flying style – nonstop and evening fights for east to west travel and the red-eye for that west to east travel.

For the record I have asked this question of United and JetBlue on Twitter…twice. No response.

A Different Kind of Culture Shock

I remember coming home from my six months in London, which were finalized with a two-week tour of southern Spain.

I started to interview in New York City and had a lot of time to kill between interviews, so I went shopping. Or rather, because of my financial situation, browsing.

I remember wandering around Macy’s in New York’s Herald Square when I had to go the ladies room. I asked for directions, and I only had to ask once. And I understood all of the directions. The ‘take a right’ and ‘behind the women’s coats,’ I understood it.

There was no sign language necessary. It was different from being away because there was no pointing at things trying to figure out the right word or stopping to ask again because I only got as far into those directions as something as easy as ‘go right’ and then not knowing what was next.

It was pretty cool. And I knew I was home.

Do you have any experience with reverse culture shock?

It’s like playing a game of Paperboy

Do you remember playing the game Paperboy? I had it as a Nintendo game way back in the day. Loved that game! But I digress.

It might be different from a playing Paperboy on a bike in a suburban neighborhood but I feel like walking through parts of NYC are similar to that game.

You’ve got to dodge tour groups trying to assemble, crush of rush hour workers scrambling to get lunch, sandwich board people directing you to sell your gold, people handing out flyers (which I once did), pop up pocketbook stands, people posing for photos, groups of three walking on a narrow sidewalk, rogue bike messengers and homeless people begging for money. And on a rainy day…you can add in bonus points to dodge those golf umbrellas.

How do you deal?