November 11, 2009

Trick or Treat?

It's October 31, Halloween Night and I'm not handing out candy. Tonight I get to watch my first professional football game in Europe!

But not just any team is playing tonight. Stijn's favorite team Club Brugge is playing on their home field against Sint-Truiden in Brugge.

Stijn insists that I look like a true Club Brugge die hard fan. So we head on over to the official souvenir shop and he buys me the traditional blue and white strip Club Brugge scarf. Cool! I blend right in now.

Okay, where is the snack bar so I can get a hot dog! Well I'm in Europe so no hot dogs here. We take a walk around the outside of the stadium and choose one of the vendors who is selling some sausages. Mmmm the garlic one sounds good and certainly looks more appetizing then the food booth selling whole dried fish. Then we get some french fries and of course a couple of nice cold beers!!

We find our seats and settle in for the big game. Stijn is such a cool guy, he bought our tickets so that we would be sitting right with the biggest fans of this team. I don't know what was more fun, watching the game or watching the fans go crazy and hear them singing their chants to cheer on the team.
These were your typical sports enthusiasts yelling, screaming and singing for their team. And although I couldn't understand a thing they were saying, there was one thing that I did understand...... "I'm Lov'in It"!

There was a lot of great action, but neither team could seem to make a goal during the first half of the game. And then it happens. Club Brugge scores in the second half and wins the game 1-0! And the crowd goes wild!!!

I will never forget this experience and the fun I had watching a professional football game for the first time. So for me, this was definitely a Treat!

There are more pictures of the game at "Where's Debbie". Just click on the album "Club Brugge"

November 10, 2009

Good Times, Good Food and Good Friends!

When I was in Brussels this past January, I had the pleasure of meeting Stijn's roommate, Stijn (yes, they have the same name) and his girlfriend Birgit.

Birgit thought that I would really enjoy a Belgian home cooked meal and asked Stijn if we would like to have dinner together tonight (Oct 28). GREAT! So plans are made and Birgit prepares a great Salmon quiche.

Now all of this might not sound very special or interesting to you, but for me it was a very special evening. It seems that Stijn and Birgit had planned this to be a celebration of my birthday and presented me with some gifts.

You must understand that these gifts are very special to me because they are from the town of Ieper. I fell in love with Ieper when Stijn had taken me there this past January. But what really made the gifts special is that Birgit is from Ieper! Plus she did her homework and added a special thoughtfulness to my gifts. In my special package was a magnet of Ieper knowing that I love to collect magnets and that I didn't get one when I was there. Also knowing that I love special items of the region, she included a little bottle of Jenever, a poppy liqueur. But the item that touched me the most was the Belgian chocolate bar with a scripture that was written by Major John McCrae in 1915 called "Flanders' Fields", which I think deserves to be shared with everyone who reads this blog.

"Flanders' Fields"

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The Larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead.
Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' fields.

You see, Ieper was in the middle of the front line between the German and Allied Armies and was destroyed in WWI (The Great War). It is now one of the most beautiful little villages in West Flanders. But this village has not forgotten it's past and the "Menen Gate" is where the names of 54,896 soldiers are engraved, who lost their lives during this horrible war and have no known grave.

To be able to share good times with good friends is a special evening I will never forget!

November 8, 2009

A Belgian Style Birthday

Today is my birthday (Oct 27) and Stijn has asked where I would like to have dinner to celebrate. Well that's an easy answer. I want some traditional Belgian food! So in true Stijn fashion, he carefully decides on a restaurant that not only meets this requirement but also has a great atmosphere.

We arrive at "Au Fin de Siecle" , which means "The End of the Century",

Once we enter I can see the name is very fitting. It seems as if I have stepped back in time with the high ceilings and the all wood bar set to one side of the room.

We pick our spot in the long and narrow room filled with wooden tables and chairs all positioned very close together in true European style.

One of the many things I loved about this restaurant was that there were no menus. We had to walk up to the bar and make our choices from a huge chalk board where tonight's menu is hand written.

We then head back to our table and our waiter comes to take our order. So what does one have as a traditional Belgian dish for her birthday? "Lapin a la Kriek". That would be rabbit served with a sauce made with the Cherry Belgian beer, Kriek.

Stijn has the "Jambonneau Moutarde a' L Ancienne". Which translates to Ham on bone in mustard sauce in the traditional way.

Special note here; This is the fastest I have ever been served a meal!

It's a beautiful night, so after dinner as we take a walk through the narrow cobbled streets of Brussels we come upon this great place called "Le Crachin" where they serve nothing but crepes! It's time for dessert, right? This tiny little place was also very narrow with a view of the kitchen at the back. They also had two huge chalk boards with the menu of drinks and crepes, one in French and one in Dutch.

I decide on the "Pommes caramelisees, flambee au Grand Marnier".

Mmmmm! Apples caramelized and flambayed with Grand Marnier is much better than a birthday cake!

And then Stijn says I have a couple of more birthday surprises to come this week. Hmmm, wonder what they could be?

To see more pictures of our night click here on "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Belgian Style Birthday"

November 7, 2009

Koppenbergcross - A Cycle Race Belgian Style

Knowing that I like to cycle, Stijn knew I would really enjoy watching a sport that is very popular here in Belgium.

So today (Oct 25th) we are headed out to Oudenaarde to watch the Koppenbergcross Cycle Race 2009!

First a little information you might find interesting. Like what does Koppenberg mean besides a steep hill in Belgium? Well in Dutch it means "Heading Mount", and is a 77m (253 feet) high 600m (1969 feet) long hill in Oudenaarde. And this is where the cyclist do 8 laps in a race to the finish.
What really makes this race so much fun to watch is that typically the participants are trying to race in the mud. But today it is clear skies and dry.

But for me this was still a very exciting race to see. Now I have done some cycling myself and the one I am most proud of was participating in the "Seattle to Portland" ride twice. But I would never, I mean never, attempt anything like this. To see some of these guys have to get off of their bike and carry it up the hill, tells me I'm just happy to watch.

I do love riding downhill though. But there's just something about a slippery dirt 22% grade that just doesn't appeal to me at all.

It seems though that the cows didn't find this very interesting at all.

We have been here about 4 hours now and I have been dying to have a Bratwurst! So I head on over to one of the vendors and enjoy the views while I'm standing in line.

I am always on the look out for potty facilities. So I start scanning the area to see where that brightly colored row of port-a-potties might be.

Ummm this isn't exactly the Honey Pot I was looking for.....

As we leave the race and I look back up towards the route of this race, I thank Stijn for an absolutely fascinating day.

There are plenty of more pictures of the race on "Where's Debbie". Just click on the album "Koppenbergcross"

November 5, 2009

Volleyball In Belgium

My first day in Belgium was certainly a busy one yesterday. So it was nice to just be able to relax today before Stijn's volleyball game tonight.

To be able to watch Stijn play volleyball is a real treat for me. He has played for several years and I've only been able to hear about the games for the past year.

It's 6:00pm and game time! We are Rokavo and we are playing against Beerlanders Beernem.

Way to get after that ball!

And we win that one!

But in the end Beerlanders Beernem beat us 3-2.

Tomorrow is another big day. We are headed to Oudenaarde for the Koppenbergcross Cycle Race 2009!

To see more pictures of the game just click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Volleyball in Belgium"

Back To Belgium

It seems time goes by so slowly and then before you know it, time is up!

I am finally back in Belgium! I haven't been here since this past January. (you can read about that trip on my older posts "Europe In 30 Days").

Why am I so excited? Because Belgium is where my honey lives, Stijn, and I haven't seen him since this past June/July when he was visiting me in Las Vegas.

And now the story begins on Oct 23 when I land in Brussels at 8:05am and we hit the ground running!

Stijn has a volleyball game on Saturday, so after freshening up we head out to Stijn's parents home which is in the beautiful countryside of West Flanders. Moorsele is a picturesque little village with grazing cows, farm fields and windmills.

While on our way we stop to take a walk through the streets of Lessines.

After we arrive and settle in Stijn asks if I thought it would be a good idea to go to France and pick up some groceries. Ummm, okay. France? Sure! So we get back in the car and within 2 minutes, I'm in France!

We are shopping at Auchan, the BIGGEST one-stop shopping center I have ever seen! Bigger than Super WalMart people!

Let me first apologize before I go on with this story. There is probably going to be way too many pictures for some of you. But I feel this is the only way for you to truly appreciate how much fun I had shopping for groceries in France!

Now there wasn't anything too special about your typical electronics, housewares, clothing, and automotive sections but when you get to the grocery section, this is when you're reminded that you aren't in Kansas anymore Toto! Oh yes you have your typical isles filled with items to put in your pantry, but what about "La Boulangerie" (The Bakery) with breads piled high and so many different types. I just hate it when Stijn says "You choose honey"

Then to make it even more difficult, "Degustation Gratuite" (free samples) of more breads in the produce section.

Then there is the fresh seafood section filled with shrimp, crab, mussels and all different types of fish I have never seen or heard of before.

And then we hit the wine isle, I mean the wine isles and isles. Then just when you might think there are to many isles of wine, they've added "La Cave" (the cellar) God love France!

Now you know I love my wine, any wine, white or red. But do I know which wine goes best with pasta or cheese. No! But thanks to these great little charts I now know what type of wine I want with my cheese!

But how do I decide which cheese I want with all these choices? And then I hear "You choose honey".

Maybe some Saucisson Cheval (horse sausage) would go great with my cheese and a bottle of red wine.

Just when I thought I couldn't be anymore overwhelmed by all of this fabulous food and wine, we come to the check out lanes. We are in check out lane #36 and looking to the left....

.....and then to the right.

Dinner was fabulous tonight of course!

Well all I can say is "Wow"! What a great way to spend my first day "Back In Belgium"

If you would like to see more pictures of my first day click here "Where's Debbie" and then click on the album "Back In Belgium"

November 3, 2009

Our Last Day in Oz

After Sharon and I returned from our day on the Great Barrier Reef, we enjoyed a nice peaceful dinner and a glass of wine at the restaurant "The Deck". This was perfect as it is located right here at Captain Cook Cabins.

We get an early start this morning (May 14) for our drive back to Surfer's Paradise. We decide to just grab something for breakfast on the road. Hmmm, Kangaroo sounds pretty interesting for breakfast doesn't it?

Lucky us! We were able to get back to Surfer's Paradise in time to enjoy a few hours on the beach and get some last minute shopping done before catching our flights in the morning.

As we were heading back to our car after some souvenir shopping, Sharon decided to join in on a backgammon game with a gentleman sitting on the terrace in front of Del Greco.
This was a Greek Mediterranean restaurant and it seemed like such a fun place. So we decided to have dinner here before heading back to the house to get our packing done.

Well this is the part I hate the most. When another great home exchange comes to an end and I have to go home.

This has been an amazing 3 weeks in Oz! It's been great to share such an awesome experience with my good friend Sharon. We've met so many wonderful people, but none as wonderful as Helen! And this is one of the great things about home exchanging. You meet the people who "Live" where you are visiting. And there is no travel book or Internet site that is going to have better information than the tips the locals will give you about the best places to go and sites to see.....and especially where to eat!

I miss you Helen!

I wonder where in the World my next home exchange will take me?

November 2, 2009

Great Barrier Reef - Part 3

Rise and Shine again!

Yea! The skies are blue and the waters are calm enough to set sail today. Sharon and I pick our spots on the "Spirit of 1770" and settle in for the 1.5 hour cruise to Lady Musgrave Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

Lady Musgrave Island is only 32 nautical miles from the Town of 1770 and is the second most southern Island on the Great Barrier Reef. So the fish and coral we will see are going to be amazing! We've been told that this is some of the best snorkeling in Queensland.

So off we go with Captain John at the wheel.

Let me give you a little tip here if I may; please make sure that you take some sort of pill BEFORE taking this boat ride! I can usually keep from sharing my breakfast with complete strangers on a boat as long as I'm on the top deck...outside. So I didn't feel the need to take something to prevent me from embarrassing myself in front of everyone today. Trust me, this is not an easy cruise. So if you tend to get the itziest bit qweesie on a boat.....take a pill!!! Enough said.

We arrive at a pontoon only 300 meters from the Island. We are then divided into three groups, A, B and C. This is for the purpose of taking the launch to Lady Musgrave Island and the glass bottom boat ride. So as group A heads on out to the island and group B boards the glass bottom boat ride, group C can't wait to get in that water!
The water is just to darn cold for me, and I am still recovering from the ride here. So I decide to just enjoy the views for now.
Sharon however could care less how cold that water is and gets a wet suit on and wastes no time snorkeling.
It's now our turn to take a tour of Lady Musgrave Island and Lagoon. This Island is unique to the Great Barrier Reef. It is formed by a huge 8 nautical mile circle of coral wall which protects the 1000 acre inner lagoon. Lady Musgrave Island is commonly known as the "Jewel in the Crown of the Great Barrier Reef". And as we set foot on the coral beach it doesn't take long to see why.
As we walk along the coral beach, our guide is very informative about the many species of birds that live on this island. One we were able to see was the White-capped noddies (black noddie). This is where they nest in large numbers from October through March.
We weren't as fortunate to see the Burrowing Shearwaters (mutton birds) even though we are here at the end of their nesting season which is October through May. Seems they feed at sea during the day, returning at dusk. As we walked along the path, we were able to see their burrows.
There are several fascinating things about this Island, but for me the most fascinating was the Pisonia Grandis. Now there are several types of foliage here such as casuarinas, pandanus, argusia and scaevola. But it was interesting to learn that the Pisonia Grandis has the ability to regenerate itself from fallen trunks and limbs.

Well it's time to get off of this Island and get back to the pontoon so I can do some snorkeling! For those of you who know me, you know that I am not crazy about getting into the water, ever! Plus, the water is still just too darn cold for me. But this is the Great Barrier Reef! So after Captain John hands me a wet suit and insists that I need to get in that water, I take the plunge.

Okay, I'm going in!

Okay, I'm in! Hello fishy.

There I did it. Are you happy now?

After enjoying lunch, which is provided as part of this tour, we take a ride on the glass bottom boat. It was amazing to see all the different types of coral along with the many types of brilliantly colored fish. We also saw a sting ray, a small shark and we were lucky enough to see a sea turtle.

It's time to head back to the Town of 1770. As the sun sets Sharon and I are in agreement that this trip was well worth the drive and the wait!

There are plenty more pictures of our day on the Great Barrier Reef. Go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Great Barrier Reef Part 3"
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