March 31, 2009

I Can't Believe My Home Exchange Is Over

It's March 25th and I can't believe how fast 3 weeks has gone by since I've been here in Ponte Vedra Beach. I have had the time of my life in Florida on what was my 8th home exchange.

With every home exchange that I have had the opportunity to do, I always come home both sad and happy. Sad that it has to come to an end and happy that I was able to have the chance to visit such an amazing place.

Home exchanging has given me the ability to travel to Australia, Mexico, England, Denmark, France, Washington and twice to Florida. All in just less than 3 years!

So you're asking, "How in the world do you afford to go to all these places"? Here's the glory of this, when you do a home exchange, your only expense is your airfare in most cases. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about by sharing with you what I spent to be on vacation in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida for 3 weeks.

I'll start with the airfare. I paid $10 for my round trip airfare from Las Vegas to Jacksonville. In addition to that I had to pay $15 for my checked bag each way. Total: $40.00! This isn't always the case, I just so happened to have had enough frequent flyer miles with Delta. But you can get airfare for around $250 if you watch for specials. Next, how much did I pay for accommodations for 3 weeks? That would be a big fat ZERO! Because we exchanged homes there are no costs for hotels. Which by the way can average about $100 or more per day. Now how did I get around for 3 weeks? Did I rent a car? That would be NO! When you do a home exchange you can also exchange vehicles if both parties are in agreement. So that would be another big fat ZERO for a rental car. Okay have you added that up? Shouldn't be too hard since all I've paid for is getting here. That's right, $40.00.

Now what did I spend on entertainment and food? Well if you have been following this blog you have a pretty good idea already. So I'm going to do something kind of fun here and I will do this from now on at the end of all my stories about my home exchanges.

Airfare......................$ 40.00
Accommodations........$ 0
Rental Car................$ 0
Fuel for Car..............$125.00
Entertainment.........$ 81.00
Dining Out................$180.00
Dining In...................$275.00


I am home now, but not for to long. I'm headed "Down Under". I will be flying out on April 23 to the Gold Coast of Australia for 3 weeks on another home exchange. I'm sure I will have some great stories for you!

Remember, you can see all of pictures at "Where's Debbie"

You Gotta Love Florida!

Lucky me, I just happen to be in Florida during festival season it seems. The newspaper had an insert listing all the festivals that will be going on from now thru the end of April, and it just so happens that there is one more before I go home. Remember Stijn and I went to the Seafood Festival in St. Augustine on March 14th, well now there is another one March 21 in Jacksonville Beach, "Springing the Blues". I'm there!

Jacksonville Beach is the next town going north on 1A1 from Ponte Vedra Beach, so it only took me about 10 minutes to be at the beach front where the festival was taking place. When I get here it is evident that this is a very popular festival based on the fact that I had to park 3 blocks away.

As I am walking towards the Seawalk Pavilion where the festival is taking place, I can here some great blues music being played by one of the many artists that will be performing today.

The festival had several vendors selling their crafts, clothing, jewelery, and some great sauces and marinades that you could sample for free!

Then of course there was that great row of about a dozen or so food vendors selling all kinds of seafood. I walked up and down this row taking pictures and trying to decide on which vendor I was going to choose.

As I was deciding I would see people with plates piled high with seafood, and baskets overflowing with crawfish.

I can't decide!! So I make a couple more passes and finally decide on a seafood wrap. When I walk up to order the guy says to me "So you finally made a decision"?. I didn't realize it was that obvious, and then he says "Didn't you have a camera"?. Okay, I guess that sort of made me stand out in a crowd.

I then headed over to the Pavilion, found myself a spot on the grass and enjoyed my seafood wrap while listening to some great blues music.

You gotta love Florida!

To see more pictures just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the "Seafood Festival" album

March 29, 2009

Back to St Augustine

Well you have probably figured out by now that I love Lighthouses and no matter what coast I'm on, if there is a Lighthouse, I'm finding it and taking some pictures. So today with the clear blue skies and perfect weather I decide to go back to St Augustine and get a closer look at the Lighthouse and of course take a ton of pictures.

With a big smile on my face and excited to start taking pictures from every angle possible from the ground as I have always done, something is different for me today.

Now a little background. I never, I mean never seem to hit a Lighthouse with a museum and/or tours when it's open, as you well know from the drive to Tybee Island I took when I was in Savannah and the Amelia Island Lighthouse up in Fernandina Beach. So how surprised was I when I discovered that not only was the museum open but you could purchase a ticket that gave you the privilege to go to the top of the lighthouse. Way Cool!! I couldn't get my $9.00 out fast enough!

Oh my gosh, I am entering a Lighthouse people! I know this sounds a little silly, but for someone who has always just been able to see a Lighthouse from the outside, this is a BIG deal. So I start climbing the 219 steps of the spiral staircase to the top, stopping along the way to take pictures out of the windows so that I have proof that I am in a Lighthouse. When I reach the top and step outside I am in absolute awe and filled with so much excitement, I just can't believe I am on top of a Lighthouse.

Whew! Got that out of my system. So now I head on over to the "Fountain of Youth" in hopes that a drink of the water will give me eternal youth! May I have seconds, please? I pay my $8.00 and join in on the tour which starts on the original site of the "spring". After sampling the water and listening to the tour guide give details of the history of the discovery of Florida by Ponce de Leon and the "Fountain of Youth" we then head over to another building where a short movie is shown repeating pretty much what the tour guide had already shared with us. Good for me, because I do need to hear things a couple of times to sink in. Then yet onto one more building, the planetarium. The purpose of this was to educate you on how people such as Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon used the stars as a navigational system while sailing uncharted seas to discover the New World. I then walked the grounds for a little while and then headed on back to Ponte Vedra Beach.

This has been another day filled with excitement and history.

If you would like to see more pictures of my day just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Back to St Augustine".

St Paddy's Day in Savannah Georgia

I know March 17th is St. Patrick's Day. I know you should probably wear some green, unless you want to get pinched. I know that corned beef and cabbage is more than likely what you're going to eat today, and that you will definitely have some green beer. Who doesn't know this? What "I" didn't know is that in Savannah Georgia, St Patricks Day is treated somewhat as a "National Holiday".

I've heard about what a beautiful place Savannah is, and that it has a wonderful historic district. I thought since I will be so close while I'm in Ponte Vedra on my home exchange that I would take a drive up there and check it out. Why not? So I check somethings out on the Internet and I find that there are several companies who offer trolley tours where you can hop on and off all day long for $10.00. Cool! I had done this in Boston and it was a great way to see everything.

I decide that Tuesday is a good day to head up to Savannah. Not because it's St. Patrick's Day mind you, but because the weather on Tuesday is going to be better than any other day of the week. That's why.

So the first place I go when I get there is "Oglethorpe Trolley Tours" . Hmmm, strange, it's closed. Maybe they're out to lunch, it is 12:15pm. But would they really do that? So I head down the street a little further and see the Oglethorpe Trolley Welcome Center and park across the street. Hmmmm, closed. For the life of me I can't figure out why they would be closed on a Tuesday. Maybe it's the off season and they don't start doing tours until April or May? Maybe they aren't in business anymore? I continue to walk towards the Visitors Center and I pass another Trolley company and a gentleman who is cleaning some things up around one of the trolley's says "Good Afternoon Ma'am". Perfect! I ask him if this trolley service is doing tours today and he says to me, "No Ma'am, we're closed for the Holiday". "The Holiday? St. Patrick's Day?", I reply in surprise. What I learned was that there is a big parade that takes place in the historic district and the trolleys "can't" run. Bummer.

I head into the Visitor Center and discover that the 185th St. Patrick's Day parade is still going on. How lucky for me! This parade is the second largest in the U.S., behind New York, and the celebration is the third oldest, behind New York and Boston. The lady at the counter pulls out a map and points out that Bull St. is the route of the parade and that I could follow that right to the historic Riverfront, and then she hands me the map.

As I step out of the Visitor Center and walk down W. Liberty St. it becomes immediately apparent to me that St. Patrick's Day is taken very seriously here. There was not one person that I passed that wasn't all decked out in some sort of "green" fashion. When I get to Bull St. the parade is indeed still in progress, but I'm not so much impressed with the parade as I am with the thousands of people who are lining the streets in their green hats, green shirts, green beards...... Suddenly I am feeling a bit out of place. I truly was the only person in Savannah not wearing green. It really was sort of embarrassing walking around in a pair of blue jeans and a white sleeveless shirt.

As I continue down Bull St. taking pictures along the way, I come to the first of many squares, "Chippewa Square". And here I just stop and I can't believe what I'm seeing. The square is packed with more people who have set up canopies covering their tables filled with food and coolers filled with beer I'm sure. Some people even had their gas barbecue grills here!

At another square there was more of the same along with vendors selling green paraphernalia from carts, and fountains with green water.

I just couldn't stop people watching and taking pictures. And everyone was really friendly and ready for a group photo.

By the time I make it to the Riverfront the parade has ended and the thousands of people I just passed are also headed here.

I really enjoyed walking along the river on the cobblestone and seeing the old cotton warehouses that had been converted into cute shops and boutiques, and restaurants and pubs over looking the river. There was plenty of music with a live band and a little further down a DJ playing some favorite dance tunes.

I thought about going into one of those great Irish Pubs and getting myself a green beer but the lines to get into any bar were entirely way to long........... I opted for some ice cream at this great little shop where you could also watch Pralines being made and have someone throw some taffy at you that had just been freshly twisted and wrapped.

Well it's time to start thinking about heading back to Ponte Vedra Beach. But there is a Lighthouse nearby on Tybee Island and I must go take pictures.

My day is complete now.

Before driving back to Ponte Vedra Beach I stop in at a little road side ice cream stand and order me up a large black cherry waffle cone! The perfect way to end a perfect day!

There are a whole lot more pictures of my day in Savannah at "Where's Debbie". To see them just click on the album "St. Paddy's Day".

March 28, 2009

Space Shuttle "Discovery" Launch March 15th

Today turns out to be a day of mixed emotions for me. First I am very sad that Stijn is leaving today for Brussels,. Our time together is very precious and always seems to go by so fast.

But we make the most of today by just enjoying breakfast together and leisurely getting ready to go to the airport. We even spend about 2 hours together in the airport before we have to say "See you soon". I love you Stijn, and I can't wait to see you again in June.

After I arrive back home I pour myself a glass of wine and settle in for the evening. There is an emptiness here now but I am filled with memories as I write another story about our adventures during our time together here in Ponte Vedra Beach.

And then emotion number two kicks in. The door bell rings and it is Laura from next door inviting me to join them as they go to the beach tonight to watch the space shuttle launch. I am so excited I can't even hardly stand myself! How exciting to go to the beach and witness the launch of space shuttle "Discovery". As we stood on the beach you could see the shuttle in the distance coming towards us as it was making its way to the National Space Station. This was the 125th launch since the first one 30 years ago.

Sure I can try and describe to you the beauty of watching the shuttle make it's mark across the evening skies with it's brilliant yellow-gold color of the upper part of the launch and the bright orange path that followed, but you REALLY had to be there.

This was just so exciting to me, to be able to actually witness such a spectacular event!

If you would like to see more pictures just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "Shuttle Launch"

March 27, 2009

St Augustine Florida

Today we are headed to St. Augustine to check out the Seafood Festival. Remember, while on our way to Blue Spring, as we drove through St. Augustine we saw a sign about a Seafood Festival that was going to be a 3 day event. Well it's March 14th and we are ready to go and see what this is all about.
St. Augustine is only about 15 miles from Ponte Vedra Beach, so it's a nice drive along the coast on A1A. In fact we have already spent part of another day in St. Augustine shopping at one of their Outlet Malls. Stijn loves to hit the Outlet Malls when he comes from Belgium and do a little shopping for some great deals. In fact he likes it so much that the first place we stop at today is the other Outlet Mall. Lucky me! A man who likes to shop.
Satisfied with his purchases, we now head over to Francis Field where the Seafood Festival is taking place. We pay our $7.00 to park and then follow the crowd onto the Festival grounds and pay another $2.00 each to enter. We spent about 1 hour walking along the vendors booths checking out all the different types of crafts they were selling. Then it was time for some of that Seafood. There are about a dozen or so vendors selling all types of seafood that is cooked every way possible. Crab legs, crab cakes, whole crabs, boiled crawfish, frog legs, alligator, shrimp! Of course I'm having a tough time trying to make a decision here people. I finally settle on a booth that is selling a dish called the "Captain's Platter". So for $15.00 I am handed this plate overflowing with crab, scallops and shrimp over some rice. I know you're expecting a picture here, but silly me didn't take my camera into the Festival. What was I thinking.
We decide now to explore some of St. Augustine. but first we make a stop at the car to get my camera! The Visitor Center is right next to Francis Field and here Stijn picks up a walking map of St. Augustine, we head out the door and right in front of us (across the street) is Castillo de San Marcos. Now for those of you who might not know this (sad to say, me being one of them) St. Augustine is the oldest European city in the United States, settled by Juan Menendez de Aviles, almost a half a century before the first English settlers landed at Jamestown.

Castillo de San Marcos is this magnificent military fortress that was built in 1672 on the shoreline of St. Augustine to protect the Spanish that had settled here from the British.

You can pay an admission to tour the inside, but we arrived just minutes after they sold the last tickets for the day. However, this was still a magnificent site from the outside to explore. We took our time walking around the outside looking closely at the bullet holes that had tried to penetrate the 18 foot thick walls while under attack by the British.

There is a lot more to see and do in St. Augustine, but it's getting late and Stijn needs to figure out how to pack his purchases he has made over the last few days. Yes sad to say, he has to fly out tomorrow to go back to Brussels.

The packing is done and we spent the rest of our evening remembering the wonderful time we were able to share with each other again here in Florida.

I will be staying for another week holding down the fort...........
So check back soon to read more about my home exchange here in Ponde Vedra Beach.

And if you would like to see more pictures of our day just go to "Where's Debbie" and click on the album "St. Augustine".

March 24, 2009

A Day at the Races

It's March 11th and this has been an absolutely amazing day. After spending all day on the beach yesterday, we decide to give the beaches a break today and experience a day at the race track. No not Daytona, but the Orange Park Kennel Club Greyhound Race Track.

Neither Stijn or I have experienced Greyhound racing before, so we thought it would be something fun to see and do a little betting while we're at it. Neither one of us had a clue how to place a bet but the staff there was exceptionally helpful and friendly.

So now we have a race book and the 4th race of the day is about to start. We looked over the eight dogs we had to choose from and made our selections for the bets. Sad to say neither one of us won on this race. But it seemed as the day went on we were becoming a little more savvy, or maybe lucky, on picking our dogs. The 6th race I made a Show, Place, Win bet on "Where's Flythang" for $6.00 and ended up winning $15.00!

This is my winning dog.

The next race I won $4.60. I then used these winnings for my next bet (and Stijn's) and ended up winning another $13.60! Okay, I'm loving greyhound racing! The eighth race found both of us picking the wrong dogs, but the ninth race we picked up the winnings again with Stijn winning $4.00 and me winning $3.00. We decided that the tenth race would be our last wager of the day.

Well now I have a theory that I am going to use regarding my betting. There is a dog listed named "Wheres Santiago". This is a sign ! Why? Well remember that I won a race with "Where's Flythang" and if you have been following this blog you know that you can see all my pictures at "Wheres Debbie". You got it! So I bet $6.00 on "Where's Santiago" for Show, Place, Win........and he comes in 1st Place!!!! I won $39.60!!!!

Dinner was great tonight at the Aqua Grill compliments of "Where's Santiago"! This was a great restaurant located in the Sawgrass Village located just across the street from our home exchange location. We sat outside on the deck overlooking the water while we enjoyed our dinner. We started out with some Fried Green Tomatoes along with a glass of wine for me and a beer for Stijn. For the main course Stijn ordered Seafood Jambalaya with rice. This was an amazing rendition of jambalaya with little neck clams still in the shell, fresh fish, chicken and andouille sausage all simmered in a spicy New Orleans red sauce. I had the basil seared Salmon and egg fettuccine tossed with jumbo shrimp, peas and sun dried tomatoes in a pink vodka sauce.

A great way to end a day at the track!

If you would like to see more pictures of the races just go to Wheres Debbie then click on the album "A Day at the Races"

Blue Spring State Park Florida

I am in heaven being so close to so many beaches here in Florida. In fact on Saturday and Sunday we just explored a couple of beaches and just enjoyed our days taking walks and lying out working on our tan's. Well I worked on my tan and Stijn worked hard at not burning. I think our favorite was the beach at Guana Reserve just about 15 minutes south on A1A. We spent most of the day here and enjoyed finding sharks teeth again like we did this past October in Venice Florida while on a home exchange.

So today, March 9, we are all rested up and ready to do some more exploring. We went to Blue Spring State Park which was about a 2 hour drive to the south. We again decided to take the A1A for obvious reasons, until we had to take the I4 inland to Orange City. The A1A of course took us through St. Augustine where I could see a Lighthouse in the distance and also a sign that there was going to be a Seafood Festival the weekend of March 14th. See why it's good "NOT" to travel along the Interstate. You miss little things like this. So we will definitely be coming back here.

The reason we picked Blue Spring State Park as something we wanted to see while in Flordia was because this is a designated Manatee Refuge to the growing population of the West Indian Manatees. They come here to escape the cooler waters of the St. Johns River between November and March. Blue Spring is an artesian spring and the water is at a constant 68 degrees. And you can rent canoes!

We pay $5.00 to park and set out to walk through the Park on it's elevated boardwalks along the spring waters in hopes of seeing some manatees. We saw some beautiful scenery, but no manatees. So we decide it's time to rent our canoe and paddle out onto the St. Johns River.

It is only $10.00 for the first hour to rent a canoe, so after paying we walk down to the shore line, pick out our canoe and start paddling. We were given a map with some suggested routes to take while we are enjoying this perfectly sunny day on the water.
We first explore a lagoon just to the left of us and as soon as we enter the lagoon Stijn is spotting alligators along the banks. Camera in hand I start snapping pictures. Then up ahead Stijn spots a couple of alligators in the water. More pictures! He's not real excited by the idea that we're not moving while I'm taking pictures and we are in the middle of a lagoon with alligators all around.

Yes, this is a picture of the front of our canoe with an alligator just ahead of us. "Keep paddling" Stijn says with an anxious yet firm tone.

We paddle back out onto the St. Johns River and here we see a few more alligators and some turtles sunning themselves on fallen trees along the banks.

Now we head into an area that is going to take us through a loop and here we see more alligators, turtles and birds. We pass a house boat and wave to the people on board. They inform us that there are a couple of manatees in the area and that we should keep an eye out and maybe we would see one. They also pointed out that there is a "Huge" alligator just ahead of us crossing the water. Cool! After paddling a little further down we can hear the people on the house boat telling us that there is a manatee about 40 yards behind our canoe and he is coming straight towards us. We turn to take a look and we could see the wake of the manatee coming straight in our direction. As he approached our canoe he circled around us and we could see him just below the surface of the water. Magnificent! Then he stopped just behind Stijn, lifted his head out of the water, took a look at us and then re-submerged and swam away. This was the most amazing thing I have ever seen!

Up ahead we did see Mr. Big along the shore to our right and he was "Big"!

Satisfied with all we were able to see, we decide it's time to head back and turn in our canoe. Afterwards we take a little walk over to see the Thursby house which was built in 1872 by Louis Thursby and is a nice little museum that is free with some history on the area along with some artifacts.

This has been an amazing day and I will never forget the experience and the feelings I felt when I saw my first manatee.

If you would like to see more pictures of our day please go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Blue Spring State Park"

March 23, 2009

Fernandina Beach and Small Talbot Island Florida

After Stijn arrived on Wednesday March 4 we decided to just take it easy on Thursday and spend a little time on the beach because Friday we are going to head up to Fernandina Beach which is about a little more than an hours drive to the north. We headed down to the Cabana Club where Dan and Nancy have a membership, which makes it really nice as public access to the beaches here in Ponte Vedra Beach is very limited unless you are a member to one of the clubs along Ponte Vedra Beach Blvd. We walked for a little while on the beach and then decided to fly the kite Stijn had brought with him from Brussels. There wasn't enough wind to really do to many maneuvers with the kite, but we still had a lot of fun.

Afterwards we had some lunch at the Seaporch at the Cabana Club sitting at a table on the deck looking out over the ocean. I am in Heaven!
Once again I am on a home exchange that is perfectly located for exploring. I am on the Northeast coast of Florida along the Atlantic shore with a 120 mile string of beaches and resorts, interrupted by dunes and marshland. And right in the middle lies historic St. Augustine. Resorts run up and down this coast line from Daytona Beach to Fernandina Beach which is where we are headed today. There are a couple of ways to get to Fernandina Beach, take the inland route of I95 and see nothing or take the 1A1 up the coast and drive through some great beach towns. Hmmm, this is a no brainer for me! So up the coast we drive and once we get to Mayport we must now take about a 5-10 minute ferry ride for only $5.00 across the St. Johns River to Ft. George Island to pick up US1 and continue to our destination. We decide to stop at Little Talbot Island State Park and spend some time on the beach. To visit Little Talbot island is only a $4.00 entrance fee and well worth it! This is a beautiful undeveloped and natural haven for wildlife. We must have spent at least an hour here just walking along the beach and enjoying the ocean.
As we make our way into Fernandina Beach I spot a Lighthouse and I must have a closer look. As I drive through streets winding me past private homes I find my Lighthouse. However, there is a "No Trespassing" sign I walk up as close as I can get and snap a couple of pictures of the Ameila Island Lighthouse.

The town of Fernandina Beach is better known today as a charming Victorian resort, however everywhere you look you can see evidence of Fernandina Beach once being renowned as a pirates' den until the early 1800's.
You can explore Fernandina with a guided walking tour or even by a horse drawn carraige. We decide to enjoy walking around on our own through the 55-block historic district popping in and out of quaint shops selling everything from Christmas decorations to fine art.

We decide to head back to Ponte Vedra Beach, but not before getting ourselves a blizzard from Dairy Queen and driving onto the beach. That's right, you can drive your car right out onto the beach here on Amelia Island, park and enjoy the sand and surf.

So we find our spot of sand and park the car, pull out a beach towel, sit and enjoy our blizzard's while watching the waves and reflecting on all the beautiful sights we saw today.
If you would like to see more pictures of our day just go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Fernandina Beach"

A Home Exchange in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida

My 8th home exchange has begun! Dan and Nancy had contacted me this past fall through with their tempting offer of an exchange to Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida during the month of March and April. They wanted to come to Las Vegas for 1-2 months, and as much as I hate to say "No" to any offers of a home exchange I had to let them know that under any other circumstances I would love to do an exchange for that length of time. However, I would just be returning from a month long trip to Europe in January and that I had already committed to an exchange for 3 weeks to Australia for May. So after a few emails back and forth we came to an agreement on dates and I accepted the offer!

I picked Dan and Nancy up from the airport on March 2 and brought them to my home and helped them get settled in before I left the following day to their home. Dan was a sweetie and took me to the airport in the morning and braved his way back to my house through the morning Las Vegas traffic. I sure know how to break them in don't I?

I landed in Jacksonville about 6:30pm, took the shuttle to the parking lot to pick up their car and then drove to my new "home" for the next 3 weeks.

I've settled in with a glass (or two) of some red wine they had left for me and enjoyed my first night in Ponte Vedra Beach.

But tomorrow is what I am really excited about!! Stijn arrives from Brussels at JAX about 5:30pm! He had told me in Brussels when I was at the airport getting ready to fly back to Las Vegas "Only 5 weeks". Well I can't believe that it is 5 weeks later and he will be here with me until March 15th.

We have some great adventures planned so keep checking back here to see what we did and what we saw while here in Florida on my 8th home exchange.

Europe In 30 Days - I Don't Wanna Go Home!

I can't believe Jan 25th is here already and that I have to leave tomorrow to go back to Las Vegas. But Stijn, in true fashion has great plans for us today to help keep my mind off of the inevitable.

Seeing how much I enjoyed the Italian markets, Stijn thought that I would certainly love to experience a market in Belgium. So we take the metro to a huge market that is held on the grounds of Cureghem Cellars every Sunday. Now this was an amazing market, not only could you buy fresh fruits and vegetables,

or fresh fish and meat, but if you needed a new appliance, or some clothing you could get that here too. But lets say you need a couple of live geese or chickens..........

Next we headed to the Grand Place for one last chance to get some pictures of this magnificent square. Every time I go here I take a ton of pictures because I am in such awe of all the fabulous architecture that surrounds it, but beside that the skies are clear in Brussels today!
Stijn has decided that he is going to cook dinner for me tonight, so after stopping in La Grand Cafe for one last Irish Coffee before I go home, we go to the grocery store to pick up some mussels. What is a trip to Brussels without having some mussels?
Don't you just love a man in the kitchen?

Dinner is wonderful! And who could ask for more than spending time with the one you love, sharing not only a glass of wine and a pot of mussels, but all of the unforgettable memories that you just made together over the last 30 days.

I Love You Stijn!

To see more pictures of my last day in Europe just go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Brussels".

March 22, 2009

Europe In 30 Days - Surprise! Bologna Italy - Part 2

It's a new day and we are ready to go explore Bologna! Bologna is easy to explore by foot, so with map in hand we head out in the direction of that great lighted stairway we saw last night.

Stijn and I always seem to come upon some great unexpected surprises and today is no exception. Today the first thing we see is an Italian market! As far as the eye can see, multi-coloured canopy's that covered tables of all sorts of things for sale from gloves to coats, and fresh vegetables and fruits.
We decide to take our route through the aisles of the market before coming back out onto the streets. Which was a great choice because I saw this great scarf that I bought for my friend Ellen for only 5.00 euros!
We make our way to Piazza Maggiore which is the centre of the oldest part of Bologna. This is a huge pedestrian square that was built in the 13th century and is surrounded by some impressive medieval and Renaissance buildings. From here we walk to Piazza del Nettuno, which is actually adjoining Piazza Maggiore, and here we see the well-known fountain, Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune).
From here we just wander up and down little cobbled streets passing shops and markets selling meats and cheeses and brightly coloured vegetables and fruits on display spilling out onto the streets.

It's time to pop into someplace and give our feet a rest and warm up. We settle in at "Bar Jazz Cafe". Bologna has a strong attraction to jazz and in this little cafe it is evident by all the pictures of great jazz musicians on the walls. After warming up with a cafe macchiato for me and a coke for Stijn, guess he just isn't as cold as I am, we head back out to do some more exploring.

We head in the direction of two very tall towers, which happen to be referred to as "Two Towers". So we make our way to Porta Ravegnana Square and there they are, one taller than the other and one leaning.....a lot!

The Asinelli Tower, the taller of the two was built in 1109 and is 319 feet tall with an inner staircase of 498 steps completed in 1684. The Garisenda tower built around the same time is much smaller (154 feet).

It's now about 1pm and after passing so many little cafe's with tables lined up outside on the cobblestone streets we decide it's time to have some lunch. We end up in Piazza Minghetti and find Ristorante "da Ercole". Here we eat outside in a tented terrace with heat! The prices were mid to high range, averaging between 8 and 12 euros. We start with a bottle of Sangiovese wine from the Romagna region and a platter of assorted cheeses and bread.

Before the main course I must also have some authentic Gnocchi and Stijn has Tortellini in Brodo, a pasta stuffed with mincemeat, salami and herbs in a broth. Then our plates come, Stijn has Straccetti di Manzo con Rucole which is thin slices of beef with rocket lettuce and a garlic & rosemary sauce. I decide to have the Polenta con Funghi Porcini which is polenta with porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola, because I have never had polenta before, and now I can say "okay, had that, don't need to have it again". Pretty flavorless except for the porcini mushrooms.

Stuffed and happy with our choice for this late lunch we waddle back onto the streets of Bologna for some more sightseeing. Nothing better than a good walk after a huge lunch, and what better place to take a walk then through the streets of Bologna.

As we walk under more of those wonderful porticoes we see some more incredible architecture. But equally incredible to me are the butcher shops and their amazing display of meats and poultry. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

"Honey, can you pick me up a whole chicken and some lamb at the market" has a whole different meaning here in Italy.

Well it's getting dark now so we decide to head back in the direction of our room. But we are stopped dead in our tracks by one more unexpected surprise. Another outdoor market! This one on the little square just before our hotel. There are only about 4 rows of vendors, but these vendors are selling meats, cheeses, breads, olive oils, wines, chocolates, pastries! God love Italy! We make our first pass through to see everything and then Stijn has an incredible idea. "How about we just pick us up some meat and cheese along with some bread and a bottle of wine and take it to our room"? he says to me in complete genius theory. "We could have a picnic on the bed", I replied. He just got a big smile on his face. So we go to one of the meat vendors and they slice us off some parma ham right from the leg of the pig.
And then we go to a cheese vendor and decide from the tower of cheeses which one to have sliced for us.

We pick out a round of bread and a bottle of wine and away we go to enjoy our picnic in our room on the bed.
While we are curled up on the bed sipping wine and nibbling on meat and cheese with some bread we make a toast to another magnificent day together and reminisce about our day in Bologna and all the great expected and unexpected things we were able to see and do today.

All good things must come to an end and we must head back to Brussels this morning. And then to make this trip to Bologna even more magical, it begins to snow.

What a great surprise!

If you would like to see more pictures of what we saw and what we did go to Where's Debbie and click on the album "Bologna"
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