Tuesday, April 26, 2011

DIY L.L. Bean Tote Bag

When you get married in another state, and 99% of your guests are traveling there, you really do HAVE TO provide welcome bags. I mean, it's the least you could do after you forced all those people to travel 5 hours away from their homes, and pay gas prices that would make a grown man cry (in my defense, I had no idea gas was going to get so out of control).

Anyway, I'm making welcome bags for my lovely guests - something that I probably would have done even if I got married in CT, but it being a Maine wedding, I have this theme that really lends itself to a certain kind of bag: LL Bean Tote bag. They are adorable, iconic, summery and they really do scream "Maine". But when you have 118 of your 120 guests coming from out of state, then you really have to put the pedal to the metal with the making of the bags. So far I have made 6... I figured I need about 35 bags, and 12 "baskets" for families of 5+ staying together.

Anyway, the making of the bag is actually fairly simple:

Supplies:
2 (8 x 14) pieces of White duck cotton*
1 (8 x 14) piece Navy Blue duck cotton*
2 strips (30 inches) of ribbon or belting
white and navy thread
stitch withchery

*this is the size, method and colors that I used. You could use canvas if you wanted a sturdier bag, but keep in mind that you'd also need a heavy duty needle, good thread, more money and patience, because its not the easiest to work with. Also, I used these colors because they match my wedding, any combination or size would do.



On your 2 white pieces, iron down a 1/2 inch seam
like so

sew this down - it will be the top of the bag
Take your blue piece and iron down 1/2 seam on both sides

like so - do not sew down!

on your two sewn white pieces, you will add your handles - 1 (30 inch) strip per side. For this size bag, I put the handles at the 4 and 10 inch lines, leaving 4 inches between. The stitch witchery is underneath, waiting to make things meld - remember that the side your sewed should be the top!

then make the melting happen for the stitch witchery. You don't have to do this step if you prefer pinning, but I just find this to be easier

sew the handles down. If you used stitch witchery, you will notice that this is no hassle of removing pins, pricking yourself, or the dreaded "bunching and gathering" - signs of a crappy seamstress - which I am.

Once you have sewn on the handles for each white piece, you will want to pin your blue piece on, good side out. It is important that you measure the distance from the top of the white to the blue part and keep it the same for both pieces and sides, otherwise you end up with a bag that does not line up.


See then? your bag is almost a bag!
sew the blue in place

flip the almost bag inside out and pin the edges just above the blue piece

This is the tricky part - you want to fold the blue into itself

like so..

can't describe it really, just make it look like this

and then iron it down

I just had to keep taking pictures because I knew I wouldn't be able to explain how to do it

But really, this is how it should look.

sew down the sides of the bag, making sure everything lines up perfectly. When you are done - this is what you will have

Iron down those flappy edges

and boom, you have a cute little tote bag in 30 minutes! If you wanted to line your bag with a pretty contrasting fabric, you would repeat all the steps, flip your contrasting bag inside out, put it inside the original tote and then sew the top edges together.

I'm making 35 of these bags, so there is no way I am making a lining! But you easily could. My sister came over last night to help. We managed to get steps 1 and 2 done for 25 bags.

And we still need 10 more!
But, the good news, for me anyway, is that I will have a really cute, completely original set of welcome bags when I am done... and hopefully some people will actually use them for some amount of time.

When we were done, and my sister left, I finished up the bag you see in the tutorial, and then took a deep sigh knowing how much more work had to be done. As I cleaned up my craft room (HA!) and headed for bed, I saw the cutest thing ever:

totally worth it.


Tip Junkie handmade projects

Monday, April 18, 2011

$5 Rocking Chair

I have this awful habit of acquiring things. Some people might label me a hoarder, but it's not at all like that... not yet anyway.

I just tend to see things differently than a lot of other people... for example, I look at a banged up dresser on the side of the road waiting for the garbage man to come, and instead of junk, I see my latest street treasure: a white (or maybe teal?) lightly distressed dresser with fancy anthropology knobs and pulls, decorated with a silver tray of pearls and a rustic oval wooden picture frame, complete with a pink floral scarf jumping out of the top drawer situated atop a seagrass rug. Yes, I often see things that aren't there (and I know this makes me a loon).The problem with seeing things as I want them to be, and taking them home as they are - is the whole in-between phase. The work. I'm not super good at actually seeing a project to completion, at least not right away. Its very unusual for me to have less than 5 projects going at once (on top of everyday projects like dinner, laundry, work, exercise).

But in an effort to make Dan happy, I have been trying really hard lately to finish things I've started and turn some of the trash I take home into street treasure.

So then, a story about a place straight out of every at-risk-hoarder's dream: ReCONN. This place is loaded with treasure... it's very hard for me to not go home with a ton of junk every time I go here (which is why I stay away). Fortunately, I no longer own a vehicle that is big enough to carry anything, so that tends to keep me under control. Anyway, I took Dan to ReCONN one day back in January when we were looking for a kitchen sink. We didn't find the sink, but I did find this ratty old rocking chair for $5: STEAL!



But obviously, it needed some love. It just so happened that a few days later I got an e-mail from the Manchester Historical Society (who always offers all kinds of awesome programs) about a chair caning class that would take place on Saturdays during March. So, for $10, I enrolled and for an additional $20, I bought the supplies for fixing my chair. And then poof, in about 4 weeks, I had this awesome new rocking chair for a grand total of $35 - definitely worth it!






Friday, April 15, 2011

Less than glamorous DIY

So we all think of DIY as an affordable and easy way to make something unique or personal for your wedding. We have an idea, gather supplies and then poof, magically those supplies turn into something adorable all in one post!

Well, not always. Sometimes there is a very ugly side to DIY Wedding Projects... and I call that ugly side Mondays at Mom's. For the time being, I have Mondays off, and I've been spending a number of those Mondays at my Mom's house working on the wedding projects that kinda suck. Mostly, the dishes.

Ah yes, my grand idea to have mis-matched blue and white dishes. I had seen it on some blogs and in a few magazines, but it was always in CA, where vendors are endless and they always have a ton of options available. Or at a wedding with only 50 guests - where between the MIL, Mom, Grammas, etc. you had enough place settings to not spend any money at all.

Well isn't that nice for them? My rental place in Maine did not have mismatched dishes... they didn't have any blue dishes come to think of it, and that is what I wanted. So I decided that I could go out and buy different blue and white dishes from tag sales and places like goodwill for around the same price I could rent the boring white china. That was April of 2010. By December, 2010 I had amassed the entire collection: enough for 120 place settings including dinner plate, salad plate, tea cup and saucer, and soup bowl. Not too shabby! Actually, it was a lot of fun and I would highly recommend it if you like to be on the hunt for things.



But then, the fun disappeared. And the beginning of the end started with me lugging all of those dishes to my Mom's house... down a flight of stairs from the attic, another flight to our main floor, 3 steps off the deck, across the 2 inch sheet of ice that was on my driveway in January (and February, and March) 15 miles to Columbia, across my Mom's sheet of ice and down another flight of stairs into her basement.


Then, because I am apparently a control freak, we went about matching each bowl to each plate to each dinner plate. And when all 120 were matched up nicely, we matched them up in sets of 8 so that they made sense on a table together... God, we are picky. As we successfully made one set of 8 after another, we labeled each setting so that the caterer would know exactly what dishes went together.

That process probably took us 3 days on it's own. But then we started doing some of the real ugly work: washing the dishes, sewing fabric "folders" so that they would stay clean and safe in their 7-8 month journey from my Mom's basement to the tables in Maine. I'm very fortunate that my Mom has been extremely helpful in this process. She has made a ridiculous amount of the fabric folders, washed the dishes and packaged them up in our white rubbermaids. AND - she has been planning my bridal shower. She's a 5-star Mom, I'll tell you that.





It's an ugly process, there's no doubt about that. But hopefully, the end results will have been well worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 10: Paris to CT

Day Ten (Sun. July 19, 2009)

I woke up about 5 minutes before the wakeup call in a panic that they simply “forgot”, and that it was 9 a.m. When the phone rang I calmed down and started to get dressed for our long trip home. It was almost too easy, at this point in the trip to assume that those silly French people didn't rank being "on time" or "rushing" as highly as we Americans do... thank God I was wrong. It was 7 a.m. in France, 1 a.m. at home in the US.

We took our bags to the Cobblestone streets to drag them the ½ mile back to the train station, it was hot, I was hungry and the damn wheels on my bag felt like they were sticky. Dan harassed me continuously for not moving faster, and warned that if I didn’t hurry we would be stuck in France until the end of time. I felt a drip of sweat run down my forehead as we finally arrived at the train station. We managed to get onto the right train headed in the right direction and arrived at the airport where we had to get on another train to get to the terminal.

In the line for airport security and passport control, Dan had finally grown tired of my sluggish pace and decided that he would wheel my big suitcase so that we could maintain our frenetic pace. The first step he took he groaned, “Jesus Christ what the hell is wrong with your bag, I can barely move it!” A very satisfied smile crept across my face as he turned the bag over to reveal that the cobblestone streets had completely ruined the wheels on my bag, and distorted their shape so drastically that it was virtually impossible to tell that they had ever actually been wheels.

Feeling very high and mighty about my “told-you-so” moment with the suitcase, I led us through baggage checks as we ate our last croissant breakfast with pepsi. We arrived in our terminal an hour early, and much to my delight, never had to take off our shoes to go through security.

The Plane left the gate 30 minutes late and took off another 30 minutes later. At least I think that’s when it took off, Dan and I both slept through take off and woke up when the “ding” signal to use electronics came on. A nice little half hour nap.

When food finally came around I was starving. I choose a creamy pasta dish. MISTAKE. It was overly salty, and really, consider this: where is the cream coming from? How do I know it’s fresh? Answer: I don’t, and it’s not. But I ate it anyway because I was hungry and afraid of passing out. By the time the next snack came around I had already thrown up in the disgusting plane bathroom. I didn’t eat or drink anything else for the 8 and a half hour flight to Philadelphia. It was definitely the low point of the entire trip. Lower than the nasty bathroom I had to pay to use in Brussels. But I suppose I did see 3 movies I had been waiting to view.

When we landed, I was so happy to be on the ground in Phili.

The trip dragged on as our flight back to CT was delayed an hour. Once again Dan and I were in a rush because he wanted to make it to his 7 p.m. soccer game. When I sat down in the driver’s seat of my car I was very happy to be home.

We went to bed around 11 after being awake for 22 hours. The trip was over, and I was really excited to be back where bathrooms are free and clean, where you can get a cold drink. Where people shower on a daily basis and wear deodorant, where water tastes like water, where the dollar has value and most importantly: where I would be going on another vacation in less than 7 days.

EuroTrip Day 9: Paris

Day Nine (Sat. July 18, 2009)

Day Nine started around 9 oddly enough, when I woke and got ready to head out to the Louvre. I don’t really care about art, but I feel like it’s a Travel Law; while in Paris you must see the Mona Lisa. The nice thing about Europe is that you can always just grab something to eat on the side of the street, and usually it’s not too bad for you. On this particular morning I had fresh pastry bread covered with cheese and stuffed with pieces of peppers. Dan had another pastry roll filled with chocolate chips and pistachio flavors. Half way through, he wanted to switch.

When we finally entered this ancient museum, we were really surprised to find it so humid inside… wouldn’t they have to use air to protect the works of art from being destroyed? Nah, not so much. In fact, most of the ancient and highly detailed paintings we saw weren’t even behind glass. Dan was shocked about this. We wound our way through sculptures and paintings towards the Mona Lisa to find her in a huge sea of people, behind velvet ropes and what I’m sure is very very sturdy glass. The size is somewhere around 24 x 36 and from 15 feet away, it’s difficult to really see what everyone proclaims to be so amazing about this painting. Though I must admit her eyes did seem to follow me. As I took some close-ups with my zoom lens, a man approached Dan to discuss the Red Sox (Dan’s hat gave him away as a fan). Even Dan couldn’t believe that standing in front of one of the world’s masterpieces all this man wanted to talk about was the Red Sox. Clearly, he did not want to be in the museum. From here, we wove our way through other exhibits including the History of the Louvre and the Ancient Egyptians Exhibit (Dan’s choice) he really liked seeing all the 5,000 year old artifacts. I, on the other hand, was disappointed to find that the History of the 900 year old museum was written in French.

Damn them.

As seemed to be the common theme of our trip, we were hustling to Notre Dame to try and make the free 2:30 English Tour. The entirety of the trip we were never late, but we were always in a hurry.

Lunch on this day was what I figured to be a day-old sandwich from a street café. They did take the liberty of warming it up for you though, if you asked. Notre Dame is crazy. The history of this living church is insane, and it starts in 1160. From that point on the church has been constantly undergoing renovations, so it’s difficult to say when the cathedral was really “finished”. One interesting tidbit (out of thousands that we learned): Notre Dame was really ruined during the French Revolution, I mean completely desecrated. And then it was abandoned and left for ruins.

When the book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was published in the early 1800’s, its fictitious tale generated interested in reconstructing of the church. A silly book is what finally caused the church to be restored. Crazy! I could go on and on for days about all of the interesting things we learned on the tour, but you probably wouldn’t find it as interesting as I did.

Ok, one more fun fact.

The church itself is the only one like it constructed during the period. It started the Gothic period of architecture. All other churches built during this time were small, domed and dark. 2 simple things changed this: the arch that isn’t rounded (windows with a peak at the top/middle), and a small little thing called Flying Buttresses that allowed the ceilings to be built high with thin stone walls that were structurally supported by the buttresses.

As the tour wound down, we plotted our next adventure in Paris: the Arc de Triomphe. This colossal monument was erected to commemorate the victories of France during the Napoleonic wars. It also houses the tomb of the unknown solider and is located smack in the middle of one of the craziest traffic circles I have ever seen. We decided to walk to the Arc, not really knowing how long it would take or how far away it was.

Approaching stuff like this is strange for me. I mean, you see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc and Big Ben in photos all the time, but it just doesn’t prepare you for how mammoth these structures actually are. Since we had just missed Bastille Day in France (July 14 to celebrate the French Revolution), there were French flags on every lamp post and, one really giant flag hung from the center of the Arc. It really was an impressive site.

Traffic swirled around the Arc making it an Island of sorts: and we were on the opposite shore desperate to reach it. But how?! After walking around about 75% of the outer streets circling the Arc, we decided that the only possible way was the dart through the 8 lanes of traffic. Did I think this was a good idea? No, of course not! But when 3 middle aged women make a break for it, so did we.

Once under the tall monument, we were able to find the underground passageway that led from one side of the street to the other: duh. We decided not to climb the stairs to the top since we were a bit sick of stairs at that point. So the walk back to the hotel began.

We were also on a quest to find Joey a brown belt that day. We must have gone into 10 different men’s apparel stores before we found a belt that was less than 150 euro… But with store names like “Louis Vitton” and “Cartier” on that street, it’s impossible to find a pair of socks for less than 30 euro. When we finally found a decent brown belt for 35 euro, it wasn’t available in Joey’s size. Cranky, tired and starving, I made Dan give up this quest in order to pursue something more important: dinner. We picked a place that had pizza. For 15 euro, we got a small cheese pizza to split. For another 4 euro, we could have shared an 8 oz pepsi, but 50 ml of Stella for 7 Euro sounded like a better deal. Yadda yadda yadda the service was slow and then we started walking again. I was begging Dan to let us take the metro back, but he was not interested. As we walked through a park, we stopped to indulge in a French delicacy: crepes. It was pretty tasty, but the waffles in Brussels were better. Energized by the nutella spread all over our crepe, I decided I could make it back to the hotel in one piece.

It was 9:20-ish and for once, we were early. Our last item to check off was a night time Seine River Cruise. The cruise left port at 10:30, so with an extra hour, we decided to sit down at a café and down a bottle of wine with some French cheese. This was a good experience, made me feel a little bit French… of course, I didn’t really like any of the cheese at all, but the wine was good enough. We ended up chatting with some Canadian tourists… one of them offered to take a picture of the two of us, but first took a photo of himself with my camera – and broke it. I’m being very serious right now. The two women he was with made fun of him shamelessly for the rest of the night, and ended up taking a picture of us with her camera and then mailing it to Dan months later. We never thought we would receive that picture, but we did and it sits in my cubicle to this day. Back to that night though, I was really upset about my camera being broken, we were about to see Paris lit up at night, and I had no way to take any pictures!

While waiting for the check, we were creeping closer and closer to our 10:30 departure time… Next thing you know we were speed walking/running down the streets of Paris in hopes to not miss the last possible chance at seeing Paris by night. Don’t worry, we made it. Even had time to purchase a beer before leaving.

The cruise was very romantic, Paris is beautiful all lit up at night reflecting on the Seine. True to his word from our first day of the trip in the Airport, Dan did NOT give me a ring. I managed to somehow get some life out of my camera once we were on the boat, and then tried to take photos of the important landmarks all aglow, but it’s hard to not use a flash when you’re on a boat. Nearly all of them are very blurry, and they wouldn’t really do justice to the Parisian atmosphere. All up and down the banks of the river people were dancing and having a good time. After the hour long cruise, we were both pretty wiped out so we walked back to the hotel and set our wake up call for 7 a.m.

As we got into bed, Dan took off the pedometer… we had walked 19 miles.

NINETEEN MILES!

EuroTrip Day 8: Brussels to Paris

Day Eight (Fri. July 17, 2009)

Day Eight started out a bit rough. I woke up and started to pack up my bags to move from Brussels to Paris while Dan continued to sleep. Earlier in the week I had gone to H&M (there's one on every corner) to pick up some jeans. I ended up also buying a shirt that didn't fit, so on the 8th day I was going to return it. I walked out of the hotel by myself around 9:45 a.m. At this point in time, I was also prepared to devour my last Belgian Waffle and pick up Dan his beloved McDonald's. So I'm strolling down the street and started to notice that nothing was really open. It was Friday morning around 10 and nothing was open... strange... The first waffle place I passed was all shut down. How the hell can a waffle place be closed at 10 a.m.? Waffles are for breakfast! So I continued on my journey and happened upon said American fast food chain. I politely asked the woman for a "bacon, egg and cheese... please" Puzzled, she looked at me and said "Bacon? Egg? Cheese?" So I paused trying to figure out what sign language would indicate a McMuffin. Finally I said, "fromage" (French for cheese) and she replied, "yes, cheese. You can't get just cheese."

SHE WAS SNEAKILY PRETENDING LIKE SHE DIDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH, BUT SHE DID!

Anyway as it turned out, there is no such thing as a bacon egg and cheese McMuffin in Brussels. So the struggle continued for a few more moments before I gave up and walked out.

The next stop was H&M where I found that I couldn't get a refund for my shirt, only store credit. So I asked the man if it would be possible to have the credit in Dollars instead of Euros. He had to call his manager. After 10 minutes of waiting, the manager did not come down the stairs. So I said "it's OK, Ill just go get a different size" Well naturally, this H&M didn't have the same clothing as the place I went to, so I had to find something different for the same price (so as to not confuse anyone involved). I picked out a different shirt and handed it to the cashier. He said "for an exchange I need my manager". It appeared that either way, all they really wanted to do was drain my most precious European Resource: TIME. Like 10 minutes later the manager comes down and we make the switch.

I'm angry at this point, hungry, and sick of stupid Brussels.

Determined to succeed, I headed back for the McDonald's. The sign on the outside of the door showed a Bacon, Egg and Cheese McMuffin, apparently, I should have asked for an "English breakfast" instead of a McMuffin. Stupid McDonald's: STICK TO YOUR PRODUCT LABELS! So I gave my order indicating that I wanted a croissant instead of an English Muffin for the Sandwich. Naturally, that didn't go over. Then I wanted juice, not coffee. Well - as would seem to make perfect logical sense in European McDonald's - the meal comes with juice and coffee, no hash brown. 2 drinks, one sandwich: 6.5 Euros.

When I finally left and trudged back to the hotel I passed the waffle place: still not ready to serve waffles: it was 11:05 a.m. With Dan finally packed, fed and ready to move on, we called for a cab to the train station – we would not be repeating our sketchy metro experience. This was an exceptionally good choice to make… the taxi ended up costing like 10 Euros and was obviously quicker and less dangerous than the 6 Euro metro option.

By the time our train left for Paris at 12:43, I don't think I could have been more pleased to be moving on to the next phase of the trip.

We arrived at Nord Station in Paris at 2:05, which was later than I had originally planned (Remember the fiasco at the train station trying to book tickets to Paris on Day 6). But we were able to navigate our way to the correct local train and ended up 1/2 a mile from our hotel with no map, and no indication of where we should be going. Or, that's what we thought: I had apparently written foot directions on the itinerary and forgot all about them until we checked in to our flight home 2 days later.

Our room was small but adorable and had a big open window onto the Parisian streets which we soon started to explore. First stop was the Rue Cler Street Market where the locals go to buy their breads, cheeses, flowers and wine. It was a cute thing to see, but because it was so late in the day (almost 4) nearly everyone had started to shut down. Here we scarfed down a French version of pizza which Dan detested, and I enjoyed. Off in the distance we could see our next stop: the Eiffel Tower.

Due to the long lines (and Dan's competitive notion that if Reed could do it, so could he) we paid 7 Euros to climb the 700 steps to the second level of the Tower. It was a bit of work, but at least the stairs weren't spiral and narrow! We felt physically superior as the Europeans who were about our size and stature huffed and puffed their way up, taking breaks every 50 steps or so. We passed them all! From the 2nd floor, you pay another 7 Euros to take the "lift" (elevator) to the very top. Another fiasco: you had to buy tickets from a machine not a person, and it wouldn't take our American Credit Cards. So you had to pay with Euro coins. We had just enough coins to buy our two tickets: only one came out of the machine. About 20 minutes later, we were able to have an Eiffel Tower Employee fish the other ticket out of the machine.

The wind was blowing like crazy, it had started to rain and we were way up in the air, waiting in line to go even higher. I was pretty cold! Finally we were in the glass elevator, slowing making our way to the top. It began to get a bit spooky, but when we stepped out at the very top it was all worth it. The view of the city was really amazing, and I pointed out all the places Dan and I had to visit in the next 36 hours. From the top of the city, it didn’t look like we would spend the entire next day walking.

Our descent was less troublesome and with a total of 1400 stairs behind us, we were back on the ground where I made Dan pause for Eiffel Tower Photo Ops. He was his usual non-cooperative self. In retrospect, I should have just been really bossy and said, “take a damn picture kissing me in front of the Eiffel tower, we may never come back!” But it was getting late in the day, I was getting hungry and cranky, and we had dinner reservations at 7:30. We basically sprinted back to the metro, and after chatting with our hotel concierge, the restaurant changed our reservations to 8:00. I was so relieved that the hotel staff was friendly and completely helpful. You read these things about how all of France hates America and would do anything they could to ruin an American’s vacation, but it’s just not true. Mom was right about getting more flies with honey.

After the fastest wardrobe change in the history of man, we made our way over to the restaurant my Uncle recommended: Le Coupe Chou.

I have to talk about this food for a little because this was the kind of place that you needed to make a reservation for weeks in advance, that served minimally 3 courses and where you pretty much had to buy a bottle of wine. It was delicious I thought.

For our entrée I ordered some sort of beef that was cold and looked like cat food and Dan ordered smoked salmon with lemon crème fresh. The flavor of mine was really good, but I couldn’t get past the temperature. Dan’s salmon was flavorful and cooked perfectly.
Our next 2 courses were the same: roasted duck with potatoes and mushrooms followed up by crème Brule. Duck is an interested kind of poultry because it’s a little bit greasy. Flavor was really amazing, but the potatoes and mushrooms were out of this world delicious! They were cooked in a cast iron kettle with pig fat and had absorbed all of the bacon-ish flavor. Crème Brule was also wonderful, but I had expected it to be warm.

On our 1.2 hour walk home, it poured. And just to clear this up for those hopeless romantics out there: strolling the streets of Paris in the rain on a summer night really sucks. Your heels get stuck in the cobblestones, and you can’t really run because you’ll slip, but you have to run because your boyfriend’s suit is getting ruined in the stupid rain.

We fell asleep watching French TV.

EuroTrip Day 6: Brussels

Day Six (July 15, 2009)

Day 6 was only yesterday, but already I am starting to forget what happened. Brussels is one huge blur of dirty streets; French speakers and bewildering beauty in one very concentrated area.

The day started at 10:50 (an improvement) when I rushed out of bed realizing that I told Deanna to be in the lobby at 11. So the shower was quick, but I’m getting pretty good at keeping the water in the tub. Day 6 was Waffle Day, so I didn't have to worry about eating coco pops and questionable milk. The nice thing about waffles in Belgium is that they're amazing. The better thing is that you can get them any time of day. So we strolled down to the waffle place (literally one on every corner) and got a plain Belgium waffle. You can get them dipped in chocolate with ice cream or banana coatings, caramel drizzled, almost anyway you like. But for a real control group to measure against US Belgium Waffles, I went for the plain one. OH my Lord!! It was so heavenly. Like it had been cooked in maple syrup, but not too much. And it was crispy on the outside, I was perplexed. I am going to try my best to repeat this amazing taste at home, but my doubt level is pretty high. Great start to what was an endless day.

With waffle in hand, Deanna and I made our way to the Train station that Dan and I had gotten such a horrible impression of on the night we arrived in Brussels. The group had made tentative plans to go to Brugges the next day, and I needed to buy the tickets for Dan and me to get the hell out of Brussels and into Paris.

What a nightmare?! It was so unpleasant an experience in fact, that I completely forget to write about it the first time I told the tale of day 6. We walked for probably an hour before we got to the station. The neighborhoods we passed were sketchy in our American opinions: it was about noon or so on a Wednesday in July, and a bunch of middle-aged men were standing on stoops, sitting on bench and doing… well, nothing. Deanna first picked up on this strange vibe and wondered aloud where the women could be. My suggestion was that they were hiding from all of the sketchy men, and we should do our best to avoid getting lost this time around. By the time we arrived at the Station, it had actually turned a bit chilly and windy, but you never would have guessed when you walked through the doors of the station.

Hot, impatient and surrounded by a sea of exceptionally foul smelling people, Deanna and I waited to buy my ticket to Paris. The way to buy a train ticket in Brussels is to first and foremost figure out the right room to go into. The room for buying tickets to Paris was different than the room to buy tickets to Brugges, or to London… everything was completely segregated out by location… and, of course, the explanation of that crazy policy was in French, or Dutch, or some mangled combination of the two that I would equate to Puerto Rican Spanglish. When we finally found the right room, we took a number and waited. Yes, a number… like the deli.

When our number was next, I stood very close to the counter that I thought I would be directed to. After all, having been to the DMV many times in Connecticut has taught me that when your number is next, you will go to the next available customer service person. However, in Brussels you don’t do a damn thing until your number is literally called out. I had to learn this the hard way. As I proceeded to the open desk I was told to get back in line until my number was called. I related to the service person that my number was next, so I wasn’t cutting. She didn’t care. So back to the line I went and waited for another 2 minutes to finally be called to another person. Are you kidding me!? She just didn’t want to wait on me, and that’s ridiculous. No wonder why these people hate Americans so much, we’re crazy enough to expect them to do their job – and in a timely fashion! It was madness I tell you, absolute madness.


When we finally got my tickets, we got out of that stanky station as quickly as possible and made our way over to the only brewery left in Brussels: Cantillion Brewery. I don't know too much about beer, but Deanna's husband Reed brews his own, so she was there to explain why this particular place was so different. Naturally, we got lost a bit on the way there. We thought for sure my Brussels Book had led us astray again, but as it turned out, we just passed the brewery without noticing. The place was so low-key we had walked right by the heavy wooden doors! When we finally entered, we were beyond pleased to find someone who was able to speak English, and handed us the English tour guide book. The brewery was really old, and definitely unique.

As we guided ourselves around with our books, we learned about the one really unique thing this brewery did: the beer goes under a "spontaneous fermentation" Meaning that literally, the yeast creates itself out of thin air. This particular process can only be done in this one spot in the world where the air contains the exact amounts of the right types of bacteria to create yeast in a barrel. Amazing. It's also the reason why the beer ferments in the barrels for three years before it can be used as a base for other types of beers: Krieks mostly. But they also use 1 year, 2 year and 3 year "lambics" to create a beer called "gueze". Because the beer ferments for so long, the sugars that you would taste in a regular beer that make it sweet don't exist in lambics. "But beer isn't sweet" I can hear you saying to yourself. And that's only because you don't know what a lambic beer tastes like. Another interesting thing about this brewery is that they make their beer the same way they did when the brewery opened in the late 1800's. They pour the mixture in a huge shallow copper bin to cool. When the cooling process begins, it must stay at a cold temperature, so they only brew when they know it can be kept cold: October through April. Within the brewery there must have been thousands of wooden barrels full of beer as well as tens of thousands of glass bottles (75 mL size) full of Cantillion's Beers. The tour ended with a tasting of the most sour beer I have ever tasted! The Gueze I had first was actually kind of good... more like a sparkling wine than a beer, it was so sour! The 2nd and 3rd beers we sampled were much harder to get down, definitely an acquired taste. But we enjoyed the old fashioned brewery and were glad to have found it.

The walk back was less successful.

We were trying to get to the Palais de Justice, yet another amazing work of architecture. However, we never made it. My Brussels book stopped labeling every street in one particular corner and it just so happened, that was the corner we were in. As we zig zagged our way around the city, we finally stumbled back to the mannequin pis area, and gave up on finding the palais. Since we were in the area, we decided to have fries again for lunch. Well worth it. This time I wanted ketchup, but there were like 5 different types of ketchup, so I said "American Ketchup" but that looked more like a combo of mayonnaise and ketchup. So I said "tomato ketchup" Next thing I know the dude is pouring mayo all over my fries. Then I shouted, "no no no! It’s red, tomato, tomato!" He said "Ohhhh! toe-mAe-toe.." Needless to say, I said fries with mayo again, just another funny little Brussels experience.

Back at the hotel I wrote about days 4 and 5 while I waited for Dan to be ready for dinner. I also found a real map of Brussels and drew out the route Deanna and I had used to walk back. It was pretty plain to see we walked across the entire city, outside of the city limits in fact. At 7:00, Deanna and I convinced the Engineers we could eat in the hotel so we wouldn't have to walk far. Dinner was pretty good, I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries (what else?) and one amazing glass of ice water. It is somehow impossible to get a cold beverage over here that isn't a beer, but this glass of water was really top notch. The thing was, I knew that if I asked for another glass it would probably take an hour or more to actually have it on the table. Service is not on par in Europe. That must be the reason why they include the tip automatically; no one in their right mind would leave a tip for a job well-done.

We wrapped up dinner with a round of strange beers on the roof of the hotel. I did not take pictures of this however, because my memory card was full and my battery had died.

DONT WORRY, I BROUGHT BACKUPS!

Day 6 ended with me taking a Benadryl to fall asleep around 1 am.

EuroTrip Day 7: Brugge

Day Seven (Thurs. July 16, 2009)

Today was the best day in Brussels. I think that's because we weren't in Brussels.

Angry Dan reared his ugly head this morning while we were trying to get ready to depart for Brugge (Bruges). He hadn't eaten breakfast yet and he had his little heart set on McDonalds (how exotic?). We had agreed to meet Reed (the other engineer) his wife Deanna, and Jeremy (Ashley 's) engineer boyfriend. Deanna and I were outnumbered. Anyway, we decided to meet at 11 in the Lobby to leave for Brugge. Reed had rented a car for the week and agreed to drive us all. Dan and I ran out of time to go to McDonalds and get back before 11 so Angry Dan started complaining and making various angry statements. He calmed down after we got a cinnamon raisin bun in the hotel cafe. The car ride to Brugge could not have been any more flawless. Not a single wrong turn, not one traffic jam, just pure 180 km/hour driving... and yes, we were getting passed.

We arrived in Brugge at the train station lot where the rate was 2.5 euro for a 24 hour period. The one cheap thing in Europe! Our day began as we walked around the streets of this ancient city. The cool thing about Brugge is that there are a series of canals that encircle the town, like a mini Venice. Brugge was once a capital trading port of Europe in the 1100's or so. The canals around the city connected to the English Channel and Mediterranean Sea, not to mention several local rivers that weaved through Belgium and other parts of Europe. In fact, Brugge was the main trading port for wool and textiles between England and the contiguous European nations. Around the late 1300's, the main canal connecting the city to the Channel filled up with silt. As my "Belgium and Luxembourg" book describes it: Brugges lay dormant for 500 years, practically a dead city. In the 19th century, it became a tourist destination, and today it is one of the most touristy cities in Europe. There are about 20,000 Brugge citizens, yet in the summer on any given day, 100,000 people or more will be invade the tiny little town.

When we found our way through the tiny cobblestone streets to the "Markt" or main square, we were not disappointed, more amazing baroque and Gothic style buildings that were guilds and churches dominated the skyline. It was in the Markt that we enjoyed lunch: more fries! This time, I told Dan as we were standing ready to order to ask for ketchup, not to say tomato. He said tomato. I chirped in "Toe-mAe-toe!" The guy at the booth answered back in perfect English with a slight German accent "I'm not stupid, I'm just with stupid" he said, pointing to his colleague on the frialator. He added a comment that he was only half-Belgian so only half stupid. Anyway, we ended up eating fries with BBQ sauce on them. Not stupid, just didn't know that Americans expected their ketchup to taste like ketchup, not BBQ sauce.

Yes, fries, 3 days in a row. I may be walking 8 miles a day, but I’m eating pure fat for lunch and drinking most of my dinner.

The next part of the day was under my general ownership, so I suggested that we all take a canal tour. It was a 30 minute ride through some of the prettiest settings I have seen, complete with commentary by the boat captain in French, English, Dutch and whatever the hell they speak in the Netherlands (Flemish, I think?). It was really quite beautiful and allowed us to see many different features of the city that we wouldn't have sought out on foot: like the English Convent or a hospital that has been operating for 800 years straight.

Dan (at this point returned to regular Dan levels of hostility) took over the next portion of the day by choosing to climb the bell tower and get a view of the city. For 4 Euros and a bucket of sweat, you could climb to the top of the bell tower: 366 steps. Some of the steepest and craziest stairs I've ever climbed, but absolutely worth every second. The view of the entire city was amazing! Being up with the gigantic bells I began to wonder how loud it would be to hear them go off while we were in the tower. Well I found out about 30 seconds later: EXTREMELY LOUD! Dan and I were the only people in our group who chose to climb the tower because we were the only people who qualified for the youth rate of 4 euros (another thing to love about Europe, technically you are a youth until you are 26!) Descending took longer as about 50 Asians were trying to climb up while we were going down. If they were any other race, it would not have worked out, too many feet on stairs that weren't wide enough at their widest point (Sorry Erv, but it's true).

Part 3 of the Brugge tale belonged to Reed as he wanted to visit the brewery in town. You would think I would want to pass on this, since two breweries two days in a row seems like a lot. However, this is not true. And the De Halve Mann (or Half-moon) Brewery was very, very different from Cantillion. Way more commercialized and created for the tourist. The beer is not actually brewed in the area that they took us through. However there was another Flemish, English, French speaking tour guide to show us through and she was pretty funny. The beer is made very differently as the place is modernized and produces hundreds of thousands of liters per month. Half moon Beers ferment in about 3 weeks as compared with Cantillion’s 3 years, but are not true "lambics" because the yeast is added in from a packet, it does not create itself. Naturally, the tour ended with a tasting. This time we were given one beer in a full glass. Cool thing about Belgian beers is that each has its own glass specifically designed to give the right aroma and pour for that specific beer. And in every pub, restaurant or cafe you will get your beer poured in the correct glass. The tour guide also commented that we should never complain about the head on a beer in Belgium, it's poured that way on purpose so that the person who drinks it has to wait until the beer settles perfectly in the glass.

Wine is pretty much ignored here.

After the waitress came over to ask us if we were staying for dinner, we knew we had been sitting a long time, so we started to leave. Jeremy joked that they weren't trying to get rid of us, they were just finally coming over to take our order. We walked back to the parking garage and found the car located in the apple section, K5. Each section is a fruit rather than a letter, and each floor has a different symbol. One was fruit, one was veggies and one was animals. If you think about it for a minute, it makes perfect sense in an area where people speak many different languages where the characters might not all be the same.

Trip back was flawless. Love the European roads, but I don't think I'm bold enough to drive on them... street lights on the side of the road, not in the middle, weird street signs that were impossible to figure out. Transformers allowed here, and not there? Or is that the symbol for highways? Anyway, Reed got us all back in one piece so we could enjoy the piece de resistance: dinner at Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut in Europe is way more sophisticated than in the US for some reason, and Dan had wanted to go all week. Today, I was finally hungry enough to give in and agree. We had pizza with cheesy crust. The crust was disgusting and the rest of the pizza was pretty much as I expected it to be: like pizza hut pizza. But of course, there was beer involved, so I was able to tolerate the pizza. I also got a salad, but there is only one kind of dressing in Brussels, and I am fairly certain it’s just watered down mayonnaise.

We capped the evening with Reed and Deanna in the hotel bar drinking Stella and discussing home improvements (Reed and Deanna signed the sale agreement for their first house on the hood of their car in Connecticut as they hustled to the airport bound for Europe).

At 11 pm, Dan's Dad called from California. He is 9 hours behind, that’s pretty damn close to being literally half way around the world.

And now, everyone is caught up, Days 8 and 9 might not show up for a while as we will be leaving for Paris in the morning. The itinerary is packed, but I'm pretty much just glad to be leaving Brussels, hopefully the smells will stay here. Unfortunately, I found out that Paris has the lowest consumption of soap per capita in the entire world, so I kind of doubt it.

EuroTrip Day 5: Brussels

Day Five (July 14, 2009)

It was again 11 before I got out of bed. However at least this time around I had Dan to blame. He hung up on our wake up call. Luckily, he didn't have to work until his presentation which was at 2. A bit smarter this time around, I decided to skip the treadmill and was able to keep the shower inside the actual shower, success! Although, I have to say my experience with the drains in Europe has not been top notch... most showers I stand in a tub half full of dirty water, praying it will all drain eventually.

The goal of the day for Deanna and I was to visit the musee de chocolat. Oh yes, that's French for Chocolate Museum. Walking all over the city is starting to become second nature - well, walking the 1 street between the hotel and Grand Place is anyway. The museum however, was not where my Brussels Book said it was. Finally I asked someone who looked like they spoke English. The actual museum (diagonally located across the Grand Place from where the book said it would be) was closed for lunch. Frustrated and a bit hungry myself, I was given a recommendation for the Mannequin Frites, or, best place in town to buy fries. So we all know that fries and ketchup go together well. But in order to be like a local, I tried the fries dipped in spicy mayonnaise. Yes, I was dipping my fatty fry in more fat. But - as fat usually is - it was DELICIOUS. So our super nutritious lunch ended (fries and a Coke counts as lunch, no?) we were ready for dessert and headed back to the chocolate museum. Learned quite a bit about how chocolate is made, the difference between light, dark and white. Also, we found out why Belgian chocolate is so good: it’s the only place left on earth that continues to use 100% cocoa butter. Most other producers use up to 5% filler oils, like palm oil. After our knowledge and fair share of samples, we rolled ourselves to the highlight of the city: the Mannequin Pis.

Everywhere you go in Brussels there are small figurines of the mannequin pis. You can have it as a chocolate mold, or a wine corkscrew, whatever you want! So I have to admit that I was completely underwhelmed when I saw it - so much smaller than I imagined it to be! Nonetheless, it is an interesting little statue. Supposedly, it was built for 1 of 2 reasons: to commemorate a child of some King's who wandered off in the Grand Place and was lost forever. Or, as an honorary statue to the child who was responsible for putting out a fire by peeing on it. Either way, the statue has been a Brussels fixture since the 1600's.

On the way back to the Hotel, Deanna and I stopped at a variety of little shops on the street. I was desperate to go to the bathroom, and couldn't for the life of me find a public toilet. Eventually I was told that I had to go to "Quick". So to the burger palace I headed, and paid my .40 euro to use the most disgusting bathroom I have ever been in. It honestly smelled as if someone had the most explosive diarrhea ever, made it into a candle and lit 500 of them in that small bathroom space. Worst part of the trip so far was definitely using that bathroom that I paid about $1 for. $1 is one junior bacon cheeseburger from Wendy's... far more worthy.

By dinner time, the engineers were itching to get out into the city where after 5 hours of touring, Deanna and I just wanted to sit down. But, back to the Grand place we went for dinner. We walked through a bunch of little cafes and such out on the street, but never sat down; it was hard to find a place that could seat 7 people together. Finally, I made an executive decision and we ended up eating inside a restaurant on the Grand Place. It was hot as hell and I am pretty certain the waiters forgot that we were there. Dinner turned out to be ok. I had a chicken breast swimming in a mixture of butter and cream with small potatoes. Dan had half a chicken. Literally, a chicken cut in half! Naturally, dinner took about 3 hours.

But 3 hours for a meal really isn't enough, so we headed to a creperie for dessert. That added another hour onto our dinner process. I didn't have a crepe because I wanted gelato instead. But I did get a $4 bottle of mineral water. This mineral water tasted like Poland springs. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and look forward to getting home and having a huge bottle of water that tastes like water! One of Dan's coworkers got a crepe that was covered in caramel. But the thing was, it was basically just really hot sugar, so in the beginning it was too hot for him to eat, but when it cooled, it hardened, so it stuck to his teeth. It was quite amusing for all of us to watch him struggle with that!

The night ended with my chocolate gelato (finally) and our walk back to the hotel in broad daylight. It was 10 pm.

EuroTrip Day 4: Brussels

Day Four (Mon. July 13, 2009)

It’s really quite impossible to get accustomed to things in Europe. People walk very slow, speak many different languages and use funny types of money... mostly coins. Time has really been the biggest obstacle of all. Monday (day 3) I woke up at 11:15 and decided to go up to the top floor to use the gym. It is difficult to find your correct pace in kilometers per hour on a treadmill. I settled on 10 km/hr and ran 3 km before I thought I might die. Too fast, too hot, too much running and not enough getting anywhere.

After my death jog, I walked outside around the hotel to cool off. Air conditioning is about as rare as deodorant around here. I made mental notes of cheap places to eat. After another awesome hurricane shower (where because the curtain isn't big enough I cover the entire bathroom with water) I met up with Deanna for lunch and touring the city. I was able to devour a tomato ham and mozz pannini (not like our version at all) with a bottle of mineral water for just under 5 euros (mineral water is the only kind you can get, and it sucks). Finally we made our way towards the parts of town that actually use street signs. Our destination was Mary, an infamous chocolate shop. We spent a majority of the walk wondering why most of the city was all fairly modern or new construction. Had all of the older stuff been destroyed by wars?

Just when we thought we were lost, "Mary" appeared like a beacon from heaven. As I walked into the shop, I was amazed at just how luxurious and famous this place was. The smell was so amazing, the chairs inside were draped in velvet and trimmed in gold. Some photos on the wall showed the famous clientele, notably, President George Dubya Bush and wife Laura. Apparently, Mary is also listed in the book "1,000 places to see before you die"… one down, 999 to go! I had no clue it was so famous! After I spent 10 euro on what seemed like a very small amount of chocolate, I had my first taste.

WOW.

It was smooth and rich (but no too rich) and it was filled with what I swear was crème Brule. When Deanna and I stepped back onto the street we wondered how the woman in the shop was able to stay so thin with so many heavenly tastes surrounding her all day every day.

On our way back to the hotel, we walked through Le Botanique which is a pretty little garden complete with bronze and copper statues littered with beer cans and cigarette butts. In Europe, everyone smokes; it's probably the reason why they are all so skinny. Back at the hotel, I used the crazy Belgian keyboard to write about days 2 and 3, then it was reception time! Here we met up with Dan's coworkers and their significant others. We had a lot of fun, so much in fact, that as the reception ended, we spilled out onto the streets to enjoy some more Belgian Beer. Walking back down to the Grand Place at night was a bit different, less people but more street vendors. Odd. Anyway, we found another outdoor cafe (and they're allllll outdoor cafes) at the Grand Place and took in the beautiful and unexpected light show on Hotel de Ville. I could not have been more bummed about not bringing my camera. I NEVER go out without a camera, what was I thinking? Travel note: never go anywhere without a camera – you can see amazing things that you will want pictures of! Although the light show was amazing, it was matched up with an exceptionally gross experience when I had to use the bathroom. It smelled awful - like urine, and I found out why when I passed the urinal. It was literally full. Based on my evaluation of the city so far (as I write this on day 6) Brussels is that way: beautiful and disgusting all at the same time.

EuroTrip Day 3: Brussels

Day Three (Sun. July 12, 2009)

Noon comes around quick in Brussels. In fact it was 12:15 when we finally rolled out of bed.

Dan’s co-worker Reed and his wife Deanna came down to our room for a few hours and we chatted about our experiences in Europe so far. Around 2:30 or so, Dan and I ventured out into the streets to find a place to eat Breakfast. Sadly, it was Sunday. Apparently, nothing is open on Sunday in Brussels, damn Sabbath.

“Quick” is like the very ghetto (yet somehow way more expensive) version of McDonalds. Quick… or slow as molasses was where we ate breakfast. Burgers and fries, coke with odd tasting ketchup. Luckily, the nutrition information was given in kilojules, so there was no way for me to know just how fatty my “Supreme Pepper burger” was. The girl who took our order spoke French and English. Not too shabby for someone working at a fast food joint, though we’ve come to find that most people can manage a bit of English around here. 3 hours later we were served our breakfast/lunch. Everything is slower in Europe!

Back at the hotel we caught up with Reed and Deanna again and decided to venture into the downtown area to see the Grand Place. Understatement of the Century! The gothic architecture that surrounds this open cobblestone square is absolutely breathtaking. We sat down at an outdoor restaurant in the square and had Belgian Beers, people watching the entire time. In Europe during summertime, no-one ever eats inside.

When our glasses were finally empty, the journey back to the hotel led us into some cool little shops as well as a grocery store. We bought some coco pops, what we think is whole milk and some beers/wine. Dinner was had at the Cheese Cake Café where there was no cheesecake at all, and where the waiter didn’t speak a word of English. I owe Dan $5 over the fact that I asked for a vanilla milkshake. The waiter repeated “banilla?” to which I said yes, vanilla. Dan claimed that he said banana, and I had better correct him. When the milkshake arrived, we couldn’t actually figure out whether it was vanilla or banana. Dan ordered the Mort de Subite or “Sudden Death” beer, which was a lot like Cherry soda. Couldn’t figure out what was so sudden or deathly about it. The check cleared up the milkshake dilemma, indicating that it was in fact banana. We all wondered for a bit how people in Europe were able to survive. This was the least expensive place we could find, where our bill was 54 euros for 4 people. Food was akin to Applebees or maybe even worse.

As we sauntered back to the hotel, we noticed how strange it was that at 9:45 it was still light out. The good news was that we could walk around the city and not encounter the same level of questionable behavior we witnessed on the metro the night before. Back at the room the day ended as we were once again unable to fall asleep before midnight. Maybe we will have adapted by the time we get back home.

EuroTrip Day 2: London to Brussels

Day Two (Sat. July 11, 2009)

Day Two is longer than day one, read if you dare.

I was awoken by what sounded like someone cutting metal and smashing glass, but I managed to get back to sleep only to have a knock at the door 5 minutes later. It was 8:42 and our wake-up call came by way of a bellboy at our door announcing that he was our wakeup call. Unusual… our 8:30 wakeup CALL happened at 8:42 at our door. We got dressed and showered and headed down to the Lobby where I suddenly realized I might die if I didn’t eat or drink anything in the next 5 seconds.

In the past 36 hours I had eaten a sandwich, a 4x4 inch square of pizza, 2 beers, an espresso and 1 bottle of water. Oh yah, we walked like 8 miles too. The hotel restaurant closed literally the minute we walked in, so we continued on to the very next place we saw: Starbucks. Not very exotic, but my life was depending on it. After some fruit, a croissant and 2 bottles of water, I was back in business. Dan naturally made fun of me for expecting that he would be the tired one, when in fact I was the weak link. When traveling – especially on day one, when the adrenaline and excitement is pushing you forward, making you believe you aren’t hungry… you are. Eat something.

The Itinerary must go on, however, so we walked down to Big Ben where we hoped to take the City cruise up to the Tower Bridge, but alas, we didn’t have 45 minutes to spare waiting in the insanely long line. Back underground we went to the Tube and up and over to the Monument. It’s actually incredibly impressive. A very tall singular piece of stone carved into a monument to commemorate the massive fire of London. There were 311 steps to the top, where we were able to see the entire city, which is less impressive than you would think, but worth the sweat to get there. After all, we did get a certificate to prove we could handle it.

After that adventure, we got back onto the Tube to make our way to Waterloo. At this point in the trip, I became pretty impressed with myself as I no longer needed to look at the Tube map to see which line we should be taking and in what direction. Everyone says that the metro systems in Europe are way easier to navigate than Boston and NYC, and for London that’s definitely true. At the Waterloo station we picked up the National Rail to get us all the way out to Hampton Court Palace: Henry VIII’s favorite castle.

Since I planned almost no time for eating in our itinerary, we were starving by the time the train arrived at the palace, so we headed right for the Tiltyard Café, where I indulged in a chicken pie and some veggies. This was definitely our best meal in London, no questions asked and the pot pie reminded me of home. Dan had the same with a side of soup and bread. While we sat in the courtyard where Princes and Queens had once walked we laughed at my (bad) joke: “Mind the Gaps!” For some reason I found it hilarious that the operators of the Tube were obsessed with saying “mind the gaps between the platform and the train.” It’s even funnier when I say it in my awesome English accent. Then I called my Dad because bad jokes remind me of him. Sorry Dad.

At that point Dan had started to eat his slice of bread and noticed that he could “taste the British in it.” I found that to be incredibly amusing. He just kept going on and on about how he could taste the British and Italian in his bread. Then he mentioned Mark Beisley (our only English acquaintance) and wondered if this is what Mark would taste like if Dan decided to bite him. When lunch was finally over, we made our way to the old Tudor kitchens. It was interesting to see how food was prepared back before electricity. Lots of fireplaces covered every inch of the kitchen. They were pretty damn big too - like 20 people could fit into one of the fireplaces no problem. And there were about 5 of them in each part of the kitchen. I imagined it was probably pretty hot in there during banquet time, unsanitary too. From the kitchen we actually bumped into King Henry himself in the wine cellar, he was downing a few glasses before his 4:00 wedding that afternoon, arm wrestling anyone who dare challenged him.

We also saw the Queen’s apartments, where Queen Ann (from the 1700s) actually slept. The same bed, sheets, everything. The mere sight was pretty unreal, not to mention covered in a massive sheet of dust. If you were real daring you could have sat down in her bed! Of course, the entire thing probably would have crumbled beneath you, and then you would be stuck in British jail for a while. We also saw the King’s apartments and some amazingly impressive paintings and tapestries - couldn’t quite figure out how they were possibly woven back in the 1600’s. Even Dan admitted how impressive it was for them to figure out the whole thing.

We then spent some time navigating the rather impressive hedge maze and making our way to the middle. Yes, I traversed right to the middle! By the time we left the palace we had taken in quite a bit of history. Our train back to Waterloo was an interesting ride as we chatted with some British folks about different things to see and do in London. Dan laughed hysterically at me when they asked where we were from and I said “CT, near New York”. Obviously they knew we were from America because they heard us talk. So I figured when they asked where, they were looking for the name of a state. Oh well, the man relayed to his wife that CT was on the “East Coast”.

Back in the City of London we got over to the Tower Bridge. We had bought the London Pass before we left the states and it was definitely worth the money for us – free entrance into all the attractions mentioned, plus free tube rides.

Inside the bridge towers, we climbed to the top (a much easier ascent than the climb to the top of the Monument) where we learned a lot about why the bridge was built and some interesting facts: for example, in WWII a bomb that was destined for the bridge actually bounced off of it, and never exploded. We went down into the steam engine room to see how they lifted the partitions so that large boats could come through before electric power. Dan said that it was very similar to how nuclear power works, except much, much smaller. At that point it was getting late so we had to make our way back to the Hotel to pick up our luggage and hop aboard the Eurostar bound for Brussels.

We arrived at St. Pancras station about 45 minutes before our train left, but we breezed through the passport check. I was amazed that there were no snags, no delays and nothing to report except for the fact that Dan was very impressed himself for spending the remainder of his British Pounds before we arrived in Brussels, thus rendering them useless. The train was very fast, 2 hours to Brussels and traveled at about 300 km/hour. We were in the Chunnel and out before we really noticed. Sadly, we had no idea we were under the English Channel… would have been fun to know.

We arrived in Brussels at the station and dragged our bags down several levels to the Metro station. Here is where we began to run into some issues. First, we had to buy travel cards for the metro, and the machines wouldn’t take credit cards or paper money. Naturally, we didn’t have any euro coins yet. A helpful station manager convinced a local vendor to give us the proper change for the Belgian waffle we had to purchase. Yes, Belgian Waffles are everywhere! The guy at the shop was obviously a jerk, he didn’t want to give us change, so we had to buy something. And when we bought something and finally got the change, he didn’t want to give us the waffle we had purchased! I became pretty nervous when the Station manager started following us around and mentioning that we should not let our bags out of our site for a minute.

The nervousness continued as we sat to wait for the metro in what I think is the dirtiest subway station I have ever seen. Some thugs with piercings all over walked by us and spat all over the tracks. People spitting really grosses me out, I mean come on… it’s just disgusting. Aside from the hooligans, the place was completely empty. The metro ride itself was only 10 minutes to the Hotel, but pretty weird. Dan declared almost immediately that it would not be a good idea for me to ride the subway by myself during the day. Also, the seats were not very big, I sat in one section with my luggage and Dan had to sit in another. After the first stop some huge fat French girl came and sat down right next to me. The entire car was empty, and she sat right next to me effectively boxing me in… Europeans have a very different concept of space.

We were extremely glad to arrive at the Hotel in one piece and found our way to the Room. Happily, the rooms at the Brussels Sheraton are the same size as American Hotels (London’s hotel room could fit in the Brussels’ room 3 times over). I was really interested to see so many different languages represented on the TV. In fact, the weather girl was giving the forecast for all of Europe and Africa, America, Australia… the entire globe. That kind of thing makes me laugh because I know if I saw the forecast for NY at home I would be pissed off, never mind the entire world. I finally fell asleep at 3 am Brussels time, 9 pm in the States, completely frustrated at the notion of being stuck in the hotel all week if Brussels really was as sketchy as it seemed.

EuroTrip Day 1: CT to London

Day One (Thurs. July 9 - Fri. July 10, 2009)

If waiting for an upcoming trip feels like death, then sitting in an airport must be compared to being in the hospital, hanging on by a thread. Our trip started officially when I left the house Thursday at 4:30 to go to the bank and then the airport. Naturally the bank I stopped at didn’t stock British pounds. Without much time left to find one that did, I figured we could just do it later.

I sat in the car at Westinghouse waiting for Dan to come out for about 10 minutes. I was shocked that he wasn’t ready… Apparently though, it didn’t really matter. We got to Bradley, had the car parked at Roncari and were sitting in the airport by 6:15 p.m., our flight was scheduled at leave at 8:20. As we sat at the little overpriced airport bar contemplating this wonderful trip that I had planned out to the very minute, Dan did his best to slay any potential expectations.

“You’re not getting a ring on this trip” he said, completely out of the blue. We had been discussing the foreign subway systems. Isn’t he charming? I laughed and rolled my eyes. We’ve been dating for nearly eight years and we’re headed to one of the most notoriously romantic cities in the world, why would I expect a diamond? Perhaps my waiting for his marriage proposal was just preparation for all of the delays I would have to endure in airports during this trip. We left Bradley a half hour later than expected. Fortunately, Philadelphia is known for never being on-time, so we weren’t terribly worried that we would miss the next leg of our journey.

In Philadelphia, our flight to London was delayed by two hours. I complained and whined for about 15 minutes while Dan told me how ridiculous I was for expecting everything to go smoothly. The complaining ended about a half hour after I took some Benadryl. I don’t think I’ve ever actually taken Benadryl for its true purpose; I’m usually just after the drowsiness. I slept in an uncomfortable airport chair for those two hours, freezing. Damn air conditioning. The plane was also cold, but I managed to sleep through the entire 5-6 hour flight. We landed in London about an hour later than scheduled, but were just glad to see that our bags had made the trip with us, and that we were safe on the ground (the flight had been delayed due to mechanical problems with the plane).

There were no issues finding the underground in London as we hoofed around with our luggage. Jumping on the Piccadilly line towards “Cockfosters” did give me a good laugh, but the scene that followed was slightly less amusing. Our metro car was absolutely packed with luggage and people, yet at every stop more and more people piled in. Eventually our little sardine can stopped in the middle of an open field with the unusually rare appearance of a blazing London sun baking us slowly. Dan and I were lucky enough to be standing by the window between cars. There was no breeze, but there was a small amount of fresh air. I probably would have had a panic attack if we were somewhere in the middle of the car. In fact, a few people made their way towards us (and our window) to breathe worried that they might faint. You could hear the collective sigh of relief when, after about 20 minutes, our train moved forward.

Getting off at Covent Garden was interesting. It’s an open-air mall with cobblestone streets. Everything in Europe has cobblestone streets, and it’s not easy to tote around 70 pounds of luggage on cobblestone streets. It was made more difficult by the fact that I led us a mile in the wrong direction, downhill. When I discovered that we had been going the wrong way, Navigator privileges were stripped immediately, and the Danlord become Daniel the Conqueror/Navigator.

When we finally arrived at the hotel and checked in, we secured the necessities: local currency, a decent map, a good teeth brushing and headed back out. We walked to the Tube and took it over to the Tower of London, site number one. Because of the flight delay, we had skipped seeing Big Ben and taking the City Cruise up the Thames. A note about the London Underground: it’s crowded and hot, but exceptionally easy to use and pretty damn clean. The white pants I foolishly wore that day didn’t get dirty anywhere except on the cuff.

The Tower of London was amazing and I could tell that Dan was pretty impressed. We stopped to have a quick sandwich (and a coffee for me, well, espresso). This was the first thing I had eaten since my salad at the airport 18 hours ago. As we walked around the Tower we checked out the Ravens, saw a few beefeaters and read a lot about the Prisoners who were kept and subsequently beheaded there, as well as King Henry VII. Interesting character, Henry; this year marks his would-be 500th Birthday. While we were in the White Tower checking out his many suits of armor, a worker at the Tower started rushing everyone out as it was closing time. We didn’t get to do a Yeoman (Beefeater) tour, which I was really disappointed by, but we did see the Crown Bling. It’s absolutely shocking how many diamonds can fit onto one little tiara. As we were escorted out we began hustling our way over to the Tower Bridge and tried our best to get in before it closed at 5:30, but were unsuccessful. Instead we walked around a bit to see Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, neither of which we could gain entry to. London Tourist sites just aren’t available past 5:00 p.m., a fact I wish I had known when scheduling my priorities.

As the night was winding down, we went back to the hotel to clean up and get ready to see Chicago. Yes, Chicago in London’s famous West End. The show was amazing, definitely my favorite part of day one and well worth the 70 pound ticket. I mentioned that Dan and I should probably go see musicals more often. As you can imagine, he loved that idea. We shared a small rectangular pizza on our way there, and each drank two Stella Artollis during the show. A whopping 4.5 pounds each… But then again, so was the water. After the show we stopped at an Italian place where Dan ordered a pizza and another beer. I had a nice 4 pound bottle of “still” mineral water. Tasted like tap water, kind of salty. As you can surely imagine, we didn’t have much of a problem getting to sleep once we reached the hotel.

Going, Gone...

You always think you've traveled the world.... until you see just how small it looks on a map:


    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    DIY Bikini Bag (keep the rest of your luggage dry)

    When I go on a vacation that mandates I bring along a bathing suit, it's pretty much assumed that said bathing suit will be wet by the time I have to pack up and go home. And then I do the frantic plastic bag search... sound familiar?

    But then, some genius invited the bikini bag. I don't know who it was, but it was a grand idea: bring your bathing suit home wet, keep the rest of your stuff dry. The science behind it is basic stuff, so I assumed I could make one myself.

    In Mandy-Fashion, I went out, bought the supplies for 4 bikini bags (for the maids) and then let them sit in my craft room for the appropriate amount of "aging". Everyone knows that you have to "age" stuff before you can use it - at least, everyone in my family knows that.

    In more Mandy-Fashion, I whipped out the supplies last weekend and decided to "just go at it" without a plan in mind. Turns out: it worked! Huzzah! Want to make a bikini bag for yourself? Well, if you've got the supplies and about 20-30 minutes, you can... read below:

    Supplies:
    Supplies
    scrap fabric for the bag (I used duck cotton) about 8 x 16 inches
    plastic material (I used a lacy tablecloth cover) 8 x 16
    6 inch zipper
    paper backed fusible webbing enough for the bikini pieces (about 4 sq inches)
    fun colored scraps for bikini pieces (4 sq inches worth)
    Embroidery floss (about 3-4 inches worth)
    Bikini clip art (can be found on google images)


    Steps*
    Step 1
    *Anyone should know that if I am the one making the steps, there is probably a better way to do it, so feel free to improvise... this is just a guideline*
    1. First things first: iron a 1/2" seam on your cotton - you'll def. want to do any ironing before you sew on the plastic material!
    2. Cut out the bikini and use the fusible webbing as directed to create the bikini pieces in your lovely scrap fabric.
    3. Iron the bikini piece to cotton exactly where you want it to be, keeping in mind that if you want your bag to stand up, like mine, you will loose
    Step 2




    some of the length.
    4. Now is a good time to add on the embroidery floss or "strings" of the bikini. I hand-sewed the ties into place, and left the other pieces to be glued down later.
    5. Sew the plastic piece under the 1/2" seam, but not attached to it. Be sure that you are sewing the wrong sides together.
    6. Sew the zipper onto the 1/2" seam you created in step 1. I can't give more directions than this on zippers: I'm a total novice. I don't even have a zipper foot (read: I have a lot of broken needles)
    Step 3
    7. Sew the sides of the bag together, using a 1/2" seam allowance.
    8. If you want your bag to stand up like mine, sew across the corners.
    9. Flip inside out and viola! Instant Bikini bag! You can choose to glue down your "strings" at this point if you'd like, but fabric glue does take a while to dry, so don't touch it for a day or so.




    Step 4
    Step 5


    Step 6
    Step 7


    Step 8









    Standing, with my red polka dot bikini sticking out

    Isn't this cute? I do hope that my bridesmaids like this addition to their goody bag that I am giving them!















    Photobucket


    Tip Junkie handmade projects