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Posts from the ‘Life Abroad’ Category

Locks of Love

Paris. Ah, the city of romance.

Sure, like most major cities, it suffers from dirty sidewalks, petty crime, graffiti, and homelessness… but that can’t overpower the air of passion, creativity, intimacy and pride emanating from its buildings and people alike. Perhaps the “Paris is for lovers” seed has been so deeply rooted in our minds that we see walk through the city wearing a pair of rose colored glasses, or perhaps the city really does have that special je ne sais quoi… or maybe I’ve just watched “Amélie” one too many times. Who knows!

I definitely know a few folks who don’t particularly care for Paris, but, as for me, its idiosyncrasies and roughness around the edges only add to its shabby chic charm. And what more charming spot to visit than the Pont des Arts, an arched metal pedestrian bridge that crosses the Seine.

In recent years it’s become something of a symbol of romance for traveling couples… a mecca for lovers, if you will. Legend has it that those who “lock up” their love and toss the key into the river will enjoy a lifelong commitment to one another. By now the metal bridge is buried underneath a thick layer of “love locks”, each sealed with its own unique tale of romance.

The locks are literally all over. Lamp posts, railings, grates… you name it. Just for the record, we didn’t have a go at locking up our love. We did, however, have a fun time perusing the variety of names, quotes, shapes and dates included on each lock.

The bridge doesn’t just symbolize love in the romantic sense. If you’re familiar with the film “Amélie” (one of my personal all-time faves), you might recall that it was here, upon the Pont des Arts, that the mysteriously fabulous protagonist experiences a deep sense of harmony and an overwhelming urge to help mankind. It’s here that she makes the decision to commit small acts of kindness to help those around her.

It’s with this understanding of romance that I felt myself drawn to the bridge… what better spot to leave behind a little random act of flowers.

I didn’t hear back from the flowers, but I hope that, in their own little way, they helped to add to the enigma of Paris. Perhaps they convinced a tourist or two that Paris really is the city of romance :)

A Sunday Morning in Paris: Montorgueil Market

Good evening, mes amis, et bienvenue à Paris!

I hope you’ll enjoy taking a little trip to the market with me, as we stroll along Rue Montorgueil in search for some tasty treats and pretty flowers. Since many of the more local shops and boutiques are closed on Sundays, a trip to the market makes for a perfect mid-morning activity. Just across the river, tucked behind Les Halles and set back only a few blocks from the Seine, Rue Montorgueil is a popular foodie paradise. It’s storefronts boast all sorts of baked goods, fresh produce, and ready-to-go snacks. Unfortunately the surrounding area of Les Halles is under some pretty intense construction at the moment, but that didn’t stop the market-goers from enjoying the energetic ambiance.

The Parisians were certainly serious about buying their Sunday bread… the long line generated in front of one bakery in particular was pretty impressive. Just across the way, a jazz quartet played a repertoire of swing-like big-band numbers. With their big smiles and snappy solos, you couldn’t help but stop for a few moments to tap your feet and smile.

We picked up a variety of spring flowers, which, admittedly, were much more expensive than the ones you’d find at the local markets here around Maastricht. Nevertheless, there’s no way that I could pass up the opportunity to spread some surprise flowers around Paris.

While the produce is reason enough to visit the market, people watching is half of the fun. From independent little tykes with wooden doggies in tow to flashy fashionistas with real toy dogs tucked into their purses, it’s so entertaining watching what the locals take home from the market.

For us, though, it was just the flowers. I quickly rearranged our selection into several purple posies before carefully choosing a few waiting spots for my flowers friends.

A day after returning to Belgium, I received good news that the Lonely Bouquet was taken home by a flower-loving 4-year-old named Gaspard. Yippee!

Tomorrow we head off to a new spot with our two remaining flower friends! Where could it be? :)

Perfectly Paris

Good evening, vicarious travelers!

We had such a lovely weekend in Paris and lucked out big time in the weather department… I can’t wait to share some of my favorite snapshots and memories with you guys. After anxiously checking the weather updates during the days leading up to our departure, we were pleasantly surprised when we stepped out of the train and were greeted by an ocean of blue skies and sunshine. Not only were the conditions favorable, the temperature was incredibly mild as well. Yippee!

Taking only a few moments to leave our bag behind at the hotel room, we skipped off into the soft late-afternoon light and wandered the streets of our “quartier”. A bustling neighborhood nestled between the chic shops of St. Germain de Pres area and the art and antique district of the Left Bank, the boutiques and cafes seemed to be frequented by just as many locals as tourists. I couldn’t get enough of the colorful storefronts and incredibly tempting window displays.

The flower shops lured me closer… although their price tags were a bit of a shock. even to this seasoned flower connoisseur.

We criss-crossed our way through the maze of streets and alleyways, strolling along the Seine and across Pont Neuf before meandering through the Tuileries Garden. If there’s one thing to love about Paris, it’s got to be the atmosphere of enjoyment that fills the public parks. Hundreds of chairs surround massive fountains, stages, and pristine flower borders. The only part I questions is whether the bodies occupying the chairs are predominately tourists, or whether the locals take time to appreciate the beauty of their city as well.

We enjoyed the watching the sun sink lower in the sky as its last rays reflected off of the ornate windows and cast a golden glow over the sandstone buildings. The cacophony of birds squawking and circling overhead only added to the magical moment.

As daylight turned to dusk, we enjoyed the view of the city’s skyline outlined against a vibrant sky.

With just enough natural light left to lead us back to our bustling neighborhood, we decided to look for a good place to eat.

I know that everyone has a favorite city (or two), and Paris is definitely one of mine. I can’t put my finger on what makes it so special… the streets lined with ornate architecture? The acute attention to aesthetics and detail? The crazy drivers? Who knows. Maybe it’s best to keep some things a mystery and just enjoy the magic of the moment.

Soft and Sweet

Good evening, everyone!

It’s been a bit wet and dreary today, which provides the perfect excuse for staying inside and cuddling up with some crafting. With the garden entering dormancy and having already tidied up most of the borders, I’ve been having lots of fun sourcing some soft and sweet treats to add around the little one’s nursery. At the risk of boring you guys with aesthetic details, I thought I’d go ahead and show you a selection of carefully curated items that have inspired our pale pastel color pallet.

First and foremost, I was inspired by the original soft sky blue paint that graces the old room’s ceiling. The arches between the beams are tattered and faded, but, to me, that gives the room a unique and charming character. Whether we were having a girl or a boy, I knew that the pale blue would serve as the starting point in our quest to dress the room in coziness.

Oddly enough, I purchased a skein of light and lovely yarn from Suzy (Wool Wench) long before I even knew that I was pregnant… let alone that we were having a girl. I’d been a longtime admirer of her woven locks of wool, but I’d never really had any good reason to take the plunge. A facebook feature with this particular yarn really spoke to me, and I couldn’t resist splurging on something for which I had absolutely no good use. Destiny? Maybe.

Liberty floral fabric was another “must have” on my nursery check list… even if we were having a boy. Don’t worry, I was sure to pick out a few manly options just in case. I was torn in two very different directions, busy browsing options for both boys and girls. Regardless of all attempts to remain neutral, this soft periwinkle-lilac-lavender number (aptly named “Emily”, of course) totally stole my heart. Upon hearing the news “It’s a girl!”, I couldn’t wait to get back to the computer and click “purchase”… despite the totally unexpected and extremely ridiculous import taxes I had to pay the postman. Ugh.

I was also excited to click the “purchase” button for Cassandra’s “Sleeping Beauty” (Gracie’s Garden Bazaar). Something tells me that a little boy wouldn’t fully appreciate the intricately embroidered details of Sleeping Beauty’s hair… or her pastel flowers, for that matter.

Top it all off with a couple millinery flowers that I wore on my wedding day, and you’ve got a perfectly feminine yet soft and whimsical backbone for a little lady’s room.

I know that “things” and decorative touches aren’t the end-all be-all when it comes down to it and I’m in no way a materialistic person… but it sure is fun picking out a few special touches in the hopes of creating an inspirational, warm, and inviting place for the newest addition to our little family. Hopefully you enjoyed the little sneak-peek into my nesting habits!

I’ve combined a couple of these ingredients into the first bit of craftiness that will be displayed in the room. Until I show you tomorrow… can you guess which they are? :)

Books for Baby

Good evening, friends!

Besides an arguably over-eager stockpile of baby clothes, the only other items of interest that I purchased during my visit to California a few months back were a handful of my favorite childhood books. If there’s one thing I remember (I mean, how much do we really remember about our earliest years?) from my carefree days as a kid, it’s the beautiful illustrations that seemed to leap out from each perfectly-musty smelling page. With each new illustration, I found myself engulfed within a new world… an invisible member interjected within that tiny painting. Before I could read, I’d stare long and hard at the pretty pictures, making up my own stories about these magical parallel universes.

This is why, of all things baby-oriented, I was most excited to bring some of my fondest memories back home… to  share the whimsical world of reading with our little one.

Re-reading some of my childhood favorites, it’s amazing to me how many of my “baby” books have a poignant story to tell. Take “The Giving Tree”, for example. While a youngster might enjoy the illustrations and interactions between the boy and the tree, an adult will understand the deeper meaning behind Shel Silverstein’s masterpiece… the importance of engaging in a relationship of mutual respect with nature. Not to take, take, take until we’ve realized the futility of the mess that we’ve created.

There’s nothing as nostalgic as spotting a familiar illustration that conjures up feelings and dreams from years and years ago. When I see the sweet drawings of “Runaway Bunny” and “Goodnight Moon”, I feel a tugging on my heartstrings that I can’t quite place.

And “Quick as a Cricket”… sheesh, don’t even get me started.

This book marked the beginning of my wanderlust… a desire to travel to far off places and visit lands so different from my own. In one video, I’m sprawled out on the floor, eagerly turning the pages of “Quick as a Cricket” while exclaiming “I ‘anna go der some day!” upon seeing each new illustrated world.

Then there are the classics like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. You can’t go wrong with those proven winners.

Then there are the emotional roller coasters like “Love You Forever”. I dare you guys to get through reading that book without shedding a tear. Although it’ll be a tough one to read out loud to the little one, it most definitely has an important message to share. A true tale of unconditional love.

Of course, there are also the token touristy books like this one I found. “Good Night San Francisco”… it’s actually quite badly written and void of any interesting content, but at least it will introduce our little one to the sites and scenery of my stomping grounds. That way, when we go to visit, I can point out various hot-spots and maybe, just maybe, she’ll recognize them from the book! :)

There are a bunch of Dr. Seuss classics hidden in the pile somewhere too, so don’t worry. Our little one will certainly learn to rhyme her way through stories and pronounce all those crazy Seuss-isms.

All in all, I’m really happy with our little collection… and I can’t wait to start sharing the joy of reading with a whole new generation!!

Reflections

Hi everyone!

I hope that the weekend treated you well, providing you with equal doses of rest, relaxation, and adventure. We enjoyed a quite weekend at home, enjoying the mild weather, soaking up some sunshine, taking care of a few household tasks, and building baby furniture. After what seems like ages, I took advantage of this wacky winter weather and headed out for my favorite Sunday stroll to the market.

Although the morning got off to a frosty start, the warmth of the sunshine quickly melted the cold heart of winter. Tiny droplets of water sparkled like diamonds under the rays of light. I found myself transfixed by the beauty of something so simple, the carefree way in which nature seemed to enjoy the sun’s warmth every bit as much as me.

Alone time often provides the best opportunity for self-reflection and meditation. For me, at least, it’s these moments of solitude, peace and quite during which I’m able to most appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. No iphones, instagram, skype, or satellite tv… no chit-chatting and giggling, ball-throwing or stick-tossing… no distractions to take my attention away from the beauty all around us.

These minuscule droplets, a perfect reflection of our tiny upside-down world, ebbed and flowed in the breeze. Just when you thought that the orb couldn’t get any bigger, the slight shiver of a leaf would launch the droplet back to earth. Then the process would start all over again, sunlight casting its magical sparkle over the growing globe. I’ve always been a sucker for water- rain, dew, frost, snow, ocean waves, puddles… maybe it’s the Pisces in me.

It’s probably best that the pathway into town wasn’t very busy… passers-by might have wondered what the weird lady with the camera found so interesting about the branches of bramble leaves. It’s moments like these, though, that make me appreciate spending some time alone. It’s nice to focus on both everything and nothing all at once. It’s nice to be able to take my time. Carpe Diem, seize the day. It’s important to seize these moments. These are the snapshots of life that we’ll carry with us forever.

On the Second Day of Christmas…

Hi there, everyone!

So I promised to show you a few snapshots of our Christmas festivities… the only problem is that I was too busy preparing and enjoying to take many pictures. Such a pity, I know! Luckily those memorable moments are locked away for good, safely stored on my mental hard drive. I did, however, snap a couple shots of our Christmas tree and the sprinkling of presents that we so giddily ripped open on Christmas morning.

Christmas Eve was spent hanging around the fireplace, listening to Christmas carols, watching snippets of a surprisingly touching Dutch program called “All You Need is Love”, and sipping hot coco. My in-laws and their two four-legged friends spent the night, and bets were placed on who would be the first to hear Santa and his reindeer scurrying around atop the roof. I didn’t win.

Although we didn’t get any white weather, clear skies warmly wished us all a merry Christmas. The morning celebrations got off to a late-ish start, since my brother-in-law and his boyfriend weren’t planning on arriving until noon. Between bites of brunch, we took turns opening gifts. After the last of the presents were opened, we headed out for a little stroll while the turkey patiently cooked in the oven. Dinner was a success, and even all six doggies agreed that the turkey was pretty darn tasty!

I think it’s safe to say that the funnest part about Christmas here in Benelux is that you get not one, but two(!) days of Christmas! I suppose that this is meant to eliminate the predicament of celebrating with extended family and in-laws… but seeing as we only have one side of the family living within a reasonable travel range, we enjoyed celebrating with dear friends instead.

We were treated to a super tasty dinner, pretty pink crowns, and the sweet almond aroma of mimosa. Chatting, joking, and singing along to music, we enjoyed both reminiscing on the year past and pondering what excitement and challenges the new year will bring.

Speaking of the new year, New Year’s Eve is crazy here in our little border region. When the clock strikes midnight, our usually sleepy village landscape comes alive with all sorts of mini explosions. Unlike California, where droughts and lawsuits keep private individuals and fireworks a safe distance from one another, lots of locals in this area acquire a substantial stash of fireworks that are set off from backyards and street sidewalks. Although there was no organized show the likes of which you’d see in San Francisco, it was really cool to see the hillsides lit up by flashes of fireworks in countless colors.

Somehow it always feels a bit strange starting from scratch… taking the first steps along an unknown path. I know that so much of it is in your head, but the initial moments of each new year always seem both so full and so empty at the very same time. Something along the lines of an emotional tidal wave. So much anticipation and excitement accompanied by the anxiety of not quite knowing where to start. I, for one, am glad that this momentary intimidation has come and gone. Now that I’ve jumped the first hurdle, I can start my journey full of hopes and dreams along this mysterious path through 2014!

What about youu guys? Does the start of a new year trigger a similar series of emotions, or am I just a little cuckoo?

Holiday Memories

Happy 2014, everyone!

What a whirlwind the holiday season has been, huh? Did you guys get to enjoy and have fun? Eat lots of tasty food? Spend time with loved ones?

For me, at least, it’s always the same… you spend weeks looking forward to and preparing for a festive time with family and friends, you spend several days eating, drinking, and being merry, and then *bam* it’s time to get back to reality and dig into a brand new year. Granted, this year was different since we enjoyed the seasonal celebrations here in Belgium rather than California, but, even so, the pattern is recognizable.

I felt a bit empty without the familiar hubbub of  family traditions and the warm company of my relatives… but I got to see a whole new side of Christmas. I got to absorb the jolliness of the holidays here in Europe, spend time with my in-laws, and see how folks here on the other side of the world celebrate. So, before we leave the holidays behind for good, I wanted to reminisce a bit and share a few snapshots from our Christmas staycation. We’ll start in Monschau, the cutest little tourist trap that the border region of Germany has to offer!

It’s winding cobblestone walkways, bridge-covered waterways, and “fachwerk” framed houses provide the typical Hansel and Gretel-type scenery that one might expect from childhood fairytales. The architectural details are charming throughout most of year, but during Christmas time, everything seems to exude an extra element of whimsy.

Wooden cabins lining the busy walkways sold everything  from roasted chestnuts, foot-long sausages, hot chocolate, and gluhwein. Tchotchke-packed kiosks offer tourists a variety of souvenirs to bring home.

Crowds of both old and young gathered around tables to toast each other with glasses of gluhwein (mulled wine) or other tummy-warming alcoholic beverages.

We were hoping for some snow, but chose to brave the drizzly, wet weather instead. It got our holiday celebrations off to a cozy and heart-warming start, putting us in a party mood and infusing us with inspiration. I know Christmas markets aren’t for everyone, but I find the cheesiness of it all quite charming :)

I’m so happy to join you guys in ringing in the new year, and I can’t wait to share all of the excitement that this year will bring! May 2014 provide you with an abundance of happiness, love, good health and, of course, a flurry of flowers!

Merry Maastricht

Good evening, everyone!

So sorry for my absence yesterday, for whatever reason the server wouldn’t let me upload any pictures… and what good is a post without the pictures, right?

I’ve been eager to share a few photos from our little evening outing to the Christmas market (kerstmarkt) in Maastricht. With all of the lights, scents from the food stalls, fair rides, music, Santa hats, and people milling about, the city was quite a merry sight to behold.

A huge ferris wheel towered over the main square and a variety of other children’s rides were scattered in between booths selling fries (yum!), cinnamon-sugar-coated nuts (double yum!), sausages, potato pancakes, and baked goods. The smells drifting from the booths were so enticing that we had a difficult time choosing which indulgences we wanted to treat ourselves to. We ended up choosing the french fries, potato pancakes with apple sauce, and sugar-coated almonds. Eek!

We also couldn’t resist a scenic ride atop the ferris wheel. We cuddled up closely and enjoyed the overview of the city square.

We wandered around a bit, soaking up the cheerful atmosphere. Although we decided to pass on the ice skating, it was fun to watch families slipping and sliding around the rink.

There’s something so special about the lighting strung about the city centers. It seems to cover the downtown with a blanket of warmth,  little extra fairy dust to give the city a nice sparkle.

We have a couple other Christmas markets that we’d like to visit… so we’ll have to see how many we can squeeze in before the big day approaches!

What are your favorite holiday attractions to visit? Any annual traditions with your families and/or friends?

Frosty Foraging

Happy Friday, everyone!

This weekend marks the start of our official Christmas season, since we’ll finally be picking out a tree to dress up and call our own. Yippee! I had always pictured the great quest for a European Christmas tree as some sort of quaint country trip into a snowy field where we’d saw down the evergreen of our choice. Much to the disappointment of this silly childhood fantasy, it seems as if most people pick up their trees from the local nursery, garden center, or home improvement store. And we don’t have any snow. Not to worry. I’m sure it’ll be a big enough adventure as it is!

In preparation for a few final projects, I embarked upon an early morning round of frosty foraging. The roads were still coated with a thin layer of ice, which sparkled underneath the rising sun. I followed the glittery street until my off-road destination appeared… a forest path full of nature’s goodies.

Thanks to a thin coating of frost, the leaves, already transformed into a glowing golden hue during the changing of the seasons, looked as if they were made of velvet.

Even though I could’t do all that much with the frosty foliage surrounding me, there was no denying it’s ephemeral beauty.

I did, however, snag some hawthorn berries, pine cones, and a few more mossy twigs. I even bagged some mistletoe! Before you ”tsk-tsk” me, allow me to explain. I know it’s illegal here in Belgium to pick any mistletoe from the wild, but the rules regarding fallen branches must constitute some sort of grey area, right? Either way, someone had obviously beaten me to it, since over half of the bunches of kiss-worthy greenery had already been snipped away.

The way the frost-covered berries and greenery glistened in the sunshine was so beautiful… it’s such a pity that I couldn’t accurately capture it on camera. Now, back at home and warm and cozy, it’s time to get started on the projects!

I’m excited to share the last of our holiday decorations with you guys during next week’s final countdown… let the 12 Days of Christmas commence! :)