Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bruges

On Sunday we braved the morning rain shower and took an early train to Bruges.  The skies did not clear up until the late afternoon when we were back in Brussels.  As a result the pictures are a bit dark and blah and don't exactly do Bruges justice.  The city is an hour away from Brussels by train and is built on canals.  Because of this canal system and the city's wealthy past, it has been called the Venice of Belgium.    



Inside the Church of Our Lady:
This statue of the Madonna and Child is one of the few works of Michalangelo located outside of Italy and the only one that left Italy during his lifetime.  It was purchased by a wealthy merchant family in Bruges who gave it to the Church of Our Lady, where it remains today.  It has been removed from the church twice--once after Napoleon conquered Belgium and once as the Nazis retreated.  Both times it was later returned to Bruges.


I would just like to point out that I am wearing the trench coat that I got on sale for 600 Kc.  I am still pretty proud of myself.




There were bicycles everywhere!  City centers are so much nicer to visit when there are more bikes and less cars.  (Prague, I am looking at you).

People waiting to take a ride on the canals.








Stations of the cross in an outdoor courtyard
I really wish that we had had more time to visit Bruges.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Antwerp

Saturday morning we boarded the train for Antwerp.  The reason that we took our day trips on Saturday and Sunday is because the return portion of the fare costs 50% less if you travel on the weekend.  It ended up not really mattering much.  Although we took four separate train rides, our tickets were only checked once.  Oh well.

Antwerp was a nice and pretty city.  The shopping looked to be very good there as well.

This is what we originally thought was the Cathedral.  It turns out that it is not, but it was absolutely beautiful on the inside.  Unfortunately, I can't remember what the real name of this church is.





This is the actual Cathedral.  The statue in the foreground is Peter Paul Rubens.  The cathedral itself houses a rather large collection of his paintings.  
They were setting up for the city's marathon on Sunday.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cathedral of St. Michael in Brussels

The Cathedral was completed in 1047 and renovated in the Gothic style a few centuries later.  This makes it the oldest church I have been in that I am aware of.

The sun was shining through the stained glass in such a way that it illuminated the statues of the martyrs and saints.  I love the natural lighting.  It created a feeling of serenity that really fit the setting.


Walking around Brussels

We didn't have concrete plans for our trip to Brussels.  We had some suggestions of places to visit and things to see from friends, but other than that we spent most of our time walking around and taking in the city.  

Outside of the Palace of Justice (Belgian Court):  
 
The court is absolutely huge.  It was the largest non-religious building constructed in the 19th century and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Due to extensive scaffolding I didn't get a picture of the whole building.  
Inside of a large park in the middle of town, right by the royal palace:


Grand Place, the main square: (the square itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site)



At the of sounding somewhat cliche, we really enjoyed the waffles.  They made a giant mess, but they were well worth it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Things that I must see

I have come to a startling revelation: I have non American friends who have seen far more of the U.S. than I have. In order to remedy this situation I have started to put together a list of things I have not yet seen but want to. Who wants to join me?

1. Yellowstone National Park
2. The Grand Canyon
3. The Badlands, South Dakota
4. Mt. Rushmore
5. Everglades National Park
6. Acadia National Park
7. Bar Harbor, Maine
8. St. Augustine, Florida
9. Mt. McKinley
10. Alaska
11. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
12. New Orleans
13. Pearl Harbor
14. Independence Hall, Philadelphia
15. Newport Cliff Walk, Rhode Island
16. Statue of Liberty
17. Ellis Island
18. Glacier National Park, Montana
19. Monument Valley, Utah
20. Sequoia National Park
21. New York’s Finger Lakes
22. Adirondacks
23. San Francisco
24. Four Corners
25. Napa Valley
26. Oregon Coast
27. Pacific Coast Highway

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bohemian Switzerland National Park

The Bohemian Switzerland National Park sits on the Czech-German border. It is home to natural rock formations and a few massive stone arches and has been on my list of places to visit for some time. This weekend we finally got around to it.

Unfortunately, the park is a pain in the rear to get to. It is in a geographically protected area, so there is no motorway for most of the drive from Prague. Most of the roads are no wider than a single lane and are not marked at all. Some of the roads were not even paved. All were hilly with one sharp turn after another, making the drive slightly scary as we were never entirely sure what would be coming towards us around the next bend.

The park is equally difficult to get to by train. To the best of my knowledge, to get there from Prague you have to take a train across the border to Germany and then take a ferry back across the Czech border to the park.

The drive ended up taking longer than we thought it would, so we did not get to spend a large amount of time in the park. We had difficulty finding the town we were supposed to park in to get to the stone arches, and didn't have enough time to hike out to them anyway, so we did not get to see them. However, what we did get to see of the park was stunning: