Arena Polo

Last night, Jess and I, along with some coworkers went to a Arena Polo match. Arena polo is like unto polo, but played on a smaller field of dirt with less players. We were quite excited to see a polo match, plus a champagne company was sponsoring the event, so we thought this was going to be quite the experience. When we drove up to the venue, we couldn't believe the collection of cars parked in the area: Jaguars, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Bentleys. Our Belgian friends even spotted the most famous model of Belgium at the event. This was some high class living!

Or so we thought. As soon as we arrived at the welcoming gates, our names were not on the VIP list, like initially believed. We had to buy tickets. Glasses of champagne were not handed out freely as supposed, but were limited to one glass per person and if you wanted an extra it was €10 (here's a cheers to not drinking - soft drinks were only €3). We thought there was going to be a delicious dinner served. But, come to find out, that was reserved only for the VIPs (or all of the people driving the Jaguars, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Bentleys). So we ended up buying and eating the only food they had for regular stiffs like us, Argentinian epinadas, which were actually quite tasty.

Watching the arena polo match was really what we were there for and it proved to be quite a treat. It was fun to watch the horses and players on the small dirt court (normal polo matches are played on a area as large as 6 soccer fields!). The horses were switched out every quarter (which are 7 minutes long) to rest. And the ball flew into the audience quite a number of times. This takes some skills. It's awesome, fast, furious, amazing. See the action below.


Late Dinner

At home growing up, dinner time was usually around 5:30pm and I haven't been able to get used to eating dinner later than that ever since. I think my stomach became used to and enjoyed it back then and has been fighting for it to stay that way ever since.

Back in the States, I get home from work around 5pm and I'm ready to eat as soon as I've made something, which is around 5:30pm. However, Jess doesn't get home from his day's activities until 6:30pm, in fact, it is closer to 7pm, so, after I eat a snack and possibly half of my serving of dinner, we sit down to dinner at 7:30pm, Jess to his full plate and me to what's left of mine.

Here in Europe, dinner's even later. Again, when 5:30 rolls around, I'm ready for my final meal of the day, while everyone here is still digesting their lunch. When we visited Paris, we met up with a Parisian friend of Jess' around 6:15pm. I was famished and suggested one of our activities during the evening should be dinner (which subtly meant, "I'm hungry right now. Let's eat!). He mentioned, "Parisians eat around 8:30pm, so around that time, we'll look for places to eat, sound good?" When in Paris, eat when Parisians do, right? My stomach wasn't satisfied with my Parisian-for-a-day attitude.

Tonight, we have the opportunity to go on a firm outing to visit a museum in Brussels and then enjoy dinner. . . around 9pm. Jess sent me this information in an email earlier today and explained, "It appears that we are eating dinner - but it will be at 9:00 so you may want to eat a snack first." Wise words.

My stomach and meal schedule aren't crazy. Case in point: if you wake up and eat breakfast at 7:30pm, 5:30pm really is the perfect time to eat dinner. With a 5 hour break between meals, here's the schedule:
7:30am: breakfast
12:30pm: lunch
5:30pm: dinner
If you're eating dinner at 9pm, according to my theory, you've woken up at 11am. Very scientific you see.


Fish n' chips

This past weekend we made our way through the Chunnel and arrived in London early Saturday morning. There were loads of things to do. One of my favorites was visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. There, we watched a great rendition of King Lear, which I had never read or seen before, but found it to be quite good, although a horrible tragedy. We watched the play for 3 hours, while standing. We could go right up to the stage, rest our elbows on it, and see the spit fly when the actors shouted monologues. The price for a standing verses a sitting ticket was 5 and 27.50 pounds respectively. Wouldn't you have done the same?

Yes, you would have done the same when you think of the pain the pound causes. Today, the exchange rate for 1 pound is 1.96089 dollars. Here are some items that, when thinking of the price in pounds, don't seem too bad, until our friend, conversion Bob comes along.
Fish n' chips lunch: £7.25 = $14.21
Gap Summer Sale cotton tee: £6.99 = $13.70
Fee to enter Westminster Abbey: £10 = $19.60
One-way subway ticket: £4 = $7.84

Still, we ate our fish n' chips in a neighborhood pub off the beaten path and talked with a Scotsman who told us all about London and what it's like to live there. "Love the place," he explained, "but I'll always root for my home football team, the Glasgow Rangers." He then offered to buy us a drink to accompany his pint. This neighborhood conversation made me forget the conversion rate. And the fish n' chips were delicious.


Glass pyramid

You know the Louvre is big when you've spent 5 hours in it and seen less than 1/3 of the collection. Believe me, I tried to force myself to stay longer, but the place is quite extensive. One grand hall leads to another large hall which leads to a big room with stairs to another huge area and then you find yourself in a wing which you try to locate on the 8 page map you've been carrying with you throughout the visit. By the end of 5 hours, I was at the point where a striking or famous piece of art just wasn't all that great anymore. "Hey, look over their, it's a Vermeer!" "Oh, really..."

However, for the 4.5 of the 5 hours I was there, it was extraordinarily grand. I felt like I was walking from page to page of my college art history books, each gallery a new chapter (I wish I would have read more thoroughly). This place is filled to the brim! We saw some of the classics along with the not-so-classic. Of course, the Mona Lisa room was crowded. There were so many people taking pictures, that some people were taking pictures of the black and white photocopies of the Mona Lisa on the signs directing visitors to the real Mona Lisa. The Winged Victory of Samothrace was quite a sight. And the sarcophagus were neat. So much to see, I treated some of our photos to a collage.


It's time to rock

with none other than Jon Bon Jovi. Yes, my friends, Jess' firm sent us, along with some other employees to see the king of 80s rock. And man, was he rockin' it. And so was the audience. You should have seen these fans, complete with t-shirts from the 80s, euro-mullets, and loud voices belting, "(when the world gets in my face, I say) Have a nice day!"

Thanks to the mega-huge screens we were able to catch a glimpse of the Jovi

Rockin' it


The Annex

While wondering through the busy, Dutch- and tourist-filled Amsterdam area, we came upon the Anne Frank Huis. The house the Frank family hid in for 25 months to escape Nazi capture. They tiptoed around the back annex of Anne's father's factory (which was handed over to a non-Jewish executive friend because Jews couldn't own businesses), making sure they didn't run water, flush the toilet, or talk too loudly because the warehouse workers in the very same building had no idea there was anyone living there. They studied there, exercised there, held celebratory dinners there; with 4 of the father's employees serving as "helpers." These helpers worked in the factory as office personnel, but ran errands for the hidden individuals, buying them food, ordering their Latin lesson books, and bringing them news of the outside world in the evenings. Almost two years, and they never left the annex. Then an anonymous phone call to the police station blew their cover and the police went in and took them away. They still don't know who made that implicating call to the police.

To visit the site was shocking and difficult to fathom, a feeling that makes it uncomfortable to swallow. It was simpler, however, to see how Anne got so involved in writing as an outlet. Her father said when he read the diary, the writings were very different from the girl he knew. There was so much more to her personality that he didn't know about. What is it about the power of writing that allows us to explain ourselves best?

photo from www.holocaustresearchproject.org/


The land of bikes and boats

On a warm afternoon in Amsterdam, the canals are filled with people, young and old, riding in everything from small rusty skippers to long lavish boats. No matter what boat they're in, they're all doing the same thing: enjoying the ride and some party fixin's, usually crackers or nuts followed by an alcoholic beverage. While observing this scene, we felt we were watching the proverbial "state street" drive on a Friday night, but in this case it was the Prinsengracht canal on a Sunday afternoon.

There are also a lot of cruiser bikes in Amsterdam. Every canal bridge wall serves as something to lock your bike to, and some individuals pay for bike parking on the side of the road. Hardly any of the bikes are in pristine condition, or even close. Some have been painted yellow, red, or blue, but most are black. You have to watch for bikes like you do for oncoming automobile traffic, or else you'll step in front of a cruising biker.


How does this compare?

You've got the St. Louis Arch, the Seattle Space Needle, the Paris Eiffel Tower. Bet you didn't know about the Belgium Atomium.

But I do bet you can guess the decade this World's Fair structure was built. That's right, in the 1950s. This year the Atomium celebrates it's 50th birthday.

Escalators run inside the tubes and an elevator will take you to the top. The other 3 top spheres are not accessible to the public because they don't have any vertical supports. So how does it compare?

Images of this structure are protected. In order to post a photo of the Atomium the following must be mentioned (plus the fact that I'm in it shouldn't hurt): © Sabam 2008 - www.atomium.be.


I thought of Jo when I saw this

in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

This green globe*,
is made up of these colorful bugs.
*Apologies for lack of artist name or title of work.

with visitors, it is better

Today begins our 4th week living in Belgium. It has been swell thus far. We have had a chance to visit lots of neat places, enjoy many new and delicious treats, try our language skills, and sit in parks just watching Belgians be Belgians.

During the third week, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit. By far, this was my favorite week in Europe. True, we visited several places - Bruges, Gent, the Atomium, the Royal Art Museum, Planete Chocolate; and tasted delicious eats - hot-off-the-grill waffles, pain d'epices (spice bread), strawberries with creme fraishe and brown sugar, dark chocolate, and homemade crepes; but some of the funnest parts were just talking, playing phase 10, and watching the French Open with my sister and her husband throughout the week.

Belgium is fun, but with visitors, it is better.


Brugge (Dutch) or Bruges (French)

My sister and her husband got off a plane, thumbed their noses at jet lag, and went with us to Bruges. Bruges is a city in Belgium that used to be the second biggest harbor in Europe with a thriving cloth industry. Lots of rich people built lavish houses and the churches were quite elaborate. Then the river filled with silt and the success of Bruges was no more. The development of the city basically came to a halt so it's like you're walking through a medieval town.
Now, I think, Bruges thrives off tourism. We enjoyed looking at buildings and walking down narrow streets with lots of other visitors, but as soon as our drinks at lunch were served to us with ice cubes, we knew the place was catering toward tourists. We took a boat ride through the canals, which I found relaxing, as did my sister and brother-in-law who had, by that time, been awake for over 24 hours and took a small nap. The tour guide gave his speech in Dutch, followed by French, and finally English. Every time he made a joke (say, for example, the canal was filled with paranas), he'd look back with a smile to see if anyone was laughing. I was sitting directly behind him and thus would proceed with a chuckle every time.
Next to the canal, our boat, and the jokester tour guide


To fortify the city

In Ghent we visited the Gravensteen castle. I felt like I was back in time or on the set of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (come on, you watched it and enjoyed it back in the day). We walked the spiral staircases to the top and looked down over the city (I got butterflies in my stomach just looking down from the towers). Inside we saw a weaponry and torture instruments display. We then stood in huge fireplaces and sauntered in the church. We looked down in the dungeons and wandered in the courtyard. We imagined battles at that location and boy, are glad we live in 2008 and not in medieval times.

The castle was specifically built to fight off intruders
Just my size, eh?