29 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 21 - Destination: Euromaxx

We love Euromaxx, a program from the Duetsche Welle broadcasting company. It is a daily TV show based in Berlin that presents food, homes, travel, events, and other topics from all over Europe. On occasion we've mentioned in this blog certain segments that were of interest to us.

And we have a few personal connections to it, too. It is art, culture and design based. We enjoy that kind of stuff. Also our niece lives in Berlin and has a Masters of Art in Furniture Design. We look for her in the crowd when the segments are in Berlin. I'm sure we'll never see her, but crazy fun just to look.

We also had a Euromaxx segment done on our behalf. The hosts request folks to write in with ideas for places to highlight on their show. In fall 2013, we suggested they do a walk following the route of the Monaco Grand Prix Formula One race. (This is what we tried to follow a few days ago, when we got rained out.)

Well, they liked the idea and featured it in May 2014 just after the actual Grand Prix race. The segment followed the route and a few places just off the route. Our photo, as well as a map highlighting Kalamazoo, was displayed at the start of the segment. Boy, that was a thrill.

Our cat Bella likes the show, too. She often runs to the TV when the show theme song starts. And she seems to particularly like when Karin Helmstaedt is hosting. Or maybe its because we usually watch the show during lunch. Here's Bella watching our very own segment.

Anyway, not long ago they changed the studio to include a back window panorama of the Brandenburg Gate. We studied the view outside -- gate, street light, other buildings behind. So one of our goofy goals on this trip was to find their studio. Here's Bella watching host Anne O'Donnell with the Brandenburg Gate background.
Sustenance first. We stopped at a little bagel shop we had spied the night before for caffe au laits and bagels. Mike had an everything bagel with cream cheese and the best lox ever. I had my usual, everything bagel smeared with plain cream cheese. The cream cheese was out of this world. No Philly brand here. The shop was quite busy and the proprietor was a cutie. She ran the shop all by herself and did a fabulous job.
With our trusty walking map, we began our quest. We started back toward the market from last night, crossed through the train station tunnel and followed the Spree River for a short distance. We crossed over the river onto Museum Island were we found the now Protestant (originally Catholic) Berlin Cathedral.

The history of this cathedral dates back to 1451. The current structure is the largest church in Berlin. It is impressive with its numerous copper domed towers and ornate statuary. No time to stop. We were on a mission. Much more info at:  www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Cathedral

On another side of the square in front if the cathedral was the Museum of Arts of Liberals or the Altes (old) Museum built between 1823-1830. It houses the antique collection of the Berlin State Museums. Notice how small the people are on the steps compared to the impactful building. 
As we continued through the square we saw an all-girl marching band performing and then marching off into this museum. We crossed over another bridge off the island and started down Unter den Liden (under the linden trees) Boulevard.

The route was originally a bridle path laid out by Elector John George of Brandenburg in the 16th century. It was replaced with a boulevard by order of "Great Elector" Frederick William in 1647. At that time it extended from the city palace to the city gates. Now it lies in the heart of the historic section of Berlin.

In the grassy area between traffic lanes were stately statues (including King Frederick II of Prussia) and monuments to various persons and events in German history.

Each side of the boulevard is lined with impressive building after building. Among them are the Berlin State Opera, St. Hedwig's Cathedral, the German History Museum, Neue Wache (a war memorial), Humboldt University buildings, Berlin State Library, the Hungarian and Russian embassies, and many more. For more info about the boulevard and the buildings along it, see: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unter_den_Linden

On the way were several impromptu sidewalk sales offering books and vinyl records. There was so much to see along this route that we went into overload.

What caught our eye next was the Mercedes-Benz Motor Car Gallery and show room. Bad American elitists! But it was free, so we mozied on in. And it was very cool.

They displayed detailed toy models of all the styles in its history; photos and quotes of famous race car drivers that were sponsored by M-B (including the great Lewis Hamilton); facts and figures of M-B history; and much more.

There was also a cafe and a gift shop with lots of M-B merchandise. As Mike had purchased a Lewis Hamilton cap in Monaco, I decided to treat my self to a M-B scarf. It was shades of gray and pink stars. Here's my photo wearing the scarf in my dream car.
The next stop was the Berlin Store. We could have spent hours here. It sold every historic or current day goo-ga you can think of relating to Berlin and Germany. There were lots of books and music CDs from German authors and musicians. There were souvenir chunks of every size of the Berlin wall, toy soldier sets, Berlin Bears of every size, postcards, posters, war gear, busts of famous Germans, gadgets, games, and endless other things.
German criminal code outlaws symbols of unconstitutional organizations. So no Nazi flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans (or forms of greeting) for sale. Not that we wanted any!!! 

A few steps further and we arrived in Pariser Platz, the heart of Berlin. The square is named after Paris, France, in honor of the anti-Napoleon Allies' occupation of Paris in 1814. Brandenburg Gate was ahead. We would get to that, but Euromaxx studio was our focus for the moment.

We turned to our right. We spotted the street light and then looked to our right. There was a building there that was a possibility, but no obvious sign. We went inside the building and looked at the directory. Nothing that said Euromaxx or Duetsche Welle, but there were several studios listed.

We went back outside and surveyed the situation. Finally I picked a window. You could not easily see in, but I went up close and put my hand up to shade my eyes to try to look in. OMG, this was the spot. But before I could look carefully a young man with a headset started hollering at me to get away. I didn't hear him at first, but I did hear Mike yelling, "Deb, Deb!"

I asked the young man, "Is this where they tape Euromaxx?" He said, "Yes, but not right now. Right now they are recording a show with Peter Hahn (I think was the name and it sounded familiar)." They did not want my nosy mug appearing in the background of the segment!!

Well, I was quite apologetic and hoped the young man did not get in trouble for his delayed reaction to my action. I hinted that we would love to go into the studio, but that didn't go over successfully. No problems. We had accomplished our goal and made it as close as we could get to the Euromaxx studio. Yee-ha!

28 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 20 - Berlin by Night

There were several Berlin train stations, but we had learned that lesson. The Berlin HBF station is quite modern. It has several levels and lots of shops and cafes to keep you entertained, if you are waiting for a train. We crossed paths with the Berlin Bear, which we would see painted in many motifs throughout the city.

It took a few minutes, but we  found the taxi stand. Our driver here was the best we had on our whole trip. He kept us laughing and in awe of his knowledge through the entire ride.

First he asked where we were from. He knew Michigan and named off all the Great Lakes. He knew Detroit and its auto manufacturing industry AND Motown. But he did not know Kalamazoo. Who'da guessed!

We mentioned it was half way between Chicago and Detroit. He then spouted, "Oh, Chicago, Obama-land!" We had to laugh.

He said our hotel was on the old East Germany side. We had not thought about that one way or another, but it seemed cool to us. It would be interesting to see how modern the East was at this point.

We commented that he spoke English very well. He advised that in the East or Ruskey side where he had grown up, you learned German and Russian in school. On the U.S. (not West) side you learned German and English. He was very proud that he had never learned Russian, but knew English very well. He continued on with the history of the area and hints for visitors until time ran out and we were at our hotel.

It was the Hotel Amano. Maybe a little too hip for us, but comfortable. It was in a great location though, as we would find in our wanderings later.  www.amanogroup.de/en/hotels/amano/
Our room was ultra modern and sleek. It seemed small due to its awkward layout. No place to put your luggage except on the floor under a desk which for us was little used. Maybe better for a businessman.

The shower had a glass door and across the room was a huge full-length mirror. That experience would keep me on my diet at least as long as we were at this hotel. And I wasn't even wearing my glasses!
Outside our window was a cool graffiti piece. It was as though the illustration of what looked like Einstein rubbing his eye, had been painted over and then the paint started to peel away. This was a perfect shot for my November photo club project back home, which was "body parts!" A great nose shot!
We refreshed and headed out. I was feeling a bit helpless at this point. I had taken Latin in high school and a little French in college, but I understood very little German. It did not come intuitively to me as the Romance languages did. I did not know which way to turn, so we just started walking.

The streets were crowded with few our age. No one around us was speaking English. I felt lost. But Mike, my rock, felt exhilarated and excited. That gave me some confidence. We continued on.

Also, hunger will help you conquer all challenges. We were on the hunt for the perfect German schnitzel. This was something Mike had hungered for since he was stationed in Fliegerhorst at the Hanau U.S. Army Airfield many years long.

We looked at every window menu for schnitzel, but no luck. After a few blocks we came across a night market--lots of produce, huge pretzels, eggs, hand knit sweaters and scarves, felted baby booties, you name it. Lots of little sidewalk cafes, too.

We were a little disoriented until we saw the beautifully lit old city train station. That got us back on track with our map.

We also found an Argentinian restaurant, Steakhaus Maredo, selling German schnitzel. We were a little suspicious of getting caught in a tourist trap with crappy food. And it was a steakhouse and didn't seem veggie / fish oriented for my taste. But, on the other hand, it was the only place with schnitzel on the menu.

There was indoor and outdoor seating. We chose indoor, as I was a bit cold. We had to wait quite a while to get service. That added to our anxiety. But when our food was served, all worries disappeared. What a find! Be sure to ask Google to translate for you, so you can read the menu in English:  www.maredo.de/restaurants/standorte.html

Mike made a trip to the salad bar with lots of German style pickled treats. Then corn on the cob and his yearned for pork schnitzel with fries. I had shrimp, baked potato, and fresh cooked spinach. The tater was served with plenty of rich sour cream and chives. All was tasty and Mike said the schnitzel was the best he had ever eaten. 

We nearly polished our plates (no dessert) before strolling back to our hotel. Lots of little shops still open. One sold antique sewing machines, a whole window full on display.

Back in our room, Mike read and I watched a little TV. Even though it was in German I got the gist of the old American reruns (and the Shopping Network!).

An aside:
A big reason Berlin was on our itinerary was that our niece, Teshia, was living here now. But wouldn't you know it. As we were arriving, she was back in Ann Arbor, Michigan, giving a lecture at University of Michigan and then home to visit her folks in Kalamazoo!!! We hoped to meet up with her significant other though for dinner.

2014 EUROPE by Rail 19 - On to Berlin

The iPhone alarm went off at 06:00 for another challenging travel day. Today we did not have to change between train stations, but we did have two connection points. Here was our schedule:

     Brugge depart at 08:01
     Bruxelles (or Brussels) Midi arrive at 08:55

     Bruxelles Midi depart at 09:28
     Köeln (or Cologne), Germany arrive at 11:15

     Köeln depart at 11:48
     Berlin arrive at 16:12

As breakfast was not served until 07:00 and our taxi was picking us up at 07:00, we would miss the fresh croissants. We could smell them baking in the kitchen. Dang timetable! We were able to grab a cafe-au-lait-to-go though from the fancy silver coffee machine.

The cab was right on time. We said thanks and good-bye to our hosts and their budgies in their lobby cage. At the station, we easily found our track platform.

Our train was on time. We had no specific seat assignment on this InterCity segment, so it was a polite free-for-all. Unlike the mob scene on the Nice to Monaco train, everyone here got a seat.

We were excited to be on our way to Berlin. En route we saw some neat things -- a beautiful sunrise, several teams of big brown Belgian working horses, and some traditional wood windmills. We passed through a few more modern but still beautiful train stations, especially Liège-Guillemins, Belgium. 
A short time before we arrived into Brussels we discovered from another passenger that there are three city stations there. I started to panic as to which one we were making our first train connection. Just before our designated station of Brussels-Midi, we noticed "Midi" on our ticket and got off safely at the right station for connecting to Köeln. Phew!

In Brussels we had upgraded seating from general to second class. There were assigned seat numbers and it was slightly more comfortable. On this segment (even though it was a bit early in the day) Mike ordered a Stella Artois pilsner. This is a Belgium beer and one of his favorites. A last adios to Belgium.

We continued to enjoy the Belgium and German countryside. We laughed when we passed The Fetish Store near city center Köeln. That's getting right to the point for your clientele.

On the other hand, Köeln was another beautiful glass-topped station. Through the glass we could see two church steeples. The more pointy one was the famous and impressive Cologne Cathedral and, I think, the light brown and green one was St. Maria Ascension. 

Midi station appeared older, but this is its third incarnation -- 1859, 1894, 1953. Now it is being updated and modernized again with additional platforms and features. Getting to our connecting track we took a very steep uphill moving "sidewalk." The stairs they replaced must have been tough climbing, especially with the luggage we had. This station is an important local, national and European hub. On an average day 280,000 travelers frequent the station.  

We were now on ICE (German InterCity Express). Our third and last segment today would take about 4.5 hours. We upgraded again to first class and it was the most awesome we'd been on so far. The car was spotless and the ride was smooooooooth. All personnel had snazzy uniforms with caps. Our ticket taker was pleasant and a Glone Brunner look-alike (DTW NWA people will remember her!)

No streaks on the windows, so great for taking photos if the train wasn't going so fast. The most leg and "butt" room so far. Train doors between cars were quiet and opened automatically, instead of us trying to figure out the trick for each type of door. They offered a free local newspaper (in German) to each passenger. 
The signs above had excellent travel information. It was written in German, but we could figure it out for the most part. It showed minutes to the next station, what the next couple of stations were, and which side of the train to exit.

In addition, announcements were made in several languages, including English. Just before we got to the Hamm station, there was an announcement to have your umbrella ready! It also displayed in real time how fast we were traveling -- as fast as 250 km/h (or 155 mph). Zowie!
Menus were placed in each seat pocket, so lots of time to look over the wide variety of food fare. The conductor took orders at your seat and food was delivered there. We ordered sandwiches and beer and wine. It tasted better than we'd had so far. A little more stuffing and not so much bread. We were served complimentary mints several times throughout the ride. 

Along the way we saw pumpkin patches (reminded us of Half Moon Bay), a nuke plant, a mix of architecture from old and quaint to ultra modern, and lots of little  family farms with pigs, goats, ducks, etc. Wolfsburg was near a river with many canal barges. As we got deeper into Germany, there was less, but more artistic graffiti.

We saw old lattice-work windmills; modern wind turbines with blades painted in orange and white strips (maybe to warn the birds); and, just before Spandau, a huge turbine farm stretching for miles and miles.

We were still looking for color on the trees, like back home. Many trees have lost leaves altogether, but little color to be seen. We did see one huge oil storage tank covered with bright red ivy. Nice camo, but that was about it.

Mike mentioned that when he was stationed in Germany in the Army in the 60s, he never rode the train. Cab fare was split between a couple of guys and so cheap, no need to take the train. But we really enjoyed our trip today.

We arrived into Berlin right time at 16:12.

An aside:
Back home, I looked up information about the Cologne Cathedral. It is impressive and I'm sorry that we did not have time to visit. The foundation stone was laid in 1248, so a real historic treasure.

26 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 18 - Scotsman in Brugge

Time for dinner. We were looking for a spot that the hotel owners had recommended. In doing so we ran into a fellow dressed like a Shakespearean actor -- feathered hat, short velvet "skirt," and tights. He would "help us find the place we were looking for."

But instead he helped us into his shop which was down some dark winding alleys. We half expected to be jumped by his less than savory pack of friends. Mike kept his hand in his money pocket and I clutched my around-the-neck money purse with passports. We were a bit uncomfortable, but he shared (at about 100 words per minute) a good bit of history and tidbits about Brugge on the way.

Finally we were at his shop and he turned into a fast-talking, high-pressure salesman. It was difficult getting out without purchasing the artist friend's water color he was pushing, or without being rude. But somehow we did. I felt a bit sorry for the guy though, as he seemed so desperate.

We found our first choice restaurant was closed, so we went to another we had passed several times that day.  It was named the Restaurant De Gouden Kroes (the "golden tankard" as it was the former guild hall of goldsmiths way back when).  www.degoudenkroes.be/  if you can read Flemish (Belgium Dutch).

There was a fresh fish tank inside and on the porch, with lobster swimming around unaware of their destiny. Just about the only word we could read on the window menu was mussels. But there was also a statue of a golfer out front. So we were not exactly sure what type of cuisine we were in for. 
Once inside we were offered a menu in English. No Scotch eggs or haggis. Yay! We ordered langostino and smoked salmon appetizers. Off to a great start.

There were a few extra utensils on the table at each plate. One was a lobster cracker and another unknown little hook thingy. That was for the following surprise. We were served a complimentary cold shrimp and escargot pre-appetizer.
The little hook thingy was to get those escargots out of their shells. I had eaten "snail" before when I first met my real father and his then wife Marlene for the first time at Chez Paul in Chicago. That was 30 some years ago, but I remembered them tasting pretty good. I also remember a lot more garlic to get though the texture issue of these molluscan class gastropods.

Mike would not try them, but I did (to be polite). Here I did not experience the wonder of garlic to cover the long (about two inches) curly, slimy little critters. I think I ate three between gulps of a good red wine. After that I moved on to and polished off the shrimp.

Mike ordered mussels for is main course. He had been craving mussels from Brussels (OK, Brugge) for the whole trip. Now he was getting them. And they were wonderful. Biggest helping of mussels he had ever been served. So big that he could not even finish. Can you imagine!!!
I ordered half a lobster, fresh from the tank, I imagine. I'm glad they did not ask me to choose my own. That's getting a bit to personal. It was tasty and I especially loved the sauce.
The only down side was that I had to wear a lobster bib, tied on by the waiter. I really wanted to decline, but several folks around me wore them. A lady at another table did wave it off and the waiter seem shocked. So I'm glad I decided to go with the flow.

This place was a bit formal for us, or at least for how we were dressed at the moment. But they treated us graciously and the meal was wonderful.

Back at the hotel the big carriage gate door into the hotel and courtyard was closed and locked. Luckily I remembered the code to get in. The night man greeted us warmly. We verified the cab we had set up for our early morning departure to the train station.

With such full bellies, we had no choice but lie down. Yes, reading and blog noting to start, but soon counting zzzzz's.

Approximate walking route:

An aside:
Somehow we missed tasting Belgium waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. Oh, well something to look forward to next time.

2014 EUROPE by Rail 17 - Browsing Brugge

After dropping off our purchases, we were back on the streets. This time to explore the shops and Beer Museum we had spotted on a list of "things to do in Brugge."
In this medieval town, there are many magnificent churches, clock towers, museums and historical sights. But we headed directly to the Beer Museum, which was on the way to the main square. We almost missed it, as it was on the second floor and without a prominent sign.

It was only 11 euros each to get in (including three tastings) and so worth it. Each of us got a personal iPad Mini set for English. You held the Mini scanner up to numerous bar codes and then have a choice of hearing an audio description of the item or reading the information off the Mini. There was additional material if you wished to learn more about a particular topic.

Before we entered we asked the receptionist if she had ever heard of Bell's Beer. She said she vaguely remembered something. We chatted about Bells and the beer culture in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. She took some notes and was going to research further. She'll remember Bell's now.

Continuing on we learned the history of beer from its beginnings until the present day; beers of Bruges (museum spelling!); Trappist beers; beer types; beer brands and labels; and brewing processes. There was also a large world map designating various countries and info about each in their relationship to beer.

There were also fun facts such as "Beer: A Man's Drink? -- Women are in fact better beer tasters than men. They have 30% more taste buds. Breweries are hiring more female beer testers. They are able to recognize certain chemicals better and faster. The sense of smell is generally more developed in women than in men."

There was a fabulous view of the town square from the museum window. Earlier the market had covered the whole area to the right of the road. Closed now, but still active with people and street performers (see the pinkish triple high "statue guys" in lower right corner).
We ended the tour in the tasting room. Each person gets three huge samples of beer. Mike ordered a variety. I chose the three lambics, so I could compare. They were all kriek (sour cherry) and very different, one undrinkable for me. We shared a little sample of the white chocolate I had purchased earlier. It paired well with my lambic. For more info, go to www.brugesbeermuseum.com

Three beers and we were out. At that pointed we needed a break. Back to the hotel for a little fresh fig treat from the market and a little nap. A couple of hours later we were ready to explore and have a nice dinner.

There were so many little shops, each dedicated to a particular product. Besides the many chocolate shops, there were other food emporiums--bread, meat, sausage, produce, cookie, candy, etc. We found a beer market that had the Lindemans framboise lambic that I dearly love back home. They had a few more brands of framboise there also that I had not previously known of. We didn't buy. Still too beered-out from the "tasting" room.
Other shops were dedicated to products such as lace, Christmas, stringed instruments.
Depending on how old you are, your parents may have had your baby shoes bronzed as a keepsake. Mine did. Well, we came across a shop that still does that. They will even bronze big boy tennis shoes or whatever shoes you want to keep into perpetuity!! In the long run, we didn't buy anything; don't NEED anything. Just fun looking. 
We also enjoyed the medieval architecture around the public square. Everything is very ornate--decorated in gold, lots of statues, and garland-like artistry. This is the Oude Griffie building, the Old Civic Registry (or Recorder's) House with the city coat of arms over the door and Golden Lady of Justice on top.

This is Brugge City Hall or Stadhuis, one of the oldest in the Netherlands (1376).

And it was fun to see the day "view" compared to the night "view."
We had seen the Belfry of Brugge on a Rick Steve TV episode. It is 372 feet (83 meters) tall, houses a treasure chamber, an impressive clock mechanism, and a carillon with 47 silver toned bells. At the top of its 366 steps is an impressive view of Brugge. So they say. We did not take the challenge to climb.

The tower bells ring every 15 minutes. We had heard them throughout the day wherever we were. On another TV show back home (Euromaxx, I think), we heard the bell ringer plays all kinds of tunes including some pop songs. Didn't hear any of those today.

We missed seeing the classic art museums in Brugge, as well as the more commercially based Diamond Museum, Chocolate Museum, Frietmuseum (fries, but not French fries) (how much could we learn here?!), the Lace Centre, and many more. You just can't see it all in one day and we like walking the streets and interacting with locals and shop owners. We happen into so many interesting things that way.

25 November 2014

2014 EUROPE by Rail 16 - To Market, to Market We Go

This town's name is probably derived from the Dutch words bruggehoofd or brug meaning bridgehead or bridge. It has many little bridges over canals, so that makes sense. The Middle (or medieval) Ages period lasted from the 5th to 15th century. Brugge received its city charter in 1150. Much of its architecture is from that time. 

The town name is spelled and pronounced several different ways-- either Brugge or Bruges and using a soft (French version) or hard (German version) "g."  The train station in Bruges is named Station Brugge located on Bruges Street. Google maps and Wikipedia show Bruges. Our Eurail ticket says Brugge. Its even spelled both ways on its info website: www.bezoekers.brugge.be/museums-and-places-of-interest   I'm so confused ...

Slept well. Got up natural (meaning no alarm). Showered, shaved and down to breakfast. It was a formal setting in a chandeliered room with fireplace, lace table cloths, fine art on the walls, a lovely centerpiece of roses, and "minuet" music in the background. Très élégant!

The food fare was about the same as Nice with the addition of scrambled eggs and little hot sausages, just presented more ornately.

The coffee machine worked similarly to Nice, but it was made of shiny silver instead of brown plastic. May be our mind-bending imagination, but it tasted way better here. Another extra special thing was that the hotel owners made their croissants from scratch daily in the original hotel kitchen. 

This morning we had chores. To get our bearings, we started down the street to the town square about four blocks away. We didn't know it but Wednesday was market day. The whole square was filled with tents filled with amazing produce, breads, meats, flowers, and more.

Our first chore was to be a drug store, so we decided to continue on and linger longer here on the way back. Somewhere along the line I had gotten some insect bites around my ankles. I am quite sensitive to bug bites, so they were more than itchy and swollen.

I had been using cortisone cream which I brought with, but needed Benadryl or some other anti-allergy pills. Not much further away we found an open pharmacy. The pharmacist said they didn't have Benadryl, but something similar and was happy to provide it. Yay! The medication was quite helpful and cleared things up in a couple of days.

We continued on to the Brugge train station, as we had a few questions about our ticket. It was quite a walk, but we really enjoyed seeing the side streets, houses, shops, and parks that we passed through. One had to make sure you were not walking on the bike paths though, as this is considered quite touristy and a no-no. You usually got loudly bike-belled out of the way.
The station was newer and not as classical in style as the ones we had seen in France. We discovered it was built in 1939. We loved that it had brightly colored recycle bins. Hard to miss or mis-use them. We had a short wait at the service window. All our questions were answered and our affairs in order. Chore number two complete.
Our last stop was an Apple authorized store. Streets were deceptively winding, but with our trusty town map we found it. It was a last ditch effort to get our iPhone usable and iPad hooked-up to the Internet so we could blog as we went along. We had added the "free" Eurail SIM card to the phone, but it had not fired up. The agent was able to get it working, so we at last were able to send some text messages.

We needed another SIM card for the iPad and the young man directed us to a spot a few blocks away for that. When we got there, they said they could fix us up but that SIM would only work in Belgium. We would need a different SIM card or set-up in each country. Hmmm! That did not work for us, so we just resigned ourselves to the fact that we would blog all when we got back home.

Back to the Grote Markt square. The sights, smells, sounds, colors were intoxicating. Mike bought a bag of fresh figs. I chose a chunk of white chocolate. We also got tins of mixed Belgium chocolates for Bella's cat sitters. Chocolates came in every size and shape. I was particularly fascinated by these that looked like old rusted tools.

There were horse drawn buggies and bicyclers everywhere. You learned to watch your step quickly and figure out where the "bike lanes" were. A few cars and trucks were mixed in for good measure.

There were also lots of street musicians and artists. One was the type that appeared to stack three people straight up. They stayed very still and looked like a statue. Not sure how they did it, but the bottom two guys were guys and the top guy was actually a dummy. Still, pretty clever and earned a Euro from us.

Lunch time, so we decided to walk away from the crowded market. We found a large outdoor cafe, Punta Est, next to a canal and plopped ourselves down. It was chilly but the sun was shining brightly to balance the temp. A pretty gal with head-to-toe tattoos was our waitress.

We ordered warm brie cheese on chunks of perfectly toasted French bread topped with diced apples. Wonderful. We topped it off with some Belgium sour cherry Lambic  (or Kriek). It was a perfect match and was just enough to fill us up.

People watching here was great--students, young lovers, glitzy-richies, and regular folks like us. Just as we were leaving a couple passed by our table. He was wearing a Detroit Tiger cap, so I said, "Hi, Detroit." They stopped and we chatted a bit. Nice to hear English without an foreign accent.

Heading back to the hotel to drop off our purchases now. A group of school children on a field trip. Boats cruising the canal. Uneven cobblestone paving. Quaint little shops.

Brugge is nicknamed Venice of the North and we could see why. On our walk we crossed over a number of canals and the main part of the city is circled by a series of canals.

At the hotel we munched on a few figs and were ready to explore again.