Brussels – January 2016

About a week after I got back from Beijing, I went on another trip with mom, this time to Brussels, Belgium.  Brussels is home to NATO, the EU and world-famous beer and chocolate.

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Here’s mom, coming through Business Class with the sundae cart!  (I swear, ice cream on airplanes will never get old to me.)

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We took off in the early evening from Dulles and landed at about 6:30 a.m. local time in Brussels.  Yet again, I did not sleep on the plane.  I just cannot sleep on planes.

After waiting for what seemed like forever in customs (which I’m sure was even worse for mom, who had worked the flight and isn’t accustomed–ha!–to waiting with all us regular travelers and is usually whisked through border control and onto a bus to her hotel) we hopped a train to get us to the hotel.

Neither of us is especially good with directions, and despite having found where our hotel should be on one of my Rick Steve’s maps, we were hopelessly lost after exiting the train station. (I missed the part in the guidebook where Rick says Brussels is one of the hardest cities to navigate, and it didn’t help that there were multiple exits to the train station.  Really makes me appreciate Andrew’s pre-trip planning and inherent sense of direction.)

Our first stop after refreshing our clothes in the hotel was the Grand Place, which is the central square of the city and its most famous sight.  Mom’s layover in Brussels is only about 24 hours, so we had no time to waste!

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Mom has a friend in Brussels who joined us and took some great photos as well.

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We were blessed with a beautiful and sunny (if a bit chilly) day, and didn’t really have much of an itinerary.  My only goals were to 1.) eat a waffle, 2.) bring back beer for Andrew,  3.) buy chocolate and 4.) see SOMETHING of note.  Perhaps in that order.

After a little exploring, we took a train to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History hoping to climb up for great views and photos, but were disappointed to find out the once-free museum was no longer.

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Instead, we walked the long way back toward the center of town, passing the European Union headquarters building and other notable buildings.

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Our destination was the Royal Museums of Fine Art, where we spent a couple hours seeing both ancient and modern art.  I enjoyed it very much.

After saying goodbye to mom’s friend, mom and I shared a waffle (topped with whipped cream, Biscoff spread and cookie crumbles!!) and headed off to buy beer to bring home to the hubbies.  While you can purchase many of the same Belgian brands (Duvel, Chimay, Leffe, etc..) here for $4-5 per bottle, you can get the same at their grocery stores for like 1 Euro (approximately $1 currently).  Super cheap.

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We also made sure to stop by the Manneken Pis, which is a (surprisingly small) statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain.  It’s one of the main sights in Brussels (there aren’t that many to begin with), and he’s often dressed in some sort of costume, the schedule of which is actually regulated.  Today, he was naked.  Mom bought a package of Manneken Pis chocolates, and I made sure to bring a couple home to give to those would would appreciate the little guy.

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That evening, we saw the Grand Place all lit up and bought our chocolate at Leonidas, which mom asserts is the best chocolatier.  For about $8, I was able to fill a small box to the brim with all sorts of flavored and filled milk and dark chocolate goodies–I couldn’t believe how many pieces I got, perhaps as many as 20.  Absolutely delicious.  Note to self: next time mom goes to Brussels, ask her to get more!

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For dinner, we both enjoyed the specialty of the area, ‘moules frites,’ which is french for mussels and fries. So, we had ‘mussels in Brussels.’ (Little known fact: it was the Belgians, apparently, who invented fries. Not the French.)

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We just about collapsed at the hotel that night after all our walking (Fitbit said 26,696 steps!) and packed up our things.  After a shared in-room breakfast, we rode the crew bus back to the airport and I got dropped off to check-in while the rest of the crew headed to the plane.  Thankfully, this time around I was able to proceed to the gate and even treated myself to a tube of Guerlain’s KissKiss lipstick, (Duty free!)something that caught my eye in a magazine and I’d been looking for since.

I got on the plane no problem (what a relief), landed at Dulles and was able to spend a little time with mom before I caught the last flight out back to Buffalo.  It was a great (if short) trip and I was glad to have met all my above-mentioned goals: Andrew loved his beer, I loved my chocolate, mom sent me home with pre-packaged waffles (yay!) and I saw multiple sights.  Now, I just need to take Andrew so he can experience it for himself.

 

Beijing – January 2016

Back in January, I accompanied my mom (a flight attendant for United) on a trip to Beijing, China.  Thankfully, I spent the 13-hour flight in First Class, where I was pampered every which way to Sunday by the other flight attendants and my mom.  Your seat folds into a bed, there is a multi-course dinner (to include an ice cream sundae), plenty of in-flight movies and even midnight snacks.  First is the way to go, people.  (But only if it’s Space A or INSANELY discounted; I don’t even want to know the price tag of a First Class ticket to China.)

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The crew stays at a hotel about 45 minutes from the airport, and upon the arrival of the bus, we were all greeted by a small army of Chinese ‘businessmen and women,’ who were ready to take reservations for sightseeing excursions, hair and nail appointments, etc.  It was quite the show.

After settling into our room, we joined another crew member for the hotel’s ‘members-only’ complimentary dinner buffet and drinks.  Mom had made a hair appointment for that evening at a salon near the hotel, and I joined for a mani/pedi, during which I fell asleep!  (I hadn’t slept much on the plane, despite my comfy seat-bed!)  We stumbled back to the room in an over-tired stupor and went to bed.

And then I woke up at 5 am (5 pm US time the night before) and texted with Andrew for a bit.

The next day we hired a car to take us to the Great Wall, which is about an hour outside the city.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t visiting in the most beautiful of seasons (or weather–it was freezing!) but the view was still stunning.  I feel like I barely saw any of the wall itself, and there is just no way to truly appreciate its size.  I was surprised by how NOT LEVEL the wall is; I had anticipated steps to get UP to the wall and then a relatively even, bridge-like span for the length of it.  Oh no.  It’s up and down, up and down all over the place.  Some sets of stairs are almost vertical!  Apparently there is a marathon on the Great Wall.  No thank-you.

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On the way back from the Great Wall, we checked out a Cloisonné shop and picked up some small ornaments as souvenirs.  We also drove by the Olympic Village (2008 Summer Games).

We had one authentic Chinese meal (mom always brings her own food to eat in her room, so this was out of the ordinary for her–it sounds crazy to bring food across the globe, but don’t you pack a lunch when you go to work, too?).  I ordered cashew chicken and a Coke at the Brown Door, which is a crew favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from the Pearl Market.

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The Pearl Market, which does sell pearls but not exclusively, is chock-full of just about every knock-off item (as well as authentic) you can imagine.  It’s kind of like an indoor flea market filled with vendors selling everything from (really good) fake purses, shoes and electronic to real furs and Chinese trinkets.  I had a great time picking out (real) pearls for myself and as gifts, as well as some other souvenirs to bring back.

Mom and I also attended a Chinese acrobatic show, which was incredible.  The venue was small and seemed to cater to tourists, but the theatrics and performers were absolutely incredible.  Check out the KID below doing a one-handed hand-stand atop all those chairs!

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We spent the morning of our final day at the gym and doing some last-minute shopping and take-out Thai grabbing (for the ride home) before heading to the airport.

Perhaps the most exciting part of my trip was the way home, or my ‘almost NOT coming home’ as it almost way.  SUPER LONG STORY short: In China, Space Available travelers don’t go to the gate to wait; instead they stay at the ticket counter to receive their boarding passes.  We knew the flight was going to be pretty full, but still figured I’d get on.  I waited and waited, the ticket counter closed, I started to panic… (tears may have been welling up in my eyes) and all of a sudden I got a text from an unfamiliar number saying there was a ticket waiting for me at another counter.  Praise God!  However, I had only 30 minutes to get the ticket, race through border control AND security (where I had to flag down some employees and beg them to rush me through) and literally RUN through the terminal to get to the plane.  Let’s just say God orchestrated some minor miracles to get me on that plane, especially since that was the exact day that Washington, D.C. got hit with a snowstorm and all the flights after ours from Beijing were delayed for days.  I tell you what–I’m super blessed to be able to travel like this on my mom’s passes, but the uncertainty of it all stresses me out.  I don’t think I recovered from that adventure through the Beijing airport until we landed at Dulles…24 hours later.  (Technically we spent 12 in the air, but the time change basically has you departing China and arriving on the East coast at the same time–crazy!)

whole30: week 2 meal highlights

Hello hello!  It’s day 18 (!!!) of my Whole30 journey and I cannot even tell you how great I feel!  In the book, they call this ‘Tiger Blood.’  It’s when you’re over the hump of cravings  and the ‘carb hangover’ and experience increased energy, you feel great and you’re just happy.  I’m there!  I noticed on day 16 (Saturday) as I drove to teach a 7 am cycle class that I was feeling almost euphoric.  I mean, I’m a morning person and all, but I’m never that happy at 6:45 am.  Ever since, I’ve felt better than I have in years (perhaps ever!), unhealthy foods don’t even tempt me and I’m craving only healthy, nutritious food.

I can’t say I experienced a lot of negative side effects or intense cravings, but I did have a little fatigue toward the end of the first week, and definitely some strange dreams!

Here are some of the best meals from this past week:

Sunday morning I loaded up on greens and veggies since we tend to go out to eat after church and I wasn’t sure what would be available. I topped my salad with leftover salmon from the night before. I whipped up a chicken and sweet potato chowder from the Whole30 cookbook that tasted better than it looked.  I topped mine with cilantro, red onion and lime juice.  Delicious!
 I completely messed up the ketchup I tried to make (grabbed the wrong measuring cup, wasn’t paying attention, accidentally poured in DOUBLE the amount of apple cider vinegar), so I salvaged it by adding more tomato paste and making a GIANT vat of barbecue sauce.  So, I thawed some chicken, baked it in a 9×13 with the sauce and called it a day.  Served with homemade coleslaw and baked potato. ‘Protein salad’ of canned chicken, homemade mayo, sliced grapes, celery and walnuts atop spinach and kale greens.
 A breakfast: dressed kale greens, homemade carrot/raisin/pineapple salad and homemade sausage with bbq sauce.

Another breakfast: sweet potato with cinnamon and ghee (clarified butter), eggs with veggies, salsa and avocado.

Friday night I really wanted to surprise Andrew with a steak dinner, so I pulled out all the stops and made his favorite roasted potatoes and asparagus.  Saturday morning breakfast: a giant salad with hardboiled eggs, banana and almond butter, with V8 and tea.

 Saturday night, I made short ribs (another surprise for Andrew) with the last of the bbq sauce, another batch of slaw and roasted sweet potatoes.

This week, so far, has been the week of PORK.  On Sunday morning, we had BACON! I found smoked, sugar-free bacon at the butcher, which was so fun to make for Andrew.  It didn’t taste exactly like the bacon we’re all used to, but it was tasty.  We also had a delicious pork loin and salad tonight, and will have bangers (seasoned pork patties instead of store-bought sausages) with (sweet potato) mash.

Other recipes for this week include taco night, that apple-sweet potato hash I mentioned before, and perhaps a cold Thai salad.  Happy eating!