Tagged: Travel

travel tuesday: the doors of bruges

doors of bruges: wood

In 2014, I did all sorts of traveling. I love to look back at a calendar year, especially one as full as the year past, and tally my adventures. I visited one new country and two new states – 1.5 countries if we count Wales as a half. England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium. Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Ohio. A lot of planes, my favorite, and a lot of packing, my least favorite. But the new and exciting makes all the packing worthwhile, from the best schokocroissant ever in Basel, to the incredible apple fritters at the Donut Wheel in Tucson.

Okay, maybe I do travel mostly for the pastries.

doors of bruges: green

As a blogger, I’ve been terribly remiss in sharing my adventures. Much of this is due to my somewhat new belief that, when I’m traveling, I want to do more than capture the place: I want to soak it in. I can’t see, breathe, or explore a new place while observing solely through my camera lens. I’ve started to capture the photos that will recall a memory, rather than the photos of the sights we all know. Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales? Yeah, it’s a gorgeous mountain. But a picture of a brussels sprout leaf on the edge of the path? A reminder of the man who, on the day I climbed the mountain, was on his fourth and final day of pushing a brussels sprout up the mountain with his nose as a charity stunt (true story). Talk about dedication… and misery!

doors of bruges: wooden twins

In the end, regardless of the photos I have and haven’t taken, I want to share bits of my trips. Moments, ideas, thoughts, foods, whether they’re from last month’s trip or last summer’s trip. So, due to my love for alliterative post themes – which owes itself more to the fact that it makes an easy habit, rather than that I think it’s “cool” – I’m starting Travel Tuesday.

doors of bruges: blue castle door

This week, I was sifting through photos and noticed that, as ever, I am consistently drawn to doors. Whether it’s the doors of deutschland or Cleveland meets Boston, doors are my favorite because they have so much character. A quick trip to Bruges revealed a stunning assortment of wonderful doors, and I love this small, and entirely accidental, collection.

doors of bruges: green weathered door

Bruges is a darling, tiny city. Rivers and cobblestones and church towers; chocolate and mussels and, of course, frites.

the famous pommes frites of bruges

Who can say no to a mini bucket of frites?

doors of bruges: tiny blue door

I spent three days in Bruges with friends and we found good food and great beer. I don’t think the town lends itself well to a longer visit, but it is a magical place to see for a few days.

doors of bruges: wood and scooter

The wooden doors may be my favorite. Throughout Europe, I have seen so many gorgeous wooden doors, and they’re all so different. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a door designer? You don’t have to agree… but I think it sounds great.

doors of bruges: orange window

And here’s a window for good measure.

doors of bruges: orange and green

Last but not least, some green and orange for Brad and Sam. I will always stop for a good green and orange picture.

sam’s solo trip to portland, maine

whale's tail door handle: maine is my kind'a placeI’d never been to Maine, but I’ve always heard wonderful things. Living in Boston, with Portland just two hours away, I had my best chance for a visit… so I took it.

cathedral of the immaculate conception, portland, maineI left the house early on a Sunday morning, arriving at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception just in time for 10am Mass. It was a beautiful cathedral, although small – as I soon learned, Portland, Maine, is a quaint little city.

After Church I ventured to the Portland Flea-for-All, a well-curated little shop filled with vintage furniture, clothing, and surprises. I found a few small treasures, but I’ll show those off in my next post.

I spent the Sunday afternoon exploring in the bright sun. I wandered through Portland’s Old Port, found a small fabric store (a classy place that quilters would love, but the opposite of what i consider “the best kind“) and a variety of cute little shops.

maine lobster roll at bull feeney's pub After I had done a fair bit of exploring, I settled in at an Irish pub for my requisite Maine meal: a lobster roll.

I quite like lobster – who wouldn’t, besides the unfortunate shellfish-allergic – so my first lobster roll was a tasty treat. I had a hard time forking over $20 for a sandwich, but it was a great vacation delicacy.

To finish out the day, I strolled through the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport. It was… a store. Not nearly as cool as I expected. So it was a short stop before I headed to my hotel to watch the previous night’s Doctor Who episode while reclining on a mountain of pillows.

On Monday morning, I started my Lighthouse Whirlwind Tour bright and early with a visit to Two Lights State Park. There was a $5 admission fee, and as I parked I was skeptical. Five dollars, and so far all I could see were a bunch of trees and bushes.

But when I emerged from the bushes, I found this.

two lights state park, portland, maine

A rocky, slightly shimmery coastline looking out into a perfect sea. Oh, and yes, there was a giant, picturesque boat.

I was thrilled. This was the Maine I had hoped to discover.

self portrait at two lights state park, portland, maine

I climbed among the rocks until I found a good perch… then I sat and watched for awhile. Watched and listened to Maine’s ocean.

two lights state park, portland, maine

It was a beautiful thing.

portland head light - allegedly the most photographed light house in the world

Next I trekked to Portland’s Head Light, allegedly the most photographed lighthouse in the world. It was beautiful, and so was its surrounding coast… but my favorite part was the rocks.

my favorite thing: the sound of the rocks rolling against each other

A wave would come in, covering all the big rocks…

my favorite thing: the sound of the rocks rolling against each other

…And then it would depart again, just as suddenly as it had come, pulling rocks with it. These large rocks (say, cantaloupe-sized) tumbled clumsily over each other as the waves dragged them toward the sea. That tumbling, the gentle rolling of rock against rock, was the most amazing sound. I can honestly say that listening to those rocks was my favorite part of this little adventure.

seafood chowdah at three dollar dewey's, portland, maine

After sitting for a long while, just listening to the waves and the rocks, I ventured back to the Old Port for my second fishy meal: seafood chowder.

(it’s very hard to take an appetizing photo of chowder. but i did my best.)

self portrait with with spring point ledge lighthouse

the Ledge in spring point ledge
The last stop was the Spring Point Ledge lighthouse, a small lighthouse distanced from the shore by a long strip of huge rocks. Walking atop the ledge, jumping between giant rocks, situated between the bright blue sky and the turquoise water, was as much as I could ask for. But I got even more than that as the two families who had been exploring the ledge headed back to the shore and I had the lighthouse’s little island all to myself.

Throughout this trip, I had a minor obsession with self-timer self portraiture. Somehow, the idea of a “Sam-only” trip created a need to prove I had been there. It was just me, the lighthouses, and the sea – but that wouldn’t stop me from documenting it. And it was a beautiful mini-vacation. I danced for my camera, and it soaked up the light. Maine light.

a weekend trip to montreal

In January, Brad and I, along with our friends Mike and Carrie, drove up to Toronto for an adventure that all started because Brad wanted to try some delicious poutine. We found something tasty, but we have been informed by every Canadian we know (or don’t know!) that Montreal is the home of poutine, and they don’t do it right anywhere else.

driving through the green mountain state

Since I’m interning in the Boston area, that corner of Canada is closer than it’ll ever be. It was time for Brad and I to go on another Canada adventure.

Thursday, August 16

whale tail friends

Driving through Vermont was absolutely gorgeous. Jim Dale narrated the Prisoner of Azkaban for us as we drove, and we had plenty of snacks and good company. The glorious winds of Fate also carried us to a gas station that served maple soft serve – “creamees” to Vermonters – but more on that later.

bienvenue a quebec!

Finally, we were welcomed to Quebec, and after driving through scenic French-Canadian farmland, we reached Montreal.

giant ceilings and awesome carved wooden statues at st. joseph oratoire, montreal

Our first stop was the Oratoire Saint-Joseph. This place was amazing. It was absolutely enormous, with a huge green dome, and the whole thing was built into the side of the mountain. I loved all of it. There were two churches inside the building, and an outside walking path with big statues for the Stations of the Cross.

the view of montreal from the terrace of st. joseph oratoire

From the terrace, we could see half of Montreal and beyond.

chapel at st. joseph oratoire, montreal

The whole place was first envisioned by Brother Andre, a beloved priest in Montreal at the turn of the century. This charming little Disneyland-looking building was his original chapel, and it got full so he built the giant church. I’m thinking maybe he exaggerated a bit with how much more space he needed… but it was an amazing sight to see.

australian meat pie with mashed potatoes at ta-pies, montreal

By the time we’d explored the entire oratory, we had worked up an appetite so we headed to ta for Australian meat pies and mashed potatoes. Mine was butter chicken, and Brad’s was steak, bacon, and cheese. His was better, but they both verified my belief that just about anything is better empanado: wrapped in bread or dough.

bright orange spiral fire escape

We did some exploring and found the most delightful orange spiral fire escape. It turns out they have spiral fire escapes everywhere, but this first one was a very exciting discovery.

Friday, August 17

We woke up bright and early for the big day: Poutine Day.

We had Tim Horton’s for breakfast, of course. Then we set out for the Basilique Notre-Dame to finish up our Montreal church tour. It was a gorgeous church, with ornate detailing and beautiful interior architecture. Not mind-blowing like the oratory, and there was an admission fee, but it was very pretty and worth visiting.

We set forth a “No Snacks Until Poutine” rule because poutine tastes even better in a really hungry belly… then we immediately broke the rule upon encountering a food truck that sold gourmet ice cream sandwiches. This led to a brutal seagull attack on poor Bradley, and the ice cream sandwich wasn’t even that great – but I guess that’s what happens when you break the rules!

We wandered the Old Port and found an art gallery filled with Inuit sculptures. They were, for lack of a better word, AWESOME. Dancing bears, wide-eyed owls… if I ever own expensive art, one of those will be first on my list.

I also saw a narwhal tusk. From a real narwhal. That someone had carved as art. I was sad. Moving on.

plazatex fabrics storefront, montreal

We ventured closer to our poutine destination, but first we took my typical detour and stopped in this fabric store: Plazatex.

the good kind of fabric store

It was “the good kind” – filled to the brim with fabrics so all sounds were damped. I love those stores because they always feel like they hold hidden treasures.

The fabrics were a little pricey, but they had some good ones. I bought some plaid wool to make a quick-and-easy scarf. The owner was friendly and chatted with Brad about antiques.

rix-rax buttons, montreal

We also stopped by RixRax, a button store, and it had lots of buttons. It was a perfect store for anyone looking for buttons for a particular project, but we know I have plenty of buttons! So I bought a dollar’s worth of tiny plastic buckles and was on my way.

delicious poutine and hot dogs at la banquise, montreal

Finally, the time had arrived. Poutine time.

As advised by a trusted commenter (thank you stephanie!), we made La Banquise our official poutine destination. We were not disappointed.

We ordered a classic poutine out of necessity, as well as “la dan dan” – the standard french fries with gravy and cheese curds, further laden with onions, bacon, and pepperoni. Oh my. Just looking at that picture makes me want to drive back there. It was good.

With full, happy bellies we spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring. We had an unlimited day pass for the metro, so we took the long way home: we hopped off the train at multiple random stops, walked around a bit, then hopped back on.

rainbow shadows at Palais des congrès de Montréal

Among the randomly encountered attractions was the Palais des congrès de Montréal, an event venue with the most brilliant colored windows.

rainbow floor at Palais des congrès de Montréal

The late afternoon sun filled the room with rainbows.

we like green and orange.

I like orange. He likes green.

We stopped by two microbreweries on the way back for little samples: Les 3 Brausseurs and Brutopia. Les 3 Brausseurs wasn’t anything special (perhaps even less than that), but Brutopia had some decent offerings.

After even more exploring, including a crazy Ford Racing street event, it was time to call an end to our busy, adventure-filled day.

Saturday, August 18

colorful graffiti, marking brad's ability to snap quick pictures out the window

Day 3 began with more Tim Horton’s, as well as Brad’s other favorite Canadian breakfast treat: Yop drinkable yogurts. With a name like Yop, what’s not to love?

We also discovered the most incredible Canadian delicacy: maple sandwich cookies. Think Golden Oreo with a hint of heavenly maple flavor. You can bet that first pack was gone before we reached the US border.

The Mothership: parc olympique in montreal

Our main Saturday attraction, before heading back to the good ol’ United States, was le Parc Olympique. The 1976 Olympics were played in this giant mothership of a concrete building, and it serves as an athletic facility today. Earlier in the week, according to the signs, they had hosted an international women’s water polo championship.

orange chairs at le parc olympique, montreal

Besides the crazy architecture, and the Olympic diving pool, there wasn’t much to see here… but I did love the orange chairs.

We stopped for lunch at a little strip mall in the suburbs, and this was the first time we encountered a non-anglophone. Throughout the trip, French was spoken everywhere, but most people were happy (or at least, civil) to speak English with us, even if it was their second choice.

Finally we began our return journey. And now it is time to tell you about maple creamees.

I don’t like maple syrup. I don’t like it on my pancakes or waffles or anything – pure maple syrup is just too strong. But apparently, as my time in Vermont and Canada has recently taught me, I love maple-enhanced things.

So when I tried a maple creamee on the way there, my life was changed forever. And on the return journey, we just had to find it again. But it had just been a random exit, a detour taken to an unknown gas station when it was time to get gas “somewhere in Vermont”. Who knew if we’d ever find the magical maple creamees again.

brad is very happy with his maple creamee.

Oh, those glorious winds of fate.

Not far from Montpelier, we had the tingling sense of being close to that magical place. And yes, we found them.

Later, Brad looked at the above photo and said, regarding his photographed self, “oh, I am happy.”

brad and i, eating our maple creamees sitting on the edge of my wonderful station wagon

We sat on the edge of the trunk, enjoying our creamees in the slanting sunlight. Then we continued through the mountain roads, having crossed another adventure off our ever-growing list.

driving through the mountains in vermont

(thank you so much to my Canadian readers for all your help and advice! your lists of things to do and see and places to go really helped me plan this adventure to a place i had never been, with a language i don’t know. it’s true what they say about Canadians, you guys are the nicest!)