Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas vacation

Christmas vacations are a big thing here in Italy.  Before the long holiday stretch, people get away for a few days to the city, a long weekend in a quieter beach town, an even longer trip to get that pre-Christmas tan going (some Italian stereotypes do hold true) and thanks to Ryanair, flood the Pisa airport to flee Italy at a plane ticket that costs less then the train (literally- round trip Pisa to Charleroi cost, for 2, 160 euro and was about a 2 hour flight where the train  from Monterosso to Venice cost us about 130 euro just ONE WAY and took us 6 hours).  

As you've probably already guessed, we joined them.  

I've been wanting to go to Belgium for a long time, and I'd be lying if I said beer did not play a part in it.  however, beyond their famous beers, I always found myself chuckling inwardly when thinking that one of the most famous statues in the country is of a little naked boy peeing.  I immediately assumed they were quirky people with a strange sense of humor, and I loved it.

I haven't actually travelled around Europe much since moving here, which is something I nag poor Manuel about frequently.  When we turn on a travel show, I look at him, ready to open my mouth in a suggestion that we put this destination "x" on our list (and really, I've probably put about 98% of the globe on my list, including the island nation of Kiribati), he covers his ears and starts singing.  I've gotten a little insufferable about it, and we agreed on a quick trip before the holidays.  After our great time in Venice, we decided to keep our canal theme going, and headed off to Bruges, the "Venice of the North" and Brussels for a gorgeous 6 days.

Now, Belgium has nothing to do with Liguria, or life in Liguria, or even life in Italy, which should be the theme of this blog, but let's just go with it, shall we?

Bruges was highly recommended to us over Brussels, and I honestly don't like picking sides in which city is better then the others (except in discussions about New York or Rome, because they just are actually better then the others), but Bruges was really quite magical.  It's not exactly like Venice, as they only have a few canals, and have cars, and streets, and so forth, but still a very special place.  Bruges is full of colorful facades with stepped gables, brick orange rooves falling in neat little lines, one after the other, leading up to the occasional heavily adorned cathedral looming over the little city, keeping an eye on the nearby windmills.  We loved the people, the lilting dutch, the amazing beers, the Christmas feel- here in Monterosso, it never really feels like Christmas is coming.  There is just something about looking at an oceanside palm tree that simply does not convince me we are in December. In Bruges, there are a few large markets adorned with lights, ice skating rinks, the smell of fresh pine and hot mulled wine, ringing bells and carolers...low lights illuminating intricately carved church fronts in a charmingly eerie just seems much more like a place that Santa would approve of.  Brussels has an even bigger market that stretches for almost 2 kilometers, leading you through the winding streets to the breathtaking Grand Place, which a photo cannot do justice to.  Full of French speakers, Brussels is a huge city, and the capital of Europe.  It feels like a different country the Bruges, but the city feel and diversity of such an important European capital made me feel right at home.

Six days seemed like a long time, but it really just cracked the surface.  I really like Beglian people maybe even more then their beer, and we ate very well.  Belgium is literally littered with Michelin stars and forks.  I'd go back in a heartbeat, especially considering how easy it is to get to.  But for now, a Leffe Christmas beer, some chocolates, and some abbey cheese (note: Belgian monks really have a great thing going) will bring me back as we get ready for Christmas, and maybe bring me a little Belgian Christmas here at my beachside home.

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