November 11, 2014

IN FLANDERS FIELDS...

A DAY IN IEPER

Today is Armistice day in Belgium, a national holiday to commemorate the fallen soldiers of World War I. My grandparents were born when the war ended so I've never known anyone who actively lived through it, but the effects of it can still be seen throughout many Belgian towns. When I was back home this summer we visited some of the battlefields and cemeteries and I can't think of a better day to show these pictures to you. 

My instagram // view from inside the Cloth hallen (lakenhallen) in Ypres

First of all, Ieper or Ypres in French is a beautiful city to visit in West-Flanders. One of the more famous buildings is the Cloth Hall, a medieval commercial building that was one of the largest buildings at that time. Completed in 1304, the Cloth Hall was completely in ruins after the war. Luckily, it has since been reconstructed and you can still admire its architecture in the main square. Nowadays, it is home to the In Flanders Fields Museum

Grote Markt 34, 8900 Ieper

A waffle shop in the main square


FRONT LINE HOOGHE


After our visit to the museum we stopped at this battlefield. From the Menin road that runs along Kasteelhof 't Hooghe (a hotel now) this place looks like an idyllic forest. The lake however, was created by a large explosion beneath the German trenches and it is still surrounded by trenches and bunkers. You can visit the grounds everyday between 9 and 7 and you'll only be asked for a small donation in return. 

Kasteelhof 't Hooghe, Meenseweg 481, 8902 Zillebeke



THE MENIN GATE


The Menin Gate is a war memorial for the British and Commonwealth soldiers who are still missing. It basically lists all the soldiers whose bodies have not yet been found and whose families have not been able to bury them. It was the first time I stayed long enough to listen to the Last Post at 8 pm and it was a very special experience. The Last Post has been played at this memorial every day since 1928 (with the exception of World War II). To say it draws a lot of tourists and locals alike is an understatement.

Menenstraat, 8900 Ieper, Belgium



TYNE COT


Before we would head home again, we decided to stop at the Tyne Cot cemetery. I had been there once before, in high school and it had made such a lasting impression on me that I wanted Nick to see it as well. Tyne Cot is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world and if you cannot grasp just how many lives were claimed you will definitely have an idea after seeing these graves. It is surrounded by farming fields in the Flemish country side and when we were there - it was definitely past 8.30 - on that summer evening it looked incredibly peaceful. 


In Flanders fields the poppies grow, 
Between the crosses, row on row,


That mark our place; and in the sky


The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae 




Linking up with Bonnie, Cynthia, Yalanda & Courtney for Travel Tuesday

November 7, 2014

EXPAT LIFE: WHAT I DIDN'T TELL YOU ABOUT MY FIRST DAYS IN THE US


California is like paradise. It's the perfect place for a vacation (what Spain or Italy is to most of Europe I guess) with the perfect weather year round, mountains to the east and gorgeous beaches to the west. It also couldn't have been more different from the gray and rainy place I grew up in. So today I'm linking up with Holly from Full of Beans and Sausages to shed a bit of light on my first days as an expat in this surreal state. 

Anyone who can read Dutch will probably already know from the very first post on this blog, but my flight to the US didn't go exactly as planned. I had booked a one way ticket around two weeks before (which made my actual time to say goodbye very short) and was in for a long ride: I had to fly from Brussels to London, London to New York and lastly from New York to San Diego. As long as I would arrive safely, without too much difficulties entering the country as a K1 I would be happy. Or so I thought. Turns out entering the country was the easy part. Getting to San Diego, not so much.

I've never had problems with flights before so for fate to throw that in my lap at that specific moment was a low blow! I had been waiting at the gate for almost five hours when they announced that the plane couldn't depart due to weather problems. Panic. I had no idea what to do, who to call (I didn't have a US cell yet) or where to go. Following the crowds I waited for my luggage and then waited in a long line for two hours with my three suitcases. How I managed to stay upright and get on a plane to LA at 10 pm I don't know but by the time I arrived at LAX in the middle of the night I was exhausted. At that point I hadn't washed in a day and a half and didn't look at all presentable anymore. So the flight to San Diego at 6 AM couldn't come soon enough. 

Ciders galore // Sending wedding invitations // finding new snacks I love // spending time with Ace

I guess the bumpy ride getting here reflected my emotions on moving, because those last few days before I left were spent with a heartache. Choosing to be with Nick meant leaving everyone else behind and even though I wanted to live abroad I had never planned on being THAT far away from my family. I was so happy when I saw him at the commuter airport in San Diego that morning, obviously he hadn't been able to sleep and we were both one big mess. 

To be perfectly honest, those first days were a roller coaster ride. I went from being extremely happy to being really sad in just seconds. I had expected it to be an 'easy' transition but I have never been as homesick in my entire life as in those few weeks. It was all a bit overwhelming. 'What have I done' was a frequent thought running through my head followed by 'how am I going to make this work'. I'd been to San Diego a couple of times already, but somehow that exciting feeling you have on a holiday when everything is interesting and fun had disappeared. This was to be my life now and I had never felt so foreign. I had also never felt so ungrateful. I got what I wanted and wasn't I supposed be happy? And who complains about California? Add the fact that I had a wedding to plan in less than a months and it's enough to drive anyone insane. Thank god for Nick, or I would have gone insane!

Thinking back to that time now, I probably went through a period of mourning. I hadn't properly said goodbye to Belgium because I had been too focused on what was coming next and crossing the Atlantic, well it hit me right in the face. Of course there were good times too! We were able to catch up without any time limits, watched shows together and had after work drinks when Nick came home. I found my favourite ciders, we barbecued A LOT and sat by the fire at night. I also got to play with the new puppy and I my parents would arrive only a month after me for the wedding. 

And right now? I can actually say I'm finally starting to feel at home. I have a routine, I know how most things work and I started loving living so close to the beach. We sometimes even go twice a day and have bought wet suits for the winter... which makes me think I'm turning into a real Californian! 

It feels weird writing this down and reliving those memories and feelings. I guess that feeling of missing home never really goes away, does it? 

November 5, 2014

OUT AND ABOUT: TAKING THE TROLLEY AROUND SAN DIEGO


To me discovering a city is usually about walking around, taking your time and hopping on and off the metro/bus/bike. In San Diego this seems a bit less convenient although I have never the trolley downtown and have never really given the bus a chance. I'm assuming it's definitely an option, but if you have little time to discover this beautiful city and want to get a good overview I would definitely recommend the trolley tour I took my friends on this summer. I stumbled upon it by accident and booked the tickets because I didn't feel like driving downtown, parking, leaving after half an hour and doing the same thing all over again. There's much more room in these 'new' American cities, but somehow parking is still a pain in the butt. And sometimes you just have to be a complete tourist and go for it, right? So here are some stops you might want to get off at:

OLD TOWN MARKET


I'm sure there's more than one company that offers these kind of tours, but we took the Old Town Trolley, departing from... yes, Old Town. You can hop on anywhere you like along the stops, but the first trolley leaves from this particular place and the early birds have a big parking lot at their disposal. Old Town is a state protected historical park and is one of the most visited parks in California. It takes you back in time to the early days of San Diego and is home to a few original buildings from the 1820's to 1860's. It's basically as close to an 'old city center' as you can get here, plus it's a good spot for souvenir shopping and I've heard there are some pretty good Mexican restaurants!

THE HARBOR


San Diego is famous for Comic Com and beer, but its harbor is pretty famous too. A must see at this stop is the USS Midway Museum. Trust me, even if you're not at all interested in ships or jets (like me) it's pretty impressive. Although, you might want to adjust the schedule a bit because you will want to spend a few hours on this famous aircraft carrier. Apart from the Midway there are several other museums and ships to visit such as the ship from Master and Commander and the world's oldest active sailing ship: the Star of India. Or you can just take a cruise around the harbor and enjoy the views! 

SEAPORT VILLAGE



Since this one is still on my to do list, I can't tell you much about it other than it looked incredibly cute. Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining area and as some people on Yelp describe is "a pretty cool place for a tourist trap". 

CONVENTION CENTER


Home to the increasingly popular Comic Com convention, the original part of the Convention Center opened in 1989 but a new part was added in 2001 for the growing numbers coming to the convention every year. It's supposed to resemble a ship on the waves (because it's near the harbor?) and they're trying to pass yet another expansion at this moment. It is just a short walk from the Gaslamp Quarter & downtown San Diego and you can walk along the waterfront.

HORTON PLAZA


Horton Plaza is a half block of city park that was sold to Alonzo Horton in 1895, a guy who's had some major impact on San Diego. It's been under construction for quite some time now and I don't think I've even seen it without the scaffolding yet. Behind Horton Plaza is one of the first shopping centers I went to in the US. Although most of them pretty much all look the same and have the same shops, I quite like this one. Covering several floors, with several escalators and a maze of a floor plan, you never really know where you are (unless you come here every day of course). The architecture is really colourful and a bit odd but I always stop here when I'm in the area.

What it's supposed to look like eventually (image source)

GASLAMP QUARTER


The historic Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego is the perfect spot for a happy hour or a night out. It's famous for the numerous bars and restaurants and it's the place to be for a lot of events. San Diego's baseball stadion Petco Park is just a block away.

CORONADO

The Coronado Bridge
Hotel Del

Technically Coronado is its own city and therefore not part of San Diego, but that's not a reason to skip it now, is it? Driving to the island (which is actually connected to land) you'll cross the Coronado bridge and get spectacular views of San Diego and the harbor. Stopping at the Coronado ferry landing you'll be able to take some amazing pictures of the San Diego skyline and to top it off you're next stop will take you to the magnificent Hotel Del. Like any other old building in the US, it's supposedly haunted! In 2012 Coronado beach was listed as the best beach in the US. Just sayin'. 

BALBOA PARK/ SAN DIEGO ZOO


Balboa Park is San Diego's 1.200 acre or 490 ha city park. It's an urban park and you'll find several museums there (I think about ...), a few theaters (including a copy of a copy of the Old Globe), several gardens and the San Diego Zoo. On Sundays you can even enjoy free organ music at the pavilion. So if your not tired from a whole day of hopping on and off that green trolley, you can always get your exercise here. 

I've skipped a couple of minor stops but the last one (depending on where you started) before going back to Old Town, is Little Italy. Which is a great stop for having some delicious Italian dinner! 

I really enjoyed the background stories we heard on the bus (you don't get that when your husband drives you around) but no matter how you to decide to spend you time in San Diego these stops are the basic must-sees and the views will make it well worth your time. Just one tip: don't try to do it all in one day...

PS: If locals ride for free when they bring a tourist along. I call that a win-win situation.

Have you ever been to San Diego?
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