Leila and I are now permanently back in Seattle, but with more plans to travel to visit new sights and favorite locations. The past festive season provided such an opportunity, so we were off to London (a favorite location) and to Bruges and Brussels (new sights). It was a great time to be overseas, with holiday lights everywhere.
Some were whimsical like the biker Santas in the Liverpool area of London
Others were crass, like the Regent Street signs marketing the latest Night At The Museum movie featuring the British Museum. Hard to take the multiple signs with large images of Ben Stiller.
But most were tasteful and beautiful
The most spectacular light display occurred in Brussels on the last night of our trip. The Grand Place is a large square lined with eight blocks of building. Each hour after dark features a 15 light and sound display that is almost impossible to convey in photos. The five to seven story buildings are bathed in lights that are choreographed to change color to the music blaring across the square.
We had a great home base in London near the Tower of London
We didn’t even have to leave the apartment to enjoy some of the key sights
We developed a leisurely routine in London. I am near the deadline to finish a book manuscript and Leila is recovering from a foot injury, so we would generally spend the morning with me writing and Leila resting her foot from the activities of the previous day. Her foot did improve over the days and we were ultimately walking around five miles a day. St. Paul’s Cathedral was not far away, so our walks regularly took us past the landmark located on the highest point in London.
A typical walk included crossing the Thames via the Tower Bridge and along the Southbank to the London, Waterloo or Millennium Bridge that provided more views of the old and the new of London
Evenings included seeing friends or enjoying various performances. We finally saw The Book of Mormon (it is as funny as everyone says it is) and the relatively new play, The Curious Incident with a Dog in the Nighttime – a must see if you get the opportunity. The most impressive performance was going to the annual John Rutter Christmas Concert in Prince Albert Hall – a place we’ve always wanted to see. Hard not to be impressed by singing Christmas carols with 5,000 people led by the London Symphony Orchestra and combined choirs of 150 members.
On the first day of the trip, I went on a walk just to get some exercise and happened to walk into Green Park. I noticed that everyone was heading in the same direction, so had to find out what was the attraction. I quickly realized that I was near Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard. I saw this once before around 30 years ago, but I am not sure anyone can get over enjoying the pomp and circumstance of the event – marching bands, stoic guards, mounted soldiers and mounted police – continuously telling people to move along and not block the walkways and entryways to the palace.
We did make one excursion outside of London to see Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill. Leila and I just finished William Manchester’s three-volume tome on Churchill– an amazing read – so had to see his home. The house was only partially open, but decorated for Christmas. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the house – and the sun was in the wrong position to get a good photo of the building, so I had to do with photos of the plants and surrounding woodlands.
But these London markets paled in comparison with the one’s in Belgium, especially Brussels, where the food and craft stalls wound through the street for at least 30 blocks
Merry-go-rounds featured magical machines and mythical creatures, plus dinosaurs instead of horse.
The food was sumptuous and sometimes overwhelming. Not many places where you can find separate stalls featuring foie gras, escargot and mussels with champagne.
We found Bruges to be the idyllic European town everyone claims it to be, with narrow cobblestoned streets, canals and a bell tower with carillon.
Of course, if you are in Belgium you need to indulge in beer, chocolate, French fries and waffles – and we did our part to help support the country’s economy in these sectors. The chocolate museum includes a cooking demonstration, where they produce chocolate pralines and then give samples at the end.
Sorry I can’t share any chocolates with you. They were so good!
We could have gotten a combo ticket for the chocolate museum and the Frietmuseum (French fry and potato museum), but we passed on that opportunity – although we did eat plenty of French fries, as they are served with all kinds of food. Had French fries with Coquilles Saint–Jacques — complete with mayonnaise for dipping. I passed on the mayo.
Got a great tour of the oldest brewery in Bruges – although it has not operated continuously since 1564. It was shut down during both wars and the metal equipment melted down to produce armaments. I appreciated that the brewery had an astronomically inspired name (De Halve Maan – The Half Moon) with an appropriate logo to go with it, which you can see next to our tour guide below.
The tour even included climbing to the top of the building through the attic and five-foot doorways, just so we can see (just barely) the finishing and bottling plant three miles away – plus get a great view of Bruges.
The brewery is now digging an underground pipeline to connect the two facilities. The beer is brewed in central Bruges and then will be piped to the bottling plan. Many locals are interested in exactly where the pipeline is located and how deep.
Now we are back in Seattle, a number of pounds heavier and loaded with chocolate. The greatest outcome of the trip was that Leila’s foot improved enough so that we can go on our usual daily walks, which we have not been able to do since March. This was the best holiday gift one could receive!