Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ghent, Belgium.

I've never traveled overseas for work, and have had only one opportunity to travel domestically in the past (Houston, last year). Needless to say, I was psyched when I was told I was off to Belgium for 2 weeks; however, I didn't quite realize how little time I'd actually have to explore, as stupid as that might sound, knowing I was traveling specifically for work. (I also had no idea my trade show ran through the weekend, so that threw a wrench in any weekend explorations I had planned.) I figured I could take some time each morning to wander around, but failed to realize that it would be pretty dark until 8:30AM or so - the time I went off to work each day. Starbucks wasn't even open until 9AM! Not that I wanted coffee from Starbucks while abroad, but when I asked my hotel where I could get a good cup of coffee, that's where they suggested. In fact, more than one person suggested Starbucks while I was in Europe. Damn Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I'd get back to my hotel around 8PM each night and then had to do my normal gig, since I was 9 hours ahead in Belgium and that's when my normal customer inquiries would pour in. There was a really cool coincidence though: an old friend of mine from LA actually moved to Ghent this past year, unbeknownst to me when I made my travel plans. He actually married a girl from Belgium (and now has a baby girl on the way!), so when I learned he was close by, I was able to link up with him for a night. I was pretty stoked about that.

He took me to get the "best burger" in town at Uncle Babe's (it really was good), and then we went to two more places that anyone really should visit, should they go to Ghent (hear that Becky?!). Those spots and more travel tips, below!

Belgian waffles!
You'll be able to find these beauts anywhere, and I certainly wasn't mad at that. They're hot and fresh with any toppings you'd like (I chose strawberry and Nutella), and you can even get ice cream to boot. I decided to forego the ice cream idea because it was pretty chilly (and rainy) outside, but I mean, you can never really go wrong with ice cream.

Belgian fries!
Note: do not call them "French fries" - you will stand corrected, as what you are getting are "Belgian fries." Fries here come with dozens of toppings and although I'm pretty boring, I figured I'd try whatever was most popular (on the side, of course). It was a mayonnaise of sorts, and while I'm not a mayo fan, it had a lemon base, which was an interesting twist. 

Nose of Ghent!
These little cone-shaped gelatin candies are hard on the outside and chewy on the inside. They were apparently made by accident; an experiment gone wrong led to the creation of a batch of candies with a hard outer shell and an interior filled of syrup. I only wanted one to try and was told they take several hours to make, which is why they sell them by the dozen and can't sell individuals, but a little charm goes a long way. I got one.

A liquor from which gin evolved, jenever is a strong and popular drink in Belgium. It's apparently harsh when tasted straight up, but when infused with different flavors from cactus(!) to grapefruit to almond to pepper, it's pretty damn good. The "it" place to go is 't Dreupelkot, run by a man named Pol (who is known to be a bit of a grump).

Don't be alarmed by the shot glass it comes in - you aren't pounding a shot - these are actually meant to be sipped, and can be ordered in either a small or large size. My personal favorite was the grapefruit. (I also had almond, per the recommendation of my friend. It was good, but had a syrupy taste to it. It all boils down to personal preference, of course!)

Belgian beer!
I am not a beer drinker. In fact, the one beer I have ever liked and actually drank was a cider beer, last February, that Ellie insisted I try since it wasn't beer-like.

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant is known for their extensive beer selection, and is right next to 't Dreupelkot - so you can get both your jenever and beer fix in one night. My friend knew I wasn't into beer, so he ordered something cherry flavored for me. And not a "radioactive" cherry flavor, which is what I mentioned when I questioned, cherry? Like a real deal cherry. It was a perfect choice for my boring picky self. (But I still didn't finish the bottle.)

Take a boat tour!
Available every day and each hour, this is one of the best and most relaxing ways to see Ghent, cruising along the canals. (Blankets are even provided!) A tour guide will point out everything from famous breweries (Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant!) to historic city sights like the Belfry and St. Nicholas' Church - in up to five languages, no less!
This is one of the best views of Gravensteen, also known as the Castle of the Counts, which dates back to the Middle Ages.
(The locals aren't the biggest fans of these tours, as evidenced by the signage posted along the canals.)

Pop by Stoffen Janssens!
If you're into fabric, or want to get really fancy and have an outfit made, this is the place to go. A family business for four generations now features Kollektie Eva, a custom made, self-designed clothing line. (And tell Eva and her family I said hi!) I stumbled across this store accidentally, a funny/not so funny story I will save for later.

I've been looking for fabric to make pillows for some time now, and was kind of disappointed when I returned from Mexico empty-handed. Now, I'm so glad I didn't find anything there, because never in my life have I seen such exquisite fabrics (LOOK AT THOSE CHANELS!). I wound up selecting three different fabrics for my pillows, which I can't wait to have made. I just hope they won't have drool all over them by the time I get around to it, because they are that freakin' good.

Stroll down Graffiti Street!
An ever-changing display of graffiti covers the walls of Werregarenstraat, an alley designated by the government as a legal spot for graffiti. The goal was to keep the rest of the city free of spray paint.

More photos of Ghent, below!
This was really interesting. When I was walking around, I noticed a sign about the lack of human interaction nowadays, and people were encouraged to sit and stare into the eyes of a partner for one minute. No words spoken, just staring, in order to connect with another human being without distraction. (I didn't do it.)
It came in handy to have a friend around to take a billion photos in order to achieve this "Barry Poppins" vision of mine. It would have been pretty embarrassing to flag a stranger to do it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Planes, Trains, Thangs.

Hello, from Kortrijk, Belgium! Where the fluck is that, you ask? About an hour and a half from Brussels, via train. I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks, being told pretty last minute that I would be shipped off to Belgium for a work-related trade show – by myself no less. (There’s nothing like last minute packing and scrambling to get the dogs taken care of, on top of trying to put together some sort of business agenda that’s cohesive and intelligible for a world-wide market.) I’m always up for a good challenge though.

I’ve had so much to write about prior to heading to Europe (I’m pretty sure I still have Mexico to finish?), and now I’ll need to tack on all sorts of European thangs, because this trip has certainly not been without stories to tell.  It’s my first time traveling on my own, and it’s an entirely different experience, both good and a little less good. I won’t say bad, nothing has been bad, it’s just a new way of traveling that I hadn’t yet experienced, is all. It is nice to be able to walk around at my own pace though, taking as many photos as I want without feeling like a bother, and deciding to eat when I want, and head back to the hotel when I want, and go to sleep/wake up when I want (granted, I’m up super early every day since this is a work-related trip).

Back to the stuff not yet written. It’s kind of evident that I go on kicks where all I want to do is write about every last thing I’m thinking and feeling, and then I’ll do a complete 180 and crawl into a hole, not writing or talking about anything (to anyone). It can be tricky when some of what I want to write about is related to family/friends that might read this, and yes, I get it, this is a blog and it's published, but still. It’s not a fun feeling to read something that’s directed toward you, and the last thing I want to do is upset someone I truly care about, regardless of the current state of our relationship. I'm trying to sort so much out in this head of mine, and once that task is done(ish), I'll projectile vomit all the feels on here, I'm sure.

Binnenkort praten! (I'm hoping Google translate was correct with saying "talk soon," because let me tell you, Dutch is not the easiest of languages to try and figure out on your own.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Setting the Right Pace.

One step at a time is good walking. – Chinese Proverb

It's officially the last month of my twenties, and I think I'm half thrilled and half scared shitless. I often catch myself thinking Am I where I should be in life? That's a hard question to answer, but for the most part I think I've figured it out: I am exactly where I should be. I've also figured out that one should not ask themselves that question, because it's all relative.

I am where it makes sense for me to be in this exact stage in my life, and I'm going to embrace the hell out of it because that'll change before I even know it. (Or when I do know/expect it to, should things go as planned this summer.) Time goes by so fast, and I want to make sure I'm living in the present moment, rather than being so concerned with what's next. I'll get there - wherever "there" is - one step at a time. And let's be real, a casual stroll is a lot more relaxing than a sprint. (Especially when taken in Malibu.)