Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Glover's! May all your Christmas wishes come true!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

News from Brussels....

I thought I was safe in Brussels...then I find this news on xpats.com!

ENVIRONMENT - US bomb cleared near airport
BRUSSELS - An unexploded 250 kilo World War II US bomb has been discovered during work near the freight terminal at Brussels Airport. Ordnance experts from the Belgian army took the bomb away while neighbouring warehouses and offices were evacuated. Brussels Airport was a major German airbase during the second world war and was heavily bombed.

Let me remind you that my office is in the freight terminal of the Brussels Airport!

I'll be home for Christmas.....

Let's all sing together......

"I'll Be Home For Christmas"
I'm dreaming tonight
Of a place I love
Even more than I usually do.
And although I know
It's a long road back
I promise you
I'll be home for Christmas.
You can count on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

I leave for Memphis this Thursday, December 20th! I am so excited! I will be home through January 7th...so I hope to see you all soon!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cologne, Germany

My 2007 tour of Christmas markets continued this past weekend with a fantastic trip to Cologne, Germany. I went with my friends, Dan and Pam (Zsa Zsa's parents). Over the past 6 months, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know the both of them, but this was the first time I have actually traveled with them. They were soooooo much fun and I am looking forward to our next trip together!

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and fought our way through the crowds to see what this market was all about. We decided we were hungry and stopped for some lunch and a traditional German beer(s)! After lunch we browsed around the markets and did some great shopping! There was a polish pottery vendor....so, of course, Pam and I bought them out! Have I told you how much I love polish pottery??

I was also introduced to hot red wine with rum. Dan informed me its official name is "glu wine". Ok, you may think it is good....well, I am here to tell you, it is not! I gave it the ole college try, twice...with the same result.....handing it off to Dan to finish!! I will say the little mug and boot mug it came in were sooo cute! However, I decided I would just stick with the German beer (also in a great glass)!!

There was a cool ice skating rink where kids were sliding around...it was nice to watch from the sidelines!
Oh silly Pam!

Pam loved the Kumquat puppets...I think she just liked its hair!!

We had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant (how about that for cuisine)! It was so good and really hit the spot after a long day of walking in the freezing weather!

On Sunday, we walked around some more to finish our shopping! Pam and I got suckered into trying out these little hair weapons....excuse me, I mean, hair pins. The lady showed us how to do it ourselves (she promised we can) so we will see if that actually happens!

She was pulling really tight.....love my face here!

The market was fantastic and the traveling companions were fabulous....so that must equal one incredible weekend!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Visitors!

My friend Jane made a quick visit to Brussels while she was vacationing in France! I was so excited to see her and to meet her friend (and now mine), Lisa. They stayed 1 night with me so we did a quick trip around the Grand Place to show them a couple of must-see attractions in Brussels, had dinner with a Belgian beer, ate a waffle, and did some chocolate and lace shopping! I think they covered a lot of ground in a matter of 12 hours!

Christmas is a great time to see the Grand Place. It is absolutely beautiful this time of year with the decorations and Christmas tree and nativity. We had a great time!

Thanks for stopping by Jane and Lisa! Come back soon!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Frankfurt, Germany

I was in Frankfurt, Germany this past weekend for the first stop on my 2007 Tour of Christmas Markets!! I went with my friend Julie and also a friend of hers from Los Angeles who is currently in Europe for work. Can you tell we were a little chilly!!??

We took the 7AM train from Brussels for a 3 1/2 hour ride to Frankfurt. I must tell you how much I LOVE train travel in Europe! It is so convenient and easy to get anywhere without the hassle of security and delays that you experience in airports!

Anyway, we arrived at 10:30AM and the fun began. We picked a perfect hotel literally 100 yards from the Christmas market.

I have always heard about the German Christmas markets but really did not know what to expect. I found the Frankfurt market to be very festive with tons of vendors selling lots of food, ornaments, toys, etc. In my opinion, you go to a Christmas market for the festiveness of season, a little shopping, indulge in some hot wine, hot chocolate, carolers singing your favorite Christmas carols (in German, in course), and just to get in the spirit of the season. The Frankfurt market was all of that and more.

The vendors had very festive stalls where they sold all their goods. Check them out!

Since we arrived early in the day we were able to do most of our shopping before the major crowds hit. We were also very blessed with the weather as it was sunny and clear blue skies, although a little chilly! After dark, the crowds really came out!

I am not sure why we thought this trash can was so funny....maybe it was because of the hot wine!

We also found the HUGE chocolate covered pretzels hilarious!

There was so much food you could literally stuff yourself walking from stall to stall. It reminded me a bit of the Mid-South fair with all the yummy treats to choose from.

Everyone was in the spirit of Christmas. There were carolers, Santa's posse, and some awesome hats...

And there were ornaments galore.....

Frankfurt definitely lived up to my expectations of a great Christmas market! I am now definitely looking forward to Cologne next weekend!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Tradition says...

Early in the Advent season people celebrate a feast that has been popular for centuries in Christian countries, especially in Northern Europe. In our over-commercialized society, this holiday gives us a good "teaching moment" to remind children that Jolly Santa Claus, is, in fact, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey.

Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas. For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors, among others.

Traditional celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day in Northern Europe included gifts left in children's shoes (the origin of our American Christmas stockings). Good children receive treats - candies, cookies, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive switches or lumps of coal. Sometimes coins were left in the shoes, reminiscent of the life-saving dowries the saint provided. Today - especially in families of German extraction - children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and expect to find candy and coins or small gifts in their shoe on December 6th.

I was first exposed to the tradition of St. Nicholas Day last year when we did a community service project at a school for underprivileged children! We went to the school the day before St. Nicholas was to come and decorated the classrooms with gold tinsel and left backpacks filled with gifts and toys for the kids. In many cases this was the only Christmas gift some of these kids would receive. We came back on St. Nicholas Day and saw the expressions on the kid's faces when they received their gifts! It was so cool to be apart of! We got to read them the story of St. Nicholas and spend some time with them. It was very special and certainly made me more appreciative of all that I have been blessed with.

This year, St. Nicholas visited me at work and left chocolates and speculoos for us to enjoy! Thanks St. Nick!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Christmas Markets!

I absolutely love Christmas and all of the decorations! I have moderately decorated my apartment for Christmas. I did not want to go overboard mainly because it is just me and I am not throwing any Christmas parties this year...and I am leaving on December 20th heading to Memphis for Christmas.

Anyway, I am planning on getting into the Christmas spirit starting weekend! I am off to Frankfurt, Germany with my friend Julie for the first stop of my tour of Christmas markets! Then, I am in Aachen and Cologne, Germany next weekend with my friends Dan and Pam (Zsa Zsa's parents).

I also cannot miss the Brussels Christmas market! The Grand Place will be decorated with a huge tree, lots of lights, and a live nativity! How cool is that!?

Lots of festivities getting started so I am excited about seeing how the other side of the world celebrates Christmas!!

I will have more to report soon!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Just when you start to get comfortable...

Ok, I have been here for almost 8 months and I have managed quite nicely driving myself to and from work without getting lost for some time now. Well, just when I thought I knew it all....things go oh so wrong!

I rarely use my GPS to get me to work anymore as I go the same way daily. However, this morning I left earlier than normal and thought I would be brave and try something new and see if I can avoid any traffic. The way I typically go is pretty much a straight shot but with a million stop lights, which in a lot of traffic, means you do not move too far too fast. My GPS has always wanted to take me through the city which is basically going straight through downtown along some of the side streets, etc. I went that way a few times, but the streets are so small that I cannot tell where I am suppose to turn when "Jack" (my GPS) tells me to. Luckily, Jack recalculates my route and gets me going again!

A while back, someone had told me if I take the route through the city it could save me over 10 minutes. Well, in the mornings, 10 minutes is a big deal....so today was the day I was going to try....since I am a total local now....and know everything, right??!! WRONG!

Anyway, I start on my new route and make only a few minor wrong turns. Then I end up in a tunnel where my GPS tells me to turn right...so I do. Well, right after the GPS told me to turn right it lost satellite reception because I was in a tunnel. So, I thought, well, I better turn immediately right because that was what I was told.

Needless to say, it was the wrong turn (as you might have guessed) and I ended up in the European Union's very very very secured parking garage. I knew immediately this was not right when I made the turn. (By the way....remember when I first got here and got locked in a parking garage??!!!) This was almost the same thing...but not quite as bad. There were security guards to get me out and point me in the right direction!

So, I think it goes without saying that I will continue to take the same way to work that I have taken since I arrived....and leave the adventures for the weekends!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Berlin, Germany (Part 2)

Saturday evening we were able to tour The Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, which is one of Berlin's most historical landmarks. It was an interesting tour but I will spare you the details. There is a glass dome which was really cool. The dome is a gleaming metal and glass structure with a ramp that spirals up to a roof terrace with 360-degree views of central Berlin. The dome overlooks the debating chamber for the Bundestag and a central mirrored cone draws light into the plenary chamber! It was a beautiful site.

We were there at night...so it is kinda hard to see in my pictures.

After dinner at The Reichstag we walked over to the Brandenburg Gate which is the only remaining gate of a series through which one formerly entered Berlin.

On Sunday morning when I woke up I noticed it had snowed overnight! I was so excited to see snow! It was just a little bit of accumulation but was melted off before breakfast!

Anyway, Sunday, we walked around the area which is known as Museum Island (and you know how I feel about museums)! Basically we walked and wondered around and learned some interesting history about Berlin. When it was time to go through one of the museums, the Beth's and I ditched the group again and went on our own tour of little cafes and tested out the hot chocolate from one cafe to another! It was awesome! Starbucks got my highest rating of 10 stars!

One thing I did think was cool was a place where Hitler demanded all books not in German be burned. It was on this spot where the books were burned and a monument was erected noting the empty book shelves. I thought it was cool because the monument is basically underground with a glass top where you can look inside.

We also walked by the famous Berliner Dom or Berlin Cathedral. Berlin Cathedral is situated on the Spree island and is a protestant cathedral built on the model of St.Peter's Dome in Rome. I believe it is the largest protestant church in Europe!

We also saw the The Fernsehturm (German for "television tower"). It is a well-known landmark, close to Alexanderplatz. The tower was built between 1965 and 1969 by the former German Democratic Republic, and its image was used as a symbol of Berlin by the GDR administration. The tower is easily visible throughout the central districts of Berlin, and remains a symbol of the city.

One last thing we did (before hitting up Starbucks) was to visit the Jewish Memorial. The monument to the murdered Jews of Europe is a field of 2,700 concrete slabs near the Brandenburg Gate. It was a sobering site.

Finally....we did some shopping! We went to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) which is the largest department store in all of Europe! It was HUGE! Despite all the shopping , I loved all of the Christmas decorations! Check them out below!

Also, I am trying to buy things specific to each country I visit. In Germany at Christmastime, you have to buy an original nutcracker (or two)! I will post pictures of my nutcrackers soon with the history of the nutcracker!

My overall impression of Berlin was very positive. It is a larger city than I expected and very crowded. It is also very very modern with a Starbucks on a lot of corners and many shopping plazas. Berlin has a fascinating history and a very prospering future!

This was my first trip ever to Germany....and I really liked the country. The people are very nice and very normal. You almost feel like you are in the US when you look around. It is hard to describe, but the Germans definitely looked 'more normal' than say people from France.

Overall, I highly recommend visiting Berlin (maybe in the springtime)....it was COLD!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cultural Differences (Part Quatre)

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a lot of college kids walking around in lab coats asking for money in the streets. I had no idea what was going on....until I read the blog of a friend here in Brussels. I am attaching her post to fill you in (I hope she does not mind!!). Here ya go....

It is hard to grasp just how different Europeans are from Americans until you live over here. Even having been here three years I am still sometimes shocked at what I hear.

For example, I take French class through a university here in Brussels. Out of the 21 students in my class, only one guy is actually also a student at the university (and not just an expat or trailing spouse). He was recently telling us about the student "baptisms" that have been taking place these past few weeks. Basically each college at the university has a co-ed fraternity (so there is one for Literature, Economics, Political Science, etc.) but only about 10-15% of the student take part in the fraternities.

The final act/hazing the pledges go through has been happening the last couple of weeks. For those reading this in Brussels, the pledges are the ones you see at intersections wearing white lab coats that are covered in blue, baseball caps with really long bills, and collecting change in beer glasses to fund their beer money. As it was explained to me by my friend, the final act is for groups of three to five pledges to put on a performance each night which lasts about two to three hours. The performance addresses current issues, makes fun of embarassing things that have happened to people, and can basically cover a wide area of topics. These are done outside at night in a big white tent in front of about 300 students. This might all seem normal enough until you hear the next part. The performers are completely sober, naked and covered in oil. The entire time they are performing, the audience throws this blue stuff at them (I saw it -- the blue stuff, not the performance -- and it basically looks like dyed blue chunky sawdust or crumbled crayon). Each audience member pays 8 euros to enter and then is provided with all the beer and pot they can consume for the whole evening. As if just being naked in front of 300 of your closest friend wasn't bad enough, remember we are in Belgium where it is currently 32 F this evening.

If that hasn't shocked you, then check out this link: http://www.speedbandits.dk/ (not suitable for people at work or those who are offended by nudity).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Berlin, Germany (Part 1)

I just returned from a great trip to Berlin, Germany. This is another trip sponsored by the American Women's Club. I love going on those trips because all I have to do is pay my money and show up...everything else is taken care of so it is very stress-free travel!

I really liked Berlin, but really did not have a clue as to what to see and do besides, of course, the Berlin Wall. A couple of friends went along with me so it was fun getting to know Beth and Beth (yes, they are both named Beth) better! The best part was having 2 ladies who are fun to be with and who also like to see cities like I do....experiencing the local culture and skipping out on a lot of the museums.

Case in point....

We flew to Berlin on Friday afternoon. When we arrived we went to the Schloss Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin. We had a wonderful dinner in the The Orangery Wing of the Palace. After dinner we attended a traditional and classical musical concert. Here, in the soft candlelight, you can hear classical and baroque music performed by the Berlin Palace Orchestra. The members of the orchestra dressed in original period costumes.

Ok, enough about that...the funny part was that after the first half, we ditched the BORING concert and headed out to have some drinks. It was nice to get cultured, but enough is enough and I am really not into classical music!! Everyone in our group was jealous that we left and they didn't!!!

On Saturday, we headed to Checkpoint Charlie and to the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I actually really liked this museum. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. Many other sector crossing points existed in Berlin. Some of these were designated for residents of West Berlin and West German citizens. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (by foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of east and west, and — for some East Germans — a gateway to freedom. It was given the name of "Charlie" based on the alphabet...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.

What I found very interesting about this museum was how people tried to sneak past the guards at the checkpoint. They would hide in the trunks of cars (sometimes curled up for hours in a tiny area) or take out the gas tank and hide there with only a small replacement tank to get them over the border. You have to remember that part of the wall was built in 24 hours which meant some families could have been separated which made for people to get very creative to get over the border and reunited with loved ones. I cannot imagine the feeling of being trapped.

One very interesting story I saw was a lady who shopped and went by the guards regularly. They were used to her having her shopping bag with her...so one day she hid her son in the cart and got him over the border. Check out the pictures below.

This picture is another creative way of getting over the border. Someone put 2 suitcases together and hide in there for hours while crossing the border on a train. Very creative thinking!!

There were so many ways people would cross the border and too many to really post so be sure to check out my pictures on Shutterfly (link is on the side of this post under "My Favorite Links".

We then walked over the the remaining part of the Wall which still stands. The Wall divided East and West Berlin for 28 years, from the day construction began on August 13, 1961 until it was dismantled in 1989. During this period 125 people were killed trying to cross the Wall into West Berlin. However, a prominent victims' group claims that more than 200 people had been killed trying to flee the East to West Berlin.

When the East German government announced on November 9, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that entering West Berlin would be permitted, crowds of East Germans climbed onto and crossed the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. Over the next few weeks, parts of the Wall were chipped away by a euphoric public and by souvenir hunters; industrial equipment was later used to remove almost all of the rest of it.

The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German reunification, which was formally concluded on October 3, 1990. Can you believe that was only 17 years ago! I vividly remember 1990!!! It is amazing to me that something like this happened during my lifetime.

They built a cobblestone pathway to show where the Wall existed before it was taken down. I thought it was interesting to be able to cross from east to west Berlin so freely and what it must have been like just 20 years ago!!