Don & Donna's Visit - Brussels, Ypers, Poland, & Brugge


Don and Donna arrived just in time for one of our favorite Belgium pastimes, a parade. 

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This was a special parade, the unveiling of a new outfit on the Manneken-Pis.  

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With a theme of the Italian Carnival.

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It was very exciting for us as we have never experienced the unveiling of a new costume.  There is no rhyme or reason as to when they are changed.  We were also not aware that so much hoopla was involved.

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We started in the Grande Place at the beer festival.  We gave Don a small glass since he was still trying to get over his jet-lag.

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We marched through the streets with the carnival... 

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Ta-da!  They even had his "pisser" working so that is sprayed the crowd.  How funny!

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It was crazy that so many people were there for this event!

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D had to work several days during their visit so the three of us checked out our local sites.  We visited the Atomium, which was build int 1958 for the world's fair.  It is 334.6 ft high and the spheres measure a diameter of 59 ft, weighing 2400 tons.

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Elevators run in the tubes so you can travel from sphere to sphere, each housing special exhibits.  One of them is set up for children to spend the night.


On a clear day, like the day we visited, you can get some beautiful views of Brussels. 

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One day we rented a car and drove to Ypers to visit WWI's famous Flanders Field.  In the center of Ypers is an excellent museum called "In Flanders Field".  We also went to the largest British Cemetery, Tyne Cot where 11,908 graves are registered.

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The city of Ypers was completely destroyed during the battles of WWI, but has since been built back to it's original state.  It is now a pretty little Belgian town with a great history and a great ice cream parlor. 

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 The Poland Trip

Donna has always dreamed of visiting Poland as both of her parents are Polish.  So we purchased four tickets on Wizz air and off we went!

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Our first stop was Krakow, were we explored the castle

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and the historical old town.  We also jumped right into some good ole Polish food; pierogis, bigos, smalec (double fried lard served on bread), sauerkraut, beet soup, all delicious!

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We planned to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp so we watched Schindler's list before we left and visited his factory in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow.

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The factory was under construction with a new museum to open next year so we really did not see much.  We did visit a Synagogue where D&D had a father-son chat wearing a yamaka. 

This part of town is being revitalized and they have many shops and trendy cafes.  For lunch we ate at a place that offered 36 types of pierogis - now that is my kind of a restaurant!

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We stayed at a very sweet hotel with only six rooms.  D and I had stayed there when we visited Krakow in the spring.  Donna is trying to decide what to have for breakfast.

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As with all our trips, we found lots of time for eating and drinking.  In fact, we came up with a logo for our visitors - Travel with D&D........You will not learn much, but you will eat well!

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Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was certainly memorable.  1.1 million people (90% jews) were killed here from 1940-1944.  We had a private guide and all I can say is we all walked away completely drained.  I am going to just share the photos with you.  No explanation is needed.

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Photos inside the buildings were not allowed.  Which is probably goods as this was the most disturbing site.  In January of 1945, much of the camp was destroyed, but all buildings shown are original. 

I opted for black and white as I felt it would better represent the mood.  We also took color photos and a few are posted in the album.

It is hard to believe that something so horrific could take place in the world.  Let's just hope no one ever has to experience such a devastation again.

Part two of Poland - a happier journey

We continued our visit with a 2 hour drive to Zakopane, the mountain resort area of Poland.  This area is very well know for their quaint wooden houses

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and wooden churches.

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Here is a photo of our hotel.  We thought our hotel looked like a mushroom. 

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It was very pretty inside and in a very good location.  They spoke only a few words of English when we checked in. 

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We found a very fun restaurant that we went to both nights we were there.  Touristy, but we really enjoyed the music, the food, the dancing (no, not us dancing).  Look closely, we are in a sled!

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And kudos to Don for discovering the wonderful warm beer, a specialty of the area.  Even I, the non-beer lover ordered a glass the second night.

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The next day it was too cloudy to see the mountains so we drove across the border into Slovakia.  A first for all of us.

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We were surprised how colorful many of the little towns were.

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When we were driving throughout Poland people sold cheese and mushrooms on the side of the road.  The cheese is called Oscypek and it is a very salty smoked cheese made of sheep's milk.  It was good.

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We also stopped to buy mushrooms from an elderly women who did not speak any english.  Look how beautiful those mushrooms are.

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D and I pointed to a basket and held up what was equivalent to $3.00. 

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She dumped a big bowl of oyster mushrooms in a bag.  She kept patting my arm saying dziekujwe , dziekujwe (thank you).

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We think we got a good deal, but by her reaction, we think she felt like she got the deal.  I asked to take her photo and she giggled and touched her babushkas (scarf), so I guessed that meant okay.  It was a priceless moment.   We fried them in butter and ate with our chicken dinner the night we got back to Brussels.  Yummy!

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Now, the highlight of our trip - taking Donna to the hometown were her grandfather was from, Kamienica. 

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It was a small town, but we found the cutest restaurant to eat and quite large given how small the town was.  We cried (happy tears) and laughed all within the hour.  Don even danced to the polish music.

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It was a very touching day for all of us, but especially for Donna.  We ended the night and our Polish trip drinking Vodka.  A perfect time.


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We had one day of rest and laundry and off we went to Brugge, one of the prettiest towns in Belgium.  A picture-perfect day.

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Brugge is known for it's beautiful lace where women still do tatting.

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It was a relaxing day where we enjoyed a nice lunch and leisurely boat ride through the canals. 

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 Sunday was Don's birthday and Car-Free Sunday in Brussels so we knew we would have a fun day.  There are lots of events that take place around the city on this day.

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After a relaxing breakfast with eggs and grits, we headed to the city center to get Don a special Brussels B-day cake.......waffles with ice cream!!! 

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He looks pretty happy.   Onto the Grande Place where another beer festival was being held.  These Belgians do love their beer and their parades!

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d & d 

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and in Brussels you also have to eat chocolate on your birthday.  Well really you eat chocolate everyday!

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I'll end this Blog with my very favorite photo, taken in the park just down the street from our apartment.  We had a GREAT visit and look forward to next year when they come again. 

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There are a few more photos in the Don and Donna album just click on the link in the upper right of the first page.  And....just an FYI - Donna officially has the title of visiting us the most in Brussels - this was her third visit!

Krakow Poland - back to the Motherland!


D had a business meeting in Krakow (also spelled Cracow).  We were very excited because Poland was high on both of our "to visit" lists as both of our mothers are of Polish descent (D's mom is 100% Polish).   Krakow is in the southern part of Poland and was the capital from 1038 to 1596.


We had a lovely visit and again lucked out with picture perfect weather.  The city surprised us in many ways.  It was not destroyed during WWII so the buildings were all very beautiful with a mix of some contemporary sculptures. 


Most everyone spoke English and they spoke it very well.  It was super cheap to eat, which was a good thing because this trip was all about eating!  Okay, so all of our trips are all about eating!


Both of us grew up eating Polish food so we were anxious to taste the authentic fare.  Our first lunch we were served two traditional spreads, one with cottage cheese (the healthy option) and the other (bottom bowl in photo above) was called smelec - basically lard.  I was curious so I looked it up - yep, pork lard with pork added!


We ate lots of Pierogis (above) which are small dumplings that can be filled with meat, cheese, potatoes even sweets (blueberry and strawberry).  Pierogis are some of our favorites.  We also ate Golabkis (stuffed cabbage - we called them halupkis growing up), Bigos (hunters stew) and poppy seed rolls - YUMMY!


Enough about the food, let's get back to the city.....oh but wait, I need to show you the cake I had.  I snuck this one while D was working  :  )


The old town is not very big, but there is a beautiful square that is quite large.  The church shown in the photo below is St Mary's Basilica.  It was built in the 14th century and the story goes that two brothers were each building one of the towers.  While one brother was away, the other one raced to make his tower taller, a competition.  When the sibling returned and saw it, he killed his brother in a fit of rage and Krakow was left with a lopsided church.  


The square was very festive and had many street mimes.  We thought some of the best we have seen in Europe.  "White Guy" was our favorite.  If you have never seen the street performers, they stand completely, and I mean completely, still until you drop a coin in their bucket.  This one started to write about you in his book and then had you sign a pretend page.  His face was so animated.


This couple was also very good. What we liked about them was they were telling a story.  Each time someone gave them a coin, they acted out a little more of the story, but then stopped.  If you wanted to see more of the story, you had to give them more money.


I also enjoyed the horse carriages.  They had on special shoes that made a wonderful clopping sound as they strolled though the city.

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Sunday we hit the flea market where I bought a very cool old photo album.  I was on a roll negotiating with the old Polish man who did not speak a word of English.  As I was sorting through his junk, he talked away to D.  Not sure if he realized D did not speak any Polish.  I am proud to say I negotiated the album down from 45 Zloty to 40 Zloty (saving about $2).


We then wandered into Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, for lunch.  For those of you who are movies buffs, Schindler's List was filmed in this neighborhood.  The factory is in a neighborhood nearby.  We visited Izaak Synagogue dating back to 1600.  President Obama was seen in a Yamaka when he was a Senator and the rumor was he was about D???


The Kazimierz is the "hip" new area with many cool restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.  We stopped at a coffee house where each table, inside and out, were made from old sewing machines.


The petals worked.  It was very original, like nothing we had seen. 


In the afternoon we visited the Warwel Royal Castle. 


Hard to believe, but people lived on the Wawel hill fifty thousands years ago, in the Paleolithic age.  Around 1038, the first structure was built.  During the 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) created most of what is seen today in the Renaissance style.    


We toured the private apartment, but no photos were allowed.  Below is the courtyard which was finished in 1540.


Sunday night we met up with D's colleague, Agnieszka, who is from Poznan Poland (home of the BEST potatoes and ice cream).  She currently lives in Warsaw.  It was fun having someone who could speak the language out with us at dinner.  I hope to make it to Pozen one day to taste that ice cream!




I mentioned that both of our mother's families came from Poland.  It was hard to do any research as both of the family names had been changed through the years.  There was one very interesting story from my side.


My great grandfather was attending a seminary in Krakow.  He met a young women (we think my grandmother) and had to leave the seminary (you can fill in the gap here).  We went on a guided tour of the city and I asked our guide how many seminaries are in Krakow and she said a few, but this one (photo above) is the only one where they did not take a vow of silence.  Guessing that my great grandfather had to meet and speak to the young lady, we ruled the others out!


So there is a very good chance that I am standing in the door of the Archubiskupie Seminarium Duchowne W Krakowie, where my great grandfather also stood.  Thank goodness he was not truly dedicated as I would not be here today  :  )


One thing we have not seen in other countries are pretzel stands at EVERY corner in the city.    Most had white coats on, like doctors. 


We wondered how much money they could actually make in a day.  The vendors were young and old, men and women.  The pretzels were around 46 cents.  We wanted to help support them so...


Note the beautiful park behind us in this photo.  At one time, Krakow was a walled city.  The upkeep of the wall became too expensive for the city to repair so they took it down and made a park that circles the entire old city.  It is beautiful with trees, flowers, and wonderful walking paths.  Called the Planty (green circle), it is heavily used by all.


Many of you have asked, Cathy, what exactly do you do when poor D is working?  D took this photo for you to get an idea.


After my morning break, I head out to the street to check out the local shopping and what is going on.


Beer anyone?


I ate at two really cheap but sweet places.  


One was a "milk" bar where students eat.  But when I was there it seemed like all the old ladies in town were eating there.  Humm...what does that say about me?


I wandered to the local market where they were selling the delicious cheese we ate at breakfast.   It is called Qvark.  It is kind of like a mix between cream cheese, cottage cheese and ricotta, but is supposed to be low in fat like yogurt.   

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I met up with D that evening as the sponsor of the meeting he was attending arranged a tour of the city with an English guide and a special dinner.  The tour was very informative.


We had a wonderful meal at a very upscale restaurant.  AND we experienced a first - we ate ozorek cielecy w sosie sardelowym.  Who would like to guess???  George do you know?  Unfortunately, I do not have a photo.  Do you give????   It was Veal tongue with anchovy sauce and YES I ATE IT.   Thank god for the flavorful wine.  I will admit it was good, but not sure I would eat it again.  The rest of the menu was a delight, cream of horseradish soup, roasted duck and apple cake with elder sauce and crystallized rose petals.  A wonderful ending to an absolutely delectable meal.  It was very sweet that they invited me as I was the only spouse visiting.    


Goodbye for now Krakow......we hope to see you again in September with Don & Donna!

ps.....want to see a few more photos?  There is a Krakow album on the top right of the Blog.