The Brussels adventure

This past January my husband and I had the 25th anniversary of our first kiss and to celebrate a quarter of a century together (that sounds sooooo long!) he and I went away, just the two of us, to Brussels for 3 days (2 nights).  We decided to do it the unstressed way: go by train! The journey is only 2.5 hours from where we live and we only had to change trains once. The kids were looked after by friends, so there were no worries there, and we were off last Thursday morning. This is what it looked like just after we boarded the train to Brussels. Coffee for Mr Esther, tea for me, cakes and reading material… Yes, good start to our mini-break!

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We arrived in Brussels and walked to the street our hotel was in (right bang in the historical center!), had a late lunch, checked in to our hotel and then started walking… and walking… and walking… We walked by ‘Manneken Pis’ (yeah, world famous small fountain statue of a little boy peeing)…

… walked some more…

… and popped into a church where I lit a candle for my dad and which also turned out to be Heraldry-heaven for Mr Esther (the man loves medieval history and is a heraldry specialist, a fangirl of sorts, if you will)…

… we walked on and on till we got to the royal palace, which is the Belgian king’s work place…

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… walked from there back into the old town, with a lovely view as we came down…

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… we stopped for drinks then walked on to finally visit a high point: the market square with old city hall and beautiful old buildings surrounding it (click on images to enlarge)…

It’s a gorgeous square, it’s probably the best cared for part of Brussels. Our hotel was situated about a minute minute away from this location. This was our breakfast room view, by the way…

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Our feet were already getting very tried at the end of that first day. We went to the hotel room, freshened up and then went off to dinner and a movie after (Silence – slow moving Martin Scorsese movie about Portugese Jesuit monks in 17th century Japan – 3 people walked out during it, but Mr Esther and I found it totally engrossing).

Friday, the second day, we walked even more… We visited the cathedral (again, click to enlarge)…

… and, as we are Europeans at heart, we walked on to where the European Union administration is situated. The European Commission building is freakishly huge (these pictures don’t even begin to show that)…

… outside that building there is also a piece of the Berlin Wall with a text on the history of that eyesore and how since that was torn down European unity has grown…

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… we walked by the European Parliament buildings…

Outside the parliament building there was a tree decorated in a crocheted work of art. I have no idea what that is about but we found it amusing…

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We walked through more streets closer to the old center where our hotel also was…

… and in less touristy parts of Brussels, we also came across an occasional house painted with interesting illustrations (again, click to enlarge)…

Speaking of cartoon characters, we also came across this sign in a park, asking Pokemon character searchers to keep off the grass as the grass had just been re-planted. Apparently massive amounts of Pokemom game players had trampled the grass before…

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Of course, by the end of the day our feet were just about dead and we sat for quite a while sipping wine (me) and special beer (Mr Esther) in the old market square…

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We moved from there to a restaurant and later back to the square again for more beer. The square was beautifully lit after dark…

Saturday, our last day in Brussels, we spent at the museum, seeing an exhibition on famous Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. Alas, his most famous works weren’t there, but he sure made some really wonderful less famous paintings too!

In the same museum we also strolled through the beautiful medieval paintings section…

Alas, we were too tired to go on to the 19th / early 20th century paintings that I had also wanted to see; we skipped that in favour of a café (and more beer and wine) before taking our train and heading back home again.

For me, hardly a trip is complete without fangirling of some sort! And I got to do some on this trip as well! There was no Richard, Colin or latest crush Lucas fangirling but there was the 1920s Magritte painting, that made me think of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries because of the black bob hairstyle (sorry for the fuzzy picture)…

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… and we came across Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame in a Longines watches ad in a jewelry store window ( I stared and smiled at that for a while before moving on, the man and his smile are beautiful)…

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Brussels also likes its comic / scifi / fantasy stores… In a store window, for instance, we saw all sorts of wands from Harry Potter characters for sale…

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… and then in another store, which was filled with so much stuff you could hardly move, I decided to search once again for a Pop Thorin figure. I always regretted not getting Pop Thorin at the time The Hobbit movies came out and now they are sold out everywhere and they’re very expensive online. Well, I didn’t find Thorin but then my husband called me over and I saw these two…

20170305_155620… Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy! Granted, not Colin Firth as Darcy but hey, he can pass for it, right? And a kick ass Elizabeth Bennet, who I did enjoy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. So yeah, I didn’t want to regret not getting Elizabeth Bennet! I bought her first, then the next day decided I’d get Mr. Darcy as well. I want no more Pop-regrets…

And the last bit of fangirling had everything to do with Charlotte Bronte! Jane Eyre is still one of my absolute fave books ever, this coming summer we will be travelling to Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire where she lived, and yesterday I walked in her footsteps in Brussels! Charlotte Bronte stayed in Brussels for about a year in her mid twenties, learning French at a ‘pensionnat’, a school for girls, and also teaching English there. She also fell in love with the husband of the pensionnat owner, Monsieur Heger, even though nothing ever came of that. She based two books on her Brussels experiences (‘The Professor’ and ‘Vilette’) and Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester is said to have been modelled after Monsieur Heger. The part of Brussels (between the royal palace and the older city) where she lived isn’t there anymore. Now big buildings stand on the street where the pensionnat used to be, the street itself is also gone. On one building (you really have to figure out where to find it, luckily Mr Esther is good at that stuff) there is a plaque commemorating Charlotte and her sister Emily living there…

… and there are steps there that were also there in Charlotte’s time and that she most certainly must have walked on…

When we were at the museum an hour or so later, we saw this painting…

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It’s  the painting of a school children’s parade in Brussels, all these girls are schoolgirls! It was painted quite a few years after Charlotte and Emily left Brussels but I like to imagine that these girls could have been their pupils… or maybe the teacher walking next to these girls was!

We took the train out of Brussels again yesterday at the end of the afternoon and got off at Antwerp to have dinner there before heading home. While in Antwerp station (beautiful building inside!) we sat drinking coffee and chai tea latte while waiting for our next train. This was our view…

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… and yes, it immediately reminded me of one of my favourite flash mob videos ever, which was also the first one I ever saw, I think. A flash mob The Sound of Music ad was filmed in Antwerp station some years ago and still is awesome to watch…

Yep, we had a really wonderful time! It was over all too soon…

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30 Day Movie Challenge – Day 13

Day 13 – A guilty pleasure

When I was a teenager I loved Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Italo-Pop but none of my friends did. So, watching their movies and listening to that music were my guilty (secret) pleasures. Nowadays I don’t care what anyone says anymore to what I like or don’t like. I like what I like, take it or leave it. So, I don’t think I really have a guilty pleasure when it comes to movies as I don’t feel guilty anymore about what I like… Except maybe the extent to which I indulge myself… I’ll illustrate with The Sound of Music.

There are certain camp or kitschy movies that I really love watching (and nowadays refuse to be apologetic about) like kitschy fairy tale musicals, Mamma Mia, I used to like watching the old German Sissi movies with Romy Schneider and I used to and still love watching The Sound of Music.

Now, I know a lot of people love this movie as well but I have watched it so many times, I think I can speak along with most of the dialogue! I know exactly what happens when, I can sing all the songs, I know the names of all the kids and still I love going back to it. And the worst part? I even went to a The Sound of Music movie sing-along once, where you sing along with the songs and react with the whole audience to whatever is happening on the screen! I used to organise movie nights for co-workers at my old job and was able to convince about 4 or 5 people to come along with me. We ‘dressed up’ in Austrian hunter’s hats and joined in with the singing, cheering Maria on, hissing at the baroness, saying “amen” every time we saw a nun on the screen, cheering when the captain and Maria kissed, etc. etc. And you know what? I so would do this again and am constantly on the look out to discover when a possible next sing-along will be! While everyone enjoyed themselves, I REALLY enjoyed myself…

So, my guilty pleasure? I tend to over-indulge in movies I love and actors I love and I never get enough. I can spend hours and hours on this when to someone else it can seem like a waste of time. I can completely lose myself in these stories and these people, seemingly forever. Over-indulging is my drug of choice, and yes, I sometimes feel guilty for not being able to tear myself away. Then again, I tell myself it beats drinking too much vodka or smoking, er, whatever…

 (30 Day Movie Challenge – the full list of questions)

Blog post 101

Apparently my post today about the Muse concert was my 100th blog post! So, I’ve decided that a year into blogging and after 100 posts it was time for a little blog facelift. I’d grown a bit tired of late of how my blog looked, it’s not really fun to look at the same image of yourself in the header over and over again… Also, I wanted something lighter than the dark blue. The 100th post milestone finally kicked me into action. So, I picked my The Crucible watercolour that my mother had painted for me for my birthday as a header image, picked a new layout theme and a different font and voilà, it all looks different! I’ve got to say that for now, I’m happy with how the blog looks. 🙂

The subtitle of my blog (“these are a few of my favorite things”) is taken from a song in “The Sound of Music”. This past spring was the 50th anniversary of that film, I only recently came across that fact. I also came across this  recent image of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer that I loved!

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Photo by Annie Leibowitz

I saw it in this sweet article. They are looking happy and energetic and beautiful and, might I add, a little naughty too! Great picture and a very pleasing way to celebrate my 101st blog post and the blog facelift.. 🙂

Cheering up on a rainy day

This is what I like to watch on a rainy day like today:

In the past (albeit long ago) I have even re-enacted this on occasion, outside on the streets! It really does make rainy days less somber. The movie “Singin’ in the Rain” is full of great numbers, like “Make ’em Laugh” and “Good morning” (that I still regularly sing to myself when I have a cheerful morning)

And then Gene Kelly makes me think of Fred Astaire and the awesome stuff he did in film dancing, like this one on roller skates!

And then I get nostalgic for old movies and old songs in movies, and I think of this:

Oh, how I love Audrey Hepburn! And Audrey Hepburn makes me think of Ingrid Bergman, my other favourite actress from long ago:

Casablanca is still a masterful movie… (and has another classic music scene where the people in the café drown out the Nazis’ singing with The Marseillaise).

Of course, when thinking of music in films, “The Sound of Music” pops up in my head as well. Quite some kitsch in there, but I can’t help myself, I love the film (I even went to a Sound of Music sing-a-long once, and boy, was that fun!). So, here’s “Edelweiss” (oh, and I adore the Baroness’s sarcastic comment just before Captain von Trapp starts singing):

Another one I like, although not so old (my kids would disagree, this is from before my eldest was born) is something Heath Ledger did in “10 Things I Hate About You” that makes me grin every time:

Another modern one that just makes me laugh from the movie “Enchanted”:

And of course, Monty Python makes me happy. I could link to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from their absolute masterpiece film “The Life of Brian”, but I’ll choose the Galaxy Song instead (from “The Meaning of Life”), and then in the version as sung by Stephen Hawking!

And that is how you make a grey rainy day all happy and cheerful! 🙂

The Oscars 2015

Every year, for many years now, I stay up all night to watch the Oscars live on TV (ceremony starts at around 2 am here and ends at around 6 am!). For the past 5 or 6 years a close friend of mine comes over to watch it with me. We take the Monday off work and after breakfast/lunch at around 1 pm she heads home again…

Oscars

Ever since my early teens in Germany ‘discovering’ Hollywood I always wanted to see the Oscars. It was a celebration of film and I could ogle actors in ‘real life’ – but more glamorously. Yes, there’s always criticism about the choice of nominations and who wins and the awards show itself and the speeches and who wore what and looked stunning/awful and in the grand scheme of things I do realize it is fluff and not so important. But it is fun and I like fun! I could never watch the ceremony then, it didn’t air on any channel we received. In later years in The Netherlands it occasionally aired somewhere on a channel somewhere and then some years I couldn’t find an airing of the ceremony anywhere, to my great chagrin. Only in more recent times have I been able to watch regularly on a paid cable film channel that opens up for free on Oscar night! And so, maybe 10 years ago or so, my all-nighters began and I could finally see for myself on a regular yearly basis what everyone was writing about.

Watching the Oscars also means that I like to see at least some of the movies nominated. I don’t go see them all, just the ones that really interest me and sound good to me beforehand. I had seen The Imitation Game and loved it. Last week on a Wednesday afternoon, while my husband was working from home, I was able to catch the very last screening in our local cinema (on my own, with just 4 other people present in the room!) of The Theory of Everything. Yes, excellent performances by Eddie Redmayne and for me, especially from Felicity Jones! I wanted to blog about that as well, especially about Felicity, but I was too busy and then this past week I have been ill (hence the Oscar post only now and not 3 days ago).

Felicity Jones - Jane HawkingWow, I so would have liked for her to win an Oscar for playing Jane Hawking! So strongly acted and culminating in the heartbreaking  scene near the end at the break up of their marriage. Beautiful, understated, so well done!

David Oyelowo - Martin Luther King

Then on Sunday evening, before my all-night Oscar party, my friend and I went to see Selma. The name “Selma” is special to me and I love that it is now also associated with a good movie! For me, it was not the best movie of the year (somehow The Imitation Game touched me more, but that may be because that story is less known) but, boy, was it solid and good. And especially David Oyelowo was excellent! That man has been robbed for not being nominated for his role in Selma!

This year the Oscar viewing was a bit different – I didn’t have to stay awake after the Oscars to get the kids up and off to school as they have the week off. And they decided they wanted to watch the Oscars as well with my friend and I! So, kids had gone to bed early and we woke them up about an hour before the ceremony began (just after 1 am!). They watched some of the red carpet with us and then the ceremony as well. My husband gave up at around 3.30 am and went to bed but the kids, my friend and I watched till the end. It was so nice having the kids do this with us, although I suspect they were more fascinated by the staying-up-through-the-night aspect of it all than by the actual Oscars thing. 😉

ThiEddie Redmayne Oscars year I didn’t have so much to really root for. I would have slightly preferred Cumberbatch to win over Redmayne but did love that Redmayne had won and his joyous acceptance of the award. I really like Julianne Moore but I was rooting for Felicity Jones. Loved that The Imitation Game received one vital award (adapted screenplay – and the wonderful speech that went with that!) but wished they could have received more. I loved the speech the winner for best foreign film gave (Polish film called “Ida”) and how he went on talking through the music and the disarming honest humor in that speech. I couldn’t join in the Birdman fuss as that film isn’t out here yet I don’t think… and that’s where my gripe starts…

This was mostly about films no one the-hobbit-Thorinhas seen! Granted, I love small films and feel they deserve awards like these, but a little more recognition for a blockbuster like, oh, The Hobbit would not have been amiss! I think people are so used to the wonders of Middle Earth that it isn’t considered special anymore… I really missed The Hobbit in all this…

As for the show itself – Neil Patrick Harris didn’t do it for me as a presenter. I so much preferred last year’s Ellen DeGeneres and some years before that: Hugh Jackman, who had really surprised me at the time! Harris delivered some nice jokes – only to undo each and every one of them after the punchline with a little grin!

I really liked the song “Glory” from “Selma” that won the Oscar – very powerful performance on Oscar night with John Legend, Common and a gospel choir to back them up! And then the most surprising performance of the night and real high point for me – when Lady Gaga did that The Sound of Music medley! I mean, yeah, I knew Lady Gaga could sing – but like that?!? Wow!

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And then Julie Andrews came out and hugged her and said “Dear Lady Gaga… thank you for that wonderful tribute, it warmed my heart”… my goodness, goosebumps and the best 5 or 6 minutes of the whole show for me!

So, yes, thereColin-Firth-Oscar was little for me to get excited over on the awards front this year (unlike 4 or so years ago when Colin Firth won – I was over-the-moon then! Still so happy about that, that I need to share a picture on the right here). And yet, this still was a memorable Oscar night for me: there was the Lady Gaga surprise and Julie Andrews, there was sadness at missing The Hobbit and, most memorable of all, there was the sharing of this Oscar night with my kids for the first time!