Wednesday, August 25, 2010


We loved Brugge the minute we arrived. It is so pretty and so clean.  And if the beautiful mix of Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture isn't enough, Brugge is surrounded by canals that weave through the city making it even more picturesque.

But first, the hotel.  Hotel Heritage was the perfect place to spend four nights.  Everything about this hotel is pretty and we loved it. So, bear with me as I show you around (I was a little camera-happy).

Hotel Heritage Lobby

The lobby was welcoming and comfortable.

Sitting Room

The sitting area was cozy and I would have loved to spend more than 5 minutes in this room. But you know what it's like when you are traveling--you rest when you go to bed at night! 

Breakfast Room

The breakfast room. Through the mirror you get a glimpse of the handpainted ceiling. It was always quiet in this room because Leslie and I were usually the first ones up and at 'em.


Even the hallway outside the elevator had style. I know it's odd to take the above pic but I loved the colors and the trim work.

Our room

And after one not-so-lovely night in Brussels, we were thrilled to walk into our room and find ample space and lots of comforts including a desktop computer for our use (no extra charge).

As is usually the case when you reserve a twin bedded room in Europe, you will find that the beds are set-up like this--but you pull back the covers and two beds appear which can be pushed apart for a bit of space. The bathroom was also great but I'll spare you the details (although the bathroom amenities by Hermes were mighty fine.)

OK, back to the city.  Brugge is an easy walking and biking town (which I love since I don't live in that type of city). We immediately got going with our map to begin navigating the twisting and winding streets usually using various spires and towers as our "you are here" points.  Leslie is a stellar map reader, me--not so much.  If left alone I would resort to leaving breadcrumbs strewn along the paths. If I did that at home, the rotten birds would just eat them up, but the birds in Belgium seemed better behaved.

Water everywhere. I don't know about you, but when I see bodies of water I immediately relax.  My brain knows I'm on vacation since I live in the dry, arid, desert (which actually I love).

One day we rented bikes picking them up at 1:00 in the afternoon and returning them at 9:30 at night.  We road along the outer canal paths that took us by windmills and open parks.  Fortunately, the town wasn't too packed so riding didn't feel as if we were on some high risk adventure dodging pedestrians, cars, and horse-drawn carriages (for real). 

We figured we road a solid five hours. We stopped for lunch, dinner, and a break in-between (see Leslie above).

In the late afternoon, as we rode along the cobble-stoned streets we heard  music--for a minute it seemed as if we were in some magical place with its own theme song.  As we rounded the corner we came upon a dance class. It was if a director said, "Action! Cue the music". 

In the Burg Square, a talented family put on an impromptu mini-concert.  These kids were excellent.  Quite a nice crowd gathered for this free (but we tipped, of course) unannounced music-fest.

Sunset reflecting on the Government Palace.  Part of the above picture is the post office--yep, just like home.

Waterzooi. My oh my.  This was my favorite Belgian food (other than chocolate and waffles, of course).  Gorgeous chunks of fresh fish in a sauce spiced with dill, tomatoes, watercress, and no doubt cream.  This was served at den Gouden Karpel Restaurant which is famous for its fresh fish. I wish I had had the sense to ask for the recipe because it was the best fish stew I've ever eaten.  Waterzooi (fish stew) is a famous Belgian dish and very popular with the locals. And its such a pretty dish, no?

Belgian waffles covered in strawberries and fresh cream--basic Belgian street food. Don't you love street food? 

I liked best with powdered sugar. The sugar enhanced the caramelized, crisp edges.

Heaven might also be known as Dumon Chocolatier.  Cute Mrs. Dumon pictured above. We heroically tested all sorts of chocolates and determined we liked Dumon's the best.

Plus, I loved Mrs. Dumon's darling shop. We stopped by so often that she actually waved to us from the window (slightly embarassing).

My new Belgian boyfriend, didn't get his name.  He hopped in the picture since it was taking some time for Leslie to get the shot given the number of passers-by. Glad we weren't on bikes that day--it was very crowded.  But even with the crowds I loved this city.

Next up: Flanders Fields

Friday, August 20, 2010


Grand Place, Brussels

Last month, my friend Leslie and I arrived in Brussels, Belgium to kick off our 17 day trip to Brussels and Brugge in Belgium;  and London and Oxford in England.  After two flights and two trains we arrived without any hiccups.  Happily, neither of us suffer from jet lag when we are traveling east bound.  So we were able to hit the ground running (once we actually hit the ground!)

St. Pancras Train Station, London, England

It's always great fun to travel by train--no navigation skills, no worrying about which exit to take.  Just sit back and relax until you see that black and white sign announcing your destination.  We arrived in London, via the Heathrow Express, and from Paddington station quickly cabbed it over to St. Pancras station to board the Eurostar bound for Brussels.  It's about a 2 hour trip and we arrived in Brussels around 5:30 pm.

View from our hotel room, Brussels 

After checking in to our sad little hotel room (happy it was for only one night), we immediately headed to the Grand Place (prounced "gran plas").  Europe has the best town squares, and this one is quite grand. Belgian chocolate was on our mind so we stopped first at Neuhaus and purchased some of the best chocolate both of us have ever had.  My favorite piece, Caprice (Wafer thin nougatine shells filled with vanilla fresh cream and coated with dark chocolate.)

After exploring the town square we were ready for dinner at La Maree.  One of the best ways to find a good restaurant is to ask the locals, which we did.  And we were told several times to go to this place and it was divine.  I had a steaming bowl of Moules and Frites (mussels and fries)  with tomatoes, peppers, onions, in an excellent broth.  It is traditionally served with a big bowl of frites--double fried and usually served with mayonnaise (skipped the mayo, ate the fries).  Leslie had excellent cod and frites.

It's great to be out early in the morning--not too many people stirring. And you can get a real feel for the city or town that you are visiting.  Only a few cafes and bakeries were open--pastry for breakfast, only on vacation!

The ornamentation of the buildings always catch my eye. 

Early morning activitiy--setting up the flower market.

Loved the tops of these buildings. One of our guidebooks made a cute joke about all these figures pointing and laughing at each other.

Royal Palace, Brussels

After finishing up in the lower town of Brussels, we cabbed it up to the upper portion. 

The Royal Palace must run two city blocks--it is enormous.

Don't know the name of the above garden, but it was perfectly maintained. 

While we enjoyed Brussels, both Leslie and I think three hours is about all you need.  We were there for less than 20 hours.  We left around noon taking the train (one hour) to Brugge where we stayed for four nights.  Heaven.

Next post:  Brugge, Belgium

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The cover of the September 2010Cooking Light Magazine jumped out at me with its gorgeous photo of salmon just waiting to be eaten.  Salmon anything is usually a winner and my family loves salmon.  Super easy, of course, and healthy--at this point, who doesn't know that Omega-3 fatty acids are good for us?

The maple-glazed salmon was excellent--a bit of spice with the sweetness of maple syrup.  Everyone loved it.

I paired this with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Dijon from Cooking Light's August issue.  But I didn't use Fingerling potatoes, I used Yukon Gold, and I substituted Rosemary for Parsley.  I also doubled the amount of Dijon mustard and next time will double it again.

And my go-to green vegetable as of late is a pretty medley of broccoli, red bell pepper, and garlic sauteed in a little garlic-infused olive oil.

Hope you give this delicious and healthy Sunday Supper a try.

Maple-Glazed Salmon

1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 6-oz Alaskan salmon fillets
Cooking spray
2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat broiler
2. Combine first 6 ingredients; rub spice mixture evenly over flesh side of fillets.  Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; broil 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.  Brush fillets evenly with syrup; broil 1 minute.

Calories: 352  Fat: 20 g  Protein: 34.6 g  Carb: 8.6 g

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Dijon (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)

2 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise (I used Yukon Gold)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used 2 teaspoons and would add even more next time)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I substituted Rosemary)

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2.  Place potatoes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle potatoes with 1 Tablespoon oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Add chopped parsley (or rosemary).  Bake at 425 for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown.
3.  Place the remaining 1 Tablespoon olive oil, pepper, and mustard in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk.  Add potatoes; toss gently to coat.

Calories: 172  Fat: 5.2  Protein 2.8g  Carb 29.4  Fiber 2.9

Thursday, August 12, 2010



Packing for a trip always causes me a bit of anxiety, does it you?  All those final decisions.

I generally pack just a carry-on for most of my stateside travel but never for a 17 day European trip.  Urged by my friends Alicia, Darcey, and Stephen, I joined the "packing light for Europe" club and loved it.

In anticipation for my trip to Belgium and England (lots and lots of trains) I'd kept meticulous packing notes of recent trips working to pare down my "needs list"or at least substitute with lighter weight items.  And I planned on bringing clothing that was easily hand-washed.

I also bought a slightly lighter weight carry-on bag, the amazing 22 inch Eagle Creek Hovercraft 2 (Suitcases and More in Scottsdale will match any online price!), weighing only 7.5 pounds along with a more substantial boarding tote instead of carrying one of my large pretty handbags. The boarding tote gave me lots more space than a large purse.

As the time approached to begin packing I did a mock-packing to relieve myself of doubts.  No problem.  I can do this.

Then 4 days later as I packed for real problems cropped up.  What?  It all worked 4 days ago!  But I could hardly zip my bag.  So I pulled out a sweater and went to bed.

The night before a big trip is never restful (at least for me).  My mind is racing with thoughts of what I'm not bringing, what I have packed, what I could do without. I awakened early the morning of the trip and went to the gym.  I saw Alicia and chatted with her about her packing list.  Alicia is the Grande Dame of packing light.  She is a minimalist in most everything in her life.  I am not.  For clothes, she brings 1 pair casual pants, 1 pair dressy pants, 1 skirt, 4 tops, a thin coat, scarf, sweater, pjs.  That's it for clothes no matter how long she is traveling.

So I went home and removed a pair of pants, scarf, and wrap from my bag and felt better. Suitcase zipped up without tugging.

Longchamps Le Pliage Bags

Here's my clothing packing list (including what I wore)

3 pairs cropped pants (one too many)
1 pair dressy pants
1 skirt
5 tops
Pajamas and robe
Lightweight jacket
Thin raincoat
1 wrap, 1 scarf
2 pairs of shoes (sport sandals and dressier sandals)

24 inch bag and tote - 2007

I rely on my lightweight and well-made Longchamps Le Pliage bags (see pic above).  The blue and green bag (above) is folded and tucked in my suitcase to be filled later with all those fun travel purchases.  The smaller chocolate brown bag is used as my purse once I'm off the plane.  These bags are very sturdy and light on the shoulder.  I've either purchased these bags in Paris (cheaper since they are made in France) or online at during a sale.

And since I do buy lovely things when I travel, I packed all my goodies in the Longchamps bag and on my return flight checked the 22inch bag and carried on my boarding tote with my purchases. 
I absolutely loved traveling this way.  My friend, Leslie, and I were on so many different trains so the easier we could make it on ourselves the better.  It's not as if there is a porter at every stop just waiting to lend a hand with luggage.

As you can see from the pics, my baggage is getting smaller (and lighter) each year I travel. In fact, my 22 inch bag fully packed was 13 pounds lighter than previous bags bound for Europe.  Hooray!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


This is what I craved while traveling out of the country recently--ice.  Crushed ice and lots of it.  So my cute sister and darling niece went to Sonic the day I was flying home to buy a bag and stash it in the freezer for my return.  Isn't that nice?