Captured Moments – Bruges

Bruges, Belgium is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe. Its medieval structures, cobblestone streets and canals draped with graceful willow tree branches create an atmosphere that is simply romantic.

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The thing that strikes you about Bruges is the slow pace and gracefulness of the city. This is a place to take it slow and easy. Find a park bench and sit a while. Take a meandering boat ride down the canal, or sip a glass of wine on the deck of a cafe overlooking the water.

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It is entirely possible to forget, if only for a little while, that you are a tourist with a guidebook and a checklist of things to do.

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Today’s Captured Moment is a reminder that traveling is not just about climbing to the top of a Bell Tower, seeing a rare painting or standing in awe of a Cathedral. Sometimes, it is about slowing down and enjoying the moment.

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Brussels In the Rain

Brussels is an easy, three hour train ride from London on the Eurostar, with a change at Midi to hop a local train for one stop to Brussels Central Station. The city center is just a short walk from central station.  There, you will find the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is impressive, even on a gray, rainy day. It is a great place to begin your tour of Brussels, and see what remains of the city’s medieval architecture. Continue reading

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Captured Moments – Unexpected Kindness

The village of Giethoorn, Netherlands is located within a two hour drive of Amsterdam.  The picturesque town has relatively few roads and is made up of mostly walking and biking paths, along with a maze of connecting canals that run throughout the town. The houses, which are built on land surrounded by water are accessible by boat or foot bridge. Most homes have a private pedestrian bridge that connects the walking path to the front of the property.

After reading about the village on-line, we knew this was a place we had to see to believe. We took the ninety minute drive from our hotel in Den Hague on a perfect spring day.

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Giethoorn is exactly as you might imagine. With 200 year old houses mingled among a few newer ones, it is postcard perfect. The homes, even the newer ones, have thatched roofs that present a very distinctive look.

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This is the kind of place that was made for a lazy day. Stroll through the village, sit on a park bench, row a boat down the canal or just enjoy the breeze at a waterfront cafe.

We found a place to park our car and set out to enjoy the magic of this place. The Innkeeper at our hotel in Der Hague had cautioned us about trespassing on lawns and bridges, but, with Morgan in a pretty dress and willing to pose, we ignored the caution.

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As I was snapping this shot, two gentlemen rode up on bicycles and stopped at the foot of the bridge. Oops! Morgan smiled and politely asked if this was their home and one of the men said, “yes.” She walked over and introduced herself and apologized for her boldness. Good move. We were about to leave, and the two men were half way across the bridge, when the owner turned around and asked if we would like to come over for a glass of wine and some conversation. You have never seen three people move so fast. After we passed the bridge he advised us that the pathway was boggy and we might want to remove our shoes. Very reasonable request, since this is the Venice of Holland…

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I am yards ahead in my trusted GoWalks with rubber soles, watching Morgan trying to navigate the boggy path in her stylish shoes. Completely defeated, she ditched the shoes and proceeded in bare feet. Not germane to the story, but worth mentioning is that her luggage did not arrive with her and these were the only shoes she had for three days.

Philip brought us up to the house and introduced us to his daughter, a couple of friends and his granddaughter. He explained that the house has been in his family for sixty years and that this is their place to get away from the world. When we first encountered Philip and his friend, they were returning from a Marine shop with some wood to do a small repair on his sailboat. His granddaughter, who is an expert sailor,  was anxious to get out on the water.

P1790195After a short visit, Philip suggested that he take us for a boat ride, which we eagerly  accepted. We talked along the way and I asked him if he is always this kind to strangers. He replied, “I like Americans” they’re bold.

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The view looking back toward Philip’s home. Couldn’t you just stay here forever?

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Enjoying the ride, minus the shoes and with mud still in her toes!

After a few minutes of pristine beauty on the wide water, Philip dropped us at a dock that services Smit’s Paviljeon, a local eatery, and told us how to get back to our car.

 

 

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Without a doubt we would have stayed for hours visiting with this warm and interesting man, had he not had an obligation to get friends to the airport. Connections happen when you least expect it. This is one we will never forget and we will stay in touch.

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Thank you Philip for the gift of kindness. We knew there was magic in Giethoorn the minute we landed there.

 

 

 

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One Day In Ghent

Almost anyone traveling in Belgium has visited Bruges, which is undeniably one of the most romantic cities in the world, but Ghent is worth your time as well. Dating back to the 1100’s, this city’s Gothic architecture, medieval neighborhoods and food scene are enough to entertain you for days. We had less than eight hours.

The City Center is just a short, scenic walk from the Central Train depot. Begin your tour there by choosing one of several street cafes to get your day started with coffee and Belgian waffles, of course. If you are as fascinated with beautiful doors as I am, you will be enchanted along the way. This was the first of many sightings and is my humble offering to Norm, the grand poobah at Thursday doors.

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Even without a jolt of very strong coffee, you cannot miss the imposing presence of St. Bavo’s Cathedral. This magnificent structure isn’t just another pretty face on the landscape of Ghent, it has substance, as well. The world famous masterpiece, “Mystic Lamb” painted by the Van Eyck Brothers and completed in 1432 is housed here, along with many other significant artifacts and tombs of Bishops. The painting has been through many restorations and one panel, (the Just Judges) which was stolen in 1934, is a reproduction.

This 12th Century Romanesque church was originally dedicated to John the Baptist. In the Fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, it was converted to this stately Gothic Cathedral and remains the majestic centerpiece of Ghent.

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Alter of St. Bavo’s Cathedral

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Mystic Lamb. Read the interesting history behind the world’s most famous painting here.

From City Center, hop a tram heading in the opposite direction from the Cathedral and get off at Gravensteen, (Castle of the Counts), which was built in 1180 as a display of wealth and power, (weren’t they all). Count Philip of Alsace reigned over the region from 1157 until his death in battle in 1191. The museum houses weapons of war and devices of torture unlike anything you have ever seen – unless you watch Game of Thrones.  The displays are all encased in glass and have numbers which correspond to descriptions on a card that you may pick up at the entry.  Don’t miss the walk to the top of the battlement and enjoy a great view of the city. Entry fee 10 Euro.

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The photo on the left is the under garment for the suite of armor on the right. It was made of woven metal. Can you even imagine???

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View from atop Castle of the Counts

Just a short walk from the castle you will find Patershol, which best represents the construction of villages in the dark ages. Today, it is a foodie paradise, with restaurants tucked into centuries old buildings along vary narrow passages.

 

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Get lost among the many shops and restaurants as you wind your way toward the canal and these amazing views.

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Boat, bike, walk or trolley yourself through this beautiful city – it really doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it!

Suggestion: Situate yourself in Brussels, Bruges or Ghent for up to one full week, and tour the surrounding areas by train. We stayed at the Warwick hotel in Brussels for three nights and took day trips to Bruges and Ghent, devoting one day to each of the three cities. More about Bruges and Brussels in a later post.

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Retired and Loving It – Florida Style

Everyone knows that Florida is synonymous with retirees and is frequently ranked as the #1 state to retire to. Favorable tax rates and climate induce thousands of retirees to relocate to Florida each year. They tend to flock to a few popular locations, but beyond that, Florida is left to the natives. Before you get all judgmental about old people in rocking chairs you need to consider much more than tax breaks and sunshine.

I recently came across this chart that ranks Florida cities according to Quality of Life, Health Care and Activities. My city did not make the cut, out of over 100 cities. I am quite sure that other remarkable locations are not included that should have been. I live within 2 1/2 hours of the top six cities. So much for statistics.

Florida is diverse, both in geography and population. We are divided into ten very distinct coasts which reflect the uniqueness of each location within our boarders. Click on the Florida header above and read about each coast. If you cannot relate to one, you will surely relate to another.

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Nature lover, walker, hiker, biker, and kayaker – we’ve got that covered. Sun worshiper, beach comber, shell seeker – that too. Foodie, or wine connoisseur – there is a place for you. Big city life, clubs and entertainment – not a problem. Culture, the arts and first rate stage productions – indeed. Need constant stimulation and interaction with fellow retirees – done! Grow your own food, fish all day or help your neighbor build a chicken coop – that too. Live completely alone in the middle of twenty acres -(not sure why you would want to), but you could. From the Everglades of South Florida and central Florida’s lakes and Springs, to the Oyster bays in the pan handle, we have so much more to offer than just beautiful beaches, amazing sunrises and unforgettable sunsets.

We live here because it is where I grew up and where Malcolm’s family relocated to in the 1970’s. We were educated here, owned a business here and raised our daughter here. Now, we are retired here. We would not have it any other way.

When we considered where to retire, (in Florida) our list included the following:

  • proximity to beaches
  • healthcare options
  • volunteer opportunities
  • proximity to international airports
  • affordable housing options
  • small town feel
  • diverse neighborhoods
  • slow growth and environmentally conscious community
  • arts community
  • climate

Hurricanes, heat and humidity are all on the list of “downsides of living in Florida;” we get that, but it is worth the price of admission, which is pretty low when you look around at the alternatives.

We

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