I am thankful for football for giving me a reason to make poutine for Sunday dinner! Happy to be in Denver with the winning team! Go Broncos!
I am thankful for football for giving me a reason to make poutine for Sunday dinner! Happy to be in Denver with the winning team! Go Broncos!
I fell in love with Belgium as soon as I landed. Well actually being more honest it wasn’t untill I got to our AirBNB. I went to bed in Madrid at about 4:30 am on NYE and then left for the airport at 5:30 am. I landed at 9 am and couldn’t check in till 12:30 so I decided I would take the train and then walk the 20 minute walk to the loft to kill time, though my head really wanted to just get in a cab. I figured out the train pretty easy but then I started the walk and things went down hill from there. What was supposed to be a half mile walk ended up taking me an hour because I walked three miles in all the wrong directions. I struggled to work my older work iPhone so when I was leaving the train station I couldn’t figure out which way to go. Then I must have accidentally bumped it because I eventually realized I was walking to a post office, not the loft. I was so embarrassed about the amount of times I went back and forth in front of open cafes that I started carrying my suitcase so hopefully people would hear me rolling it on the stone sidewalk. I found the loft with 30 minutes to spare and sat on a bench and waited. At least I got to see more of Brussels?
Also how awesome is this AirBNB? And this is when the love for Belgium started.
Brussles during the holiday season is magical. The Le Grand Place is without a doubt one of the most mystical and enchanting places I have ever been. There is a light show that has music synchronized to it and it happens every 30 minutes. I could have watched the light show repeatedly all night long. We did end up seeing it about five times. We also didn’t wait very long to dive into the beer scene. We spent our first night at Moeder Lambic and Delirium Tremens bar.
Now let’s talk about the one drawback of visiting Belgium during the holiday season. Every place we wanted to go was closed. Yes you heard that correct; every single place. My initial reason for visiting Belgium was to see Saint Sixtus Abbey Westvleteren and drink Westy 12 at Cafe de Vrede and visit Saint Bernardus brewery and both were closed. Every restaurant I had researched and come prepared to try were also closed (things started opening again Monday January 4th . This was super frustrating but made for a pretty humorous experience. Also we ended up going to two extra cities, Antwerp and Ghent, because we had extra time.
The food you see above was a spontaneous restaurant pick because we wanted to go to Fin De Siècle but that shockingly enough was closed. This was the restaurant that made us realize things were closed. The mussels below were also a on the fly pick because Au Vieux Bruxelles was closed. We actually had quite the adventure on our last day in Belgium. We wanted to get mussels and frites so we attempted the Au Vieux Bruxelles and then two more which were closed. We then made our way over to Jaloa and we pull up expecting at this point it had to be closed but no this one was open but had moved locations. Of course we picked an open restaurant that had moved. All while trying to navigate around the ever so difficult city of Brussels. The streets signs are pretty typical for Europe but they are on the side of the buildings and not easily visible. Good plan Belgium, good plan. We finally found the new location of the restaurant and now needed to deal with the second hardest part, parking. Amazingly enough there was a spot on the same street almost in front of the restaurant. We went in and enjoyed champagne and oysters and then did damage on so amazing mussels and frites while enjoying more amazing beer. It was exactly what we needed after our stressful driving experience. We headed out to the car and I noticed an older man looking into our car and then we walked up and realized we parked in front of his garage. Duh there is never a front row spot. Lucky for us we some how didn’t get towed.
On the last night we had planned on taking the car back to the airport to not have to deal with city parking but it was raining and getting dark and we thought it would be easier to keep it. We tried to drive to our hotel and ended up on pedestrian streets just driving around. I was talking to the police in very broken French like, “Conduisons le voiture dans la rue a gauche or a droite?” Which means “drive the car in the road right or left.” I just needed directions to get out. Some how we made it safely to a garage and then got lost finding the hotel. In Belgium I really learned how bad at directions I am.
Even with all the challenges Belgium was a country that I felt a connection with. Like I said before I was in love.
Our day with the elephants was a highlight of this trip to say the least! When we decided we were going to Thailand and started planning visiting elephants and bathing with them was a must. We did some research to make sure we were visiting an authentic elephant rescue and rehabilitation center and we picked Elephant Nature Park.
In 1989 Thailand banned logging which meant these elephants which were now domesticated were now “unemployed.” Some were forced to still participate in logging illegally or in Myanmar (Burma). Many were injured while logging either by abuse, stepping on landmines, or injury from logging. It was really sad to see the animals that had been abused. In the picture below with two elephants one is blind from being shot with a sling shot in the eye and the other stabbed. The other elephant is her friend who helps guide her around the sanctuary.
Another difficulty for Thai elephants is that due to logging 70 percent of the forest area in Thailand had already disappeared. Because of this even wild elephants are struggling.
The Elephant Nature Park takes in these elephants that no longer can survive in the wild and lets them live a peaceful life. Us coming and spending the day with them gives them the income to feed and care for the animals. We started the day by feeding them and then walked around the forest with them feeding them some more bananas. After lunch we went into the river and bathed them. We did not ride them and they don’t offer that there because their main goal is to provide a peaceful life for them and not tourism. Also each elephant has a mahout which spends almost all their time together—aka they are besties. The elephants learn to trust them and they train them.
It was a beyond rewarding experience. When the baby elephant was rolling around in the water and we were pouring buckets on him it was incredible.
We were picked up for our hotel at about 8 am and dropped back off at 5ish. We were provided an amazing lunch, seriously amazing, and it was a total of $72.
If you go to Chiang Mai, do not miss this experience! Also I suggest prebooking because we noticed that the park sold out!
Below is a snapshot into the first day of 27 for me; I think it is going to be a good year.
Looking for an amazing winter cake recipe? My sister Kara made me this Blood Orange, Almond and Ricotta Cake and it was awesome!
The best meal I had in Thailand was in Chiang Mai was a suggestion from a friend/coworker who had honeymooned in Thailand last year. This restaurant was basically in a parking lot. And since the restaurant was basically just a restaurant with a cement base and tin roof in a parking lot it made it pretty hard to find but the adventure was worth is.
The Khao Soi Khun Yai aka Grandma’s Khao Soi is located just inside the old city so I thought it would be pretty easy to find looking at the map above. Eh not so much but I am absolutely the worst person with directions so the fact that I found the way to get the group there means it probably isn’t that hard at all. The key to finding it is the below sign.
We turned off on Sri Poom like 4 or 6 when we needed 8. We didn’t realize the streets were named the same. We then were in the back streets and found a cooking school and I tried to ask them directions and the language barrier was too much. We hoped back on our bikes and went to go back on the main road and turned the corner and saw the orange sign. We couldn’t believe we had found it. It really was perfect timing because hangry was starting to creep over our group.
The sign is on gates and the way they are angled you don’t see the restaurant so you need to have a picture of this sign with you to reference. This picture is from the blog Eating Thai Food and this blog really helped us! Another thing to note is they are only open Monday through Saturday 10-2pm.
Now let’s talk about Khao Soi. It is a northern Thailand dish so we ate lots of this in Chiang Mai and Pai but not down in the islands. The dish has Burmese influence and translates to mean “cut rice” in thai but in Burmese the word for noodles is khao swè which shows there really is a heavy Burmese influence on this dish. The broth is full of different complimenting flavors like shrimp from shrimp paste, curry and coconut. They serve the broth over egg noodles and top it with boiled egg noodles. It is served with a “toppings sid plate” that includes pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, and ground chilies fried in oil. You can get beef or chicken but since we arrived at 1 pm the only meat left was beef.
Each year on our friendsgiving trips we have a favorite food that we know we will crave when we get home and this was that. The noodles are thicker since they are egg noodles and have a nice bite to them and with the beef it tasted like a hearty stew with Thai flavorings.
You would think it would be too rich to finish, but no that is not the case.
Sunday Night Market
I would be lying if I said that seeing the elephants during my Chiang Mai visited wasn’t what I was most excited for; but I can say now that though the elephants were awesome the city was pretty great too—I mean I ended up singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” one night so how could I not love this city. For this post I am going to break it up by day time activities and night time activities and the elephants, because there are just too many photos, will be a separate post.
Renting motor bikes is the best way to get around and the most fun. It is a little intimidating when you start because the road that circles the old city is pretty busy but you get over that quickly. We took motor bikes up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and spent the morning there. We also explored a local town that was just a little past the wat.
Chaing Mai has a great night life. Each night there was a night market we walked through and at one of the markets I was able to experience a “fish pedicure.” I did not like it to the point of tears at first but I conquered my fears and eventually was able to put my feet in the water and let the fishies do their thing.
We also went to the Sunday Night Market located in the centre of the old city. Here you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. The Tha Phae Gate is the place where we entered the market and walked around.
There were also a lot of bars we went to so here is our list: Zoe Yellow, Fabric, The North Gate Jazz Club, Spicy, and Loco Elvis. Zoe Yellow was the young party backpacker place to get buckets of booze and then Spicy and Fabric were “late” night clubs but really closed at 1 am so they weren’t very late. My friend Phil said when he was there a month ago the places stayed open late but heard that there were so late night issues so as of recently most things closed at midnight. The Jazz Club was a fun chill scene and Loco Elvis was where we rocked Karaoke. As a group we got up and sang Spice Girls and during our performance they turned the TV with the lyrics off and started to shut down the bar so if that doesn’t say we were awesome I don’t know what does.
I spent NYE in Madrid with coworkers on a “work” trip. I put quotes around work because I can’t really call it work if I’m in Madrid. I was able to see a few places I haven’t been and visit an old favorite. First I was able to go inside the Royal Palace of Madrid which in my opinion is possibly better than Versailles. Manuel Azana, president of the Second republic, was the last monarch to live in the palace around 1940. It is now used ceremoniously and for tourists to explore.
The nativity scene in the Alabarderos Room.
I also went to the beautiful and charming city of Toledo this trip which I had never been before. Toledo is located about an hour outside of Madrid and is located on the Tagus River. The city is surrounded on all four sides; the river on one side and stone walls on the other. It is known as the “City of Three Cultures” because Christian, Muslims, and Jewish people all lived within the city walls.
And the old favorites I visited of course involved food. We made a stop at Mercado de San Miguel and then had an amazing tapas night at a restaurant close to Puerta del Sol.
On NYE we got our wigs and were ready to party! Everyone should do Madrid for NYE what could be more fun than wigs and grapes (explanation in a second). We started with a Flamenco show which was amazing. The performances were so intense it was hard to look away. We then headed to a restaurant where we enjoyed dinner and the grapes at midnight. Yes you read that correctly grapes. The Spaniards eat 12 grapes at midnight for the 12 strokes of the clock. This is a superstition and is supposed to give you good luck for the next 12 months of the year. I was beyond excited for the grapes. I also didn’t think it would be that hard to eat 12 grapes consecutively to the 12 dongs. Let me tell you I was wrong. I got like three in and then fell behind and started putting two in my mouth at a time. Then I dropped one on the floor and panicked it would be bad luck so I ate it anyways. I’m feeling like I did it pretty well and should be pretty lucky this year. Fingers crossed!
I started 2016 in Belgium drinking some of the best beers in the world. Stay tuned for posts about the ups and downs and awesome times from this trip!
On our last day in Bangkok we went to the Grand Palace. The palace was the home for Thai Kings from 1782 to 1925 and now is used for official events and the king now lives in Chitralada Villa in the Dusit Palace which is north of the Grand Palace.
You have to pay 500 baht to enter which is about 14 USD so it is a little expensive but I thought it was worth it. From the pictures below you can see how beautiful it was. It was also so hot. I would be just standing there dripping in sweat. Everyone had warned me to be prepared but it was crazy hot.
Advice: do not believe anyone who talks to you outside of the palace. On our first day in Bangkok we planned on going to the palace but we were told it did not open till 3 by a local outside and then they gave us advice on what to do till three. We decided instead that we would just head back to the hotel and go the next day. In reality they were telling us this because they wanted us to use their tuk tuk and take us around and pay them. The next day as we were entering we were told we couldn’t go in for an hour because there was a Chinese tour group inside and we were skeptical so we went in. Once again they just wanted us to use them as a guide instead of going in the Palace. Also don’t buy clothes outside if you don’t have covered shoulders or a skirt, they will provide them. Anyone who talked to us was kind and accepting when we walked away but we almost missed the Grand Palace all together because of them. Keep this in mind.
After the palace we enjoyed beers in the park across the street before heading to the airport. We had our traditional bloody Mary’s and McDonalds in BKK before heading to Chiang Mai. There wasn’t anything too crazy on the McD’s menu but I did try the corn pie. It tasted like how corn bread would taste if it was a pie and had a soft filling. So it was good!
On to Chiang Mai to meet up with more of the group!
Christmas Day in Denver began with snow lightly dusting the city to give us a beautiful white Christmas! Over Christmas Eve and Day we had our traditional pierogis and borscht with apps and then ham with roasted rainbow carrots and garlic mashed potatoes. What is not pictured this year is the pierogies, chocolate torte, gingerbread whoopie pies, and this is of course is because it was all so good I forgot to take a photo.