Archive for the ‘Travel Travel Travel’ Category

They sat on fraying blankets and sheets of cardboard under bridges and flanking pedestrian walkways. Women, stocking footed, crossed-legged, dozens upon dozens. Some had constructed makeshift rooms from boxes and tape. They left their shoes, respectfully, outside of the door.

Passers-by flaunted Louis Vuitton shopping bags and clacked past in Armani suits and Prada shoes. They didn’t look down, barely a glance. (more…)


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Two days a week for two years I ate frozen burritos at my desk for dinner.

I spent Sunday afternoons and many  weeknights with my nose buried in a book, vision blurred from too many hours of staring at a computer screen.

I typed approximately 1,438,893,201 words about scientific rhetoric, the publishing environment, marketing plans, budgets.

I spent approximately 1,294,398,312 minutes procrastinating.

On Tuesday, I proofread my final paper and hit send.

I’m at the end of a big game, and I’m running through that tunnel. I totally deserve a trip to Disneyland.


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A few weeks back I was scouring Pinterest for, well, not much of anything at all, I was just looking for a distraction as most of us who log into Pinterest at 11 p.m. on a work-night are, and I came across this:

*Cue choirs of angels and a spotlight from heaven*

But then I saw the price tag. Being on a shoestring decorating budget, I was crushed.

*Cue trombone in a Debbie Downer Wah-Waaaahhh*

Thus, after much obsessing, I e-mailed the husband at work on Friday with a cryptic: We must go to the thrift store this weekend.


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Another early morning, another train to catch. We are less hurried and leisurely stroll through the streets of Brussels, through a winter-stunted garden, past a mob of shrieking, soccer-ball kicking children, (or I suppose it’s football), and return to Centraaal Station once again.

More countryside. Houses, horses, mud.

We arrive in Bruges — pronounced in Dutch BROO-gah — and follow a throng of tourists into town.

Magical. Wonderful. Walt Disney could not have conjured a more picturesque village. Here we stand, at the technological height of civilization, and some how, miraculously, Bruges has remained virtually untouched by ‘development.’ No towering glass skyscrapers. No throwback ’60s architecture. Instead, we find a reminder of what life was (albeit updated with, you know, electricity and plumbing and such).

I want to frolic down the cobblestone paths.

We dine on waterzooi and stumpf. (Yes, these are real foods and delicious.)

We drink rich, hearty hot chocolate.

We marvel at Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, and how man was able to bring softness and life to cold, hard stone.

We avoid long lines at the famous bell tower. I stand in the square below and take photos, expecting the cast of “Beauty and the Beast” to romp in and begin a musical number at any minute.

We wander through surrounding neighborhoods in awe that People Actually Live Here.

The sun tucks itself behind the clouds again soon after we arrive, and as the day progresses the city throbs with tourists. We take our leave, hop on the train for a final return trip to Brussels. One last night.

And in the morning, one more chocolate croissant.

OK, fine. Maybe I ate two….

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Brussels, Belgium.

As far as I can tell, everything is gray. Even the grass. The raindrops that race across the window, big drops devouring little drops in their path. The sky. The buildings. The roads. The dirt. All of it is early morning gray.

Simply wonderful. Even if it is cold and raining. Because we are in Europe.

We pull into the Centraal Station. I love how they drag out the A here. It’s not Central. It’s Centraaaaaaaaal. I hear it repeated, over again in blurry romantic French, in rolling Dutch, in the less exotic English.  I’ve had about 2 hours of sleep — airplane sleep at that, so it wasn’t really real sleep at all — and my internal clock thinks it’s 2 a.m. But really it’s 8. The train conductors here wear flat-topped caps. The ride is smooth and the train, on time. Philadelphia transit could learn a thing or two.

Scott claims that the hotel is just a short walk from the train station. (Centraaaaaaaal, I laugh in my head, I’m a bit punchy and not very well caffeinated). We drag our luggage up the biggest hill in Brussels. The rest of the city is flat, but apparently our hotel is at the top of Everest. We maneuver cobblestone streets, and weave between commuters on bicycles and on foot, they at once ignore us and shoot us dirty looks as they dart past on their way to the subway. We circle and weave and walk and walk and walk. We pass a palace, and vow to return to take pictures later. (We will forget.) About forty minutes later, Scott leaves me alone in a square with the bags. I stand and wait as he seeks the hotel on his own. We are lost.

A shopkeeper watches me from his window — I stand out, taller than the pigeons, a shockingly green carry-on bag and a big suitcase in the middle of a square, standing next to a lone tree. I am the only person not in a rush to get somewhere else. I try to pretend that I know where I am, that I know where I’m going, where my husband is. I really don’t. It’s a thought that sends a thrill down the back of my spine. That’s part of the adventure.

We finally make it to the hotel. Drop off our luggage. Locate caffeine. Coffee cups here are tiny and the brew is very bitter. I down three cups in as many minutes. I grab a latte to go. We head back into the gray mist.

Our day is filled with subways, trams, walking, walking, walking. Scott speaks fondly of his five months living here. We visit his school. We take pictures of the house in which he resided. We visit the supermarket he frequented. Life was different then, 10 years ago. He seems amazed by how things have changed — how he has changed, too.

We walk to the Grand Place. Admire the remnants of old Brussels, ancient, ornate buildings. Rub a statue for good luck. Eat mussels and pomme frites, drink beer.

We seek Manneken Pis. At almost 400 years old, he wears a red tracksuit. Comfort before couture, I suppose.

I buy a waffle drizzled in dark chocolate. They give me a fork smaller than my ring finger. Scott holds my bright pink umbrella while I unbecomingly try to devour the entire thing in one bite.

It’s only 2 p.m., but words are blurred, eyes are glazed. We return to the hotel and crawl into bed, a wake-up call set for 6 p.m. We leave again at 7. Off we go to Pita Street — we enjoy soft pockets stuffed with savory lamb and giant, salty, fresh hunks of feta. More pomme frites. A box chocolate for later. Calories don’t count on vacation. (I’ll remind my scale when I get home.)

We fall into dark, blissful sleep — it is the last night of my 20s. Well done, 29. Well done.

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Wise Words

(As written in flight and with very little sleep.)

There comes a point when you’ve been strapped into a seat stationed in the depths of a metal tube, hurtling across the sky at hundreds of miles an hour for around 200 minutes that you realize: you did this to yourself. You chose to be trapped in an altogether too tiny compartment with dozens of other people – some with questionable bathing habits – and to witness for a while their idiosyncrasies and foibles. And there are still another couple of hundred minutes to go.


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I like to imagine myself as an explorer. A culture-seeker. A pseudo-jetsetter. A person who people look at and think “I wonder what Susan is going to do next? Where is she going? What is she planning?”

I roll the idea around in my mind over and over, especially on Sunday mornings, as I sit on the couch with my coffee, delighting in the imagery of it all. Then, finally, I rouse myself into a standing position around noon to brush my hair and change from my bathrobe into a sweatshirt.

I call this side of myself Aspirational Susan. I really like her. She’s kind of awesome. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She inspires me to say things to Scott like: “You know what would be really fun? If we we drove to Atlantic City. Just because!” And then we all hop into the car and go. Scott has to come along because he helps rein Aspirational Susan in (she can get carried away sometimes), and also because he’s funny and has an excellent sense of direction.

For my soon-to-come birthday, Aspirational Susan had everything figured out: a trip to New York, a Broadway Show, a semi-fancy dinner, and cupcakes. Scott, it turned out, had other plans.


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