July 31, 2011

Antique Shopping in Tongeren

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:05 pm by newsurroundings

Today was a good day.  I have been wanting to go to the antique market in Tongeren for several months now and have just been waiting for good weather and a free Sunday. Finally, Bryan and I had the chance to go and, let me say, we were not disappointed.

Tongeren is the oldest city in Belgium, and it hosts the second largest antique market in Europe every Sunday of the year.  It is only open from 8am to 2pm, so we had to get up fairly early to make the drive.  We were there by 8:30 and ready to browse.

This place has everything you can think of and just goes on and on.  There are two large warehouses plus vendors set up all along the city wall and into the square.  For the kids, there were even a few carnival rides.  A lot of the antique shops were open and there were cafes and restaurants lining the street where you could stop for a break. Personally, with only a few hours to cover this huge market, we didn’t feel we had time to eat.  A quick stop for some Belgian fries and we were recharged and ready to go.

I am known for often going home empty-handed after shopping.  I am happy to say that was not the case today.  We found several “treasures”- and the vendors were all willing to give us a lower price than marked, some as much as 25%.  My favorite purchase was a pair of lovely blue glass vases that the vendor said she thought were once used in a pharmacy.  They are signed and, who knows, maybe some day we will take them to the “Antiques Road Show” and find out that they are really rare and valuable.  Or, maybe not.

Now I need to go check my calendar to see when we will have the chance to go again.

They truly had a little of everything.

And our purchases…

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July 24, 2011

An Eye on Paris

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:56 pm by newsurroundings

A Photo Blog of Paris:

Les Puces (the fleas)

Montmartre Art

Artist at Work

Macarons

French Cuisine

Always Fresh Produce

Mickey and Minnie at the Paris Plage

the Music of Paris

Night Time in Paris

The Gardens of Paris

July 17, 2011

Solden!

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:20 pm by newsurroundings

It’s July, which means almost everything is on sale in Belgium.  The sales only occur twice a year- January and July.  It is illegal to have sales at other times, so this is a big deal.  The sales last the whole month and they get progressively better throughout the month, with markdowns as high as 80-90% by the end of the month.  It’s a hard call sometimes whether to go ahead and make the purchase or wait, knowing that it will cost even less in another week, but then again, it may not be there.  If I love it, I go ahead and buy it.  I have waited patiently for July to arrive and put off buying summer clothes until now, and now it is definitely paying off.  Of course, being in Belgium, that’s not too hard to do since it seems to be cool and rainy much of the time.

The Solden signs in the shop windows make this the most wonderful time of the year.

July 13, 2011

Ah! Austria

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:42 pm by newsurroundings

Austria- the land of The Sound of Music and Mozart.  That is where we spent our family holiday this summer.  “Who would have thought we would ever be vacationing in Austria?” was uttered more than once during this trip.  What a beautiful place!  We chose the Salzkammergut region as our base, which is about an hour from Salzburg.  It is made up of tiny villages around turquoise-colored lakes surrounded by majestic mountains.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon and settled into our chalet.  The view driving into the Salzkammergut was impressive, but the pouring rain and fog obscured it a bit.  We went out for dinner at a little restaurant decorated with green walls and carpet and red floral curtains and red flowers- just like you would imagine.  The food is very much like we had in Germany.  There are probably differences between Austrian and German cuisine, but I’m not sure what they are.

The next day, after a morning of rain, it cleared up and we ventured out to see the town.  We were staying in St. Wolfgang, located on Wolfgangsee lake (both named for Mozart, of course), and as we walked into town, we just happened upon a parade coming down the main street.  It was so charming, with local Austrian men and boys in their lederhosen and women and girls in their dirndls.  I expected that this was just for the sake of entertaining tourists, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Austrians dressed like this throughout the week as they went about their daily lives.  The clothes were of very high quality and there didn’t appear to be any low-quality look-alikes.  It’s nice to see the people take such obvious pride in being Austrian.  We had lunch at a nice outdoor cafe and then rented an electric boat for a tour around the lake.

On Monday we took the ferry to St. Gilgen on the other side of the lake.  It is the birthplace of Mozart’s mother and the setting of some of the opening scenes from The Sound of Music.  We rode the cable cars to the top of Zwolferhorn mountain for a magnificent view of seven lakes in the Salzkammergut.  It rained in the afternoon but luckily, there was a nice spa nearby in Bad Ischl to visit- the Eurotherme, a spa with an indoor pool and whirlpool, a lazy river, and a salt water pool.  It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Next day- elegant, stylish Salzburg-  Mozart’s birthplace and residence and the setting of more Sound of Music scenes.  We visited the Dom, one of the prettiest cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere.  Many cathedrals are dark, but this one is bright and very clean with beautiful carvings.  We walked around Mirabell Gardens, where the Von Trapp children in the movie danced around the fountain, and we visited Mozart’s residence which contained original sheet music, instruments, and an audio of pieces he composed as young as 8 years old.   For dinner, we went back to St. Wolfgang and dined outside with a view of the lake and mountains.  I ordered the trout and was surprised when I received the entire trout, head and all.  I really didn’t have any trouble eating it though, as long as we didn’t make eye contact.

On Wednesday, we decided we were ready for a swim.  The lake was just a short walk down the hill, but as it turned out, Erin was the only one brave enough to get in the cold water.  We had fun just sitting by the lake and watching the swans and boats.  The water was so clear, you could see the fish swimming in the water, and I read somewhere that it was so clean it was suitable for drinking.  In the afternoon, we began hiking up Schafberg mountain, just behind our chalet.  Erin and I gave up after about 45 minutes, but Bryan and Kevin were determined to reach the top (a 3 hour hike according to the signs).  We went into town for some shopping and rented bikes.  Bryan and Kevin returned a few hours later, very tired from the trip, but they had made it to the summit.  Bryan hurt his knee coming down the mountain because it was so steep, so he was hobbling around the rest of the trip, but each day it seemed to get a little bit better.

Bryan and I got up early the next morning and drove to Gmunden to visit the pottery factory.  It is famous for its green swirly pattern, but they actually had many different patterns to choose from.  The patterns I liked best were quite pricey, so we ended up just looking and not buying anything.  In the afternoon, we all went to Hallstatt, a town close by that has the exclusive UNESCO World Heritage rating.  It is known for its salt mines and you can take a tour of the mines which is supposed to be very interesting and fun, but we didn’t have time to do that.  We walked around on the cobbled lanes and admired the dark wood buildings and the charming square with over-flowing flower boxes on colorful buildings.  We had dinner by the lake in a cute little restaurant with colorful paper lanterns hanging from the tree planted in the middle of the outdoor seating.

For our last day, we did some biking, took a pedal boat around the lake, and feasted on German food one last time.  We talked about  how this could very well be our last family vacation, since Kevin just graduated and was starting work in just a few weeks.  We felt very fortunate to have shared this time together in such a beautiful place.