Monthly Archives: September 2009

Dancing Around The World

First thing’s first: I want to congratulate Silke for nailing last week’s mystery snapshot! The photo was taken in Salzburg, Austria — the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sarah Z. and Missy, you two get honorable mentions. Of all the edible legacies Mozart could have left behind, the most prevalent in this part of town is the marzipan-filled chocolate ball. They are quite delicious and an excellent snack for the train ride back to Vienna….

Now, there is something I’d like to discuss.

Several people have asked me, over the past couple of months and even years, if I know about the guy who dances all around the world, named Matt. The answer is YES. And I think he’s awesome. Not only have I been checking in on him over the years, but I know a few people who have danced with him!

The concept is very simple. Matt, a regular guy, films himself dancing with a large group of strangers in front of different landmarks or scenes that represent the culture or country he is in. His dance moves are so goofy and unpretentious, and through his little dance he connects with people all around the world. There are variables — the people, the places, the settings, the atmosphere — and then there are constants — Matt, his dance moves, and the fact that people are always dancing with him. While no words are used, this video communicates many things and seems to have a powerful effect on those who watch it.

This is Matt’s website: “Where the Hell is Matt?” Please watch the video and share your reaction as a comment. How does it make you feel? What is the point? Why do people seem to love this idea? What is Matt’s message? I just want to hear what you think. Watch it… and REACT!

Thanks!!

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Die Echten Reber Mozart Kugelin

Where in the world might this store be located?

AND…

1) How do you know?

2) What the heck are they selling?

Mystery Snapshot 8

Mystery Snapshot 8

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A Sleepy Haze of Beer and Chocolate

I wrote this after my first day in Brussels in October 2007. For anyone who has never been, it’s just a short reflection. I wrote it from Dawn’s apartment while she showered, just before catching a train to Amsterdam.

 

Chocolate Scoop. Brussels, Belgium

 

Despite the fact that I am deliriously tired (I can barely see this screen right now), so far Brussels has been a slightly more stylish, more foggy, but just as beautiful place as I had imagined.  Am I REALLY here? The fact that I can wake up in one country and, in a matter of hours, wake up again in ANOTHER country continues to boggle my mind. Poor Dawn. I keep on asking her if I am in Brussels, followed by lots of giggles.  “Hey, Dawnimal – Am I really in BRUSSELS?? Heeheehee…” I’m a bit on the delirious side of sleepy, yes, and clearly very excited to be in Europe. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon. (I’m in Belgium. Heehee!)

I’ve already had two of the most incredible pieces of chocolate, three deliciously rich Belgian beers, and met three great people — an American named Rachael (she spells her name wrong, oh well), an Italian named Laura, and a Spaniard named Miguel. I’m off to Amsterdam in a couple hours, so let’s get to it.

The day ends. Brussels, Belgium.

The day ends. Brussels, Belgium.

To give you a sense of how little I have slept, I will briefly breeze through my “day” yesterday… if I can even call it a “day.”

On Thursday, I left NYC for the airport at 3pm after waking up at 7:30am that morning. I got on a 6:05pm direct flight to Brussels, Belgium, where I arrived a little early at 7:30am. This, for me, was 1:30am. Per usual, I did not sleep a wink on the plane. Any shut-eye activity was replaced by a great six-hour conversation with the Flemish woman sitting next to me. She left me craving Belgian chocolate and Dutch goat cheese, both of which she had described to me as tasting above and beyond what I will ever find in the US.

My First Belgian Chocolate Shop. Let me in!

My First Belgian Chocolate Shop. Let me in!

After an early morning arrival in Brussels, I found myself standing around at the gate for about 40 minutes, wondering what I should do if my lovely hostess never appeared. I must have looked a little flustered because a handsome Belgian man looked over at me, smiled, and just said “don’t worry, she’ll show up…” Hehe (how did he know?!). We talked for a little bit — about Brussels, Holland, French and Dutch — and then, sure enough, my hostess, Dawn, appeared! It was about 8:30 am when we hopped on a bus from the airport to get to her apartment, which would be about 2:30am, NYC-time.

A couple of busses and turns down cobblestone streets later, we had arrived! The first thing I noticed was the side-by-side homes, all only a few stories high, and completely unique. They were neatly packed along pristine sidewalks that had the light complexion of a well-off city.

The tall narrow trees reminded me of previous trips to Europe. My heart fluttered in excitement as it always does in anticipation of exploring a new place. I was happy and excited, feeling strangely at home as I looked around  at the intensely overcast morning that was just creeping out from under a starry night, which I had the pleasure of enjoying from the sky.

Brussels detail. Belgium.

Brussels detail. Belgium.

The day stayed on the brink of raining without ever squeezing out a drop. I was expecting a mixture of languages, but so far – on day one – all I have heard is French. Oh man… how I LOVE hearing French. It amazes me how easy it is to understand, yet when someone says something to me in French, my instinct is to respond in Spanish or just stand there, dumbly blank, with no arsenal of words to throw back into the conversation.

After a two-hour deep, drowsy post-arrival nap in my trusty sleeping bag, I woke up completely out of it, but hoping to get out before I messed up my sleeping pattern any more. Dawn, Rachael and I hit up a delicious pizza place called Mama Roma, where I feasted in my jet-lag stupor on a square of pepperoni pizza with a perfectly flavored crunchy crust that left me extremely thirsty. My sleep-deprivation was beginning to catch up with me in a bad way, so we turned another corner and, after popping into a couple places that didn’t make the cut (I have a radar for cute/special spots that automatically goes on every time I travel, and I have trouble settling for less), we found an adorable coffee shop that made me feel like I was in Paris.

In we walked, past the long, crimson velvet curtains that kept out the cold and around a glass counter encasing some of the most delicately delicious looking flourless chocolate cakes and other tarte-like desserts. Ahh… Europe! I have missed you! I think that was the first moment I really felt like I was here.

My first latte in Brussels with Dawn. Belgium.

My first latte in Brussels with Dawn. Belgium.

I ordered a delicious latte that soaked up some of my exhaustion pretty quickly but, just as quickly, left me sleepy-headed again. An incredible orange-scented chocolate lifted me back up, as did the brisk, fresh, undeniably European air when we walked back out into the grey.

BrusselsRandom2

Dawn had class from 4-6pm, so Rachael and I walked around for a couple hours until I could barely stand up anymore (functioning on exactly two hours of sleep). The walk adrenalized me. THIS is what I had been waiting for: EUROPE. The previous couple of years, I had traveled to Japan, Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico and Turkey… but for some reason, I had been CRAVING Western Europe like a pregnant woman craves pickles.

Chocolates. Brussels, Belgium.

Chocolates. Brussels, Belgium.

I feel completely at home in Europe, yet subtly clunkier and less stylish compared to everyone else in the upscale neighborhoods. And in this case, I was carrying the biggest suitcases directly under each eye – such a faux pas!

I’ve already seen some beautiful, Victorian-style gardens, tons of sculptures and churches (yes, all this stuff DOES it for me like nothing else), and tons of bars/pubs with these cute cartoon-like signs hanging outside. But what seems to dominate my sleepy conscious is the constant thought of CHOCOLATE.

More chocolate. Brussels, Belgium.

More chocolate. Brussels, Belgium.

Waffles, lace, beer, and CHOCOLATE. That’s what I know about Belgium. And I plan to do some major research in a couple of those categories while I’m here. Despite the apparent wealth and lack of major class distinctions within the city so far, I am liking it here.

Chocolate heaven. Brussels, Belgium.

Chocolate heaven. Brussels, Belgium.

At around 5:30pm, I began to crash. Rachael and I headed to her apartment where I quickly found her couch and went from vertical to horizontal in a matter of seconds, fighting heavy eyes and a creaky body. After an hour or so of fighting sleep and feasting on Cote d’Or chocolates (OH. MY. GAWD. —  I’m not usually a big chocolate eater but WOW), Dawn arrived. The three of us eventually decided to wander around and find a place for dinner. We ended up selecting this adorable little restaurant with brass/iron junk and ceramic pipes hanging from the ceiling. The place was incredibly warm and cozy, with deep brick walls and a small dining area where we were among Belgian couples speaking quietly in French as they sipped wine in oh-so-European bliss. The menus were like a little girl’s journal and the atmosphere resonated with a fairytale sparkle, which felt appropriate, as it sometimes takes me a day or two to believe I’m really where all the signs say I am. I tasted some of the most amazing goat cheese (checked that off the list immediately) and enjoyed laughing and catching up with Dawn and Rachael.

We met up a little bit later with Miguel, a hilarious, adorable Spaniard (it felt like such a relief to speak Spanish after feeling so useless without any Flemish/Dutch/French skills) and a fun, sweet Italian woman named Laura. Miguel kept choosing beers for me, all of which were extremely tasty and Belgian — just what I had been waiting for — and we ended up all getting drunk and laughing/talking until I was told I should probably go to sleep at 1:30am (this definitely means I was more-or-less awake for over 30 hours, but I’ll let YOU do the math!).

NOW, I am going to hop in the shower, pack a weekend bag, and head to AMSTERDAM for the next couple of nights! Can’t wait. But I’m going to need a lot more delicious lattes and chocolates to get me through it…

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Manneken Pis and Grand Place

Congratulations Missy and Dawn, but especially Dawn for coming up with several of the legends behind this silly statue of a little boy peeing.  An extra shout-out goes to Dawn, for hosting me in Brussels and taking me to SEE this little guy in person.

In response to your question Dawn, I don’t have a photo of me with M.P. in it (do you??). However, because you are this week’s big winner, I will reward you with this photograph:

Dawn in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium

Dawn in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium

And just so you’re not alone, I will join you in mid-air. Here I am (October, 2007) doing my signature leap, which I try to do in ever country I visit.

Tavel Leaping in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Tavel Leaping in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Now back to the peeing boy.

Located in Brussels, Belgium, last week’s mystery snapshot is of Manneken Pis, the little Belgian boy permanently captured (in bronze) relieving himself. (With so many people constantly looking at him, I’m surprised he never gets pee-fright…) I quickly learned that this is one of the most famous statues in Brussels, although nobody has settled on the true story behind it.

Several versions exist. The legend I was told, (and therefore, the legend I will share),  involves a nobleman who lost his young son in Brussels. After two days of frantically searching, the townspeople found him peeing in the distance. In order to thank the people of Brussels for finding his son and to punish the little boy for wandering off (a healthy dose of public humiliation never hurt anyone), the nobleman had this statue created. It now stands just outside of Grand Place (the French name, or Grote Markt in Dutch), the central square of Brussels, and one of the most fabulous plazas I have ever seen.

As a side note, anyone who appreciates Gothic/Baroque architecture, must look up Grand Place or — even better — check it out in-person some day. And for those who don’t give a damn about architecture, I guarantee you’ll be impressed too.

Grand Place Shadow. Brussels, Belgium.

Grand Place Shadow. Brussels, Belgium.

The intricate and, well, “grand” guild houses that surround this square demonstrate an incredible blend of styles, including the elaborate and dramatic details that define Baroque and Gothic architecture. The buildings themselves are not very large, but the embellishments are quite captivating. I found my gaze leaping from building to building, discovering new flourishes that continued to entertain my eyes.

En Route to Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium

En Route to Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium

Grey Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Grey Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

When I first arrived in the plaza, it appeared dark and spooky; layers of shadows rippled across the crevices and facades of old building and dark windows shut out any light. But the second time I visited the plaza, I was stunned; it glowed. The plaza completely transforms in the light and deserves several visits in order to appreciate all its detail. I found the plaza especially beautiful once I returned gnawing on a truffle from one of the many surrounding chocolate shops. Just a suggestion.

Grand Place with Belgian Flag. Brussels, Belgium.

Grand Place with Belgian Flag. Brussels, Belgium.

Shadows in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Shadows in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Blue Sky in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Blue Sky in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Corner of Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Corner of Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Baroque details in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

Baroque details in Grand Place. Brussels, Belgium.

In the 15th-17th centuries, the plaza was constructed in a medley of style. In 1695, the city of Brussels was bombarded by the French, who attacked the plaza with canon balls and eventually set fire to it. Grand Place was almost completely flattened and destroyed. Remarkably, it was rebuilt over the next four years and has been a stunning sight every since.

If you’ve ever been to Grand Place, please share your own reflections as a comment!

There is much more to say about Brussels, so I will continue with my impression in the next entry, and I invite others to share their Brussels experiences as well.

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September Snapshot

I know it’s Tuesday, and Mystery Snapshot Day is traditionally Wednesday, but I just couldn’t WAIT! I plan to take a very long bike ride along the Hudson River tomorrow morning, so I won’t have time to post an entry before work. I hope you forgive me for disrupting routine and celebrate the first day of SEPTEMBER (how the heck did THAT happen?) by trying to guess today’s mystery photo…

Please tell me in which European city this sculpture can be found and, if you can, the story behind it.  Also, I always love to know who has stood exactly where I have in another part of the world, so why don’t you throw that in there.

When ya gotta go...

When ya gotta go...

Relief

Relief

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