Brussels, Belgium

February 27, 2009

The Belgium Waffles were unreal!

The Belgium Waffles were unreal!

The flight time to Brussels was only an hour and a half. However, by the time we’d taken a bus from the hostel to the main station in Killarney, onward from Killarney to Cork, and finally another bus from Cork to the Shannon airport – we felt as though we’d already had our fill of travel that day and we haven’t even stepped on the plane.
We were also ready for the rain to stop. The backpacks were loaded underneath the bus with each change and by the time we reached the airport, both packs were a muddy mess. Once we arrived in Belgium, it was a forty-five minute bus ride from the airport to Gare du Midi, our main bus station. From Midi, we take the Metro to our stop for the street where the hotel is located – all while rain was drenching us from head to toe. It ended up being one full day of wet and muddy travel! BUT, we were now in Brussels and ready to explore.

Manneken-Pis boy, without one of his many costumes

Manneken-Pis boy, without one of his many costumes

At the corner of the Rue de l’Etuve and the Rue du Chene, stands the fountain of Manneken-Pis (which is Dutch for the “little pee man”). This cherubic statue is adorable. Standing a lofty 24 inches from the top of his curly head to his chubby little toes, this naked fellow is one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks. Bending his knees and smiling with glee, the Manneken Pis stands forever happily peeing into the fountain. He actually has over 760 different outfits to match special occasions in the city. Heads of state from visiting countries traditionally bring along a Manneken-sized version of their national costume. Some of his more popular attire includes Elvis, Mickey Mouse, Nelson Mandela and St. Nicholas.

The story of how Wee Manneken found a place to perpetually pee varies with who tells it, but one story we both liked had a little boy saving the city from enemy explosive attack by wetting the burning fuses, much in the same manner he portrays to this day. The lucky little guy is often hooked up to a keg of beer and cups are given to people passing by during certain festivals. We were most disappointed to learn this week there were no such festivals.

Atomium, near Mini-Europe Park

Atomium, near Mini-Europe Park

Taking a walk to find a nice place for a drink, which we seemed to be doing quite often these days, we turned from a small side street. It was there, without a doubt, we’d stumbled upon the most singularly spectacular sight we’d seen so far – The Grand -Place to the French, the Grote Markt area to the Dutch. It was a good two minutes before either of us spoke. Our jaws simply refused to close – it was that stunning. The Archduchess Isabella, daughter of Filip II of Spain wrote about the square during her visit to Brussels on September 5th, 1599: “Never have I seen something so beautiful and exquisite as the town square of the city where the town hall rises up into the sky. The decoration of the houses is most remarkable “. That’s exactly what I would have said, too if I could have actually formed a sentence.

Pictures cannot do the Grand Place justice!

Pictures cannot do the Grand Place justice!


The Great Urban Race

February 22, 2009

Team What Boundaries!

Team What Boundaries!


We’d been feeling a little bored since being back in the States, so decided to take on something outside of our normal comfort zone – The Great Urban Race. Sort of like a mini Amazing Race, it is a series of twelve clues covering 6-9 miles through the Tampa Bay area with 5 hours to complete the course.
Whether it was standing on stage at the Improv to deliver a joke, lunging through a grueling Boot Camp at Lifestyle Fitness, or buying food items to deliver to Tampa Bay’s 2nd Harvest – the first Great Urban Race of the year brought out the lighter side of all who participated.
Things One and Two

Things One and Two


By 11am on Saturday, most of the 136 teams were congregating at Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor City. Cheryl and I were running under the team name What Boundaries? Live Your Dream!, we were joined by teams of Mojito Banditos, Boozehounds, Thing One and Thing Two, Oceanic Airlines, Where’s Waldo, and the final winners of the race, Yay Broccoli!
yay! broccoli

yay! broccoli


At noon, the envelopes with twelve clues were given out and it was a sprint to the start. Since we knew the race would cover Tampa, Channelside, Hyde Park, and Ybor, our strategy was to grab the cable car first, take it to the end of the line while reading and deciphering what clues we could on the way. We’d do the clues far away first, then work our way back to Ybor.
THE CLUES!!

THE CLUES!!


It was an incredible day. Racing down streets, calling friends and family close by to look up Tampa trivia, a good joke, or to help find a bus (none were running on Saturday, so WE found ourselves running instead), interacting with strangers, and making frantic Google searches on the cell phone to find a phone number for the place we’d have to feed each other fried cheese and take a picture to prove it.
Eating cheese at Frankie's

Eating cheese at Frankie's


We hit the DETOUR clue hard. Find a box of grape Mike and Ike’s candy or a copy of The Boat Shopper. At every store along the way we were met by someone smiling behind the counter, and before we could even ask, they would say, “No, we don’t have what you are looking for. Many people have been here asking.”
Many people? Just how many were ahead of us? Our goal for the day had been to NOT be last. Out of three hundred people, certainly our odds were pretty good. We kept on. Running across the Platt Street Bridge, the Kennedy Bridge, Bayshore Drive, Hyde Park, The Forum, Ybor City, and all through the University of Tampa to find an “anti-gravity rock” – it never seemed to end.
Go to Gameworks - must win 10 tickets and get pic

Go to Gameworks - must win 10 tickets and get pic


Along the way we discovered exactly what this race is all about – learning about the city you live in, seeing it in a new light, making new friends, and challenging yourself to move outside of your normal boundaries. We were running down the streets, finding secret pathways we’d never knew existed, passing restaurants we’d read about but had never tried, helping other teams complete their clues, and all the time having a blast.
Clue: pic must have 2 mens ties and at least 6 people in it

Clue: pic must have 2 mens ties and at least 6 people in it


Our finish time? An impressive two hours and fifty-seven minutes out of the five hours allotted. We were number 41 of 136 without other teams penalties figured in (if you skipped a clue, you received a thirty-minute penalty). Not too bad at all.
Of course now our bodies are protesting mightily about all of the running we’d done and will be sure to let us know every time we try to move over the next few days, but it was so worth it. The Great Urban Race was a Great success!
Well deserved beer at the finish!!

Well deserved beer at the finish!!


Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

February 20, 2009

Dingle HarborTrying to navigate toward one of the most spectacularly beautiful seaside villages in all of Ireland was a challenge. The Dingle peninsula was indeed beautiful, but managing our own car through the narrow paths which the Irish call roads was an interesting experience! Mother Nature was being kind at least – the clouds were rising and the extraordinary loveliness of the countryside was all around us. Rainbows were everywhere we looked. Mountains flowed into valleys so deep it was impossible to see.
This was a day of delightful wanderings. As we drove around the peninsula, we found many places to stop and explore. There were beehive huts which we found incredibly entertaining – running from hut to hut, peeking out at the jaw-dropping panoramas and wondering what it would have been like to live and work in such an inhospitable, but ruggedly gorgeous country.
Bee hive hutThese “huts” are though to have been the residence of the early folks here in Ireland. There have been some dating back to 12th century, although the technique of these buildings goes back to 3100BC.
Beehives can also be seen in an area called Ring forts dating back over 5000 years ago to the Iron Age. It is believed that the arrangement provided safety and shelter for the people as well as their livestock. These accommodations were precariously perched over crashing waves and vistas of blue and green so incredible a mere photograph wouldn’t do it justice.
RingfortsThey certainly found the perfect view to build their “towns” of huts.

Dingle Harbor is a place not to miss when driving the peninsula. Not only will you find a quaint seaside village, some great pubs and shops, you will also find Fungi the dolphin. Fungi is a male bottle nose dolphin who has found a home in the Dingle Harbor. He has been swimming around the harbor now for about twenty years and as a result has become a local celebrity. There is even a nice statue of him near the marina where you can get on a boat to see Fungi in the wild. Fungi

Thanks to Delicious Baby for her Photo Friday’s!!! Check out the great photos and blogs at Delicious Baby


Ireland – The Ring of Kerry

February 6, 2009
Great views!

Great views!

The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are not to be missed on a trip to Ireland. There are rolling hills, green fields, mountains and cliffs that seem to fall into the sea. You will find castles to climb, winding roads to navigate (on the left side, very different from the US experience!) Cheryl drove the TINY roads, whizzing between huge tour buses and bicyclists as though she had done this forever — I hung on for dear life hoping not to pitch off of a cliff! There were ruins of castles along every road and sheep everywhere! We got kissed by a Bog Pony and had a baby Donkey come running over to have his head scratched. That was just the beginning of what the drive had in store for us.

Friendly donkeys

Friendly donkeys

Prices for motor coach tours were exorbitant – and even more importantly – we didn’t want to be a part of the “tour bus” crowd. Our answer was to rent a car for a few days to take in the sights on our own. What an experience that was! Well worth being able to stop when and where you wanted and to stay for whatever amount of time we wanted.

The 180km (112 mile) journey called The Ring of Kerry is known for its magnificent and inspiring scenery.

Pretty flowers with great views!

Pretty flowers with great views!

Craggy, sea-sprayed cliffs; boggy villages; and glorious meadows stretching out as far the eye can see – if the eye could see it. It was pouring rain on the day we drove the route. The slow, steady drizzle we’d woken up to had progressed into a full-blown sog fest. Clouds hung so low it was impossible to see more than a few feet off the ground, but if we could have seen, I’m positive the views would have been spectacular.

But, we had raincoats, wool socks, and a packed lunch looking for a picnic, so we did what most soggy travelers do – we got out and climbed the mossy steps to the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle. I felt whisked back in time, imagining the legions of Bravehart crossing the sea in the foggy distance. It was a day spent in historic exploration. Being from a country as young as the United States, sometimes it’s hard to get the mind around a place like Staigue Fort. Mulling over a stone fort built over 2,500 years ago, imagining what the people were once like, how they lived their daily lives. It takes you away, far back in time..

Ruins of castles

Ruins of castles


Other things to see during the drive include: Gap of Dunloe, Bog Village, Staigue Fort, Molls Gap, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, Muckross House, St Mary’s Cathedral, Muckross Abbey, Franciscan Friary, and the Beehive Cells (scattered around several locations).

The Ring of Kerry drive is a very popular route and you can find several tour buses that will take you on the journey. If you do decide to drive on your own as we did, consider that the tour buses follow a counter clock-wide route. If you do not want to get stuck behind a long line of slow moving tour buses, take the clock-wise route and avoid those delays!

Next stop, Dingle Peninsula!

Thanks to Deliciousbaby.com for hosting the FUN Photo Fridays!