Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Brussels in a Weekend: Top 7 Things to See or Do

Belgian waffle Bethany_wanders
Grab a Belgian waffle!

1. First thing to do when you arrive in Brussels: eat a waffle. You’ll notice that there are traveling waffle vans with fresh dough, a delicious crunch, and lines no matter what time of day. In Belgium, the waffle is more than a snack; it is a symbol of their food culture and can be combined in many different ways for any mealtime throughout the day or night. Keep an eye out for a good van or stand and snag one of these delights as soon as you can!

Brussels antique market Bethany_wanders
Wander through a local market
2. If you can come on a weekend, you are likely to catch one of the famous markets in the neighborhoods on this vibrant city. My favorite for affordable, antique finds takes place at the Place du Grand Sablon. These antiques have to be at least 30 years old and are on sale on Saturdays between 9 am and 5 pm and Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm. If you’re looking for crafts and art, swing by the Place du Jeu de Balle at the Agora Roundabout on a Thursday between 10 am and 8 pm, or Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm.

Place Royale Bethany_wanders
Visit the church in Place Royale
3. Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg is a lovely neoclassical church you can pop into while you’re admiring the views over the entire city from the Place Royale. There used to be a medieval abbey here, but urban planning got the best of it; this architectural wonder was designed and begun in 1775-6 by the renowned Gilles-Barnabé Guimard and Jean-Benoit-Vincent Barré. The best part is catching an organ or choir concert here to fully enjoy the acoustics. Plan on swinging by in the afternoon, though, as it usually doesn’t open until 12 or 1 during the week.
MIM and cafe Brussels Bethany_wanders
Savor a rooftop café
4. Take the party to rooftop literally with one of Brussels’ many rooftop bars and cafes. My fave? Tour the fantastic MIM (Musical Instruments Museum) and end on the top floor terrace with a stunning view across the realm of Belgiums capital. You can find this museum in a cluster with other great places to visit at the Place Royale (Koningsplein) such as the Magritte Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts just around the corner.

Manneken Pis Bethany_wanders
Wave to the Manneken Pis
5. If you’ve ever stumbled upon pictures of Brussels, you’ve likely seen a shot of this little statue peeing either naked or in various costumes. Lovingly referred to by Belgians as Manneken Pis, so easily embodying the rebellious spirit of the city. Supposedly, his wardrobe contains more than 900 different costumes, each one a unique experience. At least this means that your photos will be different from your friends’ when you come home from your adventure. This guy is small and can be hard to miss, so be intentional about your visit to his peeing sir.
Atomium Brussels Bethany_wanders
Explore the iconic Atomium
6. Atomium is an absolute must visit if you’re in the area, even if you need to jet to the edge of town with the metro to get there. Created as the focal point for the World Fair in 1958, this massive creation seems like a sculpture, but you can actually tour the entire structure because the spheres are open to the public. There is a really fascinating exhibition about the fair itself on two levels, but the other exhibitions offer space to traveling topics of design, art, architecture, culture and science. If you’re up for another stunning view, pop into the Panorama for 360 degree views and an overpriced, but delicious, cocktail.
Grand Place Brussels Bethany_wanders
Shop in awe of the Grand Place
7. Known for the annual flower festival, Brussels (and other Belgium cities) often showcases its love for flowers in a very colorful way. The Grand Place (Grote Markt) is surrounded by stunning facades, gold trim, and proud buildings flanked with cafés. One of the most impressive in this lot is that of the Hotel de Ville or Town Hall (Stadhuis) as it overlooks the square. Swing by here from the 12th to 15th of August in 2016 to see this famous Flower Carpet. Otherwise swing by to see the flower stalls throughout the daytime if you're lucky to catch a market day!

Bon voyage! Questions or ideas? Catch me on Instagram or Twitter @Bethany_wanders

Friday, February 19, 2016

Exploring Tenerife with Rainbows and Tea.

The Abaco House is a renovated
and period decorated Canarian mansion
The rain surprised the thirsty island of Tenerife today, drenching the small group of British travelers on their way to their three course meal in the Canarian-style mansion. Björn and I had the pleasure to accompany the group as I check out the excursions in the TUI collection, focusing on elements of local culture and sustainability. According to the locals here, it only rains in the south of this particular Canary island about 4 times a year, leaving the rest in consistent, delicious sunshine.

To better appreciate the thirsty ground's celebration (and to have something to do since the rest of the trip up the volcano is impossible), we popped into a cafe. Palmelita's came to our rescue with a beautiful view, hot tea and clean, spacious inner and outer seating areas. Their cake and restaurant selections are just what a nice overlook on the sea calls for on a day like this.

The town is noted by Catholics as a place of veneration of the
Virgin of Candelaria, the patron of the Canary Islands
Just across the plaza, the basilica La Candelaria stands in all the glory of its rich past and serene present. Definitely worth the visit to the province of Santa Cruz and this little city of Candelaria, if you're up for an excursion to the north eastern coast.

Although, one of the best parts of the trip happened just as we embarked with a full shuttle and began our ascent along the western coastline; Los Gigantes stood below us with a perfectly-timed rainbow shimmering along its edges. The city is named after these rock formations which shoot out of the water to a height of over 2,600 ft (almost 800 meters), which is fitting as their Spanish name means "The Giants." The ability to explore the coasts and hear stories of the island's past and present definitely made this trip a great addition to the TUI Collection of unique travel experiences. However, I would've much appreciated getting off the shuttle more often to explore on foot, something that would've been possible without the spontaneous showers we incurred.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Exploring London through Lights

January in London doesn't just mean chilly days with history sprawling around you. At night, the city comes alive with sparkle and magic. 

With displays around the the central parts of the city, London hosted an intriguing light festival. Some of these installments could be found around Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street, but you'd have to do some good, old fashioned exploring to find the others.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Discovering Hanover: Café Culture

The German culture embraces sweets in a way that Americans will drool over; cafes and bakeries fill the corners and hot, delicious beverages are served at all hours of the day. 

Wandering through any new city brings new discoveries, and that is exactly what happened in Hanover, Germany today as my Dutch roommate and I explored the city's winding streets by bike. One particular gem revealed itself with its tantalizing cake displays and vibrantly colored window decorations offering happy moments for all. But really, the cafe is called "Glücksmoment," which directly translates as Happy Moment.  I highly recommend you waltz in to find your own such moments with great company--that is if you can find a seat. This not so little cafe is often packed with friends, couples or even families during all opening hours, all of whom seem to be engulfing in decadent treats while smiles spread across their faces. I suppose the name is true!

Four things I love about this place:

1. The customer service is superb. They may be busy but they are the friendliest German staff I've seen in a while.

2. The cakes and drinks are original. They even offer variations with less or more of what makes our hips so luscious, or even free trade labels and creative titles for their specialties.

3. Each place setting and room decor is different and of top quality. Real plates that are hand painted, beautiful decor inspired by fairy tales and toy traditions, and excellent lighting from the large windows and meticulously placed bloom lanterns makes for a bright and imaginative Happy Moment for all.

4. They offer classes! You can sign up to learn the art of cake making and decorating for yourself. Though they probably won't reveal their best kept secrets, you can at least try your hand in the kitchen.

*this review is my personal experience and recommendation. I did not receive any free cake for these words, though I wouldn't turn it down if it came later on, because it is divine. Check out this place for yourself on your next wander through Lower Saxony...


Saturday, October 24, 2015

"King among Farmers." October 10th, 2015. Stuttgart, Germany

In the midst of confusion, stress, and frustration with work permits, I was put on temporary unpaid leave in order to sort of the mess. Thus, I decided to make my way south to visit a wonderful friend of mine who (ironically) was one of my mother’s best friends freshman year of college in Kansas (Rock Chalk Jayhawk). Facebook and fate brought the three of us together and a lifelong friendship and mentorship was born. While my reason for the original visit was actually so that we could go to Oktoberfest together, my work permit process allowed us an entire week.

Sarah Cooks provides a great Schupfnudeln
recipe translated into English on her website:
In Stuttgart, we celebrated the final weekend of Oktoberfest; in this particular city, this three week-long event is called the Canstatter Volksfest (peoples’ festival) and lovingly referred to as the “Wasen.” There were massive beer tents, glittering carnival games, and colorful dirndls galore! We made it a point to wander between all of the food tents, sampling beer and dishes representing the best of German party food. We were warmly greeted by piles of sautéed mushrooms with a garlic sauce, bratwursts, roasted potatoes, and a mound of sauerkraut that revealed Schupfnudeln beneath (known in Austria and Germany, this is a thick-dough noodle similar to gnocchi in Italy).

Learn more about the festival!
The festival is also, of course filled with music everywhere you go. Sometimes these are the typical dance songs that migrate across borders in a chart-topping delay after they’ve launched in the US, sometimes these are German festival songs created just for that purpose and are therefore both obnoxious and beloved. In the massive beer tents, hundreds of people sit along hard, wooden benches and tables to enjoy too many liters of beer and heavy, delicious food. Often, people will pop onto the table to dance to a particularly endearing song or to partake in a drinking dare where they have to chug an entire liter in one go. There is even a mascot running around -the bunny so lovingly referred to as the Wasenhasi- between tents from the different breweries to spark love and laughter between party goers at night, and giggles between kids during the daytime family events that take place.

The festival emblem:
This festival has been around for as long as we can all remember, especially since it started way back in 1817 as an agriculturally-focused event with horse races and livestock, similar to a 4H event or stock show. Even more interesting was that the festival was thrown a day after King Wilhelm I’s birthday and he really wanted to be there in person. King Wilhelm was known for being the “king amongst the farmer and the farmer amongst kings” and this whole festival incorporated that idea. Covered with fruit, cereal and other agrarian items, you’ll find a fruit column “Fruchtsäule” towering above the mayhem and fun. They even still do parades and exhibitions to showcase new agricultural technology and developments as they have all these years.

Naturally, I will recommend that everyone experience a massive German festival sometime in their lives. Until that time, I’ll keep sampling them and reporting back.
I sampled a dark chocolate-dipped
apple then rolled in coconut flakes. Yum!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Thirsty for Lemonade." Somewhere in Baden Württemberg, Germany

It did not work out as I had expected, though I suppose that is no news to those of you who have experienced reality for longer than I have. The city somehow mixed up my paperwork and fell through on some responsibilities, so when I went to pick up my work permit, I discovered that it had not even been started. Following the shock of that little announcement came a swift pause to my position and I was immediately placed on unpaid leave pending my documentation process. After nearly three weeks of being in the Trading department for TUI in an orientation mode, I anxiously awaited an assignment and stalked my colleagues to observe their work in the meantime. Why the three weeks? It seems that Trading didn’t quite have a specific task arranged for my three month placement in their department, but that’s simply part one of the story. Part two? TUI Germany was shaken up on the 1st of October, the beginning of the new fiscal year, by the announcement of a major corporate restructuring. One of the departments hit the heaviest was that in which I was placed, as the company decided to combine the elements of Product Management and Trading so as to be supervised by one joint manager.
Colleagues from TUI Germany fill the
foyer for the corporate announcement

As my mother and a few mentors of mine have so auspiciously stated during this conundrum, “everything happens for a reason.” I suppose the fact that I haven’t actually been able to work yet helps the fact that I wasn’t allowed to work this whole time, despite the fact that we didn’t know it. I suppose the fact that I am simply an International Management Graduate “trainee” helps the fact that my position is unaffected, despite everything else being affected around me. I suppose the fact that I have money in savings but no vacation time until Christmas was actually not the obstacle that I presumed, since now I have both money and time on my hands.

Keeping positive and making
the best of the situation!
Therefore, I left. No, I didn’t break the temporary government request to remain in the borders of Germany while my paperwork processes, but rather I jumped on one of those fancy speed trains and am wandering into southern Germany. Let’s call this a surprise leave, rather than an unpaid leave. It gives me a chance to regain my motivation and spirit after the three weeks of uncertainty and overwhelming German language immersion. It allows me to view the montage of fall colors as they fly past my train window, to taste the traditions of the south at their annual festivals, and to visit with one of my dearest friends who lives near Stuttgart. I plan on making the most of this situation, of making a whole lot of lemonade out of this pile of lemons that have been tossed my way recently. I hope you’re thirsty, Germany. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Here I am. Here we go." September 9th, 2015; Hanover, Germany

Welcome to the town hall,
"Rathaus" that (mostly) survived
the bombing during WWII.
I sit here nestled in my duvets with the pattering rain on my window, a fresh coat of nail polish on my fingers, maps taped to the wall, and a smart casual outfit hung across the door of my new apartment. I’m in Hanover, the time is 9:38 pm; everything is ready. Tomorrow, my career begins. At 7:37 I will rise to shower briefly and meet my Dutch roommate, Valérie, -who is equal parts hilarious and brilliant- for a healthy breakfast and a brisk bike ride to our new corporate headquarters for TUI Germany, the office that handles all tourism and branding operations for the German-speaking source market. After four years of family events and parties with my boyfriend Björn, I have apparently picked up enough German language (with his patient instruction and correction) that my position begins with a 3 month assignment in Hanover.

Following the famous "Red Thread" that
was painted on the ground to showcase the
city's most interesting sights, we stumbled into
this beautiful café street. 
This journey begins promptly at 10 am (not bad for a first day) due to meeting schedules. Needless to say, butterflies have taken up residence in my digestion track over the last few hours. Their origin undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that walking into that building tomorrow will launch the next step in what will hopefully be a prosperous and fulfilling career in international business management. However, I must say that I am not daunted by the challenge. Rather, it invigorates me! Finally all my hard work is paying off. All of those sleepless nights of papers and projects, working two or three jobs to put myself through my undergraduate in the US and finally my graduate program in Europe. All of those applications for scholarships, visas, competitions, references and positions.

Here I am. Here we go. I am absolutely prepared and yet have no idea what tomorrow will look like. Therefore, I am simply reminding myself that I have always given my best and my hardest, that there is a company who went through the ringer with costs and effort to bring me here as the only American ever hired for the International Graduate Leadership Program here with TUI Group, and that I can do this!

For the last year, I have repeated this mantra to myself based on Sophia Amoruso’s famous quote; tonight is no different:

“If I believe what I am doing will have positive results, it will - even if it’s not immediately obvious.” 

My first training will take place at
TUI Germany's headquarters in Hanover