Thursday, March 8, 2012

Belgium & The Netherlands or "Walking the off the beer, waffles, and fries..."

Unfortunately, this is a long one, folks...

I am currently behind in blog writing, and am writing this entry in Switzerland. As some of you may now, on Tuesday morning my family and I lost our most favorite person on the planet, Gigi (Era Jean Bates Crozier). She broke her leg in January, had surgery, and was ordered to stay off of her feet. Gigi was such a trooper, and was the best and sweetest patient any doctor or nurse could hope for. She had trouble breathing during recovery, most likely due to her congestive heart failure, and it wore her down. She had wonderful days where she would entertain visitors, tell old stories, and watch wonderful movies on TCM. However, there were also days when she was fighting for air and in extreme discomfort. Mom and Dad say she went peacefully, and thankfully my brother was able to come up and see her last weekend for a great visit.
Short story about her life and why I looked up to her: She was one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She grew up as a tomboy in contrast to sisters, and was quite the manipulative play friend at times with neighbor kids in her town. Of course, her sisters were great accomplices and her brother a good target :) If you are interested, ask my mother about some of the "Jerry Dalton" stories...hilarious! She had to deal with the passing of her father as a young teenager and helped her mother who was now a widowed preacher's wife with no job. She became an even stronger woman. She met and fell in love with my grandfather, Mel (aka Pa Pa), at college in San Marcos and they loved and cared for each other for over 60yrs (I think...Mom, what is the exact number)? She became the first female realtor at her company, Jeff Wheeler Realty. Pretty unheard of in those days for a woman to have such a job. Some of you in Lubbock bought a house from her :) She was great at her job because she is great with people. Not just great with them, but to them. I remember her telling me how she would meet a family and get so excited to find exactly what they were looking for. Even at 91 years old, she could still remember houses that she sold all over Lubbock and the family's name and their story. A wonderful mother of three, and wife to one of the most loving and patient men in the world. She enjoyed sports (obviously), being outdoors, movies, music, bridge, bingo, great novels, and above all else...people. There is so much more I could write about her wonderful life...but it all comes down to what she taught us about love. Whether you were her family, friend, or felt this woman's love. She enveloped you with her empathy, and erased your worry with her comfort. She almost took your worry from you for herself. My mother and I quote the singer Sarah Waters, "your gift is your burden, and your burden is your strength" and empathy was one of her many god-given gifts. She also had a million jokes and stories to tell...they might not always end the same each time she told it, but it would be nothing short of five star entertainment. It's been tough being so far away from my family during this time, but as my father says "keep persevering, what you see with your eyes now is what Gigi sees." And as I stare at this beautiful lakeside scenery at the base of the Alps, I feel Gigi all around me. She would eat this up :)

So here I go, a'hobo-ing along Europe for Gigi and for myself. I hope to evolve to be even a fraction of the magnanimous woman she was. 
Now on with the stories that she would want me to tell!

(Dendermonde Carnivale parade)

Chapter I've-lost-count: Our vigilant hobo boards a bus to Belgium and continues her adventures!

When I boarded the bus to Belgium, I was privileged to sit next to the most intelligent and interesting young man from Morocco. Along my journey I have been interested in hearing what Europeans think of Americans in general and the goings-on of our country. I have been met with many different ideas, theories, and out right declarations about the USA. This particular young man was raised in Morocco, went to university in London, and now works in Paris. He speaks Arabic, English and French and is a practicing Muslim. We had four hours to discuss our upbringing, our ideas on religion and politics, and dream travel locales. Of which we were on the same page across the board. Like some other rare Europeans I have met, he told me has no desire to visit the US. When I pryed more to find out why a young traveler with such great life perspective would ever say "no" to a new adventure. He spoke about the discrimination against Muslim people in the USA since 9/11. How could I argue? It's true. I admit that after learning that one of the 9/11 pilots trained in Norman, OK during the time that I lived there...I was/have been guilty of stereotyping. We ALL stereotype people daily, it's human nature to judge your surroundings with your's our actions that arise from these judgements that label us as prejudice or cautious. I will say that I am just as cautious walking by ANY individual on the street regardless of gender, age, or race. I fully blame my obsession with the TV show Criminal Minds and my fascination with the FBI. No one is safe from my imagination :) So when he described to me several stories that he had heard about unfair treatment in the US towards Muslim and Arabic people in general, I agreed with him...but I tried to bring it back to the bigger picture. From the beginning of civilization, tribes, villages, and communities that have been met with violence or crime from another group or culture...practice caution and prejudice against those people which unfortunately begets hate. I told him that though I am not happy that anyone would ever feel like they are an unwelcome minority or unfairly judged, I kind of wanted to tell him "get in line." The US is not alone in discrimination! Countries ALL over the world have been discriminating against people for eons (way before America was a twinkle in a bloodshot English eye)! It doesn't make it right, but it's there. America has had few war disasters at home (thank god), and our feelings of violation last for long periods of time...just like the rest of the world. We never forget. Pearl Harbor made Americans fear the Japanese, the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis had Americans blacklisting their own US citizens for fear that they might be Communist...and those are just the BIG ones off the top of my head! Native Americans, African Americans, ANY Immigrant, women, anyone who isn't heterosexual, anyone with disease, etc. Again, it's not right (and there are varying degrees of discrimination)...but my long-winded point is: are you truly going to let the actions of others determine your points of view on a person or a place you've never experienced? Hell, as an American, I am an unwelcome minority in EUROPE! But I'm still here, giving it a fair shot, even though people make it abundantly clear to me how silly and frivolous they think Americans are. Somehow, I still manage to make connections with people who are open minded, caring, and thoughtful about the world and it's inhabitants. This is a lot of soapbox stuff, but these experiences and conversations in my travels are the delectable meat between the sumptuous bread of museums, memorials and monuments. We ended up having a lovely conversation, exchanged emails, and he has offered for me to stay with his family outside of Morocco :)
Ah, Dendermonde! A cute Belgian village that served as my home base. I couchsurfed with the most amazing family here! (Pictured later)

I took a day trip to Brugge. A beautiful city with extremely charming people. It's canals, ancient churches, and historic squares offer the perfect European day adventure.

Functional art! These structures not only provide a modern addition to this cathedral, but also houses plants in the spring and summer. You can see some of the brown branches corkscrewing out of the holes in the pointy-things.
Never get sick of beautiful sanctuaries.
Carved wooden pulpit. Holy men and their egos ;) No offense.
Oh, the grandeur!

Wall of beer! This literally stopped me in my tracks. The wall goes allll the way to that doorway at the far end. I wiped my drool, and took a seat inside for some great Hoegarden Grand Cru.

During the summer, this square is packed with tourists, performers, and food vendors.
So you may wonder why we call them "French fries": well according to the Belgians, when they were fighting alongside the French in the war, the Belgians would cook fries for the French soldiers. They loved them so much, they began cooking them all over France, and thus the name stuck. Here I sampled true Belgian fries from a food truck, smothered in garlic aioli.

So in Belgian Dutch (Flemish), when you say 'good night' you say 'slaaptwell'. (Lieke and Peter, please correct my spelling). So I thought this door hanging was especially hilarious. Belgians slap babies and put signs on their doors about it so you won't knock. It's proven here. Right? I'm obviously really good at analyzing European culture ;)
I could live here. A hobbit house on the canal.
And who could forget the Belgian waffles, or as they say here...waffles. That dark brown on the right side is cooked sugar.....mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Pretty cool to see the entry way built in 1330.
This country is FULL of them. Everyone loves chocolate, almost everyone loves beer, they all love food and I love Belgians!
Easter display
Waffles display
They are known for their handmade lace in Belgium.
Horse drinking fountain. As if the horses would see the stone horse head and know that that's where "their kind" drinks. Silly.
Where male geese flirt with female geese.

THIS is signature Brugge.
That night I "cooked" for Lieke, Peter, and Nina. I wanted to make them some Tex-Mex but as you can imagine, the grocery stores didn't have the exact ingredients that I could buy back home. So here I present Euro-Mex. I called it "macho nachos" after my favorite meal at church camp. It was odd, but tasty. They loved it. I hope.
The next day I spent in Dendermonde, exploring the quaint and historic city. By the way, I will overuse the word 'historic' because a) it is, and b) I don't know exact time periods. I am a traveler not a historian. Love it or leave it.
Belgians are so hip with their naked stores.

I stopped in this pub in the square for a snack and some more of that Belgian beer...or beer...that I love so hard. Behind the table in the picture you may see a little boy playing hide and seek. He was my friend for the next hour. We drew pictures, played with my iphone, and played coaster frisbee. When he heard I didn't speak Dutch, he switched to French because it was easier for me. By the way, he was 5 years old. I am almost 30 and only speak English, "kitchen Spanish", and a smattering of French words. Brilliant.
My snack. Meat with spicy mustard, crisps (chips to Americans), and another Hoegarden Grand Cru. Get jealous.
A local beer that was to weep over. So good. So tipsy after two beers. Good thing I didn't have to be anywhere.

Chapel in the center of a beguinage.

THIS is part of the family that hosted me through They have hosted literally hundreds of surfers since 2007. Like I wrote on their profile on "I don't even know where to begin, I have so many wonderful things to say! From the minute I walked into their home, I fell in love with all of them! If you ever are feeling down about the goodness in humanity, get a heaping dose of Lieke, Peter and clan...and you'll be ready to hug everyone on the planet. The house was amazing and whimsical, the company was outstanding, and I will never forget the wonderful talks I had with Lieke, Peter, and their family and friends. I hope to meet them again during my travels. Consider yourself lucky if you get to stay in this warm accepting home."

Canals, everywhere. The Venice of The Netherlands.
It is my dream to live on a boat someday.
This is one of the monuments to remember the Jews of Holland that were deported from Amsterdam (over 100,000 men, women, and children) to concentration camps in the east. You may see the reflection of a figure in the center of the monument. That is the gypsy hippie woman that approached me and asked if I even knew what I was photographing. I told her that I knew what the monument stood for, but I couldn't translate the text. We sat down on the park bench and talked for an hour. She told me she was born shortly after the war, and explained how not much of her family was left in Amsterdam due to the deportations and their subsequental deaths. She told me about being a hippie in the 60's in Paris and Amsterdam, and we discussed current events in the world today. We hugged goodbye. Again, it's these stories that are the wonderful part of my trip.

This was the street where my hostel was located. Pretty boring, huh?
The view outside of my window.
Amsterdam at night.
The haze somehow made it more mysterious and romantic. Much like Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" when at the stroke of midnight you are transported back into the golden age of that city.

This was an exhibit called "In Memorium." Private funding provided researchers with the ability to research the 19,000 children under 18 that were deported from Amsterdam during WWII. Of the 19,000, only 1,000 survived. The researchers have been able to recover almost 3,000 photos of these children and some of the stories about who they were as people. This exhibit explains that their identities were taken from them. They entered the camps and gas chambers without names. This attempts to return to them a bit of their life: who they were friends with, what were they good at in school, what were their parents names, when were they born? One of the children they were able to profile, was Anne Frank.

You can click on this photo for a larger view.
I biked around Amsterdam for several hours to take in the city. I did have a minor head-on collision with an old Dutch drunk. He was coming from the opposite direction attempting to pass the biker in front of him. I guess he thought he could pass before I rode by, but he seriously misjudged that....hit my front tire, I flew off (almost in to the canal), and I just scraped up my knee and hands. I have some pretty good bruises and a story about my bike accident in Amsterdam :)
Pancakes. Savory or Sweet? They are all delicious crepe-like rounds with anything you could want on top! Pilsner goes best with them, I say.
Of course, how could I not address how many "coffee shops" comprise the streets of Amsterdam. Tourists have graced Amsterdam for years to sample the "local color." It's fun to watch the dazed tourists stare at their maps and wander by the canals toward the red light district and the many food trucks.
I did go to the Hash museum and learned about the documentation and art depicting years and years of marijuana use.

Berlin was my next stop....but that is the next blog. I have to get out of this cafe since it has stopped raining now. Switzerland calls me! I appreciate you reading ALL of this, and I thank each of you for supporting me and sending me thoughts and prayers. I couldn't ask for better people in my life. If you have any cute stories about Gigi I would love to hear them.

Until next time, hug the people you love and tell them how much they mean to you...even if you think they already know it.

Euro Hobo

1 comment:

  1. My favorite memories of GiGi and Mel are during family gatherings at Climmy and Jimmy's house. I remember wondering how we were related. I just assumed they were some more of my fabulous Texas relatives! I remember GiGi giving me hugs as if I was one of her own. She was a special lady and, especially after reading your blog, I wish I got to know her better. We'll have to add that to the list of things we need to chat about when you come out here. So far, boots and Gigi. xoxo