Monday, May 28, 2012


The Guild houses on the Grand Place

It was a whirlwind visit to Brussels. All I had was five hours to roam the city and with waning light, it was a challenge. I was hungry as well having spent a few hours traveling by TGV from Amsterdam. So after checking in at the hotel, I walked to the Grand Place where the world congregates when they are in Brussels. The flower market was just folding up for the day but the artists still had their pastels on display, waiting wistfully for a buyer or three. The cafés were bustling on this warm and sunny day and it was wonderful to see people from around the globe pose in front of the beautiful and historical guildhouses from the 17th century.

Belgium is famous for its beers boasting more than 600 types produced by 178 breweries in the country (this according to I'm not sure if the shop above carries 250 different brands of beer but if they do, that's quite a feat. I'm not much of a beer drinker but many years ago I tried their cherry beer and enjoyed it.

Belgium is also known for its lace and chocolates - Godiva, Neuhaus, Guylian, and so on. Around Easter, the shop windows are particularly a magnet for kids with its display of chocolate easter eggs and bunnies. Who can resist? And speaking of treats, this bakery (below) must be fined for its sweet temptations!

After dark I went back to the Grand Place to check out the scene and was I amply rewarded!

The Town Hall

It isn't really about the quantity of time you spend in a place. It's all about the quality of the experience that will stay with you long after you've gone.

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Images by Charie

Oxbow Public Market

Kara's Cupcakes

Exploring markets can be great fun if only I can control myself from rich temptations. Take for instance this beautifully presented Kara’s cupcakes which are individually created by hand. My cousin (who is one of the most generous people I know) gave me two. I should only have eaten one but there they were – a passion fruit cupcake with a pink heart and a “healthy” carrot cupcake with a sliver of nuts. I ate them on separate days so I was able to stretch my calorie intake over 48 hours. Small comfort because I couldn’t resist a crêpe du sucre from a French crêperie, no less.

It was hard to pass by Annette’s Chocolates without buying any. A photo of their chocolates will have to suffice. Yum yum!

Annette's Chocolates

A real find was The Olive Press where we tried their Verde hand lotion. This moisturizing lotion is not only soothing to the skin, it also has a pleasing fragrance.
The Olive Press

Next door to The Olive Press is Tillerman Tea. How beautiful their furnishings are! And as for their specialty teas, it would be a pleasure to sip a perfectly brewed puerh while ensconced in one of their Oriental chairs. 

The Oxbow Market is a small marketplace but its offerings are big and varied.  There are several restaurants to choose from, a bakery, an artisanal cheese shop, a seafood market, a charcuterie and not to forget, the Oxbow Wine Merchant. This is Napa after all.

For more information about the Oxbow Market, follow this link:

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Images by Charie

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

William Shakespeare


It was so hot yesterday in the Valley that I couldn't help but think summer's just around the corner. And one of my favorite poems is this sonnet (#18) from Shakespeare that alludes to summer. Will points out that "Summer's lease hath all too short a date" and at the same time, he says "But thy eternal summer shall not fade". What a study in contrast! Short is the very antithesis of eternal. How poetic!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fish pedicures may spawn bacterial infections

Late last year I finally had a fish pedicure after hearing my friends talking about their fish spa experiences. I didn't think I would last more than a minute in the pond when the tiny fishes started attacking my big feet. It felt menacing at first when the hungry fishes covered my feet with their sharp kisses. It took a few minutes to warm up to them but just as I was getting comfortable, they lost interest and nibbled my feet only halfheartedly then swam away.

In an article posted by Inhabitat last week, The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against the possibility of bacterial infections from these fish pedicures particularly for people who have an open sore, skin cuts or have medical conditions such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer or advanced age.  For more on the article, here's the link:

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Image by Charie

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Hermitage Amsterdam

The Union of Earth and Water (Scheldt and Antwerp)
by Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snyders c. 1618-1621

Amsterdam is home to some of the best museums in the world - the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk to name a few. And now it has the Hermitage Amsterdam! I was lucky to view the Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens, Flemish Painters from the Hermitage exhibition which has been extended to June 15, 2012. The exhibition includes 75 paintings and 20 drawings from the Antwerp School of Painting. Many of these oeuvres d'art came from the collection of Catherine the Great.

The museum is in a former home for the elderly. It originally housed women who were at least 50 years of age when it opened in 1681. Elderly men were welcomed in the 1800's when a new wing was added for them. The home became known as Amstelhof. At the close of the 20th century it was decided that rather than rebuild and update the home, it was better to move its residents to more comfortable and modern facilities. Work began in 2007 to convert Amstelhof to a museum. In 2009 the Hermitage Amsterdam was completed. But there's a little bit of the Amstelhof that remains. The architects kept the old kitchen in the cellar. It gives a glimpse of how the meals were prepared in the old days for the 350 or more residents who lived here. Notice the steps where the cooks would stand to stir the ingredients in the gigantic cauldrons.

The former kitchen of the Amstelhof

Impressionism, Sensation and Inspiration follows the Rubens exhibit.  It begins on June 16, 2012 and goes through January 13, 2013. The Hermitage Amsterdam on Amstel 51 is a short walk from the Amsterdam Music Theatre.  For more information about the museum, check out this link:

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Images by Charie