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“How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s thing?!”

img_7282First Impressions

If you understood the reference I made in the title, then you must have seen “In Bruges”. I’m not embarrassed to say that I discovered the magical town of Bruges from that film. It’s a pretty stellar movie and it was the reason I put Bruges on top of my must-visit list. I was afraid that building Bruges up in my head would leave me disappointed and in a way it did and it didn’t. I wanted to get to Bruges early but I was still feeling sick so we couldn’t mobilize until 11 am and got to Bruges at half past noon. The reason I wanted to get there super early was to avoid the crowds, which were the main reason I was a little let down. The Bruges I fell in love with was the one featured in the scenes in the movie that had no tourists. In reality, during the hours of 10 am to 6 pm, the streets are filled with visitors. In my mind, it wouldn’t be as touristy, but being a tourist myself, I couldn’t really complain.

Accommodation

We did not stay in Bruges but I wish we did if only to be able to experience dawn and dusk there, when the tourists have all gone home.

Getting Around

We took the train from Brussels Central Station to Bruges’ Railway Station. Initially we didn’t know which train to board since on the big board at the station, they only show the train’s final destination not all the stops it’s making. We asked a helpful attendant and figured it all out. Once at Bruges’ train station, there are buses or taxis that can take to the main square but we opted to walk and I’m very glad we did because it allowed us to take in and savour all the sights Bruges had to offer.

Attractions

img_7220The walk from the train station to the town center took us through a few of the major landmarks in Bruges: Minnewater park, the Béguinage and the Church of Our Lady. The main event for us was definitely the Belfry and the market square. Unfortunately there was going to be a concert in the square and they had already set up the stage and seats right in the middle so that took away from the view.

The two things we did in Bruges was walk around to all the different places we remembered from the movie and take a canal ride. The canal ride is a must since you get to see a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise have seen in a short amount of time for very little effort and the captain we had was hilarious.img_7237

Food recommendations

We didn’t stay long enough to have a proper meal. My cold was also getting worse so I couldn’t indulge in all the beer I desperately wanted, but I’ve heard just the best things about Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan. We did get to sample some chocolate, again from a shop whose name I can’t remember. I would say it was comparable to the chocolate from Brussels, although I also didn’t find the famous chocolatier Dumon that apparently makes the best chocolates in all of Belgium. I definitely need to come back.

Souvenirs

Chocolate would be a good bet. But there is also, if you can afford it (we couldn’t), lace. My boss mentioned to me that Bruges is famous for crocheted lace and I had no idea. Once you get there though a lot of shops showcase the intricate pieces in their windows.

Final Thoughts

img_7152Keith said Bruges seems like what all the other ski towns in the US try to emulate, with the cobbled lanes and colourful buildings. We didn’t go inside the churches and the museums, but at the end of the day we were perfectly happy just being in this charming medieval city that really does look like it leapt out of a storybook.img_7153

Next post we find out if Paris is always a good idea…

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Travel Thursdays: St. Louis, Missouri

Greetings from the Gateway to the West! That’s St. Louis, Missouri by the way for those of you unfamiliar with the title. On Tuesday, we left Toronto to make our way to “The Show Me State” for a wedding. This is not the first time I’ve visited my boyfriend’s hometown however so I know a thing or two about St. Louis.

First things first, let’s get the negatives out of the way. While it’s true that St. Louis has been on the list of the most dangerous cities for the past few years, it’s really not the city’s fault. I’m not the best person to explain the situation so here’s a video from the people of St. Louis about their city and why you should visit despite the negative perception surrounding its crime rate:

So now that we’ve established St. Louis as no different from any other US city, let me tell you about all the great things you can do there.

Catch a Cardinals Game
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St. Louis is first and foremost a baseball town. When it comes to sports, the whole city and county and even other surrounding areas are part of “Cardinal Nation”. They love and support the St. Louis Cardinals fiercely and come out to every game. As a Toronto resident and Blue Jays fan, I’m used to the Rogers Centre being half-full and people leaving before the end of the game. So I wasn’t prepared for my first Cardinals game. It was an afternoon game and Busch Stadium was packed. And this was near the end of the season when the Cards had almost no chance of going to the playoffs (of course, that was the year they actually made it and won the World Series). That kind of dedication is amazing to behold and fun to be a part of. You can also get St. Louis Blues tickets for cheaper than you can in Canada or watch the St. Louis Rams who just drafted the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Admire the Architecture
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Simply put, St. Louis is one of the most beautiful cities when it comes to architecture. They have it all, French Colonial, German, early American, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, modern…just by simply driving through the city and its surrounding areas, you’ll be able to see gorgeous houses and buildings. Be sure to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and go up the Gateway Arch.

Stroll through the Missouri Botanical Garden
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This place is amazing. It’s the nation’s oldest botanical garden and everything is so pretty. Easily one of the highlights of any trip to St. Louis, you can spend an entire day here just admiring all the different types of gardens and conservatories. My favorite has to be the Japanese Garden. Plus admission is really cheap, it’s $8 for 13yrs+ and free for children.

Visit St. Louis’ Major Attractions for FREE
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Yes, you did read that right. The world-class St. Louis Zoo, the Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the Science Center, the Laumeler Sculpture Park & Museum and more are all free to the public. As someone who lives in a city where you have to pay for everything and where everything’s pretty costly, this is absolutely astounding to me. You seriously just walk right in. No one stops you. No ticket required. Plus the quality of these places is pretty high considering the zero price of admission.

Seriously if you’re looking for a fun and affordable vacation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to visit than St. Louis. Maybe I’m biased but decide for yourself. I’ll be posting about the food in St. Louis next week. Happy Thursday! Now go see X-Men Days of Future Past.

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Travel Thursdays: Punta Fuego, Batangas, Philippines

I don’t think “Travel Thursdays” is going to be a regular blog series here on Fashion, Food & the Fortress of Solitude, but I’m hopeful to get some more traveling done this year so we’ll see. For now, I want to talk about the resort I went to during my Philippine vacation. Normally, locals and tourists alike flock to the more popular beaches like Boracay and El Nido, Palawan but I wanted to avoid the perpetual crowds present in the former and the obligatory plane ride to the latter. I’m very picky like that. What I was looking for: a decent beach, meaning sand not stone, that didn’t have a lot of people. My stepmom and dad found Punta Fuego in Batangas, which is only a three-hour drive from Manila. I had never been so I was happy about how near it was but skeptical on the quality of the resort, the pool, the food and especially the beach. I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations by a lot. What can I say? It was love at first sight:
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That was the view that greeted me from the lobby as we checked-in. We arrived during a weekday so the resort was pretty quiet with only a few guests milling around. The room was great: decent beds, good air-conditioning and a rainfall shower head. But what I really want to gush about is the double infinity pool! It is absolutely amazing. See for yourself:
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There’s just something about infinity pools that instantly relaxes a person. You don’t even have to pretend like you’re swimming laps, you just have to take the view in while you cool off in the water.
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One of the highlights of my stay has got to be watching the sunset from the infinity pool.
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Alright, alright, enough about my undying love for the double infinity pool. Let’s talk about the beach. We had to take the car and drive to the beach, meaning it’s not right in front of room, which wasn’t really an issue. But in case you didn’t want to take your own car, the hotel does provide a shuttle. Now as I was saying, this beach is by far NOT considered to be among the best in the Philippines since let’s face it, the country is comprised of 7000 plus islands so the competition is pretty stiff. However, it will be impressive enough if you’ve ever been to beaches in Quebec or Ontario. I mean after going to Wasaga beach for the past 5 years, the Punta Fuego beach was paradise.
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White sand and clear waters. What more can one ask for?
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There are even cabanas along the beach that you can rent with hammocks and comfortable chairs and cushions, so that you can take shelter from the sun when you’re not swimming.
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I took full advantage of our cabana to get some reading done and was visited by a caterpillar, giving a whole new meaning to the term “bookworm”.
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The resort also has amazing food. I was never without a cold beverage and obviously the seafood is delicious.
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All in all, I had the best time and it was all very reasonably priced and not too far from Manila. I highly recommend it to Filipinos wanting a quick getaway or visitors who want to avoid crowds and extra travel time. Punta Fuego, I shall definitely be seeing you again!
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