Our village – Tervuren, Belgium

TERVUREN, BELGIUM: Sorry but Tervuren is not a world-famous city in Europe or even Belgium, like Brugge or Gent. This is just a small village where we spent 3 years of our time as ex-pats. This is where my elder daughter has been going to school for the past 3 years and my little one started her education-career 6 months ago. After countless long trips and journeys, our home in Tervuren gave us the cozy feeling for the past 3 years. We have become very fond of this little place, especially our Village of Vossem within Tervuren.

A musical band round-about, a symbol of our beautiful Tervuren in Belgium

A musical band round-about, a symbol of our beautiful Tervuren in Belgium

Tervuren is a little Flemish town about less than 30 km away from Brussels. The village is pretty well-known among the foreigners for housing many ex-pats families from different countries, especially from the USA and Great Britain. There are two British schools here where hundreds of ex-pats kids come and leave every year.

Main square or the city center of Tervuren, a small Flemish town in Belgium

Main square or the city center of Tervuren, a small Flemish town in Belgium

EATING and SHOPPING: Tervuren City Center is probably where most of the restaurants and good stores are in this village. It’s a shame but we’ve only eaten there once in a pizzeria. But the Friday morning market is a place where I went few times and loved every moment of it. I did my weekly groceries, like fresh produce, cheese, olives, fish, eggs,…and chocolates from here. It’s a beautiful environment and I got to meet locals as well as other ex-pats.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We visited almost whole Europe but didn’t even get the chance to properly visit our own village…this is what happens when you procrastinate. But we all will miss this little town very much once we leave Belgium in just a couple of weeks. Hope our daughters will one day come back here again and can remember our old house, their old school, and the neighborhood.

1) CITY CENTER: Tervuren City Center is small but a perfect place to hang around for shopping or meal. I have never been inside Tervuren Church, but it looks pretty old and a historic building here. The new modern City Hall building is located across the church.

City center of Tervuren in Belgium

City center of Tervuren in Belgium

2) ROYAL MUSEUM of CENTRAL AFRICA: This is one of the main highlights of Tervuren. Since Congo was by colonized by Belgium at one point and there was a dominance of Europe over whole of Africa, this museum carries stories of Africa, especially highlighting on Congo. Different sections and displays share the brief period of the history of that colonization of Congo by Belgium. Many paintings, statues/sculptures, photos, artifacts, and life-size animals (not alive) are there to enjoy for both children and adults. There is also a small section for children to do some hands-on-experiments.

The building of this museum itself is very grand and royal-looking. Tervuren Park is located right opposite of the museum on the other side. There was a temporary exhibitions going on when we were there in the Royal Museum. It was called “Spiders Alive” where a whole room full of different species of spiders were brought in glass boxes. The kids had a blast in that room and learned a lot too.

Royal African Museum in Tervuren, Belgium

Royal African Museum in Tervuren, Belgium

The museum has been closed for renovation since last year, summer of 2013 and as planned, it will open to the visitors in 2016. When we were there last year, the ticket was 3 euros per adults and kids under 6 were free. Not sure how this is going to change once the renovation is done and the museum has more rooms and displays in the coming years. At that time there was nothing written in English, all in Dutch and French. It took little more than hour to look around the museum. There is a train station across the museum and also a nice big parking lot for cars.

3) TERVUREN PARK: We have been to Tervuren Park only a few times, but the best one has to be when my elder daughter and I went there on an early morning of fall (in 2012). I don’t think I have ever seen such beauty of fall colors before. We were there a little before sunrise. All the park benches, fallen leaves, and sculptures were wet with morning dew. Different shades of orange and yellow colors of the leaves started shinning and sparkling with the first ray of dawn. It was a fantastic experience for both my daughter and I.

Tervuren Park, Belgium

Tervuren Park, Belgium

 

Sonian Forest is a big forest area (if not the biggest) in Belgium. Tervuren Park has a small portion of that forest surrounding it from every direction. It’s a nice getaway to the forest and majestic oaks, elegant French gardens, ponds, and flower beds. There are some historic buildings in or around this park – one is Spanish House and the other one is Royal Palace. I have been to none of them actually, just saw the Royal Palace from distance which hosts concerts and big events in this area.

Autumn in full swing in Tervuren Park, Belgium

Autumn in full swing in Tervuren Park, Belgium

Tervuren Park is a great area for the hikers, bikers, joggers, or for those who love to bring a blanket and basket of food with loved ones and enjoy it beside the lake. I even saw many people sitting by the lake with fishing poles.

A magical morning in Tervuren, Belgium

A magical morning in Tervuren, Belgium

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Visiting Amsterdam for the last time

For those of you who have been reading my blog for sometime, you may already know that I am an ex-pat living in Belgium for the past three years with my family. Unfortunately or fortunately we are leaving Europe and going back to our home in the USA in less than a month. It’s a mixed feeling for all of us…we kind of got used to this relaxed life in Belgium, at the same time we missed our friends, families, and familiar things of what we left behind in Oregon. I do want to thank you all my readers and followers for supporting me with your “Likes” and your nice comments. After moving back to the USA, our goal is to start exploring South America, Australia, and some parts of Asia.

Only 4 weeks left before we say good-bye to this beautiful land of Belgium and all Europe. We may come here in the future again to visit but won’t be for this long. After we came back from Belgrade, Serbia we are utilizing every weekend to go everywhere for one last time. We visited Germany 2 weeks ago and were in Amsterdam for the last time this past weekend. We will probably make one last trip to Paris and some other old/new places, and the last weekend we kept it to visit Mont Blanc … the French Alps that we have been longing to go for a long time.

So saying it all, here are some of the stuff we did during our last visit to Amsterdam.

Endless canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Endless canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

First time we came to Amsterdam was when we were flying from Portland, Oregon, USA to Stuttgart, Germany. We had a stop over in Amsterdam Airport Schipol for few hours. We had only 5 hours to explore the city before our next flight to Germany. It was 1st week of April and the weather was simply marvelous. Second time we went there was in 1st week of September, 2011, on a Saturday. The weather was awesome, not too hot and luckily no rain. Another time we were in Amsterdam was when we took our Baltic Sea Cruise by Carnival Legend in August of 2013. We only visited Van Gogh Museum the day we docked in this city. Last time we went to Amsterdam was before we left Europe for good, in June of 2014. My husband’s aunt was here from Virginia and we spent a weekend there to enjoy all the Dutch environment we could for one last time. Weather was nice, around mid 60s during day and a bit on the cold side after evening.

EATING and SHOPPING: Few times we were in Amsterdam, we had mostly fast food or street food, like hotdogs, Subway, and Burger King. We were told by few people that Amsterdam is well-known for Indonesian restaurants. So when we visited Amsterdam for the last time before leaving Europe, we had to try some Indonesian food. There are plenty of them in the center, and all around. We sat down in “Srikandi” near Rijksmuseum. This is a small but very homely restaurant. They have a wide range of  options but no pork or ham. It’s a bit pricey, dishes start from 20 euros, but very tasty food with rich flavors. We had fried rice, yellow rice, spicy beef, whole fish, and a mix meat platter…every single dish was unbelievably good. For dessert, we had Javanese cinnamon cake, coconut slices in syrup, and some exotic fruits with ice-cream.

Our Indonesian food at "Srikandi" in Amsterdam

Our Indonesian food at “Srikandi” in Amsterdam

For shopping, Damrak or the small streets near Dam Square and in city center are very good. When you are in The Netherlands, you gotta buy wooden shoes, ceramic windmills, or wooden tulips. You can also find blue and white Delft potteries in most of the stores along with generic t-shirts, mugs, magnets, post-cards, key-rings, and etc.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED:We were lucky enough to get many chances of visiting Amsterdam from time to time. Different times we visited different sections of this town. Most of the attractions are in or around Dam Square. Museumplein is the best place to hangout for all the museum-lovers. Walking in Amsterdam can be a bit hard because of overly crowded tourists, locals, and bi-cycles, but this the best way to enjoy its true beauty. For me, canals of Amsterdam are the most unique and I prefer walking over anything to get the most of it. There are trams, rickshaws, and other public transportation available if it’s too much for you. This time we visited Rijksmuseum, took a canal cruise, saw the beautiful building of Central Station and walked along Damrak.

Bikers in Amsterdam

Bikers in Amsterdam

 

DAMRAK and CENTRAL STATION: Damrak is main street that connects Dam Square and Amsterdam Central Station.  Damrak is the place to for souvenirs hunters, but shops are a bit pricey on this street. You can find plenty of cafes, snack-bars, restaurants here as well. Sex Museum, Medieval Torture Museum are also located on this crowded street. The walk between Dam Square and Central station is less than 10 minutes. Central Station is where we came to first time we reached Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. This is an imposing building inside and out. Trains for all the big cities, like Paris, Brussels come here everyday.

Amsterdam Central Station in The Netherlands

Amsterdam Central Station in The Netherlands

 

RIJKSMUSEUM: On our last visit to Amsterdam, we had only two agendas – one was to visit Rijksmuseum and another was to take a boat ride in the canals. Rijksmuseum is considered as one of the top ten museums in the world. The building itself of this museum is very artistic from outside. There are total four immensely big floors to explore in Rijksmuseum and each floor has two wings to cover.

A medieval sculpture in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A medieval sculpture in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The museum has unique collections of some of the extraordinary masterpieces of famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and many other medieval and contemporary artists. Arts and artifacts here are from 1100s up to 2000s. Delft collections and other ceramics/potteries left me in awe for more. There is also a small portion of Waterloo, ship models, dolls’ houses, art nouveau, arms, jewelries are just some of the sections you have to visit in Rijksmuseum.

Dutch painter Rembrandt's masterpiece "Night Watch" inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dutch painter Rembrandt’s masterpiece “Night Watch” inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Rijksmuseum is located near Museumplein and the “Amsterdam” sign. Ticket is 15 euros per adult and free for anyone below 19 years of age. Guided tour is available for 5 euros only which takes about an hour. We toured the museum by ourselves and it took about three hours…may take more for others if you take time to go thru everything. There are some cafes/restaurants inside the museums as well as a big gift shop. Despite having hundreds and thousands of visitors each day, the staffs of Rijksmuseum is extremely helpful and friendly.

A royal pottery collection inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A royal pottery collection inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

AMSTERDAM by BOAT: I couldn’t leave Europe without taking a boat ride in the canals of Amsterdam at least once. Opposite of Rijksmuseum, there were few boat companies who offer different options for canal tours. The one we took was “Lovers”. It was a 45-minutes ride which starts in front of the museum and took us to the big canal near Central Station. We were dropped off very close to the main train station. The boat runs thru historic buildings and landmarks like Anne Frank’s House and famous churches and cathedrals. You also have the option of getting off at any particular spot and get on the boat again when you are done.

Boat tour in the canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Boat tour in the canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Our one-way ticket was 10 euros per person. Round trips are also available for 14 euros which is for 1 1/2 hours ride.

Thanks for being with me in all my journeys. I still have many places left that I need to post about…keep in touch.

Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

We were lucky enough to get many chances of visiting Amsterdam from time to time. Different times we visited different sections of this city. Last time we were in Amsterdam was when we took Baltic Sea cruise in August of 2013. Our ship was docked near the city for few hours and we managed to visit only this museum which I’ve been longing for quite a while.

Van Gogh Museum is a must see when in Amsterdam, even if you are not into arts and paintings. It has the largest collections of world-famous Dutch artist Van Gogh’s many early works and iconic well-known paintings which he painted before his death. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see his famous “Starry Night” here (it’s in a museum in New York), but some of his other famous works, such as “Almond Blossom”, “The Potato Eaters“, “Sunflowers”, and many others are hanging in this museum walls of Amsterdam.

Last self-portrait by Van Gogh painted in 1888 in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Last self-portrait by Van Gogh painted in 1888 in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
      

To give you a little bio on this famous artist of all time, Van Gogh was born in 1853 and was only active as an artist for 10 years, from 1880 until his death in 1890. In those 10 years he produced about 800 paintings and more than 1000 drawings, as well as large number of watercolors, lithographs, and sketches in hundreds of letters that he wrote to his brother, Theo. He was a self-taught painter with few art lessons from Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium. His dramatic life story, unhappy romances, apparent lack of recognition, illness, and finally his attempt of suicide are some of the events that were great deal of interests after his death, as well as his exceptional use of colors and characteristic brushworks.

"The Potato Eaters" by Van Gogh from 1885 in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
“The Potato Eaters” by Van Gogh from 1885 in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
     

It’s a very organized museum with information written both in Dutch and English. It’s a wonderful place to get to know Van Gogh up close and personal. His depressed life, incomplete education, what inspired him, love and relationships, and finally why he was dead at such an early age…all are portrayed here in a very nice sequential way.

Another famous painting by Van Gogh "Almond Blossom" from 1890 in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Another famous painting by Van Gogh “Almond Blossom” from 1890 in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
     

The museum is located in Museumplein near the city center of Amsterdam where you will find many other different types of museums. Our taxi charged 20 euros for one way from Amsterdam cruise port to the museum. It’s open daily from 9 am – 6 pm. Be ready to stand in the ticket line for a LONG time. We were standing there about half and fifteen minutes, even those who bought tickets online were moving like sloths. Ticket is 15 euros per adult and kids visiting below 17 years are free.

Some chocolate facts

My uncle-in-law from Chicago, Illinois is here in Belgium now. He is not a novice when it comes to Europe. He lived in The Netherlands for couple years and he toured all over Europe due to his work purpose for the past few decades. We went to Brussels city center in Grand Place past weekend and took him to “Museum of Cocoa and Chocolates” which was our first time too. After all, you can’t leave Belgium without knowing the history of chocolate and why it’s so popular in Belgium, right?

It’s a cozy museum with few levels to explore. We saw man demonstrating how chocolate shells are made with different types of fillings and making of variety shapes of chocolates that we see in the stores beginning of the tour. At the end of the demonstration we got a chance to actually taste some of those heavenly dark chocolates with chocolate ganache inside.

It was a fun and educational museum for all of us. I wanted to share some facts on chocolates, especially Belgian chocolates from that museum.

1) Thousands of years ago, Mayas and Aztecs were first to cultivate cocoa trees in Central and South America.

2) For Europeans, the history of cocoa begins in 1502, the fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus to America.

3) First trace of chocolate in Belgium dates back to 1635 in the City of Gent.

4) In 1912, Jean Neuhaus (alchemist) invented first bite sized filled chocolate, named pralines.

5) Europe alone consumes 50% of all chocolate production.

6) Ivory Coast is the number one cocoa producing country.

7) Belgian chocolate uses 100% cocoa butter, instead of vegetable fats. That’s why the quality of Belgian chocolate is appreciated through the world.

8) Cocoa contains components that stimulate both mind and body.

9) 30 grams of dark chocolates bring 22% of daily intake recommended magnesium for an adult and 23% of iron.

10) The fruit of the cocoa tree is called “Pod” and this pod-like fruit contains 30 – 40 beans embedded in a pulp.

11) Chocolate is delivered in 3 forms: drops or “callets”, 5 kilos tablets, and liquid.

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