Brussels

I stayed in Brussels for a few days, sightseeing in this very walkable city.

I had to try Belgium waffles and beer. The waffles are normally eaten plain, as they are already sweetened. But like a filthy tourist, I piled on ice cream, chocolate, and berries. I ate Belgian frites cooked in animal fat. They tasted like regular French fries (burn!!!). And I sampled different varieties of beer. While Germany has the Reinheitsgebot (“German Beer Purity Law”), in Belgium there are no regulations for ingredients. The brewers can throw all kinds of random ingredients in, such as coriander.

At the Grand-Place, we saw the various guild houses and the Town Hall. The Town Hall was asymmetrical because one side was built first. So the other side has different windows. And the other side is shorter in length, to not block the road. Engraved into a wall is a monument for Everard t’Serclaes, who scaled the city walls and opened the gates to recover the city from the Flemings. People would touch the statue, since that will supposedly make sure you can return to Brussels again.

The most famous statue in Brussels is a 24-inch sculpture called Manneken Pis. It is a sculpture of a boy urinating water into the fountain. One theory on the origin of the sculpture is that it is to commemorate the boys who were piss poor. There were tanneries, and the leather making process requires ammonia. So piss poor boys would sell their pee. This beloved statue was stolen multiple times, once by a French soldier. This upset the people of Brussels, so King Louis XV returned the statue and knighted it. French soldiers would have to salute the statue when they passed it. Now the statue is dressed in different costumes each week.

Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis

There are comic murals painted on walls, such as the one below of Tintin. Belgium has the highest concentration of comic creators.

Tintin comic mural
Tintin comic mural

The comic below of Broussaille was controversial because of the purposefully ambiguous gender of the person on the left. The mayor forced artist Frank Pé to add earrings to make the person more feminine so that the couple looked like a heterosexual couple. To date, the mural is on Brussel’s gay alley. Belgium was the second country to allow same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands.

Broussaille comic mural
Broussaille comic mural

We walked by some interesting buildings, such as the Bourse (the Stock Exchange, now an exhibition hall), an indoor mall (Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert), the Art Nouveau Musical Instruments Museum.

Musical Instruments Museum in the Art Nouveau style
Musical Instruments Museum in the Art Nouveau style

We walked around Place Royale, home to museums and the Palace of Justice. We also saw the Royal Palace, extended by King Leopold II. King Leopold II exploited Congo’s natural resources, and under his authority, atrocities were committed against the people of Congo. Using the wealth obtained from Congo, Leopold II built many buildings in Brussels, earning the epithet the “Builder King.”

Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, a neoclassical church in Place Royale
Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, a neoclassical church in Place Royale

Brussels is the capital of the European Union. There were EU government buildings and embassies surrounding the center garden.

We also visited the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, which are only open to the public a few weeks a year. That said, the gardens were not particularly impressive, and we had to wait in a long queue during Belgium’s Labor Day (May Day). The glass buildings were iridescent, shaped like crowns.

Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

We were in town during a jazz festival and caught a jazz performance in a small jazz club. The musicians were not notable or of spectacular talent, but it was nice to sip on some drinks in an intimate environment. After each set, there was one extremely enthusiastic audience member whooping and cheering them on much louder than the rest of the audience, saying how great they were, asking for encores. I wish everyone could have their own hype man.

Paris

I visited Paris for a few days, seeing the most popular attractions in a whirlwind tour. We walked around the Seine, visited the Louvre, climbed Sacré-Cœur, took pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

I climbed Sacré-Cœur again
I climbed Sacré-Cœur again

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to study math in Paris several years ago. During the study abroad program, I visited the Louvre 5 times, versus the quick few hours I spent on this last visit. All the art is visual overload, and I appreciate the art more when I can see each room at a leisurely pace.

Apollo "Sauroktonos" (the "Lizard-Slayer"), the selfie-taker
Apollo “Sauroktonos” (the “Lizard-Slayer”), the selfie-taker

I was able to visit a few places that I had always wanted to see, but missed the last time I was in Paris. First was the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. The permanent exhibit featured murals, one showing people in motion by Matisse. Another mural showed the history of electricity. The main exhibit was for Karel Appel, who made large, “violent brushstrokes” to paint globs of vibrant color onto canvas. The forms appeared to have been drawn by a kindergartner with no sense of proportion, as he purposefully went against classical styles and methods of painting.

Karel Appel exhibit at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris
Karel Appel exhibit at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris

I walked around Parc des Buttes-Chaumont for a few hours on a weekday. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a park in the northeast part of Paris, with a gazebo overlooking an artificial lake. Students playing hooky and some elderly folk strolled on the grassy hills and trails. From the gazebo, I could see Sacré-Cœur perched on Montmartre.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

In the study abroad program, I lived at Cité Universitaire, so I would always pass by Denfert-Rochereau, the metro stop near the Catacombs. After waiting in line for two hours, I finally got to see the ossuary. There were stacks and stacks of bones, some neatly arranged, others tossed carelessly into a pile. The bones were arranged in groups, some from soldiers of a certain conflict, some were moved from overfilled cemeteries.

The catacombs
The catacombs

As I walked through the underground tunnels, surrounded by thousands of bones, I felt a chill. Each skull used to belong to a living person. Also, the tunnels were drafty.

Geocaching part 9: the Fremont GeoTour

I did the Fremont GeoTour with two friends. I’m glad they joined, because I would not have been able to find all the geocaches by myself. We walked around the familiar streets of Fremont, a neighborhood that has retained its quirky charm in spite of the new construction springing up all over Seattle. Most of the geocaches had fun puzzles, as the Geocaching headquarters is located in Fremont.

We got brunch at Pete’s Egg Nest, then began the 9-cache GeoTour.

We started at a coffeeshop near the Fremont Bridge. There was the artsy bike rack that I would frequently pass, but never realized it contained a geocache. Using the stones on the sidewalk, we figured out the combination to open the cache.

Geocache near the Fremont Bridge
Geocache near the Fremont Bridge

The next geocache was under the Aurora Bridge, under a fake rock in the middle of the landscaping.

Geocache under Aurora Bridge
Geocache under Aurora Bridge

The next cache was a newspaper vending machine.

Geocache in newspaper vending machine
Geocache in newspaper vending machine

We found the next geocache near a cafe. We had to solve a puzzle and input the correct digits into a fake payphone to unlock the cache.

Geocache phone
Geocache phone

It was hot, so we stopped by the cafe for some delicious burnt lemonade. Then we made our way to the Fremont troll. I turned over nearly every rock to no avail.  There were a lot of tourists posing for pictures, so if they spotted us they probably thought our behavior was strange. My friend noticed one particular rock looked odd, so she flipped it over to reveal the “troll dropping” geocache.

Geocache by the Fremont Bridge Troll
Geocache by the Fremont Bridge Troll
Under the rock
Under the rock

We headed to the Fremont library, and found the clue to the geocache along a walkway behind the building. The clue gave the Dewey Decimal of the geocache, an old atlas in the library.

Geocache behind the Fremont Library
Geocache behind the Fremont Library
Geocache atlas on bookshelf
Geocache atlas on bookshelf
Atlas geocache
Atlas geocache

The next geocache was in a “Chairy Tree,” a tree artfully decorated with chairs. My friend spotted a tiny chair high in the tree, which he retrieved by turning the pulley attached to the tree.

"Chairy Tree" geocache
“Chairy Tree” geocache

The next geocache was another multi-cache. We read the informational placards about the Fremont rocket and the Lenin statue. We answered questions about these sculptures to get the coordinates for the geocache’s location, by the Fremont dinosaur topiary.

Geocache by the dinosaur topiary
Geocache by the dinosaur topiary

We walked along the water to reach the location of the final geocache, a boardwalk that extended into the canal. We combed the boardwalk, looking for some kind of magnetic box attached to the bottom of the boardwalk. This cache was the most difficult to find, but my friend managed to spot it under the stairs.

Geocache by the water
Geocache by the water

The GeoTour was a good walk. Afterwards, we were hungry and went to a friend’s house for her fatty food party.


We also found a couple geocaches that were not part of the Fremont GeoTour.

We found a magnet geocache near the Fremont rocket.

Magnetic geocache by the Fremont Rocket
Magnetic geocache by the Fremont Rocket

We also found a film canister geocache under a bench.

Geocache under a bench
Geocache under a bench

Talapus Lake and Olallie Lake

I hiked to Talapus Lake and Olallie Lake, 6 miles roundtrip with 1200 ft. elevation gain. The trail was wide and had a constant climb, never steep.

There was a hot breeze blowing through the trees, and the sunlight was harsh in areas without cover. Whenever the trail neared a creek, the breeze became cold and refreshing, and the air felt 20 degrees cooler.

Talapus Creek
Talapus Creek

There were patches of deep mud. Before Talapus Lake and halfway to Olallie Lake, the ground was covered in snow. I lost the trail a couple times.

At Talapus Lake, hikers sunbathed on the logs. The smaller logs were rather unstable and one woman accidentally slipped into the water.

Talapus Lake panorama
Talapus Lake panorama

Olallie Lake was still covered in snow. But that did not stop a man and his dog from swimming in the frigid water.

Olallie Lake panorama
Olallie Lake panorama

Overall, this was an easy hike, perfect for a relaxing holiday. I saw some people slip and land on their butts in the snow. So to be safe, I wore microspikes and used trekking poles, but they weren’t necessary.

Heather Lake

I hiked to Heather Lake, roughly 5 miles roundtrip with 1000 ft. of elevation gain. Along the trail, we passed by stumps of old-growth trees, with new, thinner trunks shooting off the stumps. We hiked by waterfalls and over rickety wooden boardwalks. A section of trail was flooded by shallow running water. Near the lake, the trail was covered in snow. I had waterproof boots, microspikes, and poles, so there were no issues. I even had mats to sit on in the snow. It’s great to be geared up!

Heather Lake panorama
Heather Lake panorama

The lake was mostly covered in ice and mushy snow. We rested on the shore in the snow, a strange contrast to the bright, sunny, 70° weather. We could hear the roar of waterfalls on the other side of the lake, a robust flow from the snowmelt. As we milled at the lake, the number of arriving hikers started to pick up, and on our way down there were some traffic jams. We also missed a turn, and ended up doing a loop through the snow, stepping over tree branches and walking through mud.

Overall, I enjoyed the hike to Heather Lake. It was leisurely, and the views at the lake were gorgeous.