CALL ME MABEY

Madonna concert

We spent most of Thursday sleeping in, doing laundry, packing for the next 2 weeks and of course getting ready for the Madonna concert. I’ve always wanted to see her live and was unhappy when I saw that all the US/Canada concert dates were all in the fall, so this concert was what really got the ball rolling with this trip to visit Alison. She’s the one who secured the tickets and the experience certainly lived up to my expectations. We had wine to toast the occasion and then we caught the metro. I picked up a concert tee and program and we had pre show street waffles.

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There were about 40,000 in attendance at Roi Baudouin Stadium, which is partly open air and the stadium stands are covered. We had 4th row seats in the stadium. The opening act started shortly after 9pm, after they decided to cover the stage in carpet as the forecast was for rain showers.
A techno DJ Marin Solvteg was the opening act and he mixed a great selection of songs, both of Madonna and current radio favourites.

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This video gives you can idea of the stadium set up. At 0.07 sec pause the video. It shows a rectangular plastic cover for one of the video cameras, we were in the lower part of the stadium just to the left of that shelter. (note: I did not take any of these videos)

Waiting for the show to start

The show got underway shorty after 10pm. The opening had a heavy religious slant (monk like costumes, giant incense censer, bell tower and church projection) and she appeared silhouetted in a confession type pose. This shattered away, leaving her on a top platform and they went into Girls Gone Wild. Great energy for the opening number, she was really singing (although she had a lot of backup and most likely prerecorded support). She can keep up with her dancers and I loved the floor work sections. The stage had a number of vertical platforms and the lights and projections changed frequently for each number.

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(both of these photos are from madonnarama.com)

Revolver was next, followed by Gang Bang, both from the new album. Lots of guns and violence but that’s what the songs are about. The set for Gang Bang was cool, blood projections would spatter as each “lover” was shot and the girls dancing in Revolver reminded me of a spy/Charlie’s angles type routine.

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(these photos are also from madonnarama.com)

An updated Papa don’t preach was next followed by Hung Up (playing guitar) and then I don’t give a … which ended the set with her sinking into the stage for a costume change.

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(photo #2 and #3 are actually my photos, the others are from madonnarama.com)

The second set was awesome. They marched on stage with the cheerleader/majorette costumes and did a great mix of Express Yourself, which then went into a mash up of Gaga’s Born this Way, with a bunch of “she’s not me” thrown in before a drum line began and segued into Give Me All Your Luvin’ complete with drummers suspended from the rigging. Amazing energy and we were dancing the whole time.

Video of this section from Istanbul

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(both of these photos are from fastcocreate.com)

The next section was my absolute favourite and I expected it to be. It started with dancers with white masks which led into a series of finger snaps so I knew it was Vogue. This was also the best costume, Gautier designed homage to the cone bra corset over white silk shirt, black tie, pinstripe pants with silver pocket watch chain. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Dancers costumes were just right and I could have gone home after it was done. But candy shop, human nature and a slow version of like a virgin with an umbrella in the full out rain that was coming down at that point did not disappoint.

Video from this set

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(photo #3 is my own, photo #1 is from fastcocreate.com and the others are from madonnarama.com)

The show ended with full choir version of like a prayer followed by a neon party rock version of celebration. We were wet and tired out by that point but still dancing along.

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(both of these photos are from fastcocreate.com)

The rest of the night was frustrating. On our way there, the signs in the metro indicated they would be running after the concert, past when the metro would normally stop. But even though we arrived to the metro before midnight, everything was closed. So we followed the crowd to some muddy parking lot (it was raining quite a bit at this point) and we tried another metro, which again was locked up too). Eventually we found a bus shelter and called Andrew who thankfully came to get us. It was exhausting as we had to be up just a few hours later for our flight to Copenhagen, but I’m glad that I went and all in all I had an amazing time.

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Paris is always a good idea

I’m on the train back to Brussels and although I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip, I know I could have spent a month in Paris. It’s hard to describe but it certainly lived up to my expectations and despite a few inconsiderate individuals (who were all foreigners btw), I had an amazing time. I spoke French and felt quite comfortable doing so, in restaurants, museums, and stores. I found it much easier to understand than québécois French and they understood what I was saying, and I found myself rediscovering my vocabulary that was 17 years dormant. I’m sure my verbs were all messed up, but c’est la vie. I’m also using French in Belgium as I’m clueless in Flemish.

Instead of another 3 day play by play post, this one will be a highlight of the rest of our adventures. Thinking back on it all, the best part for me was visiting Palais Garnier – Opéra de Paris. Some people get emotional seeing the Eiffel tower or on a cruise on the Seine, but no I’m the one who had the tears running down her face at the foot of the opera staircase. We spent a good 2 hours touring the costume and set libraries, the golden grand foyer, exploring the interior and exterior balconies and eventually saw the orchestra as they were ending a tech rehearsal for the performance that evening. The chandelier surround, painted by Chagall, depicts scenes from operas by 14 composers. The gift shop yielded some very cherished souvenirs.

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We had some fun walking along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, window shopping and then spent some real time shopping at sephora. We also saw Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, and the crazy round about traffic that seemed to make very little sense.

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Monday morning we explored Monmartre and found the Moulin Rouge and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, which is the highest point of the city.

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I’m back in Brussels now and desperately need to get to bed so here are a few more pictures of the amazing places we visited and the great food we ate. Paris did not disappoint me in any way and I know I’ll be back to visit again.

Musée d’Orsay

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Our street

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Our view from the flat

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Eiffel Tower – day and night

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Paris Day 2 – Museum hopping

Our second day was filled with museum visits. We found a cafe to have our petit déjeuner and then we were off!

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Since our flat is so close, we visited the grounds of the Archives nationales specifically Hôtel de Soubise. The grounds were nice but of course the building was not open as it was Sunday morning.

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Our first stop was the Pompidou Centre, home to modern and contemporary art. What is so unique about the building isn’t just the art inside but the building design enabled the galleries to be enormous uncluttered spaces while all of the elevators, stairs, air and water ducts, and escalators are all outside in coloured and glass tubes. It was from the glassed in front escalators that I got my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur.

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While modern art really isn’t my thing, I did enjoy seeing works from Warhol, Picasso, Rothko and Matisse.

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For lunch, I had a new food: Alsatian flammekueche. A thin baked dough with which is covered with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and lardons. You could then add additional topping, which I opted for goat cheese and honey. Also had a glass of Gewurtztraminer 🙂

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The Louvre was stop #2 on our museum day and I must say that I was glad we opted for the museum pass. It gave us priority access, which is a separate entrance completely and there wasn’t a queue at all. Inside we only looked at 3 sections yet climbed what felt like a million stairs. We focused on Greek and Roman sculpture, and Italian paintings. My favourite was Venus de Milo and I thought the fuss and crowd around the Mona Lisa was more fun to see than the painting itself.

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We explored the grounds and walked along the Tuileries. Stopped for a water break and eventually made our way to museum #3: L’Orangerie. It is art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, most famous for Monet’s eight water lilly murals. Pictures are not allowed inside this museum so I bought a few postcards.

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That evening we ate at a Moroccan restaurant. We both had tagine, a slow cooked stew, named for the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. Mine was chicken and pears and it was served with spiced bread. It was very dark, almost exclusively candlelit, so the pictures are a bit hard to see.

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Stay tuned for the next update where we journey to the top of Montmartre and visit Sacre Coeur.

A fast train to Paris

On Saturday afternoon we made our way to Gare Midi for our Thalys train to Paris. I was impressed with the comfortable seats and smooth ride considering we travelled at about 300km/h. The entire trip took less than 90 minutes and we arrived at Paris Gare du Nord.20120708-080815.jpg20120708-080922.jpg
We took the metro to the 3eme arrondissement and found our apartment. The location is close to the archives and Pompidou modern art museum. We walked down rue des archives and soon found ourselves in the square in front of Hôtel de Ville. It was from there that it really hit me hat I was in Paris as you coud see Île de la Cité with Notre Dame.

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We crossed Pont d’Arcole into Île de la Cité and entered the square in front of Notre Dame. The details in the sculptures on the facade was remarkable. We entered the cathedral and a mass was underway. The silence maintained was reverent and we kept to the sides of the church. The rose window was stunning and the lit chandeliers gave everything a soft glow.
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We walked along the side of Notre Dame to see the flying buttresses and into Square Jean XXXIII. We took a bottled water break on a bench and admired the fountain and flowers. We then crossed Pont de l’Archevêché, which is adorned with thousands of “love locks”. Lovers write their names or initials on the locks and lock it on the bridge, a romantic gesture that fills both sides of the railings.
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Now that we were in the Latin Quarter, we searched out a bistro for supper. Alison had stayed in this area on a previous trip, so she knew some of the restaurants in the area. We settled in at Le Jardin d’Artemis. I enjoyed stuffed mushrooms, confit de canard and chocolate fondant cake. We also had a full bodied Côtes du Rhône wine.

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Tomorrow’s post will be all about museums! Bonsoir de Paris!

Rain, rain go away

The weather here has been wet for the last few days, so our sightseeing has slowed a bit. On Thursday we visited a farmer’s market and picked up fresh bread and charcuterie. It was a real mix of vendors selling everything from clothing and cosmetics to flowers and fruits and vegetables.
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Thursday afternoon we went shopping at Dod. Dod reminded me the store Century 21 in NYC, but if you haven’t been there, think of a large multi level Winners or TJmaxx. Designer labels from last season with discounted prices. I resisted the €50 Valentino scarves and picked up a pair of pewter leather flats for less than €25. We found quite a few nice pieces for Alison and walked home quickly in the rain.

The shopping continued on Friday after we drove Anne to the airport for her flight to Spain. We went to the Woluwe shopping center. It was very similar to North American malls, except of course for the stores. I enjoyed shopping at Ms Mode, Paprika (both clothing stores) and my favourite store form my last European trip, Oil and Vinegar.

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20120707-230840.jpgJust a few of my shopping finds

Thursday’s supper was a feast at Alison and Andrew’s, starting with the cheese, bread and charcuterie we purchased at the market. We had boudin de Liege, mousse au sauternes and pâté de campagne.

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The main course took a 180 degree turn with Chana Masala and butter chicken over Basmati rice. Alison is a talented chef and we lingered over the table chatting and having a great time. After dinner Andrew mixed Caipirinhas, Brazilian muddled drinks, for Alison and I.

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Friday night we went to the wine bar that I have been dying to go to since Alison posted about it on her blog Cheeseweb. We went with Vi, Alison’s Latvian economist/photographer friend, who also was with us earlier in the week at Le coin des artistes. This place has the wine scene all figured out; lots of by the glass availability from around the globe, a boutique to purchase your favorites to take home with you, and bite size scrumptious tapas to keep you satisfied and lingering well into the night.

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But above all, the automatic wine dispensers are ingenious. You purchase a pre-paid debit card that you insert into a small glass display case with 8 bottles of wine and select the amount you wish to have ( just a small taste, a half glass or full glass). The prices are displayed on the touch screen and your card is debited the amount. And I have to say that all the wines I tried were delicious, but the best was an Italian red that I had close to the end of the evening.

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Stay tuned tomorrow for my first post about Paris!

Parks and chocolate and beer, oh my!

Today’s travels took us to a number of public parks. It was great to see so many green spaces and so many people taking advantage of these areas either on their lunch hour or mid afternoon breaks. We started the day at parc cinquantenaire with the beautiful arch, and ended up in parc ambiorix with fountains and fragrant flowers.

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We saw the Canadian embassy and home of the EU, Berlymont. We also saw a variety of architecture types all within a few blocks.

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On the way home, we stopped at Neuhaus so Anne could have her first taste of belgian chocolate. It did not disappoint 🙂

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Somehow yesterday’s belgian waffle did not get posted so I’ve decided to include it here (in all it’s strawberry and chocolate goodness)

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Last night’s supper was at an cozy French restaurant, Le coin des artistes. It was such a perfect meal and we talked and laughed until midnight. I had duck breast and roasted vegetables, while Anne had cod with mashed potatoes. The red wine was amazing and the grand dame dessert was light and satisfying.

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Tonight Alison made pasta with olive oil, sausage, roasted red pepper and onions. It was delicious. I took some time our to Skype with Stewart on the patio, it’s just a comfy spot.

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We went out for after dinner drinks and dessert and had intended to sit outside on a terrace. The thunderstorm sent us inside, but the belle vue framboise beer, Campari and creme brûlée did not disappoint.

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Tomorrow we plan to visit a farmers market, do some shopping at Dot and experience Belgian frites!

Arrival in Belgium

Yesterday was a day of travel via Icelandair to Brussels, Belgium. Our flight got in around 9:20pm and Alison and Andrew picked us up and gave us a quick driving tour on our way to their flat. We saw the Atomium, originally built for Expo ’58, which now twinkles at night. We also saw the exposition grounds, and took glimpses of the royal palace, Chinese and Japanese pavilions and drove through the central tunnels to see the Cinquantenaire park lit up at night.

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We had a good night sleep and set off this afternoon towards the city center. We walked by the parliament building and the took a walk through Parc Royale. In the park they had a number of temporary sculptures depicting traditional Belgium food.

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We continued past the royal palace, musical instrument museum and took our picture at Mont des Arts. We then continued to Grand Place but there was temporary stadium seating set up for an event, so some of the buildings were difficult to photograph.

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We made the obligatory stop to see Manneken Pis and the it was all about shopping and food 🙂
We visited Les Galeries Saint Hubert, the glassed roof shopping arcade. We saw Belgium lace, expensive leather purses and shoes and most important of all: chocolate!

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We ended our afternoon eating with Belgian waffles. I had a liege waffle with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and chocolate sauce. It was absolutely delicious. Tonight we are taking it easy, resting up for more adventures tomorrow.

Water, water everywhere: Iceland Day 2 &3

Yesterday was such a busy day of touring. We began our morning walking along Laugavegur, doing a bit of shopping and enjoying the nice weather. We looked at woolen goods, checked out 66 North (think high end Roots/North Face clothing and footwear), and I picked up a bracelet and earring set made from Icelandic lava beads. By afternoon, we made our way to the Lutheran Icelandic church Hallgrímskirkja with it’s tall bell tower that is visible in most of Reykjavik. The inside is modest and very white, but the most impressive part is the 15 foot pipe organ with more than 5000 pipes. After a short visit to the sanctuary, we took the lift to the observation platform in the tower, which provided amazing 360 degree views of the city.
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Late afternoon we caught our bus for the evening golden circle tour. It was a small tour of 15 people and we met a fellow Canadian, Dan, within the first few minutes (he said Anne’s lululemon jacket and MEC bag gave us away). Our first stop was Þingvellir national park, a UNESCO heritage site. It literally means “Parliament Plains” and was the site of general assembly beginning around 930 and continued to convene there until 1798. It is also a place to see the rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and they are moving away for each other at the rate of approximately 2 cm per year.

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This night we had short rain showers, and the intensity of the rainbows that followed was impressive, at one point we could see 3 individual arcs.

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The second stop on the tour was Gullfoss falls. Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period. There are two observation decks, the lower one allows you to walk out onto the rocks in front of the falls where the mist is very wet. Anne and Dan chose to get that close, while I preferred to stay dry on the first platform.

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The last stop on the tour was the Great Geysir, sight of the very first recorded geyser. While the original has ceased to spout, nearby Strokkur (“the churn”), spouts a 60-100 foot jet about once every five minutes. This area is also rich in walking paths that lead past steaming vents and colorful, mineral-rich mud formations.

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We decided that day 3 would be our day to relax. We thought a great way to celebrate Canada Day would be to visit the Blue Lagoon. This spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík, about 45 mins outside of Reykavik. While we had rain showers during the bus ride, when we arrived at the lagoon, the sun was shining. The water averages 37–39 °C and is rich in silica and sulphur (which gives it a slight smell). As you can see from the pictures, the water was beautiful and we returned to our hotel relaxed and happy.

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Tonight’s supper was at Geysir bistro and bar, which is just around the corner from our hotel. Anne had fish and chips and I had onion soup and chicken crepes. I also tried a local soft drink appelsin, an orange soft drink that had a taste similar to fanta.

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Tomorrow is a travel day to Belgium. Iceland has been fun, but I can’t wait to meet up with Alison and Andrew in Brussels!

Iceland Day 2

Tonight’s post will be very short, it was a full day of touring and it’s now past 1am. I will post more details tomorrow afternoon or evening, but in short: this morning we walked to Hallgrimskirkja, the beautiful church with an elevator to the top of its bell tower, which provided some amazing views of the city.
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This afternoon we began our Golden Circle Bus tour where we visited Þingvellir national park, Gullfoss falls and Geysir hot springs.
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Tomorrow we are planning to relax and celebrate Canada day at the Blue Lagoon.

Arrival in Iceland

It’s been one of the longest days ever! Our red eye Icelandair flight was smooth and without incident. I found the seats comfy and the inflight entertainment system enjoyable. The only odd thing was that it was so warm, which is odd as I am usually freezing on planes. Good thing I dressed in layers and drank lots of water. We really didn’t get much sleep on the plane and by the time we cleared customs and baggage claim, and found the fly bus into Reykjavik it was 7am. Our room at the centerhotel plaza wasn’t going to be ready until 9am, but at least we got to sample the breakfast buffet. We were both exhausted and once the room was ready we slept for quite a few hours.

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Once we got up, we took a walk by the waterfront. Took pictures of the harbour and ended up at the beautiful concert hall and conference centre Harpa. It is a spectacular glass structure overlooking the water with magnificent views.
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We walked back to the central area that we are staying and found a quaint restaurant for supper. I enjoyed roasted lamb and root vegetables in mushroom sauce with a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

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On the way back we looked into the many shops and stopped into a 24h grocery mart for snacks.
It is very odd for it not to be dark, I am writing this after midnight and the sun is still shining. We are heading to bed shortly and will be going on the golden circle tour of Iceland tomorrow.
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