Belgium – Bruges

Today I travelled to the wonderful cute city of Bruges. Before we dive into that lets recap my evening from the night before… The power went out at around 11pm last night and I wasn’t sure if it was just my room, or the entire building. I was on the 5th floor, which oddly didn’t have elevator service so I had to walk down a narrow and winding staircase to the 4th floor. Unfortunately there was no emergency light and my phone wasn’t bright enough so I fell down an entire flight of stairs and messed up my shoulder. I made my way down to reception to conclude that the entire block was without power. The power eventually came back on a few hours later.

I woke up at 4:30am in immense pain and ended up talking with some friends until it was time to check out and take the train to Bruges. I ended up checking out at roughly 7:00am and walked about 1km to the nearby Brussels North train station. I purchased a ticket for roughly $20 CDN to Bruges. The train ride took about 1.25 hours and I got to enjoy the beautiful view of the countryside.

Upon arrival in Bruges it was slightly raining, but a very fine misty rain. I started to walk towards the old town center where I was greeted with a ton of amazing architecture. My first stop was St. Salvator’s Cathedral; a beautiful church originally built in the 10th century, but destroyed by a fire in 1116 and rebuilt in 1127. It has undergone numerous renovations since.

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The next stop was Church of Our Lady Bruges, a gothic style church built in 1280 with various additions made since.

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After that I decided it was time for some breakfast so I stopped in at The Old Chocolate House and had a butter and sugar waffle adjourned by a decadent white chocolate mocha with lemongrass, ginger, and various other spices. It tasted like a garden in a cup.

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After fuelling up it was time to continue exploring the city. I visited “Markt” the town square, which houses Bruges City Hall, Basicilia of the Holy Blood, and the famous Belfry Medieval Bell Tower. I ended up coming back to that later on to climb to the top, but more on that later on.

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It was roughly noon at this point in time and I was starting to get sleepy, so I made my way to my hotel; Hotel NH Brugge, which is a superb 5 star hotel which I received for free on an Agoda.com voucher for stays in previous Agoda properties. The cost of this hotel is roughly $300 CDN/night. I decided to nap for a few hours before continuing on my adventures.

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I decided to venture back to the Belfry Medieval Bell Tower to climb the nearly 400 stairs to the top. The cost was €12 ($17.50 CDN). The views at the top were absolutely stunning!

After climbing Belfry I walked across the street and picked up some chocolate bars and some boxed chocolates from Godiva to bring home to my friends.

I then walked across town to look at the old windmills along the banks of the river, with a quick stop at a grocery store to get some food.

On the way back I took a few beautiful pictures of the autumn colours along the banks of the canals.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapted, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer thatn that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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Valley Of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills Hikes

Yesterday I completed two hikes in Jasper National Park; Valley of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills. I started my day off early at 6:30am by waking up and making a nutritious breakfast omelet and coffee before setting off on a 5 hour drive towards Jasper.

First stop was Valley of 5 Lakes, a short 4.5km hike with a mere 154 metres of elevation gain. The hike was amazing; it started through a moderate density forest and opened up into a meadow before going back into a forest with a view of five beautiful turquoise and emerald coloured lakes. The hike took roughly an hour to complete and was completely worth the visit.

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It was nearly lunch so it was time to head into Jasper. I stopped at my favorite place; Jasper Brewing Company and had a cheddar burger with poutine, and a pint of their Rockhopper IPA, which is super tasty.

After lunch I drove to Maligne Lake, where I started on the trailhead to Bald Hills. It was a light misty rain when I started the hike, but over the course of the hike it started to rain more and more. About 1/3 of the way through the hike I met a wonderful woman named Susan, and her husband Steve. They had one of their daughters, and daughters friend with them. We spent the rest of the hike together, which made for a nice time. One of the kids made a hilarious comment when we were talking about religion. She said “Is a Protestant also a prostitute; we all burst out laughing! By the end of the hike we were all soaked. The hike was 13.2km with 701 metres of elevation gain; I definitely felt it in my quads towards the end.

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After the hike I drove back into Jasper to fill up my Lexus with fuel, and get some coffee from Tim Horton’s before heading back to Calgary. I finally made it home around 10:30pm.

Willcox Pass Hike

A few weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to complete the Willcox Pass hike with my friend Ashley. We set off early in the morning with a quick stop at McDonald’s to fuel our bodies with coffee before continuing the 3.5 hour drive to the Willcox Pass trailhead.

Sticker time on the hike is about 3 hours but we took closer to 4 because we wanted to take our time and we ran into some people and got chatting. The hike is 9.5km return with 522m of elevation gain. At the end of the trail you are greeted with a beautiful view of Athabasca Glacier (aka Columbia Icefields)

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After our hike we decided to go for some Montreal Smoked Meat poutine in Canmore at 514 Poutine, which is owned by a group of friends from Montreal. The clientele was mostly French speaking so we knew it was a good place. After our delicious dinner we drove back to Calgary. It was a 13 hour day all-in-all but an amazing one!

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Cambodia – Day 3 – Even More Temples, Tonle Sap & Heading Home

Today was my last day in Cambodia before heading home back to Canada. I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30am. I skipped breakfast because the hotel breakfast was rather disappointing. After being picked up I was driven to the first stop of the day; Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built in 967 AD out of red sandstone, and brick. The temple complex is elaborately decorated in wall carvings, which are well preserved.

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Next stop was Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre is a Hindu Temple that was built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the ancient people of Indochina.

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Lunch was at Khmer Angkor Kitchen. I had a traditional meat and vegetable stir-fry dish, which was pretty good. In the afternoon we visited Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a massive fresh water lake, which used to be part of the sea thousands of years ago. It was interesting to see where a lot of Cambodians went fishing, but sadly this lake is so badly polluted I can’t sit idly and not say something about it. We have a SERIOUS global pollution and garbage problem. It honestly sickens my stomach to think that I ate fish from this lake a few days ago. The whole lake is covered in a plume of algae and coolant / fuel from leaking boats. The shore is covered in garbage and plastic. As a society we consume way too much, use too many single-use plastics (in fact we shouldn’t use ANY single-use plastics), and we should be more thoughtful with our use and maintenance of transportation. Sadly, the Cambodians are just trying to survive and are not able to even consider any of these factors. This is a serious problem in the developing world, and I’ve mentioned this in the past in my travels to Thailand.

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After visiting Tonle Sap I was dropped off at Siem Reap airport, where I relaxed for a few hours at the Starbucks before boarding a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where I ended up staying the night. I stayed at The Airport Hotel, which was a 15 minute walk away and only cost me $35 CDN.

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I had to wake up the next day at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to Tokyo, Japan and then onwards to San Francisco, USA and then finally home. The first flight was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 767-300ER, the second flight was on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, and the last fight was on a United Airlines Express CRJ200. I must admit that United Airlines has severely disappointed over the last few years; the seats being quite uncomfortable, and the food being mostly inedible. I will go out of my way to avoid flying them in the future. You can see below what was supposed the be breakfast, but ended up resembling something that I wouldn’t even give to a dog. That’s an omlette, not a chicken breast…

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There will be a bit of a lull with new material for the next few weeks as I have some weddings I have to shoot, but do stay tuned for my weddings, hiking, and a quick trip to Belgium in October.

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Cambodia – Day 2 – Angkor Wat Sunrise & More Temples

Today I woke up very early at 4:30am for a 5:00am pickup to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sunrise wasn’t too spectacular because it was a bit cloudy, but it was still nice to see and get a reflection of Angkor Wat against the water in front of me.

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After watching the sunrise I went and got blessed by a Buddhist Monk, who put a fabric bracelet around my right arm, which symbolizes good like. After being blessed it was time to get some breakfast. I ate a small booth that was setup on the northern perimeter of Angkor Wat; delicious scrambled eggs and some coffee. The mosquitos were brutal here and I didn’t have any anti-malarial pills, but I ended up being okay.

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After breakfast it was time to visit more temples. First stop was Banteay Kdei, also known as the Citadel of Chambers. Banteay Kdei was completed between the 12th and 13th centuries. The complex is in very rough shape due to the poor quality of construction and poor quality of sandstone that was used in the building of the temples.

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Next up was Taprom. Taprom was completed in 1186 AD. When it was found it was found to be in excellent condition due to the trees growing out of the ruins and jungle surroundings protecting it. Taprom was used for the filming of the 2001 Tomb Raider movie. I absolutely enjoyed my time at this temple and liked it even more than Angkor Wat!

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After Taprom we walked through the forest to Ta Nei, a temple dedicated to Buddha, which was built in the late 12th century. It was in fairly rough shape and quite overgrown with trees.

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It was time to get some lunch. We stopped at a place called Ta Keo Khmer Food. I had some local soup and a coke zero. The soup was absolutely delicious. I ended up abandoning the coke zero because a swarm of wasps had surrounded my can.

After having lunch I walked across the road to the Ta Keo Hindu Temple. Built in 1000 AD, Ta Keo Hindu Temple was the first temple to be built entirely of sandstone by the Khmers.

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Next stop was Tonle Om Gate (South Gate), a beautiful gate with a head sculpture sitting inside the sandstone gate structure.

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After passing through the Tonle Om Gate we made a quick stop at the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform to view his victorious returning army. The 350 metre long terrace is covered in intricate carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

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Next stop was Baphoun Temple, which was built in the mid-11th century. The temple is three-tiered and also adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace that houses a swimming pool. My tour guide told me that when he was a child he would go swimming with his dog inside the pools. The temple was built on land filled with sand, and due to its immense size and site instability it collapsed. By the 20th century much of the temple had collapsed. Restoration was started, but then abandoned in 1970, when civil unrest broke out. Over 300,000 pieces, which were carefully labelled, were abandoned. In 1996 restoration began again under the guidance of French architect Pascal Royere from EFEO. The restoration took 16 years to complete.

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I also noticed some monkey’s playing around on my walk from Baphoun Temple to Bayon Temple. I got some great shots before one of the monkeys started getting aggressive with me and coming after me. The tour guide dropped a water bottle to distract the monkey so we could escape.

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Bayon Temple is an intricately detailed temple built at the end of the 12th century. The Buddhist temple had 49 (now 37) towers with faces on all four sides. This was my favorite temple of the day.

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It was getting late in the afternoon now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. I relaxed for a while by the pool until it was dinner time. I decided to try a vegetarian restaurant called Yuan Sheng Vegetable Restaurant. It was fairly good food, but I don’t think I could be a vegetarian as I like my meat way too much.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Cambodia adventure and explore even more temples! Tomorrow is my last day of my Vietnam / Cambodia adventure. The remainder of this summer will include hikes I have completed, as well as weddings / family portraits I have been hired for.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

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