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One of Turkey’s most iconic buildings is Istanbul’s magnificent Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), a one-time Greek Orthodox church turned into a Mosque and eventually converted into a museum over its 1500-year history.
The Hagia Sophia was an architectural masterpiece in the time it was built (532AD) and to this day it’s still an impressive two-storey domed structure that has survived the test of time against wars, loots, and a number of natural disasters.
While the outside structure itself is not nearly as breath-taking as that of the nearby Blue Mosque, the inside of the Hagia Sophia is incredibly beautiful. The building maintains aspects of both the Christian and Islamic religions in a unison that is not seen anywhere else.
One of the greatest assets of the Hagia Sophia is its collection of mosaic murals, dating back to its many centuries as a church. While the mosaics were covered with white plaster after the building was taken over and converted into a mosque, extensive restoration work has seen many of the mosaics restored.
I visited the Hagia Sophia twice during my time in Istanbul and was able to appreciate the graciousness and history of this great building both as much on my second visit as I did the first time!
Last week I wrote about the All the Beers I Drank in Belgium. Yes, Belgian beers are an important part of the country’s culture (at least in my eyes); but how about the rest of the cuisine in Belgium?
Belgium is a tiny Western European country that doesn’t always make it into people’s general travel itineraries when visiting Europe, but in many ways, travellers to Europe who miss Belgium, are missing out on a lot. And cuisine, with my big love for anything edible, is a big part of this!
Despite Belgium being such a small country, Belgian cuisine is incredibly varied. Before my visit in August 2013, all I could have ever attributed to Belgium is beer, chocolate, and waffles… but there are many more dishes to try, so make sure you make your way to Belgium and stuff your face with all the delicious meals!
Belgium is known worldwide for the quality of its chocolates. What sets Belgian chocolates apart from any others, is that they use the oil from the cacao itself to create their chocolate bars, as opposed to using external fats, as many countries do. What this does, is create a chocolate that is stronger and creamier in flavour, as it is not diluted by an animal or vegetal lard which will reduce the cacao flavour.
But Belgians don’t stop at just eating chocolate as bars. There are products like the Kwatta chocolate spread, a spread similar to Nutella, but is pure chocolate (no Hazelnuts) and comes in either milk or dark chocolate versions. Belgians often eat this spread for breakfast, as well as simple chocolate sprikles over buttered bread, and chocolate milk… this might not be the healthiest way to start the day, but it sure is delicious!
Traditional Belgian breakfasts are very continental European: a collection of breads (often fancy), cheeses (often stinky), and meats (often pork, although at times horse). On the weekend I spent in Belgium, my friend Timothy set up a nice array of foods for a proper Belgian breakfast, including fresh breads (mostly fancy), meat cuts (including smoked horse), cheeses (some stinky), and assorted spreads like fruit preserves and Kwatta chocolate spread.
Another big internationally known staple for Belgian cuisine are waffles, and interestingly enough, waffles are not a breakfast meal (as they are often seen in other countries) but an any-time-of-day snack.
During my visit to Antwerp in August 2013, my friend Timothy took me to the Queen of Waffles, a local LGBT-friendly waffle café that serves a wide variety of waffle styles, topped with a range of yummies. Timothy went for the basic Kwatta chocolate spread while I tried something different: a creamy spread made from the Belgian Speculoos biscuits, which are similar to gingersnaps.
The Queen of Waffles is located in the centre of Antwerp just off of the Grote Markt.
Frites (or fries, for us non-Belgians – “chips” in the UK) are super common in Belgium; in fact, it is believed that the dish originated there (not in France, as the North American full name “french fries” alludes).
The thick-cut fries are often served accompanying other dishes (even food that in other countries is considered to be higher-class, such as mussels or rabbit!), but can also be bought on their own as a snack. If you go to a frites take-out stand, the frites will usually be served along with a delicious thick mayonnaise to dip them in: the Belgian way.
A nice pot of mussels is a typical Belgian dish, and in fact Moules-frites (mussels & fries) is the official National dish of Belgium.
During my visit to Belgium, Timothy and I went to a restaurant where I got a delicious serving of moules-frites cooked in a white-wine sauce.
There are many variations on mussel recipes, from cream-based to tomato-based to broth-based (usually with either red or white wine in any of them), but you’ll be sure to find mussels in many establishments in Belgium, especially those serving traditional food.
My friend and host Timothy was kind enough to cook for me on many occasions during my stay in Belgium. The first time he cooked, he made a traditional Gentse Waterzooi, which is basically a tasty chicken broth, full of hearty chopped vegetables, chicken breasts, and meatballs (variations on the contents can be made, but this is the one he made).
The waterzooi is served as a soup with a big dollop of sour cream on top, similar to a Russian borscht, although some recipes seem to include the cream during the cooking process.
Lapin Aux Pruneaux
On our day trip to Brussels, we went to a nice restaurant and I tried the French-cuisine Lapin Aux Pruneaux (Rabbit and Prunes) dish: a juicy chunk of rabbit with prunes, smothered in a beautiful thick beer and prune sauce. The dish is traditional to the French half of Brussels.
Meatloaf with Sour Cherries
Again at his home, Timothy cooked for me another traditional Belgian dish: a nice hearty meatloaf served with cooked red sour cherries.
This is a beautiful dish, combining the heartiness of meatloaf and the boldness of tart black cherries, and is often served along with either mashed potatoes or frites.
A delicious, although incredibly basic desert, the Dame Blanche (White Lady, in English) is vanilla ice cream covered with thick melted chocolate. Nothing out of this world, but a nice Belgian dessert to finish off a meal.
Belgium has over 180 breweries and an it is estimated they have over 800 unique beers, so beer definitely forms part of the country’s cuisine. During my five-day visit I got to try 20 different beers, and I can attest, Belgian beer is good!
Based on the small size of Belgium, I was surprised at the range in its cuisine, and seriously recommend everyone take a trip to this country and check out the incredible fusion and variety in flavours.
Have you ever been to Belgium? What is your favourite dish?!
During my visit to Belgium in August 2013, one of my favourite activities was getting to taste as many Belgian beers as I could.
Why? Everyone who knows me well knows that I am a bit of a beer aficionado. Funny, for someone who, until the age of 21, could not drink beer, as I hated the taste (Thank you university, for changing that)!
Belgium produces an incredible range of unique beers. The small country has over 180 breweries and arguably has over 800 different beers. The beers range everywhere from a normal 4% alcohol proof, to a very high 14% or so.
Also, Belgians take their beer seriously. Everything from the way they pour it (the large amount of head is not the bartender ripping you off… that is the correct way to serve a beer to protect it from getting oxidized by oxygen!) to the glass it is poured in (every Belgian beer has its own unique glass, and it is so improper to serve a beer in the wrong glass, that most bartenders will refuse to serve it until the correct glass becomes available).
Through my five days in Belgium I tried to taste as many uniquely different beers as I could, although sometimes it was not possible due to the places I visited not having as wide a range. In my visit, I drank 20 different kind of beers (that is four per day, so not utterly a failure!). And yes, of course I photographed them.
So here it is, all the beers I drank in Belgium!
What is your favourite Belgian Beer?
Love is in the Air.
This is possibly the most romantic street sign ever, a little piece of humour I found in the streets of Brussels, Belgium, during my trip in August 2013.
Happy Valentine’s Day! And may you get as much action as this ‘no entry’ sign!
I had a Marketing Conference today for work at the Marriott Hotel County Hall, just across Westminster Bridge, in London… and here was my view for the day!
Nothing like a beautiful view of the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) from the conference room’s window, to remind me how lucky I am to live in this amazing city!
January 15th 2015 marks the 4th anniversary of my travel blog. I can hardly believe that it’s been so long since I got my domain and started blogging exclusively about travel. I have so far published 367 posts and had nearly 60,000 views over the past four years…very exciting!
I am not the avid blogger that I would like to be. Every year I try to post more than the prior year, but life gets in the way and I constantly find myself
being too lazy procrastinating making up excuses not finding the time to write. To tell the truth though, this blog has become an important part of me, and, although I don’t pay it the attention it deserves, this blog is one of my favourite hobbies!
I have not been short on travel since leaving Vancouver in August 2013 and moved to the UK. I’ve managed to visit quite a few new countries, and countless new cities, towns and sites (well, I could count them… but I won’t right now) through my time abroad, and collected a range of incredible memories.
In the last couple of months I’ve started (very slowly) catching up with my trips since leaving Vancouver. I still have a long way to go, but it is happening. I have hundreds of travel stories and photographs to share, so I can guarantee this blog will continue to grow over time, it just might take me a while.
In the last couple of months I also took a leap into making an official Clausito’s Footprints Facebook page, which is also growing slowly. Please like my page if you’d like to connect, as sometimes I add contact there not available in other social media platforms!
I am honestly extremely flattered that friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers take the time to visit my blog, read about my trips, look at my photos, and sometimes even connect though comments and likes. I enjoy sharing my travels and promise this year I will force myself to write more often, adding a total (minimum) of 100 posts in 2015!
Thank you again to my loyal fans, regular visitors, infrequent readers, and one-time viewers for checking out my blog, I hope you continue to enjoy my adventures!
Good day, and happy travels!
As I noted in my post about Brussels, one of the little surprises that I really enjoyed about Brussels were the murals depicting some of Belgium’s Beloved Comic Strips.
I have learned since my visit that there is an official Comic Strip Route which includes 42 pieces in the centre of Brussels alone, plus a bunch of others in some of the city’s suburbs… and I am almost tempted to go back to Brussels just to check it out!
On my post about Antwerp, Belgium, I referred a few times to a local legend about a giant: a legend that kept popping up in various parts of the city, and which is embraced by the city as part of its folklore.
Well, the legend, as it goes, is about a giant named Antigoon, who lived in Antwerp two thousand years ago. The giant built a fortress at the edge of the River Scheldt, and demanded passing boats to pay a toll. If the sailors were unwilling or unable to pay, the giant would cut off one of their hands, and throw it into the river.
Eventually, the giant was slain by a Roman warrior (Brabo), who proceeded to pay homage to the giant’s victims, by cutting the giant’s hand off, and throwing it into the River Scheldt.
The legend is meant to explain where the name of the city, Antwerpen, came from; in Flemish, “hand-werpen” means “throwing hands.” The idea of Antigoon’s hand, now sunk at the bottom of the river, also symbolizes that the river is now a free sailing zone, important as the city’s port has been Antwerp’s biggest source of revenue through its entire existence.
The Giant’s legend is visible throughout the city: the Brabo Fountain outside City Hall in the Grote Markt, built in 1887, depicts the hero Brabo throwing the hand into the river; a sculpture of a giant’s hand is found in Mair Street, the city’s main shopping street; there is also a statue of a giant at the entrance to Het Steen, the city’s fortress. Even more, the hand is even depicted in the city’s coat of arms!
A couple of days late on wishing everyone a happy Day of the Dead. This is one of my favourite celebrations in the entire year, one that makes me extra proud of my Mexican heritage.
This is a photo of my first attempt to make the typical Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muertos)… As I brought a little taste of Mexico to London, England, at a party my flatmates and I hosted last Saturday.
Below is another craft I made (one of 36 pieces I made), a piece of traditional Papel Picado, which is also a typical decoration for Día de Los Muertos in Mexico. This form of art is regarded as part of the folklore of the country, and protected as a cultural heritage art… Of course mine is an amateur piece, but not bad for my first time since I was a child!
One of my favourite celebrations. Today, I’m even wearing my Nightmare Before Christmas belt I got during my Halloween trip to Disneyland in October 2012! Even got a photo with Jack Skellington himself!
Enjoy the celebrations!
Last week I made my way over to the Tower of London to check out the World War One memorial poppies, a beautiful (free!) art installation running through the Summer and Autumn until November.
The exhibition, named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, contains over 888,000 ceramic poppies, which are being “planted” in the Tower’s moat over the summer. There will be one poppy for every British military casualty of the First World War.
One of the coolest parts of this installation is that it continues to evolve throughout the summer, as new poppies are planted every single day, continuously growing the display until all ceramic poppies are planted.
Throughout the summer, anyone is able to buy a poppy (for £25.00), which they’ll receive as a keepsake once the installation comes to an end in November.
If you are in London, go check out Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, it’s well worth the trip over!
One year ago today (25th September) I arrived into the United Kingdom for the next chapter in my life.
On my first day, I wandered around London’s South Bank with my friend Alison, falling in love with the beauty of the area. Tonight, I found myself accidentally wandering around the same place with my friend Adam, before I realized I had done the same thing on my very first day in London, exactly one year ago!
What can I say, my move to London has been incredibly amazing, and I honestly can’t believe a whole year has flown by. In this past year I have met so many incredible people and done so many great things.
Here is to many more amazing adventures in this wonderful city!
Yesterday I wrote about the grounds of the London Wonderground and mentioned the carousel bar… yes, this is a bar built inside a carousel that actually rotates, with the bar in the centre of the carousel, and the horses serving as tables.
One of my favourite parts about this year’s Wonderground… go check it out before it’s taken down until next year!
A couple of months ago, I wrote a review about the show Limbo at the London Wonderground, a great cabaret / circus hybrid show that blew my mind. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to check out another cabaret-style show at the same venue, in the form of the very sensual, extremely comedic, Australian sensation Briefs: The Second Coming.
The London Wonderground grounds have expanded over the summer (since my first visit to see Limbo), to include a much larger sitting area which includes more bars and eateries.
The Wonderground is meant to resemble an old-style fair / amusement park, and now also includes popular fair games, an amusement ride, and a carousel bar. Yes you read that right, a bar build inside a carousel that actually rotates, with the classic carousel horses serving as tables!
The stage for Briefs, is the same one used for Limbo, built inside an old-style circus tent (the Spiegeltent). A circular stage in the middle of the tent is surrounded by arena seating, with booths for bigger groups not he outskirts of the tent.
Briefs: The Second Coming
Briefs is an australian, all-male cabaret show which merges together a number of acts, including burlesque (boylesque?), drag, and circus acrobatics. Often described as an ‘Aussie Cirque du Soleil meets Ru Paul’s Drag Race,’ this show is sure to entertain anyone who likes laughter. Or scantily clad men. Or fun.
What most surprised me about the show was probably its audience. Being a show built around showcasing the bodies (and ok, talents) of beautiful men, with strong nods to gay culture (drag queens, cross dressing, etc), it was surprising to see a large number of straight couples enjoying Briefs… but I guess that is the fun of events such as the Wonderground, which are welcoming to everyone who has an open mind. After seeing the show, I would definitely recommend it to straight people, and be sure that they would enjoy it, because it is fantastic.
The show is hilarious from the beginning, thanks in large part to its incredible MC host, Australian drag superstar Fez Faanana, who may just be the funniest queen I have seen in my life. Her comedic ability is incredible, not to mention that it has no boundaries, and is non-stop, through the entire 75-minute duration of the show.
But laughter is not everything that we wanted to get out of this show; after all, with a name like Briefs, we were hoping to see some skin… and believe me, Briefs delivered skin. Through a series of acrobatic, comedy, drag, and classic burlesque acts, the boys at Briefs flaunted their beautifully-toned bodies throughout the show. I went in expecting to see men in briefs, but was greeted with everything from briefs, to jockstraps, to thongs, and even what can only be described as penis-sleeping bags (I’m sure there is a proper name for them, but this sounds… cozier). Surprisingly though, the almost-nakedness was delivered, for the most part, in a sensual, tasteful way. With a dash of skank here and there, to spice things up.
Each of the six members of Briefs contributed something different to the show, whether it was comedy, drag expertise, burlesque acts, or acrobatics. The numbers were often performed solo, but sometimes the team came together to perform, whether it was a choreographed routine, or everyone doing their own thing in a way that complimented each other’s acts.
Briefs began with a sexy dance number with all the cast, and a hilarious introduction to the show by Faanana. Afterwards, we were treated to our first circus acrobatics, with the gorgeous contortionist Thomas Worrell showing us that he knows how to work his body around a ring suspended in the air. Newcomer Adam Krandle was introduced afterwards as a untamable monkey with a love for bananas… a running joke that kept creeping up throughout the show. The graceful Dallas Dellaforce was the only typical drag queen in the show, mostly lip-synching through her numbers, with dashes of good ol’ Aussie humour. Then there was Louis Biggs, a 20-year-old eye candy who instantly became the lust of everyone in the audience, with a boy-next-door smile that made everyone melt int her seats. Finally, Mark Winmill, who is a top player in the boylesque scene, delivered a number of incredible performances that left the entire audience feeling a little hot, and topped the show off with an exciting finale that is splash-worthy (spoilers!).
Instead of using an original music score, Briefs borrows current pop music for its show, as an homage to classic burlesque / drag culture. The music is all replays of the original tracks, which means there is no live music in the show, which, for this show, works perfectly.
Briefs was flawless, and it’s so good I dare say I’d be up for re-watching it. I highly recommend you make your way down to the Wonderground and check the show out before it’s over. Briefs runs every night from 7:30pm until the 28th of September 2014. For tickets, visit http://briefsfactory.com/