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Back in January, I dragged my boyfriend Eamonn and a few friends over to a gay travel expo in London, hosted by Gay Star News Travel.
The expo was small (having worked in the travel industry for over seven years now, I’ve been to my share of travel expos and markets, so I know!) but, surprisingly, had a raffle with a grand prize that consisted of a trip to Vienna, to see the Eurovision song contest final!
For those who don’t know what Eurovision is – so basically everyone who isn’t from Europe or Australia (not sure why, but Eurovision is super big there too!) – it is a huge multi-national European singing contest, in which countries submit a singer with an original song, then award points to each other to pick a winner. The winning country usually hosts the following year’s Eurovision, and the show goes on.
Despite most people outside of Europe (and Australia) not knowing about this event, Eurovision has launched the careers of a couple famous people over the past few decades – most notably, Sweden’s ABBA, and believe it or not, Celine Dion, my fellow Canadian that for some reason sang for Switzerland, taking that year’s prize for the country.
Last year, a lovely bearded drag queen named Conchita Wurst from Austria, rose to the top of the competition with her song Rise Like a Phoenix, earning the country the chance to host the singing contest this year in its capital Vienna.
And so, as fate would have it, my boyfriend Eamonn participated on the “Pin the Beard on Conchita Wurst” game at the Gay Star Travel Expo (a funny version of the popular pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game), and his entry to the raffle won him the grand prize!
And so, this coming Friday we are off to Vienna, on the winning trip sponsored by the Vienna tourism board. Our trip includes return airfare on national flag carrier Austrian Airlines, three nights accommodation at the funky 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna’s museum ring, a city pass which offers us discounts to various attractions, and of course, tickets to see the Eurovision final!
I’m especially excited about this trip as it will be my first 2015 trip visiting a new city (and country!), after re-visiting Rome, Madrid, and Bangkok so far this year. It will also be Eamonn’s first time visiting the city, so we already have a list of things we want to do, and most importantly for our foodie selves, places where we want to eat!
So if you’re watching the Eurovision final this year, keep an eye out for me on the television… You never know, you might see me there!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul’s most important attractions. The structure itself is an architectural wonder, the art inside it is priceless, and the history of the Hagia Sophia is an important heritage to the world altogether.
However, more than the Hagia Sophia itself, there are other areas included within the Hagia Sophia Museum, that I didn’t write about… so here you go, a post dedicated specifically to the lesser-known, but just as important, Sultan Tombs.
During my visit to Turkey in September 2013, I went to check out the Sultan Tombs with my friend Ryan. The Tombs are a series of beautifully decorated mausoleums, each which contains a number of sarcophaguses that happen to be the final resting place of various sultans and their families.
Each mausoleum is intricately decorated in its own individual manner, with different colour schemes and designs on its tiles and carved doors, and are hence worth visiting individually. The older mausoleums date all the way back to the 16th Century, so the historical significance is no less important than that of other buildings in Old Istanbul.
A single entry ticket will allow visitors access to all the tombs, and the Istanbul Museum pass includes the entry to this area of the Hagia Sophia Museum as well. Keep in mind each individual mausoleum is considered a sacred structure, so make sure to respect the traditions and rules of Muslim places of worship, including the use of acceptable clothing and removal of shoes before entering!
Have you been to the Hagia Sophia Museum Tombs?
Happy Earth Day – 22 April 2015!
I took this photo of a mural of Earth in downtown Belfast, Northern Ireland, during my visit with my boyfriend Eamonn in December 2014.
Belfast is a wonderful little city, and one of my favourite things about it was the amount of murals everywhere!
During my visit to Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2013, I got to admire first-hand the magnificent Blue Mosque, one of the world’s most recognized buildings, and arguably, one of its most beautiful.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, as it is officially named, has dominated the skyline of the Old City in Istanbul for over 400 years, and continues to be a working mosque; as such, you are likely to overhear the overpowering call to prayer, which plays out of the Blue Mosque’s six towering minarets, five times each day.
Although the outside of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has a slightly blue tint, the Blue Mosque actually received its famous nickname due to the blue tinge (which is also a bit pink) of over 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles which adorn its interior.
A visit to the Mosque is free, but make sure to dress appropriately as you will be denied entry otherwise – or be offered the chance to wear a wrap-around skirt to cover your “indecent” attire… like I did!
During my visit to Istanbul I went to check out the Blue Mosque twice. The queue to enter can be long, but the mosque is well worth the wait. And for those that don’t believe me, here is the Blue Mosque dress code guidelines sign, and the result of wearing shorts deemed “too short!”:
Hope everyone had a fun and relaxing Easter weekend. To mark this day, I thought I’d share some photos of the beautiful Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, from my trip to this city in May 2014.
The Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom, if you’re feeling German), is a stunning Gothic-styled Catholic landmark, which towers high above the city of Cologne – 144.5 metres, to be exact. The Cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting over 20,000 visitors every day, and has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
During my visit to Cologne, I took the opportunity to climb up one of the bell towers, 509 steps up to a viewing platform. After the climb, I was rewarded with beautiful views of the Rhine River and the city, and I also got a better, close-up view of the intricate decorations of the Cathedral’s many spires!
Entry to the Cathedral itself is free of charge, but a ticket must be purchased to climb up to the viewing platform.
The Cologne Cathedral houses a number of beautiful works of art, including five massive, stained glass windows depicting popular scenes from the Bible, including one of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in a distinctly German 19th Century style. Also housed inside the Cologne Cathedral, the Shrine of the Three Kings is triple sarcophagus gilded in gold, which is said to contain the remains of the Three Wise Men.
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! If you visit, make sure to also check out the Sultan Tombs at the next-door Hagia Sophia Museum.
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!