Happy International Women’s Day: Become Aware and Help Raise Awareness

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It is a day in which we celebrate women’s achievements and also raise awareness for continued equality for women worldwide.

The official theme for 2015 is “Make It Happen”

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”

I feel that as a woman “we” have achieved a lot especially in the western world yet I always say there is room for improvement, especially when we look at women and girls around the world. Join me today in this special celebration. Become aware and help raise awareness. There is still so much more to be accomplished. I have included various links below to sites you may find useful.

In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the new “Let Girls Learn” initiative that will be a collaborative effort between the Peace Corps and worldwide Girl Scouts organization.

http://blog.girlscouts.org/2015/03/girl-scouts-celebrate-of-international.html

http://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn

From the Girl Scouts Organization site:

http://blog.girlscouts.org/2015/03/girl-scouts-celebrate-of-international.html

For more information visit the International Women’s Day website:

http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Also visit the United Nation’s sites:

http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-womens-day

For Unesco Events: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/international-womens-day-2015/

I leave you with this quote from Malala Yousafzai:

I speak not for myself but for those without voice…those who have fought for their rights…their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.

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A Trip Down Memory Lane: Brussels and Bruges

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels May 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Sitting with my daughter in the Grand Place of Brussels
May 2013
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

As you may remember, our family lived in Brussels, Belgium for four years from 1997 until 2001. Both our children were born in Brussels. After we returned to the US, I had brought the children to visit Brussels in 2005 but we had not been back since then. We thought it very appropriate to visit Brussels on our last weekend getaway before moving back to the states.

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005

With my children in our visit back to Brussels in 2005
The Grand Place

Visiting Brussels 2013 Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Visiting Brussels May 2013
At the Grand Place
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Many friends here have asked me if a weekend is enough time to visit Brussels and my answer is always a resounding yes. Not only did we visit Brussels we took a day trip to beautiful Bruges. Belgium is a country about the size of the state of Maryland. It is located north of France and south of the Netherlands, with Germany and Luxembourg to its east. The country is culturally divided in two halves, the northern half that speaks Flemish (similar to Dutch) and the southern half that speaks French. The two groups do not really like each other and often times choose English as the language of choice to address each other in. Brussels is officially a bilingual city so its streets signs are always in both French and Flemish. Belgium is a country rich in history and with wonderful cuisine, not to mention about 400 varieties of beer, yummy waffles, and the best chocolate in the world.

Neuhaus Chocolates

Neuhaus Chocolates

Although Brussels is a small city it is a very important player in the global stage. Both the European Union and NATO are headquartered in Brussels.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We departed after school on a Friday afternoon on a 5:00 p.m. Eurostar train from St. Pancras International Station in London. The train arrived at Gare Midi in Brussels and from there we took a quick taxi ride to our hotel Le Meridién located across from Gare Central in the heart of the city.  We were checked into the hotel by 8:30 pm (the clock moves forward by 1 hour). We had made reservations for dinner at the Brasserie de la Roue D’Or located near the Grand Place. This classic Art Nouveau brasserie serves typical Belgian fare like waterzooi (chicken or fish soup), vol-au-vent (chicken in mushroom cream sauce served in pastry shells), moules (mussels), and frites (fries). The restaurant has murals that resemble the art of the famous Belgian surreal artist René Magritte. We enjoyed a delicious dinner.

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

One of my favorite Belgian Beer, Grimbergen Triple

The next morning we took a one-hour train ride from Brussels to the medieval city of Bruges. Bruges is located in the Flemish northern part of the country. It is a beautiful city that still preserves its medieval charm. The city has canals running through it and has been referred to as the “Venice of the North”.

The canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We meandered through the streets of Bruges and took one of the canal boat rides. The boat ride allows you to enjoy the canals and charming buildings along the way. We had an amazing lunch at a restaurant called Kok au Vin where delicious Belgian food was served. The main city square is called the Markt Square. There you will find the Belfry of Bruges the medieval bell tower that still functions today.

The charming medieval houses in Bruges

The charming medieval houses in Bruges
The Belfry Tower in the Back
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We returned to Brussels by late afternoon. We strolled over to the Grand Place. The Grand Place or Grote Markt is on the UNESCO list of heritage sites, and rightfully so because in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful city squares in Europe. The earliest mention of the Grand Place is 1174. It has always had seven streets feeding into it. Today it is a collection of private and public buildings, with the Hotel De Ville (City Hall) taking up most of its south side. Other buildings in the square include various guild houses, Cloth, Bread and Meat Halls. Many of the immediate streets off of the Grand Place are cobble-stoned. We decided to enjoy an afternoon snack at one of the cafes in the beautiful Galeries St. Hubert. One of my all time favorite snacks is Crepes Mikado, a crepe accompanied with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. My daughter enjoyed another family favorite, a Dame Blanche (White Lady), the French term for a Hot Fudge sundae.

Walking down Rue de Bouchers - Seafood Restaurant Row

Walking down Rue des Bouchers – Seafood Restaurant Row
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

From the Galeries St. Hubert we entered the section known as Ilot Sacré with its famous street called Rue des Bouchers. This street is full of seafood restaurants exhibiting their exotic seafood displays enticing customers to come in. Make sure you do your research before eating in one of these restaurants, since some of them are tourist traps. We had made reservations for dinner at an outstanding family run Italian restaurant Pasta Divina. The wife rolls out the pasta, the husband is the maître’d and the daughter is one of the waitresses. The pasta dishes were amazingly delicious.

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule

The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

We spent our Sunday visiting more Brussels tourist attractions. One of the city’s famous landmarks is that of a small fountain statue of a little boy urinating, The Mannekin Pis. The statue dates back to 1619. There are several legends explaining the significance of the statue, one is the story of the little boy who tried to put out a fire in the city by urinating on it. The bottom line is that it is very endearing and Brussels is quite proud of it. The statue even gets dressed in various costumes depending on the occasion.

The Mannequin Pis 2005

The Mannequin Pis 2005

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

A Typical Waffle shop near the Mannequin Pis 2013

The  Jazz Marathon Festival was playing in the Grand Place during our visit.  The Grand Place was set up with dozens of tables and chairs and surrounded by food and drink stalls. On our second day we chose to have lunch at one of the square’s famous Belgian restaurants Restaurant ‘T Kelderke. We enjoyed more delicious Belgian food. We ate stoemp, a typical dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables, accompanied by various meat dishes. My husband and son had stoemp with sausages and I ate stoemp with Carbonnades Flammandes a delicious Flemish beer stew.

One of the Bruges local beer  - Bruges Zot

One of the Bruges local beer – Bruges Zot

We strolled through the Parc de Bruxellles and made our way to the Royal Palace. We visited, The Cathedral of Saint Michel and Saint Gudule dedicated to the male and female patron saints of Brussels. We then meandered to the Place du Grand Sablon another very quaint square filled with cafes, boutiques and restaurants. On of the ends of the Sablon is the gothic church of Notre Dame Du Sablon built in the early 15th century. Not far from the Place du Grand Sablon is Pierre Marcolini, one of Belgium’s world-renowned chocolatiers.

The spoiled life of a yellow life looking over the Bruges Canals

The spoiled life of a yellow labrador looking over the Bruges Canals
Photo By Curt Petrucelli

Belgium is famous for its tapestries and lace making. I definitely recommend you buy some of these as souvenirs. One of my favorite shops is Goblins Art located off of the Grand ‘Place. On Sunday afternoon we enjoyed our last Belgian beer and snacks at the restaurant Le Roy off of the Grand Place before heading back to Gare Midi. We would once again bid the city we once called home, “au revoir and tot ziens”.

Central Vietnam

Newly Opened Dragon Bridge in Danang

Newly Opened Dragon Bridge in Danang

Danang, Hue, and Hoi An

We arrived in Danang airport at night and were met by our new guide, Huan. Huan was friendly and overflowed with exuberance and enthusiasm. Together with the driver we took the windy mountain road to Hue arriving at our hotel at 10:30 p.m.

We stayed in the beautiful La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue. From the moment I stepped into the lobby I felt I was transported back to the 1930’s Art Deco Hollywood era.

Hallways in Hotel La Residence in Hue

Hallways in Hotel La Residence in Hue
Art Deco Inspired

The hotel was originally built during the French colonial period and has been enhanced with two additions that match the Art Deco design. The hotel sits on the banks of the Perfume River across from the Hue Citadel Imperial City.

Hue was once the Imperial City and was a very important cultural and historical center. Our first stop was the Hue Citadel.

The Hue Citadel

The Hue Citadel
Ngo Mon Gate – Outside Fortress
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Emperor Gia Long who ruled between 1802 and 1820 established The Citadel in 1805. It is an immense fortress made up of three concentric sections, the Civic, the Imperial, and the Forbidden Purple Cities. The architecture of the Citadel was influenced by both Chinese and French design. Although it endured heavy damage during the war you can still appreciate its grandeur. It is currently undergoing restoration and will be even more amazing to visit in the future.

Part of the Purple Forbidden City fashioned after the Forbidden City in China

Part of the Purple Forbidden City fashioned after the Forbidden City in China
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Newly Graduated Students Visiting the Citadel Photo Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Newly Graduated Students Visiting the Citadel
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

The countryside of Hue is dotted with tombs of many emperors. Our schedule allowed us to visit the most magnificent one, the Tomb of Khai Dinh. Khai Dinh ruled between 1916 and 1925, and was the penultimate Nguyen Emperor. He was also the last to be buried in Hue. He started construction of his tomb while he was still alive.

Part of Tomb of Khai Dinh

Part of Tomb of Khai Dinh

Our Wonderful Tour Guide Huan

Our Wonderful Tour Guide Huan

Huan stopped at one of the local bakeries and bought us delicious Vietnamese pastries to try.

Sampling Delicious Vietnamese Pastries

Sampling Delicious Vietnamese Pastries

From Hue we took the scenic route to Danang. Today, Danang is one of the country’s most important ports and is the country’s third largest city. Danang served as a major American military base during the war. Danang felt very modern, clean, and progressive as we drove through it. We went over the newly constructed bridge shaped like a dragon.

We also stopped to visit Da Nang beach nicknamed “China Beach” by the American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

"China Beach"

“China Beach”

Huan brought a wonderful perspective to our trip. Huan was very versed in many world topics. As a practicing Buddhist he was the personification of positive thinking, optimism, and kindness. He is very enthusiastic and positive about Vietnam’s economic future.

Listening to Huan's Every Word

Listening to Huan’s Every Word
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

Huan taught us about ancestor worshipping and how people set up small altars with offerings for the ancestors. Many Vietnamese are also very superstitious so they set up offerings for the ghosts and demons to help keep them away.

Ancestor Worshipping  An altar is set up and offerings are placed there for the ancestors.

Ancestor Worshipping
An altar is set up and offerings are placed there for the ancestors.

Notice the small toy size boat in front of the house. It is set up with offerings for the ghosts and demons to appease them and keep them away from the home.

Notice the small toy size boat in front of the house. It is set up with offerings for the ghosts and demons to appease them and keep them away from the home.

On our way to Hoi An we stopped to visit an amazing collection of pagodas built into Marble Mountains.

One of the many Happy Buddha Bellies I rubbed.

One of the many Happy Buddha Bellies I rubbed.
Marble Mountains

We arrived in Hoi An in the afternoon and checked into the lovely hotel the Life Heritage Hotel located on the banks of the Thu Bon River. The Old Quarter in Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Life Heritage Hotel - Hoi An

Life Heritage Hotel – Hoi An
Photo by Curt Petrucelli

We were walking distance into the Old Quarter and minutes by car to the beaches. Hoi An was quaint and peaceful. Our family was able to enjoy bicycle riding in the village.

Riding Bicycles in the Quiet Village of Hoi An

Riding Bicycles in the Quiet Village of Hoi An

One of the first orders of business was to visit one of the 24-hour tailors that Hoi An is famous for. First they took my husband and son’s measurements. Then we selected fabric and styles. The next day we went back for the boys’ fittings. And about 2 hours later the goods were delivered at our hotel. Pretty Amazing!

Exploring the Old Village in Hoi An

Exploring the Old Village in Hoi An

We started the next day with a half day tour of the Old Quarter of Hoi An. We also visited the Japanese Covered bridge built in 1593 by the Japanese trading community.

The Japanese Covered Bridge - There is a pagoda on the bridge itself.

The Japanese Covered Bridge – There is a pagoda on the bridge itself.
Built in 1593

The highlight of the morning was visiting the market. We were surrounded with fascinating colors, smells, and foods.

Enjoying the sights in the market.

Enjoying the sights in the market.

Huan Shows Us Some of the Delicious Foods

Huan Shows Us Some of the Delicious Foods

Later in the day we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at the beach.

The Beach at Hoi An - Notice the round fisherman's boat in the front.

The Beach at Hoi An – Notice the round fisherman’s boat in the front.

After three wonderful days in central Vietnam it was time for us to continue on to South Vietnam. I left this region with hopes of returning someday to further explore and enjoy its beautiful beaches and villages.

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Prague For the Weekend

Although my husband and I had already been to Prague several times and our children had been twice, we decided it was time to re-introduce them to this charming city since the last time they had visited they had been in diapers and strollers. Memories came back of very bumpy stroller rides through the cobblestone streets of Prague surrounded by beautiful pastel colored buildings.

Cobblestone streets of Prague

Prague is part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is divided into 3 historical regions, Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia. Prague is in the Bohemian region. You can do Prague over a 2-day or 3-day weekend if you live in Europe. Prague is less than a two-hour plane ride from London. Otherwise, if you are flying from the states you can include Prague as part of a longer eastern European itinerary.

The Prague Castle in the distance and the St. Vitus Cathedral

What first came to my mind many years ago when I’d think of Prague was Nazi Invasion, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, communism, and the Tom Cruise movie Mission Impossible. Fast forward to 1989 when we witnessed the fall of communism across Eastern Europe. This opened up a whole new world for tourists to enjoy. Prague, Praha in Czech, is a city of architectural beauty, castles, the Vltava river, bridges, crystal, pilsner beer, marionettes, amber, red garnet, and classical music.

The 13th Century Charles Bridge
Courtesy of Curt Petrucelli

Marionettes of all Kinds

Czech Crystal Beads

Prague is a city where the Old Town dates back to 900 A.D. and the New Town dates back to 1300 A.D. It was home to Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939), the famous Art Nouveau artist, to Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924), the distinguished german-language author,  and to Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841 – 1904), renown composer of late Romantic music.

Alphonse Mucha Artwork

The Rudolfinum Concert Hall
Home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra since 1946
On 4 January 1896 Antonín Dvořák himself conducted the Czech Philharmonic in the hall in its first ever concert.
The Astronomical Clock installed in 1410

Souvenirs of the Astronomical Clock

City Hall at Old Town Square

Prague is also a youthful city embracing modern art and architecture as well. There are plenty of activities for all age groups. For younger children there are many parks,  a funicular, the Mirror Maze, the Prague zoo, the Toy Museum, boat trips, and puppet shows.

The Dancing House
Also called Fred and Ginger
Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry in co-operation with Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić

Yellow Penguins over the Vltava River in Kampa area of Prague.
They light up at night.

We entertained our teens with visits to castles, cathedrals, and famous bridges. They were happy to walk all day as long as they were fed good meals and snacks.

Angelato Cafe for Delicious Gelato

Snacks for Mom and Dad Too

We generally headed back to our hotel room in the afternoon to relax before going out to dinner. And for others, entertainment includes museums, concerts, pubs, and nightclubs.

Building in Old Town

Municipal House in Prague

We stayed in the Hotel Praha Augustine which we absolutely loved. It was also running an excellent family deal, pay for one room and get a second adjoining room free.

Crystal Vegetable Chandelier at Hotel Praha Augustine
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

Fun Russian Wooden Dolls
My daughter’s favorite: Justin Bieber Middle Row Left Hand Side
Courtesy of Clara Petrucelli

We were very successful with Italian restaurants like Ristorante Carmelita and Pepenero. We also had a great lunch at Nostress. Another excellent restaurant choice was Artisan Restaurant. We pre-arranged our airport transfers with http://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk. We were cautioned against using taxis. The city is very walkable but if you wish to take public transportation it has a metro system, trams, and buses.

Crystal Hearts from Prague

Moser Crystal
The Crystal of Kings and Queens
Founded in 1857