Brussels, Belgium- December 2015

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Since Christmas fell on a Friday this year, I took advantage of the long weekend to head to Europe to visit some Christmas markets.  The markets in Germany close on December 24th, so I did a little research and discovered the markets in Belgium go thru January 3rd. Since I also have family that lives there is was a easy choice to make.

For various reason, I choose to fly Delta Airlines. I have not flown Delta since I was 4 years old. Having been exclusive to United/Star Alliance for last 4 years, I’ve been interested in seeing what other options were out there. I was actually looking forward to it. Silly me.

My first flight was Chicago to New York. It was middle of the day and Christmas Eve, so no surprise it was mostly leisure travelers. But there was something about this group that was just bizarre. Like we were being filmed for a TV special on strange airport/flight behavior.  It was like a seat assignment was a foreign concept, and why can’t I bring my kitchen sink in the cabin.  It was just weird. Even the flight attendants agreed. Maybe it was just holiday stress.

I had about a 3 hour layover in JFK, so I went to the lounge. Now this impressed me, it is one of the nicest domestic lounges in the US I’ve been to. They had real, edible, tasty food. Chicken in some sauce and roasted sweet potatoes. Yum.  All was fine until I got yelled at my some surly attendant for sitting in the “paid” section of the lounge.  I just wanted a table and I guess the middle section of the tables were for people that wanted premium drinks/food. I was told to move. It should be noted I was on the only one that was told to move,  even though the section was not full nor was anyone else asked to move. Including the lady sitting next to me, who had not ordered anything either. Christmas spirit and all, I just let it go.
I took the 500 mile walk to the gate, where general boarding had already commenced. I had priority boarding. I know from experience, people in general boarding are not interested in letting you cut the line. I was not expecting the red carpet when I boarded the plane, but I was little shocked at the reception of the flight attendants. Given the light load, there were a lot of standby’s on the flight.  Great for them, bad for me. I was virtually ignored. I am not complaining that I was not treated like the Queen of the Sky that I am. ( Totally kidding). I am just saying it was like they were being inconvenienced to have me on the flight. After having stuffed my face on sweet potatoes in the lounge, I declined the dinner service. This was before the door even closed. This was the last interaction I had with anyone until about an hour before landing. All I can say, Delta made United look like Emirates.

Brussels has great public transportation. Trains, Trams and Buses are a plenty. You can get from the airport to the city center by train or bus. I opted for the train, which takes about 18 mins and cost 8.50 euro. I booked in the Hilton Grand Place which is located right outside the Gare Centrale.  Little tip for visiting Brussels, book over a weekend. Hotels can be found extremely cheap due to the high occupancy during the week when the EU parliament is in session.

I spent Christmas Day with my aunt and cousins. It was quite nice. I also visited the Grand Place. It was nice and not so crowded.

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I would like to say the next day I did all this sightseeing. That would be a no. I just wandered around the city. I did make a new friend though. Howard of Howards Brussels. My wallet, however, remained a stranger to Howard which a good thing.
I just wandered around the streets of Brussels, taking in the sights and enjoying the wonderful mild weather.

At one point I tried to head back to my hotel and I discovered surprise surprise, Google did not work.  Notice the weird route it gave me.

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Now no trip to Brussels is proper without an obligatory waffle on the street.  Back in the day you had to look for them, now they drive to you.

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I guess it’s hard to resist a good waffle.  The Hop On Hop off bus driver, saw a truck and just stopped the bus. It was not even a scheduled stop, he just hopped off and got a waffle.
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On a fun note,  I found the same hut outside the church at the Christmas Market near the Grand Place. They were selling the same truffles that I fell in love with back in 2010. I found the market was not as magical without the freezing temperatures and falling snow. The heavy police and military presence also did not help.

I am glad I went and got to spend time with my family. Soon enough it was time to head home, and what adventure that turned out to be. Chicago was hit with a horrible winter storm and all flights were cancelled.  20 hours past schedule, I eventually made it back to Chicago. Delta handling of the situation took my by surprise.  I respectfully reverse my previous negative comments. I will chalk up my negative experience to holiday stress. I would probably not fly them again internationally unless the get more comfortable seats.

I hope all had a Happy Holiday!

 

 

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Australia-take-2-November-2015-part-4

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Country 49 for me……

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FIJI…..

It was just what I needed after all that sightseeing and traveling around Australia. A few lazy days at the beach in Fiji.

This is about the extent of my pictures…

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I was too busy relaxing and soaking up the island life to take pictures. Sorry.

If Fiji is on your list, you should visit. It’s really a beautiful place. The local people are so welcoming and friendly.  The weather is just perfect, they have the most amazing sea breezes that you don’t even notice that it’s 31 c/ 88 f.

Thankfully, my travel home was uneventful. On a cool note, Vince Vaughn was on my flight home. And yes had that awkward moment, where I was like Oh Hi, and he just laughed because I then realized who I was saying Hi too…..

That concludes Australia Take 2. Until next time safe travels!

Australia Take-2, November 2015 Part 3

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After a quick visit in Melbourne, it was time for me to move on to the next destination on my trip, Brisbane. Brisbane is 3rd largest city in Australia. It’s located north of Sydney, in the state of Queensland.  It’s also the only state in Australia where you can legally hold a Koala.

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I did the typical tourist activities in Brisbane, including a visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Where you too can hold a Koala. Or just check out the ones just hanging out.

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Or feed some seriously lazy kangaroo’s…..

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Brisbane city itself does not have many tourist attractions, but there a lot to see close by. Including the amazing beaches on the Gold Coast, wineries and rain forests.

I enjoyed my time in Brisbane, it was interesting. The weather was much nicer then Melbourne. It’s funny though, the locals were like it’s so humid. Being a Chicago gal, I kept making faces. Saying really? This is bad? It was delightful to me.

Alas, it was time for the final leg of my trip. And no, for those of you wondering, I was not headed to Perth to see Sam Smith. I thought about it but opted for the a more relaxed destination.  And well my 49th country…..

Stay tuned to find out where…….

Australia Take-2, November 2015-Part 2

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I am always amazed at my ability to sleep after having crossed multiple time zones. I rarely get jet lag but boy do I get food lag. I quickly got over that on my first morning.

I had the most amazing croissant, outside of Europe, for breakfast. And well it’s no surprise the coffee was unbelievable, given that I was in the coffee capital of the world. And don’t get me started on the bread. I forgive Australia for not having proper bacon, only because their bread is insane.

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Properly sated, I headed out for a day trip down to the Mornington Peninsula with Melbourne Coastal Tours. I choose this tour company because they are geared to small group, maximum 11 people. We visited a a goat farm, several wineries and a strawberry farm. It was an amazing day.  I was lucky enough to meet Jackie and Sue, who were in Melbourne celebrating Jackie’s birthday.  New friends, blue skies and wine, who could ask for more?

 

When I returned to my hotel, my bag was still not there…….. Apparently it had arrived in Sydney on Saturday morning, but had to clear customs and it was too late for it get a flight to Melbourne. UGH!

The next day I headed out on the Great Ocean Road Tour.   It made a long day, but it was so worth it. We made several stops along the way. A lot of scenic look outs, koalas in the tree’s, kangaroo’s in the wild and cheeky birds that would just land on your head

 

  

And when I arrived back at the hotel, my bag finally decided to grace me with it’s presence. Just in time for me to head up to Brisbane. Stay tuned for Part 3

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Australia-Take 2, November 2015

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After my previous trip in April, you have to wonder why would I go back to Australia again so soon. 2 words, Fare Sale….

It’s not a huge secret, that I like to travel over Thanksgiving weekend. Normally I head over to Europe, to enjoy the Christmas Markets. This year for various reasons, I decided to switch it up. But don’t worry, I will still be getting in my Christmas Market fix.

It’s also not a huge secret that I am sucker for a coupon.  Yes I realize you do not really save money by spending money on something you did not need in the first place. So long story short, I had a coupon for Qantas and they just happen to have a fare sale.  And look at that I am booked to go back to Australia.

I was actually on the fence if I was actually going to go thru with the actual trip.  Just as I was considering cancelling, American Airlines, announced a promotion in which I could fast track to Gold, Platinum or Executive Platinum for about 1/4 of the normal requirements.  You all know how much I love my Star Alliance,  but I was already cheating on them by flying Qantas. So I figured I would make it a full on affair, and go for the status on American.

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It turned out, my flights to and from Sydney would give me Executive Platinum status. So in the end the decision was made for me,  I was going on this trip.

On day of departure, I was so proud of myself, for being so organized. I got everything into 1 suitcase and 1 carry on bag. Since my tickets were not linked, I booked a early then needed flight to LA on American. I had a 4 hour layover, so I made plans to meet up with a friend for dinner. Of course as luck would have it on day of departure, Chicago had some impressive thunderstorms.

Surprisingly there was no line for TSA Pre-Check, they must all be flying United. I made my way to the lounge to see my flight was now delayed til 5.30. About 30 minutes later another alert, now 6.40. Uh oh, I was now in danger zone with my connection in LA.

My flight finally boarded around 6. I am not sure what time we took off. What I do know is that since I was scheduled for 3:30pm departure I had not eaten lunch. And well you know that the food options in the US lounges is not an option. With all the running around I sort of forgot to eat.  #TRAVELFAIL-1. When we were finally departing, I realized I was a bit hungry, oops. My only food option was Kale and Spinach Pasta, which if you recall my Boston trip, I am not a fan of spinach. So I barely ate. I feel asleep and woke up to my blood sugar taking a dive. And no I am not diabetic, just stupid.  This has happened to me a few times before. First time on a flight to LA, where I actually fainted in the aisle. It also happened on my last American Airlines flight in 2011, in which the cranky flight attendant refused to give me water. Clearly, the fault is mine, I need to eat more when I am traveling.

I did make my flight to LA, with about 5 minutes to spare. There were about 10 people connecting on to Australia on my flight, so when our Qantas was delayed a few minutes I thought it was for our bags to be loaded. Until we arrived in Sydney, and the dreaded passenger blah, blah and Flo, please see an agent….

My bag did not make my flight to Sydney, nor did it make the flight that left and hour later. It was still in LA. I was told it was on the next flight to Sydney and it would arrive the next day. Except I was fly down to Melbourne. No worries, they would put it on the next flight and deliver it my hotel.

No problem, except I was traveling light. No back up clothes in my carry on. #TRAVELFAIL-2

Travel Tip-if you are going to be foolish enough to check a bag with out any back up clothes in your carry on, be smart enough to know your sizes in whatever country you are visiting. Also if you are going to Asia, just don’t check a bag. NOTHING will fit you. And I say that with love. You maybe an Extra Small in the US, you probably will not fit Extra Large in Asia. You’ve been warned.

Qantas did give me an emergency cash card to go shopping.  Apparently Australian sizes are “real” sizes.  They are 2 size bigger then US. So a US women’s size 6 is a 10 in Australia. Shopping for me was traumatic. First off, it’s summer in Australia so the stores were full of summer dresses and t-shirts. Which would have been ok if I had stayed in Sydney, where it was 40c/104F weather. But I was in Melbourne and it was 19c/66F.

I tried Target first. Yes, Mandy, Target is in Australia. I got some basics, but no clothes. Next I hit Myer, which is like a Macy’s in the States. After 20 minutes of wondering around, a nice Sales Associate took pity on me. She found me a simple white t-shirt and some black leggings. 2 sizes 2 small!  And that simple white t-shirt, $89 Australian dollars or about $65 US. It’s a wonder that Australian’s bring empty suitcases with them to the States when they travel.

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I admit I probably should have taken a nap before I went shopping. I might have actually thought about what I needed. Like socks, pajamas, toiletries. It was only after I got back to the hotel did I realize I needed more then I purchased. Luckily the hotel could provide the basic toiletries, including a hairbrush. Well I broke the brush in my hair. I have since decided that my toiletry bag will always fly with my in my carry one.

Stay tuned for Part 2, Melbourne.