Thursday May 11, 2006
Seeing the Sights
Thursday morning we rose early, 6:30, and headed down to the restaurant for a fantastic breakfast buffet. There was so much food we didnt' know what to do with it all. There different kinds of cereals, fruits, mini pancakes the size of loonies you sprinkled icing sugar on, bacon, eggs, different kinds of cheeses, little round potatoes, and this yummy yogurt. The yogurt in Europe is so different from North American yogurt. It's much thicker, creamier and tastes delicious. We stuffed ourselves full and then headed outside for a morning walk. Our coach suggested stretching our legs and also, if we were outside, we couldnt' go back to sleep.
We wandered down a bike path that twisted and turned along the highway and then branched off into a park. We stopped on a bridge overlooking a dried up river bed-thank you human expansion-and took some nice pictures. The sun was shining and it felt nice to get out after being stuck in airports and on airplanes. There are bike paths and pedestrian paths along the roads. The bike paths are red and where you walk is grey. This keeps the bike traffic and pedestrian traffic from merging and killing each other. )Everyone bikes there)!
After our walk we returned to the hotel and were given bus passes so we could head down town and actually see some of the city. The man who shuttled us down there told us of the legend that had given the city its name. I can't spell it, so I won't try, but essentially the myth goes a little something like this.
There was an evil giant guarding the river that flows through the city. He would not let anyone pass unless they paid a hefty price. If they couldn't pay...um, I forget he ate them or something. :) One day, (now this is where the myth can differ), either a Roman general or another giant, not sure which one, decided that enough was enough. The general/giant confronted the evil giant and managed to kill him. He cut off the evil giant's hand and threw it into the river. So, the name of the city litterally means-hand throwing. Or something like that.
We walked around the square that was lined with different shops and the hugest church I have ever seen. Apparently it's one of the biggest in Europe and it took 170 years to build. Even after that it wasn't totally completed. The spire was huge and the bells would chime every fifteen minutes or so. On the hour it played a song, but the quarter of an hour noises reminded me of a huge magic wand sound you would hear in movies. Christena lifted me up on her shoulders-and the other totally blind swimmer-to we could see the sculptures that were on the pillars overhead. (Once I get the pictures I'll post them on my Photo Bucket).
There were plenty of people walking their dogs along the cobble stone streets and wonderful smells of restaurants and chocolate shops wafting on the morning breeze. We found the fountain that was the tribute to the defeat of the evil giant and got more pictures. The fountain is of the victorious standing over the fallen giant and there is a spurting hand. I don't think it's supposed to be anything gruesome-just water pouring out of the hand. There are little sea creatures celebrating too. :)
We went into a chocolate shop after much debate with the shopkeeper. She said she didn't want Jetta in the shop, so I opted to stand outside. She must have felt bad or something because she relented and said I could come in. I just went in the front door and tucked Jetta behind a plant and asked her to lie down. That way she was out of the way and not causing a scene. Between the five girls that I was with-Tenie and I included-we spent close to 200 euros in that store. I am sure she was glad she finally let me in. :) Our bags were so loaded down with chocolate it was rediculous! The Belgian chocolates are nothing like the ones we have here. They are filled with real cream-some flavoured some not-and you have to refridgerate them to keep them longer. They are extremely creamy and taste heavenly. Tenie and I bought some for ourselves, which I had on Thursday and Friday, but refrained from until the meet was over. The first thing I did on Sunday upon returning to the hotel after my competition, was eat a chocolate.
We also stopped in a tapestry shop. They had a replica of the "Captive Unicorn," not sure if that is its exact title, and since i love unicorns I bought it. Belgium is famous for its tapestries and there is a certificate of authenticity on the back. Christena got her mom a pillow with a rose on it and her little sister a wallet with cats stitched on the front. Another girl that was with us purchased a purse and it too came with a certificate of authenticity.
We stopped in at a tourist shop and bought a few postcards to send back home. It was the first place I had gone where they did not give me a hard time about Jetta. There was a lot of herchandise of the little "pissing" boy that has become Belgium's pride and joy. There is a statue-very small in a back alley on some building-of this little peeing boy. There are many mixed stories of whether he was real or not and a sculptor just sculpted him or not, but there is an entire museum dedicated to the 650 costumes that have been made in his honour. Christena bought her Grandma a snow globe of him because her great uncle had sent a postcard home of the peeing boy during the second world war and it reminded her of him. We made a few more purchases-which I will not mention here because we have not given all of our friends their presents yet-and headed back to the hotel for a very tasty lunch.
That afternoon, we went back to the pool and trained with part of the American team. There were no mishaps with Jetta this time...thankfully. We had a great supper of seafood stew and then tried to stay awake until at least 8:30 this time. It sort of worked. Jetta was so jet lagged that she was sleeping in five minutes of returning to our hotel room. My poor Jetta. Stay tuned for more adventures tomorrow. :)