Spring Fun in Brussels

It’s been months since I left Belgium, and even though I resolved to devote my future blog posts to those adventures had outside of its borders (I have such a backlog of wonderful memories!) and to my new life in the western hemisphere, I just cannot help myself.

Spring brings such treasures to those lucky enough to be in Brussels this time of year! A number of events with limited timeframes cause me to want to shout from the rooftops that if one has not experienced them, they must do so this year without fail.

Groot Bijgaarden

66. Groot Bijgaarden

First there is Floralia at Groot-Bijgaarden running from April 6th to May 6th. It’s like a mini Keukenhoff for those unable to make the trip up to The Netherlands, or for those who want to avoid the crowds of tourists. Sure there are a lot of visitors to Floralia, but I never felt the press of people that you get in Keukenhoff. For a sneak peak, be sure to read the blog post from one of my visits on my personal blog, Observations of an Okie – Groot Bijgaarden.

Castle Laeken

Laeken Castle – The Official Residence of the King of Belgium and the royal family.

Secondly there are the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, open to the public from April 21st to May 11th. The greenhouses were the brain-child of King Leopold the II and took 30 years for architect Alphonse Balut to complete. Located on the castle grounds of the official residence of the King of Belgium and the royal family, the greenhouses are only open to the public once a year and generate quite a draw for locals and foreign tourists alike. My advice is to get there early around opening and to avoid lunch time, as you may get caught in the press of school children that I found myself in the first time I visited!

I suggest a night visit as well. Go during the day to get a good look at the grounds around the greenhouses and for photographing the flowers inside. But go back again at night for a completely different feel and a chance at some truly unique shots of the complex. I didn’t go every year as I had planned. With everything that is going on at this time of year, the Royal Greenhouses were easy to miss. So now you are forewarned! Put it in your diary, on your calendar, and see it before you miss it!

And last, but far from least, there are the bluebells in the Hallerbos (located just off the Ring Road at exit 22 Tubize- turn left at the light and go under the overpass – or go into Halle and enter the forest from that side). This magical wood carpeted by a haze of purple/blue is truly something to behold. I didn’t even know what to expect the first time I went and just happened upon a Facebook post saying the bluebells were in bloom. I threw the dog in the car, not even sure where I was going, and I was struck almost immediately by the purple glow that seemed too emanate from the forest floor. You can bet from that point on, I visited every single year – even when I said I wouldn’t as I’d inevitably run into some friend or acquaintance who’d never been. Each year I would keep close watch on the official Hallerbos website and raise the alarm when the time came to friends and colleagues. For a preview of the bluebell game, check out my blog posts – Purple Haze and Get Thee To the Hallerbos!

Spring in the Hallerbos

7. Spring in the Hallerbos

This year winter has not wanted to leave the northern hemisphere alone, and Belgium has been no exception. As of April 6th, spring has just begun to visit, with wild daffodils blooming and the white wood anemones blanketing the forest floor in anticipation of their more colorful brethren. I do recommend a walk through the Hallerbos at this time as well and you can clearly see why by visiting Happenings in the Hallerbos. Actually, I recommend a stroll through these well maintained forests at any time of the year as the beauty and peace you find there can ease any troubled mind and set your world back in balance!

SONY DSC

As for best times to visit the forest when the bluebells arrive: I suggest going early morning during the week if you are able as there are fewer people. There will be quite a few of us photographer types out then! I prefer early morning or overcast and foggy days to those with brighter sunlight, but of course what you find all depends on what mother nature has in store!

Happy Spring Everyone!

PS: If you like what you see, give us a like, a share, and a comment! I would love to hear from you!

 

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Revisiting the Past

There is nothing quite so pleasurable (for a photographer anyway) to revisit a shoot a year later and find that there were many good photos in the lot. I think part of the problem lies in the preconceived idea of what one wanted out of the shoot on the day and what actually comes out of it. So many times I’ve gone on a mission with a particular shot or look in mind. I take tons of photos, come home and am completely disappointed with the results. But what the eye fails to see at the time is the gift that was created instead. With the benefit of time, I forget what I wanted to accomplish and am able to see that my time behind the camera was indeed well spent.

Buttery Blooms

 

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Pop of Color

 

 

Meandering on Mangrove Cay

Last weekend we were in need of an escape from everything, and found the perfect spot at Mangrove Cay Sea View Villas on Mangrove Cay – part of the archipelago that makes up Andros Island located about a 20 minute plane ride west of New Providence. Mangrove Cay is the smallest of Andros’ 3 main islands, sandwiched between the much larger north and south islands. Like the rest of Andros, Mangrove Cay is dominated by the West Side National Park, with the vast majority of its 890 inhabitants occupying the land nearest the Queen’s Highway on the east coast.

Arguably the north and south islands offer more sights and activities for tourists, but we were looking for partial isolation and total relaxation. Mangrove Cay is perfect for this! The main attractions on Mangrove Cay, and arguably all of Andros, are bone-fishing expeditions and blue hole exploring. With spring break and bone fish season in full swing, all the fishing lodges were full and the boat captains happily employed. We asked our host to look into the possibility of hiring a boat to take us on a bird watching/island exploring trip (inspired in part by this photo essay of West Side National Park by Bahamas National Trust employee Heather Carey), but it wasn’t to be. We will have to return some time after the high season has passed, and the far more lucrative fishing expeditions are not quite so high in demand.

From the shore of the Sea View Villas

First sight

 

Our self catering villa, situated in the Lisbon Creek Settlement on the southeastern edge of Mangrove Cay, offered stunning views of the bonefish flats and other small islands off the coast. The only sounds were those of the wind in the trees and birds calling to each other. Only occasionally did cars pass on the highway out front. We rented a car for the one full day we were there and were able to stop in at the various beaches along the east coast, eat delicious conch salad, and visit a blue hole. The last day was spent doing nothing but relaxing on the terrace and it was glorious.

 

Remembering

Two years ago, shortly after declaring “I never get sick,” I fell incredibly ill with whatever was making the rounds at my daughter’s school. I was supposed to spend the week at the embassy showing and selling my prints of Belgian sights, but while loading my car on Monday, I broke down into tears. The idea of trucking my stuff from the parking garage to the embassy store just seemed way too much for me and I knew I wouldn’t just be able to push through like I normally would. So I called to postpone the sale and curled up in the fetal position on the couch.

Next morning was no better and I knew there was no salvaging the week for Arklahoma Muse. My daughter was also down for the count, so we got as comfortable as possible. At some point that morning, Facebook posts started popping up about a possible bomb going off at the airport. And then a little while later someone thought they heard something had happened at a metro station. Knowing that the city was about to go on lockdown (Brussels came to a standstill for three days after the attacks in Paris), my daughter and I ran to the grocery store to stock up on essentials.

Turns out that terrorists had indeed set off a bomb at the Brussels airport as well as one in a metro car at the Maalbeek station (near EU buildings and various Embassies). The chaos at the airport, reported in the news outlets, was heartbreaking. No one knew who was hurt, who was dead and who was safe. Public transportation in the city came to a standstill and travel by foot was about the only option for most residents for the remainder of the day.

I can remember thinking to myself that if the bomber had attacked the metro just one hour or so earlier, the body count would have been so much higher with the morning rush. Then it hit me. I was supposed to be on that line, at about that time, on my way into the embassy for the second day of my sale. Now the train that was hit was the line 5, and I traveled on the 1 line.  But the two lines converge for several stops through the center of Brussels. The bomber jumped on the first train that came into the station and it could just as well have been the Line 1 train instead of the 5. I have never been so glad to be so ill. My guardian angels were at it again in their funny way.

I was too sick to make my way downtown for the vigils and the peaceful protests that told the world that we would not be cowed by terrorism. I was too sick to go downtown to photograph the streets that were empty except for soldiers and other crazy photographers. And it was a couple of weeks before I could muster up the gumption to visit the memorial at the Maalbeek station.

When the dust settled, we lost friends, colleagues and family members from our Tri-Mission community in the attacks. Some colleagues swore off ever riding the metro again and those family members who were already afraid to go downtown just avoided it even more. But I refused to let random terror dictate what I would do and whether I would continue to enjoy the city I had come to love.

I still stand by my conviction that life is full of unpredictability and that crazy people hell bent on causing destruction can hit ANYWHERE. Events in our own country, including in places where violence rarely erupts, have proven to me over and over again that you never know what is going to happen or when. I will continue to enjoy the things I love and I would go back to Brussels in a heartbeat.  I send much love to those affected by the attacks and to Brussels in general. May nothing like this ever strike there again.

Super Blue Blood Moon or Blue Super Blood Moon or Super Moon Blue Blood…

I actually managed to get out of bed early, walk the dog and be back in time to set up on my balcony to catch the Super Blue Blood Moon this past Wednesday morning. After the initial cloud cover cleared, I was cheered that I would actually get some great shots as the lunar eclipse changed the moon from white to red. My hopes were dashed however when the low lying clouds out of the north that often envelope New Providence’s west end rushed in to swallow the moon just as the color was beginning to change.

Guess I’ll have to be ready next January 21st when the next blood moon visible from North America comes around. Fingers crossed the clouds will help a sister out and stay away!

Here you can get just a tiny idea of the color changes between the evening and morning moons. I wanted to get a greater contrast, but it just wasn’t in the cards this year.

 

Living in Color

Hello! So almost four months, and a visit from my youngest child, into my new life in the Caribbean, I feel like I’m finally getting a sense of my new home. The differences from my life in Europe could not be greater. Instead of free reign over miles and miles of cities and landscapes, I am limited to an island that is half the size of Tulsa, OK (my home city). Due to security concerns there are many parts of this island that are off limits to me. Add to that the tracts of land that are “exclusive,” and therefore not accessible without paying out large sums of money, and my world has significantly shrunk.

Photographically speaking, I could not be further from the wood and stone, browns and greys and deep forest colors that I am used to in my photos from Europe. The naturally sepia toned hues that dominate my personal favorites are absent in a country that is perpetually sunny and devoid of ancient ruins and hardwood forests.

However, there are pockets that are just explosions of bright colors. I decided my goal for this tour is to attempt to capture photos that celebrate that vibrancy. This means a major shift from my proclivities – from those shots that bring the viewer a feeling of spookiness, melancholy and nostalgia. I am still finding old historical houses and buildings that are in dire need of some love and restoration and you can bet that I am all over those. But while here in the Bahamas, I will be making a greater effort to make great photographs that are sunny, bright and convey a much different atmosphere than what I am most comfortable showcasing.