As my departure date from this wonderland that is Belgium draws closer, seasons come and go, and holidays pass by, I start to obsess and worry about getting that shot I’ve been thinking about for 3 years, to capture that scene before the chance is lost, and then to mourn missed photo opportunities because life got in the way and I didn’t make it out to (insert location here). Part of me is filled with guilt that I haven’t been a more intrepid photographer, often preferring to stay inside on a cold morning with my coffee and slippers instead of heading out into the weather all bundled up in search of that money shot. But on a recent jaunt to the Cologne Christmas markets with my daughter, I found a little perspective and a reason to put the camera (and the guilt) down for a moment.
“Mom, leave your camera home.” I have heard this more than once. It’s a statement that fills me with confusion and leaves me conflicted. Why would I leave my camera home? This is what I do, what I hope to do more of in the future! When my daughter, “M,” and I got to Cologne on the morning of the 23rd, we found the market stalls were not yet open (it was late enough that we were actually starting to question whether they would open at all!). I expressed disappointment at the lost photo opportunities. M’s response? “Good, now you can focus on just spending time with me.” Eh? I love spending time with M. I cherish our outings, and of course I am always stopping to take shots while we are out and about.
“Mom when you are taking pictures, when you are in ‘the zone,’ you are here, but not here. I don’t know how many times I am talking to you only to realize that you have stopped to take a picture and are no longer listening to me.” This sort of hit me like a brick. I know I do tend to exist in my own little bubble, but I don’t think I realized just how much I tune everything out around me. And I definitely didn’t realize how much it affected my family. I stopped in my tracks – my heart breaking a little – my desires for a fun weekend outing with my baby and getting those last shots of a German Christmas market doing instantaneous battle in my head.
My eyes teared up a little, I apologized for being so absent, and admitted that I would not be able to abstain completely from my addiction during our day in Cologne. M just laughed, rolled her eyes, and said “I know mom.” I promised not to get completely wrapped up in photography, and to focus more on the mother/daughter bonding part. I’m not sure I was successful, but we did have a pretty good time browsing through the holiday markets, braving the creepy waiter at the Hard Rock, shopping in the amazing stores in Cologne, and talking each other out of buying that flamingo onesie that would be used solely to torture her older sister.
At the end of the day, we spent a lot of time being silly, shared a great deal about our hopes and dreams for the future, and did an incredible amount of people-watching (our favorite being 3 guys at Douglas -a Sephora-type store – trying to buy presents for their girlfriends. They looked so scared!). It also helped me to understand that not all experiences need to be documented. Sometimes it is enough that they are enjoyed.
Oh! And I got a couple of decent shots! I see it as a win-win. Hopefully M does too!
I had 3 very specific photographic goals yesterday. I accomplished zero. I did manage to capture a few gems though, so the day wasn’t a total waste!
Did you know there are more castles (sometimes referred to as chateaus) per square mile in Belgium than in any other place in the world? For anyone who has ventured even a little out into the Belgian countryside, this is no surprise!
Some castles are now museums and public domains. Others have been converted into event venues and are only open to the general public during certain times of year. And some are still privately owned and inhabited, and may or may not offer tours.
Some castles have been rebuilt and recreated, such as Castle Gravensteen in Ghent, or Beersel Castle just off of the ring road around Brussels. Some have fallen into ruin, never to regain their former glory and a lucky few have found saviors working (and providing funding) to revive them.
And then there are those that have been maintained and cared for over a multitude of generations, decades and in some cases, centuries. No matter your preference, there is most likely a castle or château that catches your fancy and stirs your imagination.
Last year I was fortunate enough to visit quite a few around Belgium. I have merely scratched the surface in this area, but a very lovely surface it was!
In the fall, just before a majority of tourist destinations in Belgium go to sleep for the winter, I jumped at the chance to tour the Chateau d’Attre, located in the quaint little village I have driven through numerous times on my way to the commissary.
Castle Attre was built in 1752 on the foundation of a previous castle from the 15th century and is still privately owned and lived in. The castle and its grounds are only open to the public on Sundays from April to September, but they are willing to work with groups to provide tours on other days of the week when asked.
While the house and its interior is lovely and full of great details and curiosities, I fell in love with the grounds! My friend Sarah and I braved the drizzle to explore a bit and man are we so glad we did. She’s super patient with me as I spend lots of time photographing the fall foliage and on one such stop I happened to look behind us and noticed a cave opening. We looked at each other, asked “Do we dare?” and took off into the unknown (having seen a spot of light in the distance first!).
We emerged at the base of an amazing ruin! Having read absolutely nothing about the castle or the grounds, we weren’t sure what we had stumbled onto, but we knew it was cool. We spent the next hour (the rain had stopped – seriously people you gotta learn to soldier on. The rain is rarely constant here) climbing around this odd old building and having the time of our lives.
It turns out that the ruins were not ruins at all, but a feature that was built to look like old castle ruins in the 1800’s for the castles residents and their visitors. But, wait – that’s still pretty freaking old! Whatever its origins, it was still pretty cool and a setting for all kinds of fun and make-believe.
Next time on Arklahoma Muse I will take you to Gaasbeek Castle, located just off the ring road and close the Neuhaus Chocolate Factory!
So much blogging to catch up on! Here’s a little something to go on from our walk this afternoon.
There were tons of people out today soaking in the unexpected sunshine and Tervuren Park is a favorite outdoor destination for many living on this side of Brussels.
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