Dave and I returned to Berlin last night after a wonderful Thanksgiving trip to Brussels, Brugge and Amsterdam. We had an amazing time and have so much to be thankful for!
The week started out on a great note last Sunday when I got a cryptic Facebook message from Jackie letting me know that Tamara, Jill, Matt and her were headed to Berlin Monday morning. Considering they all planned to stay and get jobs in Prague I was a bit surprised. Turns out they opted for a totally different route and are going to spend the next month travelling around Europe before heading to Taiwan together in the new year! We were happy to host the crew for a few days while they explored Berlin and are looking forward to seeing pictures and hearing about all their future travels.
Everyone departed our place Wednesday morning due to the fact that I was flying out to Brussels that afternoon. Luckily it’s pretty simple to get to Schoenefeld airport via S-Bahn and my flight with EasyJet over to Brussels went smoothly. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated on the Brussels side. First of all- the Brussels International Airport is HUGE! I seriously walked for 20 minutes just to get out of my terminal. From the airport I had to take a commuter train about 20+ minutes into the city, then get on the metro, then the bus. Maddie gave me great directions- so I never got lost, but it took almost 2 hours for me to reach her apartment. Needless to say- I was tired and hungry by the time I arrived! It was so great to see Maddie though and to meet all her awesome roommates. She was preparing dinner when I got there and we enjoyed homemade spinach & artichoke dip and a big spinach, feta, walnut and pear salad- delicious! Her roommate Chrissy had also cooked up some Oreo Truffles- which were to die for…wonderful welcome into Brussels!
The next day Maddie took me to her favorite sandwich shop before walking me up to see her school. I left her at school for her two Thursday classes and ventured into Brussels on my own. I spent a few hours wandering around and taking in some sights before heading back to Maddie’s place to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner! Her program (ISA) hosted a big potluck dinner at the restaurant located directly under their office. All the traditional favorites were there including a turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (which we made), sweet potatoes, gravy, cornbread etc…The one snafu was that Dave was suppose to get to Maddie’s place around 8:00, but come 8:30 I still hadn’t heard from him. I tried calling and texting, but to no avail. I was getting pretty worried when someone reminded me that in Europe you have to enter a pin to access your phone every time you turn it off and on and that he probably forgot it. I was worried that he might have gotten frustrated waiting and would try to wander away from Maddie’s apartment- so I hustled back there to find him waiting on the corner! I was so happy to see him and we were able to make it back to the restaurant in time to catch dessert. The kitchen crew was even able to scrounge up a plate of “left overs” for Dave- so he got to enjoy some turkey and mashed potatoes as well as dessert! All in all a wonderful ending to my absolute favorite holiday!
The next day we were up early- ready for Maddie to show us her city! We first headed a little out of the center to the Atomium. It’s a massive steel monument originally built for the 1958 World’s Fair. Besides the fact that it’s a beautiful structure, one of the most exciting things about seeing it was that my grandparents were in Brussels for the fair that year. My Grandpa Herlache was stationed in southern Germany and they did a good bit of travelling around Europe during their 2-year stay. In fact- one of my most prized possession is the charm bracelet my Grandma Herlache gave me a few years back. She collected charms from each of the different cities they visited on their travels and the Bruxelles charms was always one of my favorites. It was pretty cool to be there for a variety of reasons.
We paid to go up and into the structure and it was definitely worth it. Even though it was overcast the views were amazing and there was a really interesting exhibit on immigration. If you’re travelling to Brussels I highly recommend it!
After the Atomium we headed back into the city. We dinned on the famous Belgian moules frites for lunch and followed lunch up with a waffle (and speculoos ice cream) from the Australian Ice Cream’s stand. We then proceed to walk around the city- heading to the Grand-Palace, Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis and some of the other beautiful sites.
It was pretty cold out so we opted to warm up at home for a few hours before heading out to Delirium at night. We stopped at the store to pick up a few beers though and we conducted our own Belgium beer taste test. We took turns being blindfolded and sampling the different beers trying to 1. Guess which beer was which and 2. Pick our favorite. Dave’s pick was for the Westmalle, I liked the Chimay and though Maddie refused to pick just one, but I think she liked Delirium. On the whole Belgian beers are pretty strong- so even with the 3 of us sharing we had a good buzz going after finishing up the taste test.
After the taste test, more food (I love that Belgium seems to be all about the food and drink!) and a few rounds of beer pong we headed downtown to the Delirium Cafe. The Cafe has an enormous selection of beer. They probably have between 30-50 beers on tap and then a phone book size menu of the other 2000 varieties! Luckily we did a little research beforehand are were prepared to select our beers and were able to fight off the crowds for a table. It was such a fun experience and again something I highly recommend to any future Brussels visitors!
The next morning we sadly said good bye to Maddie (well not so sadly- she is visiting us in Berlin this weekend!) who headed off to Delft for an ISA trip while Dave and I hopped a train to Brugge. Brugge is an absolutely beautiful little Flemish city in western Belgium. There were tons and tons of tourists out and about and we joined them- walking through the city center, down the beautiful canals and streets and again just taking in the sites. We thought about walking up to the top of the Belfry, but the line was long and you had to pay 8 Euros/person to climb the 366 steps. We opted for the view from the street. After about 3 hours of walking around we stopped in a cute little cafe for some hot cocoa and cookies. We got lucky with a window seat and had an enjoyable time people-watching as the sun set.
After a quick nap back at our hotel (Hotel Etap by the way was fantastic- clean, affordable and a great location!) we went out into the city to see it at night and to grab some dinner. We walked around for awhile before deciding on an Asian-inspired restaurant. I had the red curry and Dave, being adventurous, got a Wok-Bowl with Antelope meat! It was gamey, but really good! A perfect ending to our day in Brugge.
Sunday morning we woke up early to head to our last stop: Amsterdam. The hotel was an easy walk to train station and we made it in time to catch the 9:04 train to Antwerp. From Antwerp we then transferred trains to Amsterdam. Though we only had a half-hour delay in Antwerp we took it upon ourselves to see at least a little of the city. The train station was very centrally located and we were able to get great views of the beautiful station, the main town square and the zoo. After our little layover we got back on the train for the 2 hour ride to Amsterdam. When we got into the city we had a little trouble navigating the transportation system, but a nice man helped us with some directions and we found our B&B pretty easily. We stayed a little outside the city (near the south end of Vondelpark) and were very happy about our decision to do so. Let me preface by saying Dave loved Amsterdam when he visited in college- I didn’t. I stayed in a horribly dirty hostel in the center of the city called the Flying Pig (the electricity in our room didn’t work, the linens looked unclean and the shower from the floor above leaked into our bathroom). Also, though Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a rich history I think that the Red Light District and Coffee Shops can attract a seedier crowd. That crowd in turn affects the opinions locals have of tourists- essentially I ran into some pretty rude people when I traveled in Amsterdam with friends in 2005. I’m happy to say though that after our short visit this weekend my opinion of Amsterdam has certainly changed and for the better!
To start with- the B&B we chose was fantastic. It was on a quiet street a little outside the city center (about a 20 minute walk to museum district) and it was run by a wonderful lady named Sara. Sara is Dutch, but has lived all over the world and had so many interesting stories to tell. For example: she spent one summer in the ’60s travelling around Europe in a VW Bug with 4 other girls before she moved to Rome and worked as an extra in film. Her B&B is only open for the rest of the year though because in February she is moving to Curaçao. In addition to being so interesting she was also so hospitable and helpful. After checking in with her and dropping our bags off we headed out to explore Vondelpark. Since it was Sunday afternoon there were a good number of families out on walks or biking around. Even though it was cold we spied a few people out at an outdoor restaurant and a few other picnicking. After spending some time in the park we walked up into the museum district and then into the city center. Again, we spent most of our time just strolling around and trying to see as much of the city as possible. We spent about 6 hours walking around before heading home to turn in for the night.
On Monday (the last day of our trip) we woke up to a fantastic breakfast of omelets and croissants prepared by Sara. She also blended up her own fresh orange juice and strawberry/pineapple/bannana juice for us. We were feeling refreshed and ready to go after the meal. We took the tram up to Rijksmusuem. Though the museum is undergoing major renovations they still have one big wing open with a variety of different pieces. We learned a bit more about Dutch history (we agreed that the Dutch were a little crazy) and saw some pieces of antiquity. Then we made our way to the painting/sculpture gallery in which we saw Andy Warhol’s portrait of Queen Beatrix plus a number of Veermeer’s and Rembrant’s including The Night Watch. My favorite was Veermer’s The Little Street and Dave thought Hendrick Avercamp’s Winterlandschap met Schaatsers was particularly entertaining (maybe because of the man urinating in the snow in the center of the scene?).
We spent about 2-hours in the Rijksmuseum then headed over to see Anne Frank’s house and wander through the canals in the daylight. We stopped at a market for lunch and picked up some brie, salami, bread and beer and then wandered back to Vondelpark to enjoy. Though it was cold the sun was shining and it was nice to enjoy a little picnic in such a pretty place. Post lunch we had just a few hours left until we needed to head to the airport. We took the tram up to the city center and wandered through an open market and then the Blumen’ market (flower market). I though about buying some tulip bulbs or seeds, but was wary about how long they’d last. We also were able to sample some Dutch cheese (something I didn’t know they took such pride in) and see the last little bit of Amsterdam.
As we headed to the airport we were sad that the trip was over, but looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation (well however much rest and relaxation you can get with classes and job search to get done). Our feet were in much need of a rest and it felt good to be back “home” again.
If you made it this far in the post I apologize for its length- just so much to see and so many pictures to post! We hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving with lots of food and family. We have so much to be thankful for- our amazing, supportive families and friends, the opportunity we have to travel and of course each other. Thank you to all who read our blog and we hope you think about coming to visit us soon!
Dave and Adrian