Ode to Amsterdam

We may never leave this city; it feels like ours now. Picnics in Vondelpark, strolls in the sunshine along the canals, great food and interesting people–Amsterdam is the place to be. This is a visual representation of why we haven’t been writing that much: there is just so much to do and see–we haven’t taken the time to write. But we do apologize.

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The laid back atmosphere of Amsterdam is what appeals to us the most. No one seems to be in a hurry and time just slides on by. The sun doesn’t set until 9:30 p.m. here, so there is more sunlight and more time to hang out outside. The weather has been absolutely fantastic. It has been sunny every day with a cool breeze and a high about 70 degrees.

Everyone rides bikes here. Everyone. So staying alert while walking around is a must. There are bikes, mopeds, cars, trams, buses and pedestrians to look out for while in the city. The bikes rule–and I love it. It makes it a cleaner, greener, healthier city to live in.

It is a very watery city. There are canals everywhere and that makes it difficult to get around because every street looks pretty similar. I think we have gotten the hang of things now, though. We stayed in The Bulldog Hostel the first two nights and met some really fun Canadians, then stayed in the Van Gogh Hotel in Leidseplein, and the Stay Okay hostel in Vondelpark.

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Brussels Day Two

Waking up late on Friday, we caught the noon train with picnic in hand and went to explore Brussels for a second day. It was a better day because we knew more about the city and how trains worked.

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Chocolate. Belgium is known for chocolate and we were craving some, badly. We found La Cure Gormande, a local chocolate shop recommended to us by our beer guy, Jeremy. We chose five pieces each. Each bite was a smooth, creamy party on our palates. I laughed at Catherine when she took her first bite–her eyes rolled back and a smile spread across her face. This chocolate is the best in the world. It is homemade and the perfect consistency.

After we got our chocolate fix, we were determined to find the Royal Palace and St. Michael’s Cathedral. We found the Royal Palace first. It is magnificent: huge, gold details and definitely fit for a king and queen. We lunched at the park across from the Royal Palace, called the Parc de Bruxelles. Tori made us a fresh sandwich with ingredients from her organic garden and fresh meat and cheese. She also packed another Belgian specialty–speculoos. These cinnamony cookies are the perfect dessert. We laid in the park in the shade and enjoyed the beautiful day.

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After lunch, we finally found St. Michael’s Cathedral–and oh, what a cathedral it was. Stained glass, extremely high ceilings and beautiful paintings. As we were walking up the steps, the bells of the bell tower started ringing and walking in was magical. Walking around cathedrals always makes me feel like there is a greater purpose of life for me and for everyone. A sense of awe combined with peace is a wonderful feeling to have on this great adventure. I lit a candle for my mother and we walked out into the busy Brussels streets.

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Then we picked out some beer to bring home. (A beer after seeing a cathedral is the most delicious, satisfying beer because it feels rebelious) We went back to Jeremy, our beer guy, who helped us pick out 6 different beers to try. Orval was his favorite, and we liked it, too. We also tried Westmalle, Delirium Nocturnium and Tripel Karmelier and two others.

We had a lovely dinner of duck, pommes de terre and butter lettuce from Tori’s garden with a second course of cheese and German bread. We also ate some speculoos yet again, for dessert.

After staying up until midnight discussing life with Tori and Philippe, we went to bed with heads full of European dreams.

Bonjour from Brussels

Our adventure has begun–we landed on Thursday, May 15 at 9:30 a.m. after an exhausting flight and Tori, our lovely hostess, picked us up. We hoped to go with only a carry on and a personal item, but our backpacks were too large, so we checked them. Image

Many people have warned that if you go to sleep after an overnight flight, you will never get adjusted to the time change, and that has proved to be true because it is day three and we are still exhausted. We slept for a few hours on Thursday, and Tori surprised us with a fantastic picnic in her garden. A basket full of German bread, two types of cheeses, salami, bologna and delightful cookies. The view from her organic garden is magnificent, and this picnic was the idea of Europe that we had been thinking of for so long. A leisurely picnic with tea and sunshine and great conversation. Beauty is in the simple things here, and we love it.

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After our picnic, Tori took us to the train station and we headed off to Brussels. Starting at the Grand Place, we had a kriek on the patio of Chaloupe D’Or. Kriek is Belgium’s famous cherry beer. We liked it, but it was a little too sweet for our palates. The weather couldn’t be more lovely here. The sunshine and cool breeze is the perfect cure for exhaustion.

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Catherine is very good at reading maps- and me, not so much. I just like to ask people for directions. But putting our strengths together we tried to find St. Michael’s Cathedral to no avail. It was our first day in a city that we knew nothing of and didn’t speak the language, so finding things was quite difficult, but we got better at it the next day. By this time, we really needed another beer, so we found a place called The Zebra Bar and asked the bartender for a good brew. He brought us Zinne Bir, a Belgian pale ale brewed at Brasserie de la Senne. It has been both of our favorite beer so far on the trip. I highly recommend it for any occasion. After the Zebra Bar, we searched for Delirium Cafe, a bar known for having over 2,000 beers. It is laid back environment and has a very diverse crowd. We met two guys, Eric and Alex that are Ph.D. Students in Brussels and they were our first inside look into the city. The beer was delicious- and much higher in alcohol than the beer that we are used to in the states. The thing about Brussels that pleasantly surprised me the most was how nice the people are. Everyone we spoke to spoke English and were very eager to help us. Day one was quite a success–more to come on lovely Brussels.