Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Amsterdam: Where a Coffee Shop isn't for a Cup o' Joe

      We decided to leave early from Bruges so that we would arrive in Amsterdam before noon. As fate, and the unreliable nature of the Belgian/Dutch railways, would have it, we ended up getting to Amsterdam 10 minutes after our goal time. Highlights of our trip are: unloading after being told our train was malfunctioning only to realize we had to reboard meanwhile losing our seats and having to sit in the "purgatory" between train cars, getting off our malfunctioning train and going back and forth between train platforms because the ticket supplement system is stupid, and being confused by the Dutch language. On the actual upside, one member of our party was the first to pull out some Belgian beer which prompted the group of young women headed to Amsterdam with music festival gear to pull wine out of various hidden locations in their luggage. We proceeded to have a small, but intimate Purgatory Party at 10:30 am.
     After finally arriving in Amsterdam, we made our way through the tourist filled streets past shops featuring cannabis leaves filled with glass objects of various shapes and sizes, and coffee shops reeking of musky pine occupied by patrons with sleepy red eyes. We made it to our hotel, which also served as a bicycle rental shop, where our host gave us a map of the city and a brief rundown of popular attractions including some restaurant and coffee shop recommendations.
      Dr Husband and I were staying at the grandmother's house which was nearby. We were not expecting what came after we opened the door. I should take this moment to explain that Dutch architecture is famous for being somewhat tall (4-5 stores) and very narrow. In fact, most buildings feature a hook situated on the top of the home so that furniture can be lifted from the outside and placed directly into the living quarters. So when Dr Husband and I opened the door we were very surprised to see just how narrow the stairs were just to get to the first landing and second, interior door.

       "These are not very friendly for someone in an altered state. Let's hope we don't die here, on these stairs." I said, as Dr Husband rang the bell so that we could get our keys. We were given instructions from the grandmother herself, which was mostly pantomime and pointing as neither of us spoke the other's language. Despite the fact our guide had to be north of 80, she climbed the stairs with an enviable ease as Dr Husband and myself struggled with our luggage and fears of falling to our deaths. It turned out that our room was on the very top floor, which allowed us to really experience just how narrow the stairs in Amsterdam could get. The "stairs" grew steeper and narrower until we reached the topmost floor, where they were a glorified ladder. The room itself was very spacious and comfortable, in stark contrast to the deathcase just outside our door. We didn't stay in our hotel too long as we only had a day and a half to explore all Amsterdam had to offer... and by "all Amsterdam had to offer" I pretty much mean food. The food Amsterdam had to offer.
       Our first meal in Amsterdam was at a Vietnamese restaurant where we were able to get Pho, a favorite of Dr Husband and myself and hard to get in Innsbruck, Austria. It's interesting to note that while Belgian restaurants typically have a large selection of beers available, in Amsterdam the options were pretty much Heineken or Hoegaarden. The next morning, we set out for some of the museums in Amsterdam, the Rijks and Van Gogh. Unfortunately, we had not ordered tickets ahead of time and the dreary weather coupled with the steep (to us) prices of ~18€/adult were enough to dissuade us from exploring either. We did walk around the grounds and the flower market, which is also an attraction of Amsterdam, if a somewhat unexciting one.
     The highlight of our only full day in Amsterdam was definitely going to the Indonesian restaurant (which are not very common), Kantjil. Indonesian food is typically served as a variety of small plates (like tapas) and white rice. On your plate, you should place the white rice in the middle then surround your rice with portions of the small plates. This restaurant was so delicious; I still have dreams about the chicken with the peanut sauce.

 Unfortunately for us, the weather was not very cooperative so we did not get as many pictures as I would have liked, but Amsterdam is a really unique and beautiful city with lots of museums and family friendly attractions. It is worth noting that in Amsterdam one must be very vigilant of one's surroundings as the somewhat narrow sidewalks typically become bicycle parking which results in having to walk in the street. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the high number of cars, other people, and bicycles which are also on the street. Walking in high tourist locations (which is a lot of the city) can be especially hazardous as many tourists rent bicycles with the intent to sight-see while on them, coupled with the fact that it seemed like most tourists had never driven a bicycle before, created an especially dangerous walking situation. Despite this somewhat minor annoyance, Amsterdam's high on my list of places to visit again.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brussels: Peeing Statues, Waffles, and More!

Brussels is famous for many things: it's the capital of Belgium, NATO and EU headquarters, french fries, and Jean Claud van Damme's muscles. It is also home to one of Europe's most beautiful squares. One of the most famous attractions, if not the most famous, is a statue that pees, aptly named Manneken Pis. Foreign leaders and dignitaries bring offerings of costumes for the statue, so it wears something different everyday. Unfortunately for us, we visited Brussels on a day that was barely above freezing and rainy. We saw the Manneken Pis, which was understandably a little underwhelming considering how small it is. We then got waffles and headed toward the Grand Place square which was voted the most beautiful European square in 2010. While the beauty was certainly grand it was difficult for us to appreciate it given how wet and cold we were. We ended up going to the museum on the Grand Place, the Brussels City Museum, in an attempt to get out of the disagreeable weather conditions. Inside the museum was some art, Brussels city histories, and a lot of Manneken Pis costumes from all over the world and different time periods.

After that we hiked up to the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral and the Royal Palace. On our way back to the city center we made it into a bizarre alley-way filled with restaurants and over-zealous Maitre d's. It had a very creepy and touristy-trappy vibe to it. We made it out and found a place to get some beers and hang out until dinner time. We met one of Dr. Husband's college friends for dinner at a nice restaurant (La Paon Royal) where I had some lovely beef tartar and red wine. After dinner we grabbed a drink or two and saw St. Catherines Church before our train to Bruges.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bruges: The Fairytale City of Belgium

Previous to our trip to Bruges, Belgium, the only thing I really knew about the city was that it was the setting for the 2008 "dark comedy" film In Bruges starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, and Flour Delacour which I made the mistake of suggesting when Dr Husband and I wanted to watch something "light and funny." Good movie, but about as far away from being "light" as they come. What made this trip especially... erm.. special is that we would meet up with my beautiful, smart, world-traveling sister, the author of this blog, and do some traveling with her.

We took an early bus from Innsbruck to Munich, and then we took the S train to the Munich Airport which is about 40 minutes away from the main portion of the city. This is very important to keep in mind for travels! After arriving in the Brussels airport, we met up with my sister and made our way to the main train station. Once there we waited for the train to Bruges only for the platform to change 3 minutes before departure! While this would be the first time we ran through a crowded train station with all of our luggage, unfortunately it would not be the last (although the other times happened while we were in the Netherlands).  Luckily, we made the train. Unluckily we had to stand for the first hour (with our heavy luggage), until most of the passengers disembarked in Antwerp.

It was quite late and very dark by the time we arrived in Bruges, but nevertheless the bus ride from the train station to the square close to our Bed & Breakfast was filled with beautiful architecture and excitement over getting to stay in such a lovely town for a few days. We were welcomed into the B&B by Lut, the owner who's family had owned the beautiful townhouse for generations. We were situated on the top floor, and told that there would be breakfast right outside our door the next morning. We went to Delaney's Irish Pub for dinner that night, which was excellent not only for its good prices but also the quality of the food and beer. We tiredly crawled into our extremely comfortable beds and went to sleep, excited to see what the next day would bring.

After breakfast the next morning, we did some sightseeing around Bruges. It is a really beautiful city that looks like it comes out of a fairytale. The highlight of this day was finding a bar, Cafe Vlissinghe, which had been opened for 500 years. We were lucky enough to be there during their 500th anniversary year. The room was warmed by an old stove, possibly original to the building. We enjoyed a few excellent beers and snacks and continued our sightseeing. Later that night we found ourselves at a bar called Le Trappiste where we shared a flight of Belgian beers. Like most Belgian beers, there were very tasty and very high in ABV. Le Trappiste was in the basement of a building and it gave you the impression that you were drinking in the dungeon of a castle. It definitely seemed like a cool and hip place to spend the evening. Since we would only be in that part of Europe for a relatively short time we decided to spend the next day in Brussels, Belgium's capital and location of the EU and NATO.