Happy 2012! We have exciting news…

We are back in Amsterdam after a wonderful two week visit in Louisiana and Florida with our family and friends for the Christmas holiday.  Our second year together in
Europe brought many adventures in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and of course The Netherlands.  And we added a few “new” countries to the list…Scotland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite since every destination has been unique in its own way.  Our travels over the last two years have bought us to more places than I ever imagined I’d visit in my entire life.  But we’ve only scratched the surface with all the amazing places yet to be discovered.

Which leads to our latest update:  Another year in Amsterdam!  G is now officially a Dutch employee and we are excited about another year of European Adventures.  Here are a few highlights from 2011…we’ll see where the wind blows us in 2012.

Wishing you and your family good health and happiness in Twenty Twelve!

R&G

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Family comes to town

After a very long hiatus from my blog, I am now trying to catch up with several overdue posts! Despite many rainy days over here, somehow those fun rainy day projects were upstaged by tasks of must-do-now. G’s parents recently came for a visit and we managed to squeeze in 4 countries in just 12 days. Whew!

As usual, I’ve taken more photos that I can manage to organize as one trip ends and I’m frantically getting ready and planning for the next one. For now, here’s a quick peek at some of our excursions in the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and Belgium with Kathy & Roy. Enjoy the slideshow…more to come soon.

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German Christmas Markets


It’s Epiphany!  For some of you (like my nanay) it’s the day the Three Wise Men ended their journey in Bethlehem.  The Christmas season has concluded and it’s time to take the tree down.  For those of you in my beloved New Orleans, its Twelfth Night, y’all and the Carnival season has begun.  Did your slice of king cake have a baby in it today?  Ohhhh, how I miss the king cake!!!  And if you’re in Amsterdam, it was another typical Dutch day biking around in the rain.  While the baked good here are super lekker, it’s the land of licorice and stroopwafels so not a king cake in sight.  And with the New Year holiday now behind us, the oliebollens and appelflappens stands left town with the holiday tourists.

As every holiday owns a unique tradition, Germany is THE place to go to experience the authentic Christmas Markets.  My first visit to Germany was five years ago for a business trip.  It was during the month of November and while the States where preparing for Thanksgiving, Germany was gearing up for their Christmas markets.  Our client took us to dinner in a medieval town called Rothenburg.  It sounds cheesy, but it was like I stepped into a European snow globe.  With timber homes,  cobblestone streets and beautiful decor, I felt like I traveled back in time by a few hundred years.  Our client told us, “You should see it when the markets are here.”  Sadly, I had to return to the States before I had that opportunity, but mentally added the German Christmas Markets to my Bucket/Travel List.

Five years later, I was finally going to cross it off the list.  Or not.  Well maybe.  Or maybe not.  Two weekends before Christmas, major snow storms were sweeping through Germany and travel by car or train was not looking very optimistic.  We decided to make a game time decision on Saturday morning, but hotel choices were becoming scarce.  On Saturday morning, the weather looked better and we were muti-tasking with showers, packing, and hotel searching.  We buzzed our friends A&A and they were game to join our last minute excursion.  With an overnight bag packed and a not-our-first-or-second-choice-but-you-have-availability-so-we’ll-take-it-room, we were off to Cologne.

 

The drive was pretty smooth until the outskirts of Cologne.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one determined to hit the markets this weekend.  It was such a tease as we were so close, but yet stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.  Our first mug of glühwein was well deserved.  While it didn’t make the list of my Top 10 favorite drinks, it did mean we had finally arrived and the warm spiced wine ignited my Christmas spirit.   Our first market stop was in the town center at the Cologne Cathedral.  Here I made another mental note to return to Cologne and appreciate the history the city had to offer beyond the markets.

It was a bit of madness with thousands of people mashed into the city center.  But we made our way around to eat, drink, shop, and eat and drink more.  The next stop was the Alter Market where we found live Christmas music, gifts for our family, and a bier garten—for more, food, drink, and a thankfully a spot to sit down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, we stopped at a few other markets in Cologne before driving to the town of Aachen. Not surprising, it was pretty crowded as well and after a few hours we all felt like pinballs bouncing around nonstop.  The guys were shopped out and it was time to make the drive home. 

 

When I lived in NYC, no one batted an eye if your day involved activities throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.  The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium are not much different…except for the fact you can say you were in three countries in one day rather than three states.  We would be hungry for dinner long before we reached Amsterdam and agreed that a slight detour to Antwerp, Belgium was a perfect idea.  G and I love the Kathedraalcafe just off the Grote Markt and after several bratwurst sandwiches; we were keen to some seafood.  With happy bellies, we had a quick peek at the Christmas markets and then piled in the car for the trek home.

Special thanks to A&A for contributing photos.  Click here to see a full slideshow.  Tot Ziens!

Good Times!

 

 

R & G’s B&B

A month ago we returned to Amsterdam after a great time with family and friends in the States.  The next day, we started visitor season.  It’s my only plausible excuse for the lack of blog posts lately.

It is a rather tricky time of year here with the weather.  One day is beautiful, sunny t-shirt type weather; the next day is chilly and won’t stop raining.  And then there is the teaser day that starts out sunny, and later becomes rainy—or vice versa—and you find yourself outfitted in the wrong gear.  So, either pack the kitchen sink or roll the dice when you head out for the day.  Sadly, our first set of visitors had to trek to Bruges to see that the sun does exist this far north.  G’s mom and her friend came to visit and they spent their week in Amsterdam under the refuge of a raincoat.

Rainy day on the Prinsengraft

However, after heavily bribing the sun gods and trekking a bit south to Bruges, we found sunshine!  Along with an abundance of Belgium beer, frites, chocolate, and waffles.  Loves for the tummy, but sworn enemies to my derrière.  Regardless, I indulged! Click here for a full photoshow.

Canals along Dijver

Bruges Canals

Minnewater Park

Driving back to Amsterdam, we couldn’t help but laugh as we crossed the Belgium/Dutch border and were greeted by, what else…rain! At this point, our guests were used to it and we toughed it out on their last day at Zaanse Schans to see the windmills.  Click here for a full photoshow.

Not a good open-air museum day

Still windy, but at least no rain for the photo op

A few days later, G’s pseudo-sister and her cousin arrived.  The weather made a complete 180 and showered them with mild temperatures and sunshine all week.  I think Mother Nature knew they would spend a lot of time on the bike, so she was kind to them.  C & K also made an overnight trip to Bruges and discovered my four deadly favorites.  With all its charm, Bruges again tops the favorites list with our guests.

Proost!

G & C at the Brouwerij

C & K waiting for dinner at Balti House

We bid adieu to C & K and prepare for G’s cousin and wife arriving the next day.  The weather is gloomy when they first arrive, but with lunch in our bellies and two rental bikes in the pack, we are ready to show them around.  When the weather cooperates, we love to bring our guests to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ .  Turns out this was a day that started ugly, but peaked during the late afternoon.  After a ride along the picturesque canals and the obligatory gawking in the red light district, we were off to the brewery to replenish our energy with some local beer and cheese.  Lekker!

Mid week they were off to, big surprise here……Bruges (and Boullion)!  With all the guests we have brought or sent to Bruges, I think we have earned a sizeable referral fee from the Belgium tourism department.  Or at least a waffle?!?

New to me was the nearby town of Utrecht.  When S & E returned from Belgium, we spent an afternoon/evening there enjoying the scenery, beer, and pancakes. Dutch pannenkoeken’s are best described as a cross between an American pancake and a French crepe—on the thinner side like a crepe, but served open face with the added items visible.  They are available all day and a typical pannekkoeken house has at least 50 varieties.  Sweet, savory, veggie, meaty, fruity, cheesy…hard not to find one that will suit your craving.  My choice for the night was sprek en kaas (bacon and cheese, super lekker!).

Utrecht canals

Canal reflections

E & S enjoying the scenery

Cousins toast with one last beer

As I brought our guests to the airport this morning, I couldn’t believe how fast a month went by and had to accept the fact summer is clearly over.  The days are getting shorter, fall weather is upon us, and the rainy season is around the corner.  The debauchery of my summer time fun has caught up with me so it’s time to hang up my hostess hat and put in some long hours at the gym!

Bruges, Belgium…30 days later

Better late than never, right?  I didn’t intend to post this a month after our visit to Bruges but I did manage to narrow down the 200+ photos to 53 during that time for the online album.  Digital photography is both a blessing and a curse for me.

Bruges

Our trip to Bruges was a tad on-the-fly.  We had just returned from NYC on Tuesday with a bit of jetlag and the weather appeared to be rainy for the upcoming weekend in both Belgium and The Netherlands…typical for late March.  We tossed the idea around all week, but didn’t book a hotel until mid-morning Saturday.  Within an hour we were packed, showered and on the road.  Those of you who really know me, know that kind of timing is pretty much a miracle.  The drive to Bruges was sunny and we were optimistic; however, rain showers mocked us a few hours after our arrival.  Who cares…this is the land of bier, frites, bier, mussels, and more bier. Chocolate too, but it was Lent and I was abstaining.

G at Brewery

Our first stop was the Brouwerij de Halve Maan which produces Bruges Zot and Straffe Hendrick.  This goes down as the day I officially fell in love with Tripel Ales and couldn’t wait to try more. Our tour guide was extremely entertaining and quite animated, not to mention really passionate about the brewery where his grandfather used to brew.  The tour included a climb to the roof and our first aerial views of Bruges.  I recommend the brewery as a must visit if you are in Bruges. There is also a café on site if you need a place to leave your travel companions who are non-bier/non-brewery lovers—but if that is the case, what are they doing in Belgium???

Minnewater Park

Minnewater Park

We managed to squeeze in a chilly, but quiet stroll through the Begijnhof and Minnewater Park before the rain.  This Begijnhof dates back to the 13th century and is home to the Benedictine nuns.  At one time, approximately 1500 begijnhovens existed in Belgium; however, only 22 remain today.  Appropriately situated near the Begijnhof is the Minnewater Park (Water of Love) with a peaceful lake and swans gliding along the canals.  My photo happy fingers were put on hold as the rain came down and umbrellas went up.

No trip to Belgium would be complete without a meal of mussels, frites, and bier.  Poules Moules proved to be a great little spot for our Belgian fix.  Mussels in bier for G and mussels in white wine for me.  Each coupled with a huge cone of frites and a trappist bier (Orval & Westmalle), we soon had very full tummies and no room for dessert—but plenty of room to try more bier!  Heading out of the main center and away from the tourist crowds, we trekked to Café Vlissinghe, Bruges’ oldest pub since 1515.  The interior is well preserved and littered with memorabilia which supports the claim to oldest pub.  Amongst the local crowd, I savored my Tripel Karmeliet in the tulip shaped glass with a band of fleur de lis.  But the antique chairs were soon uncomfortable and we decided it was time for a new scene.

G's coaster creation

If you aren’t looking for ‘t Poatersgat (the Monk’s Hole), you could easily walk by without realizing the extent of bier that awaits underground…and sadly, choking clouds of cigarette smoke too.  From the sidewalk, only a small wooden sign and cellar doors suggest descending into an unknown area.  The curious are rewarded!  With 100+ Belgian biers and a large selection of Trappists, the candle lit cross-vaulted cellar combines old world beauty with subtle modern accents.  Hop plants playfully decorate the ceiling and the bartender’s iPod is shuffling through a Beatles playlist.   G enjoys a Bruges Zot while stacking coasters and I have finally found one of my favorites that I first discovered in NYC…Troubadour Obscura!  Mmmm.  Another must visit if you are in Bruges, just don’t plan to recycle your jeans the next day as the smoke lingers on your threads.

View from Belfort

The rain gods were kind on Sunday and showered down while we climbed 366 narrow and winding steps to the top of the Belfort.  The hike was worth it, however the promised panoramic views were a bit limited due to the belfry receiving a facelift.  (nb: Never travel with me.  A “must see” is always under construction and riddled with scaffolding to make for poorly composed photos.  And the rain clouds follow me as well.)  The center of Bruges is a great place to wander on foot and see what surprise is around the next corner.  We spent the afternoon enjoying a lazy walk, soaking of the sites, eating warm waffles, and of course, drinking more bier.  Click here for a slideshow to enjoy more sites in Bruges. Proost my friends!

Our Souvenirs!