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!

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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!