Commercial break.

A few months ago, the marketing people at my former place of employment contacted me about my dishwasher.

I guess that will seem less random if I explain that my former place of employment is a plumbing/construction company.

Our dishwasher worked fine, but it was pretty old.  It came with the house and while it got the job done, there was lots of hard water build up and we certainly didn’t have any attachment to it.  The company offered to replace our dishwasher with a new one if the marketing team could first film me destroying the old one with a sledgehammer for a commercial.  I like a good arm workout as well as the next person, so I agreed.

Three of the marketing people came by one afternoon and we spent around three hours in the kitchen – them behind the camera, directing the shots, and me with a sledgehammer, acting my little non-actress heart out.

Here is the final result.

That wine-glass-drop-and-shatter part was a one shot wonder, so I think it’s safe to say I’m a natural at smashing dishes.

Also, my right arm and shoulder were very sore the following day.

Have you ever been on TV?  Have you ever been tempted to destroy your dishwasher or any other appliance (while considering this question, I hope I’m not the only one who thinks of Office Space and the ill-fated copier)? 

Telling him.

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I took a pregnancy test when I was home for lunch one day and it was positive.  Immediately I felt like my body and mind were moving in slow motion or zero gravity.  Then I started thinking about how to tell Kevin.  Eventually the idea hit me and I knew that I had to tell Kevin about the baby in the same way that he had introduced the idea of a proposal to me.  When Kevin proposed (engagement story here), he made me the sweetest book that compiled memories from our first few years together with an invite to start the next chapter in our story. Thanks to Shutterfly I had a book completed and ordered within 30 minutes.  The only problem?  My shipment was expected to arrive in SIX DAYS.

At first I was optimistic.  Waiting six days to tell him will be a breeze, says I.  That’s not even a week.

I made it until about 8:00 AM the following morning.  Then I just couldn’t wait any longer and really, was it fair to wait?  After all, it’s his baby too!  Was I bad mother and wife by keeping this secret??  As I walked upstairs after breakfast Rue shot by me like a rocket and then threw herself on the floor at my feet, causing me to do a little hop skip and a jump to avoid stepping on her.  (She does that all the time.)  I decided that was a great opening and pulled the Ziploc bag with the pregnancy test out of a drawer.  Kevin was washing his face or brushing his teeth or something (details, details).  I told Rue, “You’re going to have to stop that, kitten.  My belly’s going to be growing and I won’t be able to see you,” as I set the bag/test down on the counter near the sink.  Kevin looked at it, registered what it was, and his face just lit up.

“Look at you – being all cool,” he said.

Like my knees weren’t shaking and my eyes weren’t welling up with tears.  Yeah, that’s me.  Cool.

And five days later, he got his book.

When you had big news to share, how did you tell the most important person?

Quoting Vanilla Ice…

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{This photo was easier said than done.  Reddy Ice has a strong hold on the Albuquerque ice market and we had to drive all over town to find ice bags that just said “ICE” and not “Reddy Ice”.  Because Reddy Ice Reddy Ice Baby just doesn’t have the same ring to it.}

ETA early November 2015, which means I’m at the 15 week mark.  Since finding out that I’m pregnant, time has slowed down.  I would dare to say that it had stopped altogether, but here we are – in the future.  {At one point in the middle of week seven time literally DID move backwards in this pregnancy because I realized that I had miscalculated the due date by three days.  Counting weeks is so…complex.}  It was harder than I thought it would be to keep the secret for the first week or two after finding out, but after I settled into it, it was so fun to share the knowledge of this special time with Kevin alone.  We told our parents and my sister at week 9 after the first ultrasound, swearing them to secrecy until we returned home from Europe and went to a second ultrasound appointment.  I was a bundle of nerves through the first trimester and as fun as our trip overseas was, traveling so far from home didn’t help ease my worry about things that could go wrong.  By the grace of God, everything was wonderful and we felt comfortable sharing the news with close friends and friends and our respective workplaces at week 12.

And now I’m excited to share the news in this space.  I promise to regale you with stories about all the silly things I’ve done thus far in pregnancy.  Like how I thought my OB’s Medical Assistant ordered my ultrasound at a fine establishment called “Pinon Pine Needle”.  Interesting name, thought I.  Fetuses/babies are little…like pine needles?  When I Googled the address I was kindly corrected by the G-search tool.  Pinon Perinatal.  Makes more sense.  In my defense, to this chapter of life, I don’t think I had ever spoken the word ‘perinatal’ so it just…didn’t click.

I’m craving cherry/grape tomatoes pretty much all of the time and popping them like candy.  I have also been craving milk, which I have never drank much of in the past.  My only real food aversion has been chocolate – but the aversion is very discriminating.  Truffle kind of chocolate is a no-no-no.  I think I OD’ed on it when I went to that truffle making class a few months ago, and now just the thought of chocolate ganache makes my mouth water in a bad way.  But Thin Mints and ice cream sandwiches and just plain chocolate ice cream sound great.

What else is there to tell….  I’ve been very fortunate on the sickness front and really only feel ill for a little bit of time in the mornings.  It passes pretty quickly and as long as I eat regularly, I feel good through the day.  I’m especially grateful for this since we had our trip to Europe booked before we found out about the pregnancy, and it would have been horrible to be really sick while traveling.

That’s all for now.  More about how I told Kevin and how we told our parents and my sister to come.

Paris – day 8 and day 9.

The last of the recaps of our trip to Europe!  The others can be found here and here (Amsterdam), here (Bruges), and here (Paris).  Oh, and Europe by the numbers here.

Day 8 – Wednesday

We took it easy on Wednesday morning.  After the go-go-go of the past week, it was just what we needed.

But even a non-active morning eventually leads to lunchtime and we impressed ourselves yet again with our own metro navigation skills when we made our way to the Hotel de Ville without any trouble.  It is a massive building adorned with statues of various political figures and fronted by a huge square that was well-utilized by people from all walks of life – business people enjoying a minute away from work, sun bathers, street performers.  The Hotel is still a functioning government building as well as a museum.

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There was a lunch spot right off the square with a nice view of the Seine and Notre Dame.  I ordered a margherita pizza and Kevin ordered the salmon.  A bit later, the waiter brought out two margherita pizza’s.  No, no, say we, he ordered the salmon.  So one pizza disappears and then reappears a few minutes later…covered in salmon.  A bit of dialogue made us realize that after I ordered a pizza and Kevin ordered salmon, the waiter heard, “Same.”  Kevin’s a good sport and enjoyed his first salmon pizza.

 IMG_0138^ Salmon…pizza.  Kevin said it was surprisingly good but doesn’t beat out pepperoni and green chile as his regular Domino’s order. ^

Then it was time to prepare our own dessert – at a macaron making class.  Tania and her husband went to the class when they were in Paris last fall and as soon as I read this post, I knew Kevin and I had to try it out.  Held at La Cuisine Paris, there were eight of us in the class.  The instructor was an experienced baker and had all the ingredients measured out for us.  As a group we made two types of macarons – praline and mocha.  It was really a fun experience.  And who knows – maybe we’ll someday bring our knowledge full circle and make some macarons at home.

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From macaron making class to the Louvre.  All in a Parisian day.  On Doug’s recommendation we had settled on Wednesday afternoon/evening for the lovely Louvre and it was an excellent decision.  Busy but not crowded.  We met him there and yet again, it was like having our own personal tour guide.

The building itself is a museum piece.  With beautifully painted ceilings, gold plated columns, and vast hallways with marble flooring, we found ourselves admiring the building as frequently as we did the artwork within it.  The artwork is amazing too.  We made sure to see the big ticket items – the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo – and also perused the countless other paintings and sculptures along the way.  The collection of antiquities was extremely impressive, representing ancient Rome and Egypt.  There was also a large exhibit that featured the original wall of the Louvre, dating back to the Middle Ages.  Our favorite exhibit was possibly the Napoleon III rooms which contained the actual furniture of his “apartment”.  Needless to say, it was lavish.

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^ I’ve always heard that seeing the Mona Lisa in person is disappointing because you have to fight crowds to get up as close as possible to it and it’s small.  Maybe my expectations were just really low, but I wasn’t underwhelmed at all by the painting.  It is not as small as I’d imagined it and we timed our visit well so the crowd wasn’t bad either. I want to learn more about why this painting – of all Da Vinci’s work – is so famous.  I think it has an interesting history. ^

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^ Original walls!  I love that they were preserved as an exhibit. ^

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^ Oh, just the little dining room where Napoleon III would host a few friends for an informal dinner. Hashtag no big deal.  ^

Doug took us to one of his favorite restaurants for dinner – Le Comptoir des Petits Champs – and it was really nice.  I had a grilled shrimp appetizer and a creamy mushroom pasta; Kevin had chicken with cream sauce and saffron rice.

After dinner we went back to the front of the Louvre for some nighttime pictures.  We said our goodbyes to Doug and hopped on the metro to head back to the apartment.

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Day 9 – Thursday

We made our way to Gare Saint Lazare station which was – in a word – crazy.  So. many. people.  Fortunately we found our group from Blue Bike Tours easily and soon we were on a train, headed to Versailles.  Our first stop was a series of shops to buy provisions for a picnic.  Then we headed to the bike storage unit and we were each assigned a pretty baby blue bike.  (Kevin’s was named The Sun King; mine was Roquefort.)  A few blocks through town and then we were on the grounds of Versailles, which were breathtaking – expansive and green and richly royal.  You can tell – even now with all the tourists – why the monarchy laid claim to that beautiful area and built it up into an even fancier getaway.  Our tour guide gave an informative background of French royalty and how Versailles gradually came to be what it is today.

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The weather was perfect – sunny and mild and absolutely ideal for a picnic.  So picnic we did!  Our food from the local markets was so delicious and fresh.  It was such a treat to enjoy such delicious food in a spot along the Grand Canal that was allegedly Louis XIV’s favorite view of Versailles.

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I highly recommend a bike tour if you ever decide to visit Versailles.  The grounds are so huge and you can see so much more in a day from the seat of a bike.  We made our way across the property, stopping to explore the palaces along the way – the Grand Trianon, the Petite Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s quarters, and her hamlet.  Each was stunning and lavish (except the Hamlet, which was Marie-Antoinette’s place to escape reality and pretend to be a country girl – my favorite spot on the grounds).

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Eventually we rode our bikes back to storage and walked up to the Chateau. There are many parts of the Chateau that are not open to the public, so it only took around an hour to explore.  Some rooms were packed with tourists and it’s easy to see why – it is so lavish and ornate.  So. much. gold.

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^ This is just one small section of the outside of the Chateau. ^

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^ We managed to get a mirror selfie in the Hall of Mirrors without a swarm of tourists photo bombing. ^

We caught the train back to Paris when we were done exploring and we ate dinner at a place on our street – Café Mucha.  We split a shrimp and avocado salad, I had pasta, and Kevin had a steak.  A lovely final dinner in France.

We caught a flight home the following morning – after Kevin went down to our favorite little patisserie (how French are we?) to pick up our morning pastries.

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Our trip to Europe was unbelievably special. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the three countries we visited.  And with my best friend to boot!  Kevin is so easy to travel with and I always have so much fun with him.  It was perfect.  Our final takeaway of favorites – Amsterdam for the people, Bruges for the setting and the feeling of the town, and Paris for the museums and the sites.

Paris – day 6 and day 7.

Read about Amsterdam here and here, and Bruges here.  These vacation recap posts are sooooo long!  But it was either five super long posts over two weeks or ten kind of long posts over four weeks (you know I can only manage two or three posts a week).  Pick your poison.  Or actually, I picked it for you.  And I just wasted another thirty seconds of your time with this lengthy, pointless monologue.  The rambler’s gotta ramble.

Day 6 – Monday

We cabbed our way to the train station from our beloved hotel on Monday morning to ride the rails from Bruges to Brussels.  After a brief stop in Brussels (long enough to get food and coffee), we hopped a high speed train to Paris.  I was lulled into a nap by the sound and feel of the train, and Kevin watched the Belgian and French countryside fly by out the window.

The high speed train did its job well and we arrived at Gare du Nord.  Europe’s train system is so awesome.  In just over an hour we found ourselves in a completely different country!  With a completely different metro system to figure out.  The ticket information people were helpful yet again and soon we were the proud owners of a 10 pack of tickets to use throughout the week on the public transportation system.  To get to the recommended stop for our AirBnB accommodation, we had to transfer lines and switch trains a few times, but we made our way there without a hitch.  We found the Paris metro system to be easy to navigate and really an effective way to travel throughout the city.

Suitcases in hand we ascended to the street level and caught our first view of Paris.  It’s a happening city with a series of interesting juxtapositions.  On the one hand, there is the frenetic energy of the cars whizzing by and the people hustling about in every direction, while on the other, the cafes are filled with people enjoying a leisurely meal or reading a book, oblivious to the chaos around them.  All of this is set amidst buildings that are hundreds of years old – stately and serene…with a Footlocker occupying the street level spot.

We made our way to the quiet street of Rue de Bellechasse and found our apartment.  It was on the 4th floor and Kevin, being the gentleman he is, carried both suitcases up all those stairs in one trip.  The apartment was charming with old wood floors, classic Parisian shutters, a decorative fireplace in the living room and in the bedroom, and a lot of natural light throughout.  There were also a few quirks, as you’d find of some variety in any foreign {to you} house or apartment.  The place was as described, and once again, we were satisfied with our decision to use AirBnB.

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We dropped off our stuff and Kevin’s cousin, Doug, met us at the apartment.  He took us to a restaurant right down the road for a late lunch, which was delicious.  Doug is fluent in French and it was nice to have someone to translate the menu more precisely than we would have been able.  I had an entrée (appetizer, as it is the “entry” to the meal) of green beans with pomegranate, cilantro, sesame seeds, and a light cream sauce – it was a strange combination of ingredients that really worked!  I also had a pork dish, which was good, and Kevin had a delicious white fish with a cream sauce, in a broth of assorted spring vegetables.  We split a rich chocolate torte for dessert.

It was really great to catch up with Doug.  He was so generous with his time when we were in town.  He is something of an expert on Parisian history and culture and it was so delightful to have such a knowledgeable guide.

On that note, he took us on a bit of a marathon trek of Paris that afternoon.  We saw the Luxumburg Gardens, the Senate building, the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, the outside of Notre Dame, the Pont Neuf, the outside of the Louve, the bohemian book sellers along the Seine, St. Michel, the Justice Building, and a myriad of other sites.  It was a whirlwind, but a great way to see the city.  And it was all excellently narrated by Doug.  He is passionate about Paris and it shows!

Travel tip #11:  Find a Doug on all your travels.  Obviously this isn’t a realistic travel tip, so I suppose in lieu of a friend or family member to show you around a city that they love (for free), I’d recommend travel guide books.  We bought Rick Steves’ Pocket Amsterdam book, Rick Steves’ Pocket Paris book, and one about walking tours in Bruges.  We got our money’s worth out of each!  But seriously.  Doug put the travel books to shame with his knowledge, and dare I say, we didn’t look the slightest bit touristy. 

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Over 18,000 steps later, we were all exhausted.  Kevin’s boots weren’t made for walkin’ and my Sperry’s were protesting that they were boat shoes, not sidewalk shoes, and Doug, accustomed to hopping on buses and metro trains, said he never walks as much as he did on that day.  We made plans to reconnect with him the following day and parted company.  Dinner was at a little café near our apartment – Croque Monsieur’s for each of us.  And then rest!

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Day 7 – Tuesday

We had a very French morning – strolling to the Eiffel Tower with fresh pastries from a local patisserie in hand.  This would be one of our favorite mornings.  Paris pulled out all the stops to deliver awesome weather, which was perfectly sunny and 70 degrees.  We staked out a bench in the park at the base of the Tower and enjoyed our morning pastries and beverages with that gorgeous hunk of metal in view.  It is massive, majestic, and unforgiving in its steel hard resolve.

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There were these random women who kept coming up to us and saying, “Do you speak English?” and when we said we did they pushed a clipboard at us and said that they were trying to get signatures on a petition for blind orphans or some other sad cause.  We kept saying no, not interested, etc. until they would finally leave us alone.  This happened a few times and then Kevin had the idea to answer, “Nyet,” {no in Russian} if someone approached us again.  We had our opportunity just a few moments later.
Woman with clipboard:  Do you speak English?
Kevin:  Nyet.
Woman with clipboard:  Ah! Russian!
Then she started blabbering on in what we assume was Russian!  So that backfired.  But we still laugh about it, so I guess it makes a good story.

Travel tip #12:  Don’t fall for scams.  Did the “petition” ask for passport numbers and signatures?  If I took the time to look at the clipboard, would a co-conspirator rush over and steal my purse while was I distracted?  I don’t know what the scam was in this particular situation – maybe they were really trying to gain support for blind orphans.  But I seriously doubt it.  It pays to be overly suspicious when you travel.  If the weather permits, wear a jacket over a cross body purse so it can’t be cut off you from behind.  Otherwise, try to hold the actual purse in your hands  in front of you, close to your body, whenever possible, not just the strap.  If you carry a wallet in your pocket, keep it in your front pocket rather than the back pocket of jeans, and wear a shirt long enough to cover the opening to the front pocket, which will make access to it even more difficult. 

We spent around 20 minutes hunting for a note that Janelle had left for me when she traveled to Paris in March.  She had tucked it into a plastic bag and found a great hiding spot, which she sent pictures of.  I am 99.9% certain that we found the spot, but the note was not there.  Sad!  The park seems to be impeccably maintained with no trash lying around, so I think a groundskeeper must have seen it in the crevice of the rock wall and thrown it away.  Sorry, Janelle!  I guess this just means that we need to travel to the same place again in the future.

After admitting defeat, we walked across the street to Palais de Chaillot, which is a nice place to view the tower.  Probably better in the afternoon though because the sun would be better placed.

We walked back to our ‘hood and met Doug for lunch at one of his favorite places.  I had pasta carbonara – probably my favorite meal of the trip.  Kevin had the chicken leg with mushroom sauce and liked it as well.

After lunch, we walked around with Doug and he pointed out some of his favorite shops, including an espresso shop, to which Kevin said, “Espresso?  I could drink some espresso.”  And that was the beginning of a magical afternoon experience at Comptoires Richard.  It was a highlight of the trip for Kevin and I still tease him about his afternoon in Paris with Richard.

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Those people knew their coffee!  They had two “specials” of the day and asked questions like, “Have you already eaten lunch?” before recommending one special over the other.  The espresso was amazing and Kevin decided he need to bring some coffee from this shop home.  As he and Doug explored the store, considering the options, a knowledgeable saleswoman fired more questions their way:  what time of day will you be drinking the coffee, how will it be prepared, what type of filter is used….  She waved her arms in the air and said, “Oh no, none of these!  These are all wrong!” and directed them to another part of the store.

This is a good example of something that struck us about Paris – everything is specialized.  There is a little shop for everything you could possibly need in each neighborhood.  This becomes your butcher, that is your patisserie across the street from your cheese shop.  I mentioned that I may have underpacked on socks and Doug took us to a sock shop (which was sadly closed).  {And there I was just thinking a three pack of Hanes ankle socks would get me by – not in Paris!  In Paris, only specialty socks would do.}

Kevin walked out with a bag of specialty coffee and a deep devotion to Richard, whoever he is.  We made plans to meet up with Doug at the Louve on Wednesday, and Kevin and I headed to the Hotel des Invalides and the Musee de Armee, which was housed in this beautiful building we’d passed en route to the Eiffel Tower.

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It houses Napoleon’s tomb and a comprehensive history of weaponry, uniforms, and war in/involving France. The exhibits were awesome!  So well laid out and fascinating.  There was a very detailed account of French history in the decades leading up to World War I, then WWI, and WWII, including the French Resistance, which was really interesting.  We closed the exhibit down and then went next door to the gold domed building that contains Napoleon’s tomb and a cathedral.  Six coffins stacked like Russian nesting dolls within a massive wooden tomb.

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We grabbed dinner on the walk home – Italian.  This was our highest step count day thus far – 21,000 steps – so it’s safe to say we slept soundly that night!

 

Bruges – days 4 and 5.

Read about days 1, 2, and 3 of our European adventure (Amsterdam) here and here.

Day 4 – Saturday

We bid farewell to Sugar the cat and Amsterdam on Saturday morning and made our way to the train station.  Our train journey took us through a mix of urban (a shocking amount of graffiti) and rural (a shocking amount of greenery and water) scenery, including The Hague and Rotterdam.  We stopped briefly in Antwerp to catch another train and a little over an hour later, we arrived in Bruges.

A cab seemed the best bet for getting from the train station to our hotel.  Ironically, Bruges – the smallest destination on our trip – would be the only place we took cabs.  The bus system wasn’t easy to figure out though, and the streets are alllll cobblestone which is NOT fun to drag suitcases over, wheeled or otherwise.  Our cab driver gave us a mini-tour of the town on the drive.  We learned that there are only around 20,000 locals but 4 million tourists visit each year.  There are 80+ hotels and 400+ restaurants.

Travel tip #7:  This is total personal preference but we avoid taxis as much as possible when traveling.  Learning the public transportation system is a great way to get into the culture of a destination – awesome people watching! It is so easy to be cheated by a taxi driver if you don’t know the area.   

The hotel – De Tuilereen – was gorgeous.  It sits directly across from a canal and is a beautifully maintained building that was originally a palace in the 1500’s.

We settled in and then set out to explore.  Such a beautiful town!  Such old buildings, some dating back to the 9th century!  As mentioned earlier, the streets are all cobblestone, adding to the historic feel and charm.

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The hotel had recommended a dinner spot called Bierbrasserie Cambrinus.  I had the sole fillet and Kevin had sliced chicken with mushrooms, onions, bacon, potatoes au gratin, and this amazing beer based gravy.  The gravy was the single best food category item of the entire trip.  I managed to resist the urge to lick the plate after Kevin had finished his meal – keepin’ it classy.  Kevin also had a Belgian beer that was 10.5% alcohol.  Good thing he had a hearty meal to soak that up.

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We continued exploring after dinner.  Lots of chocolate shops.  And speaking of chocolate…when in Belgium.  We had this amazing waffle, covered in chocolate syrup with whipped cream and ice cream.  It was beautiful.

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The sugar coma soon followed and we made our way back to our beautiful hotel room.

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Travel tip #8:  Definitely try AirBnB, if you haven’t already.  Their site is easy to navigate, it’s an economical option (usually), and what better way to see how another culture lives than to actually stay in a typical apartment/house/condo/whatever.  Our experience with AirBnB in Amsterdam and Paris was very good – the apartments were as described, located in fantastic (non-touristy) areas, and the prices were very reasonable.  Awesome experience.  I did learn something about myself though – I am more of a hotel girl.  And maybe more on the expensive end of the price spectrum kind of hotel girl.  In Bruges, it was just heavenly to have a front desk to ask questions of and to have all the comforts of a nice hotel.  I’m the thrifty sort…but nice hotels may be where I splurge. 

Day 5 – Sunday

The following morning, I slept in and Kevin went exploring.  He beat the tourist rush and got fantastic pictures of the quiet, peaceful morning with few people around.

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Once I was up-and-at-’em, we grabbed breakfast in a little pastry shop and then continued to explore.  The hotel was very centrally located, which was awesome for bathroom breaks, shedding layers as the day got warmer, and to drop off purchases through the day.

Travel tip #9:  It is not uncommon to have to pay to use the restroom in Europe, so be sure to keep a few 1 Euro coins on you. 

We went on a canal tour which was awesome.  Even if it was kind of a little speed boat, packed very full of people, which stressed me out because I don’t swim and I don’t like small spaces with lots of people.  The tour guide was great and we learned some really interesting things during the 30 minute tour.

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We couldn’t go to Belgium and not have mussels, so that was our stop for lunch.  They were delicious, even if the waiter was hesitant about recommending them because it’s the beginning of the mussel season.

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Kevin followed lunch up with a chocolate rice crispy dessert and then we made a tour of churches and other sights.  We kept raving about how well maintained everything is – to think of the years those buildings have faced on a tumultuous continent.  It is amazing.

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^ Basilica of the Holy Blood – houses a cloth that allegedly has the blood of Jesus (from the crucifixion) on it. ^

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^ Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child – found in the Church of Our Lady ^

We grabbed dinner at Mozarthuys, where the cozy atmosphere was made even more inviting with a hearty Flemish beef stew for each of us.  After dinner we sought out the best gelato in town – Gelatina Da Vinci.  Mint chocolate chip (Amy) and chocolate hazelnut and Speculoos (Kevin).  So delicious!

Then it was back to the hotel for the night.  In the morning, we were headed to Paris!

Travel tip #10:  I highly recommend a trip to Bruges.  Try to avoid going on a weekend though.  There were a shocking number of tourists considering how early it was in the tourist season and we think that this is partially due to the fact that Bruges is an easy weekend trip for Europeans.  Maybe the week would be better?  Pure speculation, but worth considering if you want to hit this beautiful, historic destination. 

 

Amsterdam – day 2 & day 3.

Day 2 – Thursday.

After catching some shut eye (better than the plane, but still not great – thanks, jet lag & unfamiliar setting), we caught an early bus to the area near the Anne Frank Museum.  We grabbed some coffee and blueberry muffins at a little bakery and set out to find our first touristy stop.  We weren’t in a hurry so didn’t bother looking at a map and soon realized we’d wandered too far.  Spotting two ladies who were obviously tourists (big camera around the neck), we asked them if they were headed to the Anne Frank Museum. They confirmed that they were and so we joined forces to find it.  We arrived at the site at 8:45 and spent the next hour and a half in line.

Travel tip #6:  This doesn’t just apply to the Anne Frank Museum, but if there is a site you definitely want to see, check into buying tickets in advance to skip the line.  We procrastinated on this and by the time we tried to buy them, they were sold out for the entire month of April. 

The time in line passed quickly with our two Canadian friends who we’d met en route, their cousin – an Amsterdam native who had some great tips and recommendations, and the people in line behind us – an older couple (also Canadian) who had just arrived in Amsterdam that morning and were keeping themselves busy to combat jet lag.

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^ Getting close to the door after some quality time in line! ^

Walking through the Anne Frank annex/museum is truly a sobering experience.  To be in that space, where those eight people hid for two years, and think about all that they went through, all the fears they faced day after day…well, it truly brought perspective.  The museum is impeccably maintained and managed and definitely worth a trip.

We grabbed lunch at Sara’s Pancake House – a Rick Steves recommendation.  Kevin had a ham, cheese, and mushroom pancake and Amy had an omelette.  Kevin also had coffee, of course.  We found the tiny little cups with their one-finger handles to be pretty cute.  It was usually espresso rather than regular coffee beans though, so Kevin didn’t feel like he was suffering too much in his attempts to stay caffeinated.

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Bellies full we decided to take a load off for awhile and hopped on a canal boat tour.  The boat tour was highly underwhelming with very minimal recorded narration and a completely disengaged “captain” who spent most of the time on his cell phone, but it was nice to sit and we saw a lot of the city – from the canal view – in a short amount of time.

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Then we went to the Rijksmuseum, which is a piece of art in itself.

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The Honour Gallery was very crowded and for good reason – it houses many famous pieces, including several Rembrandts.  We meandered to the second floor and saw ornate cannons, intricate chimney pieces and furniture, and a wide assortment of paintings.  Other highlights in the museum included a throne from William IV’s reign, the Van Gogh self-portrait, and the Waterloo painting.  The latter was floor to ceiling and at least 15 feet across.  So imposing!

We found a restaurant near the museum for dinner – Pompa.  This was where Kevin had his favorite Amsterdam meal – Lasagna Bolognese.

After dinner, having mastered the tram system, we easily made our way back to the apartment and rested up for….

Day 3 – Friday

We began our day at a little coffee place near the apartment and then made our way back to the airport.  We felt very proud because we took a much more direct route than we had when we first arrived – navigating that tram/bus system like a boss.  We bought tickets for Keukonhof Gardens and took a short bus ride to the city limits to explore.  The Gardens are fabulous.  Perfectly cultivated and in varying stages of bloom.  The hydrangeas were the real star of the show, but the tulips were starting to fill in so Amy could check “see tulips in Amsterdam” off the trip to-do list.

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We grabbed lunch at the Gardens – cafeteria style – and then made our way back into Amsterdam proper.  The next leg of our trip was to take a train to Bruges, so we went to the train station to buy those tickets.

Travel tip #7:  When in Europe, you can buy train tickets online and in advance, but we were so incredibly happy to talk to an expert at the train station.  She gave us excellent advice about which route to take and we felt far more comfortable about our plan than we would have if we’d tried to buy tickets for an unfamiliar journey on our own.  We paid a little more because we were buying them last minute, but it was worth it to us! 

We took a tram to Dam and began exploring the area.  Fresh waffles (with Nutella for Kevin and with powdered sugar for Amy) were found at a shop on a side street that we affectionately nicknamed “Diagon Alley”.

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Then we set out to find the red light district, which was surprisingly challenging (since we didn’t want to look like total tourists by pulling out the map and examining the street signs closely).  The crowds and the noise got on Amy’s last nerve and she started to lose her shi patience.  But Kevin’s cool head persevered and eventually we found the land of prostitution and weed.  We were both ready to leave shortly after arriving, but at least we can say we’ve been there.  I guess.

Next we caught a tram to a street market area where we found what we were truly seeking – Stroopwafel.  Thin, freshly prepared waffles, sliced in half and then sandwiched back together with warm caramel in the middle.  So, so decadent and delicious.

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Since we’d only eaten two types of waffle in the span of an hour and a half, we had to grab dinner soon after.  (Ha.)  George’s Bistro was the spot – Kevin had the half herb chicken with fries and Amy had the lobster corn chowder and fries.  Tasty all around.  (And round is what we were feeling after all that eating.)

We logged 18,000+ steps on this particular day so we were ready to rest our weary feet.  Back to the apartment with us where we hung out with our pal Sugar, and plotted out the next leg of our trip…Bruges.