A weekend away a week ago.

Do we drive or fly?

That was the question Kevin and I asked each other for the months leading up to our long weekend trip to Denver that was last weekend.  Ultimately we decided to drive and now – with a week’s worth of hindsight in my rear view mirror – we do not regret that decision.  Yes, we had to sing many, many versus of Row Row Row Your Boat and Tideo, but considering it was around 14.5 hours round trip, we can’t complain.

We started out at 9 AM on Friday.  Ava fell asleep around forty-five minutes into the drive and Kevin and I easily got into our audiobook – Duplicity.  Ava woke up after a solid 2+ hour nap, right as we were getting into a small town on I-25.  We stopped to eat, stretch our limbs, and fuel up, then hit the road again.  At first Ava was a bit annoyed with us for sticking her back in the carseat, especially when we realized 30 minutes after starting back on the road that I’d forgotten to nurse her and so we pulled over as soon as we could to get Starbucks and feed her.  After that she fell back asleep pretty quickly and woke up as we were getting into Denver.  5:00 traffic on a Friday afternoon annoyed all of us a bit, but we made it to Kevin’s parents’ place and there was beef stroganoff almost ready and we all forgot the long hours in the car pretty quickly.

The thing I was most nervous about going into this trip was sleep.  I love my sleep.  I need my sleep.  I covet sleep.  And I was worried that a few nights in a new environment was going to completely derail my perfect little night sleeping baby.  (Fear that any future babies will be bad sleepers is the number one reason Ava may be an only child.)  I’m not gonna lie – they weren’t the best three nights of sleep we’ve gotten, but they certainly weren’t the worst.  The combination of four hours worth of daytime sleep, a strange place, and the new bed (on the trip we used a travel crib that we normally corral her in when we’re getting ready in the morning) caused her to really fight falling asleep.  Eventually I got her to fall asleep – but she was in the adult bed.  I told Kevin we’d try co-sleeping and that worked for a hot minute.  Then Ava woke up, sat up, and was very excited to be having a slumber party with us.  The problem was that she didn’t especially feel like slumbering.  How do co-sleepers do it??  Kevin stood up, cradled her, and rocked her a bit until she fell asleep.  Then he set her in the travel crib and immediately laid down on the (hardwood!) floor next to her when she started to fuss.  His proximity calmed her down and she slept pretty well the remainder of the night.  Kevin stayed on the floor for most of the night – father of the year – and I think he still slept better than I did.  It was just one of those nights – I was nervous about Ava waking up again, guilty that Kevin was on the floor while I was sprawled in the comfy bed, annoyed that I couldn’t sleep, etc.  Ugh.

But!  We all survived (Kevin’s shoulder just barely), and woke up to half a foot of snow.  It was beautiful!  Freezing – around 5 degrees.  But beautiful.  And the condo is so well insulated that the air conditioner was running inside, so cozy, cozy.  We had a nice breakfast – Sue and Craig had bought fruit, English muffins, peanut butter, so Ava got her regular breakfast, which I think she appreciated.

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We relaxed and played and went to Micci’s for lunch.  On the drive home, there was a minor incident involving Pearl (the car) and an icy road and a road sign pole, but the pole took the brunt of the damage and sacrificed itself to keep us from hitting another car, so all in all…whew.  Pearl has a slight scratch that you’d only notice if you knew to look for it and the pole is still standing – just at a bit more of an angle than before.  After lunch I managed to get Ava down for a crib nap and Kevin and I escaped to the Cherry Creek Mall.  I needed to get a couple of watch batteries and a few links taken out of a watch so it would fit better.  Kevin stopped by Art of Shaving and we wandered around.  We tromped home through the snow and found that Ava had woken up soon after we left so the nap had been quite short.  Boo.  More playing, relaxing, etc. and then we headed downtown to The Chophouse for dinner.  It was delicious – I had the prime rib, Kevin and Craig had the bone-in rib eye, Sue had the filet, Ava had sweet potato fries, cornbread, and a bit of everyone’s steak.  We made it home safely – the roads had not gotten any better as the sun went down.  Night two brought good sleep for all of us – Ava fought going to sleep once again, but once she finally surrendered, it was fine.  Craig and Sue’s couch in Denver has one long cushion, so Kevin brought that into our room and slept on it next to Ava.

On Sunday we had a relaxing morning and Ava cuddle napped with me for an hour and a half or so.  Craig went to pick up Panera and we ate that before bundling up and bidding Sue and Ava and Teddy adieu to head to the main event – the Broncos versus Patriots football game.  Tickets to the game were a generous birthday gift to Kevin from Craig and Sue.  Craig drove us to a friend’s house where we loaded up into his car and he drove us and Jana, another friend, to the light rail train station.  We took the train to the stadium and found our seats.  We were there 45 minutes or so before kick off, and because it was pretty cold, the stadium filled up slowly.  It was nice to have so few people there initially and we got to watch the teams warm up.

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We were in seats facing the sun and I didn’t mind at all the fact that I’d forgotten my sunglasses because it was downright comfy, despite the mercury sitting at about 20 degrees.  That blessed sun was a game changer.  Once it went down it got a little colder and the game was a bit disappointing.  It was awesome to see Tom Brady play in person though – he makes that quarterbacking thing look effortless.

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After the game we trekked back to the station and caught a train, disembarking and finding our friend waiting for us in his warm car.  He took us back to his house where we got into Craig’s car and he dropped us at the condo while he went to pick up Ollie’s (Chinese – some of our favorite food in Denver) for dinner.  Jana came over, Sue filled us in on the fun she, Ava, and Teddy had while we were at the game, and my feet eventually thawed from their game induced state of frozen.

I slept on the cushion next to Ava that night and we all slept well.  Just what we needed for the ride home the next day.  We left a little bit before Craig and Sue, but we all made it back to Albuquerque at around the same time.  Ava slept well from Denver to Raton, where we stopped for lunch, but she didn’t nap on the second half of the drive.  She grumbled a bit and we sang a lot of songs.  We were all giddy to be home!  We had a wonderful time with Craig, Sue, and Teddy, and it had been a great trip, but there is truly no place like home.  And we all missed Kiki and Rue.  They’d had a family friend stay with them, and they seemed a little disappointed to see us walk in that evening instead of her.  We tried not to take it personally.

Do you like road trips?  What’s the longest road trip you’ve taken?

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Project 12 // June 2015.

 *Project 12 – A photo on (or around) the first day of each month.*
{Idea credit & linking up with  The Lady Okie}

June:

  

Read: 
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 4 stars {Kevin}
The Rosie Effect by Graeme C. Simsion – 4 stars
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson – 3 stars
The One by Kiera Cass – 4 stars

Travel Adventures:
June 2 – Amy made a day trip to Santa Fe for work
June 13
 – Amy went to Tucumcari for Tiffany’s baby shower
June 19-21 – Amy and Kevin went to Magdalena for Shawna and Keith’s wedding

Noteworthy Days & Events:
June 8 – Bambino’s gender is no longer a mystery!  It’s a girl!
June 12 – Ordered 8 new windows for the casa.
June 18 – Tea at St. James Tearoom for Shawna’s bachelorette soiree
June 26 – Bon voyage dinner for Derek at Hayashi Japanese Restaurant :(
June 27 – Cheered on a friend as she participated in the Mrs. New Mexico pageant
June 29 – Tile replacement began!

Ate: (new recipes & restaurants)
Kevin made cod with Lemon Butter Sauce.  Delish!

Tell me something about your June!

Project 12 // May 2015.

 *Project 12 – A photo on (or around) the first day of each month.*
{Idea credit & linking up with  The Lady Okie}

May:

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^ Rollin’ with my homie ^
aka: the moment you realize you haven’t taken a Project 12 picture on the 30th of the month and you’re out running errands and really, there’s no time like the present.

Read: 
The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by Scott Miller – 4 stars {Kevin}
The Path Between the Seas:  The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough – 5 stars {Kevin}
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – 4 stars
Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart – 4 stars
Single, Carefree, Mellow:  Stories by Katherine Heiny – 3 stars
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – 4 stars
No Life for a Lady by Agnes Morley Cleaveland – 4 stars
The Elite by Kiera Cass – 4 stars

Travel Adventures:
May 13-15 – Kevin went to Denver for work.  Amy binge watched Hart of Dixie until the wee hours of the morning.

Noteworthy Days & Events:
May 2 – Inaugural trip to the grower’s market to kick off the season of fresh, locally grown fruits, veggies, and herbs
May 3 – Met K & N’s little one – a precious little gal!
May 18 – Announced some big coming soon attraction news on the blog, IG, and Facebook – here
May 20 – Bailey the Goldendoodle passed away
May 24 – Our second wedding anniversary <3
May 25 – Bought some pots and plants and started to do a little gardening!  We’re growing basil, rosemary, chives, and garlic to start and we have a raised bed to fill with tomatoes, spinach, and maybe a few other veggies.
May 30 – Planted mint with the basil (because apparently that’s a good pairing) and tomatoes, jalapenos, banana peppers, and dill in the raised bed.

Ate: (new recipes & restaurants)
Took this recipe for a sausage and pasta bake and adapted it a bit based on the contents of the fridge and pantry for dinner one night and a work potluck the following day.
Met K, N, and M at Fork & Fig.  It was awesome.  Kevin and I agreed that it was the best new restaurant we’d tried in a long time.
Went out to Central Grill for an anniversary breakfast.
I came home from yoga one evening to find Kevin in the kitchen making this shrimp and asparagus stir fry.  It was so good and he is definitely the better cook of the two of us.

Tell me something about your May!

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.