Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Europe - Day Four

It's my birthday!!!  And I woke up in Amsterdam... and will be heading to Belgium.  That's my kind of birthday.

Today, we woke up to have breakfast in Amsterdam before getting on the bus to travel through Holland's (Wanna know the difference between "Holland" and "The Netherlands"?  Holland is a region of The Netherlands.  Now ya know - a little piece of trivia that finally made sense to me.) open fields, criss-crossed with canals and windmills to reach Belgium.  We stopped at a truck stop for a quick lunch and potty break - and found Kinder Eggs (chocolate eggs with toys inside them!  We got some to bring back for my confirmands and nieces and nephews.  Apparently, they're not sold in the USA, because our kids can't be trusted to not stick the small toy parts up their noses!  Ha ha ha.  So true...)  The one we kept for ourselves has an artist Smurf in it - perfect!
While traveling on the freeway in Belgium, we went right past an old concentration camp...  Breendonk.  It gave me chills and a sense of nausea just driving past...  A quick reminder of the reality of evil in the world (even when on vacation).

We made our way to Brussels, where we got to stop for a picture or two at the Atomium, which was built in 1958 for the World's Fair.  Each of the "balls" house exhibits and the top one hosts a restaurant!  How do you get up there?  The connecting "legs" have escalators inside!  (We didn't get to go in...  I kind of wish we could have!)
Next we went into the city proper of Brussels - and what a beautiful city!  Even the modern business areas were beautifully landscaped; had crisp, clean architecture; and just gave a feeling of being a very well cared-for and respected city.  We were able to park the bus and venture off through the streets to end up at the 17th-century Grand Place, a square and old area of the city that was surrounded by the decorated guild buildings.  An amazing place - something out of a fairy-tale.  Ornate, gorgeous buildings.  Cobblestone streets and courtyards.  Flower vendors.  Artists.  Pigeons.  I felt like I was in a movie.  So cool.
We followed our tour guide through the streets to see the "Mannekin Pis" - a famous fountain of a little boy peeing.  Yep.  It was as underwhelming as it sounds.  He's the size of my head.  The fountain is smaller than our hotel bathroom in Amsterdam.  Yep.  Small.  And TONS of tourists snapping pictures.  Silly.  But yes, I snapped one, too.
Then, we headed off in search of lunch.  We walked up and down the narrow streets - and saw a lot of restaurants that seemed more expensive than we were willing to spend on lunch...  We checked the fancy places on the square to see if we could get our first Belgian beer over lunch - but they seemed way too ritzy for lunch.  So what did we do?  Well...  It was my birthday afterall...  We headed to a Belgian waffle stand, got a yummy waffle with nutella and Belgian chocolate drizzled on it; headed to a small pub and got some frites (french fries - but better) with mayonaisse to go; and headed back to the square to sit on a curb to people watch.  It was perfect.  I loved Brussels.
Mom - do you see the "Bobby" in the background?  Did you know Bobby was a Belgian toy?!  And Smurfs, too?!  Who knew?
250 Belgian Beers sold here...  I believe the "Alleluia Chorus" is playing in my hubby's head...
My birthday lunch.  Can life get any better?
Do I look as mischievious and spoiled as I felt?
I loved all the carvings and sculptures on the buildings...  even the creepy gargoyles!
First flower vendors I've seen this year!  And look what comes next... We drive right by the Godiva Factory on the way out of the city.  Why didn't we get a tour there?!
But that was just the beginning.  Then we headed to the medieval "hidden pearl" - the city of Bruges.  The hubby and I both fell immediately in love with this town.  We arrived at our hotel (Hotel Novotel) and were thrilled to find it inside the walls of the old city.  Winding, cobblestone streets; chocolate and lace stores galore; hidden courtyards with sweet little cafes...  This is our kind of place!  We had just a little time to put our things in our room before our guide took us all on a walking tour of the town.  I asked Monique to point out a good place for mussels and beer for my birthday dinner - and she quickly turned to the whole group and had them sing to me in the courtyard outside our hotel!  So cute.
(The group singing "Happy Birthday" to me...)

Our hotel room - so spacious compared to Amsterdam!  And the view outside our window, right into residential side street.
Swans making a nest by Lover's Lake.  And below is us entering the Beguinnage (the convent).  No pictures inside the walls...  But a beautiful place - all the buildings were white and green, simple and perfect.  The courtyard was a green grass lawn with shade trees and daffodils in bloom.  We weren't aloud to talk - so it was silent.  I could sit all afternoon in there...  So peaceful.
More views of the buildings and churches on our walking tour...
We saw ancient churches, a convent (which was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I have ever been), canals, swans, quaint old homes, wide open market squares...  I loved it.  I would come back here any time.

After the tour, the hubby and I decided to do some more wandering on our own.  We ended up joining Jim and Vera, and Connie and Jeff for beers at a bar that had over 450 Belgian beers!  The hubby was in heaven!  We all sampled a few...  It was a great way to kick off my birthday!  My favorite part?  While the other end of the table was talking beers, Jim and Vera told me the story of how they met and married.  I want to be like them when I grow up...  So sweet and fun.
"Cambrinus" - a pub with 450 Belgian beers to try!  Uff da!
The Beer Bible.  All 450 beers - names, alcohol content, their origin...  Too much to take in all at once... 
After we sampled a few beers, Mike and I eventually wandered back to the seafood restaurant, Breydel De Coninc, that Monique had recommended.  It was small, dimly lit, and perfect for a romantic dinner.  We had mussels - which were fabulous!  Frites - yummy.  And chocolate mousse for dessert.  Along with some more Belgian beers, of course.  Which made for an interesting walk back to the hotel...  Ha ha ha.  Between the winding streets, the courtyards, and the canals...  It was very easy to get turned around and lose your sense of direction!  We enjoyed our walk - but it took a LONG time to find our way back.  Just another fun adventure in Belgium!
My after-dinner coffee, complete with sugar cubes, cream, a cookie, and a Belgian chocolate egg.  Delish!
One advantage of getting lost - seeing beautiful things we didn't see during our daytime tour... 
Lover's Lake at nighttime.  The white building on the left is the entrance to the convent.

We did eventually make it back to the hotel around 11:30pm.  A perfect day.

Things I am thankful for today:

1.  Leaving Amsterdam - time for something new.
2.  Brussels - great city!
3.  Eating waffles on the square.  Yum.
4.  Making new friends.  Craig and Debra from Arizona.
5.  Watching people.
6.  Brugges - so pretty and romantic.
7.  Belgian lace - beautiful.
8.  Monique, our tour guide - she's been really great.  Upbeat.  Fun.  Good suggestions.
9.  A group of 46 people celebrating "the youngin's" birthday.  Too funny.
10.  Getting lost at night - the perfect place to do it.
11.  Being asked if we're on our honeymoon.  I like that.


Mom said...

Soooooo glad your back!!!!

Beth said...

I am assuming your mom means back to blogging.. I am too! Your trip sound so interesting...I love all the food adventures... brave lady you!

Kayla said...

Yay! I loved all of your pictures -- especially all of the smurfs and toys! I am looking at this at school right now, Chris was pretty confused looking over my shoulder. Now he thinks you and Mike are pretty cool! :D

Cheryl said...

Yeah, I'm so excited you are back! I've missed you... I would check your blog every day sometimes twice a day. Looking forward to the rest of the journey. Did you get my email a couple of weeks ago? I've been worried about you.

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