Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 13 - Brussels

We slept in until 9am, it was heaven. Kevin then worked on the Amsterdam posts and I lounged around. We finally left the hotel at 10:30. Our hotel appears to be in a business district, and none of the neighboring restaurants were open. It wasn't until we got close to the center of town that we found some place to eat. Before breakfast, we stepped in to a little chocolate shop and each had two pieces...what a great way to start the day! Breakfast was a croissant, coffee and orange juice...perfect! We decided to follow another of Rick Steve's walking tours (he hasn't led us wrong yet). We made our way to the Grand Place. Once there we spent some time looking at the Town Hall, the King's House and the guild halls. We went to the Brewery museum (the museum is kind of silly, but it was a good excuse for a beer). We then did "choco crawl", starting with Godiva, followed by Neuhaus and then Galler. The line was really long for Leonidas (and I had had some at Laakdal), so I stepped across the street to Elisabeth Brussels. I picked up some chocolate for An (my apologies to everyone else, it wouldn't last until I could get it to you, and she is 8.5 months pregnant) After Neuhaus, we had to stop for another beer.... We then continued to the first "covered shopping mall", Galeries Royale St Hubert, about halfway through we turned down "restaurant row". Since we were still full from the chocolate and beer we kept walking. Next was the church of St. Nicolas, followed by a waffle from a street was that good. We walked around the stock market and then headed for Maniken Pis.

Still feeling pretty strong, we thought we could take on another walking tour, this one of Upper Town. We made it to the last standing section of the original wall around Brussels and then headed up the hill. We stopped for lunch....and came to the realization that we both needed a nap. So we caught a cab back to the hotel. We didn't mean to sleep for so long, but ended up sleeping from about 4 to 7. Now we are trying to figure out where to go to dinner.

Tomorrow we are on to Brugges.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Day 12 Amsterdam - Brussels

I headed to work to finish my last day here and Kevin slept in... When Kevin woke up he tried to retrace his steps from his tour with Diane yesterday. He was able to find the flower market, Rembrandt's house, Leildsplein and the flood memorial. I met him in Dam square at 3ish. We were going to try to go to the Anne Frank house. The line was around the corner and we didn't have the patience for it.... Next time... We then did part of the tour Kevin had done earlier in the day, so I got to see the flower market, Begijnhof and the Beguines (a relgious sect of nun-like women), we walked down Kalverstract and the Church of St. Nicholas. Our plan this afternoon was to take the train, direct from Amsterdam, to Brussels. We found our train and took over a "quiet" section of one of the first class cars. When the train stopped at the airport we learned there had been an accident on the track to Antwerp (on the way to Brussels), so we had to switch trains, go back to Amsterdam and get on another train for Brussels. We got lucky again and was able to take over a "silent" section. Eventually two guys joined us (as the rest of the filled up. Eventually we ended up in Rosendaal, where everyone on the train had to get off and switch trains. The problem was that the next train was already full (and we are pretty sure it was the last one going to Antwerp/Brussels). There was some confusion around whether there was another and what to do. Turns out they quickly decieded to send the train we just got off (which was supposed to be at the end of its line) to Antwerp and send the new train to Brussels, so we crammed on to the Brussels bound train. We ended up sitting on our bags between the cars, (good thing we bought first-class tickets huh?) once it stopped in Antwerp and let some people off we were able to grab a couple of seats. We finally made it to Brussels (about 6 hours after we left Amsterdam the first time). We grabbed a cab to the hotel and checked in...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 11 - Amsterdam

Well, Dana had to work most of the day so I have to write about day 11. I started the day by running to and around Vondelpark. I used Dana's wristwatch-GPS which turned out to be a good idea! Vondelpark was very nice. For those of you familiar with Seattle... Vondelpark is a lot like Greenlake except 95% of the people are on bikes, it's bigger and flatter, and the trails cut across the center of the park in addition to going around the perimeter. I went back to the hotel a different way so that I could see more of the city. I found the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum. There is a big park behind them which reminded me of the mall in Washington DC. I planned on going to see those museums but it didn't happen.... next time. I got a little lost on the way back to the hotel but not too bad.

I was supposed to meet up with Diane but I still kept getting a busy signal when I called. I headed out for the red-light district for an English Breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and beer). The prostitutes are still there at 11am but they are of a different quality (lesser) than they are in the evening. After breakfast, I finally got Diane on the phone and we planned on meeting at the War Memorial at 1:00. So, I had a couple of hours to kill. Using the Rick Steves guide, I explored the Dam area including: The Palace, the New Church, Kalver Straat (shopping), and Begijnhof. Begijnhof is a neighborhood where a bunch of ultra-religious, single women lived. They were single because the men were fighting in the crusades. Okay... now off to meet Diane.

We agreed that it had been about 18 years since the last time I saw her and yet she doesn't seem to have aged a bit. She has lived in Amsterdam full-time now for 9 years but she seems to know the place like she had lived here since the Renaissance. We would walk for a while and she would tell me about the city in a way that sounded...hmmm... well almost cynical, and like she was making fun of the people and making them sound charming at the same time. For example, she told me about how dutch people are obsessed with those tacky little garden gnomes. They know how silly, ridiculous, cheesy, clichè... (you pick the adjective) they are and that seems to feed the obsession. Okay, then I would look up and we would be at another city sight. Diane would then tell me about the landmark as if she were there when the residents were deciding to build it. That went on and on for about 2 hours but it seemed like much longer. We saw: craft markets, flower markets, Rembrant square, The House of Hajenius (extremely famous cigar shop), a flood memorial (a large cylinder of water that was labeled with the levels of floods), and the Church of Saint Nicholas - amazing! It was an amazing experience for me. I wished that I'd be able to recreate the tour for Dana but I knew I wouldn't be able to.

Dana came home from work at 5 or 6 and we headed out for dinner. We ate at a middle eastern place and tried to make it to the Anne Frank house by 8:30 (when they close). Well, we made a few wrong turns and found the place at 8:35. Alas! we didn't make it. So, I tried to show Dana the chuch - closed. So, I tried to show Dana the flower market - closed. So, we wanted to take a canal boat cruise in the dark when they turn the lights on on the bridges. The problem with that was that sunset here, this time of year, is at like 10:45pm and the last canal tour was at 10. So, we took the cruise but it was too light out for the lights on the bridges.... next time. I was starting to lose Dana (she actually fell asleep on the canal cruise) so back to the hotel we went.

Day 10 - Antwerp - Amsterdam

Today I headed to the Laakdal for my last day there. I worked until 12 and then drove back to Antwerp to check out of the hotel with Kevin. We grabbed our bags and then headed north to Amsterdam. We stopped for lunch about 30 minutes outside of Antwerp. Its a shame that we get to rent a convertable an the only time the top was down was when Kevin was driving around Amsterdam and Hilversum with the car, last week. After we got back on the road again, I promptly fell asleep. Kevin woke me up in Rotterdam and then I was asleep again until we had to stop for gas at the airport. We returned the car and caught the train back to Amsterdam Central. I am really glad that we got a GPS with the car, driving in Belgium (and back to Holland) would have been a lot more difficult.

In Amsterdam we headed out for dinner at a little Greek restaurant, around the corner from our hotel. It was very good. When they brought the check we learned they only took cash (there were credit card signs on the door and a credit card machine by the bar), evidently they were a new restuarant and didn't have the credit card process of working yet. Kevin had to run to Central Station to get cash. While I waited they offered me a drink on the house (for the misunderstanding), when Kevin got back they offered one to him too. So we each had an ouzo before heading out to see the Red Light district. This area was very close to the hotel.

The Red Light district was a little surreal, the women were standing in the windows, they were much prettier then we expected. We wondered around here for a while and then headed back to the hotel .

Day 8 & 9 - Antwerp

If you haven't noticed the majority of the sight seeing is done by Kevin while I work.... the two ful days in Antwerp was no different.

On Monday I headed work while Kevin hung out in town. He did a little laundry and then headed out into town.

Monday, the team in Laakdal hosted a team dinner, so Kevin road the train out to Geel and I picked him up. We then made our way to Tessenderlo where we had dinner. We were the only ones in the restuarant (it was a little late on Monday), the food was very good and the conversation was great. We only talked about work a little. The people there from Laakdal were Danielle, Anja, Dimi & Kris.

Driving to Geel and then Tessenderlo was an expereince, I really liked the little towns, they have a much different feel then Antwerp.

I went to work again, and Kevin saw more of the sites. He slept in, worked out and then went to the the Maritime museum. In this museum he saw models of ships and small maritime artificacts, like compasses, sailing rigs, naked ladies for the bows of ships, but mostly fancy model ships. When I got back into town from work, we headed out for dinner, but first stopping for some friete. They weren't in a paper cone, those I couldn't find when I was in Antwerp (because I was always out after the places were closed), so I will have those in Brussels or Brugges. We had dinner in a little restaurant near the big church. This was the third time I ended up with a goat cheese/bacon salad, man is it good. I only knew I was ordering once, so I got pretty lucky. We decided to take the metro back to the hotel. We got on a train going the right direction but missed our stop, so we got out at the next one and then walked the rest of the way. We ended up walk through the diamond district to Antwerp Central and then to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I packed and we "veged" out.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 7 Paris - Antwerp

Today is Sunday, in Paris. We slept in, packed and then had breakfast at the same cafe as was handy and good, what can I say....

We then headed to Notre Dame to follow the Rick Steves' "Historic Paris" walking tour. We started at Notre Dame around 11am. Mass was starting as we were walking through it. I am not Catholic nor religious, but if there are ever religious experiences, this was one. To think that the Parisians (in this community) built this on their own, for over 200 hundred years, its amazing. The inside was beautiful. We had to wait for the priest and alter boys to come and walk past us as we walked around the outside of the "chapel". We stayed and listened to some of the choir too. Granted, the only choir I have heard has been Christmas Eve Mass in Arizona, I don't think I have heard anything like what we heard at Notre Dame. After leaving the church we followed the walking tour through a "Memorial of the Deported" for those French who were deported from Paris and later killed in concentration camps, through the Left Bank. We had lunch here and checked out a historic English bookstore where the likes of Hemingway and others, Luxembourg Garden, St Chapelle and finally Pont Neuf.

We caught the train back to Antwerp and checked in to the hotel. I had to finish prepparing for a presentation for Monday, so while Kevin slept, I worked.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 6 - Paris

Today was our first full day in Paris. We left the hotel around 8:30 and had breakfast (espresso, croissant and orange juice) at a local cafe. We then headed to the Louvre. We listened to the Rick Steves Louvre podcast while we went through the museum. It didn't have us doing the whole thing (I don't think I would have had the patience to do the whole thing at once). We saw ancient greeks statues, roman statues, Raphael, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and da Vinci - all amazing.

We then walked down the Champs de Elysees towards the Arc de Triumphe. About halfway down we veered off to the right for lunch. Once at the arc we took one look at the line to the top and decided we go go with out. We spent some time in awe of the traffic going around and around. On our way back out, the line to the top was much shorter so we decided to go for it. After a long dizzy-ing climb we made it to the top. Holy Cow.

Eventually we headed back down and back towards the hotel, although this time we took the metro back. We napped/uploaded pics and generally relaxed for a while.

At about 6pm we headed out for a dring, dinner and the Eiffel Tower.

We had a drink at Georges in the Pompidou Centere and then headed over to the metro stop to catch the metro and train to the Eiffel Tower. Before going to the tower we headed in to the Trocadero neighborhood. This took us through the grounds for the Palais de Chaillot. This gave us some really great views of the Eiffel Tower. After dinner we had plans to go all of the way to the top. After we took one look at the line (it was 10:30pm) we decided we would head home instead. On the way we stopped for crepes and champagne.

Then on to the metro and back to our hotel...getting in around 11:30.

Day 5 - Antwerp - Paris

On our second day in Antwerp, we spent less time lost.

I was able to make it to work with out a hitch (turn left out of the hotel, say on the same road and it puts me on the highway to Laakdal - couldn't be more simple).

Kevin purchased the train tickets to Paris (for Friday), went in to the the cathdral. He drank at several different pubs and had his first frituer (fries with mayo) and then met me at the hotel at 4:30.

We then took the train from Antwerp to Paris, it is suprisingly fast (only 2 hours). Our first cab experience in Paris lived up to its reputation. At one point we saw the lives of several scooters flash before us...traffic is crazy. Our hotel is close to the Louvre and the Eglise Saint Eustache. The view from hotel is of a park, a shopping area, Georges Pompidore Center and the church above.

For dinner we headed out to a nearby creperie and then returned to the hotel by walking along the Seine.

Once back at the hotel Kevin downloaded several Rick Steves' pod casts for Paris - a historic distric walking tour and a Louvre tour.

Day 4 - Antwerp

I over slept (could be from the sleep deprivation as last night was the first almost full night of sleep that I have gotten so far). Today was also my first experience at driving in Europe (Kevin drove yesterday). When I left the hotel I didn't allow the GPS to find itself before I started driving. I ended up going in circles for about 30 minutes. It took a while for me to figure out how to interpret what the GPS was saying, as in the city the verbal commands are a little late (and I was in full traffic). At one point I turned the wrong way on to a 1 lane, one way street. The driver I ended up "face to face" with was very nice, he pointed out that I was going the wrong way (I don't think he even honked), then he waited for me to do a 3 point turn and get headed the right way. Not much later I ended up in the "Tram/Bus" lane. As I was at the light (the tram light) a car turned in front of me. He smirked and shook his finger at me and pointed to the right lane. I finally made it to the right street (which took me back in front of my hotel and straight to the highway). Once on the highway it took me about 3o minutes to get to Laakdal. When I got off of the highway in laakdal I again took a wrong turn...the GPS said turn right, but I thought it was a driveway....when it recalculated it put me on some very rural roads... I finally made it to the office. What an adventure. The drive back to the hotel was much easier.

While I was at work Kevin wondered the city. He got lost while walking and then went for a run and got lost again. His Nike+ said he went 9 miles on his run. He was really lost. He had fun though, he walked all over Antwerp and saw the outside of many things. He also made it to the cathedral in Antwerp. He says it was so nice that it almost made him wish he was still Catholic. He had the infamous "belgian waffle" but no frituer (he was waiting for me). We met at the hotel at 6:30pm. We headed back towards the cathedral for dinner. After dinner we took the tram back to the hotel. We found the right train, just going the wrong way..there were only 3 stops before it hit the end of the line and did a u-turn, now we were headed the right way.

If you can't tell, we are going to spend a lot of time lost on this trip, but that is part of the fun :)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day 3 - Amsterdam and Antwerp

Today we had to go to the hotel to pick up the rental car and then I had to head to work while kevin went back and hung out in Amsterdam for the day. Breakfast was at a little cafe next to the hotel and then we hopped the train to the airport. The car is a convertable and we were able to get a GPS (which came in very handy later). I ended up on a different train to Hilversum then I had taken before and it took about twice as long. While I was on my way to work Kevin drove back to the Amsterdam - which was pretty exciting - the GPS is very handy, although once you get in town its verbal directions are a little slow, but if you watch the map you can figure it out.

Today was also a "team" dinner for the project I am working on. It was fun, it was a bbq at a local (near the campus). All of the people on the team are very nice and very social. After dinner (at 10pm) Kevin and I drove to Antwerp, as I had to be at the DC on Thursday. The drive was very easy (especially for me since I fell asleep and Kevin drove). We made it to Antwerp with out any problems but promptly got lost once we were in town. Thanks to the GPS we eventually found our hotel. Its a good thing our first experince navigating Antwerp was at 12:30am as traffic was non-existent.

We stayed at the Astrid Park Plaza, across from Centraal station. It is a very nice hotel and we both slept like rocks...except for the my phone ringing at 1:30 am (a call from the US).

Days 2 - Amsterdam

Day 2 - June 19

Kevin finally got to Amsterdam around 5pm. He had two very long days of travel (he left Portland late on June 17th). When I got back from work, we headed out to "see the city" and have dinner. We walked from our hotel to the Dam square, had a beer and then headed down a side street - to get away from the tourists... It was much calmer and quieter as we walked away from the square. After dinner we tried to get back to our hotel. Tried being the key word. Before leaving the restaurant I asked for directions to the hotel, she pointed to the right, so that is the way we went. We left at about 9:45, we finally got back to the hotel at 12:30. Yes, 12:30. I don't think you could be more lost then we were. We kept following signs to Centraal Station, but couldn't seem to make it there. We ended up walking in circles far to the east of where we were supposed to be. We tried to orient our selves with the maps at the tram stops but didn't do a very good job of it. Maybe we just weren't seeing the road signs (or they didn't exist), I am not sure. After we walked around the same windmill about 3 times we decided to stop for a beer (at 12am) and then gave up and took a cab home. We had been walking away from our hotel....

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day 1 - Amsterdam

I finally got into Amsterdam around noon today. I was able to check in to my room immediately. After putting my clothes away, the first order of business was a shower. Thinking that I would watch a little tv after I no longer smelled like I had been on traveling all day. This was a joke as it really turned into a 3 hour nap.

I woke up around 4 and decided to check out Central Station (so I could get to work relatively easy tomorrow).

I asked the Conceirage at the front desk for a resturaunt recommendation. He suggested "The Milk Maid", it was a little (and very good) dutch restaurant.

Tomorrow I head to the office and Kevin will arrive. He really did get the short end of the stick on the travel arrangements. Last I knew he was in Philadelphia, not able to get on line with his computer. He did still have email via his black berry (don't ask). He is going to be one tired guy when he gets in.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Preparing for a summer of travel

All in all its been a pretty good birthday. Breakfast/Brunch at Fat City Cafe, Annie Bloom's Books, a swim, Powells and dinner with friends.

We have a week before we leave on our first trip. I am so excited that I want to start packing it too early for that? I think I now have enough books to suffice for the the summer flights, I just hope they all fit in my bags....

Several people have asked me to keep my blog updated during our summer travels. Here is the general itineray for the Summer.

June 17 - July 2: 1st Europe Trip.
We got lucky on this trip. I have to go to the Nike EHQ (Hilversum) and EMEA DC (Laakdal) for work and Kevin is going with me. We are going to spend the one weekend in Paris and the second in Brussels with vists to Brugge & Ghent.
  • Amsterdam
  • Antwerp
  • Paris
  • Brussels/Brugges/Ghent

July 6 - July 14: Florida in July.
Kevin's parent's 50th wedding anniversery is in December, so the Tastets are celebrating it in July. (something about not wanting to fly at Christmas). We will be in Orlando for the week.

Aug 4 - Aug 23: 2nd Europe Trip.
Our Haute Route trip. We will be walking from Chamonix France to Zermatt Switzerland. It will take us 14 days. We will spend a day in Geneva on either side of the hiking trip and a day in London on our way home. ~20 days in all.