A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok - we made it!

Culture-shock, wide-eyed, friendly. Where to begin...

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We made it to Bangkok! We flew EVA Air from Seattle. I was nervous about the 12+ hour flight to Taipei, Taiwan. Luckily, we all managed to sleep and it really wasn't so bad. We had a 3+ hour layover in Taipei where we waited for Starbucks to open, had a snack, and walked through the pristine airport. Most gates had a theme. There was a Hello Kitty gate, nature-themed gates, and we waited in a cinema-themed gate. We were impressed with the Taipei airport.

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We took a 777 to Bangkok which was another 3.5 hour flight. Meal service was fine and the flights were uneventful. Just what you want on a flight.

At the Bangkok airport, we got some baht and ordered a taxi into the city. The taxi ride was amazing! I don't know what I expected but the motorcycles weaving between cars, the aggressive taxi driving in the shoulder and in between lanes wasn't it. Wow! I think I could ride in a taxi all day and be entertained. (That all changed the next day when we learned about Bangkok traffic.)

Our hotel is down some narrow twisty roads (sois). Isanook Residence is perfect for us! We have 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 3 AC units, a kitchen (unnecessary except for storing beer and water in the fridge), and living room. The included breakfast has been great. We splurged on this place and are still paying about $100 per night.

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We walked down to the nearby 7-Eleven (they are everywhere in Bangkok) where we stocked up on water, snacks, and beer. We could quickly understand why Bangkok is known as the birthplace of street food. It is everywhere. You can't walk a block without someone selling something.

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The hotel offers a free tuk tuk or minivan to various places in the city. We took advantage and were dropped off at the MBK Center - a massive mall. It was pouring down rain at this point. After wandering a while, we crossed over to a fancier mall called Siam Paragon. I had read about the huge modern food court. We pre-paid for a card and each picked out something for dinner. I think my seafood soup was the best of all.

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After dinner, we finally found a taxi to take us back to our hotel in terrible traffic. Even a long taxi ride is around $3 including tip. This all seemed like enough for our first partial day in Bangkok. Definitely time to sleep. Zzzzzzz.

First Full Day in Bangkok

We woke up fairly early and enjoyed the breakfast buffet on the rooftop of our hotel. Lots of yummy choices including Dim Sum, which the girls loved. We took a taxi to Golden Mount - a wat (temple) on the top of a man-made hill. It was fun ringing various bells and gongs on the way up the 300+ stairs to get to the top.

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I haven't mentioned much about the heat. It is extremely hot as we expected. I feel like we came prepared with sunhats, sunscreen, cooling towels, and lightweight clothes. We've all had our moments but we seem to be handling it better than I expected.

After Golden Mount, we took a tuk-tuk to a few other wats. One had the tallest Buddha in Bangkok, the lucky Buddha, and the marble Buddha. That's a lot of Buddhas. The tuk-tuk ride was exciting! I won't go into details, but despite reading about the tourist scams in Bangkok, we fell right into one of the infamous tuk-tuk scams. After being dropped at a tailor to buy a suit (no, we didn't buy a suit!) we realized what was going on and ditched the tuk-tuk.

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We were on our feet for quite a while and finally found the amulet market that the kids had heard about. They wanted to buy amulets for their friends. We were getting cranky by this point and finally found a quiet air-conditioned coffee shop for refreshing smoothies. The kids were were good sports through most of this eventful morning.

We found ourselves in Chinatown near lunch time. The street food scene was incredible! We had our sights set on Indian food for lunch. Yum! After lunch, we found ourselves a taxi and headed back to the hotel for a much-needed swim.

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We were so fortunate to be invited to dinner with my old college friend Pen and her mother. They selected an incredible Thai restaurant in the Sukhumvit neighborhood. We took the subway and skytrain to get there. There were so many people and lines! We were very late but it was so wonderful to reconnect after 20 years. Pen looked exactly the same and we enjoyed a long and delicious meal. Some of the best Thai food ever! I am planning to meet up with Pen once more before leaving Bangkok.

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What a first day! We were exhausted by the end of it all.

Day Two - Chatuchuk Market

We got a later start today and decided to brave the huge Chatuchuk Market. It was a nearly 30 minute subway ride away. At least the subway in Bangkok is relatively new and air-conditioned. We had a great time wandering the huge market buying shoes and other nifty goodies to take home. One highlight was the coconut ice cream that everyone seemed to be eating. Yum! We found another mall nearby (malls are everywhere!) where we found another food court with limitless choices. DH and the kids had sushi and I had papaya salad. We spent about $7 on lunch.

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We even saw some traditional Thai dancers after lunch.

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The market was hot and tiring. I could have spent the entire day there but I could tell everyone else was ready for a break. We took the same subway back for a little afternoon relaxation. DH fell asleep while the girls swam and I worked on this blog. While at the pool, a woman actually recognized me. She asked if I shopped at Trader Joe's back home. No kidding! Once she said that, I recognized her as one of the friendly checkers at our local TJs. The world is huge and the world is small. Go figure.

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All of a sudden, it is 6:30pm and we have lost the drive to do much of anything. The rooftop restaurant is looking appealing! We had an easy dinner at the hotel restaurant and called it a night. Bring on more of Bangkok tomorrow!

Posted by familyineurope 07:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

Family in Europe goes to Thailand!

We leave in a month for a month! First trip to Asia.

Countdown to big trip begins.

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Our family of four is excited for our next adventure to a new continent. Our kids have grown (ages 9 & 11) and have many travel opinions of their own. We picked Thailand for many reasons.

  • It's known as "The Land of Smiles".
  • The food is amazing!
  • We have researched a broad range activities ranging from historical and religious sites to zip-lining and waterparks.
  • Once we take the ridiculously long flight there, it will be affordable. Even the massages. Yes!
  • Thailand seems to have a good tourist infrastructure that is calling us!
  • Quite simply, Thailand has been on my list for years.

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So what are we going to do there?

Here's a quick glimpse at our itinerary:

Days 1-7 - Bangkok. Explore the city's many wats, markets, neighborhoods, a couple of museums, and a few recommended kid-friendly attractions. I have two friends who live in Bangkok so I hope to reconnect.

Days 7-10 -Chiang Dao. We will fly to Chiang Mai and make our way an hour north to the small village of Chiang Mai. There we will escape the city and have a totally different experience staying in our own bungalow near one of Thailand's largest mountains.

Days 10-16 - Chiang Mai. I am most excited for this part of the trip! While in Chiang Mai, we will spend a day at Elephant Nature Park, zip-lining amongst the gibbons, and taking a all-day cooking course, and staying within the old city. I have read many great things about the vibe of this town!

Days 16-19 - Sukhothai. We will take a bus 6-7 hours south to this small historic town to see the ruins of old Thailand.

Days 19-21 - Ayuthaya. Again, we will bus or train another 5-6 hours to another historic town not far from Bangkok. We are staying at an inn surrounded by a moat!

Days 21-27 - Hua Hin. We will travel another 3-4 hours south to this beach town where we will take a vacation from our vacation.

Days 27-28 - Bangkok. One last hurrah in Bangkok before flying home.

It has been particularly fun researching hotels, guest houses and airbnb options for this trip. The prices are so affordable compared to our trips to Europe. I am excited to stay in two bedroom apartments where we will have room to spread out. We are not luxury travelers and have selected accommodations that fall between $50-100 USD per night. All places have AC, private bathrooms, wifi, and most have swimming pools.

My biggest worries about this trip:

  • The heat. Hands down, this worries me the most. We are from Oregon and needless to say, Thailand's sticky, hot, and humid temperatures will be shocking. I hope we adjust to this with minimal whining.
  • Staying healthy. We visited a local travel doctor where we made sure we were up to date with vaccines. I still worry about mosquitos, tummy bugs, mean feral dogs, and staying hydrated. I am packing more healthcare supplies than usual.
  • As always, I worry about my family having fun. We are travelling at a fairly slow pace on this trip with long stays in several locations. I just hope we find activities for everyone. After a busy school year, I most look forward to whisking my family away where we can have quality time together.

Stay tuned as we bring the blog back to life and go on another adventure. We are very excited!
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Posted by familyineurope 20:21 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Last post - Belgium, Amsterdam & final thoughts.

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Before I delve into our final days of our trip, I need to make a couple lists.

Things We Missed About the USA

  • Sheets. Most Europeans use a duvet covered comforter as their only bed layer. I missed having a thin layer of sheets on hot summer nights.
  • Tap Water. We never saw a drinking fountain on this trip. Even though nearly all European tap water is tasty and safe, most Europeans buy bottled water. We got used to filling a few water bottles and hauling them in a backpack everywhere we went. We definitely missed free cold ice water at restaurants.
  • Grocery stores that are open almost all the time. It is nearly impossible to find a grocery store that is open on Sundays.
  • Free condiments. it's nice not paying for little catsup and mustard packets.
  • Service with a smile. The US (especially Oregon) provides such friendly service. I often felt rushed to order in European restaurants.

Things We Already Miss About Europe

  • Driving fast. I miss driving around 90 mph. Cars in the US seem so slow and huge.
  • Superior parks and pools. I don't know if it's the higher tax rate, but most European parks and pools are just awesome. The parks have creative play equipment like zip-lines, wicked high slides, and waterslides without long lines.
  • Play areas at nice restaurants. Why oh why can't decent US restaurants have a play area for kids? (I know the answer, lawsuits.) One of my favorite things from this trip was enjoying a leisurely meal while the kids happily played at the restaurant's playground.
  • Reasonable (if not plain cheap) prices on beer and wine. We pay such a mark-up in the US.
  • Enormous selection of yogurts and cheeses. European bakeries also cannot be beat.
  • Stunning architecture, walking everywhere, super public transportation, and a million more things that keep us returning to Europe whenever we can!

And one last list.

Things You Just Don't See in the US

  • A man opening up a glass bottle of beer on the Munich subway right next to an armed police officer.
  • Bringing your dog to the zoo. You can smoke and drink beer at the zoo too.
  • Cars whizzing by at 140-150 mph.
  • Dogs and cats at restaurants, stores, biergartens, etc..

Random Tip

Just buy the 24, 48, 3-day, or however long you're there transportation pass. It was so convenient to hop on and off buses, trams, and subways in cities like Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, etc.. Having an international data plan was also helpful. Google maps helped us navigate the best transportation routes saving our feet and lots of time.

Day 31 - Bellewaerde Amusement Park in Ypres, Belgium

We decided to take the plunge and experience a Belgian amusement park. Belgium has the 2nd highest population density in Europe so the park was busy. Unfortunately we had to wait in some pretty long lines. We still had a lot of fun and enjoyed some crazy rides.
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Going to an amusement park was a good way to see real Belgians and not just tourists. We did not hear any English the entire day and felt surrounded by true Belgian people - not just tourists.

We met up with our friends at the same place we dined our first night in Belgium. Kids were able to bounce around on trampolines (without safely nets) while we ate delicious food. We followed a tractor pulling a trailer full of a wedding party. Neat!
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Still find it so neat that restaurants have such nice play areas.
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We hung out, drank more delicious Belgian beer, and called it a day.

Day 32 - Last full day in Belgium. Farm and park time

We were ready to do some relaxing and enjoy our last day on the farm. We began the day feeding the resident critters.
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DD#2 and I rode bikes to the nearby bakery for some treats. Yummy baked goodies!
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We did a little swimming at the farm pool.
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We decided to check out a nearby forest park that had a nice playground. There was a restaurant overlooking the park where we had a beverage. It was a really warm day.
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We made a simple dinner at the farm and enjoyed the last evening with our friends for two years. Boo hoo!

Day 33 - Lunch in Bruges and arrival in Amsterdam.

It took some time to clean out the farm apartments. What a mess we made in one week! We drove to Bruges for lunch and a last look around.
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We bought delicious chocolates and had a pizza lunch.
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We drove a short three hours to Amsterdam. We have spent a lot of time in the car so a three hour drive felt like nothing! We arrived in East Amsterdam at our small apartment home for the final three nights of our trip.
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It was nice being out of the tourist crowds of Amsterdam. We walked around the pleasant neighborhood around our apartment, marveled at all the bikes, and found a great fountain for the kids. They quickly were soaked! DH and I were happy to find a cute outdoor restaurant right across from the fountain. We had a beer while the kids played happily in the fountain.
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We ate a picnic dinner of sorts in our apartment. We brought along groceries from Belgium. We were wearing down in these final days and were all excited about heading back to the US in just a couple of days.

Day 34 - Returning the car and exploring Amsterdam

DH and DD#2 left in the morning to return the car. The BMW will be shipped to Oregon in 8-10 weeks. They washed and vacuumed the car before returning to the apartment by taxi.
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Meanwhile, DD#1 and I enjoyed some time shopping, having coffee and pastries, and checking out the neighborhood.

Once we all reassembled, we went to a fish marked so DH & DD#1 could have some traditional herring. The other half of the family preferred to watch.
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We bought a two day transportation pass and used the trams to navigate around Amsterdam. The number of bikes was the most impressive part of the city. Lots of tourists in the main part of town!
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Funny tram rules.
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We enjoyed an Indonesian lunch. Indonesian food is very popular in The Netherlands.
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We walked through Vondel Park and found a small playground. Everyone (except me) was getting tired of walking. It's day 33 and I had some weary travelers on my hands! Luckily, I knew about a cool brewery in a windmill. We sat outside and truly enjoyed this brewery! It was right along a canal, brewed Belgian style beers, and was reasonably priced. Score! Girls enjoyed playing with little toys they bought with their own Euros.
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I sent DH out on a little excursion of his own to check out the famous Red Light District. He came back after an hour or two saying something like, "I sure haven't seen anything like that before!"
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Day 35 - Last full day in Europe 2014

This was it. The final day! I began with a long run through Amsterdam. A wonderful and flat city for running - as long as you avoid those bike lanes!
So. Many. Bikes.
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We went to the Amsterdam library - the largest library in Europe. We intended to take advantage of the great views from the top floor. However, they were doing construction on the terrace so we ate at the tasty cafeteria instead.
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We weren't up for museums, but we did walk by the Anne Frank House. We had some meaningful conversations with the kids about some of the difficult history in Europe.
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On a lighter note, we saw some beautiful canals, funny cars, and enjoyed wandering in the Jordaan neighborhood.
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We stopped a cute cafe and had a drink right along the canal. Perfect!
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After some agonizing packing (actually not as bad as I thought it would be), we enjoyed our last dinner in Amsterdam.
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Day 35 - Flying home!

We had one last breakfast in Amsterdam. Such delicious breads and pastries! We used public transportation to get the airport and had no delays. We flew through Iceland again but only had a short connection this time. The flights were long and uneventful. I watched at least three movies. Iceland from the plane.
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We arrived in Seattle where we stayed the night. We drove home the next morning eager to see family, friends, and our house.

All and all, this was a wonderful trip and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel. The world is huge and I always come home feeling lucky to live in Oregon but also impressed with the cities, traditions, and beauty of Europe. We will return!

Posted by familyineurope 11:53 Comments (2)

Biking, Beaches, and Bruges!

The days are a blur but here goes...

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I am writing from our last location - Amsterdam. Our week in Bruges flew by! We relaxed a lot, caught up with dear friends, and did some exploring around the region. The days kind of blend together but I'll try to use pictures to remember what happened when.

Day 28 - The weather improves!

We began our day slowly. Feeding rabbits and donkeys, riding various bike vehicles, and drinking coffee seemed to be the order of the morning. We are in the habit of staying up late and sleeping in. Oh well.

We went to an indoor pool with a slide. The pool wasn't very busy in the morning so we had fun sliding, swimming, and floating in the lazy river. We didn't take any pictures of swimming. Little J loves the water! I'm quite sure he's going to be an early swimmer.

Everyone was feeling lazy except for me and DD#2. The two of us went into the city of Bruges for the afternoon. We couldn't stop taking pictures of the stunning architecture. We had a quick drink at an outdoor cafe, shared some frites, and finally met up with the rest of the crew for dinner.
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I spotted a can of these goodies at the frite stand. Hmmm...
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Random - another culinary miss from our trip. I thought these would be BBQ chips. Nope. They really were meat flavored. Gross.
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I love how DD#2 can still stop everything and entertain herself with a mud puddle and a stick. She lives in her own little world sometimes.
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We met up with friends and found an outdoor cafe for a casual dinner. Prices in Belgium are so expensive! We decided to make more dinners at the farm after spending too much on really simple food. Many restaurants I had researched were closed either due to vacations or because they simply shut down a couple days per week.

After dinner, we went to Astrid Park to play and run off some energy. We wandered along some of the pretty canals in Bruges, found some yummy gelato, and called it a day.
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Belgian park and ride.
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Good night ladies.
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Day 29 - Bike ride to Damme (20+ miles) and BBQ!

DD#1 and I began our day with a bike ride to the nearby bakery - about 4 kilometers away. We found a small cafe on the Oedelem town square (the closest village) where we had cappuccino and hot chocolate. I love getting one on one time with my girls! Everyone else was happy when we returned with fresh pastries.

We decided today was the day to hop on our bikes and head to picturesque Damme. Thank goodness DH had navigation on his phone. He helped us get through some interesting roads and trails. Little J rode on a bike seat right behind his dad. It was his first bike ride! The bumpy cobbled roads put him right to sleep. Tons of people bike in Belgium. Little old ladies in their dresses, children, business people, etc... The only ones wearing helmets were the racers.
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We stopped part way for waffles and beverages.
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The ride took us by windmills, along canals, and through forests. I loved it!
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The guys got back and got to work lighting charcoal for our BBQ. We had grilled veggies, skewered meat, sausages, and more! Yum. There was time for a quick swim too.
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A pretty night on the farm.
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Day 30 - Bruges beer tour and Knokke-Heist beach

After a short run, we slowly made our way to Bruges for a quick lunch and a brewery tour. Lunch was on a on a pretty square where we could watch the horses rush by with carriages full of tourists.
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The best part of the brew tour was the view from the roof-top. Perfect!
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Next, we drove around 20 kilometers to the beach town of Knokke-Heist. Parking was aggravating, but we finally found a spot. We all enjoyed chilling out on the beach for a couple of hours. The water was surprisingly tolerable!
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We drove back to the farm where we rode some fun bike-cars and ate somewhat disgusting take-out from the local frite place. Every little town in Belgium seems to have a frite place serving burgers and pretty much anything that can be fried.
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After dinner, the very kind owner of the farm treated us to some special beer - Westvleteren 12! This is one of the most rare beers in the world. It is sometimes voted the best beer in the world! It is brewed by monks who have created an elaborate phone order system. The owner called in during the short available hours after trying many times. Once the order is placed, he drove about an hour to pick up the precious case. It is nearly impossible to find this beer in the US. Delicious!
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To top that off, we ended the day with donkey rides for the kids.
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I am still a few days behind on the blog but it is 12:30 am and I need sleep! I will try for another entry tomorrow to cap off our time in Bruges.

Cheers from Amsterdam!
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Posted by familyineurope 23:13 Comments (0)

Bamberg and Bruges

Luging, biking, animals, and exploring

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It's been many days since I've written a thing. We are in Belgium now for our week long farm stay. This relaxing place draws you in and has finally made me slow down the pace of our vacation. We've been in Europe for a month now and have enjoyed slowing down a bit. Our friends from Warsaw have joined us in Belgium for the week so we are having a particularly good time.

Let me back up a bit and describe the days before Belgium.

Day 24 - Drive from Berlin to Bamberg

Berlin was huge, exciting, and tiring. We were ready to move on to somewhere quieter, Luckily, we had picked a small brewery/inn located about 30 minutes from Bamberg. We drove for around four hours on speedy German autobahns and checked into Lowenbrau inn for two nights.
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It was a nice afternoon so we decided to check out a nearby luge. What fun! We raced down a small hill on tracks. We all loved the speed and setting. Some of the little German boys kept trying to take cuts in line. DD#1 held up her foot to keep them in line. Of course the luge park had a biergarten with yummy bratwurst.
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We headed back to our inn and walked about one kilometer to the inn's biergarten in the woods - Lowenbrau Keller. The setting was perfect! Playground, trees, lots of happy Germans, and delicious food and beer. DD#1 broke a flip-flop on the walk back and DD#2 had had enough walking for a while, but we still managed to have a nice evening. Our room was on the top story of an old building with plenty of room to spread out.
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The toilet had the best sign of the entire trip!
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Day 25 - More Luging, FIsh, Caves, and Bamberg

We woke up and enjoyed our favorite German breakfast of the trip! So many choices of meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, eggs, baked goods, and a cool automatic espresso machine. We took our time filling up and savoring our last couple German breakfasts.
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We drove about an hour to a pretty mountain town called Pottenstein. We were eager to try a much longer luge and bobsled run. The runs were fast and exciting unless you got stuck behind a slowpoke.
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We drove a little bit further down the road in search of a snack and found a yummy smoked fish place and fish hatchery. Kind of funny to eat the same fish that we later fed. At least we knew it was fresh!
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Next to the fish place was a cave that was open for tours. We joined a German group and went up and down about 400 steps checking out the stalagtites and stalagmites.
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We were hungry for a snack and needed a few items: shampoo, ice packs (I left an ice pack in Berlin. Oops. Needed for the vast amount of chocolate we have purchased!) We found a grocery store where we pushed a bakery button and out popped a pretzel or a croissant! Pretty cool!

We continued on to Bamberg to check out the beautiful city and hopefully eat dinner. Unfortunately, the kids were wiped and cranky. We decided to take a few pictures, add Bamberg to our list for our next trip to Germany, and eat at the hotel restaurant instead. All and all, a wise decision.
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Day 26 - Drive from Bamberg to Bruges

We had a long drive to Bruges - around 7 hours. I was thankful that this was our last long drive of the trip. We had hoped to find a grocery store en route to stock up our kitchen for the week. Unfortunately, all grocery stores in Germany and Belgium are closed on Sunday - at least all the ones we found. We probably wasted an hour of driving around trying to find an open store.

We arrived at our cute farmhouse in Bruges which would be home for the week. Our friends from Poland joined us for what would be a great week exploring and catching up. We found a nice place for dinner on our first night that had a great outdoor play area for the kids. I so wish we had more kid-friendly restaurants with good food in the US. It seems like such a simple concept!
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We enjoyed visiting the many animals on the farm: bunnies, donkeys, horses, sheep, chickens, birds, cats, etc... More pictures to follow.

Day 27 - Rainy day in Bruges and an awesome lightning storm

We slept in (again) and decided to hit the nearby bakery that we enjoyed three years ago. It was delicious just as we had remembered. I accidentally ordered a pate croissant of some kind with some sort of liver product. Gross! I thought it was some sugary goodness. We've had a few culinary misses on this trip.
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We settled in at the farm, played some ping-pong, visited some critters, and finally drug ourselves to the huge Carrefour Hypermarket for a big grocery run. The beer aisle was particularly impressive. Tons of great beer for far more affordable prices than home. We stocked up.
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We cooked an easy pasta/salad dinner, enjoyed catching up and settling into our home for the week.
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I am a couple of days behind but will catch up soon with more pictures and updates from Bruges. Even though we're taking things a bit slower at this point of our trip, we are still managing some fun day trips.

Posted by familyineurope 00:39 Comments (2)

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