A Travellerspoint blog

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 (0)

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 (1)

Berlin - the sun and the rain!

Day 22 - Exploring Berlin

Our goal of the day was to see some of the most important sights in Berlin. After another hearty German hotel breakfast, we bought a transit pass and enjoyed the double-decker buses. Of course we were always on the top!
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Our first stop was the Reichstag building. We had 10am reservations to enter the building and take elevators to the rooftop terrace. The dome was closed due to cleaning. Bad timing! We had to make advanced reservations and bring passports to enter because of security. It's sort of like visiting the US Capitol or the White House. The views were great!
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We meandered further on foot to the very moving Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. It almost felt wrong to take pictures. We did our best to explain the history to the kids but to this day, I still have trouble grasping the enormity of WWII.
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We continued to Brandenburg Gate. Probably the single most identifiable symbol in Berlin.
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We took the bus further and took great pictures around Berlin. We especially liked the stoplights with the famous ampelmann.
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Poor DD#2 got one of her infamous bloody noses. It was a such a hot day!
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We sampled chocolate from a famous chocolate shop (Fassbender & Rausch) with impressive chocolate art. Little did we know that this would be our 2nd favorite chocolate event of the day!
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These bears are all over Berlin:
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DD#2 and I climbed to the top of the French Cathedral while the other half found some curry wurst. Check out all those cranes! Loads of construction going on in Berlin.
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We took a short subway ride to the touristy Checkpoint Charlie. They hire actors to portray American soldiers. We spent about 10 minutes here but at least we can say we were there.
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We continued on to the Ritter-Sport Chocolate Museum and Store. Possibly our favorite stop of the day! We bought a ton of chocolate at great prices, the kids made their own custom chocolate bars, and we had ice cream. Chocolate heaven!
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We were tired so we headed back to the hotel for a break. DH was so hot and our humble pension did not have AC or even a fan to borrow. He trekked down to a department store and bought a fan so we could circulate some air around our hot room. We kept it easy and found a nearby beer garden along the Spree River for dinner. Berlin is great but like most big cities, they are exhausting!

Day 23 - Splitting up and Exploring Berlin, Part 2!

Kids were become restless and cranky. We decided to divide and conquer! DH and DD#1 took off for the Berlin Wall Memorial while DD#2 and I opted to shop, walk, and climb another tower.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church:
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Parts of the Berlin Wall:
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The Victory Tower in Tiergarten Park:
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Berlin's famous Curry Wurst for lunch:
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Despite the rain, we decided to check out one of Berlin's public pools for a swim.
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We continued on subway to a new neighborhood in East Berlin - Prenzlauer Berg for dinner. First we had apps at Prater Biergarten and dinner at Metzer Eck. I'm a big fan of Berliner Weiss. The choices were having it red or green. I opted for red both times. I think they throw in some berry syrup. All I know it that it's delicious!
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Posted by familyineurope 23:07 Comments (1)

More Gdansk and Warsaw

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It's been harder to keep the blog updated consistently on this trip. Our days have been full and we seem to get to bed later and later every night. The kids are starting to bicker more and are definitely a little sick of each other. We are making an effort to balance our days with fun activities for kids and adults. In Warsaw, we spent our last day at an aqua park and indoor playground. Yes, we are missing out on museums and adult experiences. The Warsaw Uprising Museum would have been great. But I also know that these years are fleeting and in ten years or so, finding parks and pools won't be a priority. In other words, I can go to lots of "boring" museums in coming decades. For now, racing down waterslides in Warsaw is pretty fun in its own right. (I have some crazy scrapes on my back to prove it!)

Day 19

We had a leisurely breakast at our place before walking down to a park en route to the center of Gdansk. Our agenda was pretty simple today - play at a park or two and wander the city.
Here is our apartment in Gdansk:
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We found another scenic park just down the hill.
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Of course I was happy to have not one but two towers to potentially climb! We chose the town hall tower with a great view of the largest brick church in the world. It can hold 25,000 people!
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While climbing the tower, we heard some amazing music. These two were the best accordian players I have ever heard!
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Why not have cotton candy made right on the street?
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We wandered around more, stopping wherever we wanted. I bought a pretty amber pendant. Amber is very popular all over Poland.
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We headed back to the apartment to relax and transition to the beach. It was Saturday and the buses were not running to the beach. We weren't motivated enough to drive. Traffic can be messy around here on weekends. We opted to relax for a couple of hours before dinner reservations. We ate at a delicious seafood restaurant. My favorite meal so far!
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After dinner, we strolled around a bit more and found what we all thought was the most scenic street in Gdansk.
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All and all, a great day exploring a neat city with friends.

Day 20 - Solidarity Shipyard, Gdansk Beach, Malbork Castle

We checked out of the apartment and headed to the solidarity shipyards which witnessed both the beginning and the ending of communism in Poland. A very powerful monument for those who lost their lives attempting to fight an evil government. We did not explore the area in depth but got an impression of the importance of these somewhat recent events.
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We found a nearby mall for a quick breakfast. The area around the old shipyard is being redeveloped into a somewhat trendy area.
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We drove to the beach in Gdansk and walked through the lovely Ronald Reagan Park to get there. The beach was very popular on this lovely Sunday. The beach was colder and had bigger waves than the one in nearby Sopot.
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Of course there was a great playground on our way back to the car.
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We drove about 45 minutes toward Warsaw and stopped at Malbork to see the largest brick castle in the world. Like many sights in Poland, the castle had been rebuilt after being bombed in WWII. Many sights have pictures posted of the devastation in 1945. The castle was definitely worth seeing.
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Our children were tortured at the castle!
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Our ambitious day had us heading back to Warsaw later than we had planned. Oops. It didn't help that the new speedy toll road had a 45 + minute wait just to pay the stupid toll! This put all of us in a bad mood. We were especially irritated that we had to eat at this weird high-tech McDonalds. You had to order at a machine and wait for your number to appear. It would have been kind of neat if it hadn't taken 20+ minutes for our number to appear! Oh well. We rolled into Warsaw after 11pm. Our friends were so nice to stay so long. We are on vacation and they had to wake up for work the next morning. Ouch!
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Day 21 - last day in Warsaw

We began our day at the nearby coffee shop before heading back to Wodny Park for more water fun. Big J was able to join us. We must have gone down the slides 40-50 times! It was really fun. To top that off, we headed next door to an indoor playground. Those slides were painful! The kids had a great time, of course.
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We took a bus back to the main part of town and found a delicious Hungarian restaurant. It reminded me to buy some paprika before I come home. I need to learn some basic Hungarian recipes. So delicious!
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Many stops for ice cream (lody in Polish) on these hot days.
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The kids were tired so DH took them back to the apartment to cool off and relax. I spent the next couple of hours wandering around Warsaw. I bought myself a new shirt, saw the Tomb for Unknown Soldiers, Palace of Fine Arts, and the modern Warsaw architecture. It was a good walk but reminded me of the giant size of this city! I had some tired feet.
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Our friends made us a great American hamburger BBQ for dinner. A perfect way to end our time in Warsaw. Luckily, we didn't have to say a long and dramatic goodbye because our friends will be joining us in Belgium next weekend!

Day 21 - Drive to Berlin

This will be the shortest entry yet. We left mid morning after DH skillfully loaded the trunk. I haven't been cut off from shopping yet! We braved the Polish autostradas one last time. DH will post a section soon about his experience driving in Poland. I refused to even try. We were stopped by the Polish police today after going through a toll plaza. DH thought he might have been speeding. They just wanted to see our car registration and passports. It made me nervous but they waved us on through after checking documents. We saw the aftermath of one bad accident on our way west. I had a hard time relaxing during this speedy 5 hour drive.

We arrived at our hotel in West Berlin around 4pm. Once we unpacked a bit and got our bearings, we found a recommended place for dinner. The food was delicious! It was our only real meal of the day so we were especially grateful to sit outside and relax. Prices were higher than Poland but we didn't really care after this long day in the car. The kids were great in the car. They had a hard time settling into our new place and getting to sleep. Moving place to place can be hard on them. It's also hot in Berlin and our budget accommodations is without AC or fans. We're on a mission to procure a fan for tomorrow night.
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It's nearly midnight and I'm caught up! We are looking forward to exploring Berlin for the next couple of days.

Posted by familyineurope 23:05 Comments (1)

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