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..
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.
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!
Still find it so neat that restaurants have such nice play areas.
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.
DD#2 and I rode bikes to the nearby bakery for some treats. Yummy baked goodies!
We did a little swimming at the farm pool.
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.
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.
We bought delicious chocolates and had a pizza lunch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Funny tram rules.
We enjoyed an Indonesian lunch. Indonesian food is very popular in The Netherlands.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
On a lighter note, we saw some beautiful canals, funny cars, and enjoyed wandering in the Jordaan neighborhood.
We stopped a cute cafe and had a drink right along the canal. Perfect!
After some agonizing packing (actually not as bad as I thought it would be), we enjoyed our last dinner in Amsterdam.
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.
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!