A Travellerspoint blog

Last Days in Bangkok

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After four days, Bangkok was actually beginning to feel slightly more manageable. We are falling into some travel routines and feeling really comfortable with our hotel. We've taken more taxis in the last few days than we have in all our lives. Most taxi rides are around $3.

We started our Monday at Kidzania. We walked through three mega malls to finally find the place up on the top corner of Siam Paragon. Mall culture is really a thing here. DH had some time to himself in the malls and took a few pictures.

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Meanwhile, the kids and I had quite a day at Kidzania. Kidzania is an entire city set up and run by kids. They receive their own currency to spend at various stores and can earn money doing jobs around the town. The kids earned money as newscasters, fashion models, parcel delivery people, soccer players, and more jobs that I'm forgetting. They could spend their money getting nails done, bottling Coke, learning how to make sushi, rock climbing, etc... They loved it! We were there for hours and hours. Kidzania has several locations in various countries, but none in the US. I was impressed with the concept and found the employees friendly and helpful. It was well worth the somewhat steep admission fee.

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After our relaxing day indoors, I was able to ditch my family to meet up again with my friend Pen. What a great evening we had! We caught up for hours at a swanky place called Long Table where we had the most amazing view over Bangkok. We watched a menacing storm come in and compared our memories about college and all that has happened since. I feel so lucky that we were able to reconnect after so many years! DH and the kids had a relaxing night at the hotel and enjoyed that great street food that we discovered the day before.

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On our last full day in Bangkok, we set out to the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm. It's the second snake farm of its kind (after one in Brazil) and is quite a full-scale operation run by the Red Cross. They do some serious research here and have created a great experience. None of us are big fans of snakes but couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually see a venon milking demonstration. No kidding! We saw an enormous number of snakes from all over. It doesn't make me particularly eager about hiking in Thailand.

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I'm still in awe at the traffic in Bangkok! Check out how the motorcycles weave their way in and out of the cars to get to the front of every red light.

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I have a lot to learn about Buddhism. These mini altars are absolutely everywhere in Bangkok. There are two just outside our hotel. People hang flowers, leave food or small valuables, or burn incense to build merit or good will.

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After the snake farm, we headed to the Jim Thompson house to see some traditional Thai architecture and learn a bit about the silk trade. The 40 minute tour was interesting and the jungle-like gardens were lovely. I think I got more out of this attraction than the rest of my family. (Big yawn award from the kids.)

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On the way back to the hotel, we found yet another mall area with a local chain restaurant called MK. It was actually quite good and affordable. (Around $12 for what we thought was a pretty nice lunch.)

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After our usual afternoon break for swimming and regrouping, we took two boats to a trendy riverside market area called Asiatique. Naturally, it was way bigger than we expected. There were countless restaurant and shopping choices. I could have spent all day there! DD#2 and I rode the huge ferris wheel (much like Seattle's Great Wheel) at sunset. We found a random Thai place for dinner, did a little shopping, and took a taxi ride home.

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Random: Poor DD#1 has awful swelling from mosquito bites. The rest of us haven't even noticed mosquitos in Bangkok! We have had to buy two pair of lightweight pants for the poor kid and visit a local pharmacy for some itch relief. She's a trooper!

In the morning, we will pack, and head to the airport to take a short flight up north to Chiang Mai. From there, we will head another 90 minutes north to Chiang Dao. It should be a completely different experience from Bangkok. I can hardly wait!

Posted by familyineurope 19:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Just another day in Bangkok. Amazing!

Grand Palace, Wat Pho, monitor lizards (Yikes) & a German Brewery

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What a day! We got an early start ready to take on two of Bangkok's most popular attractions: The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. After breakfast, we took the hotel's tuk-tuk to a pier along the Chao Phraya River. We took a boat up the river to reach the Grand Palace. There was a lot of action along the river - tourist boats, tugboats hauling huge amounts of cargo, commuters, etc...

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Once we arrived at the Grand Palace, we were swept away by hordes of tour groups. It was hard to stick together! We battled our way to the ticket area and despite dressing in what we thought was appropriate, DD#1 and I were pulled aside and asked to borrow a t-shirt. We had scarves covering our shoulders and apparently that was not modest enough. (Yes, we are wearing the exact same thing that we wore two days ago!) We borrowed some ugly shirts and continued to fight through the crowds in the intense heat. Luckily, once we got into the palace complex, things opened up and we could finally appreciate why this place is so popular!

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The detail on every single surface was breathtaking. It was hard to take in so much at once!

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The girls loved walking around taking selfies. It took their mind off the heat and crowds a bit.

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One thing I keep noticing about Bangkok are all the extremes. Whether it's the heat, the rain, the crowds, the number of street vendors, the size of the markets and malls, the traffic - it's all extreme! Despite all the chaos, none of the Thai people seem worried a bit. They go about their business with a smile and seem unfazed by what seems extreme to me. I'm also trying to figure out the extremes in terms of prices. I paid just over $2 for lunch on the street today and it was amazingly delicious! We went to a fancier place for dinner and paid closer to $60. The same holds true for shopping and hotel accommodations. You can pay bargain basement prices or pay through the roof for luxury. These are simply observations I've made after my three days here.

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Back to our day. After the Grand Palace, we walked to a park on the way to Wat Pho. DD#2 was excited to play on some play structure that looked enticing. We found the entrance to the park and walked near a pond with a disused fountain. We saw not one but three monitor lizards swimming and lounging near the fountain. Eeek! These lizards are about as long as an adult human and are known for being quite fast. DD#1 was scared out of her mind so we took a couple quick pictures and ditched the park!

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We found our way into the impressive and less-crowded Wat Pho. This wat is most known for its enormous reclining gold Buddha. The detail and architecture all around the wat complex was beautiful. Not as glitzy as the Grand Palace but more accessible and peaceful. Both spots were a photographer's dream.

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By this point, we were thirsty and had consumed eight bottles of water. We found an air-conditioned coffee shop and bought cold drinks. We took the boat back the pier and made our way to our hotel all by 2pm. I bought delicious food on the street right around the corner from the hotel for $2. Some of the best Pad Thai ever!

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The kids and I swam for a long time and we managed to relax all afternoon. We decided to take a taxi to a German Brewery just south of the city that we had heard about from our friends. The place was huge! There was a cover band performing everything from Barry Manilow, Maroon 5, to Sinatra. They were pretty entertaining! We had a nice leisurely meal with a bizarre mix of German and Thai food. The kids were happy to get a balloon. Just when you think they're getting too old for something, they surprise you. At eleven, DD#1 isn't ready to say no to a balloon. Good for her!

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Posted by familyineurope 09:51 Comments (1)

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 (9)

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 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

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