A Travellerspoint blog

August 2014

Last post - Belgium, Amsterdam & final thoughts.

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.
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!

Posted by familyineurope 11:53 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

Biking, Beaches, and Bruges!

The days are a blur but here goes...

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.
I spotted a can of these goodies at the frite stand. Hmmm...
Random - another culinary miss from our trip. I thought these would be BBQ chips. Nope. They really were meat flavored. Gross.
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.
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.
Belgian park and ride.
Good night ladies.

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.
We stopped part way for waffles and beverages.
The ride took us by windmills, along canals, and through forests. I loved it!
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.
A pretty night on the farm.

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.
The best part of the brew tour was the view from the roof-top. Perfect!
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!
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.
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!
To top that off, we ended the day with donkey rides for the kids.
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!

Posted by familyineurope 23:13 Comments (0)

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