Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 11: Den Haag

Thursday, July 21 2011

After a simple breakfast of toast and cheese, Desiree dropped us off in downtown Den Haag.  We did some shopping (there’s apparently a dinnerware line called Blond Amersterdam that is totally cute….however, I don’t see Adam wanting to register for such  super-girly dinnerware.  Kat bought an egg stand….too cute!) , checked out the local book market (only on Thursdays), and visited the Maurithaus, where we saw Verneer’s famous painting The Girl with a Pearl Earring.  This was definitely the highlight of Den Haag for me.  

We also bought our Museum Pass here; the museum pass is good for one year and gives you access to all the major museums in the Netherlands, including the Anne Frank house, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum.  I might talk Adam into spending part of our honeymoon next June in Holland, so I can use my Museum Pass again J

Desiree picked us up at our designated pick-up spot (on the steps across from the flags….can’t miss it!).

She was so great to drive us around; we did not have to take the bus or tram once.  I was brave and decided to play piano for her, which actually wasn’t too bad.  My self-esteem is mostly still intact.  She wanted to read through a duet together….so I obliged.  My sight-reading is awful!  We made it through part of Schubert’s Fantasie in F Minor before I threw in the towel.  I love hearing how excited she gets about music.  She’s 80-something and still takes piano lessons at the conservatory!  You have to admire that about her.  She’s very passionate about music.  So much so, that I feel a little ashamed about not knowing more repertoire.  For our entire stay with her, she had music going.  She’s a big fan of Brahms and Schubert.  I’ve since decided to learn some of the Schubert duets; if we ever meet again, I’ll be ready J
 She prepared a delicious (and vegetarian, of course) dinner for us.  Those were probably the tastiest stuffed bell peppers (which she calls paprika) I have ever had.  After dinner, we caught part of the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice.  No offense to Kiera Knightly, but this is undoubtedly the best version for people who adore the book.  Yes, it’s long, and Mrs. Bennet and the younger sisters will just about drive you nuts, but it’s true to the book.  And it has Colin Firth J

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 16-17: Amsterdam

I've been without wifi access for over a I definitely have some catching up to do.  I'm only able to access basic (a.k.a. SLOW) internet on my Kindle, hence all the typos in previous posts.

We left Katherine's Opa's house in Zuidwolde yesterday morning.  We took the train from Hoogeveen to Amsterdam, switching in Amersfoort....not that you wanted that much detail ; )

We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal and took the tram to our hotel, the Eden Amsterdam American Hotel.  I didn't realize when we booked this hotel that it was just across the canal from the hotel my family and I stayed last summer (for our one night in Amsterdam).  I should have known, since both are right next to Leidseplein.  This square is great for a cafe lunch and people watching.  And there's always some form of entertainment going on--anything from rope climbing to accordion players.

Anyway, it was nice staying in a hotel for once.  Unlike some of our hostels, we had a room with a toilet and shower!  You don't realize what a luxury that is until you have to climb a flight of stairs to get to one.
We decided to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Cafe American.  It was definitely memorable....Katherine and I were seated near the windows, also where the radiators are.  Note:  this is a very old building.  We had just placed an order when I noticed something scurrying by....just a few feet away.  I have never seen a mouse in a restaurant before!  Katherine immediately went to tell our server; however, there was a bit of a language barrier.  She was trying to tell him about the mouse, and he thought we were asking for milk.  Oh well.  They couldn't really do anything about the mouse, I suppose, so they moved us to a different table.  We had a great time watching other diners when they discovered the mouse.

We spent the afternoon museum-hopping.  I have been looking forward to seeing the Van Gogh Museum.  We saw some of his most famous paintings such as The Potato Heads, Wheatfield with Crows, Sunflowers, and (one of my favorites) The Almond Blossoms
Note:  a little pre-trip research would have revealed that his most well-known painting Starry Night is not kept in the Van Gogh Museum.  Looks like I'll be needing to take a trip to NYC for that one.  

We also visited the Rijksmuseum where we saw more displays of Rembrandt's and Vermeer's paintings (we also visited the Maurithuis in Den Haag last week).  We bought our Museum Passes at the Maurithuis for about 45 euros each.  This allowed us to get into all the major museums in the Netherlands, and we were even able to skip the ticket line at the Van Gogh Museum.  It's really worth your money if you plan on visiting 5-6 museums.  We were only able to visit 4, but the pass is good for one year, so there's a chance I could use it next June if Adam and I plan on venturing into the Netherlands : )

Thursday morning, we got up bright and early (which isn't difficult, seeing as how it gets bright here really early), grabbed our Starbucks, and took the tram to the Anne Frank House.

You can even do a virtual tour of the Secret Annex on the museum's website.  The story of Anne Frank is worth knowing, and I don't think a trip to Amsterdam is complete without visiting it.  It's incredible to walk through the tiny rooms of the secret annex and imagine 8 people living there.  The museum has done a wonderful job of preserving these rooms.  The pictures that Anne pasted to the wall are still there, reminding us that even though she was living during this dark time in history, she was still very much a little girl, cutting pictures out of celebrity magazines.  
Anne Frank Statue
Our guide books had told us the museum opened at 10, so we were in line hoping to get a good place in line.....
....we still had about a 35-minute wait, which isn't bad, seeing as how it's typically and hour wait to get inside to buy your ticket.  When we left, the line was much worse, almost wrapping around the church on the other side of the street.
Westerkerk (Western Church....I think is the translation) was right next door, so we decided to check it out. This is the church where coronations and other royal events take place.  It is also the church where Rembrandt is buried.  I feel sorry for the organist who had to practice with all the tourists listening in, though.....but I'm sure he's used to it.
We didn't realize that the train ride from Amsterdam to Brussels would take nearly 3 hours, so after a quick cafe lunch in Leidseplein, we gathered our luggage and took the tram to Centraal Station.
We are now in Brussels.  I have enjoyed this trip, but 3 weeks is a LONG time to be away from home.  I have this horrible feeling that there's somewhere I need to probably comes from these dreams where everyone else has returned to school, and I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic.  I am ready for school to start, yet dreading it at the same time.  I think I am mostly just wanting a return to reality : )  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 10: Den Haag

We spent the morning with Frank. Ada had to work. We went to downtown Leiden and did some shopping in the market. Frank say he has an egg McMuffin every Wednesday morning...he skipped the we got to go to our first European McDonalds. Their McFlurries are made with fruit and waffle cone chips...why don't we have that? That would be much better than oreos!

We passed a dessert shop. Frank asked us if we wanted to pick some up for our lunch. Naturally we said yes...with the assumption that the pie would follow a sandwhich...Nope! We had pie for lunch. And it was delicious.

This afternoon, Frank drove us to Den Haag. We'll be staying here for the next 3 nights with Katherine's great aunt Desiree. She is a character, let me tell you! I think we're really going to enjoy staying with her. Almost as soon as we had arrived, she had pulled 2 old bikes from the shed, handed us maps, and pointed us in the direction of the beach. I have not ridden a bike in YEARS! I guess it's true what they never forget how to ride. However, for me, getting on was a bit feet were no where close to touching the ground...and the bikes were so old (er...vintage, I mean) that the seat couldn't be least the breaks sort of worked. We found our way to the beach, and after a 5-minute stroll, we realized that clothing was optional...we were on a nude beach. No pictures will be added to this post later.... : )

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 8-9: Leiden

Yesterday, Frank and Ada drove us to Den Haag. After showing us parliament, the American embassy, and the Queen's residence, we had lunch at a local brown cafe. I ordered my first meal in Dutch (after a quick lesson by Frank and Ada). We spent the afternoon at a museum, of which I'll have to look up the name, that had miniature displays of all the major landmarks and historical buildings in the Netherlands.Pictures will be added later :)

Before we left the house, Frank called us over for our morning tea break. Ada had picked up some tom pouce at he bakery. This is a traditional Dutch sweet, and we had been warned that there is a very specific way to eat it. Using a fork or spoon would be a disaster! The top layer is a hardened icing...not not too sweet...with a thin layer of flaky crust. You have to lift this layer and eat it first. The layer beneath is like a thick vanilla trying to using a spoon for both layers would be an absolute mess.

We went with Frank this morning to the local market, where we both bought our own packages of stroopwafel. I might need a second suitcase to fill with stroopwafels! They're so good. We went to the grocery store and picked up food for lunch and dinner....even the grocery stores here are way cool. They've taken te self-checkout to a whole new level.

This afternoon they took us to the town of Oudewater. During the Middle Ages, people would come here from all over the Netherlands, even other countries, to get a certificate to prove they were not a witch. From 1450-1650, over 100,000 people were accused of witchcraft. 50,000 of them were found guilty and burned at the stake, most of them women. The Weigh-house in this village was the best pace to go to get this certificate. Witches were though to be really light (that is why they could fly), so people who weighed less than the normal amount, could be tried as a witch...and usually forced to endure other tests and torture. Today you can still go and have yourself weighed on the original instrument and get your certificate. Katherine and I both passed the test, in case you were worried : )

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 5-6: Leiden, Netherlands

We arrived at the station in Leiden at 11:30 yesterday morning. Frank and Ada were there to pick us up. I believe Frank is Katherine's dad's first cousin. I really like them. They have been the best tour guides. They took us for a walk around the center of Leiden. It's like taking a step back in time. Most of these buildings hav been here for centuries and are still being used today. Leiden has some EXCELLENT shops, if shopping is what you're looking for. We were on top of the 900-year-old citadel, called de Burcht, when we heard the bells in the tower chime. It was so pretty! It was so nice to hear the bells play an actual song rather than just a single chime (no offense to Big Ben--that was cool too). Frank and Ada took us to a pancake house for lunch. Apparently, Dutch pancakes are much thinner and much larger than our pancakes. Oh, and you're not limited to butter and syrup. Oh no. And if you think chhese is a weird choice for a pancake topping...well, then you are just going to have to try it for yourself. My pancake had cheese, ham, and pineapple. I may never be able to eat at iHop again. I may also never be able to drink coffee from McDonald's again...or maybe even Starbucks. The coffee in Europe is AMAZING! It's much stronger than American coffee. I now understand why they make fun of American coffee.
Leiden is also known for its almhouses. It has 38, I believe. Almhouses are buildings with small apartments and a courtyard--usually reserved for widows or single women. These buildings have been around for centuries. Many of these buildings were left behind by people who had lost a daughter or family member, and wanted there to be a safe living space for those who needed it most.
Today, Frank and Ada took us to north Hollad to the town of Enkhuizen. This 17th century fishing village is now part of the Zuiderzeemuseum. We toured the different houses, which were set up much like they would have been hundreds of years ago. There are people here who continue to work in the shops. We saw one man making rope, and for €1, you cn help make you're own "skipping rope." We came across two mwn knitting a fishing net. (Yes, knitting. It's rare in the States to find a man who knits!) One tried to teach me how to knit, despite me warning him that I'm hopeless when it comes to knitting. I met the nicest postal worker. after we purchased our collector's stamps, he took us behind the door and showed us around. I purchased a small pair of wooden shoes and a Dutch-print handkerchief in the giftshop and a small wheel of cheese at the cheese warehouse.
And, I LOVE the food here. For our morning snack at a nearby "brown cafe," I had coffee with Gvulde koek--kinda a "cookie" with a type of alond filling. I do nt quite know quite how to describe this filling, but it was delish. For lunch I had a kroket. Katherine's dad told me I had to eat one of these. It's apparently a Dutch staple. It is deep fried, and the filling is a mixture of potato, finely chopped meat, and flour--it has almost a gravy-like texture. Ada told me to eat it first because they are not very good when cold. I highly recommend trying one.
I do have great pictures to go along with this post, but I'll be posting from my Kindle until I have wi-fi again. I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 5: Paris

I'm writing this post while riding on the train to Rotterdam.  I totally did not expect to have wi-fi on the Eurostar!

Yesterday was a busy day:
Our hostel was in the Montmartre district, so we weren't far from the Moulin Rouge.  Just 2 stops away via the Metro.
Next, we caught the RER train headed for Versailles.  A trip to Paris is not complete without seeing this palace.  It's absolutely gorgeous!  If I ever go again, I'd like to go during the low season....and especially not around Bastille Day!  This place was so crowded, we could barely move.  We did the palace tour, which also gets you access to the palace gardens.  However, the line to pick up our audio guide was almost as bad as the line to get into the we skipped that part.  We both (without knowing the other was doing it) downloaded biographies of Marie Antoinette to our Kindles--we'll read up on what we saw later : )
Note:  when taking the RER train to Versailles, you'll need to buy a different ticket (the tickets purchased as a caret do work for the RER trains, but only within the city limits.  When we got to the station at Versailles, our caret ticket would not work to get us through the turnstiles.)

We had lunch at a little cafe in the Gardens at Versailles.  I believe it was called La Girandole, Para du Chateau de Versailles.  

We then took the train back into the City of Paris, getting off at St. Michael's station.  We crossed the bridge and walked along the River Seine to our next destination.
Notre Dame
Visiting cathedrals is probably my favorite part about traveling in Europe.  It just amazes me that these monuments were built hundreds of years ago....I can't even fathom it!  All the detail--the statues, the stain glass, the ceilings--it's beautiful.  I can't imagine what it was like building this.  Or even more, designing it.  Once construction started, it took a couple of years.  How frustrating would that be to design something like this and never see the finished result?

We also visited the Concierge.  I was not familiar with this site, but it apparently was the palace back during the medieval/Renaissance age, before Versailles became the new royal residence.  When the royals left, it was turned into a prison.  This prison is now a popular tourist spot because of its significance during the French Revolution.  It is where Marie Antoinette was held prisoner.  We were able to visit her chapel, which is now located where her former cell was.

Our train is almost to Rotterdam.  I'll post more pictures later!
Overall, Paris was not my favorite destination.  It's so different from what you see in the movies.  My opinion:  it's dirty and mostly smells of urine.  I realize we were here on probably the worst possible day--hello, Bastille Day--along with the rest of the world.  The overly crowded sight-seeing took away from some of its charm.  And, Rick Steves says the Paris has the best subway system in Europe....I'm afraid I can't agree with him there.  Apart from it being smellier and dirtier, the Paris subway did not seem nearly as efficient as London's Underground, which had very clearly labeled signs and directions.
I'm not saying I won't give Paris a second chance.  I probably will someday.  I wish I had had more time to visit cafes and eat macaroons : )

So long for now!  Our Holland Adventure begins now : )

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 4: Paris


We caught the Eurostar from St. Pancras this morning at 8:55 and made our journey through the Chunnel to Paris.
Riding the Eurostar
A note for the future:  go ahead an buy the Metro pass they offer on the train.  As soon as we made it through the turnstiles, we were heckled by teenage girls,wanting us to sign something to support....something.    Luckily, we had read in our guidebooks some of the tricks these pick-pockets will attempt.  It was frustrating getting our tickets at the ATM-like machine (which wasn't taking our cards initially and only accepted coins) and making our way onto a very crowded train.  It's a good thing our hostel was only one stop away.
Le Regent

Our tiny room.  We have a sink.  There are dorm-style showers/toilets.
After checking in at the hostel, we headed for Champs de Elyseesi.  We had lunch at an adorable little cafe, Chez Clement, near the Arc de Triomphe.  I wasn't in a picture-taking mood today.  I guess I'm getting tired of looking like a tourist.  But my lunch was surely worthy of a picture.  It was delicious.  I had the Steak de Canard (duck steak with a green pepper sauce).  A glass of wine was 15 cents more than a glass of naturally I had both : )  The best part of lunch was probably listening in on the conversations going on on either side of us....although we didn't understand one word of it!

We decided to hit Paris by foot, crossing the River Seine on our way to the Eiffel Tower.

But guess what?  Today just happens to be Bastille Day.

Don't we just have the greatest luck?  At this point, the police were everywhere, blocking the roads leading to the tower.  Apparently there are to be some major fireworks.  Too bad we're too annoyed to bother watching them.  I have never in my life seen so many police.  I guess we'll try to get closer tomorrow.  We took a few pictures as we made our way back (only stopping at one patisserie along the way).

Hopefully tomorrow will turn out to be a better day for seeing the sights.

Au Revoir

London: Day 3

We began our day at Hyde Park and made our way to Kensington Palace.  I have never been inside Kensignton Palace before, but I didn't imagine it would be quite like this......
Apparently, they decided to do something a little more modern to attract tourists.  Our take on it?  A little weird.  It was like stepping into Alice's Wonderland, only no Johnny Depp.  This section of the palace has been open since 1898, and this year, they decided to create a new exhibit titled "The Enchanted Palace."  I wish I had photos to show, but alas, they weren't allowed.  The concept:  each room is devoted to a different princess.  We were given a map and clues as to what to look for in each room.  There was a poem for each princess.  Plus a lot of "enchanted" decor that didn't make much sense to was pretty trippy.  To me, the best part of visiting palaces and cathedrals/abbeys in Europe is seeing it as it has been for hundreds of years.  We just tried to look past all the weird stuff. 
The seven princesses were:
1. Mary
2. Caroline
3. Charolette
4. Victoria
5. Margarete
6. Dianna
7. Anne
"Look for us, we are all here, all seven of us."  Not creepy at all.....

Kensington Gardens

Our next stop was the mecca of all shopaholics:  Harrod's, a store so large, you need a map to navigate it.  No joke.  There are 6 levels total, each with different sections of merchandise.

  We spent a lot of time on the escalaters....almost too afraid to venture inside one of the rooms.

Especially when you see names like Dior, Prada, and Hermes...We found a few cool items.  One room was devoted to vintage movie posters.  For 700 pounds, you could have an autographed portrait of Ron or Hermione.  We picked up lunch at the massive food court on the ground level.  I was so hungry yet so overwhelmed by the amount of food in that room.  I must have wandered around for 15 minutes before I decided to go with a fresh broccoli and mozzarella salad, a spring roll, and a sample of something else....that I can not remember the name of.  Sorry, poor documenting on my part.

We then headed to Picadilly Circus with hopes of catching Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre....but that didn't happen.  Disappointed, we decided to head to Buckingham Palace.

We got to see the arrival of some very important visitor.  No idea who he was.  We were hoping to see Will and Kate : (

The Wellington Arch

We also chanced upon the "Loo of the Year."
I did a lousy job of taking pictures on our 3rd day in London.  Several of these Katherine took.  I just knew I had an extra pair of batteries in my "Mary Poppins Purse."  I can usually find anything I need in there.  But alas, no batteries.  So no pictures.

We returned to Hyde Park and found the Peter Pan Statue.  This was no easy task.  It was like a scavenger hunt.....and Hyde Park is huge!

We did get to see a show after all.  We went to Leichester Square and purchased 1/2-priced tickets.  We didn't have many choices, so we settled on Chicago.  The choreography was amazing!  The actress playing Velma Kelly and the actor playing Amos were our favorites; however, Christie Brinkley has apparently decided to step into Broadway, and we did not like watching her as Roxie Hart.  I'm not exactly how she got the part.....
We had dinner at Sartori, probably the most authentic Italian food I've ever had.  We ordered the margarita pizza...and wow....we Americans have really ruined pizza!  This pizza was so simple, but tasted better than any pizza I've ever eaten.  The staff were also the friendliest people we conversed with in London.  And get this:  wishes he had a southern American accent.....???  We found this extremely funny.

This brings an end to the London portion of our trip.  We're off to Paris next!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 2: London

I could spend a whole week in London alone.  There's so much to do!
We did have a few hangups this morning.  First of all, we overslept by an hour, but that turned out to be a good thing.  When we got to the Tube station, our travel passes, which we purchased with our London Passes, wouldn't go through.  The attendant told us that our passes wouldn't be good until 9:30.  We didn't get that important detail.  Note:  remember that for future trips to London! So we took a seat at the cafe next door and listened to a girl cuss out her boyfriend.  She was saying some pretty awful stuff....what is it about the accent that makes everything sound good?  Maybe that's just me.....Anyway.  Our hostel is definitely out of central London, so we finalized our touristy day plans in the 25 minutes we had to wait for our passes to be valid.

Another hangup:  we've only traveled by foot and Tube, and the line we needed was having major delays this morning : /  But we finally reached our destination:
The White Tower at the Tower of London
I think posts are better in pictures....
Traitor's Gate:  Prisoners were brought on a barge on the Thames.  They passed under London Bridge where the heads of recently executed where displayed on pikes....pretty gruesome!
Tower Green:  the execution site for many prisoners.  The best-known are the 3 Queens of England.  Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and  Lady Jane Grey.

A memorial for those who were executed.  Many of their names are listed around on the top circle.  The bottom reads "Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jeweled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies."  
I really enjoyed the Tower.  I'm obsessed with all things Tudor : )
We stood in a ridiculously long line to see the Crown Jewels, but it was well worth it.
I noticed a vendor in the courtyard while going into the Tower.  It looked too good....I couldn't resist!  It was even in a newspaper-print box.  Greg told me several years ago that it was traditionally wrapped in newspaper for you to eat on the go.  See?  Fast food has been around for ages.
Some tasty Fish & Chips.  I seasoned mine with vinegar and had a side of "white sauce," which turned out to be mayo.  Another side note:  it's not "ketchup. it's 'tomato sauce.'"
Headed a little farther west to check out some major touristy spots.
St. Paul's Cathedral.  One of my favs.  It's absolutely gorgeous!  Well done, Christopher Wren.
The things people will do to earn a
The Millenium "Wobbly" Bridge.
Wobbly Bridge & St. Paul's

Shakespeare's Globe.  They were sold out for tonight and tomorrow night : (  Might have a chance to catch a play on our return through London.

A Chopin board....get it? : )

Return to Westminster Abbey
We had the coolest experience:  we attended an organ recital at the Abbey.  I didn't know organ music could be so beautiful!  If you want to experience Westminster Abbey, this is the way to go.  The recital was 10 pounds but worth every pence ; )  You get to soak in all the beautiful architecture and design without the crowds...while listening to some amazing music.

On the program:
Bach:  Fantasia and Fugue in G minor
Fredrik Sixten:  Prelude and Fugue in memoriam Naurice Durufle
Walter G. Alcock:  Fantasie-Impromptu
Alexandre Guilmant:  Sonata V in C minor