Monday, October 5, 2015


Despite the history and literary lustre of London, Amsterdam was the highlight of this trip for me. Perhaps it was because I got to adventure a little bit on my own during this portion of our vacation, while Paul attending a two day conference (the entire reason for our trip in the first place.)  Our hotel was quite a distance from the city of Amsterdam, in Noordwijk, a beach town on the coast.  Therefore I had to take the city bus to Leiden, a larger city, and then take the train to Amsterdam.  I don't mean to sound like a diva, but I personally have never had to take a city bus by myself.  Anywhere.  Much less in an unfamiliar European country.  Other big cities I've visited I've been with someone who knew the ropes and was with me.  I've never lived in a city where it was the norm to commute that way, and have always had a vehicle to get places.  So this was all new to me!  A bit scary - and awesome.

So both days that I had to myself went a little like this.  Get up slowly (a luxury I rarely never get) then head to the hotel gym for a workout, shower and get ready in a leisurely fashion, then muster up the courage to go out into the unknown - on my own.  Obviously, the first day was the most daunting.  You should have seen me trying to look like a local at the bus stop.  Inwardly I was geeking over the whole concept.  "I don't have to deal with traffic!  I can read my book while I get where I am going!  I can enjoy the scenery!  Look!  They have cool screens to tell me exactly when the bus will get here!"  Yes, ridiculous, but I was really pumped.  Then I got on the bus and almost shouted to the driver with joy, "I need a ticket to Leiden Centraal!" He humored me by not outwardly rolling his eyes, and helping me find the correct amount of Euros in my palm.

My first bus experience was good - meaning uneventful.  Got to Leiden and went to a coffee shop for sustenance, since I had been too nervous to eat any breakfast.  Then it was off to buy my train ticket, and after determining I was not tech savvy enough to work the electronic ticket kiosk (actually, a helpful local told me I'd be better off finding the info booth and buying it there - doh) I got the ticket and headed to my platform.  To make sure it was perfectly obvious I was a tourist I took a "train station selfie" :
adventuring solo - train platform selfie with coffee
When I arrived at Amsterdam central station and headed out of the train station it was love at first sight.  I don't know exactly what it was, but I think there are some places you just know you are going to have a connection with.  The bicycles (I don't ride a bike) and the fragrant aroma of marijuana (I've never smoked it) overtook me in quite a positive way.  Kind of made me want a cute old bicycle to ride around on and partake in some weed!

I did neither 'quintessential Amsterdam' activity, but enjoyed walking all around the city all the same.  I stopped and shopped wherever I wanted to.  Spent an hour in a bookstore.  Walked through the Tulip Museum.  Walked past the two-hour long line at the Anne Frank house and decided to pass on that.  Enjoyed the artsy vibe on Spui Straat.
I found this city so interesting.  Chic, a bit gothic, edgy, pretty, clean, fun! 
just one of the many shopping areas - teeming with tourists and 'coffee shops' - which I learned means 'places to smoke weed' 
a massive array of bicycles greets you outside the train station
  Love the buildings here!  
pretty canals.
geeked over all the brick herringbone streets. 
old gothic church.
I didn't really care to do my hair that day, so...hello forehead!  
The second day on my own went pretty much like the first.  Except after getting ready I walked down by the sea for a while, despite the wind and the drizzle.  None of my crazy selfies turned out, as trying to hold an umbrella in the wind while taking a selfie is a recipe for disaster, but I love the shots I got of the other brave souls on the beach, dogs and a their people.
our hotel by the sea, where hubby's training was held. so imposing in this shot!
I went walking by the "Zuider Zee" as one of our children's books refers to it.  I wasn't the only one!  Dogs and other folks with umbrellas.
yes, I obviously filtered these.  but the pinkish glow captures the feel of the morning.
After walking along the shore a bit and collecting some shells for the kiddos, I headed to the bus stop for day two of Amsterdam adventuring.  Somehow I managed to miss my bus, so I ran to the next one and actually stood in the correct place.  This started off a much less smooth day of public transit - I missed my bus, took the wrong train once, sat in first class accidentally and got booted back to second, etc, etc.  Literally, I made any mistake that can be made, but only because I felt more comfortable and spent more of my time reading my book than paying attention.  So since I had no real agenda and had already walked Amsterdam I wasn't too stressed!  

That night at dinner, when Hubby was finally done with his conference, we went to a little Mexican by the beach and recapped our very different experiences over beer and margaritas.  We ate inside, away from the cold and drizzle, with the heaters...but it sorta gave us a reminder of Mexico!

Morning had us packed up sharing a car into the city with one of Hubby's co-horts at the conference.  After two days on the bus, I have to say that a car suddenly seemed like a luxury.  We enjoyed the first sunny day we had on our trip, whirling past tulip fields and windmills.

After dropping off our bags at our hotel near the airport, we rode the train to Amsterdam and got to have a full day together seeing everything...which, independent as I am, is just more fun.  We didn't really "do" much, just walked around, stopped for beers when thirsty at cafes by the canals, soaking in the sunshine, fresh air, and vibe of the city.  
I decided to go with an "authentic Dutch lunch" - ummmm...whatever this was, it was not my favorite.  Inside this fried thing was what I can only describe as "weird pudding with meat chunks in it."  This trip was not a "foodie dream" but at least we drank plenty of delicious beer. :)
the goat cheese salad was good, though!

adventuring solo was exciting, but adventuring with hubby is most fun of all.
The highlight of that day, and perhaps the whole trip, was walking through the Van Gogh Museum.  I am one of those people who could not paint a decent painting to save my life, but have always loved art.  Like so many, I've felt a deep connection with van Gogh's iconic paintings and bold, unique brushstroke style since taking art history, art writing and various other humanities courses in college, and having prints of his famous images all over my apartments during my single days.  I have connected with his work in that his story involves his struggle with depression, which I can intimately relate to, and find so beautifully and hauntingly captured in his work.

Seeing his masterpiece 'Sunflowers' up close and personal was beyond moving.  Obviously I highly recommend going through this museum if ever in Amsterdam!

Anyway, we bought some (cheap) art in the museum district to remember the day by, and then, feet aching, headed to find a cafe for dinner.  It just so happened my dinner came with potatoes, which I found really nerdy-cool after viewing van Gogh's collection.  Also ironic because we are pretty much the opposite of "the potato eaters."

Early the next morning we headed home to the US, to our babies, and some warmth and sunshine...all of which I couldn't help feeling deeply grateful for.

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Soooo...have you been one place this year that you've never been before?   Where would you go if you could choose any one place in the world to take a trip?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Everyone keeps asking me, "How was your trip?  What was your favorite part?" 
Valid questions.  Hubby and I recently spent eight days in Europe - specifically London and Amsterdam.  An amazing trip.  It's been a little hard for me to articulate in blurb conversations what such a huge trip was like.  Small talk really doesn't do it justice.  Does small talk do anything justice? 
 I am not a big fan (and am terrible at) small talk.  
So - if you want a real answer, a good answer, a complete answer that is not interrupted by my two toddlers dragging me off to look at something or get them something or whisper "secrets" in my ear (Finola's latest thing) - then this post shall serve as an answer to that question that I've tried to answer since we got back...
I really did enjoy London.  Hubby says he loved it and even ranks it above NYC (which is pretty blasphemous if you ask me.) 
London is iconic.  Everything is super cool - because you've seen it in a million movies and read about it in countless novels (uh, particularly if you have a brit lit obsession.) 
It is cool on movies, and yes, it is very cool in real life.
We had three days there, and did as many quintessentially 'tourist' things as we could.
We left Detroit at 6pm, got to London at 6am, was a 6 hour flight.  (Yeah...uh, I was confused, too.)
So after barely getting three hours of sleep, we arrived at London-Heathrow Airport and had to get into "sightseeing mode" as our plan was to power through the entire day, and perhaps go to bed early to get on "London Time."

It was rough, but after getting some coffee I was ready to go!
We rode 'the tube' to Covent Garden, the area we were staying in.  Basically, the theater district.  It seemed right off the bat a great place to have our home base, as it was close to everything.  
me on the tube (underground - you know, 'mind the gap' and all) with my coffee
Then we went to grab some breakfast.  
Just so you know, British breakfast food a wee bit different than American.
"Overhard" translates to sunny side up, that's a grilled tomato, and yes, those are baked beans in the middle.  I gobbled most of this right up.   I was famished.
"Bacon" is grilled ham (really good!) A "stack of pancakes" comes with about 1 TB of maple syrup (a bit dry!)
The only time you'll see my hubby drinking tea. pinky up, of course!
Running on barely any sleep and a whole lotta caffeine.  The earl grey helped, slightly.
We dropped off our stuff and headed out to hop on a double-decker bus for the sight-seeing tour.  It was super cold and drizzly, but we managed some windy selfies and pics looking up at whatever we were driving past...

phone booth fun!

Paul then fell asleep on the bus.  I also wanted sleep.  We are clearly not hard-core.  So we went back to our hotel and napped sitting in chairs in the business lobby until our room was finally ready at 3pm.  Where we slept some more, and had much-needed showers. Then we went out for...wait for and chips!  Obviously.

The next day we set out to walk all about London with zero agenda.  That is my favorite kind of day on vacation - no rush or no schedule!  Random adventuring.

We went on foot all day -  through Trafalgar Square, shopping at Jubilee Market, peeking in Neal's Yard, passing through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace, strolling by the Thames, crossing London Bridge, checking out Big Ben again, and then finally, we rode the London Eye (huge ferris wheel with amazing views!)
eating a bratwurst at Jubilee

walking across the Thames - whhhhhhy don't we have a selfie stick (everyone else did!)
outside Buckingham Palace

of course there were pigeons.
Red Wing Shoes is everywhere! (my hometown)

totally geeked over the vibrantly colored shops all about London
lovely lime green door
Neal's Yard - just a colorful little corner of Covent Garden (aka hipster central!)
Neal's Yard
This would be pretty sweet if I were a huge monty python fan.  Or one at all.
stopped for a beer/foot rest at a random pub - drank my first 'Strongbow' - mmmm!  
Westminster Abbey - was a cool tour and I got to geek over the "Poet's Corner"
drinking beer before the "Eye" in the champagne lounge (I know, weirdo.)
our guide/bartender in 'the eye' 
That night we went out for a dinner at a nice steak place with a cool 'basement vibe.'  Food was apparently amazing, but after all my "day drinking" I was not feeling great.  After dinner we took had our first "rickshaw" experience...which felt fun on my queasy tummy!

The next day we toured Westminster, ran through Hyde Park, Paul went back to Neal's Yard and got a ma-ssage (said in Austin Power's voice) and I nursed my blisters from all the walking I did stacked heel boots.  Ouch.  Pretty sure we ordered pizza that night and watched a Bond movie in our room. Bliss.

Then, in the early morning we got up to Uber it to the train station.  I couldn't find any Platform 9 3/4 but I did read some Harry Potter on the way to Amsterdam!  (This trip was amazing for me in that I actually got to finish three-ish books...which would typically take me about a year in real life.)
On the train to Amsterdam! I figured if I was gonna be "obvious American" I had to go all out.
Amsterdam recap coming up next!