Sunday, April 8, 2012

On Holiday: The Netherlands and Belgium

When our household items were delayed back in January and we were unable to move into our house, there were a few weeks that we really didn't have much to do.  We had already made a weekend trip to Bergen and there was so much snow that local travel was out of the question in our rental car. We (I) were on the verge of becoming whiny when Jeff had a brilliant idea (he's prone to these epiphanies) - let's plan our first European trip!  So, we did. 

First, we decided to go at the end of March since the weather had better chances of being decent (relative to Norway) and our move would for sure be finalized.  Then the fun part - where?!  I knew March wouldn't be the ideal time to go to many places in central Europe so we focused more on urban locations where the biggest draw would be the city.  Finally, it was decided - Amsterdam and Brussels! 

We really lucked out with weather - sunny, clear skies the entire time and only cold enough for a heavier jacket at night.  I hadn't dared go outside without my down parka for the past two months so this was a real treat! The only downside was that I now had to pay attention to what I was wearing since it wouldn't be hidden underneath a puffy coat.  Give a little, take a little.

Amsterdam was probably my favorite of the 4 cities we visited on this trip.  I loved the mix of canals, cafes, cyclists, and boats.  Everyone was very friendly, too, unless you stepped in the bike line. Do NOT step in the bike lane.  Jeff did and luckily he survived to tell the tale.

We ate at some great places in Amsterdam, too - Seasons, Envy, Pancakes Amsterdam, and Kantjil en deTijgre to name a few.  I can promise that we never went hungry.  We didn't have the courage to try a pickled herring sandwich, though... I think I'm okay with that.

One quick train ride from Amsterdam and we were in Belgium.  Our base was Brussels but we spent our first day in Ghent which is just 30 minutes outside of the city.  Our friend, Brittany, recommended we go and we are so glad we did!   Everything worth seeing is in one compact center so we just wandered the streets and referenced our handy Rick Steves guide book every now and then.

We spent our next full day in Bruges, another city center stuck in Medieval times.    This town has more tourists which has been noted as one of the negatives of seeing this city, but it didn't take away from our experience at all! Between the fantastic beer (do they brew a bad beer in Belgium?), taste-testing different chocolates, and the piping hot frites all set against a picturesque backdrop of spires and canals, how could one complain?

We wandered around Brussels on our last day and followed a Rick Steves city walk through the upper and lower towns.  The Grand Place is named appropriately and the tiny Mannekin Pis dressed up for us that day. 

Thank you Holland and Belgium for a wonderful first holiday!

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