Friday, November 29, 2013


The train ride to Amsterdam was the biggest adventure ever. We got to the station where we had to switch trains and nothing made sense. The announcement on the train said to go to one platform, the platform didn't list Amsterdam as a destination, and a man that worked for the station gave us other information. I've learned to not travel in Japan technology because makes any situation more stressful as my sweat begins to boil, but I can't get away from having the huge pack. I mean check this out, it's massive. And on this travel day, Sara and I bought beer as gifts and some for drinking so we had our hands full with heavy ass shit. Not a good combination for traveling. 

We made a friend with guy who was from San Mateo (a place that's like 25 minutes from San Francisco). He was a solo traveler who had been traveling since June. He claimed he had just graduated from high school, but he looked at least 28, so I'm not sure if he was lying. The train went for about 20 minutes until it stopped and an announcement was made in Dutch only. People didn't look happy so we weren't thinking it was too positive. We asked our neighbor and there was a fire in a tunnel that we needed to pass through so we could either wait or find an alternate route. At that time, a  Dutch guy heard our conversation and mentioned that he had found the alternate route. We got on a train back to the first station and then swapped over to another train. If we wouldn't have had this guy, I'm not sure we would have made it as fast as we did or, even at all. 

Right as we walked out of the train station, I knew I was going to like this city. There were beautiful lights everywhere (occupational hazard). The guy directed us to the tram we needed to take and we were at our apartment from Airbnb in no time. The place we stayed was small, but perfect for what we needed. It had a stovetop, fridge, bed, pull out couch, kitchen table, toilet and shower. We found a grocery store a couple doors down and stocked up for the next few days with vegetables, fruit, sandwich goodies, chicken breasts, snacks, and juice. It was my first home cooked meal in over 4 weeks and I could nearly cry. We had brussel sprouts, mushrooms, leaks, and onions sautéed together with grilled chicken. We paired it with some of our Brugge Zot that we had been transporting all day. 

We had read about a bar with live music on trip advisor and found out it was near our place. We walked over and it was closed. Apparently it didn't open till 10pm which was a huge change from Brugge. We walked around the area that was filled with people and found an Irish bar to pass the time. There was a soccer game on between Amsterdam and Barcelona that was a big championship game. We got into the culture with some local beer and cheered along with the other people in the bar. When Amsterdam won, the bar went crazy. We went back to the bar and it was open, but not filled yet. The band started shortly after and it was a great time. They sang Reggae, John Mayer, Sting, and other songs we were able to sing along with. 

A waitress walked over with a couple Heinekens that some guy bought us and they tasted awful. We did what any adults would do and left the bar to avoid him coming to talk to us. We went to a nearby Piano bar that we saw earlier. I immediately regretted coming to this place. We went from getting two beers for 7 euro to buying one drink for 9 euro. Plus, the bathrooms cost .50 euro. I am still not over having to pay for a bathroom in Europe. We grabbed some seats that were available and got ready to watch the piano man. Unfortunately, this place allowed smoking inside so it earned three strikes against it and we left when our drinks were finished. We realized I forgot my scarf in the bar with the band and snuck back in to grab it. Our beer was still sitting there and the guy that bought them found us and asked why we left them. Sara told him that we were big smokers and that we had been outside smoking. I thought it was a good excuse and she thought of it so quickly, but apparently the guy had gone outside to check where we went so our case was up. He went to the bar to grab his friend and Sara and I left. Sorry bud, we weren't interested. 

The next day we started with some homemade breakfast. I can't tell you how much Europeans suck at making eggs and bacon. I don't know how they do it, but it's just not good. At this time, I was nearing the 4 week mark, so eggs and bacon were big things. Here's the result.

After breakfast, we met up with one of my favorite Contiki friends, Janessa, for a walking tour around the city. We saw all parts of the city including the red light district, the old town, the Jewish quarter, and the Jordan district. There are more canals in Amsterdam than in Venice so it is really a beautiful city. 

From the tour I learned that Amsterdam used to own New York but traded it during a treaty signing. They got some place in Africa and lost New York. I think they lost that one... Also, we share the saying 'it's as American as apple pie' except they replace American with Dutch. Say what? Is that why there is a Dutch Apple pie at Safeway? Crazy. We finished the tour near a cheese shop that offered tastings that were paired with wine so we signed up for that. We had some time till the cheese tasting so we walked around a bit and found a place with a sign that read 'best apple pie in town' so we had to stop in. It was amazing. Had they warmed it up, I'd say it was almost better than my godfathers wife, Kim's apple pie. Almost, but not quite. We also had a cappuccino that was delicious, even for a non coffee drinker like me.


While we were enjoying our treat, Janessa messaged some more Contiki people in Amsterdam, Ryan and Michael, to come meet up with us. They did and it was great to see people from the trip, especially these two. We grabbed some beers at a bar nearby called the Sluteru and caught up on our travels over the past week that we had been a part. The five of us headed to the cheese tasting nearby. The gave us 6 cheeses - a couple goat cheeses and the rest were Gouda cheese - and 3 wines to taste - a Viognier, Syrah and a port. 


After such a cultural experience, we grabbed some beers and wine and headed to our apartment to play our new favorite game, Heads Up. If you haven't heard of it, get excited. Kristy, my Contiki roommate, had us play it on the boat in Budapest and it was a hit. We didn't split up into teams, just had the one person hold the iPad with the words and then the rest would give hints for that person to guess. We played for hours and were in tears with laughter by the time we did the singing round. The guys were heading to a club and we decided to continue enjoying the local culture. 

Let me start with a preface for this next paragraph. There should be no judgements (mom). Part of the culture in Amsterdam is heading to a coffee shop and getting a treat and then peeling your pants with laughter about 30-45 minutes later. 

 Janessa, Sara, and I headed out to get dinner at the pedestrian area nearby for sausage and fries covered in a spicy garlic sauce. Looking back, we were pretty shitty by this point since we started drinking hours earlier.

We finished our meal and headed to a a coffee shop nearby where we picked up a chocolate space muffin. We were a bit nervous so we decided we'd split one three ways to make sure we didn't end up like my brother at the Taco Bell in Cordelia that one time. 

We played more heads up, animal edition, as the muffin kicked in. After a little bit, we couldn't stop laughing at our own impression of the animals. Literally everything was funny. I don't know how we stayed straight faced to capture this picture. Shortly after, we passed out into a night filled with funny dreams. 

The next day we were quite hungover, but couldn't help but be excited because my dad was on his way! We got ready and went to pick him up at the station. This was my 4th week since arriving and it was also Thanksgiving so seeing family was pretty special. 

After a brief photo shoot at the IAmsterdam sign, we headed to tour the Van Gogh museum. We walked through the four floors, my dad and I analyzing the electrical while also looking at the art. We were shocked to make it through to find out that the two pieces we wanted to see, the Starry Night and The Night at the Cafe, were not being displayed at this museum. Well shit. Isn't that what people come to see? I guess we did see some amazing pieces still.

We moved along and headed to the Heineken Experience for some beer tasting. After the beers that the guy bought us the other night that tasted so bad, we were a little hesitant to try more Heineken, but Michael and Ryan said it was a great experience. After completing it, I do agree, it's worth the time and money. 

The tour finished and we caught the boat that gave us a free canal tour. Sara and I had one more beer, I guess it was growing on us..

The boat tour dropped us off downtown and we walked through the markets clearing out all samples that were available. We found a place that sold speculoos and went to a nearby place to have a cappuccino and to warm up. We still had some time before the Anne Frank house was closing, so we rushed over and found it and completed the tour. We walked through where her and her family lived for the handful of years they hid to avoid being captured. It was quite a moving tour and made me quite thankful I grew up in a time where there wasn't such hatred like what that little girl and her family experienced.

By this time, we had such a busy day of traveling, we were ready for whatever Thanksgiving meal we could scrounge up. After a bit of back and forth, we settled on a restaurant that looked homey. We ordered the house wine and some escargot to start. I've never had escargot, but, I figured I'd try it. Actually, it was really good. They flavor was so delicious and had garlic, shallots, and olive oil. Put it on a piece of bread, and, boom, taste buds explode. 

My dad selected the lamb chop, Sara ordered the steak, and I got mussels and fries. My mussels were so tasty and I didn't have a single gnarly mussel. My dad's lamb chop was oddly thin, but still tasty. Sara's steak was good, as well. We finished with some apple pie, cinnamon ice cream, and my dad ordered coffee. The cinnamon ice cream that was served with the pie was so yummy. It reminded me of the snicker doodle ice cream from BiRite in SF. 

We got home and were able to FaceTime all the family. It was so great to see Colin and his family (bummed I missed Claudia), Lola, and then my mom. I only have a week and a half left so I'm in the final stretch. 

Amsterdam was an awesome city. We had a good mix of touristy things and local things to fill our time. My favorite activities were the Heineken Experience, the bar with live music, and the cheese tasting. We only have Sara for one more day and we're heading back to Frankfurt for the night. Their Christmas Market starts up tonight, so I'm hoping the city has a little more charm than before. My dad and I head to Switzerland tomorrow! 

Until next time!

Waffles, beer and chocolate - that's what Belgium does

Sara and I couldn't have been more excited to leave Frankfurt and head to Belgium. We were first stopping in Brussels for a night and then heading to Brugge for a couple days. We caught the train and made our way to our budget hotel that was just a few kilometers outside the city. Sara and I, being experienced runners, figured it was more than 3 miles, but less than 6 miles from the city center, so we shouldn't have any trouble walking. While we were walking to the hotel, we figured out it was not in the greatest area. If I made a comparison to the city, I'd say this hotel was near candlestick park and we just had to walk to pier 39. Not that far, right? Totally walkable, right? Would you ever make that walk even if there were no cabs, ubers, lyfts, sidecars or some other new cab that is out there? No way. We told the front desk manager that we wanted to walk into town and he looked at us like we were crazy and gave us the tram schedule. After an unsolicited request to get into someone's car, we decided the tram might be the best bet. By the time we made it to the station, we missed the train and had to wait an hour till the next one got there. We kept busy by challenging each other to best time in Solitaire. I'm currently up with a winning time of 2:18. Colin would be so proud! Here is a pic of me waiting for the tram completely unamused. 

We arrived in downtown Brussels and immediately fell in love. The city is covered in lights and the smell of chocolate and waffles is in the air. We stopped right away and had the best Belgian waffle we would have the entire trip and we didn't even know it yet. We went classic and only got powdered sugar. Perfection. 

The streets are like mazes each filled with more chocolate shops, restaurants, and tons of advertisements for moules frittes (muscles and fries). Our friend, Tom, had told us about a place called Delirium that had over 2000 beers to try. Sara and I had researched the beers and found the top 20. Unfortunately, the person who selected the top 20 had a much different taste for beers than us so we quickly went off on our own to find our favorite beers. We started with the Delirium Tremers and Delirium Red. So good. 

The menu from Delirium was a 262 page manual. More like a phone book than a menu. 

As we sat down, there was a girl next to us that said something in American accent so we decided to sit with her. She was an extremely chatty woman who was originally from Philadelphia and had been living in Europe for the last 3 years because her husband was studying over here. This woman talked and talked and talked and then she talked more. I don't think Sara and I got two words in. We tried to ditch her by going downstairs, but she followed us. I can't say all negative things about her because she did give us some suggestions for decent beer. The first two pics below were from the top 20 list and the bottom two were suggestioms from the girl.

We tried to say goodbye to her to go grab dinner, but, again, she tagged along. I want to stop for a second to say I'm sure this sounds like a mean girl thing to do - ditch someone that you don't want to hang out with - but seriously, this girl didn't even let us get any words in. We wondered around the streets and found a Thai Vietnamese restaurant that had the Trip Advisor seal of approval. Sara and I were starving so we got lumpia, spring rolls and then a Tom Yum Kai / pho soup combination that was delicious. It was so cold outside and this meal immediately warmed us up. Naturally, we had a local beer alongside the meal.

We finished dinner and said fair well to the girl whose name we never got and sought out for another Belgian waffle to end our night before we caught the tram to our hotel. The first place we went wasn't open so went around the corner to the next nearest spot and ordered the sweetest, most indulgent waffle with chocolate and whipped cream. As you can see from our faces, we were quite excited after our earlier experience. We were very disappointed when we bit into these waffles. They were way too much, even for me. The waffle tasted like it had been in the window all day and the whipped cream was like butter, not in the good way. We got through a couple bites before we determined it wasn't worth the calories and we threw them away. We decided when we returned to Brussels from Brugge that we would pick up the original waffle we tasted in order to redeem the memory.  

We got on the train still wiping off chocolate sauce from around our mouths and were nervous for the walk from the train station to the hotel. We got off at the deserted station and began walking home. A car pulled over behind us and we picked up our pace a bit. I was checking the surroundings behind us and Sara had the front. We turned down the street and had about a quarter mile to go. We decided to walk in the middle of the street, figuring it was the safer route. A car came down the street the wrong way and something seemed wrong so we just took off running. There wasn't an actual reason for our fear, but it was one of those situations that just didn't feel right. We got to the hotel and were out of breath and I was coughing. We were safe. Phew. Note to future travelers: the cheapest hotel isn't always the best choice. Sometimes, it's better to pay a little more and be in the thick of things than save money and be so far away and so afraid to walk to your hotel.

The next day, we were off to Brugge. As we were waiting for the train, we got a traditional Belgian breakfast - sausage, French fries, and a beer. So delicious. 

We arrived early afternoon and our hotel was located right next to the train station, so things were already looking up. We dropped our stuff off and quickly set out to see the town. It was a walking town and all the streets intertwined into each other. Every other store was a chocolate store and we got some treats at each one. There were some that looked like cat poop, but they tasted pretty delicious.

This town quickly rose to my favorite city in all of Europe. Every where you look is picturesque and the people were all friendly. We wondered around for a bit and here are some of the sites. We walked in almost every cookie and chocolate shop and found some amazing treats. I learned about speculoos, a hard cookie that is in cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger. So good. I highly recommend a stop at Juliette's for their cookies. We bought a bunch thinking we'd share with my dad, but the only cookie that remained was the coconut macaroon I got him. Sorry dad.

We were walking towards the famous Markt square when we found a sign that pointed towards a beer wall. We walked through double doors and were greeted with walls full of beer. It was magical. Sara and I decided to settle in and get a sampler plate.

Our favorite one was the Brugge Zot. It was a darker beer that was very yummy. We finished up our beers and walked over to the market. This was the most magical sight ever. There was an ice skating rink and markets serving sausages, waffles, hot chocolate with baileys, and other warm treats surrounding it. All the buildings were dressed with lights adding to the Disneyland like qualities. 

We were pretty hungry by now so we found a nearby brewery and restaurant called Cambrinus. We ordered some cheese croquettes to start and then a beer bread with ham dish. We also did their sampler of beers and a beer that was served in a cornucopia glass. They brought out our food and we were a bit confused. Mine was some egg dish with ham and cheese. I asked the guy if it was what I ordered and he said no, it was an omelette and then brought me over a basket of bread. Finally, we got someone who understood English a bit better and they brought out my actual dish that was not what I was expecting at all. Bread with ham and butter. So strange.

We finished up dinner and continued to walk around. We sampled some more waffles - a Brussels waffle that was very crispy and a Belgian waffle that is very sweet but thick and doughy. Neither were as good as the ones from Brussels. I mentioned there were thousands of chocolate shops in Belgium, one of them is a very recognized name - Godiva. Sara and I first saw it and said, no way are we going to go there, you can get that stuff back at home. For whatever reason, probably the cold, we decided to go in to their store and I am so happy we did because it changed my life for the better. The girl at the counter let us sample one of the top 5 things I've ever tasted - a truffle rolled in speculoos cookie. Oh. My. God. Heaven. After that treat we called it a night to go talk to the family and rest up for a big walking day. 

We woke up and decided we'd walk to the nearby windmills that are a staple for this area. It was a beautiful walk and the air was nice and crisp and the sun even peeked out for a little bit. Here is some scenery from the walk.

We walked through the city and back to the market to get out lunch for the day - garlic cheese, duck salami, and fresh baked bread all from local markets. The cheese was one of the best things I've ever eaten; it was strong in flavor, but creamy and milky and paired perfectly with the salami. It was pretty cold out so we headed back to the beer wall to have some Brugge Zot with our lunch. 

We went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and I booked the rest of our lodging for the trip. I'd like to highlight that I got 19 nights of hotel / hostel / airbnb for $744. That is crazy! We headed back out and found a little hole in the wall bar that let you taste beers. We started with recommendations from the bartender and Sara and I found some favorites - St. Bernardus and Troubadour. After we finished those, we did another sampler and found some more we liked. We even got a big bottle of the Bourgogne one, it was so tasty.

We finished there with a good little buzz and wanted to go back to the market to get some more presents and some more cheese. It was a Monday and we figured that the stores would be open later, but we were wrong. Everything was shut down. We barely made it into the Godiva to buy a handful of those truffles. All the little sausage vendors were closed and Sara and I were getting a little hangry. Every place was pricey and, when you're craving a 3 euro sausage, a 20+ euro steak doesn't sound the same. We finally settled in a place that had a three course meal for 22 euro. We ordered shrimp scampi and cheese croquettes for starters, both of us got steak and fries, and then we finished with a chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. This was a really good meal, and provably was a good deal, but Sara and I were bitter. Another time I've learned it's not a good thing to be that hungry when looking for food. It was our last night in Brugge and there was nothing left to do so we went back and packed up so we could leave early and head to Amsterdam mid morning the following day.

Brugge rose to the top if my list for amazing cities. I think there are two important factors that can affect my impression of a city; food and weather. We had a sunny day and some of my favorite foods at this trip. Plus I could have taken a million pictures here because it was that freaking cute. Everyone should travel to Brugge once in their life.