…like beautiful and warm weather, dogs on canal boats, and starting two new classes this week. I think about how in 2 months time, I won’t be riding my bike down Haarlemmerdijk everyday, glancing into my favorite stores to see what’s new. Or going to the neighborhood cafe where the owners ask how my exams went. How am I supposed to say goodbye? Why am I even thinking about that??
Although I’m not a strong supporter of taking as many trips (usually short) around Europe as possible while abroad, I did feel the need (and had the free opportunity) to tag along to Brussels with my parents for a night to add another (unexpected) destination to my abroad travel list. My parents have been in Amsterdam since last Wednesday and do a lot of high-quality exploring themselves (yay, I didn’t have to go to Van Gogh for the fourth time!!) and then we do a lot of high-quality eating together at night. Since they will be in the Dam for a solid week, sneaking out to Brussels was a good plan. We left Amsterdam on Friday midday, got to Brussels by mid-afternoon, and had the rest of that day plus all of Saturday to explore. And quite frankly, that was enough! I should point out that we rented a car and drove, since trains are surprisingly expensive from Amsterdam to Belgium. The countryside was beautiful driving down and especially once we got closer to Brussels. Poor Jim, bless him, for having to maneuver around both Amsterdam and Brussels. There’s a reason I ride a bicycle.
Sidenote: Obama is in Amsterdam today visiting the Rijksmuseum. His helicopter landed on Museumplein and there was absolutely no way of seeing him. Trip advisor said if you want to risk getting a sniper bullet, go ahead and hang out down there. I opted not to! Anyway, welcome, Obama!
I’d describe Brussels as a mix of Prague and Amsterdam–in the older parts–with some New York City littering (yes, littering) the main drags. I love both Prague and Amsterdam so the old city was enjoyable! It is much hillier than I’ve been used to so bicycles were not nearly as large of a thing. That afternoon/evening was spent meandering around Grand Place and the Town Hall, as well as gawking at the Mediterranean sweet shops and beautiful lace in storefronts. Although we wanted to sneak in a museum on that first day, there was too much to see outside while the weather was still beautiful. The best way to see a city is to simply meander around, so that’s what we did. Super relaxed and super gorgeous.
A Simon family vacation, or even just a Simon family dinner, is not complete without mussels. When we were in Curacao 2 summers back we had the best mussels of our lives that were imported daily from Belgium, so we knew that if one day we were all in Belgium, we’d have to relive that meal. We ended up at La Maree, an excellent fish and mussels restaurant that is super local. I swear every single person eating there knew the waiters and owner; everyone was kissing each other and catching up. We got 3 different types of mussels; Dad got the simplest with just salt and pepper and vegetables, Mom got them a la Provencale with tomatoes and peppers, and I went with the white wine and cream. You can never get enough mussels. We stopped to get some of those mediterranean sweets I mentioned above after dinner and they were delightful. See pictures!
We got up on Saturday morning to rain, but also to an adventure. We set out to find Musee Renee Magritte, a surrealist from Belgium. Unfortunately the museum was almost exclusively in French (although I could read some of the Dutch descriptions…) and we didn’t get any English guide or headsets. I’ll have to read about him separately when I have some time, but I did gather that he went to Dallas in 1960. My favorite art by him would have to be “The Curse” or “Companions of Fear.” After that, I dragged my parents to an Ethiopian coffee house which is known as being one of the best cafes in Brussels. It lived up to that. We enjoyed cappuccinos and a piece of lemon cake. So beautiful.
After refueling we headed to find Manneken Pis. The story we heard was that a bomb landed in front of a little boy in Brussels that really had to go to the bathroom; he then peed on the bomb and it was diffused, thus he saved Brussels. No idea if this is remotely true but it’s silly. I personally liked the Manneken Peace graffiti located close to the statue. Mom and I walked around to find a lace Christmas ornament and stumbled upon merengues the size of my head (unfortunately, no picture). I brought one back for Natalie. Brussels knows theirs sweets. My favorite part of the day, however, was where we stopped before heading back to Amsterdam. I had found the Erasmus House online as a place of interest. It’s located in Anderlecht, a small town a bit outside of Brussels. Erasmus hung out and worked in this house for a few months in 1521, and the house was really beautiful. It even had an original Bosch! The back of the house has a medicine garden and beautiful structures. It had just rained so everything was green and alive. Such a great find!
I think we did well for the short amount of time in Belgium. The drive back into the Netherlands and up to Amsterdam was beautiful and sunny. I saw many a cow and many a cute cottage. Even though I can be a total grump when travelling and tired, I thoroughly enjoyed going on this little adventure with my parents to a place none of us knew. If only Anna was with us!
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” -Henry David Thoreau
He made it! Zack, my boyfriend, finally made it to Amsterdam last friday afternoon. We had a great week of quality time, great food, exploring, and too much beer. I was happy for his trip to be a synthesis of my daily life (still had a few classes…) and touristy Amsterdam. Like what occurred on my sister’s visit, I was able to see some things in the city that I hadn’t had a chance to yet. This will most likely be my last visitors post–but to be determined once my parents come and go–because visits will most likely get repetitive here on out!
I picked Zack up from the airport (a rare thing for me to do!) and we came back to the apartment. Like every visitor, i had to warn him that the outside (and inside) of my apartment is frightening but good enough. He wanted his first meal to be as Dutch as he could get, so we went to Haesje Claes again (see Anna’s post) and he got my favorite stamppot. I went with the mussels which were by far the best mussels I’ve had in a while. We had a few nice dinners to make up (a christmas present, valentines day, our anniversary, and my birthday) so feasting was great. Afterwards we went to celebrate Paula’s birthday in her apartment, then turned in early because Zack was beat. That first night is always rough.
For Saturday, I insisted we check out Noordermarkt for fresh vegetables and the market experience. We had pancakes at The Pancake Bakery before the market, and I was very underwhelmed compared to my regular “Pancakes!” restaurant. It was still necessary to try, because you would think pancake quality wouldn’t actually vary that much. I was getting angry because the waiters immediately spoke to us in English because this was more of a tourist attraction than the other restaurant. They also didn’t give us tap water (wanted to charge us for bottles) even though a group behind us definitely had tap water for the table and were most likely Dutch. Couldn’t believe what they tried to get away with! After the market I showed him my favorite Haarlemmerstraat and Six & Sons (see Amsterdam Cafe Bucket List). Since the weather was absolutely PERFECT for his visit, we spent some time outside at Cafe Haarlem drinking a beer and eating their famous nachos. After a trip to the regular grocery store and homemade risotto for dinner, we checked out Bloemenbar for a true Dutch night out. I got Zack on a bike that night. He only fell off once while riding and fooling around outside of the apartment. His back wheel was “drunk” as we call it (very wobbly) but he was so great about it. What a perfect first full day!
I got Zack back on the bike for a Sunday ride around Jordaan. Zack wanted more pancakes (and I don’t blame him) so we went to Pancakes! first. Everyone was out on the canals or cleaning up their houseboats for the spring and summer season. Zack said Jordaan was one of his favorite areas, and it was indeed beautiful that day. We had time to kill before going to an Irish pub to watch the Wales/England rugby match with some friends, so we got ice cream at the delicious Ijschuypje and sat on a canal. We also walked around the Spui/Singel area near my university building.
Monday was another day of adventures, slightly more touristy. We went to Sweet Cup with Nat (mainly to see Sjefke!) before getting poffertjes. Sjef wasn’t there when we got our coffee, so we planned to go back to see him later in the day on our way home. Yes, that’s correct, pancakes for a third time. We hung around De Pijp for a bit and grabbed some lunch before heading to Museumplein and the “I amsterdam” sign. Zack wanted to go full tourist. He also, however, hadn’t decided whether or not he wanted to go to the museums there because if you don’t like art, they are probably not worth it. He luckily had time to go back later. Tuesday was a great day for a picnic. We ventured to Vondelpark (which I hadn’t been to!) for a relaxing day. We explored a bit afterwards before Zack decided that he did indeed want to go to the Van Gogh museum. I did some homework while he explored. Natalie came over that evening to watch The Bachelor finale (I keep up with some American pop culture things, ok?) and we had another night in so I could catch up on a little work.
One of my favorite things to do with Zack, and to do in Amsterdam, is to see animals. We went to the Artis Zoo on Wednesday. I hadn’t been there since orientation week and now the weather was perfect again. I didn’t realize how different the exhibits were as compared to America, but they are very open… freakishly so. There are only short walls around them and the animals are pretty close. We also went into a very humid building where monkeys were literally everywhere around you, as were iguanas and birds. They didn’t approach you but it was still pretty wild. I took him to Cafe Belgique that night to have some good beers and we ended up at my neighborhood Cafe Walvis afterwards. I know he kept track better than I did, but I would guess that he tried around 20 different beers while here. It’s great for that! He allowed me to explore a side of Amsterdam that is definitely worthy of exploring but something I know very little about. New experiences all around. I had two classes on Thursday so Zack went exploring alone. I know he got lost but eventually found is way to the Rijks and explored the center a little more. Seeing Amsterdam alone is still great.
Our last full day together was Friday. It was a mashup of things we wanted to do again, a late valentines/birthday day purchase, and our nice dinner. We went to Singel 404 for sandwiches, and Zack’s goat cheese, chicken, and guacamole oven-melted sandwich was to die for. We walked around Jordaan again for a bit before heading to East Amsterdam. I took him to the Magere Bridge, also known as the thinnest bridge in Amsterdam over the Amstel river. A car isn’t able to drive on it. Couples attach locks on the bridge, which seems to be a trend in Europe. I knew this one was significant in Amsterdam so we locked one on and threw the keys into the Amstel. We went to De Pijp again afterwards to pick up a birthday present from him to me: a perfect little gold necklace with two giraffes hugging. Baby giraffes are my favorite animal. It represented our time in Amsterdam and also us. We took a coffee/beer break before heading home and resting up before our final dinner at Cafe ‘t Zwaantje. The restaurant was super gezellig and super Dutch (with that comes very casual service…) but yummy nonetheless.
I’m so happy to have the opportunity to share my experience with so many people that I love. Although I’m not coming to a new and exciting place like they are, I always seem to see more of the city than I imagine. Saying goodbye was hard, of course, but I know Zack is on his plane now, remembering the great week we had together. I think I convinced him to love Dutch things, or at least to recognize locals from tourists! I can only hope he enjoyed my city as much as I talked it up to be!
…would we do forward and backward cycling motions while on our backs as part of a relaxation routine. I was determined to get through the class without letting the instructor know I was an English speaker. Unfortunately she found out when she asked for my name and my handy-dandy American accent came out. Once we got started I realized that despite my 1) previous yoga experience and 2) ever-growing Dutch language knowledge, the class would have been really hard to follow if she spoke entirely in Dutch. She would begin in english, then say a shortened version in Dutch (thought it would have been the other way around!) At least I got a nice yoga session in. Everyone else at the gym speaks to me in Dutch though (well, as much you talk to other people while working out anyway…)
I’m still loving the daily Dutch challenges. Last week I had a conversation with a store clerk half in English and half in Dutch. We kept switching back and forth. I started in English, but then answered his next question in Dutch, so he switched to Dutch… luckily we made it through and laughed about it.
This is just a short little post to tide you over until next weekend, when I’ll blog about Zack’s visit. He arrives on Friday. I think we’ll be doing the complete opposite of what Anna and I did, which will be nice and refreshing. Still dragging him to some coffee places though, but I know he wants to see that bassett hound.