Friday, August 9, 2013

Europe - Netherlands and Belgium

When we arrived in Amsterdam it was quite late, and so we didn't have much time to do the things we planned as museums close around 5 or 6. So we kind of did a whirlwind tour of the city center. We went to the Rijks Museum and saw some incredible pieces of art. My favorite were the boat replicas and the China. 

Then we went to the VanGogh Museum. They had a display called VanGogh at work. It walked us through his early career to the latter. We thought his self portraits were so interesting and enjoyed examining the art. We heard a German tour/class go by and listened to what they were saying about the painting. I was glad I could understand most of it!

Then we went to catch the canal boat to the Anne Frank Huis, but the canals were closed. Huge bummer as we had paid for this tour and didn't realize that they closed so early (it was only 6pm). We had to walk to get there and we're already so tired but it was a good place to see. It was cool to walk through the house and the annex part and see where they lived. I've been to Amsterdam before and was able to see Anne Frank Huis, but it is always a good reminder of the holocaust and a good experience.

After that we left Amsterdam to go down to our home stay in Oegstgeest. Because of these airbnb homestays, we don't always stay in the main city. It was kind of cool because we got to see a little bit of the small town aspects of the country as well. We asked Robert, our host, for a place to eat, but it was already 9:30. We had to drive onto Leiden, and found a Turkish Place called Ak Mir. We ordered just before they closed. Then we got completely lost trying to find our way back, and eventually had to follow signs pointing towards Oegstgeest to make it back. We arrived back late and decided to sleep a little later the next morning.

This Airbnb experience was a little different than the last, more like a hotel and less like a bed and breakfast. We still enjoyed our stay and slept very well. We left about 9:30 June 11th for The Hague. This place was so much better than Amsterdam in my opinion. We arrived about 11 and ate lunch at Juliana's Cafe, we then set out to see the Binnenhof, which is the equivalent of a Capitol building in the Netherlands, where they hold Parliament and other ceremonies. We were too late for the tour, so we went to the Humanity House. This is an incredible place where they take your name and photograph and create a very personal experience for you so that you know a little of what it's like to be a refugee. It was very moving and some parts were difficult to watch. 

We still had time before our tour so we got some snacks outside the Binnenhof. We got herring (haring) on a bun and also salmon salad (like tuna salad but with salmon). The herring was as expected, salty and slimy, but the salmon salad was delicious! Then we got some Italian ice to wash it down.

We then went to our tour of the Binnenhof with a movie about the history of the Netherlands and how they became an independent nation with a monarchy and a democracy. It was super interesting. The rest of the tour was in Dutch, but we got to see the Ridderzaal where the prinsendag ceremony is held. It was a beautiful room in a beautiful building with lots of historical significance. 

Next we went to the Museum von Escher. This place was incredible! We were able to see many of Escher's famous works and it also had some interactive exhibits. My favorite was the metamorphose. The museum had it arranged in a circle so you watched it change as you walked around. We took a picture that made me look huge and Jon look small in a slanted room. It was one of our favorite things on this trip so far. 

We tried to go to another exhibit called the Panorama Mesdag, but it was closed by the time we arrived. (Something you should know about Europe. If they say they close at 5, they mean 4:30. Places literally close down early so their employees go home at closing time. Just FYI, you'll be disappointed when you arrive somewhere 30 minutes before closing and they are already closed) We then set off on our journey to Prinsenbeek and Breda. Traffic out of The Hague was terrible, but that's what happens when you leave at 5...whoops!

We had a wonderful Dutch dinner with Erik and Kim (Charlie's Dad and step-Mom) and of course Charlotte and her brother Jules. We had asparagus with potatoes and ham and butter sauce. It was delicious! We talked for a long time with our friends and then retired around midnight. It was so wonderful to see Charlie in her home environment, to visit with her parents and to see their home. We loved the Netherlands. Such a wonderful place.

On June 12th we got up early to go to see Monique and Tjalling's home in Breda. This is Charlie's mom and step-dad. We had a lovely breakfast with them and also with Charlotte and Rachne. We took a short tour of their house and chatted for a bit before leaving. They are such kind and wonderful people. We can't wait to go back to visit our friends!

We then went to see the Mentos factory in Breda. We figured they wouldn't let us in, but wanted to try to visit anyway. Erik had tipped off the HR director there that we might stop by, and so as we walk up to security the guard says "Hummers?" and he let us in! We waited for a little bit to meet with the HR director, Jon's face at this moment is like a little kid at a candy store (candy factory?). We did meet with him, and he chatted with us for a bit and took us to the sample room where he filled our bags will all sorts of Perfetti Von Melle candy, including Mentos. We left with huge smiles on our faces as he called us "brave Americans" and left Breda a little later than we planned. Totally worth it.

We still had Antwerpen and Brussels to go! Antwerpen was a neat little town in Belgium. The architecture is so quaint and inviting. We visited the Bourla Theater but it was closed for tours. We then found a place selling Beligium waffles and had to get one! They were delicious! Check off our food bucket list! Next we went to Rubenshuis, the house of Ruben, a famous painter. His house and garden were very beautiful and they filled it with his paintings, which were still life and very interesting; lots of dead animals and religious themes. :)

After that we set out to find Vlaekensgang, a small quaint alley which has preserved original architecture in Antwerp. It is difficult to find, but luckily Jon and I found a map with it labeled and happened to see a small sign for it. It wrapped around through buildings and had a small restaurant in the middle. 

Then we bought some Belgian chocolates and headed back to the car. On to Brussels! Here we went to tour the European Union Parliament building, but it was closed for tours, so we went to the parlimentarium, a museum all about the EU and its formation as well as its Parliament. It's was an extensive museum. You could have spent all day here and still not seen everything there was to see and hear. You had headphones where you listened in your own language to the displays which would change as you approached them. It was very cool. If you are ever in Brussels, don't miss it!

We tried to go to Herge Museum, but couldn't find it in time, and also missed the Mini Europe display. Instead we stopped at a Japanese Garden which was the Museum of Japanese Art. The museum itself was closed, but we enjoyed walking around the gardens nonetheless.

From there we drove to Maastricht, Netherlands and had a quick dinner in the city center. We were too late to do anything we had planned, but it was a beautiful town and I'm glad we got to see it. We left Maastricht to head toward Liege, Belgium where we were spending the night. We found it by a stroke of good luck because our GPS couldn't find the street only the general area. This place was basic. :) it was a tall building with treacherous stairs and we slept on an air mattress on the floor of an old room. Not the best place, but not the worst. We only paid $20 for it, so that's what you get!

In the morning of the 13th, we walked to a French bakery for breakfast and then headed to off to Germany. First stop is Cologne. This is the city in Germany that I am very familiar with because I spent much of my time in Germany there back when I was a teenager. Stay posted for more about Germany!

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