Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Our 2010 Europe Trip

Growing up, neither of us had been to Europe. All of our international travel had been to Asia, even though we both had longed to see the sights in Europe for a long time. Our first opportunity came almost 10 years ago on our way to Singapore where a long layover gave us a "day trip" in Germany. We absolutely loved it and once our wedding (and other wedding trips) had passed, it was finally time to start our European adventures.

Amsterdam canals

The first real trip to Europe we took was in 2010, when we visited the Netherlands and Belgium. (If we had had more time, maybe we could have made it to Luxembourg and I could just tag this the Benelux trip, but unfortunately that didn't happen.) We flew into Amsterdam and out of Brussels, stopping for a couple of nights in Brugge along the way. It was a wonderful low-key introduction to Europe, and we absolutely loved it.


We did a lot of exploring in Amsterdam. We logged lots of steps wandering the city and the canals (especially on the first day when we got a little lost and then chased a beer bike). We visited 12 different museums thanks to our Museumkaart. We loved riding around on the tram. We took a day trip to Den Haag and marveled at the Peace Palace. We managed to try just about every type of food that we wanted to get in the Netherlands and even some that we didn't even know we wanted before we got there. We fit a lot of stuff into our time in the Netherlands, which was only about 5 days.

More Amsterdam canals

We got frites, lots of them. We started at the airport with Vlaamse Frites, but also got some at Pietersma Snacks, Manneken Pis, and Vleminckx. Our favorite fries themselves were from Vleminckx, but our favorite toppings were from the airport, with that delicious combination of curry ketchup, mayo, and onions. We made 3 visits to breweries - the Heineken Experience and then 2 visits to Brouwerij 't IJ, which we loved for its beer, its bar snacks like ossenworst, and its atmosphere. We got rijsttafel at 2 different spots, the more traditional Tempo Doeloe and the modern Blauw. We went to Frens Haringhandel twice for herring sandwiches. We went to try Dutch pancakes at Pancakes Amsterdam and liked them so much we made a special trip to get some more before leaving for our next destination. We also got the small Dutch pancakes, poffertjes, at the Albert Cuyp Markt. We wandered around on our first night and ended up getting a traditional Dutch meal at De Rozenboom, a meal we had no idea we wanted but turned out to be the perfect introduction to the city.


In addition to all the stuff we planned to get (fries, beer, rijsttafel, pancakes and herring), we also ate a bunch of random stuff: burgers and sandwiches from B&B Lunchroom, giant burgers from Burgermeester, Thai food at Bird Thai Snackbar, Nepali food at Sherpa, stroopwafels and other random drinks and snacks, and 2 stops at FEBO automats. And of course, our visit wouldn't have been complete without trips to the nearby grocery store, Albert Heijn.


Antwerp's Grote Markt

We hadn't focused much on Antwerp when we planned our trip, but it was the place where we had to stop to switch trains on our way from Amsterdam to Brugge. Since we were already in Antwerp, we figured we might as well do some sightseeing, since the one thing we knew was that they had a castle/fortress (Het Steen). We saw that, as well as the Grote Markt and other shopping areas, during a pouring rainstorm. We were only there for a few hours and didn't get to explore too much of the city, but did grab some fast food at Quick Burger.


Brugge was one of our favorite places on this trip. Since we spent most of our time in the older area of the city, it just felt like being transported back in time, strolling the canals and taking in all of the architecture. It was quaint and cute when it wasn't overrun by tourists, but even the touristy things to do, like a canal cruise and a visit to the De Halve Maan brewery, were fun.

Brugge canal cruises are fun

On our first real stop in Belgium, we got 3 of the things Belgium is famous for - chocolate (from Dumon), beer (Brugse Zot), and wafels (from Laurenzino). We also had a wonderful dinner at Cambrinus, full of beer and soup and pasta, followed the next night by a traditional Flemish meal at De Vlaamsche Pot, where we indulged in carbonades, waterzooi, and more Flemish classics. We also got lunch twice at L'Estaminet, some croque monsieur and croque shoarma the first time and lots of spaghetti bolognese the second time. And, as usual, we stopped at the grocery store, and got some other snacks.

Window shopping in Brugge

We were sad to leave Brugge (and our amazing, giant hotel room). It was the type of place where we really felt like we were out of the city and in a place so different from home. Leaving for our last stop also meant our trip was almost over.


Coming from Brugge, with its narrow, winding streets and tree-lined canals, we exited into Brussels and felt like we were back in New York's concrete jungle, complete with all the dirt, grit, and smells of a city. It was a tough adjustment back to the city, and while we wanted to make the most of our time in Brussels, we found ourselves mostly missing Brugge. Dealing with a patronizing waiter at La Rose Blanche and missing out on a bunch of attractions because of bad timing, all on our first day there, certainly didn't help matters. We also felt a little disconnected because we don't really speak French (and every time I tried, the words came out in Spanish), which we also noticed when we visited the Comic Strip Center after a pasta lunch at Brasserie Horta.

Grand Place

That said, there were some nice things about Brussels. We got to see an outdoor festival that we hadn't expected to see. We were at the Grand Place during a spectacular blue hour, and all the buildings were incredibly photogenic. The Musical Instruments Museum was fun. We had one of the best wafels we've ever eaten from one of the yellow vans, and we had a tasty all-you-can-eat mussels night to close out our trip. We were introduced to kriek and got hooked on it. It wasn't all bad.


We flew out to Amsterdam on KLM, having both dinner and breakfast, after already having dinner at JFK (where we just made our flight thanks to an amazing car service guy to whom we will be eternally grateful, since these were the pre-Uber days). The service on KLM was great, the in-flight entertainment was fun, and the food was pretty good for airline food. We were impressed. Our return flight was on Delta, which we didn't like as much as KLM, but it was still good. Lunch was better than we expected, and the snack was more of a meal than we ever imagined it would be (pizza and gelato!). (For other random airport links, here's some grocery store exploration at AMS and our "breakfast" at BRU.)

KLM planes from the panorama terrace in Amsterdam

In addition to our flight, we took a bunch of train trips during our vacation, although we didn't eat much during them. We ended up eating at Amsterdam Centraal at Burger King, and got a sandwich and some candy in Antwerp, but that was it. The Antwerp train station was the only place on that entire trip that we ever saw the Haribo Smurfs which became one of our favorite gummy candies. Mostly we were impressed by the train systems in the Netherlands and Belgium, and lamented why we couldn't have such good infrastructure back home. Traveling from city to city was fairly inexpensive and so convenient compared to the way things are here, and that's something Europe will probably always do better than the US.

Concluding Thoughts

We have some pretty great memories from our first European adventure. It felt so good to be in different countries, being exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things, learning so much at the museums, and exploring so many new foods and flavors. We felt like we had gained so much in such a short period of time, and we couldn't wait to visit Europe again. Although we wouldn't choose to rush back to Brussels by itself any time soon, we would love to see Amsterdam (and the Netherlands more broadly) and Brugge again. There was so much that we didn't get to do there and we were pretty happy being there. Hopefully we'll be able to see them again someday.

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