One Week in Amsterdam.

We had originally planned to do day trips out of Amsterdam, same as we had in Brussels, but Keith and I soon came to realize that we didn’t want to wake up early to catch any more trains.  Instead, we leisurely made our way around the city each day.

View of Amsterdam from the Movenpick Hotel, early morning.Monday
Had breakfast at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels.  Three trains later — whoever said there were nonstops running from Bruxelles Nord is a liar — checked into Amsterdam’s Mövenpick Hotel overlooking the IJ, Centraal Station and the city.  After lying facedown on the bed for a while, roused ourselves to find dinner because apparently the Dutch don’t eat late.  Wandered down through the Old Centre, which was overflowing with drunken American, English, German and Irish tourists reeking of pot, and ended up at Brasserie De Roode Leeuw on the New Side, where I ate the most amazing piece of fish and Keith devoured veal meatballs, potatoes and these gorgeous little peas into which he mixed curries and compotes.  Finished the night with beers at Gollem, a tiny bar only slightly larger than my apartment’s bathroom.

Kees de Jongenbrug, Amsterdam.Tuesday
Slept in a bit then found some lunch at Festina Lente in the Jordaan: taleggio, tomatoes and salami on a toasted wheat* ciabatta.  (If I lived here, I would come to Festina Lente once a week just to eat through their sandwich menu.)  Admired the café’s cat.  Commented how much the Dutch seem to love sandwiches… like me.  Drifted around the Jordaan.  Watched candy get made at Papabubble, then bought several Euro’s worth.  Checked out the clothes sold at Sprmrkt, all of which made me feel very fat and very uncool.  Smelled soaps at La Savonnerie and realized Amsterdam is quite beautiful once you get away from the sleazy bits.  Beer break at Café Brakke, where non-patrons have to pay €0.50 to use the toilet but petting the cat is free.  Hopped a tram to the Pijp for dinner at District V.  Happened to be “National Restaurant Week,” so ate the set menu of salmon wrapped in pasta with a tomato cream sauce; “friander kalfsoester” with potatoes, ratatouille and a delicious marsala potato gratin studded with rosemary; and a citron ice cream with lemon sauce and a brownie full of ground almonds.  (If you come here, check out the not-as-cheesy-as-it-sounds chandelier made of cutlery, sieves and serving spoons.)  Trammed back to the hotel.

Breakfast from Bagels + Coffee outside the Anne Frank HuisWednesday
Had prebooked tickets to the Anne Frank House; showed up fifteen minutes early so we could grab ham-and-cheese croissants and coffee next door**.  Wrestled between depression, interest and anger while going through the house.  Ignored Keith completely afterwards at Broodje Bert, where I ate a toasted salami, onion and cheese sandwich (for barely over €5.oo) while I scribbled in my journal.  Shopped the Nine Streets.  Bought a rad bag at Margareth Mackenzie on Oude Spiegelstraat.  Helped Keith pick out a wallet at Hester Van Eeghen on Hartenstraat.  Scribbled more at Café de Pels while Keith drank beer.  Chilled out at the hotel for an hour or two before a dinner of snacks at Van Dobben, where the friendliest people work and recommend crazy-amazing things to eat like kroket sandwiches and a stack of salted beef and liver piled in between bread.  Ogled two  customers’ two massive dogs, then walked back to the hotel.

On a canal, AmsterdamThursday
Caught the water taxi to city hall, then walked to De Tokoman for some sensational Surinamese sandwiches and mango juice.  Still couldn’t believe how much the Dutch love sandwiches, and how much I love the Dutch for loving them.  Walked over to the Dutch Resistance Museum, also known as the coolest museum in the city and where we spent three hours.  Poked through Rembrandt’s house, which is set up to appear as though the artist just popped out for a sandwich (he was Dutch, you know).  Quick detour in the Bloemenmarkt, the flower market.  Beers at Café van Leeuwen.  Heard the weather was going to turn for the cold and windy, so conned Keith into shopping for a jacket.  More beers at Gollem, where I met the bar’s cat, then a traditional Dutch dinner at Moeders before catching our last tram of the night.  Beer at the hotel bar, then bed.

Morning Star, AmsterdamFriday
More awesome sandwiches and frites, this time at Morning Star, which just might be the cutest place ever.  Windy windy windy cold weather, so I wore my new jacket.  Visited the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, where Keith had to tear me away from the computer-generated map of the city’s growth over the past eight hundred years.  After cookies (koekjes) and appelflaps (kind of like  an apple turnover) at Lanskroon, trammed to the Pijp for beers at the other branch of Gollem with another cat before walking to the Van Gogh Museum, which is open late on Friday nights for film screenings, concerts and lectures.  Dinner at Burgermeester.   In spite of torrential rain, all the local bars were packed so we headed to the hotel bar for one last beer.

Flowers on Engelantiersstraat, AmsterdamSaturday
Glumly trekked through the sunny morning and the Red Light District to get to the Museum Amstelkring and its spectacular church hidden in the attic, then to the Oude Kerk, the only cathedral I’ve ever seen with a wooden ceiling.  Trammed to the Albert Cuypmarkt in the Pijp.  Spent hours exploring the miscellaneous stalls and eating more Surinamese food, frites, cookies and an astounding raw herring sandwich.  Beers at Kingfisher before walking to the in-the-process-of-renovation Rijksmuseum, home to works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Bruegel.  Indonesian dinner at Bojo, before beers at ‘t Arendsnest.  Trammed in the pouring rain back to the hotel to pack and sleep.

* The Dutch call wheat bread brown bread. I don’t think I can pull it off.
**Getting advance tickets online is a must. If you aren’t able to, plan on buying a snack next door at Bagels and Coffee; customers can use their computer and printer gratis, and therefore avoid the hours-long line at the Anne Frank House.
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One Week In Belgium.

Keith and I were originally planning to go on this vacation in the fall.  We both like to travel off-peak for better deals — not to mention for better chances of dealing with smaller crowds of tourists.  Just as we were about to book our tickets for November, Keith realized that such a trip was impossible; he’s TAing a class (beginning tonight, actually) that runs through December… which is how we ended up in Europe in August, surrounded by other visitors.

Here are the Belgian highlights:

Grand Place, BrusselsTuesday
Checked into the Hotel Metropole, Belgium’s only hotel from the nineteenth century that is still operational.  Braved the crowds and wandered around the Grand Place before sitting down to an early dinner at Chez Léon.  Ordered moules á L’escargot with frites and the house beer (€22.20).  Ate outside; it was very warm, and besides, we don’t get to dine al fresco often in Boston.  I think it has to do with permits, which is a shame.  Wandered around a bit more and, after visiting the Manneken Pis, ended up drinking beers outside at A La Mort Sabite.  I had a Lambic Blanche, which was dangerously good.  A girl could get in trouble easily drinking those.

Darlington Brussels, 3Wednesday
Darlington‘s living in London now; she took the Eurostar in to hang out with us for the day**. Ate breakfast in the hotel, then headed out for a gossipy walk.  Sites visited included the Place du Grand-Sablon, Parc de Bruxelles, the newly-opened Musée Magritte Museum*, the waffle vendor outside the museum, Pierre Marcolini on Avenue Louise, A La Bécasse and all the nice little neighborhoods in between.  At Pierre Marcolini, we bought an obscene amount chocolates and had a tasting on a bench directly outside.  Similarly, at A La Bécasse we each ordered the “Lambic Dégustation” and sampled Timmerman’s Lambic Doux, Lambic Blanc, Kriek and Bourgogne des Flandres.  After a sad goodbye, Keith and I walked over to the Saint Catherine neighborhood for another mussels dinner at Le Pré Salé.

Pretty Antwerp StreetThursday
Hopped a train to Antwerp; met an incredibly friendly Dutch woman who gave us a tour of the Grote Markt before going on her way.  Ate an unremarkable (but economical!) pizza lunch at Da Giovanni.  Meandered  into Walter and Yohji Yamomoto.  Couldn’t find the Ann Demeulemeester store and MoMu was closed, so headed over to the river Scheldt, where we ate more waffles and watched couples make out.  The view’s romantic, so we couldn’t blame them.  Looked like it was going to rain sowe walked back towards the center, and just before the water started crashing down ducked into Quinten Matsijs and had a couple beers.  (Later, I found out it’s the oldest bar in Holland and Belgium.)   Dinner at Amadeus, back to Brussels for one last beer, then bed.

Pictureseque BrugesFriday
Caught a train to the incredibly picturesque city of Bruges, which is so pretty it’s almost ridiculous.  Also ridiculous were the sheer amount of people present, taking photographs of the canals, the city hall and Sint-Salvator Cathedral.  Checked out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where I lit candles for my grandmother and grandfathers.  Ate sandwiches from Deldycke whilst sitting on the river Dijver, then dropped into ‘t Brugs Beertje, which stocks over three hundred Belgian beers.  I tried two different flavors of Lambic; Keith ordered a ‘t Smisje Dubbel after a mostaardbier by the same brewery.  Dinner at the mundane Poules Moules before we traveled back to Brussels.  Nightcap at Le Corbeau.

Ghent SkylineSaturday
Mid-morning train to Ghent.  Got the bus to the center, walked over to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral.  Lit some more candles.  Climbed way too many narrow winding stairs at Gravensteen, a castle from the Middle Ages that sits practically in the center of Ghent.  Incredible views, though interrupted by cranes.  Drinks at De Dulle Griet, which means Mad Meg and is a very famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Utterly delicious dinner at Brasserie ‘t Klokhuys, where I ate a Flemish beef stew and frites (€12.70) until I was stuffed.  Beers at Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, where we met a retiring-in-one-week naval man who insisted Keith have a Rochefort 10.

Another vantage point of the Grand Place, BrusselsSunday
Last day, sort of, in Belgium — our plane tickets were round-trip out of Brussels Airport.  Brunch at Café Mokafe in one of the covered galleries in the city.  People-watch while chewed crusty baguette sandwich, then Keith-watched as he ate a waffle while we walked to Delirium Café for a beer.  Directly across the entrance is the Jeanneke Pis, which made me wonder what is up with this city and peeing children.  Strolled around aimlessly until stopping for a break at Chaff on the Place du Jeu de Balle.  Fell madly in love with the cleverest street dog ever, then stopped by Lola for dinner before packing up at the hotel.

* I know it is redundant.
** Darlington took some of these photos.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb