Friday, January 30, 2009

Places I Spent the Night: 2008

I saw this on a few blogs I read and thought it was super cute, and interesting adventure trying to remember all the places I slept. Facebook photo albums tripped many triggers to help!

Places I Spent the Night: 2008

Cedar Falls, IA (homey home)
Orlando, FL (Disney, to get technical)
Minneapolis, MN
NewTown Square, PA
Philadelphia, PA
Chicago, IL
Kansas City, MO
Atlanta, GA
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brussels Bongo

Between Amsterdam and Paris, we had a day of travel, with a few hours stop in Brussels, Belgium. I don't think I knew a single thing about Brussels before we went. I'm not even sure I knew it was in Belgium. Now I know everything I need to know...that I want to go back.

We spent the morning on the bus, driving to Brussels. The bus was pretty much silent the entire ride. People still drunk, high, or just so partied out that they passed out completely. And for us kids that didn't try to kill ourselves with such intense partying, it was still early. I think I was one of the only ones, counting the driver, that stayed awake the whole ride.

On the outskirts of Brussels, the bus made a quick photostop at the Atomium. I had never even heard of the Atomium, and I was not in store for the War of the Worlds crazy alien structure that we encountered.

It's so much bigger than you can even imagine. Each one of the little globulals has something in it, like a theater, a restaurant, a shop, its crazy. Just bam! Right in the middle of the street. Very cool. Very odd.

Once in Brussels, we walked through the streets of downtown, and there was a stretch of several blocks that was solid restaurants. Not just any restaurants, but seafood restaurants. And it was about 10am at the time, and they were all setting up these giant stands right outside the front doors, FILLED with fresh seafood of all sorts on top of a mountain of ice. It was all beautifully arranged. I wanted to just stop and eat at all of them right there.

We continued walking through the city square, a big open square surrounded by old school beautiful government buildings, and it seemed that all streets led to this City Square.

We walked through this square and headed straight to Mannequin Pis, the statue of the peeing baby. Its at the end of a random normal street, and the statue is probably only 18 inches tall. It seems so unimportant to be the entire symbol of Brussels.

Apparently, its normally dressed up in strange costumes, but we happened to see it on a day where it wasn't, so that was sad. But right next door, was heaven. No really, it was this little stand, only an open window that you order from, but you order waffles. Not just regular waffles, but waffles that seem to be coated with crystalized sugar, and then topped with anything you want. Fruit, chocolate, whipped cream. ANYTHING.
If I could that waffle every day. I would. And then I would need liposuction every Christmas. But I am ok with that! The amount of walking might burn off a bite or two. Cause we did a lot of walking through Brussels, cruising through the tourist shops, looking at all the crazy tourist stuff. It was more than Amsterdam had, but it was fun. There was a LOT of Mannequin Pis stuff, including corkscrews, and even this candy shop had this setup:

I like to call it "Taste the Rainbow." There were a lot of cute candy, chocolate, and cookie shops.

It was like straight out of Hogsmeade, super cute, cookies and candy and chocolate lining the walls with bright colors and yummy carbs. Sadly, not all of the occupants of Brussels get to enjoy such shops. I have a strange affection for homeless people that have animals.

It kills me to see how much they love their pet, and that they would rather feed their best friend of a dog than themselves. I want to take them home with me.

Brussels was also the city that we experienced the black bathrooms. No, not racial, but IN THE DARK bathrooms. Before getting on the bus, we decided to try to find a bathroom, and found a little place that had some. Only, when Ryan and I went to go first, we discovered that there were no lights for the bathrooms! WHO PEES IN THE DARK?!? Not just no lights in the stalls, but the stall was a room to itself, and therefore was pitch black. It was a very scary experience to say the least.

Back on the bus, it was on our way to Paris! We had quite an adventure that first night, but that is a post all on its own!

The bus ride to Paris.

This might be sunrise, but hey, its still really pretty.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Last Day in Amsterdam.

Our last day in Amsterdam, we got up early and took off with part of the group in a bus, headed to the outskirts of Amsterdam. It's kind of weird how similar the countryside of the Netherlands is to our own Iowa countryside. Flat, little bit of water, some treets, but otherwise, not much else. Our first stop, Zaanse Schans, was pretty much a windmill farm.

There were old school traditional windmills all in a row, about 10 of them, it was really pretty cool. We didn't have time except to walk down the row of windmills and take some cool pictures, but that was enough for me!

This sign was too cute to pass up, but even cuter, was the next stop on our little field trip. A mini cheese factory. Solidly for tourist viewing only, and not much of an actual factory, but we got to meet Mrs. Cheese (yes, thats what we were to call her).

Mrs. Cheese taught us all about how they make cheese there at the "factory" and the different kinds of cheese that we were about to taste. It was deliciously tasty cheese, nearly everyone in the group ended up buying a wheel or three.

Even we bought some cheese, despite the name Dyanamite Cheese, its not spicy, but an herbed cheese that tickles the tastebuds! And nextdoor to the cheese place, was a klomppen shop. It was a show room with the machines they make klompen with. They still use the machines they used when they originally started making wooden shoes, WAY back in the day. The man that ran the machines had carved himself a pair, drilled in some holes for laces, and painted the Nike swoosh on the side. They're sweet.

Something about bright shiny wooden shoes in lots of different colors just cheers me up....I didn't get any, and I feel like I should have. Apparently they are ridiculously comfortable, go figure.

After the cheese and shoe place, we went on the most boring canal tour ever. It was a full hour of the exact same view. Fogged up dirty windows, looking at the bottom half of sidewalks above. Woohoo. We did get to see this supposedly famous bridge though.

The canal tour led to a Diamond Factory, which was also a bust, they showed us how to cut a diamond, and then made a huge sales pitch for everyone to buy diamonds. Because we all know all college kids are just LOADED with several mil for a diamond ring. Our awesome sevensome left to find a place to eat, only to magically come across a Chinese restaurant doing some sort of ceremony complete with big Chinese dragon and a LOT of fire crackers.

The noise scared me so much, I backed straight up into the street, regardless of any cars coming. Needless to say, I survived, and we managed to find this cute little pizza place nearby. And it just so happened, that they had AMAZING hot chocolate. Sounds silly, but it was AWESOME. All hot chocolate should be that good.

Doesn't it just look extra yummy, all in the glass cup, so quaint!

Tim and I had to jet from lunch pretty quick in order to make it to the Versetzt Museum. It's the Dutch Resistance Museum, a small museum not in the main part of the city. It was by far the best Museum we went to though. And probably the best World War II Museum I have ever been to. I loved it. It went through Netherland's occupation by Germany and through the war. But it was totally unbiased, and had so many personal stories and details, and just day to day activity during that time period. It wasn't all about the guns and military, it was about the people and culture during that era. Highly suggested. We finished up right as the museum was closing, we timed it perfectly. We had some time to kill before meeting back up with our clan for dinner, so we perused the local grocery store, which was quite the experience. It was intense! People shopped like the store was going out of business in the next hour. Agressive. And the cheese aisle? Whoa buddy. GIANT wheels of cheese on the shelf. Who eats that much cheese?!

Next in order to kill time, we found a cheap internet cafe. We caught up on some email, some facebook, and just general knowledge that the world hadn't blown up outside of the Netherlands.

The hilarious part was that next to us was a line of Dutch teenagers, all playing Counterstrike, yelling at eachother in Dutch, but throwing in numerous English profanities. It was very amusing to say the least.

Finally met up with Ryan, Kristan, and the girls, only to have quite the debate on where to have dinner. We ended up going back to St. James Gate, the Irish Pub. Not too much excitement, just a big discussion on what we all do for a "living" and how Ryan and Tim's mothers are pretty much the exact same person, that was pretty humorous. A long wait for the tram in the freezing cold, and several rounds of the ING Dutch Lion Dancing commercial later, we were back for the night! Good bye Amsterdam! It's been grand, but we probably won't come see you again anytime soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kitty Comedy

This was just too funny....and so so true of my own precious little furballs...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Year's Day in Amsterdam!

New Years Day. Tim and I hit up the poorly attended hotel breakfast, I assume most people didn't go to bed until the wee hours of morn. We were at least asleep by 4am, so by we were on the tram by 10 easily. Madame Toussaud's was supposed to be open at 10, and we figured we might as well do the few things that were open on New Year's Day. The city was empty, it was eerie and peaceful all at the same time. We got to the wax museum, no sign of it opening, so we walked the streets thinking maybe 11 was more likely. We passed so many firework remnants, that I am surprised the city hadn't burned down while we slept.

11am came, we checked on the museum, and nothing. More blocks walked, more touristy stores visited, including ones with cows on the ceilings and really big wooden shoes upstairs!

Noon, our last attempt at the wax museum before giving up for the day, and voila! Open. Well, at least opening, it took a good twenty minutes for them to set up the velvet ropes before they let us inside, but we got in. Somehow, we broke ahead of the other first groups let in, and we basically got free reign of the statues. It was sweet, we could take as many pictures with any of the figures, being as silly as possible, without anyone to get in our shots, be ahead of us in line, or feel silly in front of. It was nice. The downside was that it was significantly smaller than the London museum, and we finished the whole place in 45 minutes. A euro a minute, bigtime ouch for my wallet. Still a lot of fun though, and some great pics. Including Tim looking up Marilyn Monroe's skirt, touching J Lo's butt, and me striking my best Beyonce pose. And the following shots of myself being snubbed by Bon Jovi...

and the valiant rescue of Timothy by Spidey himself....

Post museum, we had an entire afternoon ahead of us and a nearly empty city to wander. Sadly, our feet didn't agree with us and we decided to focus our efforts on finding the famous Pancake Bakery. We found the right street almost right away, but it took us a long time before we got to the right portion of what seemed like the longest street in Amsterdam.

But we finally found our pancake haven, and you can read ALL about it here. The Pancake Bakery Adventure
My arches had officially given up the ghost by this point, and my eyelids weren't doing much better, so we went back to the hotel for some necessary napping. Hours later, my foot hadn't done much healing, but we weren't willing to sit in the hotel all night, so we took the tram into Rembrandtsplein, hoping to eat at the Three Sisters. Only once we walked in, we were greeted with a nasty smell, so we crossed the square to St. James Gate, and it was the best decision we had made all day. An Irish pub, english speaking, Irish food, Irish bar, warm and cozy, and still decorated for Christmas.

Loved it. They even gave me a plastic masher to release the lemon wonder into my water! It was cute and quaint. I think we could have sat there all night. And then our food came, and our spirits were boosted even more! Tim's fish and chips looked straight from the coast, and my Irish Lamb stew seemed to come straight from some Irish grandmother's kitchen.

After dinner, we began the great ATM search. We asked at a hotel for the closest one, found it, and then were confusezzled by its non workingness until the nicest Dutchman in Amsterdam saw us and came up to us to explain what it said on the screen, that it wasn't working. He was so ridiculously nice about it, its undescribable, it was adorable. More walking, no finding ATM. At least no working one. Asked at ANOTHER hotel, found it, and AGAIN, broken. The only time you can't find something, is when you need it. Half an hour into our journey, we finally found a working ATM. It probably stole an arm and a leg in bank fees, but there was no way there was going to be more traipsing around Amsterdam that night. New Years eve had finally caught up to us, and we were fast asleep by midnight....

Small Pause for Captain Awesome and Clutter.

I apologize for my lack of posts the past couple of days. I have had two things take over my life.

1) I basically emptied every single closet and cupboard and shelf onto the floor in order to try to organize my life of all the "clutter" (What I consider clutter, most people would call slightly messy, I'm just OCDish) but I am almost done, at least until our new stackable washer/dryer is delivered in three weeks! Only a few small piles left to tackle....

2) The day after we got back from the trip, I started watching How I Met Your Mother. And didn't stop. Before Christmas, the first three seasons were on sale at Best Buy, and being totally unable to turn away from such a sale, I bought all three seasons. Once I started, it was just nonstop awesome action. I flew through the first three seasons, and then watched the first half of season four online. Now I am all caught up to start watching the show next Monday! Pumped. It's hilarious. Robin is my Canadian kid hating doppelganger, only she's much hotter. Lily and Marshal are just the epitome of pukingly cute but choking with laughter of couples. And Barney?
Legend.ary. I would continue to quote all the things that make him awesome, but frankly, I wouldn't finish until Easter. So just watch yourself! And force yourself to take a break after every couple episodes, or you never well, and you will end up like Ted. Alone :(

But now, I cross my heart and hope to die that by midnight, you will be able to read about more of the insanity of Europe!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sidenote: Teeth!

This is me for 23 years.

This is me as of Tuesday. New president, new teeth!

It's taken me a bit of time to get used to them. As he was doing it, I was thinking, "this is silly, the gap doesn't bother any more, not like it used to, I shouldn't be messing with this" And then he was done. It's weird, I don't even think they make me look different, even though I know they do, I dont know. It's also hard because it wasn't a very good job. They LOOK right (which is the most important part) although, i kind of think they look like rabbit teeth, but they don't FEEL right. He told me it takes awhile, but when I run my finger over them, one tooth obviously is thicker than the other, they arent flush at the bottom, and the back of them has a little crease of a shelf that gets stuff stuck on it.

I guess we shall see....but I have no gap! Weird. So weird.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Craziest Pancakes.

So we kept being told to make sure we eat the pancakes in Amsterdam. Famous? Tasty? Something of the sort. Before we left, my mom sent us the menu of the Pancake Bakery. We checked it out, thought it looked delicious and decided to try to find it if we had the time.

It took us awhile to figure out how to get there, and then even longer to actually get there, but finally, we arrived! There was a line out the door, but we had nowhere else to be, it being New Years Day and all. We stood, and waited, anxiously looking at the cozy warm tables filled with people and pancakes on the inside!

Then it was our turn to be seated. it was shared seating, meaning you could potentially have to sit with total strangers at your table (totally normal for Europe) but we lucked out and got our six top all to ourselves, with a perfect view of the flame bursting grill. The restaurant had two cooks and five burners turning out all the pancakes and omelets for the whole place, it was quite the well oiled machine to get all that food cranked out. We didn't even really wait long!

I had ordered the sweet route, the apples, raisins, and marasquin pancake. And this was by no means the sweetest way to go, they had a whole section of pancakes that came with ice cream! On the table, the maple syrup and powdered sugar weren't alone, they even had a carmel sauce for your entree.

Tim went salty with cheese, ham, and mushroom. It's not even possible to explain these pancakes. They were amazing. Nothing I have ever really had before, and I have had a LOT of food. Particularly in the breakfast arena, my favorite array of foods. Its not the typical American fluffy pancake, but more of a crepe in density and thickness, but your toppings are mixed in to the batter during the cooking. They drizzled batter, let it cook a bit, put in some toppings, drizzle more batter, more toppings, more drizzle, and voila! Amazing tastes explode in your mouth!
I'm a total chub-a-lub for talking about food so much. But really, what other reason is there to travel, but to eat? :)

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Years Eve in Amsterdam!

New Years Eve in Amsterdam was, not QUITE as expected, but certainly is a story to be told. I'll edit the day part of it so I can go into the saga that was New Years Eve. Even if you don't read the blog, at least read the craziness that was the leading 2 hours into New Years. INSANE.

We woke up early to go in as a group to the city to Anne Frank's House. Which, I apparently took ZERO pictures at. It's not a huge shocker though, because to be totally honest, I was super disappointed in it. I read the diary when I was only in 6th grade, and became fascinated with the whole story and the war. But seeing the House was a total downer, not in the depressing way, but because it has been so...commercialized? That's not the right term, but the entire thing has been redone and modernized in a way. I doubt any of the walls are actually authentic or anything. It was like seeing any other recreated museum. Sad, really. But seeing the actual diary at the end was pretty intense. That was the only part of the whole thing that made it seem remotely real.

Anyways, after we finished the house, we were split up again, and Tim and I went on a massive hunt for clothes to make me warm. I totally was unprepared for the cold, and knowing I was going to be out until the wee hours of morn made it necessary for warmth. Two pairs of tights (amazing), a pair of hiking socks, and a sweet Amsterdam hat later, I was prepared!
And we headed off for the Rijiks Museum, an art Museum. We passed some cool graffiti and klomppen shops along the way!

Finally we made it to the museum, only to find out that they had just reopened and everyone and their mother wanted to go see the new exhibits. So we stood in line, outside, for over an hour, in the freezing cold and snow. I took at least 100 pictures while we were in line, trying to take my mind off of it, but I will only bore you with two of them. And at least I had a hat! The British man in front of us had bare ears. Poor poor Brit. The first picture is me with my lion love, and the second is one of the entrance gates into the museum, it was really quite gorgeous and massive.

But we finally got in, saw the museum with frozen feet, and it was interesting. Art museums just aren't really our thing. I can't look at a painting for twenty minutes and try to figure out what each brush stroke meant. I frankly don't care. My bad.
After the Rijiks, we went back to the hotel and the "closeby" supermarket, which was really at least a mile away and a gas station has more food than this place did, but we got a small lunch and headed back to the hotel to eat and rest up for the evening ahead!

A rest and a nap later, we figured we should eat before freezing our booties off for the next six hours, so we hit up the hotel buffet downstairs, expensive and not that great, it filled our tummies with warmth.

And then it started....we decided to meet up with Ryan and Kristen at 10ish, and then head down to Dam Square, where apparently it is all the rage to be. We get to the Metro stop and are informed by other kids in our tour group that the trains had stopped at 8. I know I said I wouldn't complain about our tour guide in this, but COME ON, who doesn't tell their tour group that the train stations close at 8! Plus, he never informed us on how to get BACK to the hotel, and we had to read another tour groups poster to figure out there was a free bus at 2am. But anyways, we were pissed. It was 10:30, and cabs were running 100euro ($150) to get to the city. So, we thought the only thing to do was start walking. And thus we did!

It was cold, but the boys had Heinekens, and I was just desperate to get there. We had no idea if we were going in the right direction or not, but just hoped we were. We had walked at least half an hour when finally someone was kind enough to answer our questions if we were headed the right way. They pointed in the direction, and said we would never make it by midnight. We still had 7 kilometers to go. We basically started jogging. Asked another lady about a half mile later, who was on a bicycle, and she basically laughed at us. We were panicking at this point. There were 8 of us jogging/running/PISSED off at our tour guide that he put us in this situation. Totally desperate and nowhere near close at 11:30, we flag down a taxi van just to see how much, he took pity on us since it was so close to midnight, and pretty much the whole city was already there, and gave the rate of 5euros a piece. Totally worth it.

We all hop in the van, still nervous about making it with traffic and all. 11:40ish, we get as far as the taxi can take us, and we basically just start running in the direction we think we should go. We're all screaming Dam Square, trying to get directions, but nobody pays any attention to us. It was like Amazing Race, I swear, just running around, almost in circles. Finally I ask a couple who actually answers me, but also tells me that Dam Square was closed because it was too full. I wanted to cry. I got back to the group, and we decide to get as close as we can anyway. People were packing the streets no matter where we were, fireworks going off mere feet from us (BIG fireworks, totally legal in Amsterdam) being set off by drunks who had no clue what they were doing. We realized we had run totally the wrong way.

By this point we are all sweating and tired and mad and just done. But we keep running until we see the sign that says Dam Square is closed. Then we started jogging. By the time we hit the massive wall of people, we were less than a block from Dam Square. Nothing was going to stop us at this point. We basically just locked up, and pushed forward. We kept pushing until we could really push no more. And then about a minute and a half later, they started the countdown. We had BARELY made it. By the skin of our teeth made it. We wanted to punch Omar in the throat. People are everywhere, fireworks are everywhere, booze is everywhere. Theres music and dancing and its just crazy. I spent my New Years in Amsterdam. I called my mom amidst the chaos and it was one of those conversations where she can't understand a word I say, and I have no idea if she's even on the other end of the line. Fireworks were going off, people were screaming, it was crazy.

After the countdown, we knew we had two hours to kill before the first bus left to our hotel, so along with Ryan and Kristen, we just started walking the streets of Amsterdam. Street sellers had suitcases of champagne to sell, one couple was lighting a candle to raise their mini hot air balloon, more fireworks, more booze and singing and dancing. It was just really fun to experience it with that many people.

After awhile we slowly made our way to the bus stop, going back through Dam Square, and the amount of garbage and firework trash was absolutely insane. This picture doesn't even come close to doing it justice. It was gross the amount of garbage and bottles and who knows what that littered the ground. But we pushed through, Ryan and Kristen needing a snack, we stopped at a French Fry stand and of course, Ryan made good friends with the British guys ahead of us. It seemed to be his gift.

We finally made it to the bus station, and were crazy lucky enough to actually get seats for the trip home. It was packed. But we made it. With one crazy story. No thanks to Omar.