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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Euro Trip Part 1

I have been wanting to hit Europe back up ever since I left back in 2009.  After our Costa Rican vacation last year I knew the chances of Europe were pretty good so I really pressed for it.  I planned several different itineraries but the one we settled for that fit best was Netherlands, Belgium, and France or mainly all of Holland, Brussels, and Paris by car.

Wednesday after work we went up to Dallas to stay in a hotel for the night so we wouldn't have to worry about parking the car or rushing so early in the morning.  We stayed at the Marriott North and since we had stayed a night there left the car for "free" until we returned.  We really like doing this on long trips because the one night you stayed at the hotel pays for the parking fees that you save by leaving your car there.

Thursday March 12, 2015 was the start to our European trip.

Our flight was good.  We were able to sleep a good bit and watch some newly released movies.  Once we arrived at 8 am we had rental car problems AGAIN!!! The travel days are always stressful but when we have trouble on those days the stress is really just through the roof.  We finally got our rental car problems settled and once that was out of the way the trip was carefree and also very relaxed.  I was the set driver for the trip because Hendrik left home without his valid drivers license, which was fine because I love to drive but I was bummed because I knew the camera would be left in Hendrik's hands....not the best photographer but he did ok and got pretty good at knowing what I wanted to be pictured by the end of the trip!

me and my sexy Toyota

Once we got our rental we set out for downtown Amsterdam for the rest of the day and night to explore.  Downtown Amsterdam is torture in a car not only are the roads tight there's canals running every direction more bicycles than anywhere else on Earth and ZERO parking.  We finally were able to grab a spot down near the bay and paid the 24 hour fee grabbed our bags and set out to find a hotel near by. 

found parking now eager to explore...sans sunshades lol

Although I am quite the planner this trip I left several things unplanned.  I had our general itinerary but as far as how long we would hang in one spot was left open and therefore the hotel situation was left open as well.  We found hotels either once we were already in the city or on our way via Hotels.com which was a real easy way and we got some great deals.   On our walk towards the main downtown area from our parking spot we spotted a little boutique hotel that looked nice enough. I asked about availability and price...both were on point and we decided to check in, dump our bags, and head out to explore.

We walked around a bit before having lunch on a patio of a restaurant overlooking a canal.  For my first European meal I chose a traditional Dutch dish that Hendrik suggested...when in Holland!  I had kroket and fries which is a battered and fried meat paste type thing and French fries.  It wasn't terrible but I'm not a fan.  I ate them again later on in our trip and had the same experience.  I could live off them but would rather choose to eat something else if had the choice.


We walked around a bit more and sightsaw.  We toured the old royal palace and also explored the historic square that every European town has.  This has all the old important buildings like government buildings and large cathedrals that are now historic and preserved.  We window shopped so many cheese shops, roamed a flower market and saw entire parking garages built just for bicycles!

This is a hot vending machine for actual full on meals or pieces of meals.  You pay your money and pick your food items, the door unlocks, and you get your dish.  I had seen these in Travel Leisure and also on a travel bloggers blog and thought it was so funny when I saw one in person!  Hendrik's Mom said that a long time ago these were really popular in Holland then went out of style but are apparently making a come back. 

pretty doors

so many bikes
I really wanted to ride a bike in Amsterdam and mark that must item off my bucket list but seeing the traffic both car and bikes plus the people and all the canals and small streets I just wasn't up to getting ran over or having a major accident so we held off.  It isn't recommended for tourists to ride bikes in Amsterdam as it is so hectic and fast paced you really are more likely to cause yourself more trouble than have the fun you thought about having.

After a bit more walking we decided to take a nap so we wouldn't completely crash before dinner and the red light district.  We are only staying in Amsterdam downtown for one night so I wanted to get in as much as possible.  After our nap we dressed for dinner and set off to find a spot.  It is sssooo hard to find restaurants when traveling abroad or in any unfamiliar spot.  If I need to get better at anything when it comes to traveling it is researching dining options before heading on our trips.  We ate apparently really early or late in Holland as it was 8 pm and there wasn't anyone at the Argentine steak house we chose.

After dinner we took to the streets to see more of the Amsterdam night life and prowl around the Red Light District to see what all the fuss was about.  The Red Light District isn't super crazy but it is definitely something to see.  There are normal shops that open up at night, throw the curtains back on huge full length windows, and there you have real life lingerie clad mannequins begging you to come in for a "visit".  We were walking down one street and a drunk guy stumbled out of a shop with a huge smile on his face and as he joined his group of man friends there were high fives and excited talk!  After seeing what all that was about we were really exhausted from a full day and more of traveling so we were back in the hotel by 10 pm.

Friday March 13, 2015 started off with a fantastic breakfast at a spot called Sara's Pancake House.  They had an awesome cappuccino and I ate one of their famed crepes.  Hendrik got a Dutch omelet type dish and being Dutch it is served over two pieces of bread.  There's not a shortage of bread or tea in Holland I can promise you!

After breakfast we took the long way back to the hotel to see a few more sights.  I wanted to see Anne Frank's house but even early in the morning I bet there were 1000 people already in line to go inside so we got a picture of the front and moved on.

Once we made it back to the hotel it was time to check out and drive to North Holland to the region of Fryslan, where Hendrik's family is from. We took the more scenic route across the dike which separates the sea from the ocean and keeps/kept Holland from being under water.  Holland has a very low sea level...hence all the canals and such so to help flood control and water level rising a dam of sorts was built called a dike.  The water that is inside the dike against the land is now a sea and the Atlantic Ocean is on the outside of the dike. 

World War II bunkers on either end of the dike

he's got jokes

love driving in KM...I feel the need for speed

getting closer!
We arrived in Hemrik around 3 in the afternoon and made a quick stop by Hendrik's Aunt Gerda's house.  After the quick stop at Gerda's we continued on to Beppe's house (Hendrik's grandma) and unpacked, got our room situated, and visited the rest of the evening away with all the family.  We had Chinese food that night and turned into bed around 11.

Saturday March 14, 2015 We woke up, showered, and had a breakfast at Beppe's.  It was funny seeing all our laundry hung out to dry when we got up....including my itty bitty thong LOL.  After breakfast and a cup of tea as a finish we drove to the nearby town of Gorredijk to visit Pake (grandpa in Frysian) Pete at his nursing home.  We stayed there for an hour or two visiting Pake.  When we left I just broke down crying in the car.  Hendrik has no clue on how to console me when crying since it doesn't happen often and he's just not that type of person the pure panic that I see in his face is pretty funny.  I just felt so sad for leaving him there alone and I know that we traveled thousands of miles to see him when there are people that are part of his family that don't ever visit him. 

After we left we stopped by the Jumbo grocery store and grabbed a few snack items.  When we got back to Beppe's it was lunch and we had a huge meal.  Gerda's twin boys joined us for lunch after their soccer game.  Lunch is the big meal of the day in Holland but to me every meal seemed to be large and then you mix in all the coffee and tea and cake and cookies...boy I stayed full the entire trip.  After lunch we headed out to sightsee a bit more.  We drove around Tinje and Gorredijk seeing Henk and Roelie's home they build before migrating to the US and also we stopped at a couple dairies that Henk worked at as a teenager and young man.  

Henk & Roelie's house they built in Holland
There were tons of geese all over Holland.  Hendrik was itching for a gun.  Hunting isn't a recreational sport like it is in the US.

The first dairy we stopped at had a cheese and gift shop and we bought a few gifts for family back home.  Roelie and Henk got cheese and we bought my mom a serving tray with the Frysian anthem painted on it.  The second dairy we saw also had a shop but we mainly visited the inside of the barn.  It was almost closing time so we couldn't see the full operation but it was really neat just seeing something so familiar and their way of doing it.  The main difference between the looks of the barns is everything is an enclosed brick structure due to the winter weather conditions there.  Everything looks so homey and clean.  

We noticed that a lot of the dairies there have store fronts or homemade shops to sell their goods.  I don't know for sure but I'm assuming it is to supplement their income as these dairies aren't huge and I know how the dairy business pays.  

After visiting the dairies and seeing Henk and Roelie's house we headed back into Gorredijk to have dinner at Hendrik's uncle's house.  Auke and Hilda live in a town house complex and their house was so different.  It was very modern with black cabinetry with white and red furnishings and 4 stories.  It's different than what we are used to in the US especially in our rural area.  Gorredijk is a pretty rural area as well so it was so neat to see how differently people live.  Auke cooked traditional stomppot and meatballs and for dessert we had fancy yogurt in all sorts of flavors.  After dinner we hung out with them a bit and visited before heading back to Hemrik to watch a play that Hendrik's cousin was in.  

Saturday night was a late night as we went to see Eke's play.  She is in a performing group and they put on a set of 3 different skit type plays.  I don't know the language but with Hendrik's help and just picking up on the acting I really enjoyed it.  They served beer and had door prizes.  We got back to Beppe's around 11 that night and went straight to bed.

Sunday March 15, 2015 again started out with a good breakfast of cheese, bread, and fruit.  After breakfast we hung out with Beppe during the morning visiting about all sorts of things.  Hendrik's cousin and fianc√© came by to visit us.  They were expecting a baby soon and had no idea about the gender!  So crazy.  They had also recently bought a house and I really enjoyed talking with them about their new plans and just their life in general.  Fenna, Hendrik's cousin, stopped by while we were eating lunch but she didn't stay long.  We had a really good lunch with some awesome garlic bread and two different kinds of soup.  One was a chicken noodle type and the other is the Dutch version of tomato soup which has little bitty meat balls in it and a few vegetables.  

Pake Pete and Hendrik

After lunch we went back to visit Pake at the nursing home and he gave us a tour of the entire complex and pointed out each painting on the wall. LOL  It was really sad saying good bye to him since this was the last day we would be stopping by before heading out the next morning.  On the way back to Beppe's we stopped at some family friends Jelle and Roelie to have tea and a cookie.  Their house was so cozy and they were the nicest people to visit with. Everyone I talked with and met were so welcoming and treated me just like family.  We didn't stay there long since I had big bicycle plans for us.  
While we were getting the bikes ready we saw this deer
so excited and freezing to be riding bikes in Holland along the canals

Hendrik and his childhood memories

It was late afternoon when we got back to Beppe's so we got the bikes ready to go with Beppe's help and we set off on the ultimate rural Netherlands bike ride.  We stopped at a cemetery that has a huge bell that Hendrik remembers swinging on as a kid. We then rode towards the big canal and rode along side the canal for a bit. Then we made our way back to the main road and rode on the bike path from Hemrik to Lippenhuzen which is about 4 miles away.  Bike paths in Holland are nicer or just as nice as the highways and wide.  Bikes are used as much or more than cars to get around so the paths were really awesome and went all over the country right alongside the highways.  We took the scenic farm route back to Beppe's along a dirt and rock road and saw a lot of farms.  We rode about 10 miles total and got back just in time to get ready for dinner with the whole family as it was our last night there.  

We had a special dinner literally.... another traditional Dutch meal with kroket, fries, and frikadel especial!  The entire family was pumped and had been talking about having frikadel for days.  It is deliciosu and not an everyday meal.  What is frikadel and what makes it special you ask...well let me tell you.... it is essentially a larger hotdog but with a very different taste that is awesome.  What makes it special is the curry sauce/ mayo combo plus onions which is also used as a dipping sauce for your french fries.  The entire meal was fabulous!  After long visits with family and more with Beppe we had dessert, tea, coffee, more dessert then bed!

Hendrik, Beppe, Me

Auke and Hendrik....they look very similar

Pauline and I
Henka, Roelie, and Helsha- Hendrik's aunt, cousin, and other aunt

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