Category Archive: Uncategorized

  1. Athens

    1 Comment

    Greetings and welcome back for the final installation of Braam’s Gone Wild….European Edition!

     

     

    Once again, we had a terribly late arrival to our new destination, but the red eye from Rome was super cheap. By the time we ended up at Liz’s(our friend in Athens), it was 2am and we were exhausted. The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at 11, only to discover that the Athens Metro workers were on strike. That made our decision of what to do with the day really easy. After so much travel we were more than happy to hang in Liz’s hood for a mellow day. We met for dinner and ate some wonderfully delicious Greek specialties at one of her favorite neighborhood restaurants. Having some local knowledge and a translator really helps in getting to go to and order at many of the fantastic local spots. Hanging out with Liz enabled us to have some amazing food we would have otherwise never tried. Love that local knowledge!

    After our lazy day in Athens, we had to make day two count, so we got up early and hit town! Our mission for the day was to tackle the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. We arrived and were immeadiately reminded that we had entered a tourist zone. Guided tours, selfie sticks and souveniers were for sale and street performers played up and down the street. We got our tickets and walked up the hill to see the reminants of the once powerful ancient Greeks. The Parthenon and all of the other temples and such were striking in both beauty and size. All structures stood in various forms of renovation, but you could really get a feeling of what it all used to look like back in the day. There was a pretty small crowd but you could imagine how it might be miserable with the crowds and heat of August. We walked the site in constant amazement wondering what it must have been like to be a citizen of ancient Athens. We pulled ourselves away to make it just down the street to the Acropolis Museum. It was there that we had a nice lunch on the roof, taking in the delicious food and great views. We then dove into the thousands of ancient artifacts the place had on display. It was super interesting to get some more background on the site itself, its intricate renovations and to see some of the stone carvings and other items up close. We stayed as long as a 4 year old can stay in a museum and headed back to Liz’s. That evening, we had the special treat of a Halloween party! The American school where Liz teaches was having a fundraiser party, so we went to enjoy the fun and games. Meier couldn’t have been more thrilled! Candy, games and costumes…what more could a kid want!?

    The next day Liz had the day off! She gave us a great locals tour of some cool neighborhoods for shopping and sightseeing. We checked out lots of little shops and markets before making our way to the anarchist neighborhood, Liz’s favorite. There was lots of graffiti all around with painted up abandoned buildings every few blocks. We stopped for lunch at a great restaurant where we had more ordering assistance for a tasty meal. Definitely an interesting vibe going on in that hood. We wandered a bit longer through the city before heading home for a chill night.

    On the last day of our time in Athens and in Europe, we went out for a nice day on the beach. After a complicated ride on public transit we made it to the seaside. Small rocky beaches, one by one, line the coast. We picked one and spread out a bit. The sea was still warm from the summer despite the more recent cooler temperatures. We had a nice swim and lots of fun playing in the surf. Meier kept insisting on races down the beach, so we took turns running up and down the beach with him. It was the perfect afternoon for relaxing and enjoying the last day before the long journey home. We said goodbye to the sea, then headed back to Liz’s. That night we went out for some farewell beers at the local microbrewery and one last gyros before retiring to the apartment to get ready.

    We woke early, said goodbye and hopped in a cab to the airport. The trip home was long and arduous, but we arrived in one piece! We’re so happy to be home and the whole trip is really beginning to set in. It’s crazy to sit back and think about how many crazy fun adventures we had. So many parks and castles. So many awesome restaurants and cafes. So many great countries and cities. What a really incredible trip of a lifetime.

    Thanks everyone for tuning in for a window into our crazy travels. Stayed tuned for more adventure and travel in the future, but not for a while…we’re tired.

  2. Amalfi Coast and Pompeii

    5 Comments

    Hey Everyone! We’re wrapping up and starting to feel all the feels. Only a couple more posts before we’re back in the good ol US of A.

     

     

    One last adventure to the sea! We picked up our rental car n Rome, drove through Naples, and after narrowly avoiding collision with at least 100 psychotic Italian drivers, we climbed up and over the mountains to the spectacular and ritzy Amalfi Coast. It was the end of the season, so things were really slowing down, but we had a fantastic time regardless. We stayed in Maiori, which is about 3 miles down the coast from the town of Amalfi. Not as much of a glitzy locale, but it was perfect for us. We were a block off the beach with a small market just a few steps away. The pool was also close, but it was icy cold, so that was a no go. The sea ended up being much more comfortable for a swim, which is where we spent most of our time.

    Our days there were wonderful but fleeting as we spent much time reflecting over our trip. We were mostly lazy, playing on the beach and playing in the sand. We took one big outing during our stay and it was well worth the death defying drive down the coast. On our second full day there we decided to make the trip to Punta Campanella, the point where the Amalfi Coast meets the Gulf of Naples. We drove to the appropriately named Termini, the last town at the end of the peninsula and continued on foot down the ancient stone path. The views of the coast and the island of Capri were breathtaking and the well cared for olive groves we hiked through gave us the feeling of a time long past. We eventually made it down to the point where the sea met the stone. The waves crashed violently down below and the old stone ruins remained above perched on the limestone cliffs. There we found remains from the ancient Greeks, Romans, bases for Napoleon’s cannons as well as WWII cannons. This was clearly a point that has been of cultural significance since even mythical times. In fact, this was said to be the location where Odysseus founded a sanctuary for the Goddess Athena and where he met the Sirens. We took in the views before heading back up the trail to the car. On our way back, we stopped at a wonderful cliff-side restaurant between Positano and Amalfi for a picturesque sunset and a Campari Spritz.

    After we bid farewell to the coast, we made another frightening trip on the highway to Pompeii. This was really an incredible place. Excivated from the ash that had buried it centuries ago, the ancient city remains somewhat as it was the day Mt. Vesuvious erupted in 79 AD. There we wandered the streets and pondered what it must have been like to live in ancient Pompeii under the looming volcano. The highlight was definitely the Amphitheater where battles once took place between Gladiators and beasts. Also, in more recent history, Pink Floyd made a recording and movie there in 1972. The archaic halls had been preserved, and inside was an exhibit displaying photos and a recap of the famous recording session. It was a surprising and entertaining fusion on ancient and modern history. We wandered a bit more before getting back in the car and hitting the road once again. We headed back to Rome,  but made a quick pit stop at Mt. Vesuvius. We drove up the rocky crater in hopes of a hike and a view, but we found the top congested with tourists and ourselves running short on time. So we hopped out, took in the view, snapped a photo or two and sped off toward the airport. There we would depart our beloved Italy for our final destination, Athens. This also happened to be our first destination of the trip, if you recall, but we were mostly in the islands as it was a bazillion degrees in Athens in August.

    One more stop and we’ll be headed home!

     

     

  3. Rome

    3 Comments

    Greetings and thanks for checking back in on us!

     

     

    Incase you missed the last update, we are now travelling with Alice, Steve and the kids in Italy. After arriving in the Rome train station, we boarded the subway…during rush hour…with 7 people…wearing huge packs. The surrounding passengers were definitely annoyed, but we had to do what we had to do. Fortunately it was only 3 stops before we got off to find our apartment. We exited the Metro at the famed Spanish Steps and walked a couple of short blocks to find the place. The apartment was glorious! It was spacious with comfortable beds, a nice dining room and a huge living room. Of course, the adults spent little time in the living room because it had become the kids romper room. All the cushions and pillows in the room had been immediately piled in the center for the “pit of funness”, a soft mountain of sorts to be launched into from any elevated surface in the room. As the kids played, we planned our two short days in Rome. That evening, we made a quick stop to enjoy the Spanish Steps before dining at one of the many amazing restaurants in the area. After dinner, Claire and Doug made a late night stop at the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was amazing and seemed to still be somewhat crowded at 11 o’clock, we could only imagine the crowds during the day.

    On our first full day, we headed over to the Coliseum first thing. We decided on a guided tour which let us skip the lines and get some more info on exactly what we were looking at. We learned the details about the different battles the took place there, who sat where and how the whole thing worked. Really fascinating! The tour also included Palatine Hill, the home of the Ancient Roman Emperors, and the Roman Forum. The sights were incredible and the history behind them intriguing. Really interesting to hear details of how things once were. We exited the Forum tired and hungry having discovered how much time had passed during the tour. Steve and Alice took the kids to an early dinner, and Doug and Claire took to the streets to wander and find a romantic dinner spot. We headed towards Piazza Navona and were highly successful at finding the dinner spot. The highlight was definitely the Osso Bucco, but all the items were amazing. We meandered through the Piazza after dinner before heading back to the apartment to rest up before our next action packed day.

    The next morning, we hit the subway and headed to Vatican City. The place was packed, but fortunately we had purchased tickets ahead of time, so we went right in. The place is seriously expansive, and the collection of artifacts religious and ancient was seriously impressive. Thousands of sculptures, statues, paintings, marble tubs and countless other priceless items dotted the halls. The whole group was blown away by the immense collection in the museum. We finished the tour at the Sistine Chapel where the works of Michelangelo and Raphael adorned the ceiling and walls, again, really impressive. We shuffled out with the crowds and worked our way around to St. Peter’s Square and Basilica for a look. The whole Vatican was adorned with detail to the nth degrees and we can’t quite imagine the amount money and upkeep it takes to keep this place running. Steve and Alice then took off for some private time of their own and we took the kids out for lunch before heading back to the apartment. There we regrouped at home. After some more “pit of funness” time Steve and Alice returned and we headed back out for a stop at the Pantheon, another impressive Roman building, before our goodbye dinner and obligatory Gelato stop. We bid the Jennison clan farewell, as they would be departing early for the states, and headed to bed.

    The apartment was so empty when we awoke and we were sad to be without our traveling companions of the last week but were excited for our final leg of Italy. We hitched a taxi to the airport and picked up a rental car, as our Eurail passes were now expired. The road was calling and so was the Amalfi coast. We were 3 again and headed back to the beach. Yay!

    We’re closing in on the end of the trip, so stay tuned for the exciting final chapters!

     

     

  4. Back in Italy! Florence and Cinque Terre

    2 Comments

    Ciao and welcome back for the last few installments of the Braam’s European Extravaganza!

     

     

    We arrived in Venice in the early morning hours, and hopped the next train to Florence. We breathed a collective sigh of relief when we got off the train as we were so happy to be back in Italy. It has decidedly become one of our favorite countries, so we decided to return for the back end of the trip. Florence is where we decided to kick off the 12 days, and we had a lovely 24 hours as we waited to meet up with Alice (Claire’s sister), her husband Steve, and kids Siri and Tor. Needless to say, our stay in Florence was a whirlwind. We were exhausted from a not-so-restful night of sleep on the overnight train, so after checking in to our hotel, the first order of business was lunch. We went to the central market to check it out. This place was really great and our favorite spot during our short stay. The ground level was an open air market, and the second level had a variety of different food counters, bars and artisanal shops. We had fantastic truffle cream crostini, the most incredible gnocchi ever, and really delicious arancini. If you’ve never had arancini, you’re missing out. Deep fried risotto balls filled with delicious meats and cheeses, yum! Italian food is the best! We had a not so quick nap at the hotel, then made a foot tour around town. Really beautiful city, the Duomo, some city buildings and squares, statues, bridges, you know, the good stuff. We dined al fresco for dinner at one of the many delicious local establishments and headed back to the hotel.

    The next morning we woke up and headed to the train station to meet Jennison’s. The reunion was joyous and after greetings and hugs, we hopped the next train. At the end of our travel day, we found ourselves in Monterosso, the western most town of the famed Cinque Terre. The accomodations that Alice booked were great. We had the second level of a fantastic family home with a beautiful patio just steps from the beach. We dropped everything and hit the beach, as we were lucky to have such great late season beach weather. The kids were happy and so were we. The blue sea was so calm and warm, and the mountains jutted out of the sea abruptly. The brightly colored buildings clung to the mountainsides and made for a picturesque and enchanting background for our stay. We spent the days hiking from town to town, playing on beaches, enjoying cool drinks and generally watching the kids go nuts in this wonderfully unique paradise. At the crux of each hike there were fantastic views and usually a small stand or café waiting to serve us fresh squeezed juice or lemon slushies. At each town we visited, there were cute restaurants and cafés, colorful connected buildings climbing the hillsides, quaint shops vending local wares and friendly towns people milling about. Every night we dined at family owned restaurants, and the food was always delicious. Fresh pasta, fish, pizza! Everything was great. Each couple got a date night, so the romance was there amidst the family vacation as well. On our last day, we reached the furthest east town of Riomaggiore and took the ferry all the way back to Monterosso, giving us a final and complete view of the Cinque Terre. I could not think of a more perfect retreat for an active family. Really…it was the best of times.

    After our time there was complete, we moved on the ancient city of Rome. Our time here is waning…but we’ll enjoy ’till the last drop!

     

     

     

     

  5. Budapest

    5 Comments

    Hey friends and fam! We’re back for another report on another fantastic stretch in Europe!

     

     

    This time, the Braams hit Budapest! This seemed to be one of the dingier cities we’ve been too, but also one of our favorites. After our arrival to the apartment, we were exhausted, so a quick trip to the store and we spent the night in. This continues to be a marathon of a trip so resting up has been almost as important as getting out. Also the reason why we prefer apartments to hotels, so we can eat in and just chill if we want.

    On the first day, we had a slow morning, but made it out nonetheless. We hopped on the #1 Metro line and headed to Varosliget, a wonderful city park. The #1 Metro line happens to be not only the oldest subway in Budapest, but the oldest subway in Europe. The stations were clean and beautifully tiled and the cars were small and neat. Nothing like we’ve ever seen before. Once at the park, we played at the playground, and made a trip to the adjacent zoo. The zoo was somewhat typical in terms of the fauna, but the architecture was really incredible. We made a stop for lunch before heading to the Szechenyi thermal baths. This place was amazing. We spent a good portion of our time in the outdoor bath, but there were several other indoor baths throughout the large building surrounding the pools. Indoor baths were of all different sizes, shapes and temperatures. The whole place was filled with people who had come from far and wide to visit the unique location. We soaked and swam till our hearts content, stopped for a drink, then did it some more. Exhausted, we walked back through heroes square back to the apartement. That night we went to a local restaurant and dined on some traditional Hungarian fare, then hit the sack to rest up for day two.

    For those of you who don’t know, there are two sides of Budapest, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube. We were staying in Pest, and spent the first two days there. On day two, we headed out on foot to explore more of Pest. Highlights of the day were the Opera House, St. Stephens Basilica, The Great Synagogue, a walk on the Danube, and the Chain Bridge. All of the highlights we a great wonder to take in, but just as good was the scenery on the streets in between. The architecture was really great, and the whole time we were serenaded by a variety of different street performers. We also had lunch at a great ruin bar. These bars are built in old, previously rundown areas of town and the décor are made from crates and palates. Mismatched furniture and a multitude of repurposed items make these places really cool and funky. At the particular place we had lunch, the food was fantastic and the ambiance was hip and exciting. We spent a couple hours there enjoying delicious mushroom soup, creative salads and a variety of different local micro brews. After some time on the river and checking out the Chain Bridge at the end of the day, we again hit the fantastic M1 to the apartment for a restful evening.

    On our third day in Budapest, we finally made it over to Buda. We arrived there to tackle the Citadel. Perched high on the hill over the river this fortress is beautiful with a large statue of a woman holding a feather. We set out from the bottom for a nice mellow climb up the hill. About halfway up, we discovered a fantastic playground. It was maybe even the best one yet. Built into the side of the hill, there were different long slides connecting the top to the bottom. There were different features at the bottom part including a couple built in trampolines. At the top was a cool rope jungle gym and a tower with a rope web around it and climbing holds inside and out. After a while, we continued up the hill to the citadel. The statue and surrounding fortress were pretty cool, but the real beauty was the expansive view of the city. After a quick lunch, we made our way back down the hill for an afternoon at the Gellert Baths. The bathhouse was different from the one we went to on the first day, but equally as cool. We spent the afternoon exploring the different rooms and pools, hopping from outside to inside. We could really get used to days like this, but unfortunately this was our last one in Budapest. We would have some additional time to explore in the morning, but no more afternoons in the thermal baths for us.

    On our last day, we headed straight back to Buda for a tour of the Buda Castle and surrounding area. We took in more great views from the Fisherman’s Bastien, Matthias Cathedral and the old section of Buda Castle around the national gallery. The Matthais Cathedral in particular was beautiful and the most unique cathedral we’ve seen. The roof is covered in a rainbow of different ceramic tiles and the white limestone wall were striking in their detail. We headed back to the apartment to collect our luggage and hit the road once again. First we took the train back to Vienna, then boarded our first overnight train of the trip bound for Venice! So excited to be back in Italy!

    More on our extended trip back in the land of wine and pasta coming soon!

     

     

     

  6. Austria

    2 Comments

    Hi everyone, and welcome back for a look into our world!

     

     

    After our fantastic time in Prague, we made a quick stop for two nights in Vienna and the surrounding area. Vienna was on the way from Prague to Budapest, and is the home of our friend Maria (Claire’s AuPair 30 years ago), so we decided to stop for a visit. Maria picked us up at the train station and we made a quick stop in central Vienna before heading to Trausdorf, where Maria lives with her family. In their small village we had a wonderful time catching up from the last 30 years, sharing memories and stories over home made pizza with Maria and her husband Franz.

    The next morning we headed out for a mellow day in the country. First, we went for a nice hike around a nearby quarry and natural area, where we enjoyed some fall colors and cool and windy weather. The quarry also proved to be a great spot for fossil scavenging. Our hunting produced several nice specimens of ancient sea life and quality souvenirs for the trip. We then headed over to the Neusiedler See (a large lake bordering Austria and Hungary) to check out the unique wetlands ecosystem and the adjacent fantastic playground. This afforded Meier much needed opportunity to blow off some steam. The outing was followed by a delicious lunch at a nearby favorite restaurant of Maria’s family, where we enjoyed some Austrian favorites. Drowsy from the days activities, we headed back to the house for an afternoon of lazing and movie watching. This was really a much needed reprieve from our busy travelling schedule. That evening, we went to the local church where they were holding a small Oktoberfest celebration. We enjoyed one last stein of German beer and some traditional fare before calling it a night.

    The next morning we packed up and Maria drove us back to Vienna for some last minute culture before we boarded our train to Budapest. We had limited time, so we had to make it count. The Leopold Museum was our choice to pack in some quality art viewing. There we viewed the fantastic works of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele in a whirlwind manner, then hauled ass to the train station. Maria and her family were really wonderful and welcoming to us. We had a wonderful time reacquainting and as always, we wish we had more time to spend. We bid them farewell and kept our big wheels turnin’. Budapest awaited us.

    As always, stay tuned for more adventures!

  7. Czech and Prague

    2 Comments

    Greetings! We’ve had some technical difficulties with the site as of late. The last couple of posts have not posted to Facebook, so make sure to look back at Berlin and Netherlands if you missed them! Additionally, if you are not an avid Facebooker, you can sign up for the emailing list. As soon as we post, you’ll see us right there in your inbox!

     

     

    After we swept through Berlin, we made our way to Prague on another direct train! That has been one of the nice things about this leg of the trip. Going from city to city on trains is far less complicated than reaching small towns. We arrived to the main Prague station, then one stop on the subway and we were only a few blocks from our new home for the next 4 days. The apartment was quite old fashioned in an “up and coming” neighborhood, but it suited our needs perfectly. Every night we dined in our hood, which was perfect. We much prefer being close to home for our meals, and the prices were about half of what we would have paid in the touristy areas.

    On our first day, we hit west Prague including the Prague Castle, the John Lennon Wall and the Charles Bridge. The castle was enormous and really, someone could spend an entire day there if they wanted to. We opted for the short tour and we were still there most of the day. There is basically an entire town inside the walls of the castle. We checked out two different cathedrals including one holding the remains of the beloved King Wenceslas, the Old Royal Palace, and the Golden Row. The Golden Row was the highlight with many restored old residences, and a huge display of weapons and armor. They even had a crossbow range, which of course we had to try out. From there, we went to the Lennon wall to reflect on our hope for world peace after the days of horrible violence in news. We are still holding out hope! We then went to the adjacent John Lennon Pub for some libations and local delicacies. The local beers in Prague are quite light and refreshing, and the sausages varied and delicious. After the refreshments we headed to the famous Charles Bridge. It was beautiful with a full moon overhead, but completely packed with tourists. We squeezed our way through the crowds while enjoying the views and made our way to the subway to retreat to our apartment.

    The next day we went to the Vysehrad Citadel, the home of the first royal family of Bohemia, then to the center of Old Prague. The Citadel was nice and had a great playground and sweeping views of the city. The center of Prague was fantastic. The astronomical clock was really cool, and the surrounding area in old town was really neat to just walk around. After some time it in the center, we ventured out of to see more of the area. We ended up at the Municipal House, which is a theater with multiple cafes and restaurants. The building is designed in a art nouveau fashion with the detail out to the nth degree. Really cool spot. We found our way to the basement, where there was a great bar that really reminded us of one of our favorite bars in Denver, the Cruise Room. We enjoyed a Manhattan there before circling back around to old town. We then traversed Wenceslas Square before heading to the subway and going back home.

    For our third and final day in Czech, we visited the village of Kutna Hora. There we saw the old town and the Sedlec Ossuary. We exited the train station and hit the ossuary first. We’ve never been to an ossuary before, and certainly not one like this. The creepy yet quaint small church basement was filled with ancient human bones, arranged in a quite decorative manner. There were pyramid like structures of bones in all four corners with skulls and bones strung like garland across the ceiling. In the middle was a bone and skull chandelier and the artist even left his signature as well as his family crest in, you guessed it, human bones. Again, super creepy, but quite impressive. We somehow had an appetite after that experience, so we had a nice lunch of typical Czech food at an adjacent restaurant. Following that whole experience, we walked to the old town area to visit the castle and gothic cathedral. Very beautiful indeed but man, are there a lot of cathedrals and castles in Europe! We haven’t even scratched the surface and I feel like we’ve seen a million of them. We’ll see more I’m sure, but that was enough for the day. We hit the train station and headed back to Prague for our last night. Next stop, Vienna.

    Thanks for reading! Love and miss you all! Special positive vibes going out to our people in NorCal, we hope everyone is OK. Furthermore, positive vibes going out to Puerto Rico, Florida, Houston, Vegas and everyone else that’s hurting. It’s tough to watch the US in such a hard spot right now, we love you all so much!

  8. Berlin

    1 Comment

    Greetings and welcome back dear friends!

     

     

    Our time in Berlin was short but action packed! We arrived to the Berlin Zoo train station after a 5.5 hour (but direct!) train ride. Luckily the hotel was close to the station so it was a (should have been short, but we got super lost!) short walk. The hotel was one of the nicest of the trip, so we we’re happy to be staying for 3 nights. Later we were happy to find a great Indian restaurant in the neighborhood. Delicious Indian food followed by comfortable bed equals happy Braams. Good times were obviously to come.

    We decided based on the weather that the next day would be our day to get after it. The highlights included the Reichtag, the Holocaust Memorial, Potsdamerplatz, multiple Berlin Wall locales, a Salvador Dali exhibit, Checkpoint Charlie, a random tech/vehicle exhibit and the food trucks in the plaza at the train station. All stops of the day were amazing and moving. Words cannot describe being in such a historic place. So much emotion filled the air at all the different places. The Dali exhibit was something unexpected we encountered along the way and was a wonderful injection of art and creativity into a day of such historic monument. We’ve never really been to a place that holds such significant and recent world history. It was pretty surreal to stand there and take it in. It was also quite amazing to be in Germany and enjoy delicious authentic Cuban cuisine from a food truck. After we downed the Cuban Bowls and so called “sexy fries”, we made our way back to the hotel and called it a day.

    The next day was a little bit more laid back. We went to the Mauer Park, which has the largest amount of intact wall, and then scampered off to LEGO land. Mauer Park was, again, a pretty solemn place. Large lengths of Berlin wall and a multitude of kiosks telling about how it all came to be, and how it tore the city in half. They told of how desperate citizens that were suddenly severed from their friends and families jumped from buildings, crawled through sewers, or just dashed through the “death strip” to make it to West Berlin. It really put some of our trivial modern problems in perspective. We were then redeemed in LEGO land, probably about 100 meters from where the wall once stood . That was, of course, a pretty joyous place where there were rides, different types of LEGO playstations, and a moving replica of Berlin, all made from LEGOS. Talk about polar opposite experiences. We found the whole experience to be exhausting, and bee lined for the train station once again. We made a quick stop at Brandenburger Tor, a great symbol of the German reunification, before heading back to the hotel.

    It was a whirlwind trip to Berlin, filled with history and great times, but we were again excited to be moving on. Next stop Prague!

  9. The Netherlands

    2 Comments

    Welcome back friends and confidants!

     

     

    We arrived in the Netherlands healthy and recharged. Minor blips in our travel day caused it to run a little late, but not bad. We got to our apartment in Utrecht, and the property manager was already there to show us around. The place was quaint and “typical dutch” as we were told. Everything was just a touch smaller than normal, and the stairs were a cross between steps and a ladder. No problem, but the toilet was on the 2nd level and the bedrooms were on the 3rd, so it made the midnight bathroom breaks interesting. That evening, our friend from Denver, Kaleigh, came over to catch up over a few beers. Kaleigh is living in Utrecht and is studying Culture and Tourism at a university close by. We were thrilled to catch up and have some local insight into our days there.

    The next morning we set out to explore Utrecht. We headed out on foot to tackle the day. Our stops included a wonderful park, beautiful and unique Utrecht neighborhoods, a “coffee shop”, the cathedral and adjacent square and the central area with copious cafes along the canals. The weather was sunny and warm, which we were told was not typical by multiple friendly locals we me throughout the day. We felt fortunate to have the nice day and we tried to make the most of it. We hung out at couple different cafes in the central area at the end of the day, and watched the controlled chaos of rush hour. We’ve never quite seen anything like it. The sheer number of bicycles on the road is astonishing. Hundreds rushed by the café with near missed catastrophes every few seconds. They must have a real system worked out, because we did not witness a single accident, but it was pretty amazing to watch. After adequate café time we hit the main transportation station for a bus back to the apartment. Then we rested up for our outing the next day to The Hague with Kaleigh.

    We met Kaleigh at the train station mid morning, and hopped the first train. The Hague was a pretty cool place on the North Sea with beaches, a large pier, a long boardwalk and is also the location of the Dutch Parliament. We headed straight to the beach to get some much needed sea time. We hung on the beach for a bit while Meier went bananas playing in the sand, splashing in the water, and leaping off the top of large sand piles. He really needed the freeform play time. After a few hours of that, we hit a beach club for some typical Dutch cuisine. Kippling (pieces of fried white fish) and Bitterballen (fried balls of meat and gravy) were the highlight of the meal, but everything was delicious and deep fried. We washed the meal down with cold Belgian beers (and apple juice of course!) and continued our day exploring the pier, the boardwalk, and the central area around the Parliament buildings. Also worth mentioning are the huge sculptures along the boardwalk. The melancholy behemoths loomed over the beach and provided a perfect jungle gym for Meier as well. After another wonderful and busy day, we boarded the train back to Utrecht to retire to our apartment.

    Our last day in the Netherlands was spent on a day trip to Amsterdam. There we paid a visit to the Anne Frank house (only to be shut out), the Van Gogh museum, Vondelpark, the central square, and the red light district (only for a couple blocks). The bikes were just as crazy as Utrecht, but the streets were even more narrow. The city was amazing and expansive and we wish that we had more time to hang out and explore. The Van Gogh museum was really fantastic with tons of pieces and the red light district was as you might imagine. It was by far the most crowded part of town. Cafés were packed with tourists and clouds of smoke billowed as scantily clad women mingled with the clientele. We scouted a café on the perimeter to watch the chaos unfold. After a beer, we had seen enough and made our way back to the train station. Our time in the Netherlands was really fantastic, thanks in part to Kaleigh, but it’s definitely a must visit place. The next morning we packed our bags and off we went…to Berlin!

  10. Belgium

    3 Comments

    Greetings and welcome back to the Braam’s travelling extravaganza!

     

     

    As Claire recovered from her 24 hour bug, we had a lucky smooth day of travel including a private, oversized cabin on our train. This was a rare occurance as we are generally fortunate to find 3 seats together. After a tour through Ghent on the tram, we arrived to our Couchsurfing hosts home. Here there was a plethora of toys for Meier to play with, but unfortunately his would be playmate had already gone to bed. We got to know one of our hosts, Jolien, while we sat and chatted before hitting the sack. That night, Doug caught the bug, so the following day was a bit of a waste. Claire had the opportunity to catch up on some travel housekeeping while Meier again exploited the toy collection. Jolien returned later with her daughter Luna and the kids had a chance to play a bit. We had a quiet dinner in and Doug retired with Meier directly after. That night, Meier had his turn with the bug, and we were afraid our time in Ghent would be a wash. The next day was our last day, and Meier was amazingly perfectly fine in the morning. We couldn’t believe it, so we geared up and headed out. We toured the beautiful city and its meandering cobblestone streets. We checked out the castle, old neighborhoods, open air markets, a boat tour and the three adjacent cathedrals. As we walked the cathedrals, each was older than the last, with the oldest being built in the 10th century! Pretty amazing! We were also told that the first oil painting ever created was in the oldest of the cathedrals, but we couldn’t understand any of the informational signs, so we have to take our river guide at his word.

    We headed out early the next morning to the small town of Neerpelt. Our mission, the remote Trappist Abbey of Achel. We arrived midday, got our rental bikes and headed out. This was our first time on bikes in a while, and it was amazing. There is a wonderful network of biking trails all through Belgium (and the Netherlands) and we took advantage as we headed to the abbey. The trails were awesome. They are totally separate from the roadway systems and are all numbered and clearly marked. They seem to really have this system figured out. So anyway, we got to the abbey, and it was glorious. There were a fair amount of tourists milling about the old Monastery and the grounds. The whole thing was really beautiful with a cathedral and many other well crafted brick buildings. We went to the café for lunch and a sample of the beers. We each had a brown and a blond, both really tasty. In the café, you could see into the brewing operation which we were hoping to see in action. Once we read that there are only 6 monks at the abbey, we realized our chances were slim. More and more people packed into the café and we headed over to the store. At the store, there was a huge variety of Trappist and other Belgian brews along with abbey made cheese and a variety of other products at wholesale prices. So of course, we loaded up on as many bombers as we could carry (and some cheese) and headed out.  The next day, we toured the countryside on the bikes. We took advantage of the trail system once again as we pedaled a nice long loop into Holland and back. Once we neared our apartment, we took a nice break by the canal to let Meier play and enjoy one the many fantastic local brews. That evening we headed out to the main square of Neerpelt for a drink and some food. Strange thing we’ve noticed here is that they typically won’t serve you dinner on the patio. You can have drinks, maybe a snack, but no meals. Kind of strange, but there’s quite a bit of variance from culture to culture and they’re all quite different from American culture. So we had a drink and headed to the local Kebab stand for a quick and cheap dinner and went back to the apartment to prepare for our next days travel to the Netherlands.