“When anybody asks, 'What are you writing about now?' if I try to reply, the book-in-the-works sounds so idiotic to me that I think, 'Why am I trying to write that puerile junk?' So now I give up; if I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write it."
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet


European Vacation – Amsterdam

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Next stop – and our last day together before I had to fly home, while he stayed there for several more weeks – was Amsterdam.  Our hotel was near the airport which is actually in Schipol, so we took the train.

Like much of what we saw, the inside of the train station was very modern – concrete, tile, shops, electronic kiosks, etc. – but outside, it looked like this.  If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll see that the "clock tower" is not a clock at all.

We immediately started seeing bicycles everywhere.  This was apparently an entire parking ramp just for bikes.  There were thousands of them, some new, some abandoned.  I'd heard that a lot of people got around Amsterdam on bicycles, but I had no idea there would be so many.

Everyone told us that we should take a tour of the canals at night.  Unfortunately, our schedule did not allow us to be in Amsterdam at night (which considering where we ended up later is probably a good thing), but a morning tour worked out great for us.  The tour boats were all lined up and ready to take on passengers.

There's my happy Geek!  Our tour boat had an automated voice "tour guide" that spoke in about five different languages throughout the tour.

I have no idea what this was, but I thought it was interesting how there is such a mix of modern and historic in this city.

And here's an example of the historic.  I don't remember what the tour guide said this was, but I loved how this grand building sat right out there on the water.

This is what much of our tour looked like, with the canal following the road (or vice versa) lined with houses and the cars parked right up to the edge of the canal wall.  Notice how that black house is leaning forward a bit.  Some of these houses are very, very old.

The tour boats (and any other boats on the canals) are very low since they have to be able to fit under these bridges.

There were tons of these houseboats along the canals.

It's Duncan McLeod's barge!  Hello, Highlander!  What are you doing in Amsterdam?

Is that not just the cutest little Dutch shoe boat you've ever seen?

All the houses had these things (I'm sure there's a better word than "things" for them, but it's early in the morning and I can't think of it) sticking out of the tops of them with hooks hanging from them. (You can see the hooks if you click to see the larger photo.)  These are used to haul stuff up to the upper floors since the stairways are too narrow to get anything through them.

Some of the houses had doors instead of windows, like this one.  These were originally merchants warehouses.  They would bring in their goods by boats on the canal, and then haul it up to these doors to be stored.  I have no idea why, but that little bit of trivia just fascinated me.

This is pretty typical of what Amsterdam streets look like.  There's train tracks, a car lane, a bike lane, and a pedestrian lane all in one road.

After our canal tour, we spent some time walking around the city and saw some rather interesting things that I didn't feel comfortable photographing.  For instance, the guys huddled in the alcove that smelled so strong of marijuana you could almost get high just walking by it.  Or the girl posing in the window like a mannequin in a storefront – and I'm quite certain she wasn't there to sell clothes.

Then we came to an intersection with what looked like a small stoplight, about 4 feet tall or so, with only red lights on it.  Yes, that should have been our clue as to what we would find down there, but apparently we are clueless Americans.  We were looking for someplace to get gelato (I never did get to try gelato!) and it looked like there might be some restaurants in that direction.

We no sooner turned down that street than we started seeing shops with logos that looked an awful lot like a certain kind of leaf.  Yup, that kind.  Pretty soon we were walking by shops with giant storefront windows and I noticed they were full of people.  When I looked as we passed by one I realized that these people were all gathered around tables with pretty vases on them.  Some of them were dressed like businessmen who came straight from the office ... at 2 o'clock in the afternoon ... apparently to admire the pretty vases.


So, Amsterdam was an interesting place.  I'm sorry I didn't get photos of the more "interesting" parts of the city, but some things are better left to the imagination.

I am glad we were there during the day instead of at night.  But we had a good time and despite the less than savory places it was really a beautiful city.

The next day I went home while the Geek stayed on ... but wait, there's more!  My European adventure isn't over yet by a long shot.  I'll be back with more stories and photos soon!

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European Vacation - Lissewege, Belgium

Monday, September 12, 2011

On the way back to Amsterdam from Bruges, we made a stop at a beautiful, quaint little village called Lissewege.  We pulled into the parking lot near the church below and were greeted by a cow moseying around the corner of a barn just a few yards away from us. 

This church was sort of the central figure of the village.  It was a little less ornate than the buidings we had seen in Bruges, but it was old (built in the 13th century), and beautiful, and amazing.  Wait until you see the inside.

Looking up the side of the church tower.  We have a lot of photos like this, looking up the sides of towers.  I'm not sure why except that the Geek liked the towers, and I liked leaning back while he held me to keep me from falling backwards while I took the photo.  :)

There was a small graveyard outside the church with graves from the past couple of centuries.  Then we saw these stone panels on the side of the church and went to take a closer look.

They were sepulchres, and as you can see here, they dated back to the 1600s.  I don't know who the people are who are buried here – if they were important people at the time, or church officials or what – but it was amazing to see that these "graves" embedded right into the walls of the church, were from 400 years ago.  As I said before, I think one of the things that impacted me most in Europe was the presence of such ancient history all around you, nearly everywhere you go.  You just don't see that where I live.

The inside of the church was so beautiful.  It was simple, almost plain compared to some of the intricately ornate architecture we saw elsewhere (like Notre Dame which I will talk about in a future post), but even the simple details in the arches, pillars, and ceilings were just breathtaking.  And again, the history – just knowing that we were standing in a church that had been standing there for nearly 800 years ... incredible.

These stained-glass windows featuring Saint Joseph, Saint Mary, and Saint Elgius (whom I had not heard of) were so beautiful.  I imagine they are not as old as the church itself, but still quite beautiful.

After we left the church, we wandered around the village of Lissewege for a bit.  There were a few restaurants (though they didn't seem to be open) and adorable houses, all with the typical red clay roofs of the area.  This little canal ran right through town with houses lining it on either side, big gardens and chicken coops in the back yards.  It was a beautiful little place to just wander and enjoy for an afternoon.

Next stop, Amsterdam!

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European Vacation – Bruges, Belgium

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Here it is! The first installment of photos from our sort-of-accidental European vacation!

When I flew out to meet my Sweet Geek, I landed in Amsterdam. We hopped in a rental car and drove directly to Bruges, Belgium, while I tried to stay awake in order to see everything, after a nine hour flight. (I learned on this trip that jet lag is a very, very real thing!)

This is where we had dinner that night – a little Flemish restaurant halfway down a road that looked more like an alley. My Geek (who you see here, smiling nicely for the camera) had the rabbit stew and I had the beef stew. It was not what I typically think of as stew. It was more like a bowl of meat in a yummy, slightly sweet gravy. Very tasty.

The next day we spent all morning in Bruges, just wandering around, seeing what we might see. Bruges is apparently one of the few European cities that did not take significant damage during the wars, so all it's old buildings are still intact. The architecture is intricate and amazing.

This is the central square, or the "Markt", a wide open area with a statue in the middle, surrounded by beautiful old buildings. And lots of bicycles. So many bicycles. They are everywhere in Europe. Wait until we get to Amsterdam. Crazy amounts of bicycles!

This is another side of that same central square. You can climb up in this clock tower, but they weren't open for touring that day, so we just admired it from outside.

Across from the clock tower was this row of little cafes, all with the same awnings and lots of outdoor seating. It was filled with people sipping at their morning coffee (or sipping a glass of white wine at 9 am). My Geek and I sat here for a bit. He had a cup of coffee (when you order coffee there, you get espresso, which he loved!), and I, not being a coffee drinker, had a sparkling water.

These horse-drawn carriages were lined up in a row, waiting for tourists. Bruges is just full of tourists, on buses, in carriages, on foot.

I read somewhere that there are three towers of Bruges. I think this is the same one that we saw in the square, just from the back side.

I loved all these quaint little streets. There was cobblestone everywhere. It looked like something out of a period movie. You just don't see this in the US, except maybe a few places on the East Coast, and even then, they are simply nowhere near as old as this.

In many places there were very modern shops (electronics stores, cell phone stores, etc.) on the ground floor of an ancient building.

Here is the second tower we saw. I don't think we ever saw the third one.

This mime was amazing. When he wasn't moving, he looked just like a statue. There was a couple elsewhere doing the same thing. They were slightly less convincing than this guy, but pretty cool nonetheless.

I think this was the city hall. We saw a wedding party out in front of this building. The smaller building on the left was a museum, but again, they were closed that day. We didn't really mind though.

It was so much fun to just wander the city, oohing and aahing over all the beautiful buildings and quaint streets, and munching on bits of bread torn off of a fresh baguette. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Europe, I would very much recommend visiting Bruges, Belgium.

Next up: an even more quaint (quainter?) little village we stopped at on our way back to Amsterdam.

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