The last stop on our European adventure was Germany. After spending the first week and a half of the trip by ourselves in places neither of us had been, we thought it would be good to end things in a place familiar to at least one of us and where we had some friends to visit.
As we left Bruges, we discovered that the rental car had navigation (which would have been EXTREMELY helpful in Ghent, but I digress). We decided to take full advantage of our new found technology and had it direct us to Aachen, Germany. It was a good spot to stop and get lunch and there's a huge cathedral there that I didn't take any photos of.
Our final destination was Darmstadt, which is about half an hour outside of Frankfurt. It had been raining most of the drive, and traffic on the autobahn was very slow (much to our surprise), so we were both tired and hungry when we got there, and thrilled to find a little turkish restaurant right down the street from the hotel. And finally we were in a country where I could drink something other than wine...apple wine!
Since we were staying in Darmstadt, we went to find Peter Behrens house, which was over near the Mathildenhohe, and wandered through the museum there which had bits and pieces from everyone that had lived in the artists colony that was there in the early 1900s. There was some work similar to the stuff we saw in Ghent, but some other work as well. The artists all dabbled in a little bit of everything, so there was furniture, artwork, flatware, dishware, and all sorts of other stuff. I found it all very inspiring.
We spent a lot of time in Frankfurt, too. The husband showed me around his old stomping grounds, we shopped for souvenirs, and we went on an apple wine tour at the Possman Brewery.
One of the days we were in Frankfurt, we took a detour through Wiesbaden to stop for coffee and to feed some pigeons.
We also went to Heidelberg to see an old castle. (This is also where we came across more American tourists than anywhere else we had been.)
I ate a lot of salads throughout the whole trip and was very impressed with how much stuff comes on a salad in Europe. It's not just a few grated carrots, a couple of cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes, they were full of STUFF. I also got my fill of currywurst at various places (it turned out to be one of the cheaper things on a lot of menus and was pretty safe gluten-wise).
One of the last things we did was track down a building built by Friedensreich Hundertwasser who is known for some pretty outrageous architecture. The building he designed in Darmstadt is called the Waldspirale and is a residential apartment building. It seemed unreal that we could just drive up and park and wander around and that people live in it...
I've never seen anything like it. I was completely fascinated (and also surprised that we were the only people wandering around taking photos).
On our final night in Germany, we went out with some friends to a little tavern in Frankfurt and ordered the appropriately named "Frankfurt Platter" and a bembel of apple wine...
It was the perfect way to end our trip.
I've got one more post I want to do about the trip to summarize what I learned (because I definitely learned a few things about myself and what kind of traveler I am) and how I prepared for this adventure. Until then, maybe you want to browse through all the Europe photos? I've got a set going over on Flickr.
When we were coming through customs in England, we mentioned to the agent that we were going to Belgium, and he sort of scoffed and said "What are you going there for?" But when we mentioned Bruges, he brightened up and said, "Oh yeah, Bruges is nice!"
Here's how I finally figured out how to distinguish between Bruges and Ghent, because they're similar, but not. Ghent is to Santa Cruz, as Bruges is to Monterey or Carmel. Which is to say one is a slightly larger college town that has some personality, and the other one is a slightly smaller even more touristy town with personality.
It rained almost the entire time we were there, but we still managed to get out and see a few things (and buy some umbrellas).
There was the Picasso Exhibit, where we also saw a roomba-style lawnmower mowing the lawn in the middle of a building that was very old.
We went on a brewery tour, where we climbed a lot of stairs, but the view was worth it.
We did another boat ride, where it poured rain the entire time.
We found an awesome cafe, called Rose Red, with tapas, wifi, and good drinks.
And we couldn't leave without trying some chocolate. There's chocolate shops all over the place, but I checked our Lonely Planet guide and we decided to go to Chocolate Line because it's one of five where the chocolates are handmade on the premises and the guide said it was the brightest and the best.
These were all amazing, and I wish I could remember what was in them. The peanut had some peanut butter, the one with the pig had bacon (and a few other things), and the wasabi one had the tiniest amount of kick. So good.
There was definitely more we could have done, but I felt like the two full days we were there was just enough, especially after all the museums and churches we had seen in London and Ghent.
Next, we headed to Germany...
Our next stop on our European adventure was Belgium, specifically Ghent and Bruges. We decided the train was the best way to get across the channel, so we took the Eurostar over to Brussels. Having really only been on the CalTrain here, I wasn't totally sure what to expect train-wise, but the Eurostar was awesome. Once we got to Brussels, we picked up our rental car to drive to Ghent.
Driving in Belgium was a bit of an adventure. I was going to tell you the whole story about getting lost and me nearly losing my sh*t in the passenger seat, but I may save that for its own post. So let's just say that we don't recommend driving in Belgium. There are plenty of trains and buses to get you where you need to go.
Let's move on...
Here's how the Lonely Planet guide describes the city of Ghent, "Ghent is one of Europe's greatest discoveries - small enough to feel cosy but big enough to stay vibrant and dynamic. It has enough frivolity to create a spectacle but retains a gritty industrial edge that keeps things 'real'." There was definitely some grittiness to it, but it was still charming and fairly touristy. There's a canal that runs through the city and you can take boat tours from a couple of different spots. There's enough museums and old churches and buildings that they offer 2 or 3 day passes that get you in to most of the tourist attractions. There was also plenty of beer.
Some Ghent highlights:
Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant Bierhuis - over 100 Belgian beers, right on the edge of the canal and next to a place that had a variety of infused gins (which were quite tasty). This was also the only place I was able to find gluten-free Belgian beer.
Design Museum Ghent - the downstairs had some old rooms full of old furniture that were interesting but sort of meh (unless maybe you like that sort of thing). Upstairs had exhibits on Peter Behrens and Peter DeGreef, which were both very good, as well as some other permanent exhibits. We spent the most time wandering through the Behrens exhibit where we discovered that he had spent some time in Darmstadt which, by complete coincidence, was where we were headed later in our trip.
Canal Boats Tours - definitely one of the highlights. Our tour guide gave the tour in 3 languages, and was originally from the area so had lots to tell us, and you get a different view of the city from the canal. Certain boat tours are covered on the museum day pass, but at 6 Euros each, I thought it was totally worth it.
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb - is a 15th century Early Flemish polyptych panel painting inside Saint Bavo cathedral. I believe it was 5 Euros each to get in and you get a hand held audio thingie to listen to information about each panel of the painting while you admire it. The rest of the cathedral is open to the public so you can wander through and ogle the architecture and stained glass.
The Count's Castle (Castle Gravensteen) - Built in 1180 and unique because it's in the middle of the town. The self guided tour winds you through various rooms in the castle with suits of armor, weapons, and torture devices. Eventually you end up at the top of the castle with a lovely view of the city (that's the view in the photo above).
The Belfry of Ghent - one of the tallest belfrys in existence (91 metres high) and overlooks the old town centre. This is another attraction with a self guided tour that has you stop in various rooms, some with the old bells from the tower, and some with the old metal dragons that used to be on the top of the spire (the dragon has become a mascot for the town). We didn't make it all the way to the top, but it was interesting to climb through and learn about the belfry. We were also there while there was a fencing exhibit going on so we paid extra to take a look at that.
We spent 4 full days in Ghent, and I think that was plenty. There was definitely more to see but we were castled and churched out.
And since this post got so long, I think I'll save Bruges for the next post...
The trip I just returned from was monumental for a number of reasons. It was the longest vacation I've ever taken, the furthest distance I've ever traveled, and my first international trip. Oh, and it was our honeymoon.
We'd been talking about it since we decided on a date for the wedding. Actually, even before that. It was originally going to be a summer trip to Switzerland, and then morphed into an early fall trip to London, Belgium, and Germany.
Why those places? London because I've been obsessed with it since age 12, Belgium because neither of us had been there, and Germany because the husband had spent a decent chunk of time there and I wanted to see his old stomping grounds.
Rather than write an entire post that covers the whole trip, I'd like to break it down by country. So let's start with London.
But lets back-up a little, because I feel like I should explain the obsession with all things English, which probably started with music. At age 12, I had just discovered Depeche Mode, New Order and the Smiths (some of my all-time favorite bands) - all hailing from England. And then I started discovering that other things I loved were also English (Monty Python, Dr. Martens, and Wallace and Gromit, to name a few). I read books about England, watched English movies (I love the accent) and started referring to my mom as "Mum". The more I learned, the more I got the feeling that I would really like it there. But me actually visiting England? It never seemed to work out.
So when we started trying to figure out where to spend time on this trip, I basically said "London" and anywhere else was fine. So we decided to fly into Heathrow, and spend a few days in the jolly UK.
Despite my extreme desire to go to England, I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do once I got there. Really, I just wanted to be there, but I asked friends who had been and who were currently living there for recommendations and they were tremendously helpful.
We stayed in the Southwark neighborhood, right next to the Thames, and it was a perfect location. A lot of what we wanted to see was close by and everything else was just a tube ride away. We crammed a lot of museum visits and site seeing into four and a half days, and while it's tempting to list everything we saw, I think some highlights will suffice:
The tube ride from Heathrow to the hotel - part of this ride is actually above ground and the husband has a photo of me looking out the tube window grinning from ear to ear as the tube sped through little neighborhoods that looked like they were right out of the movies.
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich - the home of Greenwich mean time and the prime meridian of the world! There's a small museum in Flamstead house that explains the importance of the prime meridian and Greenwich mean time and I found it totally fascinating. The entrance fee also gets you into the Meridian courtyard where you can take a photo standing on the prime meridian. The National Maritime Museum was in the same area, and we also spent some time there (they had some awesome models of ships), but the observatory was probably my favorite.
The Tower Bridge - It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and I loved seeing it every time we walked along the river. There's something about that bridge...
The Tower of London - Tickets were a wee bit expensive, but they offer guided tours led by one the Beefeaters that work there, so we did that. It was more fun that wandering around by ourselves and I think we definitely learned more (which made it feel like the admission price was worth it). Also, the crown jewels!
The British Library - They have a small permanent collection of various things, and it's much more than old books. Some of the notable items we saw: the Magna Carta, Jane Austen's writing desk, Beowulf, some cards and notes written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and some very old, but well preserved maps. I thought it was one of those places that we'd just wander in and leave after fifteen minutes but we ended up looking at almost everything they had on display.
The Dr. Martens store on Carnaby Street - I didn't need to buy shoes, but I decided to go in anyways and when I walked through the door I heard "Is It Really So Strange" by the Smiths playing. It felt like a sign from the universe that I was supposed to be there.
The whole time we were there, everything felt a bit foreign but so very familiar at the same time. I was actually afraid to admit to myself how much I liked being there, as if it would somehow jinx things and something bad would happen to change my feelings about England. But everything was absolutely fine and I already want to go back. In fact, I wish I hadn't waited this long to get my ass over there, but I'm so, SO glad I finally did.
Next up, Belgium...
For almost as long as this site has been alive, there's been a line in the "about" section that mentions England, and how I'm pretty sure I'd like it but haven't been yet.
Well, I've got to update that now because I just got back from a trip to Europe and our first stop was London!
I loved it just as much as I thought I would. We went to Belgium and Germany too, and I've got much more to say about the trip, but I don't want to cram it all in one blog post.
Of course I took a few photos. Mostly with my phone, but a few with the big camera too. They're all up on flickr if you'd like to take a look.
Stay tuned for more!
I think I've mentioned (possibly too many times) that I don't cook and bake the way I used to. My lunches for the week get all the attention now. All the pies, cookies, cakes and lemon bars are made for special occasions.
The definition of "special occasion" around here covers all the usual stuff, but it's been widened a little to include my book club. Which isn't really so much a book club, but an excuse to gather and eat good food (and when I say food, I mostly mean cheese).
Normally, when a book club date is put on the calendar, I've already got something in mind that I want to make. But earlier this month, as the date for our gathering approached, I just wasn't feeling it. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to make. And as I stood in my kitchen shrugging my shoulders, I happened to glance down at a bowl of plums that I had received a couple days earlier from a friend's tree.
Cue a tiny light bulb barely flickering.
So I went to the internets to see if I could find a recipe that called for plums, was gluten free, used ingredients I already had on hand, and could be put together without much trouble.
I didn't have to look very hard. Gluten-free girl had me covered with a Plum Crumble. And not just any old crumble, but "the best crumble you will ever eat". Hard to say no to that, right?
And would you believe I had all the ingredients? Okay, it's not the most complicated recipe ever, but I was fully prepared to leave out the crystallized ginger, EXCEPT I HAD SOME.
It was like the universe wanted me to make a plum crumble. So that's exactly what I did.
And it was AMAZING.
The recipe is pretty simple, and it went together in a snap. Since there's not a ton of topping, it doesn't need a lot of flour, and that makes for a gluten free dessert that doesn't taste like a gluten free dessert which is a win-win for everyone involved.
I served it at book club with a little bit of vanilla ice cream. I thought I'd have a bunch of leftovers (there were only five of us), but I came home with one remaining serving. Which I think says a lot about this little plum crumble. It's a winner.
The current state of my hair is LONG. Possibly the longest it's been in over a decade. Remember when it was really short and I was cutting it myself? That seems like it was SO long ago. I guess it's a good thing I took photos.
Part of the reason I had cut it all off was because my hair has a mind of its own. At certain lengths, it just refuses to behave. In it's current state, it's weighty enough that it just sort of hangs there, which is actually what I wanted. Which is great and all, but now I'm fighting the battle of the frizz. It seems that regardless of what I do, my hair wants to be big. In the last few months, these are things I've used to try and combat the frizz:
Some of these things work, sort of. My stylist ended up advising against using the anti-frizz shampoo/conditioner because it didn't protect my color, so I had to nix that (it didn't seem to be doing much anyways). I'm not using all of the styling products at once, but I'm trying them for a week at a time, to see if I notice a difference. So far I think I like the Bumble and Bumble Straight the best. My stylist thought the Kerastase would be exactly what I needed to defeat this frizz, and it does help. For about half an hour. And then it's back to big.
I'm almost at the point where I just have throw my hands up in defeat and accept that this is my hair and it will never achieve Pantene commercial levels of sleekness. I really should just be thankful that I have hair to complain about.
However, if you have suggestions for products/techniques to help tame the frizz, I'd love to hear them...