Home Again.

Conor and I made our second journey back to the states over Easter. It was great to see all your faces and spend some quality time with family. From visiting Mama Jo at the river, to spending a sunny day at Monticello, to slaughtering Mike and Carter in a game of Easter b-ball, to playing hide and seek in a castle with Lucas, to finally meeting Aunt BBQ and listening to her travel stories over Peruvian food, to introducing the Driscoll’s to Mexican Train and vegan tacos, we couldn’t have asked for a better trip home.

 

Antwerp + Mark Gilland

Not too long after Katie #2, we had our second visitor, Conor’s college friend Mark Gilland. He was in Europe for work and met us in Antwerp, Belgium for the weekend. Despite the nonstop rain (literally), Antwerp still left an impression of one of our favorite European cities. We spent two days doing Belgiumy things – eating mussels and frites, eating waffles, eating Belgian chocolate, and drinking (the oh so strong) Belgian beer. Our favorite part of the trip was stumbling into the most amazing jazz bar – Cafe Muse. We found it on Friday night and had such a great time that we returned on Saturday. It’s to this day our single favorite place in Europe.

New Year’s Eve and Katie #2’s Visit

We had a special visitor to help us ring in 2016 – none other than Katie #2! Our days with Katie were spent roaming the city (in the cold and in the rain), eating lots of cheese and sweets, and drinking the city dry of wine (and bloody Mary’s and Irish coffees).
New Year’s Eve was absolutely magical. Rather than having several big fireworks shows, the tradition is that everyone just sets off their own fireworks, right in the streets. Starting at around 6pm, all we could here was the sounds of popping fireworks for hours until the grand finale at midnight. Katie #2 was asleep, but Conor and I snuck out to stand in the street and officially ring in the new year. We stood at an intersection in our neighborhood and watched as fireworks lit up the sky from all four directions. It was one of those moments where we couldn’t stop smiling, and were on complete and total disbelief that we actually live here.

Thanksgiving, Amsterdam Style.

A few weeks ago we celebrated our first Thanksgiving outside of America. It was super weird to get up and go to work on my favorite day of the year. I kept remembering at random times during the day that it was Thanksgiving, and wishing that I was eating turkey, drinking wine, or taking a nap.

Since we didn’t have Thursday or Friday off, we celebrated on the following Saturday. Conor and I hosted a few American friends and one lucky Australian who was thrilled to get her first taste of “American Thanksgiving”.

The meal was fantastic. I can take credit for most of the cooking, but the true MVP of Thanksgiving this year was, hands down, Conor Driscoll – the man who navigated over 8 Dutch grocery stores to hunt for a ridiculously long list of ingredients made by yours truly. Imagine you’re a guy who already doesn’t know what all the items on the list look like (i.e. shallots, shortening, etc). Now, add to that the fact that all the food labels are in a different language. Then, consider that all the useless teenagers who work in the grocery stores are even more useless because they don’t know English well enough to understand words like “cloves” or “sage”. And then top it off with the fact that foods here are just different – different sizes, different packaging, different brands, and sometimes just non-existent.

The trickiest ingredients to find were pumpkin pie filling, corn syrup for the pecan pie, and shortening for the pie crust. The Netherlands really didn’t want me to make pies. In the end, our search for these ingredients led us to discover an international food store just a couple blocks from our apartment which is packed with American guilty pleasures like Kraft mac and cheese, Pop-Tarts, and every brand of sugary cereal you could imagine. Now we know where to go if we ever get homesick.

All in all, Thanksgiving was a success. We ate, drank, played games, and then ate and drank some more. And by the end of the night, even the Australian had to unbutton her pants to make room for dessert.

A lovely weekend in Maastricht

A couple weekends ago we took our first official European trip. We went to a little town called Maastricht, only a couple hours south on the train to celebrate my 29th birthday. Maastricht is on the southern tip of the Netherlands, just 10km from France and 15km from Germany.

We had heard from everyone how easy and painless it is to travel by train from Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we can not say that we agree after our first railway experience. First, the train we were trying to take was cancelled, forcing us to hang out for a bit at the train station…no biggie. But apparently our train wasn’t the only one that was cancelled, meaning that when the next one came it was packed with 4-5 times as many people as would normally ride. Conor and I got separated as we were squeezing ourselves onto the train. I was stuck on the stairs on one of the train cars while Conor was a few people in front of me. We literally couldn’t move. I hadn’t been that uncomfortable on public transportation since I rode in the luggage rack on a train in India. Luckily, most of the people spilled off the train at Utrecht (only 25 mins into our journey), and we got a seat for the rest of the way. But it wasn’t necessarily smooth sailing after that. Due to construction, we had to get off the train, transfer to a bus for a while, and then get back on the train again. We made it eventually, but I can’t say it was the most pleasant journey.

When we arrived, we went immediately to check out our Airbnb, which was the nicest place we’ve stayed yet. It was super convenient to the small downtown area, so after a short nap we headed out to familiarise ourselves with Maastricht. One of the things Maastricht is known for is an incredibly beautiful bookstore that is in an old cathedral. We all know how Conor feels about bookstores, so this was at the top of our list to visit. It was enchanting/stunning/gorgeous, but didn’t hold our attention long since we couldn’t actually read any of the Dutch books.

Next, we had dinner at a restaurant in a converted fire-station. The service wasn’t the best, but the delicious food and fantastic wine made up for it. After dinner, we found ourselves in an old brown bar with a couple of rounds of delicious (and strong) Belgium beer.

Sunday was the day I was most excited for, because we had decided to take the train to a neighbouring town called Valkenburg, which is known for its Christmas markets inside of caves. Yep…caves. The atmosphere made it feel a bit like an amusement park ride, with festive Christmas scenes along the cave walls between shops. The markets were great, but even better was the hot chocolate and mulled wine (gluhwein) we treated ourselves to afterwards. I’ll let you guess who ordered which drink.

On our way back to Maastricht a miraculous thing happened. The sun came out! I was so excited to dust off my sunglasses, even if only for a few minutes.

We finished the weekend off with a lovely dinner at Marres Kitchen. It was a beautiful place with a very rustic, homey feel. Conor ordered their famous beef stew (totally deserving of fame) and I got the gorgonzola gnocchi which was very much up my alley.

Maastricht treated us well, and was exactly what we needed for a first European trip: history, beauty, caves, a little relaxation and most important, really good food.

Our First Trip Home

Katie and I have made a bit of a pledge to explore a new and different place every month we live in Europe. So we took our first official trip the final weekend of October. Our Destination: Delaware.

Yes, our first travel out of Amsterdam was to turn right back around again and head back to the States for a quick stop in. My college friend, and one of my favorite people, Mike Krystopolski was getting married to his wonderful bride, Megan, and asked me to be a part of his celebration. Katie came along and got to meet all the ol’ gang from St. Joe’s. The wedding was set long before we knew we were on our way to Amsterdam. While the timing was unfortunate, we were happy to see such a lovely event.

We left bright and early on Wednesday Morning and after 15 hours Taxi’s, cars, trains and planes, we finally got to a bed at my sisters’ place in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and the next day in Wilmington.

The wedding day and its eve were filled with college friends, happy faces and hugs, tuxedos, church jokes, delicious food, and too many happy tears to count. Megan was a beautiful and graceful bride; Mike is only… the best.

We then got to spend the weekend with my family in New Hope, Pennsylvania. My sisters moved in a couple of months ago, and they really have transformed the place into a home. My favorite rug rats, Lucas and Lily, went trick or treating on Halloween. My sister, Kate, had taken care of Katie and I in the costume department – Katie was Batman, and I was her sidekick and ward, Robin (much like real life).

A wonderful trip home. I got to eat Wawa, three times. Katie dropped $300 bucks at Target on cold medicine and all her favorite toiletries, Katie and Lucas went on an imagination adventure. A whirlwind of emotion, joy, and deprived sleep.

Wynard Fockink

A couple of weekends ago, we went out with one of my coworkers and her husband for Sunday evening drinks. We met at Wynard Fockink, a super old (established 1679) spirits and liqueur distillery tucked away in an alley in the Centrum. It’s is known for its jenever, which is a juniper flavoured liquor from which gin evolved. In addition to their 6 types of jenever, they have over 30 flavours of tasty liqueurs. Literally any flavour you can imagine – creme brûlée, apple pie, gingerbread, cinnamon, and strawberry to name a few.

The place is full of character from the 17th century – walking in feels like you’re stepping back in time. There are no seats or tables, so people take their drinks out into the alleyway.

The most interesting thing about Wynard Fockink is the way you receive your drinks. They are served in cute, curvy shot glasses that resemble miniature piña colada glasses, and filled ALL the way to the top. They are so full that you can’t possibly move them without spilling, so the tradition is to stick your butt out and bend over to slurp the first few sips off the top. There are even instructional comic strips on the walls to explain the technique.

We enjoyed two rounds of delicious liqueurs – between the two of us we tried lemon, coffee, something fruity and peppermint. Now we’re officially pros at the jenever sipping technique, and will be happy to demonstrate it for you when you visit.