Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Big Trip - Part One (Brussels and Amsterdam)

After a few long, cold New York winter months our big trip has finally come and gone. This year we wanted to visit Germany and the Netherlands, so last fall we started looking at plane tickets. We ended up finding the best deal in and out of Brussels, which is obviously in neither Germany nor the Netherlands, but it's a cool city and not too far away. So we set out with 10 days, a round trip plane ticket, and a 5 day Eurail pass- other than that, no set plans.

This is the second year in a row now that Danny and I have taken a European trip in the Winter (Ireland in '07). Some people say it's crazy, but we've really enjoyed it. First of all, none of the cities we visited were as cold as the northeast US in the winter. But the best part of traveling in the off season is that you never have to make reservations. You can just roll into any city or town, big or small and find any kind of accommodations easily and inexpensively. Sure, some attractions aren't open yet, and you need to wear a coat, but for me it's completely worth it.

So on with the story. We flew in to Brussels on an overnight flight and stayed the first night at Hotel Barry near Central Station and the Grand Place. Nothing fancy, but a nice bed to crash in.

After a jetlag nap and some French TV, we headed out to see Brussels at night. The Grand Place was really pretty at night, especially after a rain storm. We had dinner nearby at a restaurant on Rue des Bouchers, a narrow street just packed full of bistros with menu boards outside and displays of all their fresh ingredients. Yes, I had mussels and pommes frites, and they were delicious, especially when paired with a few Belgian beers.

The next morning we hopped on a train up to Amsterdam. It was my first time there, but Danny had been two years ago. I actually did make an advance reservation for our nights in Amsterdam, since I knew it would be a Friday and Saturday and rooms tend to be expensive. It was the most we paid for any of the hotels on the trip, but it was worth it. Hotel the Crown was close to the train station and right in the middle of the Red Light District. Sounds seedy, right? No, it was awesome. We got the best room in the house, up about 4 or 5 narrow flights of steps with two big windows looking out on the canals below. These pictures are all right from our room window:

I had no idea how many British people would be in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is to drunk English dudes as New Orleans is to drunk American dudes. In fact, there were 32 drunk English dudes staying at our hotel for a bachelor party. There is a nice bar on the ground floor that they completely took over for most of the weekend. But we managed to find a few hooligan-free hours to hang out down there on Friday night. It was a great place to stay. If you're headed to Amsterdam I highly recommend it.

We got out and around the city a bit too- lots of great bars, restaurants, and coffeeshops. Very fun.

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