Last week, I started my run down memory lane covering much of my older travels, but this week I’m looking at much of my 2015 trip. These locations are more recent but, during them, we explored much less making less choices over what I could revisit. Still, everywhere we hit on that crazy month in 2015 was amazing so I’d truly want to do it all over and over again.
We really only hit one thing in Switzerland: Jungfrau or Top of the World. When we went everything was shrouded in fog but we had such a fantastic time playing aroundin the snow. Because of the weather, they had to shutdown a good chucnk of the outdoor activities and I’d love to explore more and get to take pictures with much less fog.
Austria and Germany are a bit of a blur since we tended to stay along the borders of both and past between them on almost every tour we took, but when it comes to Austria, I would love to revisit the Mirabell Gardens. This is where they filmed parts of Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music but there is so much more to the gardens than that. When we explored last time, The rain was starting up which was fun but also made the adventure shorter lived than I would have liked. Plus the movie reference gives you a great excuse to stomp, dance, and sing your heart out throughout the greenery.
Germany is a tricky spot for me but what I loved most were the many stops within the Balvarian Mountains. Whether on break along its giant lake views or venturing through King Ludwig II’s castles, they left so much more to explore. On a trip that I explore alone instead of on tours, these mountains and all their sites might take up the bulk of my time.
The Zansee Schans was the perfect stop in the Netherlands that I would visit again and again. Yes, it is touristy but the cheese room alone haunts my dreams! seriously, read the post and go, go, go!
Just like every other stop along this trip, out time in Bruges was short but so much fun. It was one more city sitting along the channels and exploring them more would definitely be on my list of must do’s. I loved siting in the middle isle, straddling the center bench and watching the city pass me by.
Yes, these were quick but, again, so was the time I got to spend in each of these places. Next time I will be looking over my last 4 countries which I have been lucky enough to visit over and over again – a very different but equally daunting challenge.
Our last stop before heading back to my final destination—back to my London home—was a one day stay in the (once again—another theme?) absolutely stunning and easily walkable Bruges, Belgium.
While the Netherlands had given us funny cheeses and smelled of chocolate, it was in this wonderful city that we really explored our foodie inclinations. However, if you plan to follow in this model, a word of advice: plan ahead! But more of that to come.
Before anything else—and planning to eat our way through the city—we opted to head to the Belfry – the city’s large and historic bell tower where you can climb all 366 steps to the top and get an amazing panoramic view of the city.
This is a big stop for travelers—including school and tour groups—and they only allow a specific number of people up at a time, which you’ll be grateful for. Unfortunately, this also means the wait can take a while before you even mention the climb. Groups going in and out can cause you problems in terms of bunching in the stairways – single stairs for people going up and down— but we’ll cover another issue with this in a moment.
While we had done a lot of climbing throughout the trip, this tower felt like a whole new mission. Something we hadn’t known going in is that this tower leans. And when I say leans, I mean leans.
The further you go up, the more you will notice that one side of the stairs within the spiral slowly but surely shrinks while the other broadens—because the stairs run pretty much straight in a leaning tower. In case you have someone like my sister with you: this is apparently terrifying for those afraid of heights, especially with people trying to pass, so be wary. On the way up, however, there are two rooms which you can stop in whether to read all the information, take a break, or simply get your bearings, so if one of your party can’t make it to the top, these are great spaces for them to hang out in, at least until traffic slows down.
The second of these rooms houses the chimes which are played like a gigantic windup music box so getting to that level to see its construction is pretty amazing.
But moving on to the rest of our day and, therefore, food.
There are a few things you really can’t miss if you visit Belgium and grabbing a waffle and some chocolate were definitely on our list. Therefore, if you can walk and eat, or at least find a quick seat along the street, popping by one of the many Belgian waffle shops is quite the treat—light and easy after our climb, but what we really loved was the utensil we were given. While sporks are commonplace, this was a tiny fork whose third tine doubled a knife. We never really settled on what to call this, but we are open to suggestions!
Then we were off to the French Fry museum—officially called the Friet Museum—where you learn more about potato history, travel, types, and even lore—seriously—than you ever knew was possible. And in true Gallagher fashion, we read it all. But while the potato choice is important, it is the way in which they are cooked that really make the fry, and, of course, you are taken through this process step by step.
There are a lot of spaces for kids—or playful adults—to run around and interact with here, so it’s a great stop for families and never got crowded. And of course, once you finish your tour, you can head down to the fry shop and discover exactly how a properly prepared fry is supposed to taste—the curry ketchup was surprisingly great! Also, if you take the tour, you get a 15 percent discount on all food orders per person which you can combine, so this is a nice place to stop and grab lunch if you are ready by then.
After sampling the starchy wares, we went on to the local chocolate museum. Once again, we were taken through the history of chocolate and its manufacturing. While we did get free samples—which were delicious—if you’ve done other chocolate tours like the one I mentioned in Switzerland—I’d pass on this stop.
While the walk through was fine, the building smelt like a sewer, the information on chocolate is the same that you will learn pretty much anywhere else, and the part of the museum which should be exciting—watching a demonstration by one of the master chefs—there are signs throughout which explicitly state the you may not talk to the chef. So while seeing the chocolate sculptures which filled the latter part of the tour were cool—overall we were unimpressed.
If you are willing to shell out the big bucks, however, you and your group can do a private demonstration which, watching the group through a window—seemed fun and highly interactive, but I reiterate, it will cost you.
These next two stops are where the planning comes in.
We were meant to hit the Diamond Museum and another local brewery tour, however, due to a timing error on one hand and a ticket situation on the other, neither of them worked out.
So my advice? I’d have skipped the chocolate museum; buy yourself a treat at a local shop instead and hit the diamond museum—though no free samples, sorry! And for the brewery, go first thing in the morning and buy your tickets. There are a limited number of tours throughout the day as well as spaces on those tours so, they can sell out early. This is a locally run brewery which seemed—unlike others—to really take you through the brewing process by a person who knows what they are talking about (a plus), and sampling is part of the tour, so go in early and get those tickets
But, since these fell through, we opted to be ferried along the canal by one of the many companies docked along the bank. If these tours interest you—and I do recommend it even just to see the city—you can pretty much find one by locating a bridge. While seeing the city was great, there were also a few fun facts for anyone interested in history and/or architecture from roof construction and pricing to the effect that window taxes had on those buildings you are passing. Our tour guide was very sweet, and if you can manage it, he recommended sitting in the center aisle for the best views, so keep that in mind.
While everything we did here in Bruges, was amazing—seriously great food—what we enjoyed most, for no other reason than surprise, was wandering the streets in the morning—though it plays all day—and having some 90s music pumped out into the streets. This wasn’t loud stores, but literally speakers lined up and down the streets blasting out The Backstreet Boys among others. But hey, it’s the little things.
Is anyone else worried that the buildings are leaning?
That was one of the first thing we noticed when walking through this stop on our whirlwind tour.
Yes, even the building in this ‘live and let live’ city feel so laid back that, as you wander, you’ll begin to notice buildings that seem to be holding up their neighbors while others have begun to tilt forward or backwards, some to quite an interesting degree. Yet none felt too close to falling over quiet yet, so we just laughed and kept walking on our way.
Still, something fun to keep an eye open for!
But back on track.
After a long morning of travel, we arrived in Amsterdam around mid-afternoon and settled in.
Depending on where you stay here and the surrounding areas, now is the time to warn you: due to the local architecture, the staircases in most of the buildings are narrow and extremely steep.
If you plan on coming with large bags, this will be a truly tying experience. If you have a fear of heights, these stairs may also cause you some serious anxiety—double this if you are going to have to lug luggage up them.
We stayed at Hotel Adolesce which was lovely—minus the stairs (again slightly terrifying)—and I really recommend it. The building sits along one of the canals which are beautiful and inside there are balcony/porch areas where you can sit in the evenings and enjoy the late setting sun, great wifi connection, and a tea and snack area full of cookies and simple sandwich fixings in the lobby which are available 24 hours a day.
Little did we know when we booked, however, was the first site we would see across the canal from our accommodation:
This is Schaduwkade, sometimes translated/ called Shadow Kade, Shadow Quay, or Shadow Walk. This is a unassuming WWII memorial that commemorates the events of—and the lives lost during and due to—May 26, 1943. This street (along with others) was raided by the Nazis and all the Jewish residence taken to various camps. Standing at these memorial plaques, you are able to look out across the canal and see each of the residence buildings—like our hotel—and learn the names, ages, and destinations of these victims which brings a truly unshakable human face to these events.
What was amazing about this site, erected in 2013, is that you could be completely oblivious to it. The street is one of many little canal streets with beautiful views worth strolling down. But once you notice the small plaques, read them, and understand what events you are witnessing all these years later, you can’t escape the fact that you are staying in the shadow of this history—right in the middle of the real world, a world where anyone could – and do – live.
It was truly mind altering, because finding this kind of insight wasn’t something we expected at all.
The next morning, we set out—as most travelers stopping in Amsterdam do—to the Anne Frank House, and if this is your plan, there are a few things to know:
We arrived at around 8 to 8:15 and stood in the 3 hour or so line (which we were fine with), and depending on your plans, this may not work out for everyone. Therefore, if you want to make the most of your time, I’ll lay out some of the advice we learned as the day dragged on:
If you get to this location between 7:30 to 7:45, the wait is generally an hour and a half to an hour-forty-five—although I’m not quite sure if that’s after the doors open or not.
One girl we met recommended coming after 3 pm for about the same wait, but a local vendor swore that if you come at 6pm, you’ll wait about 30 minutes because that’s when people are out doing other activities, such as coming home from work, getting ready for their evening out, eating dinner, ect. If you do go around 6, you’ll still have plenty of time to look around the house and exhibit since they stay open until 9pm regularly—10 during certain points in the summer.
While this is definitely a sight for tourists, I still really recommend spending some time here. Despite the wait, the crowds of (sometimes) really obnoxious tourists, and (again) steep and somewhat challenging stairs, walking through these spaces and listening to the testimonies of people who knew those who lived within the attic, once again humanizes an event which for most of us is a story we either learned in school or through long lost family members who were effected by similar events.
After going through the house, you are led to a room full of excerpts from the diary and more information on Anne. Going through this room more than anything else made me realize how funny, sharp, and clever this girl was—how real. It was also where you can really see her dedication to writing.
One of the reasons for this is you never hear all of the story. I’d never heard that over the radio—which the residence did listen to—there was a call for people to write diaries for publication pertaining to the events of the day—and Anne wanted to do just that; she wanted to be published.
At the end of the tour, there is a room where you can hear more testimonials from visitors, actors, politicians—basically people from all walks of life—talking about Anne, her fellow residence, and the events of the occupation and World War II generally, which I do recommend sitting through.
One quote that really stuck with me was that we have to remember that, while Anne and her story happened, she was not a singular case. We cannot forget all the others who died voiceless; whose stories we don’t know.
Next we wandered over to the Van Gogh Museum and whether you are a fan of art museums or this artist or not, this is a museum that I absolutely loved.
Each level of the building builds on the life of Van Gogh, covering his process, his connections to other artists—including the self-portraits he and his friends sent back and forth in an almost snapchat manner!— an in depth look at his relationship with his brother and brother’s family, and artists inspired by him. I was even able to find new favorites from his work which I had never seen before.
But as someone with a love of language, it was the spattered quotes taken from the artist’s personal letters that really drew me in—I mean, my goodness, this man could write!
My favorite (and new life philosophy)?
“For one must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with when one mounts the breach each morning…” –Van Gogh, Letter 823 from 26 November 1889
I won’t lie, Doctor Who’s representation already made me have some serious feels for this artist, but reading his words, seeing his life work and all the ripples that have happened because of it: this is easily my favorite art museum—and I’ve been to many.
I did not use an audio tour, but I will definitely be back, and all reports have said that the guide is well worth it.
We ended the day taking a tour of the Heineken Factory—we were lucky to get into the last grouping—which includes a small glass to taste test during the tour and two free drinks in the bar after the tour. If you like these kind of events, look them up because they do shut down earlier than you may expect!
The tour was pretty standard for a beer factory and everyone working there has a great sense of humor so they make it enjoyable as well. overall, I was most impressed with how much I learned! Like why the foam is so important and how to actually taste beer—CLUE: full drink, no wine sips at the foam!—and the best way to help make the foam and flavor last (I still am not a fan, but I love learning!).
We spent a little while in the bar with our free drinks and talking to other friendly tourists and playing with many of the interactive games and screens—seriously this place is a little like an arcade as you head from the main tour to the bar.
So only slightly bubbly from the drinks—some more than others—we ended out final day in Amsterdam wandering, and only a little lost, around the city and its various canals. The city is lovely, so well worth the wander.
So yes, more like a day and a half, but I think two days would have been perfect (at least!) for a city like this with a whole lot of diverse experiences to be had!
But alas, this was a whirlwind adventure! So next time we’ll be all cheese and windmills—any guesses where?