Sunday, July 10, 2011

An Actual Side trip - to Europe! (part one)

I realize I haven't posted in quite a while.  The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me.  School ended, I pulled something in my lower back, went to Europe, came back, was jet lagged, and then, just to top it all off, was in a wedding last night.  It's been a crazy three weeks, but things are finally settling down.  Here are some of the highlights:

On the last day of school for teachers (which is the day after the last day of school for students) every year there is a big school-wide meeting.  I refer to this meeting endearingly as the "Kumbaya meeting" because it seems to be a day for people to get up and tell other people how much they love them.  It's actually very nice and gives people a chance to honor others in a public forum.  This year, I asked the principal if we could combine the meeting with a potluck breakfast.  I used to create a list of what was needed and have people sign up for those things.  There was a ton of food, it was wonderfully successful, and it was also where I seemed to have thrown out my back.  Because of that last part, I ended up leaving the school for the summer feeling a bit ill-at-ease.  But I had also discovered that many of my colleagues can certainly cook, so we will be doing some major pot-lucking again in the future.

Two days after school ended, my mother and I left for a seven-day trip of Europe.  We took about 250 pictures, which I will not post here, but the whole thing was incredible, bad back and all.  And let me tell you, walking and biking around Europe for seven days is not the way to heal a bad back.

The trip started in Paris where we spent our first day, right off the plane, sans sleep, wandering around, climbing up to Sacre Couer, finding and adorable street filled with cafes (Rue de Cadet), getting misplaced looking for an Miro exhibit (we were literally in the wrong place, not lost), tripping over the Eiffel Tower, and accidentally eating (and paying for) two entrees at dinner rather than one.  Our hotel was adorable, the room being in the garret of an old Parisian building with a view of the Eiffel tower in one direction and Sacre Couer in the other.  Paris was a quick and slightly exhausting (and exhausted) day, but absolutely lovely.
Mom and me at the Sacre Couer steps
Our balcony
Paris hotel (the window allll the way at the top was our room)
 The next day was our trip to Giverny, where Monet lived and painted, and the real reason for our trip.  We had arranged a bike tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours which my mom had read about in the newspaper and did not disappoint.  The day started with meeting at the Gare Saint-Lazare to catch a train to Vernon, the town next to Giverny.  We did not miss our train, but only just.  In Vernon, we got out bikes and then we to a open market to buy lunch which we then biked to a spot on the Seine to eat.  Then we biked to Giverny (nice smooth bike trail and a little hill at the end) and had a few hours to see the house and gardens.  They were amazing.  Then we biked back, caught a train back to Paris, we home, fell asleep, woke up, ate dinner and packed because the next day we were leaving for Belgium!  I do want to give a little plug to the bike tour company here because I thought it was pretty incredible.  It's an American company that runs all sorts of tours in London, Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin.  Our tour guide (Meghan) was knowledgeable and sweet and very helpful.  It was well planned and the bikes were comfy.  There is about a 25% chance that I am going to quit my job and go give bike tours of Europe for the rest of my life.  I'll keep you posted.
Meghan giving bike instructions

Our picnic by the Seine
Mom and me at Giverny
Yummy crepes for dinner that night!

We made our train to Brussels very, very early and ate about three breakfasts in the meantime.  By the way, I should take a moment to point out that everything in Europe is very expensive right now.  Like, you sit down and order a coffee and then realize you've just paid seven dollars for it.  But you're on vacation, so you just kind of go with it.  It's a really great way to get really poor, really quickly.  Anyway, we made our train to Brussels with no issues.  We also eventually made it onto our train to Bruges, though having ticket machines in the Brussels train station that do no accept cash or credit cards was a bit sneaky.  And mean.

In Bruges, once we found our hotel (which was a converted barge and adorable), we met up with my friend Tom who was in Belgium on business.  I loved Bruges.  It was an adorable, totally navigate-able city with tons of history and shops and bikes and tourists.  It didn't really need more than a day or two, but for some reason, I want to live there and stay there forever.  Mom, Tom and I used the Rick Steve's Snapshot Bruges (big shout out for Rick Steves!) to take a tour of the city, see all the sights, check out the brewery, find a closed restaurant (that should have been open), and then finally find one of the best restaurants we ate at on the trip, amusingly called Tom's Diner.

The next day, it was just mom and me in Bruges and we rented bikes from the hotel and went on a journey to Damme, a small town about five miles away.  There wasn't much to Damme, but it was a very nice ride and very nice to be on a bike since we had done so much walking the day before.  At this point, my back was still in pretty bad shape, but biking seemed better than walking, at least until I got off the bike...  After Damme we went to some chocolate shops and boutiques, a park called Minnewater, found a lace shop, and had a light dinner.  I should also mention that for some reason in these parts of Europe, the sun does not go down until the break of dawn.  Or at least about 10:00-10:30.  Because of that, it makes a lot more sense to eat dinner between eight and nine.  And because of that, it makes a lot of sense to nap between five and eight.  These Europeans are really onto something.
My favorite picture!
Bruges canals   
At the Chocolate Line - chocolate place with crazy flavors
De Halve Maan brewery

View down the canal from Damme to Bruges

Amsterdam and wedding in part two!  


  1. Am heading to Bruges this weekend, and stumbled on your blog - via 'Bruges chocolates' :) How is your back now? Glad you had a good time in Europe... I thought about heading to Paris but... It looks exhausting! Bruges it is :)

  2. My back is pretty much perfect (or as good as it's going to be). Thanks for asking. Have a great time in Bruges. Tell it hi for me!