Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Juneau and Janet Secret

My doggles like to sleep in.  I get up a little bit earlier than Jer does every workday, so they try to stay in bed as long as they can, until he kicks them out.  I go through my usual morning routine, with little to no interest from the doggles.  One day, Juneau apparently didn't feel like sleeping any longer, so she followed me into the kitchen as I got my cereal.  I poured my Cheerios into a bowl, and a few of them escaped and landed on the floor.  Juneau gobbled them up and I thought nothing of it.  The next day, I went into the kitchen and grabbed the cereal box, as usual.  The distinctive noise of cereal being poured occurred, and much to my surprise - Juneau came running into the kitchen from the bedroom, looking to see if I had spilled any.  I thought it was pretty cute, so I purposely let a few hit the floor.  What's the result of that?  You guessed it - every morning since, when I walk into the kitchen and grab the cereal box, Juneau comes running in behind me.  Now I just grab a handful and set it on the floor for her.  The other doggles have no idea it's going on.  Believe me - if Riley knew there was food being distributed, he would be there in a second.  I love this little secret between Juneau and I.

      Mama's little cereal buddy

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Riley's Weight Loss Challenge

Being that I am the caretaker for my dog, Riley, I believe that the blame for his current overweight state falls entirely on my shoulders.  I switched his food to diet food and started taking him for more walks last year, and we saw pretty good results - 10 pounds lost.  This year we've kept him on the diet food, but I've let a million distractions and excuses get in the way of getting him more exercise.  It's possible that his weight will lead to health and/or mobility problems in the future, and possibly lead to an early death.  I can't be responsible for losing my dog too soon, so yesterday I made a resolution.  We are going to get back on track and ramp up the exercise routine.  I know he can lose another 10 to 15 pounds and I'm going to see to it that he does.  The Riley Weight Loss Challenge has begun!  I'll post pics of our progress.  His starting weight is 53 pounds, and here is our starting pic:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Long Trip Home

Our European vacation was amazing, to say the least.  But, all good things must come to an end!  Thomas, Karin, and Kim drove us to the airport in Dusseldorf so we could catch our flight home.  They waited in line with us and kept us company until it was time to go through security.  It's crazy to think that we might not see them again for years.  I hope they all get the chance to come visit us someday soon!  We said our goodbyes and took a few last photos.

 Host Parents and Daughter - Reunited!

Long-distance friends!

Our first flight took us to Dublin.  It was a fairly short flight, so no problems there.  Once we arrived in Dublin, however, things went downhill.  Dublin holds the distinction of having the worst airport I've ever seen.  I'm not exaggerating - IT'S THE WORST.  Maybe they had us segregated in the worst terminal or boarding area or something, but that's the only exposure I had to it, so it wins the prize.  We head over to our gate to discover that they don't have a large enough seating area for passengers.  This means there's a huge crowd of people sitting in the walkway, or in-between the aisles, or wherever they can find space.  We find a spare piece of floor and set all our bags down.  Jer stands guard over them so I can find a restroom.  I see a sign, and start heading in that direction, weaving my way through the crowd of waiting passengers.  When I finally arrive at the restroom, I find myself to be the 10th person in line.  Awesome.  When I finally make it to the front of the line, I discover why.  There are only three stalls in the bathroom, one of which is out of order.  So, two toilets are supposed to suffice for all of these people.  It's not like there was even another bathroom that I could've walked to; this was it.  I weaved my way back through the crowd and found Jer.  We constantly had to adjust our positions on the ground or adjust our bags so that people could get around us.  It was frustrating!

          We need more room!

We finally got on our 7- hour flight, this one taking us to Chicago.  We were seated in the second row of the main cabin behind, who else?  One year old twins.  Of course we were!  Jer and I gave each other "the look" but held out hope that maybe the kids would sleep most of the time.  Apparently "most of the time" meant the grand total of 30 minutes.  They cried.  A LOT.  From what we garnered, their parents were strong believers in the Ferber method.  In other words, they didn't try to comfort them when they cried.  They just ignored it and went along their merry way.  After a couple of hours of this, I wanted to walk up there and offer to try and console one of the kids.  I mean, seriously!  Who just sits there and watches their kid cry to no end?  Could they not at least have tried a little rocking or soft singing or a bottle or something??  Anything would've been better than the ignore method.  I felt bad for the kids, not just for myself!  At one point I looked over at Jer and he had both hands on his ears, pushing his earphones as far in as they would go.  I just had to laugh.

  Seven torturous hours!

When our diabolical flight was finally over, we weren't even home yet!!  We still had to catch a flight from Chicago to DFW.  Luckily our plane had the individual TV monitors in the seats, so that helped the time go by quickly.  My sister, Jo, was waiting to pick us up when we landed, and she brought along her daughter Livy to cheer us up!  It was a great plan because it made me completely forget about the 17 hours of travel we had just endured.  We made our way home and greeted our 3 doggles, who were just a tad bit excited to see us!  After bringing in our bags and attending to the dogs, the first order of business was getting some Rosa's.  I needed my queso fix!  Europe - we loved you, and we'll be back.  But, going overseas sure does make you appreciate what you have waiting for you at home. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Germany - Day Two

On our last day in Germany, we decided to start it off right with a trip to the Haribo shop.  I'm a big fan of Haribo gummy bears, but I had no idea they made so many other types of candy too!  I definitely epitomized the "kid in a candy store" saying.  I had never before seen a store that big, dedicated entirely to one brand of candy. Check it out:

      Only one of the many aisles

Hmmm, how much can I fit in my suitcase?

After our sugar fix, we headed into the center of Bonn to sightsee and shop.  Bonn used to be the capital and seat of government for Germany, until these designations were moved to Berlin in 1998.  We saw some of the old government buildings, Bonn University, the Rhine River, and Post Tower. 

  Bonn University

 Our sightseeing group

After spending a couple hours in Bonn, we headed back to Koln to do some final shopping.  Kim and I needed to fill our pretzel fix, so we found a vendor that sold right-out-of-the-oven fresh pretzels.  Delicious!  It reminded me of the times Kim and I used to walk around the Galleria mall and we'd smell the fresh pretzels and have to take a detour over to Auntie Anne's because they smelled so dang good.  The group of us also took a break at Starbuck's for a few minutes.  I walked inside and forgot I was in Germany.  Haha.  It was exactly like a Starbuck's here.  The funniest part, to me, was that after finishing our drinks, we headed down the street and saw another Starbuck's just one block away.  Is that really necessary??

 My pretzel buddy

We did a lot of walking and a lot of shopping, which was great for the ladies, but probably not too enjoyable for the guys!  I think Jer had his fill of shoe stores.  What a great hubby for being so patient!

  Can someone please turn on the Tour at least?

At some point during the day, Jer and I started talking about queso and how much we were craving it.  We got the crazy idea that we should try to make a batch at home later that night.  After we left Koln, we stopped by a grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients.  Talk about complicated!  In America, it's easy peasy - Velveeta cheese, Rotel, Cream of Mushroom soup, and Jimmy Dean sausage.  In Germany, not so easy.  We found cream of mushroom, but everything else was a challenge.  Fresh cheese?  No, actually, we need the processed kind that is shelf-stable.  Fresh tomatoes?  No, actually, we need diced tomatoes and green chiles that come in a can.  Made me a little embarrassed that we could only find fresh, non-processed ingredients, and that wasn't what we wanted!?!  We tried to improvise with what we could find, but we knew the cheese selection would be the biggest hurdle. (It ended up tasting alright, per Mik's opinion, but Jer and I knew it didn't hold a candle to Rosa's queso or what we were used to personally making).  I guess queso should just stay in North America.  :)

After we got home and freshened up, Kim's dad, Peter, picked us up for dinner.  He was taking us to a Biergarten serving traditional German food, and we were very excited about it!  Jer ordered Leberkase and I ordered rumpsteak.  Hands down, the best meal we had on our European trip.  Jer was impressed with the beer as well! (They don't play around when it comes to quantity).  


Prost! (Cheers!)

We had a wonderful time getting to know Peter.  We could tell he didn't feel entirely comfortable with his English, but we thought he did a great job!  He even gave Jer a Deutschland cap, which was an awesome souvenir!  We really appreciated his generosity and hospitality, and gave him an FC Dallas scarf to show our thanks.

Last dinner in Germany

After dinner we headed over to Peter's house to hang out a while longer.  Jer tried a grapefruit Hefeweizen (Schofferhofer) that he thought was pretty good.  We recounted some of our favorite memories from the prior two weeks, which was a great way to bring our European adventure to a close.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Germany - Day One

On our first sightseeing day in Germany, Kim, Karin, Jeremiah, and I took a train into Koln.  As soon as we exited the train station, we could see the amazing cathedral that Koln is famous for.  You have to tilt your head back pretty far to see the whole thing!  It's humbling.  We went inside and discovered that it was just as impressive on the interior as it was from the exterior.  We took a lot of pictures, but decided to come back later since there was a mass in session!

   My camera couldn't handle it!

After leaving the cathedral, we walked around the city and headed towards the Rhine River.  Kim showed us a bridge where lovers attach locks and throw the key into the river, signifying their enduring love.  What a neat idea!

  Look closely and see the "love locks"

Next, we took a boat tour down the Rhine and saw a lot of interesting sights.  The newest landmarks in Cologne, the "crane houses" are quite a spectacle.  We also noticed a young couple, sitting on a couch, in a precarious location.  Take a look...

  Crane houses

Just a casual conversation

In an unusual location!

The boat tour was really enjoyable, and we got a neat perspective of the city.  By then it was lunchtime, so we stopped off for a flammkuchen.  It looks like a pizza, and is made of dough topped with sour cream, onions, and ham.  Next on the agenda was the Schokoladen Museum, or chocolate museum.  Jer was just a tad bit excited since he's a chocolate junkie.  The museum gives you an overview of the entire process surrounding chocolate preparation, from the cultivation of the cocoa beans to the packaging of the finished product.  We were in a room that showcased some really old tools, and Kim and I went over and started messing with an antique scale used to weigh sacks of cocoa beans.  It was in the middle of the room, with no rope or glass or anything around it, so we assumed it was fair game.  After our activity made a few clanking sounds and attracted the attention of a museum staff member, we realized we probably shouldn't have been touching it.  The employee walked over and said something to us in German.  Jer happened to be walking up at exactly that time and did not recognize the context clues.  I had no idea what the lady was saying, but I surmised that it was some sort of reprimand.  No sooner had she finished her sentence, than Jer reached out and started adjusting the scale, resulting in the loud clanking sounds again....right in front of her.  It was hilarious.  I'm sure she thought we were mentally deficient.  This time the lady firmly said, "Don't touch that" in English.  Kim and I had a hard time containing our laughter!

After getting our sample of the best chocolate I've ever tasted, we left the museum and headed back to the Koln cathedral.  Mass had ended, so we were able to walk through and see the newest stained glass window.  My camera didn't really do it justice, but I tried!

  The pixelated stained glass window

 The ladies enjoying Koln

By this time, Thomas had gotten off work, so he drove to Koln and picked us up.  As if Jer wasn't happy enough after visiting a museum dedicated entirely to chocolate, Thomas informed us that he would drive us to the Nurburgring.  This is a famous track in Nurburg, Germany, where races are held, manufacturers perform tests on their cars, and the public gets access at certain times.  It's 21km long with no lanes, lots of curves, and no speed limit!  Super fast, super expensive cars can be seen everywhere you look.  Thomas, Karin, and Kim had been to the track before as observers, but they had never driven on it!  It was exciting that it was the first time for everybody.  Thomas drove us around the track in his Audi, but we kept it at a safe speed!  We lost count of the Corvettes, Porsches, Ducatis, and M-series BMWs that flew by us.  I think our hearts were racing the entire time, and there were many "Whoa!" "Wow!" "Look at that one!" exclamations made.  Ridiculously cool!

 Had to be quick on the camera to capture these guys!

I've ridden the Ring!

Exciting day for everybody

For dinner we ate at a very nice restaurant in the town of Andenau.  When we walked in, I hung back and pulled the waitress aside and told her to make sure she handed the check to me at the end of the night.  (Karin and I had a running joke that day because I had tried to pay for her lunch earlier, but was having a hard time finding my money in my bag, so she wouldn't let me.  Instead she paid for Jer and me, despite our objections, and told me I had to be quicker!)  I thought it would be funny at the end of the dinner for the waitress to bring me the check directly to me, unbeknownst to them, so that there would be no question about who was quicker!  After we finished our meal, we sat there waiting for our waitress.  She hadn't been to our table for quite a while, so Thomas got up to find her.  Apparently when he found her, she told him that I had asked for the check.  He nixed that idea and made her give him the check instead.  Sneaky!  Thomas and Karin were just too nice to us and we really can't thank them enough for the wonderful day we had.

Great dinner to finish a great day

Friday, July 23, 2010

Maastricht - Day Two

The ladies (Renee, Karin, and Kim) met us at our hotel this morning so we could sight see and shop around Maastricht together.  We saw Vrijthof Square, Theater aan het Vrijthof, Basilica of Saint Servatius (we toured the treasure rooms), churches that were hundreds of years old, Town Hall, the River Maas, and lots of other amazing things that I can't remember the names of!  We dined at a riverside cafe for lunch and enjoyed the scenery and people around us.  There was a small souvenir shop near the bridge we were taking to get back to the car, so we stopped in to pick up a few things.  Jer suggested that I look through their football scarfs for an MVV one (this is the team my Opa played on), but I figured it was highly unlikely they'd have one.  MVV is a semi-pro team, and I had previously had a hard time finding any merchandise related to it online.  To my amazement, they had one!  I absolutely had to buy it so that I could give it to my Dad.  That seriously made my day!

Church in Maastricht

  Maastricht Town Hall

After we left the shop, we saw storm clouds brewing and the wind had picked up, so we rushed back to the car.  We made it in time, but we encountered a heck of a storm on our drive back.  We even pulled over on the side of the road at one point since the visibility was so bad.  I had wanted to see the street where my grandparents' house had been, so we made our way over there in the rain.  That area now is just apartments, so I had to settle for just seeing the street!  (Professor Mullerstraat was the name of it).  Once we got back on the road and closer to Renee's house, we saw tree branches strewn everywhere.  Large trees had just snapped in half and were laying in people's yards or across the roadway.  It was crazy!  We were glad we didn't see any property damage along the way and we were thankful Renee's trees were spared.

Kim and I in front of the River Maas

Result of the storm

We hung out at Renee's house while we waited for the rain to pass.  Once it did, we said our goodbyes to Renee and Huub, because we were heading to Germany!  We are so thankful to Renee for being a wonderful host, and we hope we get the chance to see her again someday.  From there, Karin and Kim drove us to Bergheim, Germany.  We got to see their beautiful house and meet Kim's stepdad Thomas.  He grilled out a wonderful meal for us, and we were very appreciative.  (Did I mention we were tired of cafe food???)  After enjoying dinner, a few of Kim's friends came over to meet us.  We were so flattered!  They are great girls, but a little on the shy side when it comes to speaking English.  It was pretty cute, but we totally understood how they felt about attempting to speak in a foreign language!  We tried to make them feel more comfortable by throwing out what little Dutch and German we knew, which mainly consisted of asking how you are, asking where the bathroom is, counting to ten, and a few random curse words.  Haha.  We sat around for a few hours, just hanging out and enjoying each other's company.  It was great!

 Karin, Jer, and Mik enjoying a cold one

 Kim and her friends, Gloria and Ari

I had the idea to skype with my sister, Jo, so Kim could see Jo's daughter, Livy, again.  They had formed a really sweet bond while Kim was living with us, and I knew she would be amazed at how much Livy had grown in the 6 months since she left.  Since the time difference is so large, we had to schedule it for 1am Bergheim time so that Jo would be off from work by then.  Livy was precious!  We had a lot of people on our side of the camera, but she recognized and pointed me out.  It was so cute.  Jo got her to say a lot of things, which was awesome because she wasn't talking much at all the last time Kim saw her.  The best part was when Jo told us she'd be going over to a friend's house to babysit their daughter that night, but that she wasn't bringing Livy with her, because she would get jealous of Jo's interaction with the other child.  Livy had been walking down the hall, listening to what was said, followed by Jo with the camera on her, and she turned around and announced to all of us in a happy voice, "I'm jealous!"             

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Maastricht - Day One

We walked our luggage (which increasingly became heavier over the course of the trip) over to the Central Station so we could catch our train to Maastricht.  Lots of people were arriving to Amsterdam that day, decked out in orange, in preparation for the homecoming parade that would be taking place later that day.  We were very sad we were missing it!  They brought the Dutch team on a boat from behind Central Station, through the canal, and ending at Museumplein for a ceremony.  It looked like a pretty fun celebration!  But I digress.  Our train was nice, but not as good as the one from Paris.  It was considered an inter-city train, so there wasn't free wifi or drink service.  We got off the train at one stop before Masstricht, in Sittard, because that's where Kim's aunt Renee would be meeting us.  She drove us to her house in Geleen, where we got the chance to sit under the shade in her beautiful backyard and chat!

    Renee, me, and Jer in Maastricht

After relaxing for a while, Renee took us to the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten.  It's a WWII cemetery commemorating and honoring the American soldiers who gave their lives for liberty.  When you enter, you see a pool leading to the tall memorial tower.  Surrounding that area are two large walls called the Tablets of the Missing, on which 1,700 names are written.  The cemetery contains 8,300 burial plots, each marked with a simple white marble headstone.  I really appreciated visiting this memorial because it was an American soldier who was responsible for helping my grandparents emigrate from Holland to America.  Obviously he was not among those in the cemetery, but seeing those plots was a keen reminder of what the American service members gave to help others, some with their lives, some in other ways.  For that, I am immensely grateful.

  Memorial Tower

 Burial Plots

From the cemetery, we traveled to meet with some of Renee's friends, who run Hotel Bergrust in the hills of Limburg.  What a relaxing place to be!  Jer and I both agreed that his mom would love a setting like that.  We sat outside on the patio enjoying the views and sympathized with the poor cyclists attempting the steep incline that ran in front of the hotel.  Jer spoke with the owner about the latest happenings in the Tour de France, so he was a happy camper.

   Hotel Bergrust, which sits in an awesome location

From there we headed back to Renee's house so she could begin dinner preparations.  Her son, Maarten, was home, so we had the chance to meet him.  Kim, her mother Karin, and her brother Mik were driving in from Bergheim, Germany to hang out with us that night.  We were extremely excited since we hadn't seen Kim in 6 months, and had never met Karin or Mik before!  When they arrived, it was actually funny because it seemed as if no time had passed at all from the last time we saw Kim, and it was like we had known Karin and Mik for years.  It's such a bummer that they live on the other side of the ocean from us, because I know our families would be great friends.  We sat around for a few hours, talking and drinking, and in the meantime Renee's husband, Huub, had arrived.  What a fun bunch of people!  We knew we were going to have a pretty eventful next couple of days with these folks! 

   Kim and her former host parents!

It was pretty late by this point, but we needed to check into our hotel in Maastricht.  We stayed at the Hotel Beaumont.  It's a really cool hotel, but our room was small and the mini-fridge wasn't stocked.  Oh well, we were literally only staying there for 10 hours, so we couldn't complain too much!  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Amsterdam - Day Two

When we arrived in Amsterdam on the previous day, a lady in our hotel lobby had handed me free tickets for a canal cruise since she didn't have time to take it.  We decided to use those tickets on our second day in Amsterdam.  It was rainy, but the boats were covered, so we figured we'd be fine.  We got on the cruise and weren't impressed.  Only some of the windows opened, so you had to sit in certain places to get any pictures.  That meant you might not be facing the right direction to see what was coming up.  You were definitely going to miss things that were on the other side of the boat because you couldn't realistically run back and forth!  The audio guide was broadcast to the entire boat, not through individual headphones, so you had to hear it in 3 languages.  We had to wait a long time at each landmark to get to the English commentary and figure out what we were looking it.  It was a pain.  After about 10 minutes, we decided we had had enough.  We got off at the next stop and decided we'd rather walk to each place and at least get some better pictures.  We spotted a Hard Rock Cafe in the distance and immediately craved comfort food!  We were so relieved to go to a place that gave free refills!  Haha.  As silly as it may sound, you really do miss having them.

After that, we attempted to visit the Anne Frank House.  Even in the rain, the line to get in was all the way around the block!  Bummer.  We were really looking forward to going there.  Instead we visited Dam Square and did some souvenir shopping.  We also visited a shop that sold Delft (hand-painted blue and white pottery) items.  If you've ever been in my house, or anyone in my family's house, you've probably seen a lot of these types of items!  After that we headed towards a shopping mall and Jer got a nice little present from a bird along the way.  Yeah, that just happened.  It was bad.  It was on his hand, a little on his head, and all down the front of his shirt.  He had to take off his shirt and carry it with him.  Bummer!  Luckily he was a good sport about it, and we just went to H&M and found a cheap shirt he could wear the rest of the day.  We also picked up some more Holland gear at a Nike store.  It starting pouring rain again, and the shops were closing.  Most of them closed at 6:30 on Mondays.  It was weird!  There was a cafe on the top story of the mall, which advertised air conditioning, so we went up there for a few minutes to escape the rain and enjoy the views.  When it subsided some, we headed back to our hotel.

I forgot to mention the air conditioning fiasco in my previous post, so let me tell you about it now.  We got back to our room and put the room key into the slot that would allow the lights and power to work.  There was a white dial on the wall which could be turned towards heat or cold, and then a button that you could push to increase the fan strength.  We of course turned it towards cool and put the fan on the highest setting. We sat there for a few minutes and didn't feel any change.  We didn't hear a fan blowing and couldn't feel cold air coming from anywhere.  Darn it.  I called the front desk and said, "I think our air conditioner is broken."  They responded, "We don't have air conditioning."  What??  I said, "What am I adjusting on the wall then, that has a temperature gauge and a fan setting???"  They said, "Oh, that's climate control.  It just helps cool the room a little."  You've got to be kidding me!  I couldn't believe how expensive this hotel was, yet they didn't have air conditioning.  And the climate control was a joke.  We never felt any change from using it.  Sweat city, here we come!

Because of the weather that day, we just decided to order room service for dinner and start packing for our trip to Maastricht.  A while later we heard a crash in the hallway and thought, "Please don't let that have been our dinner."  A knock on the door...yep, it was ours.  Darn it!  The employee had dropped Jer's burger and it went everywhere.  My salad was safe, so he went ahead and dropped it off.  He promised he'd return with a replacement burger.  I started eating my salad and it was quite disappointing!  The chicken on it looked old, like the salad had been prepared a long time ago.  When the employee returned again, Jer's new burger was undercooked.  What a disaster!  Considering the hotel was expensive and supposed to be pretty nice, we were less than impressed.  We looked forward to a better time in Maastricht!


Amsterdam - Day One

We took a cab to Gare Du Nord in Paris so we could catch the train to Amsterdam.  Our French taxi driver was hilarious and he kept us entertained, joking about how bad France was this year in the World Cup.  We were getting more and more excited since this day was the final game between Holland and Spain.  When we arrived at the station, we checked out the big board and saw that our train was on time.  It was one of those boards with the flipping letters, not an electronic one.  Call me nerdy, but I thought that was pretty neat since I'd only ever seen those in movies.  As we were waiting for our train, we were approached by several gypsies.  They would ask if you spoke English, and if you said yes, they would hold up a card written in English asking for money.  Each of their cards was exactly the same.  It got rather annoying, so we quickly changed our answer to "No" when asked!

 The flippy letter board

We boarded the train and immediately felt at ease about our 3 hour trip.  The seats were comfortable, they had a foot rest, there was lots of room, there were outlets available for our electronics, there was free Wifi, and the food and drink service was constant.  This was definitely the way to travel!  Before we knew it, we had arrived in Amsterdam.  As soon as we got off the train, we could feel the excitement in the air.  Everyone around us was sporting orange, and the vuvuzelas were in full swing.  We headed out from the central station and walked towards our hotel.  It was a very short distance away, so we didn't mind walking it with all of our luggage.  We stayed at the Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam.  That hotel is very English-friendly, so that was comforting.  We opened the door to our room and were very impressed.  It was quite large and the floor to ceiling windows were neat.  And did I mention that everything in the mini-bar was free?  Jackpot.  I love hotels like that.

 Grand Hotel Amrath Amsterdam

We quickly dropped off our luggage and headed out to check out the town.  We walked up and down the streets lined with stores, coffee shops, and restaurants.  It was quite weird to smell weed constantly, but that was to be expected in that city!!  There was definitely a buzz in the air, (irrespective of the drugs!) as everyone was preparing to watch the game.  We stopped at a small cafe and ordered a pizza and a doner kebap for our late lunch.  Then we headed back to the hotel to get into our game gear and get directions for where we needed to walk to watch it.  I decided to only bring my point and shoot camera since I didn't want to lug around the SLR with its long lens and heavy body.  We also put on tennis shoes because we knew we'd be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people in a fairly dirty environment!


The Museumplein, where the game was being shown on four large screens, was a little less than 2 miles away from our hotel.  We had seen aerial pictures of it during the semi-final game, and we knew we were in store for mayhem.  We walked over there and the crowds started getting larger and larger as we got nearer.  We stopped at an outdoor bar and grabbed some Heineken.  When in Rome, right??  We could see the area that had the best view of the big screens, and it was completely packed with people.  We weren't even that close to it, and it already had become a situation of shoulder to shoulder with little room to maneuver around.  We struggled through that for about ten minutes, making little progress, so I held my camera up above my head and took a picture of our goal location.  We thought maybe it was worse where we were at because it was near concession stands and the bathroom.  We were wrong.  Jer and I looked at the picture and knew there was no hope.  It was shoulder to shoulder for as far as my camera could see. 

   A tad bit crowded

We bailed from that area and decided to try another approach.  We went completely around the Museumplein and tried to come back into it from the other side.  We could at least walk a little more freely in that area, but we were very far away from the big screens.  We could vaguely see them if we stood on our tip toes, and we figured that was probably the best we were going to get.  There was still an hour until game time, so we had plenty of time to soak in our surroundings.  Everyone around was in such a jovial mood, and there was an awesome sense of camaraderie.  Lots of songs were sung in unison (none of which we knew the words to), helicopters dropped confetti, orange smoke bombs were set off, people held up lit flares, and vuvuzelas were rampant.  One Dutch guy near us thought we spoke his language, so he constantly said things to us, laughed and made jokes to us, etc, none of which we understood.  It was greatness.  He had no idea.  Another guy near us determined that his vuvuzela was not sufficient enough, so he attached it to a long piece of piping, which was then attached to another vuvuzela.  It was quite comical.

  Best. Vuvuzela. Ever.

As it got closer and closer to the game's start, the excitement really started to grow!  When it showed the Dutch team entering the field, the crowd around us went crazy!  Based on that reaction, Jer and I were stoked about what would happen whenever the Dutch scored.  Even though our vantage point wasn't that great, we vowed to stick it out until the first goal happened, so we could celebrate with everyone around us.  And then the game started.  15 minutes in.  No goals.  30 minutes in.  No goals.  Crikey!  It was pretty nerve-wracking, and we were very anxious for something great to happen.  Once it got to be half-time with no goals scored, we decided we'd rather just go to a nearby bar so we could see the action close-up, and sit down!  We found one with just a few people in it, so we got good seats near the TV.  As much as I wanted to be a part of the huge crowd, we were relieved to actually be able to see what was going on.  And in hindsight, considering the result, it was a good decision on our part!  We finished out the game there, with all the highs and lows (and kicks to the chest!), and were pretty bummed when it was all over.  We were so glad to have been in Amsterdam on such an exciting day for the country, but sad that we couldn't celebrate a big win for the Dutch.  I'll never forget that day though, and I'll always say Hup Holland!

     Me, Dutch by genes, and Jer, Dutch by marriage!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paris - Day Three

It gets a little harder to remember everything we did as more time passes from when we were actually in Paris, but hopefully the little notes I made along the way start to jog my memory!  We began day 3 with a hop on - hop off bus tour.  It took us past lots of beautiful buildings and bridges, not to mention all the quintessential Paris landmarks.  We stayed on the bus tour through its entirety (2+ hours), and then decided to stay on it as it began the route again so that we could get a free ride to Notre Dame (we were a bit tired of walking)!  The Cathedral is free to enter, so we walked around it and marveled at the interior.  There was lots of beautiful stained glass throughout, as well as a lot of areas where you could pay to light a candle (no thanks)!  The architecture and design in the ceiling and arches were just amazing.  I took a lot of pictures inside there.  After that, we stopped at a cafe for lunch.  I ordered a club sandwich, which turned out to be pretty disgusting, so my intake consisted of only french fries.  By this time, Jer and I were quite tired of the brasserie cafes.  We vowed to find something different for dinner!

 front of Notre Dame

interior of Notre Dame

After lunch, we walked over to the Pantheon.  The building looks pretty neat from the outside, but I had no idea how wonderful it would be on the inside.  My jaw dropped when I entered, and I was so impressed.  It was really giving the Arc de Triomphe a run for its money.  There were beautiful floor to ceiling columns everywhere, huge murals on each wall, and a giant pendulum in the middle that showed the angle the earth was spinning.  Down below the main floor were the crypts.  They were stark and solemn.  Even if there hadn't been a sign there saying not to speak loudly, you wouldn't have wanted to.  A few people's hearts were in urns, which was rather odd.  There were some pretty famous people entombed there - Marie Curie, Alexander Dumas, Voltaire, Louis Braille, Victor Hugo (who wrote Les Mis), and Jean-Jacque Rousseau.   The building had sustained damage from wear and tear due to age, which necessitated the use of nets underneath some of the ceiling areas in case pieces came loose and fell off.  Overall though, the Pantheon was wonderful and it tied with the Louvre for my second favorite things in Paris!


 the jaw-dropping interior

We had asked for advice on where to eat our last dinner in Paris, and our friend Emily recommended a place called Fajitas.  We arrived around 9:30 that night and discovered it to be a really tiny place with no air conditioning.  It seemed to be pretty popular though, since every table was full.  They asked if we had a reservation, and we were like wow!  Didn't know we would need one at that time of night.  Luckily we only had to wait ten minutes before a table became available.  I was really excited about getting some Mexican food since our dining luck in Paris hadn't been so great up to that point.  When our waitress asked for our drink orders, we ordered margaritas and some water.  She came back with the margaritas, but no water.  We had to specifically order chips and salsa (and pay for them).  The salsa wasn't bad, considering where we were.  We asked for water again, and again no luck.  We finally just asked another waiter that happened to be walking by and he actually helped us out.  Grrr!  It sure does take a lot of work to get some water in Paris.  The food was good, but the temperature in the restaurant was pretty unbearable.  It was actually cooler outside, which shouldn't be the case! 

We decided to end our last night in Paris with a walk to the Trocadero so we could try and get one last picture in front of the Eiffel Tower.  It's far enough away from the Tower so that you can really get a good shot of yourself and the full landmark.  While there, we met a couple from Australia who were celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary.  It was really cool to talk with them for a few minutes and discuss what had brought us both to Paris.  It was also a neat juxtaposition of a couple with 37 years under their belt, and Jer and I with just 4.  I'm looking forward to being on the flip side of that situation one day.

Some final thoughts about Paris:
1) There are lots of smokers there.
2) When stores have sales, they don't put mannequins in the windows with the store's clothing on them.  They put mannequins up with generic white shirts that say "Soldes" (Sale) on them.  This was everywhere.  I thought it was weird that you couldn't see what kind of clothes a store sold by looking at the mannequins!
3) People on vespas just weave in and out of traffic and pedestrians with no regard for rules or safety!
4) We encountered tons of people who spoke English....except for our taxi driver.
5) The temperatures were cooler and much nicer at night.
6) It stayed light outside pretty late.
7) Sometimes there didn't seem to be any lanes on the road, just random weaving driving.
8) The lighted monuments at night looked amazing.