Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I did on my summer vacation...

View down the Rapenburg, a lovely canal in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Two weeks ago, I was standing right where this picture was taken, looking down this beautiful canal in the small Dutch city of Leiden.  It is a lovely little town with narrow streets, plentiful restaurants with tables outside on the cobblestone streets or moored barges, and lots of interesting things to see and do.  Much of what we did was family oriented as my sister, niece and nephew-in-law all live there.  My husband and I loved every minute of our stay.
Narrow Dutch houses along the Rapenburg across from our hotel.
The Netherlands is extremely pedestrian friendly, and we roamed everywhere on foot. For side trips we took the train which, thanks to my sister's help, we quickly got the hang of.  My niece led us on a bicycle trip to a little town on the North Sea.  We loved that there are bicycle paths everywhere and, in fact, it looked easier to get around via bicycle then car.
When this Pub is open there are tables on the barge. We spent some time there.
Our room at the De Doelen Hotel was spacious and had a huge windows with plenty of light streaming in from both sides.  It also had a long narrow flight of steps up to our floor, for which I am thankful considering the amount of beer I consumed, some of which was at the English style pub right across the street.  We spent some sunny hours on that barge quaffing a pint or two.
We did a lot of walking on streets like this.
Leiden is full of cool narrow streets which my husband and I explored thoroughly to the point where I kind of felt like maybe I'd lost a centimeter or two wearing down my legs.  Comfy shoes are real important because those ancient uneven streets can take a lot out of you.  And then all the museums and churches we visited, and the side trips to places like Amsterdam and Delft. Vacationing can mean serious exercise when you do your touring on foot.
We came upon this little place just in time for a beer.
My husband and I both love beer and we were in the right part of the world to indulge this hobby.  My niece and nephew-in-law provided us with a crash course in Belgian Beers at a restaurant called Olivier's.  We also found a few of our own places to sip Trappist ales as we explored charming side streets. We came upon this little bar that had a really good Belgian beer on tap and a lovely interior.  A popular snack at bars like this is a plate of cheese and here we enjoyed tasty sharp Dutch cheese produced on a nearby farm--so we got to be sustainable too.

A visit to Delft and the Royal Delft factory and museum was a must.

I was also impressed by the number of little stores, most of them appearing to be small independently owned businesses, including two well stocked yarn stores. I purchased quite a few skeins of sock yarn and some new knitting needles.  I found some size 0's that are the best sock needles I've ever used.  We also found a great art supply store where we picked up some sketch pads to do a little drawing with.  Leiden was Rembrandt's hometown, so we were a little bitten by the bug.  We also did a bit of shopping in Delft too which has a similarly cute downtown. 

Yes, we saw a windmill! Climbed up in it too.

.We also visited a windmill that had once ground corn.  Stairs are steep in the Netherlands, but these were wooden ladders in some places. The museum restored the living area of the millers family and we could climb to see the working of the mill.  It was a workout climbing up and down, which was good considering all the food and drink I was consuming.  Besides tooling around Leiden, we took sidetrips to places like Amsterdam and Deft and saw lots of museums, churches and more.

The Grand Place in Brussels.
Our next stop was Brussels.  We were so charmed by this little city, that we skipped a sidetrip to Bruges, figuring we would visit on a future trip.  We found the Grand Place, which is lovely, and went to the nearby Delirium Cafe where they have 53 Belgium beers on tap and hundreds more in bottles.  Their beer catalog is the size of a telephone book for a small city.  We stuck with the beers on tap and enjoyed the traditional snack of cheese and bread--in this case it was an entire little wheel of Chimay cheese, which is fabulous, mildly pungent and yum.  Cheese is another of our loves.

Oh, and chocolate!  There are chocolate stores at every turn and we made it a point to try as many as we could and brought some home with us. We would buy a little bag here and there and eat some for dessert or a snack.  We did a lot of walking, fortunately, so I only gained five pounds despite the beer, chocolate, cheese and some really tasty meals. Oh, did I mention the fries?  Belgium is also famous for their fries! They eat them with mayonnaise, but I enjoyed them just plain with salt.  They are really good.

The churches in Brussels were beautiful and one included a display of clerical vestments.  I took a closeup of some of the weaving just so I can blow it up and study it later.  It appears to be silver and silk.  We also visited museums, the Royal Palace, the botanical garden and wandered the streets, watched the Olympics in a little tavern, ate some wonderful meals and so much more.

And now, I'm jet lagged.  I made lunch at 9 a.m. thinking it was around 1 or 2.  I expect it to be some time before I'm back on schedule.

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