Wednesday, June 29, 2011



Just after our trip to Benelux Dale and I went to the SMAKA PÅ STOCKHOLM ie 'taste of Stockholm' festival in downtown Stockholm.
 It was a beautiful day, there were live bands playing good music, and the festival was packed!

It was a lot of fun to be able to sample plates from all sorts of different restaurants around town to get to know the restaurants better. Dale got fish and chips from Melanders which we only thought was so so. A disappointment since Melanders seems to be a very popular seafood restaurant here with several locations in town.

But I got a chorizo with chimichuri from Nyagatan Patagonia which was so delicious it was devoured before I snapped a picture. I'm now dying to try out all 3 of the Nyagatan restaurants. Too bad the Patagonia restaurant is closed for 2 months while the owners backpack Argentina to find new meals. But the original Nyagatan is on the top of my restaurant list as well as their newest location in the archapeligo featuring Swedish food with a 'European flair', oh my!

Too bad Smaka på Stockholm isn't every weekend!
Love Always,

Sunday, June 26, 2011

'Bye Benelux


For our last day in Benelux it happened to be a Friday so we went to the Friday Market which turned out to be an auction. All the good to be auctioned off were in the square with the 'auctioneers' if you will. Then there was a rope keeping all the purchasers out but if you asked kindly they would let you in to walk around and take a look at some things. We had fun watching the auction for a while, I'd never seen an auction before!
After we were done watching we did a walking tour around Antwerp where we of course continued finding fun views of the belfry.
The walk also took us through the only remaining medieval street in Antwerp, seen below.
Then we learned that the first skyscraper in Europe was built in Antwerp around 1890. Here she is in all her glory.
And apparently Napoleon called Antwerp home for a while and while he did so he lived in this beauty which now lies in the middle of a posh pedestrian mall.
Next we stopped at the oldest bakery in Antwerp, Goossens and tried their specialty roggeverdommeke which is brown bread with raisins and is delicioso!
Then we rounded out our walk through the diamond district on our way to the train station. It was disappointing not being able to see any of the diamond trading going on and instead find a bunch of chintzy diamond stores. But it was still fun to see all the Hasidic Jewish men walking or biking around with suitcases of diamonds.
We hopped on a train back up to Amsterdam and meet up with Fede for a couple hours of beers next to the Amstel river and we flew home.
I loved the Benelux area more then I ever thought I would. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering the cities finding old buildings, relearning the history of the area, and of course tasting yummy beers! I would gladly return to the area. We were initially hoping to make it to Luxembourg or spend a day driving to one of the remote Abbeys to see the monks and the breweries but we were having too much fun in the cities so that will have to wait until next time! Have you been to Benelux? If so what did you love or hate? If you haven't what would you want to do there?
Love Always,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Antwerp Allures


Next stop was Antwerp! When we got off the train in the train station at Antwerp Dale immediately proclaimed his love for Antwerp. What can I say, he really, really likes the Antwerp train station. 
We went straight to our hostel and checked in. In Antwerp we stayed at the Central Youth Hostel Pulcinella it's a brand spankin new facility and the people working there were great and the building was CLEAN. So nice after our terrible hostel in Brussels. After check in we walked around town to grab a bite for dinner. One of the hostel employees recommended a place for us to eat but it was closed for the holiday (ascension day) so we found another restaurant instead. After dinner we walked around town a little bit. The belfry towers over the city and it was fun to spot it from different places. I liked this picture below juxtaposing the belfry so far away with a small statue next to me. 
We walked through Het Steen, a medieval fortress built to keep the vikings out. It's right on the water, the river is to the left of this picture, and it's surrounded by open parks along the shore. 
Next we took a pedestrian tunnel under the river to look at the city center from the other shore. It was just before sunset so there was a nice glow on the city.
We wanted to stop at the famous Kulminator Bar for a night cap but they were closed for the holiday so we began looking for a bar with a good Belgian beer selection. Realizing it was our last night in Belgium, Dale decided to start seeking out the Westvleteren 12. We were pretty sure we weren't going to find it but after asking in two bars we got extremely lucky and the third bar had it! I was feeling pretty beer-ed out at this point and I decided to end the last night in Benelux the same way I'd started it (sans many friends, shucks) and got a La Chouffe
That's a happy Dale on his first sip of 'the best beer in the world'. He even let me taste it, what a nice guy. We both decided it is a mighty good beer, I'm not sure if it was Dale's favorite though. I'll see if I can get him to decide on one. We drank a lot of mighty fine beer just in our short time in Belgium, so I'm glad it's not my job to decide which one is king!
On our way back to the hostel I made Dale swing by the main square since I'd gotten a picture of all the other town's squares at night. Antwerp's square was beautiful as well and we had fun during our week in Benelux discovering all the different squares.
Love Always,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brussels: Day 3


For our final time in Brussels we walked over to the Palais du Roi which is the formal royal residence, not sure if they use it for anything now but it's a beautiful building. 
There is a nice park in front of the palace called Warandepark and we strolled through there and then stopped for a mid-morning waffle snack. You can't go to Belgium and NOT try a Belgian waffle right? The waffles were delicious! A lot lighter, airier, and eggier then the 'belgian waffles' we have in the states. Dale embarrassed me and asked for syrup to pour on his waffle, the waiter gave us a dirty look for that one and Dale got a stern 'no' but he ended up liking it a lot with just the powdered sugar on it.
One thing I wanted to be sure to tell you all about in Belgium is the languages. Everyone we met spoke English just fine so we didn't have any problems. But the official languages are Dutch (locally referred to as 'flemmish'), French and German. Here's an example of a street sign in Brussels:
Sometimes as we were walking around we'd have to look for another street sign just to find the streets as they were labeled on our map which was mostly in German. Pretty interesting! Dale and I kept thinking about how almost all of the American's we know can only speak English and how here you'd have to know like 4 languages to work in any service job. Crazy!

After our nice waffle stop we walked to the Palace of Justice which apparently one of the largest buildings built anywhere in the 19th century. It's currently being restored so we couldn't go in but it did look pretty dang massive!
And the view from the Palace was pretty great too. It was purposefully built at the top of the hill overlooking the poorer community as an example of the power the rich had. 
Dale really isn't a dessert person but I guess he likes me because next I got him to do a chocolate making workshop with me! Before we embarked on our trip I googled the best chocolate shops to be sure I knew which chocolate to try in Belgium and instead of finding lots of chocolate I wanted to try I found a free chocolate making workshop I wanted to attend at Zaabar in Brussels. We got to make truffles and some chocolate thing where you flatten out some warm chocolate and put whatever you want on it. Pretty basic chocolate making but it was free and we got to keep what we made! Score!
After we finished making our chocolate we walked back to the hostel, checked out, and said goodbye to Brussels. I was surprised how much we both loved Brussels. We had a really great time getting to know the city and enjoyed taking our time and finding historical buildings or delicious beer! I hope we can return soon!
Love Always,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brussels: Day 2


For our first full day in Brussels I dragged Dale to the Ixelles/Elsene area in the South of Brussels. I wanted to go here to walk around and see the Art Nouveau architecture as well as to get out of the touristy area and see the 'real city'. 
We followed a suggested walking route and we had a great time spotting the unique buildings. Once we had had enough of that we stopped for frites at the frit flagey stand in flagey park. I got a strange sauce on mine and Dale went with the traditional mayonnaise. I've never thought of fries as a meal but in this region they are a meal! And they are tasty!
Next we walked up to the EU area and we checked out the EU Headquarters and the Belgian Parliament.
We found a nice grassy knoll near this random castle thing on the lawn of the royal residence and we took an afternoon nap in the sunshine.
Walking back into town we again found ourselves in the Grand Place and Dale noticed one of the shops was actually a brewery so we stopped in for a taster.
After that we grabbed dinner and returned to Delirium for another shot at some tasty Belgian beers (I promise we don't normally drink this much beer but in Belgium we had too!). Dale was in a sour mood, sour beer that is :) and he ordered a Cantillon Kriek which we both loved, very highly recommend that one!
Then is was back to the hostel. I should mention, the hostel in Brussels was not at all impressive. We stayed at Bruegel Hostel Brussels and was lacking. I don't have high hostel standards but I do expect the place to be fairly clean and this place was not. I'm not sure the shower had ever been cleaned. Definitely look for somewhere else!
Love Always,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Brussels: Day 1


When we got to Brussels we decided to take stroll with no real destination in mind. We somehow immediately ended up at the famous Brussels landmark  manneken pis, a statue of a peeing boy. So, Dale and I stopped and took our obligatory picture with the little guy. And he is tiny, maybe a foot tall.
We kept walking and found ourselves in the Grand Place, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the main square of Brussels. It was recently voted the most beautiful square in Europe and I can see why, the Grand Place is breathtaking.
We ate dinner in a little cafe we found near the square and it was just mediocre, not surprising since this is the touristy part of Brussels. Dale tried the mules frites (mussels and fries) and he even managed to get me to try one but I still hold my shellfish-free attitude. There was horse on the menu, apparently that's a classic Belgian dish, but I didn't feel quite that adventurous so I ordered a different classic dish of turkey and raspberries and it was pretty decent. Next we went to Delirium Cafe since it is known for having quite the beer selection and they did not disappoint. 
It's a bit overwhelming picking out a beer from over 2,000 options. I know a bit about beer but not to that level. So, Dale and I pretty much put ourselves at the mercy of the bartender who was very friendly and gave us some good tips.

Two strong Belgian beers was enough for us so we said farewell to our new bartender friend and we meandered on home past the Grand Place again and it was even more breathtaking at night.
Love Always,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Groovin' on Ghent


After leaving Brugge Dale and I made a stop at Ghent on our way to Brussels. We didn't know much about Ghent but we stopped because there was a brewery we wanted to check out. As we were walking to the brewery from the train station we managed to find quite a bit of interesting things. Belgium, the land of surprises! First we found a cool castle.
Then we found the Belfry of Ghent, pictured above, which looks like a church but is really an observation tower to watch for invasions. These Belfries are all over the Benelux region. As we continued walking to the brewery we found some cool little squares with great architecture.
Then we were finally at Gruut. Gruut is a brewery owned and operated by women and instead of hops it uses a special mix of spices, called gruit, which is apparently how beer was originally brewed.
 Gruut was a great stop and we had a blast hanging out at the brewery talking with the owner and a nice fellow from Bonn, Germany. At Gruut they also serve their beers in a special glass with a little silver rectangle and special coasters. At first glance the coasters are a scrambled nothing drawing, but when you align the rectangle just right with the coaster you could see a picture, in this case of a pretty lady. Fun!

After we finished up at the brewery we walked back to the train station but made sure to stop and see some of the graffiti that line so many of the buildings in Ghent. In the picture below I'm standing with Dale's favorite graffiti we found and below that is my favorite.
That was the end of our fun filled afternoon in Ghent!
Love Always,