Friday, October 23, 2015

TTWIBRAT: 5 Favorite Reading Spots in Amsterdam

Happy Friday y'all! I'm writing a quick post from my hubby's laptop because we are in Milan this weekend celebrating his birthday, he is here for work-Milan Games Week-so the teenager and I came with him to celebrate! We've been having a great time and are about to race out to see The Last Supper and grab a traditionally late Italian dinner. 

Today, I am over at Savvy Working Gal blogging about my five favorite reading spots in Amsterdam! 

This post is a guest post as part of the Travel the World in Books Read-a-thon with Mom's Small Victories and several other great bloggers. I really love these read a thons and now that our fall break is over I can get started on mine!

I've included such places at the cafe at the Oude Kerk, which is where Rembrandt met his wife, it also has an enchanting garden, much like you'd find in one of my favorite books, The Forgotten Garden, which I have a review of scheduled up for next week. Another is 't Hooischip, which has some of the best Gluhwein you'll find in Amsterdam!

So, make sure you click on over to Savvy's blog and check out my 5 favorite reading spots in Amsterdam, they are all must visit places when you come to Amsterdam, or must visit if you currently live here!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PSAT Info for Expats and What I ate in Leiden

Being an expat isn't easy all the time, not only are you consumed by your everyday living in a foreign country, but you know this is not your final landing spot so you also have to remember to keep up on what is happening in your home country. One of these things we have to keep up with since we have an almost 16 year old is college prep.

It gets a bit difficult here because her school, even though it is an international school, is really more of a Dutch school and they have no idea why I am concerned about getting my kid ready to go to college. In fact, I recall during one conference last year when she was a freshman I made mention of college and they acted like I was a complete dolt because well, everyone goes to college. I quickly remembered I needed to switch things to University and they became a little more understanding, but you could tell they still thought I was a bit of a crackpot. But, luckily it has just been 10 years since I graduated uni myself so I sort of remember the process. I know next year she needs to get in for the SAT or ACT, so I wanted her to sit in on the PSAT this year; lucky for us, there is an American school nearby. 

Somewhere between Leiden and The Hague there is a little town called Wassenaar and it hosts the American School of The Hague. Let me tell you, my daughter was in love. This place was very American and all the people in it were just about all Americans. Too bad it costs an arm and a leg and possibly your first grandchild to have your kid attend-otherwise I'd have my kid there in a heartbeat. Anyway, they give all the testing you'd normally find in the U.S. at the same time as you'd find it in the U.S. The woman who handles it all was a dream-she even suggested hotels we could stay at (it is about an hour to get from Amsterdam to the School and in the early morning, as you had to arrive at 8am it would take nearly 2 hours so that means we would have had to leave our house ready to go by 5:45 am...that wasn't happening). So, we stayed at a hotel nearby in Leiden called Hotel Van der Valk. I have only felt stranded with out a car two times in my life and this was one of the two times. There was nothing nearby, as we got the feel it was mostly for business use. Luckily the hotel had a restaurant that wasn't horribly over priced. 

So, after a nice relaxing evening checked into our hotel with the worlds best bathtub and a good nights sleep I took her to the school and she completed the PSAT. I have no idea how she did nor do we really care, this was just a chance for her to see what the who testing experience was like and get a feel for it. Now the real prep begins.

So, since we weren't in Amsterdam of course I took the opportunity to take lots of photos of everything I without further ado, I present...

What I Ate Wednesday
Linking up with Jenn over at Peas and Crayons, come join the rest of the par-tay!

We left Amsterdam later than I wanted to, but the kiddo had had a long day and we just could not get moving, so when we sat down at the restaurant in the hotel we just wanted something light and easy because we knew we'd be going to bed soon, so we settled on french onion soup and bread.

'Twas delicious!

For dessert I had an Irish Coffee, the brought the cutest little tray of cookies with it (one of the reasons I freaking love Europe) and I had a tasty Speculaas cookie-I think that is what it was, it is kind of like a gingerbread cookie, it is nice and spicy.

The next morning we got up for breakfast, they had a very nice buffet set out and everything was nice and warm.

I had a waffle, my only complaint is the syrup. It reminds me more of molasses than syrup. But, it is still pretty good. I had that along with some eggs and a little bacon and some obviously canned peaches, but that is okay, I love canned peaches. Remind me of childhood and my favorite song by Presidents of the United State of America.

...and incase you've never heard the song, it is awesome so here it is...

After a long walk, nearly an hour, in the cold trying to find anything to do around our hotel I was too cold and gave up so I went back and had a coffee with more speculaas.

Then, it was finally time for me to pick the kiddo up from her test, we rode the bus to The Hauge Central Station instead of Leiden so we could see somewhere new...we got Julia's pasta to go on the train. I love that you can get pasta to go, it is simply amazing.

So, that sums up our trip to Leiden. It was fun and we have a much more confident teenager about studying for and taking the SAT next school year. Anyone have any tips for studying? If so, drop 'em in the comments, we'd love to hear 'em!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I Ate in Cologne

I love doing a What I Ate Wednesday post after I travel. It is so fun to document what I ate...I love trying to find unique, yet tasty treats. My trip to Cologne was a blast and boy did I find some tasty treats!

First night...we were exhausted after the frazzle of train travel and finding our way to our place and settling in so we walked for about an hour trying to find something but our minds were blown that so many places had only German menu's and my daughter is quite fluent in Dutch as am I when it comes to menu's but don't let people fool you when they say Dutch and German are close because they are two completely different we settled on a little Hard Rock action. We were served by another American who wanted to know all about Amsterdam hehe

I started with a glass of wine and the kiddo had some sort of fruity concoction.

Dinner was supposed to take a while because there was a group of 43 there (a school group it looked like) but our dinner came like 5 minutes after our drinks...I wasn't prepared, but we ate anyway hehe The burger was delicious. Service was prompt, highly recommend, especially if you are having difficulties with menus or people not speaking much English and your brain needs a break.

Day two...started off with Coffee Bean and Tea leaf. We saw this walking around the first night and this was our absolute favorite corporate coffee place when we lived in Southern California. So, naturally we had to get the hook up with a creme brulee latte and a blue berry muffin.

Lunch prior to the chocolate museum was curry wurst....this place is just outside the chocolate museum, I am sure it is strategically placed because you need to have some fuel to power through chocolate!

Post chocolate museum fuel. This is in the Chocolate Grand Cafe. There are amazing views of the Rhine from here, lots of seating...even some outdoor. The service was very prompt and the food was amazing.

That cake, doesn't quite compare to the one at the Louvre, but it was a very, very close second!

After a ton of shopping and even heading back to our hotel we needed to eat. We tried desperately to find a good looking menu on our side of the city, but pretty much no one spoke English in the little neighbourhood we were in....that, and by the time we were ready to eat a soccer football game was starting and we were just a couple streets from the stadium, so back over the bridge we went (with our exhausted legs) and decided pasta was in order. So, Nudlehaus it was...I can't find a website, but it is right behind Museum Ludwig, which is behind the Cathedral.

This place is just your run of the mill pasta place, much like an Olive Garden but doesn't pretend to be fancy. ha! We felt very welcome and it was full of tourists from all over the globe. I had a glass of wine and the lasagna. It was good and filled the belly. 

Final day...we were so tired this particular morning. We wanted something different for breakfast but wasn't quite sure what. We googled traditional German breakfasts but came up short. Seems like the Germans typically have just bread of some kind for breakfast, so we hiked it back to the Coffee Bean and Tea leaf for another tasty latte and split a muffin.

After that we made our way to the zoo and tried their cafe, it wasn't horribly overpriced and was pretty good. Of course we got curry wurst and chips again.

Post zoo and lots of walking we went back to the shopping district and grabbed some Dunkin' and took it to the Cathedral steps for a pic-nic. It was fantastic! 

After Dunkin' we walked the Rhine for a while enjoying the architecture and all the people. There was a guy out there blowing big bubbles and he had bubble stuff for rent, people were renting it, it was very cute. After that we went to Bruehaus Sion.

This place has been around for a very long time and was extremely busy. I am not sure if that is just because of Oktoberfest or if it is always that busy. We got the last available unreserved table at 5:30pm so keep that in mind if you go. They do take reservations so I would definitely reserve a table as you may not get lucky like we did.
The inside is beautifully decorated with these candelabras and stained glass.
The food is typical German fare. I wanted to get one dish with black pudding, but looked up black pudding and decided against it. I just couldn't eat straight up blood lol so I went with my husband's suggestion of the pork belly. I couldn't eat it all, but it was good...especially if you are a fat lover it would be good...I spent too much time trying to peel off the fat haha

In case you are wondering pork belly is basically what we call a ham hock...what we'd traditionally use to make a split pea soup, they've turned in to an entire meal.
Post dinner we wanted dessert. The kiddo was craving ice cream so we found a cute cafe with a fire place so we'd be warm as we ate our ice cream! ha!

These larger than normal martini glass desserts were extremely popular throughout Cologne, so naturally we each got one of these. It came with four truffels and three scoops of ice cream, I made it through two truffels and the chocolate scoop. It was extremely filling. I highly recommend getting one when you go to Cologne as they are quite a treat and as I said, very popular!

That is it for what I ate in Cologne, make sure you stop by Peas and Crayons and The Big Man's World for the rest of the party! :)

Weekend in Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany is just a quick train ride away from Amsterdam. If you get the ICE train, a high speed train not only will you get a really nice ride with a nice dining car you get there in just 2.5 hours! There is just enough there to keep you entertained for a weekend as a tourist. So, read about our weekend and get to planning your own trip!

We took the high speed train so we came in at Koln Hbf, or Cologne Central station. When you come across the bridge on the train you get a great view of the Rhine and the Cathedral. Once you walk through the front doors to exit you get an amazing view of the Cathedral once again and about a million people sitting on the stairs. It is absolutely breathtaking.

According to our host we just needed to take a quick walk over a bridge to get to our hotel, but by this time I was exhausted and there were so many people everywhere and our host was kindly waiting for us we just took a taxi. They are easy to find as there is a taxi stand just outside the train station. Taxi's in Cologne are very cheap, so even though we arrived at rush hour, it wasn't terribly expensive for the cab to get us where we needed to be and it gave us a good idea of how to get to where we were going from then on.

First night
After settling in at our accommodation we wandered back over the bridge...

Found some food and then checked out the cathedral lit up at night. Simply gorgeous!

The fountain

Crazy enough, at 10 at night we saw people entering and exiting the church. I am not sure if there was a service happening or what, but I was surprised that people were coming and going!

First full day
We got up the next morning and decided our first stop would be the Cathedral.

I mean, come on Europe, even your corners are cool!

Seeing these views in the mid-morning autumn light was perfect!

We were able to step inside, it is free of charge. You must be quite though as this is a functioning cathedral and they often have mass going, which they did on this particular day. The photos of the inside are done with my iPhone as my DSLR is quite loud when it takes a photo and you can't be a rude tourist!

Love this huge organ, there were three of them, one smaller than this and one larger.

This door had my heart. I love the design.

This was an absolutely fascinating place. We were quite happy when we discovered you could climb a billion steps to the belfry and get amazing views of Cologne. I highly recommend doing this, it was cheap and well worth it. Workout + panoramic views=WINNER!

I find it amazing that at some point in 1994 there wasn't the wire around the outside as people were able to graffiti!

After that we went for a nice walk along the Rhine and found our next stop: The Chocolate Museum!

This place is extremely unassuming, but in the end we were extremely impressed!

Upon entry you are given a piece of chocolate (score!) then you can wander through. There is a lot of great info about fair trade chocolate and why this is important, the history of chocolate through the ages, and finally info about the processing of chocolate.

Lots of interactive exhibits...

They showed a lot of packaging from the past and present.

How the packaging comes to fruition.

Can you believe these views from inside the museum?!

Some history of chocolate.

Chocolate serving set, I want one! 

Still loving these views, even with the reflection. Just can't get over how stunning it is!

There is also an excellent cafe that I highly recommend you go to, come back tomorrow for more info on this.

After the chocolate museum we decided to head down to the shopping district. Coming from Amsterdam, Cologne has an excellent shopping area-not to be missed-especially the ice cream cone!

We were very tired after this day of non-stop walking, we walked back to our room thinking we would watch a movie and we fell asleep! ha!

Second Day
We slept in a bit as after the first full day we were exhausted. We didn't take cabs or transit anywhere, just walked enjoying the architecture and views of the Rhine.

After waking we walked back across the bridge and walked the opposite way of the Chocolate Museum (sad lol) and went to the Cable Cars.

We took the cable cars there, enjoyed the down below view of some old naked people at some resort, walked around the little park, and then rode the cable car back.

Views were absolutely stunning! I highly recommend doing this activity while you are there.

Conveniently the cable cars are right next to the zoo. We hadn't been to a zoo in ages, so we decided to go. The zoo is a bit expensive for my taste, but we did get to see some sea life we'd never seen before and it is a pretty old zoo having opened in the 1800s so a bit of history there was nice.

Post zoo we just wandered for hours getting a snack and eventually dinner.

Post dinner we weren't quite ready to go back to our room so we wandered the streets some more watching everyone come and go for Oktoberfest, some fun costumes, then we headed over to The Triangle for some night time viewing of Cologne.

Views from the bridge on our walk to the Triangle.
I love how the light plays in this one and makes the cathedral appear green.

Views from the Triangle:

It is a bit blurry but I loved the light in this one with the full moon. This was the only decent shot I was able to get with my DSLR, I really need to learn to use that at night time haha all the rest are with my iPhone.

All-in-all we had a great time, but really were stretching it to find stuff to fill two full days. You could easily leave Friday after work and spend just a day and a half in Cologne and feel like you weren't rushed.