Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Bachelor's Tour of Amsterdam

After our very short lived return to Vienna recently, I went to work for a very busy day while Jon stayed home and readied us for the next leg of our own version of the Amazing Race. He madly did laundry, fluffed and folded, packed our bags with clothes and shoes, secured my laptop in the special zippered compartment in my roller suitcase. We settled in for a short night's sleep before we met not one but two taxis at 4:30am the next morning. While I understand Jon's concern that one might not show up on time, you might imagine the second taxi driver was not enthused that he was up at such an hour and without a client.  Nevertheless, we made it to the airport on time and I might add, for a far cheaper rate than the usual set rate. We boarded our flight, and ate our yummy sandwiches before touching down on the tarmac at Schilpol in Amsterdam. We managed to locate the train and even to buy tickets and get on going in the right direction, but we were surprised when our train, evidently an express, sailed through the station at which we wished to disembark without so much as even pretending to slow down. We were by this time on the clock: one of my abstracts had been accepted as a poster for the European Veterinary Conference and had to be on display by 10:30am that morning. It was already 9:50 by the time we stepped off the express at the next station, where after 15 minutes we were able to get on a train that would not only pass our destination, but actually stop there. We walked from the station to the conference center, where I successfully installed my poster at 10:27am.  Our next challenge was to get to our hotel.
As many of you know, I like to live and travel comfortably.  As my friend Jen once described it, "I am a hotel girl, not a motel girl." But, at the same time, I very much prefer to find a great deal that I can feel proud of.  Our trip to Amsterdam was no different.  We were travelling frugally, since we hadn't had time to budget for this trip. So I had Hotwired us a four star hotel in relative proximity to the conference center - and this time we had hit pay dirt. After a short, €10 cab ride to the modest exterior of the NH Musica, we were able to check in early. Our room was clean and comfortable, with a modern decor in neon green and a huge flat screen TV. The bathroom was luxurious in slate with a rain shower head. 
I changed my clothes and readied myself to head back to the conference, while Jon familiarized himself with the nearby public transport. He found me a bus about a block away from the hotel that would take me right to the conference center, and he began to plan his afternoon in Amsterdam.
While I spent the afternoon listening to lectures, Jon went to the Heinenkin brewery for a three hour self led tour, complete with a tasting and a canal cruise. 
He came back to the hotel with dinner from a local grocer, and we spoiled ourselves watching TV in English - Masterchef New Zealand!
The next day I again headed to my conference, excited to hear the morning's speaker, and Jon set out for the Torture Museum and Madam Toussaud's, where he caught up with George Clooney, of course. 
I had purchased Jon a bicycle tour of the famous Amsterdam coffee houses through Expedia, so Jon waited patiently at the tour's meeting point, though they never arrived.  So after a half hour, he decided to take himself on a tour of the coffee houses. He got quite lost on his back to the hotel after that, but he came back with yummy pizza for dinner and we called it a night after watching Christianne Amanpour.  
Now I know you are probably thinking I was a big travel dud on this trip, but in my defense, I had the flu the entire time, beginning with our last day in Porto. But the moral of the story is, it gave Jon free rein to explore Amsterdam. He visited the Red Light District Musuem, the House of Bols distillery, and the Dungeon. He diligently tried to see Anne Frank's house, at my recommendation, but spent more than an hour waiting in an unmoving line.  On our last day there, conference free, we went downtown to the Rijksmuseum, which had been closed for renovation on my first visit to Amsterdam in 2004. It was a beautiful spring day with Dutch tulips everywhere. We saw Blue Delft, Rembrandt, and everything in between before picnic-ing next to the pond bedecked with yet more potted tulips, as posted previously from the Rijksmuseum wifi:)
All in all, it was a successful trip despite my sickness and conference commitments, and between Jon and I, we can decisively make expert recommendations for any Amsterdam bound tourist!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Yes, I know, it has been an unforgivably long absence.  I do apologize, and I have reasons to offer you, dear reader.  But I think instead of using up precious time on reasons, you will understand when I begin to tell you where it is I have been all this time...
First there are all the recent travels:
We have been to Jaidhof to commemorate the opening of a beautiful equine physiotherapy center on a gorgeous Austrian Spring day, when we also strolled through Krems, and courtesy of a colleague of Jon's, took a short but scenic drive along the Danube with glimpses of the renowned Wachau Valley.
Next we flew to seaside Portugal, by way of Frankfurt, where we were caught unawares by an extended layover.  What better to do,then, than to hop the train into town and take a walk by the river before settling down at Roemerplatz for some cliche but delicious Frankfurters mit Sauerkraut and Hefeweizen. (My advice here: skip the Handkase mit Musik).  We saw the Roemer Dom, a beautiful church of St. Francis, and many fantastically quaint historic buildings, all in all making up a layover far exceeding even the best of airport accomodations.
Next up we connected into Porto, where our hotel was less than impressive but entirely adequate.  After sleeping in a bit we headed for the marina to meet the bride and groom and fellow wedding goers for a cruise of the Douro River on a perfect sunny day.  We were naive, at this point, not to realize what all was in store for us.  As we boarded the ship white port was waiting on ice as an aperitif, along with local delicacy appetizers of ham on specialty bread and a gorgeous spread of tropical fruit. After cruising for about an hour the sit down lunch commenced, with a wine tasting of three additional Portuguese wines, including the esteemed vinho verdi, and herbed pork with the best warm cabbage salad I have ever eaten.  Dessert was champagne to toast the happy couple and scrumptious chocolate cake.  Several of us then elected to walk back to the center of town, and cross the bridge to the Port Caves, where we experienced a delightful tour of Sandemann from Luis, in Portuguese no less, but with the added luxury of our personal translator and colleague friend, Paulo Steagall.  After sangria in the shade, we went in search of dinner, which for the seafood lovers was a baked salted codfish, called bacuahlao.  After another flight of wine tasting we were all done for, and we wandered back to the hotel for some very necessary beauty sleep.  The wedding was the following day, and after some sunshine at the pool midday, we readied ourselves for the marathon that was to come.  The wedding was lovely and the company was excellent - we all danced until 4am when bed began to call...  Sunday was a chance for us to see the countryside at a barbeque courtesy of the groom's family.  Naturally there was homemade wine and smoked sausage to try, as well as classic baked beans and a multitude of other dishes.  Our last day in Porto was relaxed; Jon took on the duty of tourguide and did a great job by the lot of us. We ate Francesihna at the Majestic Cafe, walked to the Lello Bookstore to see Harry Potter's staircase, saw the sea, and rode the streetcar. We wandered the gardens of the Cristal Palais, strolled and photgraphed our way through downtown, and sampled the local shrimp and bread stew.

The next day we headed back to Vienna with yet another stopover, this time in my old haunting ground of Brussels, Belgium.  Jon of course had never been, so we hopped the bus and found our way to the city center, where we got Jon a Belgian waffle with caramel sauce from a street vendor to tide him over until our imminent arrival in Le Grand Place.  As always when walking to the Grand Place, he was taken aback by the narrow winding streets that prevent any glimpse of the majestic square until suddenly you are smack dab in the middle of a postcard scene.  We found a sidewalk eatery and ordered the must have, carbonade flamande with pomme frittes (they are Belgian, after all, not French!) and a round of Leffe beers (my alltime favorite).  Back at the airport after lunching, strolling, and photographing, we still had time to buy the best chocolate in the world, a box of Neuhaus truffles.

We made it back to our cozy flat in Vienna that night and slept like logs, because we knew the adventure was still in full swing!
In the interest of length and mystery, I think I will leave this as a bit of a cliffhanger and postpone the rest of the recent travel stories and exciting news for another day...