I took the train to Amsterdam from Paris. My bags were much smaller as I packed only for the weekend and left the rest of my stuff at Eli’s house. I decided to return to Paris after my weekend trip and stay with her and her family again because they were such great hosts. So, I landed at Hotel One to wait for Frieda to arrive from Germany. It was a great hotel if you’re looking for a place to stay in Europe. I watched the sunset from our corner room and then heard a knock at the door. It was so good to see my friend from yoga teacher training in Nicaragua last January! Because it was late, we decided immediately that we needed to get food. I had made reservations at a Dutch restaurant for 9pm. We started the walk and en route found a cute little Thai place to eat instead. Everything about this place was so unique and the details were absolutely amazing, down to the flower tea cups on leaf tea plates that matched all of our dishes and the friendliest, kindest waiter that spoke only a little English. It was called Chutima’s – it receives mediocre reviews for service, but we were in no hurry – we found it delightful. So we sat and chatted over dinner for a couple of hours and afterward walked back to the hotel and slept. We were both exhausted. On Saturday morning we took our time getting around, chatted about life, and found a great little cafe, De Bakkerswinkel, that served bruch. So, we started with a light breakfast of scones, clotted cream, and jam, and then moved right into lunch with soup and a sandwich. We also bought treats for our separate trips home that evening. Then we meandered the beautiful city. The city is clean and manicured and beautiful with the circling canals and bakeries and bicycles on every corner. We were a little disappointed that we indulged so much for brunch and didn’t leave room for all the amazing food we found as we walked. We went to a local grocery store because I talked so much about curry ketchup, and Frieda helped me find a tube of the yummy red sauce and a few other fun treats to take with me. Then we walked to a park and found a cute little restaurant in the middle where we drank mint tea on the second floor overlooking everything green and talked about our lives and maybe meeting up in Spain next year for a yoga retreat. As the sun lowered, we found our way back to the hotel, and had one last gin moscow mule together. Then our short reunion ended and our trains went separate ways.
My train went to Brussels where I met up with a friend of a friend who was from the US but had been working from Brussels for a year. Our first stop took us to an American sports bar to try to find the OSU Cowboys game, but it wasn’t meant to be. I ate a gyro, and we walked through Brussels at night to wind up in Delirium Village and the Grand Square. It was strange to see kids sitting in circles on the hard stones of the square drinking beer and hanging out. We tried a few different beers at Delirium, a beer I have had many times, and took in chaos around us.
The next day, we went to a park on the south end of Brussels and ferried across the lake to a restaurant called Chalet Robinson for lunch. I had steak and frites (Belgium is famous for frites – not the French:). The park was exceptionally green, and I didn’t know how lucky I was to catch a beautifully sunny day in Brussels. The next day I went for a run in the same park. The day was overcast and threatened rain, but it was still beautiful and green. Later in the day, I meandered around the town, stopped to write at pub, and then found a great Pho place for dinner. And thankfully, I had an umbrella for the rain that threatened and the came. On my last day there, I took a six-hour group belgian beer tour that lasted six hours and lead to bars off the traditional tourist path. We encountered quaint places with amazing beer, food pairings, culture, and education. For instance, only 11 beers in the world carry the Authentic Trappist Product label. The qualifications for this type of beer are as follows:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life
- The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need. (From the International Trappist Association website)
As the tour continued, I remembered less of the education but had one stop in particular that stood out. The tour lead us to a traditional puppet theater, Theatre Royal de Toone, where political messages used to be secretly passed to the public through the shows. The puppets were elaborate three to four foot tall marianette puppets, and though we didn’t see a show, it was impressive to imagine what it would have been like. At the end of the tour, my guide ran with me to the train station to help me find my way so I wouldn’t miss my train back to Paris. Though I missed eating mussels in Brussels, the town offered more than I expected. It was a great surprise.
I felt a little “at home” as I got back to Paris and returned to my temporary place at Eli’s. Bab (the family dog) greeted me again with her barks (maybe short-term memory?). Though I spent another week in Paris and did some touristy activities, I took more time to walk around, sit in cafes, write, and experience what a typical Parisian might experience. I ate traditional French breakfast. I met up and chatted with a couple of Parisians that I met through a friend of a friend. I just enjoyed the city. I did go to a French wine tasting and ate my weight in cheese (properly paired with great wine). I also took a cooking class that began with a trip to the French markets. We picked out duck and scallops from the meat and fish markets and then chose our vegetables and baguettes (the proper French baguette market is highly regulated). We cooked our food, which included vanilla bean mashed potatoes and lava cakes with dark and white chocolate pouring from the hot middle. It was a great meal with great people, wine, cheese, and dessert. I may have waddled home that night perfectly content to be in Paris. And then my time in Paris ended. I packed my souvenirs in the new bag I bought (too many souvenirs and gifts!), got my backpack and yoga mat ready, said goodbye to Eli and her sweet family, and flew to Morocco.