Happy 2nd Anniversary!

For our second anniversary (Sept. 24th) Morgan was still off of work (he had extended his time off from Kelly and Austin’s visit so we’d have the day together) so we relaxed at home and then went to the Kartoffel Haus for dinner. It was so nice getting to spend the day together (last year I was out of town for work) – we were lucky Morgan wasn’t off traveling for his work this year!

This weekend we went on a hike in the mountains near Bad Iburg (I have been here once before with friends but Morgan was out of town then). It was a really nice day to be outside and enjoy the last little bit of nice weather before fall/winter starts (the fall here feels like winter back home) – boooo.

Kasteel de Haar (Sept. 22)

After dropping Kelly and Austin off at the airport in Amsterdam I was pretty bummed so on the way back home we stopped by a castle I’ve been wanting to visit – Kasteel de Haar. We drove through Utrecht first and had hoped to grab breakfast but there was literally nothing open at 10 am on a Sunday, so we headed on to the castle and we’ll have to get by there again sometime. It is the largest castle in the Netherlands and was built in 1892 on the ruins of the original castle which was built in 1391. Because it is fairly new, when it was rebuilt it was fitted with bathrooms for each bedroom (plus 10 more), electric lighting, central heating, and a modern kitchen. This is my kind of castle! The guy who inherited the castle in 1887 – Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (longest name ever?) – was marred to Baroness Hélène de Rothschild and it was her family money that funded the restoration of the castle. The interior was beautiful and is so detailed (lots of ornamental woodcarvings, had painted tiles in the kitchen, stained glass, etc), but sadly you can’t take pictures inside. Morgan was pretty tempted to steal a few of the copper pots in the kitchen (they have a very extensive copper pot set, second only to the Queen of England’s’ set!), but since we had to check our coats and bags before the tour started he didn’t have a way to smuggle them out.   After we finished the castle tour we walked around the grounds to see the formal gardens, ponds/moats, etc. When we were headed for the car a man and his son had set up a frood truck so we had some pommes frites, a frikandel speciaal, and a hamburger (though I think it was made of the same meat as the frikandel).  Below are a few pictures of the outside of the castle and the gardens!


The McSpaugh’s Visit!: Düsseldorf (Sept. 20 & 21)

We grabbed lunch at a bakery near the train station in Cologne and then headed to Düsseldorf. After parking near our apartment, we headed to the Rheinturm which is a telecommunications tower which also has a restaurant and observation tower about 175 meters up. There were really pretty views of the city from up there! Next we walked along the promenade (along the river) towards town. We walked around the altstat, checking out St. Lambertus Church, St. Andreas Church, Market Square and the Rathaus. Then we headed back towards the river and ate lunch under a huge Oktoberfest tent to kill time before our cruise.  The cruise to Kaiserwerth was probably my favorite thing we did in Düsseldorf. It was about an hour ride each way with an hour long stay in Kaiserwerth. We got to walk around the little town and check out Kaiserpfalz (the castle ruins on the river).  The Kaiserpfalz (“imperial palace”) was built in 1045 as a temporary seat of the Holy Roman Emperor. The cruise was a lot of fun (the captain doubled as a DJ) and included unlimited drinks.  It was really pretty being on the water as the sun was going down. After the cruise we got checked into our apartment and then walked around the main shopping/bar area to get dinner. We checked out a couple of bars before heading back to the apartment to get some sleep – Morgan was pretty disappointed that the one playing techno music was empty (probably because it was only 10) so we still haven’t done the whole clubbing thing yet.

Saturday we headed back to Osnabrück and took Kelly and Austin to try out some Turkish food at AliBaba and do a little shopping around town (Kelly and Austin picked up some Osnabrück souviners and Morgan and I bought some Osnabrück egg cups). That night we met Philip and Imke at the Grüner Jäger so the boys could play the boot game. Sadly they 2 liter boot glass had been broken the night before so they couldn’t play the official game, but the guys did get to drink out of the one liter stiefel (boot) glasses. I’m not sure how they fit that much liquid in their stomachs! We called it a night fairly early since we had to get up super early the next morning to get Kelly and Austin to the airport in Amsterdam.


The McSpaugh’s Visit: Cologne (Sept. 19)

We got up early on Thursday to spend the day in Cologne. It is one of my favorite cities we’ve visited so I was happy to go back. We showed them the Dom (including walking up to the top of the bell tower), the town hall, Farina Haus (where Cologne was invented!), visited the National Socialist Documentation Center, had coffee and apple cinnamon pancakes at Café Richard, walked along the Rhein, stopped in at the Nussknacker-Haus (they have beautiful black forest nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids, and cuckoo clocks), had a beer by the Rhein at Der Lowenbrau, had dinner at Peters Brauhaus (including kolsch beer), and walked across the Hohenzollernbrucke bridge (the one with all the love locks).

Most places we visited I’ve talked about in a previous post, but the NS Documentation center was new for Morgan and me as well. From 1935 it served as residence for the Secret Police for the District of Cologne and the Gestapo Prison is in the cellar of the house. There are more than 1,800 wall inscriptions in the cells that tell of persecution, torture and murder. It was so sad but also interesting. We haven’t made it to a concentration camp yet, so this is the closest we’ve been to the events of the horrors of the holocaust. I’d say it’s worth getting the audio guide (which can be in English), we didn’t and a lot (but not all) of the information was in German only.

Also, this was our first time using Airbnb – it worked out really well! We were able to get an apartment that slept 4 people just a couple of blocks from the Dom for less than half what we paid the last time we stayed in Cologne.

The McSpaugh’s Visit!: Schloss Nordkirchen and Münster (Sept. 18)

We started out the day at Schloss Nordkirchen, which is a palace that we have visited before but had only seen the outside and the garden in the back.  A little history.. The Schloss was mainly built between 1703 and 1734, is known as the “Versailles of Westphalia”, and was originally one of the official residences of the Prince-Bishops of Münster. But before we took our tour of the inside we walked around the outside a little bit.. oh and my sister got engaged! The day before while Kelly and I were shopping Morgan and Austin figured out the timing, once we were out front Morgan told Austin we wanted a picture and then we switched spots so they could get a picture. Then they walked a little closer towards the center of the courtyard (and Austin had to stall a little bit because some guy was standing right where he wanted to go taking pictures of the house) and once the guy moved on he got down on one knee and proposed!  Kelly had always said she wanted pictures of her engagement (as it was happening) so Morgan and I both had our cameras going.. we took hundreds of pictures, literally. Kelly now has a beautiful, sparkly engagement ring (thanks to Lou who Morgan worked with for my ring) and they’re planning a wedding for Spring 2015!

The only tour group starting around the time we were there was in German, so we just tagged along to see the inside and between our little bit of German knowledge and a pamphlet we bought I think we got the gist of the important parts of most of the rooms. Sadly you can’t take pictures inside, but we promise if you come to visit we’ll take you to see it if you want!  My favorite room was probably the chapel, it is really beautiful and can even be rented out for weddings. The tour guide tried to talk Kelly and Austin into it (she was a Canadian), but I think they’re going to opt for something closer to home. 🙂

Once we finished up there we headed to Münster for a little sightseeing and some window shopping for me and Kelly (beer drinking for Morgan and Austin). We looked inside three churches (Überwasserkirche, St. Lambert’s, and St. Paul’s Cathedral), looked at the outside of the Schloss (now used by the University), saw the outside of the town hall, and walked around Prinzipalmarkt (the main shopping street).  The guys enjoyed a beer while Kelly and I did a little shopping- I made my first clothing purchase since moving over here (believe it or not). I always look at things and think “I can get this cheaper back home”.. but I finally gave in and bought a (faux) black leather jacket and a sweater that was on sale. Now I can look a little more German when we go out! Since the boys enjoyed a beer or two, I drove back from Münster (which was my first time driving for that long on the autobahn – I still think it is a little nerve racking driving where there isn’t a speed limit!

We finished out the day having some yummy German comfort food at the Kartoffel Haus. I think they enjoyed Oma’s potato skillet as much as I do! Now I just need to get my dad over here because I know he’ll love it too!

The McSpaugh’s Visit: Osnabrück (Sept. 17)

Thankfully we had a more relaxed day at home planned after the two packed days in Amsterdam. We slept in a little bit and we ate a big German breakfast home before showing Kelly and Austin around town. We showed them the usual spots – the Dom, Rampendahl Hausbrauerei for a beer, the Rathaus, St. Marien Kirche, Café & Bar Celona for a coffee, Osnabrück Castle (which is the main building of the University), Katharinenkirche (it was our first time here), Heger Tor, Panorama for the view, old town to admire the middle aged buildings, and Große Straße for some shopping (my favorites are Vera Moda, Mango, and H&M!). That night we stayed in and watched a movie to rest up for going to Münster and Schloß Nordkirchen.

The McSpaugh’s Visit! – Amsterdam day 2 (Sept. 16)

We grabbed breakfast at Café Hans en Grietje where we had some yummy pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice before heading to our boat tour. We used the Blue Boat Company and we thought they did a really good job – they had headsets for each person and you could pick between like 10 languages, so we were able to hear lots of interesting information about Amsterdam in English. The city looks so pretty from the water- we got to ride along most of the major canals, the Amstel River, and out into the harbor.

When we finished up the boat tour we walked over to the Rijksmuseum. We looked around the outside and then went around back to see the big “I Amsterdam” sign. We didn’t have enough time to go through the museum, so we’ll have to try to do that next time. We walked a little farther down Stadhouderskade to the Heineken Brewery (which was probably the highlight of the trip for Morgan and Austin). It was pretty interesting learning about the history of Heineken and how the beer is made.. we even got to try some wort (the liquid that is extracted during the mashing process).. it wasn’t very tasty! After learning about how the beer is made you walk by the stables where they keep the Heineken horses (Kelly’s favorite part of the day) and then go upstairs to learn about the proper way to pour a beer, have a few samples at the bar, and check out a few other Heineken experience type things (ie. Video games, commercials on huge jumbo screens, a Heineken 3D experience where you become beer, etc).  When we finished up at the brewery we walked along P.C. Hooftstraat to see the shops and stopped at Chipsy King to have some pommes frites with mayo (which is actually pretty good!).  

We made our way to the car so we could get on the road back to Osnabrück but first we stopped by Ben’s old home on Majubastraat. I think it took about 30 minutes on the road for Kelly and Austin to pass out.. not that we blame them! 🙂

The McSpaugh’s Visit! – Amsterdam day 1 (Sept. 15)

Even with leaving the Oktoberfest party early (around 10:30) we were still pretty tired waking up at 5:45the next morning to get on the road to Amsterdam to pick up Kelly and Austin from the airport. I could hardly contain my excitement! We met them at Schiphol Airport and then drove into the city to get the car parked and start our sightseeing. First thing we all needed some breakfast (including a strong coffee for each of us). I had this amazing chocolate croissant (think chocolate inside and drizzled on top).. it was almost too chocolaty- almost.

On the way to our first stop we walked through Dam Square – where Morgan couldn’t resist a stop in the Old Amsterdam Cheese store and Kelly and Austin grabbed a picture in a big wooden shoe. Doesn’t get much more Dutch than that, does it? J  Even with getting to the Anne Frank house first thing, we still had to wait in line for about 45 minutes. It was so interesting to see the actual rooms where Anne (along with her parents, sister, and four family friends) hid for over two years. The visit was totally heartbreaking and I don’t think anyone gets out of there with dry eyes, but it was definitely worth it.

By the time we got out of the museum we were pretty hungry so we headed to the other side of Prinsengracht canal and grabbed lunch sitting outside in the sun (even though it was a little cool with the wind). After lunch we headed back towards Dam Square to go on a tour of the Koninklijk Paleis (the Royal Palace) which actually was originally the Town Hall and was converted to a Palace by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother) who became the King of Holland in 1806. The Citizens Hall – the main room at the center of the Palace – was really impressive. On the floor there are two huge maps of the world (Western and Eastern hemispheres) and on the ceiling there is a huge mural. One of the last rooms you tour is the Proclamation Gallery, which is where people used to wait to be sentenced for crimes they had committed (the execution chamber was right next door…).

We got to see the outside of De Nieuwe Kerk, but couldn’t go inside because it was closed while they were setting up for a new exhibit. Next we headed towards the train station (where we warmed up with some gigantic cups of hot chocolate) before checking out St. Nicholas (I was only able to sneak one picture since mass was going on).  It was late afternoon by the time we left the church so we went and grabbed our bags from the car and rolled our way to our hotel Hotel Nes. The hotel was in a great location and was able to provide us with a room that sleeps four (pretty unheard over here) and my only complaint is that the lobby/halls smelled like pot (it is legal here). Though, I’ve been told it is like that in most hotels in Amsterdam, so guess I can’t complain too much!

We walked down Kloveniersburgwal towards Nieuw Markt and ate dinner at Poco Loco where we had the best nachos I’ve ever had in my whole life (I think we’d all agree on that!). After grabbing drinks at a bar next door we headed back to the hotel before toooo late.. by this point we were all pretty exhausted. Poor Kelly and Austin had been up for like 40 hours and were such troopers running around Amsterdam all day with us!

Angie & Oktoberfest!

A week and a half before elections (which are on September 22nd), Angela Merkel stopped by Osnabrück for a CDU (the Christian Democratic Union of Germany) rally. We stopped by for a little bit, just so we could say we saw her in person. She ended up walking through the crowd to get up to the stage, so we were pretty close to her. It seemed pretty informal compared to the US. There were just volunteers holding hands that made her walkway (not police) and the police that were there didn’t search people when they entered the square.

We went to Oktoberfest in a town near Osnabrück called Bad Iburg (this is actually Philip’s home town!). We all looked pretty cool waiting at the bus stop in Osnabrück in our dirndl’s and lederhosen. Thankfully there were a few other people taking the bus to Bad Iburg, so we weren’t completely alone looking silly.  They set up a HUGE tent just for this one event, but it was really nice – wood floors, nice light fixtures, sturdy wooden tables and benches (they have to hold up to people dancing on them!), plus tons of blue and white banners/table clothes (Bavaria’s flag is blue and white), etc. There was a Bavarian band performing for the night and at one point they played a song with whips (there is a picture below where you can see the band members standing on tables in the audience). I’ve never seen anything like it! The beers only came in in half liter and liter glasses-needless to say I only had two half liter glasses the entire night. Once everyone was finished with their food (all meals involved pork and potatoes) people started standing/dancing on their benches. We didn’t know the words to most of the songs, but a few of them were older American songs (for example “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys was really popular) so we could sing along. It was a really fun night with our friends that we’ll never forget!

Todd’s Visit: Driving home from Frankfurt (Aug. 31st)

We were so sad to drop Todd at the airport Saturday morning, but he needed to get on back to Colorado to buy his new house. As soon as we dropped him off, the nice weather we had been experiencing all week was gone… I think Germany was sad for him to be leaving as well! We ate breakfast in the city and walked along the Main one more time (where we saw MainBBQ raft – which looked pretty awesome if you ask me) and we checked out a flea market.

On the drive home Morgan spotted a pretty church up on a hill so we decided to get off the autobahn to check it out. It turned out to be Limburg (yep- the same town where the German bishop recently got in trouble because of his excessive spending) which is a really, really cute little town. They have a ton of old half-timbered houses, not to mention the church.  We did something very un-German and forgot to bring an umbrella, so we had to walk around in the rain/wind but it was worth it!

Todd’s Visit: Frankfurt (Aug. 30th)

Todd was flying out of Frankfurt early Saturday, so we decided to drive on down to Frankfurt on Friday so we could do a little sightseeing since we hadn’t been there before.  The drive to Frankfurt was so pretty! We’ve spent all our time in northern Germany so far, so this was our first experience seeing some mountains… granted I know these are nothing compared to what is farther south, but none the less it was beautiful! Also this was my first time using a bathroom at one of the rest stops. #1 – You have to pay €.70 to use the bath room. #2 – Because you have to pay, it was so clean and well kept, plus when you flush the toilet, the seat spins around on the base and is cleaned. That has to be one of the best inventions ever. If you want to see it in action..click here! : awesome self-cleaning German toilet.

When we got into town we checked into our hotel – the Best Western Hotel Scala (it was in a really good location) we headed over to the Alta Oper. It was built in 1880 and has a big fountain out front that people (including us) used to cool down since it was such a warm day. Then we walked down the Zeil (I think that was the name of the road), where there tons of shops and also an end of summer festival going on. We stopped at one of the stands and tried what drink the people in front of us had ordered (that we had never heard of) – Federweißer.  It is grape juice that is still fermenting and is the first product of the harvest each year. It is pretty sweet and the alcohol content can range from 4% (when it can start being sold) to 11% (fully fermented). Since it needs to continue to ferment in the bottle, the lid is air-permeable -so you have to be careful when you buy it out the store.. if it isn’t standing up the wine is going to be leaking out! This is my new favorite drink!

While headed for Römerberg (the old center of Frankfurt) we saw the Hauptwache building which back in 1730 was used for Frankfurt’s militia (back when it was an independent city).  We took a look around the Dom (Saint Bartholomeus’ Cathedral) which was built in the 14th century. For about 200 years (1562 and 1792) the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned here. It looks quite different from the other churches we’ve seen over here – most of the inside is a red brick color. Next we walked around the Römerberg – which at the time was being set up for a CDU political rally at which Angie (as the Germans fondly call Angela Merkel) was going to be speaking (hence all the cops dressed in their riot outfits). The Römer itself is the town hall and across the square from it is Alte Nikolaikirche which we also peeked in. While in this area Todd bought an Oktoberfest hat for his brother from a traditional German clothing store.

Then we headed across the Eiserner Steg (Iron bridge) which is Frankfurt’s most well-known pedestrian bridge, built in 1869, that goes over the Main river.  There were pretty views of the financial district (Frankfurt is the only city in Germany that has a skyline) and of a church on the Sachsenhausen side of the river.  We stopped to try out some Apfelwein on a little floating bar on the river.. I was surprised to find it is pretty bitter! I think I was expecting something more like the Federweißer. Our final stop for the night was dinner at Dauth – Schneider, which turned out to be one of the most delicious dinners we’ve had in Germany yet! They serve traditional Hessen food including these we tried:  Frankfurter Grie Soß  (Frankfurt green sauce – ours came with slices of boiled eggs in it – which was really good),  Handkäse mit Musik (sour milk cheese with chopped onions on top – this was gross.. thankfully we didn’t look up what it was before the boys tried it), Apfelwein, etc.  Even though the starter with the Handkäse wasn’t our taste, our dinners were great. Todd had a huge Schweinshaxe (I think- this is pork knuckle.. otherwise it was a pork shoulder), Morgan tried the special that day – we think it was deer meat (haha), and I ordered some bratwurst that came with the most amazing mashed potatoes any of us had EVER had. No joking, go here just for the mashed potatoes.  Our after diner treat was a shot Todd had seen another table get that looked interesting, it came with an entire kumquat in it and was pretty tasty!

Todd’s Visit: Driving through the Netherlands and a lazy day at home (Aug. 28th and 29th)

We went a little out of the way when driving back to Osnabrück so that we could drive along the coast. We got to see the beach (my kind of fun), the dykes for the Oosterschelde (the two engineers kind of fun), and then made a pit stop in Delft. We only had 45 minutes there before the stores were closing for the day, but we did get to see the outside of the Nieuwe Kerk and walk around the main town center with its canals and look in the stores with the beautiful blue and white pottery. Morgan even bought me a Delft vase. I hope we can get back  one more time so we can see a little more of the town! Then we drove for what felt like forever to get back home.. .who knew such a little country could take so long to get through! When we did get back to Osna we took Todd to one of our favorite Turkish restaurants to enjoy a döner.

Thursday we took it easy: slept in, ate a big breakfast, did a little laundry, and then walked around downtown to do some shopping. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at Vapiano (they have great pasta and pizza) and indulged in some tiramisu. It was nice to have a lazy day to rest our feet at home after so many days in a row of walking around sightseeing!


Todd’s Visit: Antwerp (Aug. 27th)

We drove to Antwerp first thing Tuesday morning and checked into our hotel (Ibis Budget Centraal Station). We checked out the train station then walked towards Grote Markt, stopping by Vlaamse Opera and Rubens House (sadly we didn’t have the time to do the tour of the inside) before stopping for lunch at De Kleine Post.

Next we visited De Kathedraal (the Cathedral of Our Lady). Its spire is the highest in Benelux and they have an amazing art collection – including 4 Peter Paul Rubens paintings. I couldn’t believe how high the cupola was (43 meters!) and the painting up there – Assumption of the Virgin- was really beautiful. We headed over to Grote Markt (the city’s old medieval district) to see the old guild houses as well as the Stadhuis (town hall). Out front of the town hall is the Brabo Fountain – per my travel book Silvius Brabo was Julius Ceasar’s nephew (you learn something new every day).

After a few pictures around the Grote Markt we headed towards the Schelde River and Het Steen (a 13th century medieval castle that is right on the water). Unfortunately the castle was closed on Tuesdays, but we did get to cut through the property to the river where Todd and Morgan took a little nap on a bench (see the picture below!). We headed back up towards Grote Market and the boys stopped in a cigar shop to pick up some Cuban cigars (yep they are legal here!) and then we walked through Vlaeykensgang which are these little narrow labyrinth-ish streets with cute houses and restaurants that are a little tricky to find since all the entrances to the bigger streets just look like the front of a house (see picture below)- but we finally tracked it down!

While walking back towards our hotel we walked along the main road with all the shops- it was so clean and there were so many cool stores. I think I need to go back there just to spend a day or two shopping!  While doing our window shopping we stopped by Belgaufra since we had been told this is the best place to get the sweeter Liege version of the Belgian waffle – it was so amazing! I want to learn how to make those things!  Then we found a place to sit outside and have a few beers and then have dinner. Morgan’s fraternity brother Lowry and his fiancé Jessica were living in Antwerp, so they met us for a few drinks after dinner. It was so nice to share stories with some other expats and to have locals show us a good place to grab a drink!

The next morning we walked around the diamond district a little before getting on the road to head home. I somehow did not get a single picture of diamonds while in the diamond capital of the world (saw plenty, forgot to take a picture) but I did get a picture of the Diamond Bank. Sadly Morgan wasn’t willing to steal a few for some new earrings for me. I also thought it was interesting that there is a pretty large Hasidic Jew population and the majority of them are still involved in the diamond trade. Overall we thought Antwerp as a whole was much cleaner and nicer the Brussels. Now I just have to talk Morgan into going back to Belgium so we can visit Ghent and Bruges!

Todd’s Visit: Brussels (Aug. 26th)

Our full day in Brussels was a looonnngggg day.. we walked so much. Brussels is hillier than some of the other cities we’ve visited, we didn’t use any public transportation, and our hotel was a 25 minute walk from the Grand-Place (the main square). The historic sites we visited were beautiful, but a lot of the city seemed run down and a little dirty. I was kinda disappointed!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we were able to go to Brussels and the Grand-Place was one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen, it’s just the rest of the town wasn’t as impressive.

Side note- We stayed at the Best Western City Centre- the hotel itself was ok, it did have 5 free spots (we managed to get one) other wise we would have paid to park in a deck near by. The downside was the location, while it is called “city center” it is about a 25 to 30 minute walk to the Grand-Place. We were ok with this longer walk to get a better room price, but wouldn’t be for everyone!

We started out the day having breakfast at Brouette- a café in the middle of the Grand-Place. The weather was really nice so we sat outside and the view couldn’t have been better. After taking a ton of pictures of La Maison du Roi, Hôtel de Ville, and the surrounding old guild houses we headed to the Maneken Pis. Were all a little surprised when we saw him in person, the statue is really rather small.. maybe a foot and a half or two feet tall. However, since it was a Monday when we were doing our sightseeing (and a lot of the museums in town are closed on Mondays), we didn’t get to see the hundreds of outfits for the Maneken Pis that visiting heads of state have donated that represent their country that are located in the Musée de la Ville. While admiring the little guy, Morgan noticed the huge Tin Tin mural on a building nearby (see the picture below!). Since Tin Tin is a Belgian cartoon (I thought he was Dutch) we actually saw him around town pretty often!

Next we stopped by the Palais Royal and the boys grabbed a beer in the park across the street that had a concert going on. I was really surprised that there wasn’t much of a fence around the palace or guards that we could see.. quite different from Buckingham Palace! Next we walked through Place du Grand Sablon where there were lots of cute restaurants, neat shops- (one milliner shop had the prettiest hats and fascinators in the window), and yummy chocolate shops (Todd and I went with Pierre Marcolin). We stopped here to have a coffee and enjoy the chocolates and macaroons (my first time having a macaroon and boy was it good!) we had just bought (while Morgan enjoyed some frites) before visiting Notre-dame du Sablon with its amazing stained glass windows and Place du Petit Sablon which are formal gardens right across the street from the church.

Next we headed across town (literally) to a less touristy part of town to check out the Cantillon Brewery where they make their special Lambic beer. They use natural fermentation, meaning they pump the beer to the attic where the bacteria and yeasts that are naturally in the environment in Brussels are what is used for their beer. These microorganisms initiate spontaneous fermentation once the beer is put into the oak/chestnut barrels. The lambic beer is very different from beer that is popular today, to me is seemed more similar to wine and it was pretty bitter (I couldn’t even finish my samples).  After a really interesting tour, we got to try three of their beers- the lambic and then two others of our choice and as I mentioned I tried three, but after a few sips of each I passed it to either Morgan or Todd. So, Lambic beer not my thing but I’m glad we tried it. Also, the Cantillon Brewery is a cool family owned Brewery and is one of the last that is independently owned.. so I’d recommending visiting!

On the way back to the hotel to grab Todd a jacket and me some more comfortable shoes, we stopped by Cathédral Sts-Michel et Gudule, the national church of Belgium. The inside of the church was fairly bare due to Protestant ransacking’s and later during the French Revolution. After leaving the hotel we headed back to the Grand-Place for dinner at Restaurant ‘T Kelderke. It is in a cellar with exposed brick everywhere and cool barrel vaulted ceilings and the food was great! I tried out the stompe (mashed potatoes with mashed veggies in it) with sausages while the boys had huge pots of mussels. By the time we finished dinner it was dark out and the entire Grand-Place was all lit up, it was really beautiful. It is definitely worth seeing it at night!

The next morning before heading out to Antwerp we stopped by the European Parliament quarter and the Parc du Cinquantenaire.

Todd’s visit: Osnabrück and Belgian Grand Prix (Aug. 24th & 25th)

Todd was our first visitor from home, so we were pretty excited for him to get here!  Unfortunately his trip started out very un-German- his train was running 45 minutes late (unheard of inefficient Germany!), but after that the trip went pretty smoothly. His first full day here we showed him around town. We biked to city center and started out at the markt (farmers market) then showed him around St. Peters (the main Catholic church in town, aka the Dom), the historic Rathaus (old town hall), St. Marien Kirche, the Heger Tor, the old half-timbered houses, had lunch at Panorama, and after a bit more walking around town we got ready for my birthday dinner at my favorite restaurant- the Kartoffelhaus Dominikaner.  After one round of drinks after dinner we called it a night a little early, since we had to get up at the crack of dawn the next day to drive to Belgium for the Belgian Grand Prix!

Bright and early (or rather very dark and super early) we got on the road to Francorchamps- it was about a 3 hour drive from Osnabrück, but with the traffic when we got close to the town it ended up taking almost four. I’ve never been to a NASCAR race or anything, so I couldn’t believe how many people were there! People must have arrived at 7 in the morning to set up these big tents right along the fences so it was actually a little hard to get a spot where you could see the race well (especially when you are short in a land of giant Europeans). I couldn’t believe how loud the cars are or how hilly that course is. It was a serious work out walking around it. After 44 laps over 2 hours, Sebastian Vettel won (a German driver for Red Bull-Renault) and they opened the race track up. We scaled down a steep hill with a ton of other people (I was a little worried we’d start falling like dominos) and headed towards the finish line. It was pretty cool walking around the track and seeing the finish line with the big grand stands to the side.- Including a huge “Drilling in the Arctic? Shell no!” banner that some Greenpeace people had snuck in at some point before the race and was unfurled from the top of the grandstand during the podium celebrations. -Shell is the principal sponsor for the race. It was pretty funny watching the security people try to get down that banner plus two smaller ones that popped up in front of the podiums.

After the race we walked to the car and got on the road to Brussels. It was a really cool experience and we got really lucky because it didn’t rain all day (which is unheard of for this race).