One Day in Taipei

Jet lag be damned!  With only one day off, I needed to make it count.  So, I set out on Sunday to explore Taipei and found a delightful city filled with temples, art, shopping, easy transportation and friendly folks.  What’s not to like?


I always love to just walk a city to get a feel for the people and culture.  Taipei 101 is THE building in downtown so off I went to get a view of this famous building.  Along the way,  many shops had opened and the shoppers were out in force.  As in many China cities, there are little clothing boutiques and drugstores (no OTC meds just beauty items) everywhere along with the high-end luxury brands like Gucci, etc.

I was first struck by several differences between Taipei and Shanghai, where I lived a few years ago:  drivers of cars and scooters seemed to actually obey traffic signals and stay on the roads vs. driving on the sidewalks as they often did in Shanghai.  Crazy! I felt a little safer in Taipei though I still was cautious crossing streets.  The streets were clean yet I didn’t see the street sweepers that you would on mainland China who cleaned up after everybody.  I’m thinking the Taiwan citizens seem to be very tidy and I’ve yet to see the many smokers or public spitting/urinating that I got used to after living in China.  Not knocking my former home in Shanghai because it was awesome but the differences were noticeable.

After seeing Taipei 101 in the distance and it is a lovely unique skyscraper, I jumped on the blue line subway and off I went to Longshan Temple.  The subway was clean, staffed and signed in English.  For less than 50 cents, I arrived across town and walked through a lovely park where groups of men were playing games and socializing, very similar to Shanghai life on a Sunday.  Packed with locals burning incense and praying at the Temple, I was one of the few Laowai’s enjoying the experience.

A fellow traveler from Warsaw, Poland was nice enough to snap my pic at the koi pond, where a cat stalked from the roof above.  I love meeting new people on my adventures.  On the subway, a mature lady smiled as I sat next to her and, though not an English-speaker, she gestured at my map and seemed excited when I got off at the Temple stop.  Another lovely gal in the subway was toting her pup in a front-facing backpack.  I need to get one of these for Thor!  He would love to be carried around to see the sights.

After taking in the Temple, I was off on the subway again-first the blue line, then transferring to the red line and finally taking a cab the rest of the way to the National Palace Museum which was on the outskirts of Taipei by the mountains.  Tour groups of China tourists dominated the galleries where for only about $12.50 US, you can view three floors of treasures from jewelry to vases to calligraphy, all ancient and beautiful.  The only gallery not packed with people was the Tibet exhibit.  Hmmm…  Every item was behind glass to protect from the hordes taking it all in.

The jet lag finally kicking in, I jumped in a cab to get to the red line, then the green line and arrived back at the Westin ready for room service and a good night’s sleep.  Wish I had more time in Taiwan to explore-a vacation with Thom is definitely now a necessity!  Monday we start meetings and then off to Hong Kong on Tuesday-the journey is just beginning!


Our China adventure published. A dream realized.

Cross that off the bucket list-publish book.  When we moved to Shanghai in 2013, I started a blog to stay in touch with family and record our adventures.  It grew into a daily rhythm to capture the craziness that was our daily life in China.  Soon, people from around the world started reaching out to me for advice:  Where can I get dog food?  Should I bring my own mattress or buy one there? Where should I live if I have kids?  Is the pollution really bad?  Why yes, it is.  Now you know.  The lungs don’t lie.  Buy a mask and wear it.

When my transfer details were finally worked out and I accepted the offer, I immediately went online and looked for blogs or books to get a feel for what our new normal would feel like.  I would be a female executive navigating through the Chinese business world while Thom adjusted to being a trailing spouse.  I was disappointed to only find guide books primarily aimed at tourists.  I was going to become a local expat and needed a source of truth to turn to that would help guide me through all the unexpected challenges from walking down the street without getting run over (truly a challenge daily!) to opening a bank account and being surprised they still used an abacus to conduct transactions.  WTF.

We relied on our Chinese tutor, Fiona, to guide us through many obstacles and just explored through fearless curiosity daily in our quest to not live in the typical expat bubble and instead venture out into the real China.  Daily we learned and as our confidence grew, Thom took off on a bike to explore and take beautiful photos and I jumped on the bullet train to commute to Beijing and Nanjing for work on a regular basis.

As a result, our blog posts and photos chronicled a journey that few folks get to take.  Those that are lucky enough to live in China can use our lessons learned to adjust quickly and with less pain than we went through at times.  Not that we didn’t love living there because we did.  We would walk down the Bund, climb the Great Wall (4x) and pinch ourselves.  “We live in China!”  It never got old and we miss our life and the people there.  The pollution, not so much.

Pulling these stories all together after we returned home to Seattle was Thom’s year-long journey.  Who knew it was so hard to edit a book?  I swear every time we thought we had all the spacing, spelling and template formatting just the way we wanted it, we found more opportunities to improve and had to change it.  FINALLY, we hit the button and made my frustrated inner writer very, very happy when Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again:  Our Year as Expats in China became a reality.

Will anyone read it?  Maybe.  My mom will.  The aunt of a guy I met at a friend’s party who just moved to Shanghai to work for Intel will.  Who knows, maybe other people?  Making money and world publishing dominance was never the impetus for writing this book.  Sharing our adventures, recounting our tales so our granddaughter, Mia, will know that her GiGi and NaiNai were crazy world travelers while she was just being born as well as helping other expats adjust to life in China were the main objectives so we are happy.  Back in Seattle, we are always looking for the next adventure.  A vacation to Ireland is coming up soon and then possible work travel to India and Europe.  Would we move abroad again?  You never know.  Life is short.


Our Ayi, Pink, and our Chinese tutor, Fiona


Excercise in the Park-2
My new friend and I exercising in the park.
Sweet Potato-7071
Sweet Potato Lady

Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China”  is available here-looks best in color versions vs. Kindle b/w due to photos:

Softcover book:


Amazon Kindle: Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China

YouTube Channel:



Other blogs on WordPress:


Here’s to 2016-expect nothing and appreciate everything!

2013 Times Square-2014 Shanghai-2015 Seattle-2016 Boise…it was never my intent to celebrate New Year’s Eve in different cities/countries but that’s just how my life rolled and I enjoyed every second of it.  So what’s ahead in 2016?  No idea but I’m excited to find out.  Reflecting today on 2015, I am so thankful for all the experiences I’ve been so blessed to enjoy.  Life is truly wonderful and amazing in so many ways.

Cheers! Here's to 2016!
Cheers! Here’s to 2016!

2015 for us was all about transition and travel.  We moved back from China in late 2014 and settled into our new place in lower Queen Anne.  Oh, how I love that water view and our urban neighborhood.  Being able to walk everywhere you need to be is liberating and so healthy if you don’t count being a convenient block away from the greasy bliss that is Dick’s.  Having decorated our apartment last year to make it cozy, we can now enjoy entertaining more in 2016.  Bring on the cocktail cart and amazing sunsets!  Having James move back in with us while he attends Seattle U. Law is an added bonus as well.  I appreciate being closer to family but we do miss living in China so much-a unique adventure I will never forget.

Last year was also a travelling time with my old job taking me to exotic locations like Detroit in February, San Antonio during the torrential rain storms, Durham, Orlando in the brutal summer heat, Vancouver and NYC-my favorite that never disappoints.  I may not travel with my new job for awhile but then it will become a global odyssey.  Cannot wait.  Oh the places we will go!

Amsterdam/Bruges/The Hague dazzled us on our autumn trip and was a highlight for sure and just as charming as I thought it would be.  We definitely need to explore more of Europe SOON.  Nothing beats a family vacation, though, and we got to all be together on the lovely Big Island as Baby Mia was learning to walk while on the beaches in Hawaii!  That was priceless and appreciated so much.  That Mia makes me smile.

Zip lining on Big Island with the kids was a joy!
Zip lining on Big Island with the kids was a joy!
Enjoying the dive diner experience with Patti & Larry in Vancouver


Flying through the trees and across the valleys in Hawaii on the zip line with the kids was breathtaking.  Travelling with friends is also fun so when Patti and Larry drove across America on their road trip, we joined them to enjoy an Amtrak trip up to Vancouver where we took walking tours and found the best dive restaurant in town, serving milk shakes AND martinis right next to the triple XXX shop.  Yummy and crazy at the same time!

I was lucky enough to enjoy lots of great musical moments in 2015 and got to experience the great artistic stylings of Glen Hansard, Florence & The Machine, Allen Stone x2, Eilen Jewell, Griffin House, Elvis Costello, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Dave Brumbeck plus interesting talks by David Sedaris, John Oliver, Jesse Eisenberg, David Axelrod, Ira Glass and Joe Klein.  Such smart and talented people!  Looking forward to seeing Lewis Black soon in Seattle.  He always brings me to tears of laughter with his passionate rants.  Need to seek out some women speakers this year.  Here’s to diversity and hoping Hillary comes to town!  Best concert of 2015-Glen Hansard with Allen Stone as a close second.  I would go see them anytime, anywhere.  GO SEE THEM!

Allen Stone and I hanging out at his private concert for my company. Cool dude!
Allen Stone and I hanging out at his private concert for my company. Cool dude!

We also got to go to many Seattle Storm basketball games at nearby Key Arena and see Jewell Lloyd win Rookie of the Year. It was a rebuilding year so they should win more in 2016.  The Sounders were inconsistently frustrating but always a fun game to go to with awesome fan support.  Throw in a few Mariners games and the Seattle Reign too and we have begun to truly immerse ourselves in the Seattle sports scene.  Of course, Thom and Mike got to see their beloved Mets play in NYC in the World Series.  Epic moment for those two-here’s hoping the Mets come back swinging again this year so I don’t have to listen to Thom cry and whine.

2015 WTF Moments

Trump-if by some horrible chance he wins, we would have to leave.  Are you with me?  Belize perhaps?  That he is even in the race, let alone leading, is embarrassing for the U.S.

Guns & Violence-something must be done.  Hopefully Obama will look at his Fu*&it List and take action.  I’m looking forward to seeing Hannah make a difference with her work for Moms Demand Action, an organization funded by Bloomberg.  People, we need to take a stand and say NO MORE.

My shoulder froze and my local gym closed so health and fitness were challenging for me this year.  Frozen shoulder, mainly affecting women of a “certain age”, made moving painful and awkward but it’s getting better now with the aid of my masseuse’s cruel and painful sessions and it certainly could have been worse.  Going to try out a new gym next week and start the new year off right.  Hoping 2016 is a healthy one for all of us.

2016 Highlights to look forward to

Have fun in 2016 and be silly at least once a day!
Have fun in 2016 and be silly at least once a day!

*watching Mia turn 2-she grows more enchanting and smart every day.  Definitely want to spend more time in Boise if we can carve out some time in between renters of our cute cottage there.  It’s popular!

*publishing a book on our adventures in China-Thom will explore consulting opportunities around our expat experiences as well and we even have our own YouTube Channel now to bring the book to life:

*discovering Dublin and seeing Glen Hansard sing in his natural environment and a NYC trip to see old friends and old haunts once it warms up some and the Mets are playing again.

*back home again to Indiana to see Mom, Sis and corn waving in the fields.  Once Hoosier, always a Hoosier!

*an art-filled year.  We just became Seattle Art Museum members so our weekly dates will probably be including art as well as going to their incredible Remix events.  If you live in Seattle, check out these after hour events with music.  Fun.

*learning a new job-again but trying for better work/life balance.  Finally!

Here’s to 2016 and savoring the wonder of each and every day.  Expect nothing & appreciate everything.

Home Sweet Home Seattle
Home Sweet Home Seattle




Classic Cocktails-The Sidecar goes down smooth!

Cocktail research continues!  Next up-The Sidecar.  A classic cocktail that my mom fondly remembers from her wild days out on the town in Indy with my dad.  At Café Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, Michael shook me up a sidecar and shared his secrets to a fine drink indeed.  BTW, no, I don’t travel around the world just to drink cocktails but as I’m writing this I’m thinking that would be a cool idea.  Hmmm… can I make that happen?   A few weeks ago I was testing out appletinis in Vancouver on a vacation weekend but now I’m in South Bend to see mom and also to attend the ND/USC football game with my sis who somehow was able to score us tickets to this “game of the century”.  Well done, Beck.  With Coach Steve S. fired last week, I’m hoping the Irish roll.  But enough about football and now back to the REALLY important stuff… cocktails.


My handy dandy cocktail book tells me that the sidecar originated in Paris at Harry’s Bar and was invented as an elegant cocktail for American expats living there.  After Prohibition ended, there were cocktail drinkers who declared it almost made the long, dry years worth the wait.  Harry’s Bar has dubbed itself “the oldest cocktail bar in Europe” so I MUST add that to the travel list for next year.  Would I travel to Paris just to enjoy a classic sidecar at the bar that birthed it-oui!

Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!
Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!

My cocktail book back home lists the ingredients for a sidecar as:  brandy, orange liqueur and lemon juice.  Michael had, of course, another plan as I’m finding out that no cocktail is ever made the same.  He shook up 2 ounces of Hennessey cognac (fancy!), 3/4 ounce each of freshly squeezed (of course!) lime juice and Cointreau liqueur and poured into my sugar-rimmed martini glass.  Smooth and slightly sweet, it was the perfect balance of liquor to warm me up on a cold pre-game evening.  DAMN that was good!  Is it proper bar etiquette to lick the glass clean?

Michael was kind enough to share his vast knowledge with us on other cocktails as well.  His fav on the cocktail menu at Café Navarre is “Final Word” featuring a complex list of ingredients:  Rye whiskey, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, green Chartreaus, spanked mint and lavender bitters.  “Spanked” mint?  How do you spank a mint you might ask???  Well, Michael gave us a quick spanking demo–lighter than a muddling, just place the fresh mint in your palm and gently bruise it.  Gotcha-can’t wait to spank some mint myself.

Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Lavender bitters--who knew?
Lavender bitters–who knew?

Michael also introduced us to the complex world of bitters.  His bar houses a wide array of medicinal looking  bottles that add another layer of complexity to cocktails and are a staple ingredient for the handcrafted cocktails featured on his menu-orange bitters, lavender bitters, #2 bitters, etc.  Michael even suggested that you can add a dash of bitters mid-drinking a cocktail to create a whole different experience within just one glass.  A whole “bitter” world to explore in future blog posts-the research MUST continue!

Now, I’m off to throw on multiple layers to keep warm at a chilly 30ish degree evening ND game tonight-GO IRISH!

Eating in Amsterdam

I am probably not the best authority to write about the cuisine in Amsterdam but I will give it a shot.  Thom and I have very simple tastes and are very happy eating a picnic on the train and don’t frequent fine dining establishments.  Foodies we are not!  As I think back on the best food I ate on our trip, the cheese with basil and dried tomato stands out as does the hot, buttery sugary poffertjes  and waffles from the markets.  Yum! I do like my dairy and sweets.

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!
Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

That being said, if you have finer taste buds (and most do) there is a wide variety of restaurants for everyone’s taste in all the places we visited.  As always, ask your concierge at the hotel for recommendations on their favorites.  Here are some other observations:

Coffee–Screaming Bean (in several locations) delivers the best cappuccino in Amsterdam and maybe the world.  Thick and creamy foam tops a rich smooth coffee underneath.  Super friendly folks serving in a quaint coffee shop make it a must try when you are here.  Many thanks to my friend, Kurt, for recommending to us.

Screaming Bean cappuccino... so rich and delicious!
Screaming Bean cappuccino… so rich and delicious!

Grocery–There aren’t many groceries and practically no competition in the city but Albert Haijn does have whatever you need for a first-rate picnic for the park or train or hotel room.  Also a good place to buy chocolate for the perfect souvenir to take home.  We got some awesome salads to go one night for a quick, cheap diner (under $10 euros for 2 people).   I also saw some Aldi Food markets but didn’t go in to check them out.  I also found a smaller Mqkt chain that had a cheese to die for–basil and dried tomato–that pared well with salami and pears and raisin bread.  Perfect picnic!

We didn’t eat out many times but did stop at one German restaurant that promised authentic cuisine.  Thom proceeded to have weinerschneitzel and fries.  Initially, he said he didn’t want ketchup or mayo but decided he needed some mayo.  Now, based on the waiter’s prior attitude and the steep stairs he had to climb to get to the kitchen on the floor above, I knew this would not go over well and it didn’t.  “You said you didn’t want any!” the waiter growled at Thom.  “Yes, but I changed my mind.  Okay?”  Grudgingly, ten minutes later Thom finally got his mayo and felt compelled to eat it fearing retribution from the waiter if he did not.  Were we in Paris???

Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!
Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!

I got the brandy-soaked raisin pancake that filled a plate and paired nicely with a Merlot.  Yep-when in the Netherlands, drink with your breakfast-type food.  Every bite was enjoyed.  No butter or syrup was offered and I was afraid to ask the testy waiter.  They are tight with the butter here.  At our great breakfast at the Andaz, when you ask for toast, you get barely warm bread, no butter.  Today, I asked specifically for “crispy” bacon and got the limpest fatty slice of meat you would ever want to see.  Really????  Crispy means fry that sucker!  Same with eggs, unfortunately.  I remember also having this issue in China and having to keep asking for “hard scramble” several times to get barely done eggs.  Oh well-first world, five star hotel issues I guess.

We don’t go for fancy restaurants but we walked by many in Amsterdam including one, MoMo in the area near the museums.  Swanky!  There are many white-table cloth type places as well as many beer halls with outside seating and lounge seats and heaters for the cool nights-even blankets at some places.  You can find all types of ethnic food easily too.  Lots of Argentine steak houses along side the pancake houses.  We even found a place today, Bagels & Beans, that is a chain around town and has great bagels served with the largest pile of cream cheese that you could ever eat.

So, whatever you like to eat, you can probably find it in Amsterdam.  Happy eating!

Uniquely Amsterdam

So beautiful!
So beautiful!

Uniquely Amsterdam:

*buildings lean and tilt at odd angles-not sure if the insides are as lopsided but the outsides sure are crazy

*with fries, you can get either ketchup or mayo–your choice but they may charge you .50 euros for the condiments FYI

*taxi’s are surprisingly upscale as  many are Mercedes and even saw a Tesla–expensive rides for a taxi

*don’t expect street signs in English-there aren’t any.  Pull out your map provided by your hotel and figure it out–nice locals will stop and ask if you need help.  Say YES!

*you get menu’s for your weed selection in the cafes all over shop is code name usually for pot café served with a side of caffeine too

*people are impossibly thin and healthy and gorgeous–what they must think of us when they visit the US where we don’t live this healthy lifestyle and more food is considered better

*no need for gyms here with all the biking and walking–saw very few gyms

*no helmets on the bikers, even the kids, which is counter to all safety precautions in the US

*Thom and I are amazed that there aren’t bodies littering the streets with no stop signals and bikes/scooters/walkers/cars/trams going every which way but somehow it all works

*just like Vietnam, life is enjoyed on the sidewalks but in Hanoi locals are sitting on plastic stools eating phao and here they are reclining in wicker cushy chairs enjoying Heineken with friends under heat lamps

*not alot of public bathrooms so just like China, there are men pissing in the streets-day and night.  In the train stations, you can find public bathrooms but have your .50 euro coin ready because you have to pay attendant to get in to use.  If you are out and about, you can also usually just walk into any nice hotel and act like you belong and use their lobby facilities

*work days start at 10 a.m. with lunch and then off by 5 p.m. to enjoy happy hour–quite the life style but don’t expect to get a cappuccino before 8 a.m. when the cafés open up vs. Starbucks back in Seattle that open at 5:30 a.m. to provide caffeine for commuters

*people like to display their little collections on the ledges in their street level apartments–we saw Pez collections, photos, etc.  Cool glimpse into their lives that they share.

*no big tacky mega stores like Target or WalMart–lots of little groceries, boutiques but not a lot of international brands-no Gaps, etc. that I saw

*bookstores everywhere and vinyl/cd stores–peeking into apartments, we saw lots of floor to ceiling bookcases just filled with books… my kind of place

*in the US you see folks at cafés on their devices but here everyone is just drinking and actually interacting with other human beings vs. their devices… very refreshing

*love the practice of getting a little ginger cookie with every cup of coffee-yum!

All in all, the European lifestyle is one of enjoying life to the fullest with families and friends, whether with food, music, art, literature,  architecture, wine or beer.  I think they have their “priorities in order” as Hermione famously told Ron in Harry Potter.  🙂

North Sea beauty!
Good Bye Netherlands!


Getting Around Amsterdam

Yesterday we walked 11 miles-the Fitbit doesn’t lie!  Really-that’s our idea of fun!  Now, if you aren’t walkers like us, you can get around Amsterdam in so many other ways-bike, scooter, car, boat, tram or train-and still have a great time seeing all the sights.

Cruise boats are limited to 4 mph on the canals
Cruise boats are limited to 4 mph on the canals

Of course, these other modes of transportation may set you back a few Euros but all are easy to find in town.  Everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam-way more bikes here than in China even.  Our lovely Hotel Andaz offered free bikes for use but my frozen shoulder would probably react poorly to bumping up and down on the quaint cobblestone streets so we chose not to try.  I love watching whole families commute to school/work on their bikes.  Carts in front of the bikes allow for 2-3 kids to pop in while Mom or Dad peddles their hearts out.  Our pollution and global warming (and health) issues would be greatly reduced if every county embraced biking like they do here.

Family commute
Family commute

Next up the transportation chain is the scooter-very popular and driven fast so watch out when you’re walking.  There aren’t really rules here other than walk fast and keep swiveling your head when trying to cross bike paths and roads so you don’t get hit by a biker, scooter or tram.  They might try to stop for you but don’t chance it.  The trams run on all major streets and cost $7 E for 24 hours or $1.6 E for one hour of riding.  You buy tickets at machines but our credit cards didn’t work so we had to use cash to buy them.  On the trams, you tap to get on and off but it’s the honor system and many didn’t even use cards.

When you take a train, the conductor will come through and check your cards so no honor system there.  We travelled to The Hague and to Bruges by train-very easy and inexpensive way to travel and see Europe.  Pack a picnic from simple fare like cheese/sausage/bread/fruit from the local grocery and enjoy the scenery as you speed through the countryside.  If we hadn’t taken the train, we would have never seen a windmill or experienced another way of life other than the urban scene in Amsterdam.

Picnic on the train
Picnic on the train

Boats are obviously popular here with canals in all the cities we were in.  The average citizen may have just a motorboat to get around but there are lovely cruise ships for the tourists-about $15 E for a ride in the glass topped long and low boats.  There are truly lovely houseboats where people live on many of the canals as well.  Our new dream is to come over here for an extended stay in one of these houseboats.  How fun would that be???

Coolest car in Amsterdam-oh the tales it could tell
Coolest car in Amsterdam-oh the tales it could tell
Family commute
Family commute

Do people have cars here?  Yes, and are they ever teeny tiny!  Parking is very limited along the canals and I’m sure many a car trying to parallel park beside one has missed and gone swimming.  I’m terrible at parking so no way was I going to even try although they do have Car2Go here in abundance.  No, I’ll keep on walking and enjoying the journey.

Lovely canals provide popular way to travel here
Lovely canals provide popular way to travel here
Horse drawn carriage is the popular choice in Bruges
Horse drawn carriage is the popular choice in Bruges
Scooter or mini car? Both have about the same room.
Scooter or mini car? Both have about the same room.

Our European Adventure continues..

So, I’ll try not to gush too much but OMG do I LOVE EUROPE!  I love the history and architecture, the lack of tacky skyscrapers and shiny malls, the friendly folk who love football (soccer to you Americans) and laidback lifestyle.  Yes, the coffee shops don’t open until 8 a.m. but since they don’t appear to go to work until 9-10 a.m., that works.  Three hour dinner-sure!  Keep on drinking and eating with your buddies-no rushing home to get some zzzz’s and be at work by 8 a.m.  At our hotel today, around 3 p.m. a hotel employee was seen taking two huge bottles of icy vodka into a meeting room for a group-think it was a bank. Now that’s how you should conduct business!  Think up an idea-take a shot to celebrate!

Luxurious elegance in lobby at Hotel Des Indes
Luxurious elegance in lobby at Hotel Des Indes

We have received such wonderful service to the point where we have to wrestle our bags away from well-meaning hotel staff who want to assist us.  We are very self-sufficient and used to wheeling around our own stuff, thank you.  Get us museum tickets?  Get us football tickets?  Change out our cash to Euros?  SURE!  Our slightly ditzy hotel staff member was changing out some cash for us and doubled what she should have given us.  Realizing her error, I handed her back $100 Euros and hopefully she will tell others, giving US tourists a good name for their honesty.  Good karma, baby!

Speaking of good karma, how about that Pope flying around DC in that modest Fiat?  Love that he is eating with the homeless instead of all those corrupt bickering politicians.  You go Father!  CNN International is covering all Pope all the time over here.  While there are a few shows in English, the street signs here are all in Dutch-even China was easier to get around with signs everywhere that we could read.  So far, we just guess and ask for help and everyone is quick to assist.  Most people do also speak English which makes it easy to get around.  BTW, always carry .50 euro coins with you as the public bathrooms all have attendants collecting money for use.  At least they aren’t squats like China-hallelujah!

antique and book market in front of Hotel Des Indes
antique and book market in front of Hotel Des Indes

Today, we finished up our time in The Hague, a truly lovely city which Rick Steves doesn’t even recommend visiting.  Rick, come on, don’t be a Hague-hater!   I disagree with Steves-lots to enjoy there with the beach nearby and the Peace Palace and museums galore.  We loved walking out of the Hotel Des Indes and seeing an antique/book market going on in the square.  If only I had a huge container to utilize to send back furniture and paintings!!!  I settled for a jazz CD and some antique postcards–my luggage is stuffed as it is.  Then it was off to the Mauritshuis Museum to see the Vermeers, Rembrandts and Reubens in a beautiful mansion built in the 1600’s on a pond.  So gorgeous and small enough not to overwhelm the senses.

Then, it was off to the train to zip back to Amsterdam for another stay at the Andaz-the best hotel chain around.  If you haven’t stayed in one, treat yourself.  We were lucky enough to stay for two months at the one in Shanghai as my temporary housing and they are in many cities now.  The one in NYC is right by the library.  They are small, well designed with unique rooms and the service is the best I have ever experienced.  TOTALLY!  With free mini-bar in room, free bikes to use (if my shoulder wasn’t hurting so bad), lavish breakfast included and free happy hour, it can’t be beat for amenities.  Cheers! Tonight, we’re off to the Red Light District and a jazz club!

utter elegance at musem
utter elegance at museum

Bruges-Medieval Mall

Bruges was always on our “must” destination list if we visited Europe.  So, at 6 a.m. yesterday after one hour of sleep (due to insomnia not partying), off we went on a four hour train ride from The Hague to Bruges.  Expecting to see a small medieval city with the iconic Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges, we were shocked to turn the corner of the winding brick road into the city and find a commercial boulevard with a Zara, McDonald’s, Claire’s and all the modern stores found in the local mall.  REALLY?

Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer
Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer

Now, I’m all for retail stores, which have been my livelihood for years but there is a time and place and Bruges is not where you want to shop for $19.99 fashion at H & M.  I guess you can’t blame the locals who want to profit from all the tourism so they can make a living and there can only be so many chocolate, lace, waffle and beer shops to feed our appetites and tacky souvenir needs but still…WTF!  I don’t think the best use of a 1767 historic building is to house another Zara.

That being said, parts of Bruges were well preserved and, if you get off the main street, you can find quaint history houses from the 9th century as well as 17 churches (16 Catholic/1 Protestant) to wonder through and lovely bridges over canals for picture-taking.  The train station is conveniently located within walking distance of this town which used to be on the sea until it retreated.  Global warming may one day make it seaside again-you never know.

The highlight for Thom was walking up the 336 steep steps to the Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges.  I guess someone is pushed off the top and lands SPLAT in the square below in the film.  Not my kind of movie but whatever-it was an interesting climb up teeny, tiny stairs with only a rope in certain places to cling to.  Just like the Great Wall, this is not ADA friendly and if you fall and get hurt, good luck getting back down those stairs ’cause no one is helping you down and there isn’t an elevator.  Still, the view was stunning from the top!

336 steps and you are at the top!
336 steps and you are at the top-grab the rope and pull yourself onward and upward!
The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower
The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower

I talked Thom into a horse-drawn carriage ride around town.  While he has never consented to one of these in NYC, he relented and ended up enjoying the guide’s history lesson as we galloped through the narrow streets.  You definitely could imagine days past when horses were the only mode of transportation and, when the final bell of the evening sounded from the tower, the gates to the city were closed to protect against marauders.

We were lucky to arrive on  market day in the town square.  Munching a sugar-coated waffle as my local snack (YUM!), we rested on the town square steps and wished we could take home the lovely pots of lavender offered for sale.  Gorgeous!  On the train home, we noticed fields of lavender waiting to be picked.  Though a long ride with a stop in Brussels to change trains, the 8 hours of train ride were just another part of the Bruges adventure.  Arriving home tired and ready to get a good night’s sleep, we were glad we had finally been “In Bruges”.

Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals
Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals


Amsterdam First Impression-Bikes & Beer

Hot Damn-I finally made it to Amsterdam!  I have dreamed of this trip for years and I was right-it is gorgeous AND the perfect walking city for us to explore.  My Fitbit is loving me with 12,000+ steps in on our first day.  Touching down at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, we fumbled our way through buying a tram ticket at the machine, dealing with ALL our credit cards being rejected before I finally got an ATM to spit out some euros with the debit card.  Then, we were jumping on the #5 tram with a little help from a local who scolded us that the tram lets people off first, moves down the lane and THEN you are allowed in.  Okay-I had to appreciate the orderly fashion that they follow here in public transportation vs. my fond memories of the clusterf*&k of using China mass transit.

Bikes, Beer and Canals!
Bikes, Beer and Canals!

First impressions–bikes, German beer, brick streets and bridges over impossibly picturesque canals where the tour boats glide by slowly.  The architecture reminds me of SoHo in NYC with no big new ugly buildings ruining the vibe of little boutiques.  We noticed quickly that every building has a large hook hanging from the roof, probably we figured out to haul up furniture and such into the apartments.  Quirky and charming, our neighborhood is the perfect blend of residential and commercial.

After receiving the best service EVER from Corrodo at the Andaz Amsterdam, we checked our bags and off we went.  Learning very quickly that the sidewalks are narrow with random steep stairways to lower levels jutting into your way so you have to watch every step or fall, it seemed a relatively quiet Sunday with primarily (not a helmet in sight) bike riders and some sassy scooters filling the one way streets lining the canals, I can’t imagine the chaos that will ensue tomorrow when everyone jumps on their bikes to go to work.  We’ll be dodging and weaving to cross the streets for sure.  I figure if I lived through China though, I’ll probably survive here.

Gorgeous Andaz room!
Gorgeous Andaz room!

We ducked into the local grocery to check it out-to feel the culture is to see how the locals shop.  Lots of prepared foods and smaller portions (didn’t see a lot of families living around here) bread, waffles, chocolates and calories galore.  YUM!  Got a small bottle of wine tucked into my bag for later.

Cozy nook to sip wine at Andaz
Cozy nook to sip wine at Andaz

We’re saving the famous red light district for another night.  More to come on that experience!  I hear it is quite interesting.

For those not familiar with the weed culture like we have in Seattle, there is probably interest to visit the head shops here.  I’ve smelled more pot in the hallways of our building than I have here so no big deal for us.

Tomorrow we leave for the Hague and another train trip.  Every day is an adventure!