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Completing the BENELUX Loop in Luxembourg

We completed the BENELUX segment of our trip with a short stay in Luxembourg City. Like Belgium, Luxembourg restaurants follow very strict schedules, and in pursuit of lunch past the standard 2 pm closing time, we practically drove all over the tiny pocket country looking for an open restaurant until we finally got sandwiches at a gas station.
The highlight of our stay was an amazing meal at an Italian restaurant, Mosconi’s, in the Old City. Besides the fact that it was super luxe, I’m not sure how much of the actual Luxembourg culture we absorbed here. I have to mention it, though, because it was the first great meal of our monthlong trip. It was the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever enjoyed. We actually had to ring the doorbell to get in, then we were escorted to an elevator while the host ran up the spiral staircase around us to meet us at the top. Our mouths were quite happy with all of the amuse-bouches that were offered. Instead of just one snack to start the meal, we had several at the beginning of the appetizers, the mains, and dessert. Our first tastes were smoked mackerel with citron and a pumpkin soup. Then we had a seven course pasta tasting menu.  Every course was both surprising and tasty and by the time we got to the end, we didn’t feel like we couldn’t make it through dessert, which we were committed to as we had to order it at the beginning of our meal. Mine was just okay, so I’ll write about Todd’s, which was called Chocolate Emotion. It was everything chocolate arranged like a sculpture of a forest scene on his plate, complete with tiny merengue mushrooms that I took care of for him.  Each bite was amazing for him, to the point that when the waiter asked him how it was, he said it went right to the sole. The waiter replied “tutto solo” which I guess means the same thing in Italian, then told all the other staff about Todd’s comment.  The rest of the staff kept pointing to us with bemusement – I think they’re going to change the name!

We spent the next day exploring around Luxembourg City.  We started with breakfast across from the Palace, where the royal family still lives.  We had prime seats to watch the occasional marches of the guard and even saw it changed a few times.  Our table in the sun was perfect, since we chose the Luxembourg Country Breakfast and definitely needed a comfortable place to get through all of the offerings.

We got lost on self-guided walking tour of the town that we got from the Tourist Office, so we decided to just wander and see what we could.

I feel like wherever I go abroad, there’s always a random bride on the streets.  This one was getting her picture taken in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Most impressive were the churches, especially the light hitting through the stained glass windows at St. Michael’s Chapel:

And the Notre Dame Cathedral:

 

We also liked the market, which was in full-swing when we first arrived on this square, and then completely taken down and cleaned up the early afternoon.

 

If you want to experience the amazing Mosconi’s Restaurant, check it out here: http://www.mosconi.lu/

It alone is worth a trip to Luxembourg.

Magic through the Mist in Amsterdam

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our arrival – not magic

Amsterdam greeted us with heavy rain that turned to hail, right at the moment of uncertainty when we were trying to figure out how to reach our apartment using public transportation.  As the raindrops got harder and heavier, we groupthunk our way to the taxi stand and hopped in.  Luckily the place was close and the cab cheap.

Then we (mostly Todd) had to lug our heavy bags up the steep narrow stairways to our apartment.  Classic Amsterdam homes were mostly built by shipwrights and include some features that you might recognize from ships, like stairways that seem like ladders leaning against the wall, with very narrow steps.  Our place also had a hook installed outside of the top floor front window, which was used to load large items into the home when they wouldn’t make it around the stairway corners.  Homes were also built very narrow, as they were taxed based on their width on the street, like shotgun houses in New Orleans.

Here are a few pictures of our place and others:

We had a very laid-back relaxing week in the city, which was partly due the rain but mostly because our apartment was so comfortable.  When we did get out, we did lots of walking, eating and shopping, but not so much straight-up tourism.  With the leaves changing colors for fall and the canals as backdrops, we walked almost everywhere.  Because we stopped so often and took lots of pictures, occasionally we had to hail a cab or call an uber in order to show up to our reservations kind of on time.

We did manage a walking beer tour.  We met our guide at the biggest beer store in Amsterdam, where they had an impressive array of bottles from most of Europe and even a shelf of American craftbrews.  We were happy to see that some of our favorites from San Diego were well represented.  Heineken ran the beer industry in Holland for a long, long time.  People took loans from Heineken in order to open bars, but then committed their bars to serving only Heineken beers for the lease period.  Nowadays there are some small Belgian breweries popping up with their own brews, and a general excitement about the American and Belgian craftbeers.  My favorite was a scotch ale, which apparently was the standard Holland beer before Heineken took over and started popularizing whatever you all their stuff.

Our beer tour guide also bought us a ginevre (Dutch liqueur) on our way from one brewery to the next, which is what most of the pictures in the gallery below show.  This is one of the oldest bars in the city, and was really small with people drinking from their tiny glasses spilling out onto the street.

 

Our attempts at tourism also included a visit to the Rijksmusuem, where we saw many works of the Dutch Masters, including the Night Watch, which is featured as the central work at the museum, kind of like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  The Night Watch, in my humble opinion (and I’m no art critic) is way more interesting than the Mona Lisa from just about any perspective.  They’ve done a lot of research into the painting, and in 2008 even identified the actual people who stood for the painting.  My heart quickened its beat when I entered the Hall of Masters at the Rijksmuseum, and I remained blown away for hours after we left.  These guys really knew how to work the brush.

 

After the museum closed, we took a close-to-sunset canal ride, where we took even more pictures of the canals from the water.  Because we were among the last people to board the boat, we ended up in the back, outside, with no audio narration.  It was a beautiful ride through a beautiful city, but all of the history was lost to us.

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We had lots of amazing food, including a tasting menu at De Kas, which is Dutch for greenhouse.  The restaurant is inside an old park greenhouse in a residential area of the city.  Now they use the greenhouse to grow veggies for the restaurant, and source the rest of the food from in and around Amsterdam.  We had the three course lunch, which included lots of veggies, a salad with fish and beet syrup, and a fish main.  The dessert was one of the best spins on yogurt that I’ve ever had, especially since I’m no yogurt fan.  Since we were some of the last diners, they also brought us the extra wine to finish – score!

Since we loved it so much, if you’ve made it this far, I reward you with ANOTHER gallery of Amsterdam street pics.

First, the bikes.  It’s a huge bike culture, with bike lanes everywhere.  Instead of looking out for cars, you have to look both ways twice for bikes.  I had more than a few run-ins with them and never quite learned my lesson.

 

And some other random shots:

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