Happy hump day, lovelies! Wednesday typically means two things in the Lazy Traveler universe: wine and Jetsetters. Tragically, this Wednesday, we have neither. GASP!
I know what you’re thinking. What went so wrong in our lives that led us to a Wednesday without these two staples? As far as our weekly Jetsetters feature, it’s a lot of work lining them up and we are
lazy really busy! As far as the wine…well, this is the most tragic story of them all.
We’re in the midst of our annual January Panic. You know the “I ate too many cookies in December and now I only have five-ish months to lose roughly 60% of my current body weight so that I can be in the best shape of my life by Memorial Day” panic? As we hit the 25-year milestone in life, this unfortunately translates to: cut back on your wine intake.
We can’t be alone! Twenty-something girls all over the world are experiencing the same ups and downs of January Panic! …Right? And so we’ve decided to provide a little therapeutic blog content to help all of us get through these trying times. We present to you: food porn, international edition. If we can’t eat it, we’re at least going to write about it.
Baguette and Cheese
If I were a prisoner facing my last day on earth, I would undoubtedly choose a crusty French baguette and a block of brie as my last meal. For the real deal, of course you need to be sitting and enjoying both in a Parisian park, but after years of searching stateside, we found Fairway Market in New York City can provide a very satisfying substitute.
First thing’s first: this is not just any lasagne. This is a heart attack in a pretty little layered dish, with béchamel and fresh noodles and one full cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. I’ve already revealed my love for traditional Italian fare, and I don’t mean to brag… but this is easily one of the best things I make. I blame it all on ten days in Italy. But alas, we’re on a break until further notice. You can find a close recipe here (I don’t eat pork so I sub all the pig-related meat with ground beef), but be warned: healthy alternatives to pasta will not fulfill any cravings. Curse you, whole wheat pasta.
Have you ever experienced that weird diet phenomenon where you start to crave things you never even knew you liked just because you can’t have them? See: donuts. I’m generally a savory-over-sweet type of girl, but in the short seven days since my diet began, I’ve started salivating over…donuts. Iced, sugar-coated, plain right out of the fryer, any way they come, I’m craving it. I blame this on Flex Mussels, in New York City, where they let you choose what you want to fill their delicious donuts with and then fry them up on the spot.
When it comes to savory vs. sweet, I’m on the same team as the wino. Give me french fries over chocolate any day. But you know what is torture? Living in a brunch-centric city. And even worse? Coming back from your first true-blue Belgian waffle experience to a brunch-centric city. I don’t think I can paint a sadder picture than this: I’m literally sitting here, eating a salad, and looking for the photo I took of our waffle in Brussels and my stomach just growled. Audibly. Try as I might to order the egg white omlette and hold the everything-that-makes-it-delicious, I know I’m going to cave. And all because of this:
the romantic & the wino
Moving right along, then?
I was recently lamenting that I’m excited for this year to be over because for some reason, I had decided it hasn’t been particularly exciting. And I guess, in comparison to 2010, how did 2011 stand a chance? 2010 was 9 months of wedding planning and events, followed by 15 days in Egypt & Italy. Of course 2011 was going to seem boring.
But really, I was being completely ridiculous. I have a habit of counting down to the next big thing and skimming over whatever exciting thing in my life just passed by. I could say that my New Year’s resolution will be to live in the moment, but we already have too many exciting things happening in 2012 AND 2013 for me to commit to that (and more on this to come!). So instead of promising to slow down and stop looking ahead, I’ll at least give you this: a moment to pause and review my year in travel.
Las Vegas, New Year’s Eve
The Mirage Resort and Casino - Centrally located, comfortable rooms, surprisingly well-priced for New Year’s Eve weekend.
The Beatles LOVE - My first and only Cirque de Soleil experience and I can’t recommend it enough.
Bouchon Bistro - Seriously yum, especially if you’re into French food.
Mount Sunapee - An annual tradition four years running, this is the perfect mountain for skiers who only make it to the slopes once a season.
Three Tomatoes Trattoria - Just as much a tradition as Mount Sunapee, I’m not sure if I love their bread + crushed garlic & olive oil concoction or their rooster wine carafes more. (You may have already noticed their rooster carafes around these parts).
Hotel Palomar - Great location, huge room, and dog-friendly so monsieur pugface was able to join us.
Beacon Bar & Grill - Bottomless mimosa brunch and walking distance to our hotel? Done and done.
Acqua Al 2 - I dream about the pasta we ate here, and can’t wait to go back with a larger group and try the tasting menu. With a sister location in Florence, this is the real deal.
Orfila Vineyards and Winery - Hubs’s aunt & uncle recommended this as a stop on our way home from the zoo. Completely adorable and reasonably priced.
Georges at the Cove - Loved La Jolla, and George’s was the perfect way to cap our evening. We sat down at sunset and the view was gorgeous.
Poseidon on the Beach - We were originally told we haaaad to go to Jake’s, but we arrived too hungry to wait. Poseidon’s was open air, right on the beach, and without having been to Jake’s, I’m declaring it the better choice.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
W Retreat & Spa - We stayed here right after they opened, and I’m sure that now the kinks of being a newbie hotel have been worked out, it’s perfection.
Abe’s Tours - We opted for the kayaking & snorkeling tour and weren’t disappointed. Our tour guide’s excitement was contagious.
Bio Bay Tour - Canoeing in a clear-bottom canoe out into the middle of the bay in the pitch black, and then jumping into the water to see little organisms light up around you? It felt like something out of Harry Potter.
We stayed at K’s co-worker’s adorable cabin in the woods, and spent the weekend trekking around in the river, drinking beer, and barbecuing. Soo… not much in the way of recommendations aside from “make a friend and do this.” However: we stopped at the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery on our way home and it was pure perfection.
Truro’s Beaches - We stay at B‘s house in Harwich, and usually spend our day poolside. However, we made it up to Truro on one recent trip and I fell in love.
Pepe’s Wharf - After Truro, we drove up to Provincetown and dined here. Delicious food, gorgeous view, and the perfect town to stroll around and explore post-dinner.
The Starboard - There’s really nothing else you need to do in Dewey aside from brunch and make-your-own Bloody Mary’s at the Starboard. You probably won’t remember anything else you do anyway.
Grotto Pizza – Wait, this is totally something else you need to do in Dewey.
Another situation where we stayed with family and cooked at home, but I recommend Hilton Head in general. It was completely different than I had envisioned, and in all the best ways. OH, and I don’t remember the name of the company we used, but I highly recommend jet-skiing.
You can read all of my Philadelphia recommendations here, but I can’t reiterate enough how important it is to mention when you’re traveling for a special occassion.
Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, & London
We’re capping off our year with a cabin in the Poconos, and though I don’t have anything to recommend as of yet, I can tell you that HomeAway.com was seriously easy to use. Let’s just hope the house is as cute as it looks.
Really, what was I whining about? This isn’t even including the weekend trips to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and all our official NYC staycations! Not to mention, this was the first year that the wino and I were in the same city for any sort of extended period.
So, 2011: I apologize for wishing you away so quickly. You were a good–if not busy, hectic, and a little bit stressful–year. Even so, step aside, please.
2012, you’re up.
I’d like to take a moment and pat myself on the back: I’ve come a long way from my Smirnoff Ice-drinking ways of freshman year of college (oooh doesn’t that just make you want to gag?). Though this may be hard to believe, when we planned our October getaway, hubs and I didn’t set out to have such a beer-centric European itinerary. It just happened, we swear it.
When we arrived in Amsterdam, we had no choice but to visit the World of Heineken:
From there, things spiraled quickly out of control. Seriously, check out what happened in Bruges:
After our first pint on the square, we had to try the locally-brewed Zot (and eventually visit the brewery!)
And what is a trip to Belgium if you don’t have at least one Chimay?Lest you think I’m exaggerating, we stumbled upon a wall showcasing every Belgian beer to ever exist. Seriously, this is what we were working with for 4 days:
All this taste-testing led to the discovery of one of the hubs’s new favorites:Then, as we made our way to Brussels, we were once again forced–FORCED!–to stop at a bar on Grand Place and people watch. IT’S WHAT YOU DO.
Know what else you do in Brussels? Go to Delirium Cafe. And know what you do at Delirium Cafe? Try an inappropriate amount of beer from their phonebook size menu.
ESPECIALLY one called cookie beer that tastes exactly like a speculoos cookie. More strange than yum, I should add. Imagine literally drinking a sugar cookie.
Lucky for everyone, we did not opt for the fishbowl beer concoctions they were offering up, because we watched the table next to ours as they made the attempt. I assume this is what the glass looked like to them as well:
By this point, if you can imagine, I was a little beered out… but hubs kept on pushing through upon arrival in London.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately now that we’re like 15 pictures in?), I forgot to capture the rest of the hubs’s London adventures in beer. Just picture a lot of dark beers and more than a few pints of Guinness.
With that, I officially cap off our 10-day European adventure of 2k11 and begin my new countdown: to Paris! (63 days if you would like to count with me).
And, in case you missed the recaps, you can catch up below:
You probably already guessed from my last post: Brussels wasn’t our favorite. We had braced ourselves for this–when you plan a multi-city vacation, there’s always the chance that at least one place will disappoint. The plus side to Brussels: because so many of our experiences were so ridiculous and random, we came away with a lot of laughs and absurd memories. That’s what matters most, right? Besides, when it really comes down to it, there were more than a few places we’d recommend.
This place was right on Grand Place so I’m assuming it was overpriced and touristy, but we were in a daze. All we wanted was our Belgian waffle and some pretty views, and it hit the spot.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
We didn’t even really shop, mostly just wandered through, but this was a nice, relaxing break.
The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula
Oddly enough, I’m a sucker for a pretty cathedral. The chapel here was one of the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen.
This was one of our highlights of Brussels. The atmosphere was so much fun, the bartenders were helpful, and its location on a tiny side street meant a fun walk there.
This chocolatier was on Place du Grand Sablon, which we were told was the must-stop place for Belgian chocolates. We agree.
Bored of hotel research, we picked Hotel Welcome based solely on Tripadvisor reviews. A theme hotel where every room is inspired by a different city/country? Sold. Except…our room was themed as Bali, and though I have yet to go, I have a feeling it wasn’t much like Bali. At all. The room hadn’t been updated in years, the hallways were a maze of strange decor (from airplane seats to badly painted murals to faux Terracotta Warriors guarding the doorways), and they were overly insistent that you can NEVER eat in your rooms. Though you can drink wine. From their vending machine.
Hey, Brussels: I need to know more about why, exactly, this is such a huge tourist attraction??
Personally, I found the chocolate version outside of Neuhaus much more entertaining. As did this man–though apparently for different reasons:
The Museum of Musical Instruments
On day 2, when we were scraping for things to do, we turned to Google (again, we shake our fist at our forgotten travel books). One of the top recommendations with overwhelmingly good reviews was this museum. People literally wrote that they spent 3-4 hours in this museum. Three to four hours. You know what these people spent 3-4 hours doing? Walking around with headphones, plugging them into different displays to listen to how the instrument sounds. You know when that’s the worst idea for a museum ever? When you hire a staff who doesn’t change out the batteries, the sounds don’t match the instruments, and every other instrument is a harpsichord.
After we exhausted the Museum of Musical Instruments (so like, 20 minutes later), we went onto the next thing people apparently do when in Brussels. Mini Europe. You know what Mini Europe really is? The world’s most intricate mini golf course, without the mini golf.
When you travel this far to see Mini Europe, you don’t skip the Atomium. I honestly felt like we were in a UFO, and it made me anxious.
If you have time…
Galerie des Minimes
This was such a random find, but we had so much fun exploring this warehouse-type antique shop. They had everything from antique furniture to a somewhat creepy taxidermy collection of moose heads, tigers, and bears. It was cool, we swear.
The ambiance was cute, the staff was nice, the food was fine. Not a bad stop if you’re in the neighborhood (right near St. Catherine’s Church).
Also near St. Catherine’s (our hotel neighborhood), this was similar to La Villette in that it was close and everything was perfectly pleasant.
Up next: LONDON!
Here’s the thing with Brussels: it is an oddly disjointed city. One of the things I love about New York is that you can walk five blocks and be in a completely new neighborhood with a different feel than where you just came from, but can’t really pinpoint when it changed. There’s a flow to this city, and seamlessly transitioning from touristy to bohemian to upper class in just a few steps is part of the allure. Brussels, on the other hand, just kind of shoves you into a new neighborhood without asking. We’d be walking on a cobbled side street, people watching and trying to decide on which cafe to nestle down in for a bit, then all of a sudden and without warning, we were surrounded by enormous movie theaters and office buildings and stores that looked like their entire inventory hadn’t been updated since 1995. There was a definite appeal to certain pockets of the city, but seeing as we exhausted them on day one, we were left with an even weirder day two.
Afternoon – Full disclosure: we started off on the wrong foot in Brussels. We got off the train, hailed a cab, and were dropped off on a completely different street than our hotel. We popped into another hotel to ask their concierge to direct us, but unfortunately for everyone, their concierge was blind and couldn’t show us on the map she had. I still have a lot of questions about that, but I’m not sure how to phrase them. Needless to say, we got completely lost, and when we finally found Hotel Welcome, we were a little cranky.
We made our way over to Grand Place and settled down for our very first Belgian waffle at the Aroma Cafe. After enjoying a few beers on the Place, we spent the rest of the day wandering. We walked through Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert and The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula until we eventually stopped at Manneken Pis. We capped off our afternoon at Delirium Cafe before heading back to our hotel to take a quick nap and refresh for dinner.
Evening - The concierge at our hotel recommended a traditional restaurant around the corner, and to La Villette we went. A little Belgian-beer-ed out, we called it an early night and headed back to research what the HELL we were going to do with day two…
Morning – After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way towards the palace to explore a different part of the city that we hadn’t seen the day before.
On our way, we stumbled upon an amazing antiques gallery, Galerie des Minimes, which isn’t usually our thing as a couple, but even hubs loved this. From there, we made our way to the capital building, which was complete with very strange views of a very strange part of the city… and things pretty much just got nuttier from here. Our blind wandering led us to The Mercedes House, Wittamer chocolates (YES. GO. YUM), the Royal Palace of Brussels and its surrounding park (which looked much larger on a map), and finally…
Afternoon – The Museum of Musical Instruments. AKA THE WEIRDEST MUSEUM OF OUR LIVES. After a quick beer stop at the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel, we re-evaluated our life choices. It was time to make a decision on where the rest of our day would take us, and we went with (drumroll, please)….:
Evening – We were hard pressed to top that experience. We tried with dinner at I Latini and a stroll around our neighborhood, but nothing could top the, um, wonder of the Atomium & Mini Europe.
Up next: Brussels Hits & Misses!
IT’S HEEEEEEERE!!!!! We leave tonight, and it’s just starting to hit me that we’re officially going on vacation. Our bags are packed (yep, like total assholes), we’re checked into our flight, and this time tomorrow we’ll be strolling along the canals of Amsterdam.
Will try and send pictures and updates from across the pond, and don’t miss me too much!
tip top cheerio, gov’na!
Hubs & I are just nine days away from our trip to Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, and London, and flights are booked, hotel rooms are reserved, and train tickets from Brussels to London are secured. So, since I’m sure you’re wondering “how DOES she do it?!!?” I’m going to tell you. Even if you’re not wondering that. Which I realize, you’re probably not wondering that at all.
But, hear me out because we really do have a method to our lazy madness. Since we’ll be there for 10 travel days, we really don’t like to leave EVERYTHING to chance. The one thing we are sticklers about, and that I really do recommend, is having all of the most important information in one place. I usually type up a general itinerary that has our airline info, our destinations in order, and our hotels. We keep it with us on our trip so we have all of our confirmation numbers and important details on hand if needed. It’s mostly helpful because we tend to plan trips with a lot of stops, and I tend to forget what order they go in. Normal, right?
First Step: Book your flights.
We don’t have an airline we stick to, because (gasp) we’re not miles people. YET. I really want to look into a mileage credit card, but at the moment, we are tried and true American Express Starwood Preferred Guests–which I will get to.This means that when we book a flight, we literally pick a destination, go onto Orbitz or Expedia, and opt for the cheapest flights we can find (but with no more than one stopover). I prefer Expedia’s website, but I have found better deals on Orbitz, so we check both. I also use Kayak at work and enjoy the site design and use, but have never used it for personal use… so I’m not sure how the prices stack up.
Second Step: Use your points.
Our amazing room at the W Hotel, Vieques, May 2011
If you ARE a miles person, use them on your airline ticket. Or if like us, you’re all about your hotel points, make sure you count them up, combine them, and see where your options are. We’re big fans of the cash & points option, and thanks to that–we didn’t pay full price on one single hotel room on our honeymoon.
Unfortunately our two Brussels hotels aren’t Starwood, but this just means saved points for our next trip. Oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah!
Third Step: Make a list of things you know you can’t miss
For this trip, we’ve sent each other links for everything from bike rentals in Amsterdam to a chocolatier in Brussels to about seven different pubs in London. We know we’ll hit the tourist sites like the Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh Museum, but as of now, literally the only thing we have scheduled at a specific time is a cheese tasting in Amsterdam. By making a list, we know what we’ll want to fit in, but we won’t be held to a schedule and more importantly, we won’t be held to plans we’re suddenly not in the mood to keep (hello bio-bay tour of Vieques after 12 hours of traveling).
That being said, if anyone has any must-sees in any of our stops, let me know! I didn’t look at my list until I started this post and Brussels & Bruges are looking a little sparse…
- all photos are my own
Hubs and I leave one month from today for our grand tour of Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, and London. Our plane tickets are booked, our hotel rooms are reserved, and I’m counting down the seconds to when I shut down my computer and hail a cab to JFK.
As I’ve mentioned, that’s usually the extent of our planning. We make a list of places we want to see, and if it’s necessary to buy tickets in advance we’ll do it, but otherwise we’re pretty much ready to go. Except, of course, for the most important part: packing.
You might remember how important the right outfit is to me when traveling, and yesterday at work, I was introduced to the wonder that is Polyvore. I had come across it before, but I had to put a few boards together for a client and it was SO much fun. And now I’m obsessed! So last night when I got home, I played around and came up with a few looks I’m hoping to put together before we leave. I centered them around the two pairs of boots I’m going to take, as well as a scarf–I always travel with at least one. I’m hoping that planning in advance like this will help me avoid packing like an asshole, but how can we ever really tell?
Our first stop will be Amsterdam, and I’m envisioning myself in cute dresses the entire time. I also envision wearing them while bike riding which seems like it probably won’t work out for me, and there is, of course, a bouquet of tulips in the basket of my bicycle, but again… I may be romanticizing things.
We can ignore the fact that I look ridiculous in fedoras.
I’m also planning on a dress-focused wardrobe in Bruges. In a place so quaint, it just seems appropriate, right?
From Bruges, we’ll make our way to Brussels, where I plan on drinking a lot of beer and eating a lot of mussels. We’ll only be there for a day, so layers are a must.
Our last stop will be London. Is it wrong that I kind of hope it rains, at least a little?
I think if I’m able to throw in one or two more dresses and a few more tops, combos from sets similar to these should get me through 10 days, right?