When in Brugges! Things to eat edition.

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Not going to lie, the train to Brugges was a little bit hectic, in a super embarrassing way.

I consider myself an avid train riding professional. I am not talking, "oh I can get around the New York City subway on a weekend" train rider. I am talking, "I know exactly where I need to stand on the platform to be closest to the exit I want or to make the connection without having to wait" train rider. So when I travel internationally, I have no problem riding the train, I actually prefer it. But when you throw a foreign language in there, I like to give myself extra time. Fast forward to Belgium, I thought it would be smart to buy my ticket to Brugges when I arrived in Belgium (a day ahead) so that I wouldn't have to wait in line the morning of (all good in theory). Turns out despite me buying the ticket from the teller, a full day in advance, and she spoke English, I still ended up with the wrong ticket to Brugges.

Happily, everyone in the Brussels area speaks English well, and the the conductor took pity on me, (so even though I bought a one way ticket) I was able to continue on to Brugges no problem. But shout out to that conductor - you are my hero! And I cheers my super cute cup of espresso to you!

I spent most of my morning enjoying the walk from the train station around the outskirts of town. But as I mentioned in my previous post, I was aiming to make the climb to the top of the bell tower as one of my first activities in town. I highly recommend grabbing a quick snack outside the bell tower before jumping in line - I opted for frites! (Check out that close up below). There are two stands immediately outside the bell tower. Both are excellent. Just make sure you choose your sauce wisely. As a German girl, I opt for frites with mayo. But there are other awesome sauces including a curry ketchup that are just as good!

If you grab the fries and plan to jump in line immediately, be sure to finish the fries before you enter the ticket office. The teller will spot you from across the room and yell at you in front of everyone that "no food is allowed upstairs." Jokes on her, I got my money's worth.

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After working up an appetite climbing stairs, I was super excited about eating a real meal in Brugges! I had the Rick Steve's guide in hand, and he had recommended a ton of local beer halls to check out. A place where you can enjoy delicious Belgian beer and local fare. However, most of these places are only open during "lunch hours," say from 11:30-2pm, so if you wait until late in the day to eat, you will miss the boat!

I think I came on the perfect storm of a Monday, that was also a holiday, and waited a bit too long to grab lunch, so sadly most of the places were closed already for lunch and sadly I couldn't come back for dinner. And one location was so hidden I never found it, like Diagon Alley hidden. But if you have the opportunity to eat there - definitely go for it!

When the local favorites are closed, I decided to find what was out there for "beer with a view." I ended up at Develorium Grand Beer Cafe (at this point, my sixth attempt to find a open establishment). While the cafe leaned towards the corporate vibe, you could not beat the view, and the beers were delicious.

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Above you can see I ordered the tasting tray with the (from left to right) liefmans fruitesse, maredsous abbaye, and la chouffe. This was actually the first time I had la chouffe, but it is a beer you can find easily in the U.S., so if you are craving a taste of Belgium at home and it's on the list, I highly recommend it.

I closed my day with a tour at Half Moon Brewery. It was excellent! The tour is offered in English and fills up early! So I recommend booking the tour first thing in the day if you arrive in Brugges without a reservation. The tour takes you all over the brewery, you learn a lot of history and actually have an opportunity to view the city from a nice deck! 

Even better, your ticket includes a full beer in their bar afterwards - I opted for the blonde. Completely refreshing after a full day of walking. 

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And with that last sip of Belgian beer, it was time to say good-bye to Brugges and hello Amsterdam, the next leg in my journey. Check back for more fun tips about eating and drinking in Amsterdam coming soon!

 

Cheers!

When in Brugges! Things to see edition.

When I initially booked this eurotrip - I thought I would spend two days in Brussels. But in a last minute switch, I decided to take a day trip to Brugges - and it was the best decision ever! Brugges has definitely maintained is medieval architecture and charm, while accepting some of the more modern attractions. The town is filled with shops, breweries, restaurants and other touristy things to do - definitely a city worth visiting!

I took the train from Brussels to Brugges. It was such an easy way to travel. It only took an hour and Brugges city center is only a 10 minute walk from the train station. Plenty of time to enjoy the multigrain crossaint I picked up before I jumped on the train. (Multigrain - still tastes like a stick of butter, but you feel like you "accomplished" something for your health).

When I arrived, I walked toward the city center stopping at sights along the way. The first stop was one of the most interesting. I walked through Beguinage, a semi-monastic community of women. The sight was serene. The community is known for its calm and quiet atmosphere, but was most interesting was at art installation within the community. In the courtyard were wooden tree houses. The houses were purely symbolic of children or playgrounds, meant as a juxtaposition with the quiet community. (No one is actually allowed to play in the houses - but it was very beautiful).

Next, I continued to walk up town through many canal-lined streets. It was so much fun to wander on my own! The town is very picturesque - as you can see from the panorama shot above!  

Whenever I visit a historic town, I love to see the old sights. Contrary to the the U.S., "historic sights" in Europe usually involve climbing to the top of a church tower or castle tower that was built during the medieval era. It's a nice way to earn your afternoon beer while usually guaranteeing a great view of the city. As long as you get over the feeling that a strong wind may topple the tower over forever.

For Brugges, that meant stopping by the Belfry of Brugges, a medieval bell tower with a narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps. Narrow is definitely an understatement here. This is a trek that could be difficult for older individuals or anyone who gets nervous in cramped spaces because there were definitely portions of the staircase that were one-way only. (Which definitely made it interesting for passing people). But the views of the city are definitely worth the wait.

One interesting aspect of the square the visitor staff didn't emphasize was across the square. A multi-faceted sculpture with mirrors at different angles. Think "the bean" in Chicago got together with a rubik's cube and had a baby. It is angled just right that when you are looking at the sculpture you can see the full view of the tower, and surrounding buildings, perfectly! 

If you are looking for some interesting shopping in addition to sight-seeing, I did stop in a few interesting shops. Nothing particularly notable to write home about beyond the typical "Belgian" touristy shops. I'll admit, I did leave town with a box of delicious chocolates and some cool postcards. But it was very difficult to walk into the shop below and leave with nothing. I guess the only salvation was the thought of traveling to Amsterdam with multiple bottles of beer - that probably wouldn't be the most fun ever. 

But if  you hit Brugges towards the end of your trip, or have a car, check out The Bottle Shop, tons of individually bottled Belgian beers (say that 5 times fast) available for sale!

All in all, despite Brugges being a bit touristy, I saw a lot of sights without breaking the bank! It is a highly walkable town, and if you want to see more, I would recommend a bike! I never felt unsafe or bored while walking the beautiful streets of Brugges!

If you are wondering more about what there is to eat and drink in Brugges, check out my upcoming post, "When in Brugges! Things to eat edition." I cover all the best places to grab a beer!

Until next time.

 

Cheers!

Photo Confessions: Philadelphia Art Museum

My weekend view of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

My weekend view of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

What better way to close down another manic Monday with a little photo confession.

In case you may be new to this reoccurring segment, "photo confessions" are short posts I write describing fun photos taken during my day to day. The majority of these photos are shared on the blog's instagram account,  but every once and a while I like to share a fun photo that was worthy of more than just the usual instagram post.

The feature this time - the one and only Philadelphia Art Museum! I admit, most of us have probably seen it - either in real life or at least in one of the Rocky movies. Personally, I walk by at least once a month. But I don't care how cheesy it is, I still run up the steps with Eye of the Tiger blasting - and it's fun every time. It is just an iconic cultural site. And that's why I love Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is definitely one of the most underrated cities on the East Coast. There is so much culture to soak up - and most of it is free! The food is delicious - where local chefs aim to feature inventive flavors without the steep price tag (viva la BYOB)! And it's just a great town to live in!

I challenge you to think about your favorite place! Whether you live in a big city or rural town, always strive to find those hidden gems that make your community special. 

 

Cheers!

When in Brussels? Things to see and eat edition.

Welcome to Brussels!

Welcome to Brussels!

Is it bad that even the locals seem to think that their own city could use a little more sparkle?

When I arrived in Brussels is morning, the customs agent asked me what I was doing here. I replied, "vacation." To which he responded, "... what are you doing here?" 

 

The Grand Place in Brussels. A view looking towards Brussels Town Hall.

The Grand Place in Brussels. A view looking towards Brussels Town Hall.

Belgian Brewers Association.

Belgian Brewers Association.

He started to chuckle at his own wittiness, and I of course laughed with him. It wasn't super original, but you don't mess with customs. (Frankly, I don't even think they should be allowed to make jokes, especially after a red eye flight, but it is what it is). But the joke stuck with me because everyone seems to think Brussels is just.... Meh.

I wondered if all this were true?

And... I was happy to discover that it was all false! Is Brussels a city I would dedicate a full week of vacation to, maybe not. But it's definitely a working city with tons of charm.

First of all, it is definitely a working international city. It actually reminded me a bit of Washington D.C. A busy city during the day, with culture and restaurants around, but a very sleepy city after business has closed for the day.

I headed straight for my hotel to drop off my bags before exploring for the day. I stayed in a neighborhood called St. Catherine. This neighborhood is known for being off the main touristy drag and located near several great restaurants frequented by locals. I loved it! My hotel was located in the shadow of a great white church and the neighborhood was constantly filled with lively cafe goers. But I was determined to see as many sights as possible before settling down for a snack or two.

First, I went to visit The Grand Place, or main town square. It was beautifully ornate and seemed to shine more than usual on that perfect Sunday. While there I snapped a picture in front of the most successful Guildhall on the square, the Belgian Brewers Association. If you're interested, there is a brewery tour and tasting on the premises, but I decided to wait until the afternoon to partake in libations.

After seeing the sights for most of the morning, I was definitely in search of some food. I headed back to St. Catherine and stopped for a snack at Mer du Nord. It was an outdoor standing bar serving seafood. It was perfect. The staff was upbeat and friendly. The atmosphere was lively and exciting, and the weather was perfect. So I jumped in line and order the local specialty, shrimp scampi. I also ordered a glass of sparkling wine - it all hit the spot.

After that delicious pit stop, I continue on my own personal walking tour of the city. I headed toward the southern side of town. Walked by the Mannikin-Pis statue, but it was definitely a let down. If you haven't heard of the statue - it's basically a little statue peeing into a pool. I know - so silly. But people are obsessed. I found the people watching the most entertaining of all. 

After several hours of walking, it was clear I needed to stop for a Belgian waffle. I choose a classic version topped with speculoos. It was decadent and delicious.

After finishing that delicious waffle, I walked backed to St. Catherine and viewed some local street art. I was definitely fighting jet lag at this point, but I was determined to stop at a local bar and try local beers. I stopped for a drink at Mort Subite, it was traditionally a blue collar bar that is now known for local charm and classic Belgian brews. I ordered the grimbergen blonde - it was refreshing with some deeper flavors more commonly seen in ales. 

All in all, a highly successful day in Brussels. I am proud to say I proved that customs agent wrong - there is plenty to do in Brussels for vacation. Until next time!

 

Cheers!

NYC Favorites: Advanced Must See

"Didn't I tell you this was a wonderful place?"

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Photo Source: 

http://loveisspeed.blogspot.com/2011/11/my-favorite-movie-everbreakfast-at.html

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my all time favorite movies. In fact, I actually had breakfast at Tiffany's one morning (kinda by accident) and it was kind of perfect. In honor of that classic New York movie and moment, here is a list of some places that are worth seeing if you have extended time in the city:

1. The Guggenheim.

 Classic New York City museum, needs no introduction!

2. Chinatown.

 Chinatown can be daunting and crowded but its worth it to feel like you are in a different city for a few hours. I love to head down there just to walk the streets, grab a bubble tea and maybe dim sum with friends.

Little Italy

 is also nearby (but mostly getting taken over by Chinatown) but its fun to walk up the street lined with Italian restaurants.

3. Union Square.

  The unsung hero of NYC parks. I love Union Square (and sure I'm a bit biased because I lived nearby). But it has a farmer's market open all year (complete with local wine, jam and cheese), great shops and a Christmas market during the holidays. Plus, two of my all time favorite stores are nearby

Union Square Wines

(offering free wine tastings basically every Saturday from 2-5) and

The Stand

 (an amazing bookstore).

4. The Highline.

  Eco-friendly park built on an old elevated railway. Offering great views of Chelsea and the Hudson river.

5. Chelsea Market.

  I have to admit that I lived in NYC for two years and never visited this market until right before I left. Big mistake! (Though I blame the misery that is traveling east-west in NYC). This market is just full of interesting stores and restaurants. All I can say is check it out now!

6. Theater.

  The BROADWAY! Check out the student rush deals or TKTS daily deals before springing for the full priced tickets. You can easily see a show in the city for $40 if you research. (Though don't even bother for Book of Mormon tickets).

7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

8. MoMA PS1.

 This modern art space is located in Long Island City. If the timing is right check out PS1:Warm Up - its a 

9. SOHO (Alternative Flatiron).

 For those shopaholics, SOHO is a must see for NYC's latest trends. I prefer to head to SOHO for speciality food shops and tiny boutiques that aren't offered elsewhere. A personal favorite - Vosges Chocolate. Beginners beware, it is always crowded down there, so be sure you know where you are going or you WILL be run-over by locals. The overcrowding in SOHO is why I prefer Flatiron, basically all the same shops are there, but they are much bigger.

10. Eataly.

 The must see Italian Market in the city. Sure Eataly is a global chain, but the NYC location features at least five restaurants and a roof top brew-pub. My favorite is the vegetarian bar, the dishes are fresh and delicious. FYI - wine is served at most restaurants!

And that wraps up my favorite NYC sights, check out the must see sights for

beginners

if you want to revisit old classic spots. As always, I'd love to hear some comments on your favorite places in the city!

Cheers!

NYC Favorites: Drinks

So it's no secret - I love a good glass of wine. With this interest in mind, I spent the better part of my time in NYC hunting down some of the best places to grab drinks in the city. May fun times be held by all!

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1. Dead Rabbit.

 My all time favorite bar in NYC, ever (as of 2013)! For me a favorite has three key components: excellent drinks, distinct ambiance and quality service. DR has all of these and then some! Think historic five points NYC (circa The Gangs of New York movie) with creatively mixed drinks and none of the violence. Grab a table on the second floor - it is worth the wait. There you can choose from a vast range of traditional drinks popular throughout history or go for a modern special. The only downside - this bar is about as far downtown as you can go. Solution -just grab yourself a gentleman (or lady) who works on Wall Street as a date.

2. Corkbuzz Wine Bar.

 A favorite classic wine bar. I first discovered CB when I read an article about the owner, she was the youngest female Master Sommelier in the field. Naturally, as a supporter of Accomplished Ladies, that alone was enough for me to check it out. I was not disappointed - the decor is warm and classic, the service was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable and the wine was great. The list itself is very diverse. Only downfall is that is a bit pricey but worth it for special occasions.

3. Terroir Wine Bar.  

If a wine bar was worthy of my "friendly neighborhood wine bar" Terroir would win hands down. It's a cozy bar with awesome staff - just a great place to hang out during the week. Full disclosure - the list is Riesling heavy - but there are plenty of alternates on the list as well.

4. The Ginger Man.

 Finally, a bar featuring beer! The bar reminds me of classic NYC with  modern twist. There is plenty of room at the bar with couches in the back to lounge on. The beer selection is HUGE. A must see for beer lovers in midtown.

5. Balkanika.

 Now some of you may be wondering why I would suggest heading to Hell's Kitchen near the heart of Times Square and the Theater District. The reason - diverse wines. This wine bar features wines from Eastern Europe including Croatia and Estonia. The food is decent and the service is usually lack luster. But I kind of enjoyed the sassy waitresses. It made me feel like I was in Croatia for a bit. Not worth a long commute, but its something different.

6. Le Bateau Ivre.

 If you want to feel like you left NYC and landed in France for a night, head to LBI. I found it one night on a whim but it has an extensive wine list featuring French wines. Best on nights where you could sit outside.

7. Elsa.

 Solid cocktail bar in East Village. A must see if you love gin based drinks.

8. Middle Branch.

 A midtown cocktail bar brought to you by the owners of Little Branch. 

9. Pegu Club.

 If you want a more high end cocktail experience in NYC, PC is a good choice. While I am sure there are fancier establishments, I enjoyed my experience at PC without feeling like I wouldn't be able to buy groceries for the rest of the month. 

10. The Biergarten at The Standard.

 If you find yourself in Chelsea craving a beer al fresco, this is the place to go. For those of you who have been to The Black Forest in Germany, this place may remind you of there, minus the forest and plus one overpass. Sure, it may not seem so magical to be sitting under an overpass while drinking beer, but its a nice alternative to the pricey club scene in Chelsea. (And you will be thankful if it rains). 

Bonus -- While I wanted to cap the list at ten, these two places were favorite neighborhood spots. First,

Pierre Loti Wine Bar

, a cute bistro with outdoor seating and a vast wine list. Second,

Zum Schneider,

 small but authentic bavarian beer garten.

Also, check out any of my favorite

Speakeasy bars

Finally, if you are looking for a bottle of something to share at home, here are some Wine Stores worthy of a shout out:

 Union Square Wines and Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit. 

Cheers!

NYC Favorites: Beginner Must Sees

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Photo Source: 

http://followpics.net/new-york-city-vintage/

Start spreadin' the news

I'm leaving today

I want to be a part of it

New York, New York.

Frank sure did know a good time when he saw one. New York City is my favorite city to visit in the U.S. because there is always something new and exciting to do. While my previous posts have focused on where to eat - this list of sights is for those first-time visitors who are looking to see classic NYC sights, with local insider tips.

1. Brooklyn Bridge.

  Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is my #1 most favorite thing to do with newbies in New York. On a nice day you have some great views of the city, the bridge is a historical piece in and of itself, plus you get some exercise to burn all those calories from cronuts, cookies, and drinks.

2. Central Park.  

When you head to the park, plan to just walk around (or maybe bike). Do not get in the horse draw carriages. Just walk to the center and enjoy some quiet nature in the heart of midtown.

3. 5th Avenue.  

Window shopping on 5th avenue during the day is fun - a bit hectic - but fun. However, my favorite time to strut along 5th avenue is at night, the windows are still lit up, but the streets are mostly empty. Its like walking through an art gallery for free. 

4. Times Square.  

I know what you are thinking - why would a local suggest heading to Times Square, which is NYC's biggest tourist trap? I love to go to Times to people watch. Go around dusk, grab a coffee and just hang out. You will see tons of interesting people. Plus there is shopping for you shop-aholics. (But my favorite shopping area is Flatiron).

5. Empire State Building.  

The history and the view of the city from the top can't be beat. Just get the basic ticket and take the elevator to the top.

6. MoMA.  

Museum of Modern Art. My favorite museum in the city. Even if museums aren't your thing, the store is definitely worth visiting.

7. Statue of Liberty.

  I recommend just taking the Staten Island Ferry for a great view of lady liberty. It's definitely the affordable option.

8. Rockefellar Center.

  There is decent shopping around Rockefellar Center, but I loved to just walk around here. There is a sense of celebrity because of all the TV studios. If you are hardcore, you could wake up early and be in the audience of the Today show. If you do, let me know how it is - I like to wake up early, but 6 am is a bit much.

9. Flatiron Building.  

My favorite building in the city! It's so distinctive. Plus Madison Square Park is a great place to relax or grab a burger from Shake Shack. 

10. Financial District.

  Worth the trip downtown for one reason = architecture.

And that's a wrap for NYC beginner must sees. There is a lot to see in the city and it's impossible to see it all in one trip. So pace yourself, be adventurous and don't just sit in the hotel bar. Happy travels!

Cheers!