The views regarding alcohol consumption differ greatly in Europe from America. Growing up and having a beer or a glass of wine with your parents is expected here. In the United States your contributing to a minor and the child will obviously become a criminal and share a cell with you for having been negligent. As a result, we grow up with that magical birthday of 21 being the pot of gold. Young adults here are confused by our laws and discouraged in regards to visiting when they realize they will face prohibition.
It is completely normal for American youth to drink before 21, but it’s shielded in secrecy and represents the ultimate freedom from childhood. Freedom comes in many forms and one being travel and adventure. Claude was granted a week vacation having completed his first 6 months of work. He gave me a budget and allowed me freedom to plan.
Not being familiar with the cycles in France and when things happen like the annual national sales and so forth, I’m still behind the curve. In my research, I found that March is actually a good time to travel and there are a large number of promotions to encourage this. Maybe because they know April will be the start of the tourism season and the prices will not be good again for us until the fall.
I took advantage of this and booked us on every mode of transportation possible. The cheap airfares remain the ones hardest to get to but I’m learning the ropes and after take the first Metro when it opened at 5:30am we successfully met with our driver to get to the airport in Beauvais.
Typically, people fly to and from Orly or Charles De Gaulle airport. Both of which can be easily accessed by metro or train. Beauvais requires a shuttle at $15 a person. Bla bla car is like Uber or lyft. But it is a person who shares a ride to a given destination for less money. We used it when we went to champagne and we’re able to travel for $7 a piece allowing me more room in the budget for more beer.
This month Ryanair ran several incredible specials and we decided to go to Barcelona. It’s in the eastern part of the country and makes future travel in Spain easier than having to zig zag back and forth. Each ticket cost $50 and being off season we could book a room in the center of town for a very reasonable price as well. The best pet of Europe is that the public transportation is so good we bought metro tickets at the airport to get into town in less than 30 minutes.
Inspired by the warmest weather we had encountered since leaving the states, we threw our bags at the hotel staff and sprinted to La Sagrada Famillia. It is a little further from the downtown and we have wanted to see it since the 60 minutes’ expose many years ago. It didn’t disappoint and the best tip I can give is to get tickets across the street at the kiosk to avoid the line and save a dollar. The tourism bureau of each town is really the best way to get to tickets, even in Paris I recommend it.
We lunched at the Can Culleretes, the oldest restaurant in Barcelona and wondered about the small alleys and bars drinking beer and pondering history. The next morning after enjoying the bathtub, we headed out for a city tour with the Sandemans Free Walking tour. They are based on donation or tips whichever way you like to call it, and the guide we had was amazing. A Britt that moved to town over 15 years ago after a trip and falling in love he has been doing tours ever since and was a real pro, not to mention hysterical.
Ends up that basically everywhere you walk, thousands of bodies are buried, but it was nice to stand the same steps as Columbus when he asked for money to build his fleet to discover the new trade routes and accidently found America. More interesting is that the king and queen didn’t have the money so they allowed the voyage, but he received funding from the Jews.
El Vaso de Oro is my kind of place. Don’t get me wrong, I love smoking dishes from 3 star Michelin restaurants where I have to whisper my praises, but this is a local’s only type place. Basically, it is a long bar with a couple high tops serving tapas and homebrewed beer to mostly men. The waiters wear white coats and the new boy pouring beer had not received his shoulder epaulettes yet. We ordered a few pinchos and beers and headed to the Stadium of Barcelona to see where the Champions play. No, sadly they were not at home, but we learned a little trick for the next game.
Visiting the Picasso Museum was not as good as hoped since the majority if his works are spread out between museums and private collectors, but it was good to see some early work and his ceramics and drawings. The building itself was beautiful and we managed to walk thru some of the most beautiful areas on the way. Now I know, so next time I can hit a diffident museum.
We managed to see several other Gaudi buildings and the arc de triomphe before heading to the airport for the next part of the adventure. We were much better regarding checking in since we had a few issues on the way there. But the airport was amazing and worth exploring if you ever have a chance to pass thru. The flight was less than 3 hours to Brussels and we easily caught a train to the city center and walked about 10 minutes to our hotel. They had the room ready and again, we hit the road after dropping bags in search for the holy grail(beer).
We had enjoyed the warmth of Spain and coming back to Europe was tough, it was grey and cold and not what one would consider good drinking weather, but we did all we did our part. We found Delirium Cafe offering over 2000 beers, and it was hard to tear me away, but Moules and Frites were calling and I needed to answer. Conveniently there was a store, and we stocked up and hit the room for an afterhours private party including a bathtub. Yes, I admit that I did choose the hotels based on bathrooms, and I must say this is the best tub I have swam in for at least 2 maybe 3 years.
If ever in Brussels, I highly recommend this 4-star hotel that cost less than $100 a night. Not only was the tub legendary, but they have Netflix on the TV for you to log into and watch movies from your list. I have not been to a hotel in a while so I am not sure if this is a new thing happening, but it made the night even better. Or maybe it was all the good beer we brought back to the room, cause I can’t remember what we watched.
The next day we woke to rain and there was a big bike race Claude really wanted to see, we hunted down some disappointing waffles for breakfast and split up for him to find a bar that would show the cycling event(5hr duration) while I did another tour. I really enjoyed it and got to understand little tips about the city, I was later able to share, in half the time with Claude. He met me after the tour at a La Mort Subite also legendary for beer, although now being more authentic, it was warm, and not as pleasant to my American palate. A few more pubs lead to an early night and prep for the next leg of our tip.
We were walking distance to the Oui Bus which was nice and roomie, clean with outlets at each seat and free Wi-Fi. We got to Amsterdam in less than 3 hours for about 7 euro a piece in comfort and ease. We transferred at the bus station to a train that took us into town in about 7 minutes for 4 euro where we walked to our next hotel about 300 yards away from the station.
This Hotel lacked the prized tub I enjoyed in the other two cities, but was a boutique style fashion hotel with very cool details and a great location. As had become ritual, travel days were restful till arrival and then we spend the afternoon and evening running around like kids. By the end of the day we usually passed the 10-mile mark on our pedometers.
Our arrival to the sunny city was glorious and we could not help but walk one side of the town to the other without noticing the distance just the thousands of bikes and canals. We had dinner at Van Kerkwijk which is known for no reservations or menus. Your sister-server sits with you for a moment and explains the menu and recommends you eat what you like instead of trying to hear all the items and then after deliberation we ordered and were delighted with the best meals we had on our trip. It is owned by two sisters that have their mom come in to bake the deserts before they open. A real treasure to be sought out if your in town.
After a quick walk thru the red-light district, we headed back to our room to share an adult beverage before conquering our next adventure. Tricked by the sunny arrival, it rained harder than any other day on our trip when we ventured out. We were not about to stick around the room and we braved the storm. We did another walking tour to get some city highlights before heading to the very dry The Van Gough Museum.
The “free” walking tours take a break half way to allow use of restrooms and encouragement to purchasing tickets to other activities’. Generally, they give a discount or charge the same price. By purchasing tickets ahead of time, you avoid lines at the museum. This is for all of Europe. So, if you plan to visit, plan your museums to avoid wasting time in unnecessary lines.
We lunched at Cafe Sonneveld were they have the real food, for real people. We ate the Stamppot witch on a rainy cold day seemed to make us feel like we were fit for anything. With warm bellies, we spent the rest of the day exploring and made our way to a couple excellent beer bars including Bierproeflokaal in de Wildeman hosting the best in town and abroad. There is an American beer bar as well, but we were dedicated to the best of the land that we visited and only stayed for one.
In the morning, we ate our last meal abroad at The Pancake Bakery, a cross between a crepe and a quesadilla, the savor and sweet delights that I thought just needed to be tried for the sake of being in Dutch territory. I now know why they are known for this delicacy, and it turned my opinion around into thinking that this could be a death row meal for me.
I have on occasion thought about what I would want if that question was put to me, and this one surprised me. I never expected it to be so good and really recommend you try them if you make it out there. Bourdain likes another place, but they were not open till after we left, and I decided to go with the next best making me curious about Anthony’s choice.
We waddled back to the hotel, lugged our chorizo and souvenir filled bags toward the train station. Thayls was offering a deal for 35 euro a person to go from Amsterdam to Paris, and the train is faster than most other means of transport getting us back to town on 3 hours and another hour by metro to the finishing line.
Claude was able to go for a run before the sun set and I did laundry and showered, we shared a roasted chicken from the Butcher around the corner and crawled into our bed feeling happy to have seen and experienced so much in such a short time. We shared a spare beer we smuggled back as well, not to cut vacation too short.
The following day we went about our business working toward normalcy. Having received my livret de famille before we left, we were determined to take the next step. It proved less exciting than beer bars and international cuisines, but needed to be done. The Prefacture informed us we needed to go elsewhere. We had a feeling this would be the case but needed to start in on the path, since the new adventure would eventually lead us to the right place.
We went to the Mairie, or the city hall for those of you not speaking French, and were able to get Claude an ID card. Only took us 6 months but he will be able to retire the Ca drivers license to the California wallet. Well, we ordered it, it will be another week before it comes. We made an appointment for the bank to see if I can now be added to the account. Baby steps we can make with the Livret making me almost legal.
On the way home, we ran in Marcos “MH” and invited him to dinner. I cooked like there was a yelp review coming and after several drinks, we felt as if the vacation had its second wind. We will try to go to the Tribunal next week when Claude is off work again and see if we get any further with my proper papers. I work on various papers every day.
In the meantime, we did send off to the immigration office to register me, and I am now on the gas bill, both being things that are needed to get thru the next hoop. After more laundry and cleaning and cooking, I have returned to the library, my blog and to my regular routine. The first of hopefully many adventures was a success. Like a 21-year-old kid free to do as they wished, we felt freedom and made some good memories on the way.
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