Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels, oh my!

Honestly with how busy I’ve been and how infrequently I’ve been posting lately, it kinda seems like it’s just now very on-brand for me to write posts long after I decided I was going to. So why not a Europe trip recap that’s a month late? It’s an excuse to post a bunch of pictures anyway.

So, long story short: my brother lives in Amsterdam. Last December, in continuing with my tendency these last few years to go places where I know people and can crash with them, I bought plane tickets to visit him. I was thinking it would be a solo trip, but after some deliberation about whether the whole family would go (the answer was no: my parents just had to replace their roof), we decided my dad would join me. He’s missed out on other family vacations since he can’t take off of work nearly as easily as my mom can, so it was his turn to get to go on a trip.

Plus plane tickets were $330 from here so how could we not? Dad came up to DC on a bus and we headed to the airport.

Amsterdam, part 1

I don’t remember a ton about our first, partial day in Amsterdam. Essentially we got off the plane, figured out how to get to the city proper, met my brother who walked us to his apartment, dropped off our stuff, aaaaaaaand ??? Zombied out mostly. I do remember that I’d booked an hour-long cheese and wine tasting for us while my brother was still at work in the afternoon. Which was an excellent use of time and money, thanks for the recommendation, Michelle!

11/10 would recommend

Paris

The next morning we hopped on a 6am train to Paris for a quick, 36 hour jaunt into the city since none of us had been there before.

Unplanned stop for art

From the beginning, the trip did not go as planned. First off, we were walking through the Louvre and noticed there was no line. I repeat, zero line. I didn’t particularly want to visit the museum with a billion other people and was fully planning on skipping it. But since we were already there and wouldn’t have to wait, why not? We bought our museum passes (those are an excellent value) and headed in. Yes, I took the obligatory Mona Lisa photo and it only took a few minutes to fight my way to the front of the line. I never want to be in that museum when there are more people there.

We wandered through the Tuileries and over to the Musee de l’Orangerie because I wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies. Be warned that if you travel with me, we are seeing art. Lots of art.

Why yes, I do enjoy Impressionism

And then the day started going downhill.

Next time I’m spending money on a central location

I am…not a fan of Paris public transport. Trying to save us money, I booked an Airbnb just outside of the city, and everything I’d read indicated that we could use the same kinds of tickets to get around inside the city and to the stop where our room was. Best laid plans. In the afternoon we decided to swing by to drop our bags off and head back into the city so we could spend the rest of the day unencumbered by backpacks.

We unwittingly hopped on an express train that drove right past our stop and just. kept. going. Fifteen minutes later we finally stopped (way outside the city) and got a train back in the right direction, but alas the transit police stopped us and fined us 35 euros because we didn’t have the right tickets. I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t a low point, so thanks, assholes.

My plan had been to drop off bags and return to the city to get to Sainte-Chapelle—aka the entire reason I wanted to go to Paris—in the late afternoon so we’d have an hour before it closed to see it. Our little express train detour and stopping to rest a bit in the room meant we were back there a bit behind my schedule, which also would’ve been okay, had it actually closed at the time my guidebook said. Turns out I should’ve checked to see what our museum passes said because it closed half an hour earlier than I thought.

So that necessitated another change of plans (side note that I think I’m fairly laid back when traveling but it’s damn stressful to be the sole trip planner when traveling with other people and especially when things don’t go according to plan) for the rest of the evening, especially since all the museums closed at the same time around 5:00 and it was way too early for any self-respecting tourist to get caught eating dinner. Enter lots of stairs, since you can climb those past general closing time.

Golden hour

Instead of going up the Eiffel Tower, I figured the Arc de Triomphe would be a better bet because a) you still have the Eiffel Tower in your photos and b) it was included with our museum passes. We absolutely did not plan on this timing, but we happened to be at the Arc right before sunset. This meant we spent half an hour up there during golden hour and just after. It was beautiful.

If you take this same sunset photo from the Eiffel Tower without it in the skyline, do you even know what city you’re in?

Dinner woes

Wanna know how the protests in Paris affected us even though there weren’t protests happening? After watching the sunset from the Arc de Triomphe, we wandered a few blocks looking for a restaurant that was far enough off the main drag that it wasn’t incredibly touristy and expensive. And right before I started getting really hangry, we found one.

It was a lovely meal. We got a bottle of wine and had snails as an appetizer. It was a hundred euro meal and extremely well worth it. The restaurant didn’t take credit cards, but that was fine. Because my checking account doesn’t charge fees for withdrawals from foreign ATMs (which certainly came in handy during two semesters abroad in college), so my brother and I left dad with the last of the wine and made a quick trip for some cash.

All of the ATMs in the area had been smashed during the protests. All of them, and there were many of them that we walked by. My brother and I walked around for 40 minutes and asked many, many people if they could think of one that hadn’t been affected (or that wasn’t locked away inside, so tantalizingly close but so far away since my cards didn’t open the locked doors). FORTY MINUTES.

We spent the entire time talking about what our options were—take an Uber to a different part of the city and back? Decide this was the one time that warranted dining and dashing because it’s not like we hadn’t tried extremely hard to get cash, so texting dad to grab my purse from the table and slipping out to meet us somewhere? Go back empty-handed and hand the guy the 40 euro I had in my wallet? Come back the next day with the rest of the money we owed (even though that was decidedly not in the itinerary and being back in that area would jeopardize my plans for Sainte-Chapelle the next day)?

Finally, finally, we’d wandered around just far enough from the location of the protests that we found one that had a working screen. I probably cried in relief because also my feet were killing me (we ended up walking 16 miles that day) and I was tired and oh so ready to be in bed.

I think maybe the restaurant owner had given up hope that we’d come back with the money to pay our bill because he was extremely happy/apologetic to see us. He offered a digestif of another three glasses of wine for us. I was more in the mood for whiskey by that point, but regardless, oui, s‘il vous plaît!

We took an Uber back to the Airbnb because it was so late, and that was the best Uber ride I’ve ever taken—no dealing with switching lines or express/non-express trains or the (what would’ve been extremely long by that point) walk back from the station. Have I mentioned we walked a lot that day?

Bucket list alert!!

Priority number one was going to Sainte-Chapelle the next morning. Early. Like when it opened so we didn’t have to stand in line to go through security. I was convinced to take a quick break for coffee and pain au chocolat for breakfast right across the street (twist my arm!) but dammit, I’d been thwarted the day before. I was not going to leave the city without seeing the chapel.

After the frustrations of the day before, things worked out:

 

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A bucket list item and my number one motivation for taking time out of Amsterdam to go to Paris? (I wouldn’t have been devastated to miss out on anything else we did/saw tbh. Except the pain chocolat! 🥐) Sainte-Chapelle. I first learned about the chapel in one of my art history classes (again, we study Gothic architecture because it’s an art form) and ever since then it’s been high on my list of places to visit. It’s jaw-droppingly stunning, it’s an architectural masterpiece, and it’s got one of the largest collections of thirteenth-century stained glass. What’s not to like? I cannot get over how unbelievably gorgeous it is, and if my brother and dad hadn’t been there with me, I might’ve stayed for hours. Honestly this account might just turn into an all Sainte-Chapelle all the time account. Both because I took approximately one thousand photos (and some of them are even decent!) and because I cannot decide which ones to choose to post here!

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Seriously though, THESE WINDOWS

The still-lovely-but-not-quite-so-impressive lower chapel where the masses worshiped

After that we wandered around and through Notre Dame. We then headed for the Musée Cluny, because again, art. I wanted to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Sadly for me, pretty much all of the museum except for one room is closed right now, so no unicorn tapestries. Good thing we had museum passes and didn’t pay to get in!

Impressive in a different way from Sainte-Chapelle
Yeah, this was about three weeks before the fire

By that point we had about three hours left before our train. Given how tired we were, we decided a nice, leisurely lunch was in order (bonus: a break for our feet!). We picked an outdoor cafe not too far from the Île de la Cité, bought a bottle of wine, and sat for two hours. It was a lovely end to our time in the city.

Brussels

There’s honestly not a lot to say about Brussels because there’s not a ton to do. We got into the city around 6pm, went to our Airbnb to drop off our stuff, and then decided to go out and wander around. That wandering also turned into looking for a place to eat that didn’t seem too expensive, that still had a kitchen that was open (one place didn’t bother to tell us theirs was closed until we’d been sitting and looking at the menu for 15 minutes), was reasonably close to our Airbnb, and that wasn’t an absolutely packed chain restaurant. We finally found a place, waited what seemed like forever for our food (dinner in Europe is going to take you no less than 90 minutes), and then finally made it back so we could go to sleep.

The next morning’s plan was to wander around and then come back to the Airbnb before checkout at noon, then keep wandering until it was time to get on the train. That turned into a blissful morning of sleeping in and doing absolutely nothing until checking out at noon and then wandering. Our feet were absolutely killing us still from all the walking we did in Paris, plus my brother and I were unmistakably sick by that point. It was a very relaxed kind of wandering.

 

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Made a stop in Brussels on the way back to Amsterdam

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An old section of the medieval city wall…and bowling!

We did eat both waffles on the go and have a giant pot of mussels for lunch. Yum.

Given that my brother and I were sick (thankfully a low-level feeling crappy kind of sick, not something that would’ve necessitated staying in bed) and we all had blisters from the amount of walking we did in Paris, we were pretty happy to get on the train back to Amsterdam and back to my brother’s apartment.

Amsterdam, part 2

After two days of walking around cities with backpacks, we were back in Amsterdam and could leave all of our stuff at my brother’s and walk around the city unencumbered! It’s the little things. We didn’t really have a plan; I had general ideas of areas to go to but no specific plans, so we just wandered (are you seeing a theme?). And ate. My brother had also just moved from a different part of the city a few weeks before we got there, so us being there was also an excuse for him to do some exploring of his new neighborhood.

Bucket list item number two for this trip was seeing the tulip fields in the Netherlands, but we were just there too early before tulip season actually started. So I settled for seeing a few tulips in the Bloemenmarkt.

Too early for tulips, but I did see cherry blossoms near the Rijksmuseum!
It wasn’t overly warm, but we got lucky with the weather and had lots of sun in Amsterdam our last two days

Our last full day in Amsterdam was museum day—while my brother was at work (just kidding, he called out sick. We were both feeling like crap by then, so he stayed in his apartment), dad and I went to both the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. More art!

A pro tip: if you’re only going to Paris (or France) for part of your trip, make it the end. We had plenty of good food the rest of the trip, but after our lovely, long dinner and then lunch in Paris, the rest of our meals were only solidly good in comparison. Although Paris does not have stroopwafels. I definitely bought some of those to take back with me for gifts for people.

The trip ended with our Icelandair return flights being rebooked (our first leg was something like 9 hours delayed), which super worked out in our favor since we were rebooked on British Airways/United flights. The seats were bigger than the ones on Icelandair planes! We got served a meal and snacks!!! And lots of free wine! That definitely wouldn’t have happened on our super budget flights we were originally supposed to be on (that’s what $330 buys you for an international ticket).

Lots of art, lots of good food, time spent with family, and a bucket list item complete?! That’s the mark of a good trip!

2 Replies to “Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels, oh my!”

  1. When you first mentioned Sainte-Chapelle in this post I was so confused when there wasn’t a picture attached. Good thing you more than made up for that farther down 😉

    And other than two Friday posts, I never actually wrote the big east coast post like I meant to last year, so… 🤷‍♀️

  2. Nice trip. Glad you got to see Notre Dame before the fire.

    Mrs. 39 Months and I are doing a week-long beach trip this year (first time) and exploring North Carolina (potential retirement)

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