Amsterdam, Brussels, & Paris: Last Minute Cities & Birthday Celebrations

With our Europe trip coming to an end, we were debating on where we were going to spend our last few weeks before gearing up to adventure through Asia. At first we thought that we would just spend about 3.5 weeks working at a bed and breakfast so we could somewhat relax, re-coop and reorganize our life in a backpack but our adventurous little hearts just couldn’t bear to stop. We made a compromise and decided on 2 weeks at the bed and breakfast right before Asia and 1.5 weeks exploring Amsterdam and Brussels with a quick stop-over in Paris for my birthday…because who wouldn’t want to wake up to a pain au chocolat on their birthday?

I knew that these last few cities would be bittersweet since we were mere weeks before leaving Europe and onto the next chapter of our trip. I vowed to myself to enjoy every moment, every bite of delicious food, every language barrier, and every glass of wine we drank (PS: there is no wine in Asia…in case you were wondering). With that mindset intact, Amsterdam was a great place to begin the end!

We have always heard that Amsterdam was gorgeous and they weren’t lying! The wide canals, the million bikes, the blooming flowers, the windmills in the distance, and the unique architecture lured us into this fairytale meets big city charm. Even though we almost got murdered by bicyclists, I’d say it was by far one of my most favorite cities we have encountered thus far. Oh, and can we please talk about the food? Who here knows what Amsterdam is famous for?...(other than weed and the red light district…come on guys!) Well, I really had no expectations for Dutch food so we were pleasantly surprised when we made our list of “must-try” foods in Amsterdam – thanks to Pinterest. And the list is as follows:

  • Stroopwafels: Absolutely amazing! The fresh ones are the only way to go. They are crispy, gooey, sweet, a little salty and so incredibly delicious. We got ours from a little stand at a street market where they made them right in front of our eyes!
  • Croquette (I think there is a more proper name for these but we knew them as croquettes): Imagine biscuits and gravy that has been blending together, formed into a ball, rolled in panko breadcrumbs, deep fried and then served with spicy mustard. Is your mouth watering yet? Oh yeah, they were delish.
  • Pickled Haring: Nope. NOPE. Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?! I love all forms of fish – cooked, grilled, sushi, etc. but this little pickled fishy served with raw onion and dill pickles was definitely not for us! I mean, you should try it because it is traditional but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
  • Pancakes: I am not 100% sure if pancakes are really an Amsterdam thing vs. a tourist thing but honestly, who says no to pancakes? And I am not talking buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup…no no. I am talking about dinner pancakes with red chicken curry. Believe me when I say that it tasted better than it sounds. However, it did give me a serious hankering for good ol’ blueberry pancakes with a dab of butter and Trader Joes Pure Maple Syrup (oh how I miss Trader Joes).
  • Heineken: Heineken is Heineken, right? Just another light beer that you can pretty much buy anywhere. Well, not in Amsterdam! Man, do they love their Heineken…and while we were there, we did too! We even toured the brewery and let me just say that a Heineken never tasted as good as it did at the end of the tour.

You’re probably thinking all we ever do is eat, eat, eat and eat more while we travel and you’re right! We absolutely love it…even though our clothes don’t. But to balance out all the eating, we took a few walking tours of the city as well. One of them told us all about the history of Amsterdam, the Red Light District, the Marijuana laws (technically, it is still illegal. Who would’ve thought?), and Amsterdam’s involvement in WWII. It was so interesting and all the facts that we learned made me fall in love with Amsterdam even more!

We knew that one of the main things we wanted to see while we were in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House. Wow…sometimes there are those things in life that you see and experience that just take your breath away. The entire time we were touring through her house, I felt as if I could cry at any moment. It was so incredibly somber and to see where she and her family spent their life in hiding was just as overwhelming as I expected it to be, yet it still caught me off-guard.

Our time in Amsterdam was short, but it just made us want to go back and experience it once more sometime soon. Mostly because it was beautiful, but mainly because I need to get my hands on another Stroopwafel!

I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but following up Amsterdam was going to be hard for any city but Brussels maybe wasn’t the best choice. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and beautiful in its own way, but it just didn’t have that charm that most European cities do. But what it did have was beer. Super delicious beer from all over the world! Where is this beer heaven (or Sean’s “Disneyland” as he called it) you might ask? The Delirium Café in the heart of Brussels.

Well, we knew we couldn’t just go straight to beer drinking so we made ourselves feel all cultural and stuff by taking another walking tour. And I’ll admit, we learned so much about Belgium as a somewhat young country and we enjoyed hearing about the city...but we really only had 3 things on our mind: waffles, beer and Belgian frites (French fries). The 2 kinds of waffles we had were pretty much the best things we have ever eaten in our entire life – the beers we drank were unique, delicious and went perfectly with a few games of rummy – and the fries…oh, these Belgians really know what they are doing when it comes to fries! I mean, according to them, they invented the fries so they better be the best!

However, all that deliciousness aside, the absolute highlight of our time in Brussels was spending time with our AirBnb hosts, Coralie and Enrico. They welcomed us into their home with open arms and the warmest smiles imaginable. We talked to them about anything and everything and they even invited us to gather around their table to share a meal with them and some of their close friends from Italy, Chile and France where we ate and drank and cheers’d to getting to know one another. Before we knew it, it was 2am and we were still eating pizza! As beautiful and as fun as a city can be, it is always the people and the experiences that you share with them that will remain a wonderful memory for a lifetime.

As we bid farewell to Brussels, Enrico and Coralie, we said hello to Paris one more time! When Sean asked me way back before we even began our trip where I might want to spend my birthday, Paris is what filled my heart with joy and anticipation. I imagined strolling through a market, eating bread and cheese while drinking wine, watching the sun set over Seine, cooking dinner in a small Parisian apartment and listening to French music as I danced with my husband to the sounds of Paris and dinner cooking away. Normally, visions like that only remain a “vision” but he made it happen. All of those things that I dreamt of and yearned for is exactly what filled my 27th birthday thanks to my amazing best friend and love of my life. Paris felt different to me the second time because there were no expectations. I already knew what it looked like and what the tourist sites were so this time around, we just saw Paris in her raw and natural form. As Paris. And wow, what a beaut.

That 1.5 weeks flew by and was a wonderful way to end our explorations of Europe before preparing for Asia…a whole different ball game!


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