Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Home Sweet Home: Visiting Olana

Our day at Olana with my nephew was by far the best day of this vacation. Every time we travel to visit my family, Jaap and I like to explore something that we haven't seen together in the Hudson Valley. Having grown up in the Hudson Valley, many of the sites, parks, and places we visit are not new to me, but new for the two of us to explore together. I've developed a greater appreciation and admiration for the beautiful region that I grew up in. Jaap proposed to me two summers ago across the river. We could see Olana in the background up on the mountain. It's something we've wanted to go back and visit ever since.
Having grown up just across river from this site, I have many memories of Olana as a very young child. I was nervous about taking my nephew there because I wondered how much a 9 year old boy would really enjoy touring a historic site. I was impressed by how much he enjoyed it; asking questions to the tour guide and seeming to be genuinely interested in the life of Fredrich Church and the house itself. We were off to a good start!
Olana is a large, Persian inspired mansion built in the 1800s by Fredrich Church, one of the famous Hudson River School painters. We followed an indoor tour of the home and learned about the Church family's world travels and what inspired them to build Olana. 
View of the Hudson
Now, on to the fun stuff. After our cute little picnic lunch in the grass (complete with Jaap teaching Joey how to burn ants alive with a magnifying glass), I watched on as Jaap and Joey flew the kite we purhcased in Mystic, CT through the fields of Olana. Beautiful sunshine and the perfect amount of wind.
It was a day full of art, history, exercise, and nature, followed by a stop at Friendly's for some ice cream. (This was my favorite part). We finished our day together with an art project back home. Fun times.
Living in the Netherlands and being so far away from family make me appreciate these moments together much more. From beginning to end this day was perfect. And what better way to end the day with a free haircut from your 2 year old niece back at the house.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Cafe con leche at Floridita= best coffee in NYC
My favorite New Yorker
Jaap and I spent the first two weeks of May visiting family and friends in NY. It's always good to come home and this time we got to celebrate the pregnancy (complete with a surprise baby shower!) with family and friends. 

No trip to NY would be complete without an evening with Shannon, my best friend, and our NY buddies. After a night out on the Lower East Side we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Floridita. If you want the best coffee in NYC, go to Floridita and order a cafe con leche. It's up on the West side on 125th St and Riverside Drive. 
Sculpture art on Park Avenue
My niece Elin enjoying the Baby Shower
Mastura & Mom
BFFs forever
The Pardo Family
What was planned as a casual lunch with my aunts turned out to be a surprise baby shower complete with Muppets! Thanks to my amazing sister and mother for organizing the day. It was such a great surprise to see our closest famiy and friends there. What a day. We got so much great stuff for the baby and Jaap was able to celebrate in Muppet style. We felt very loved. Now we just wait for the little Jansen-Pardo to arrive!

The Kermit Diaper Cake made by Catherine Pardo

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Brussels Babymoon

Grand Place
As Jaap and I wait around for this baby to arrive, my mind is becoming more and more restless. I've only been on maternity leave for three weeks and yet it feels like three months! I told Jaap and I needed something to do this weekend to keep my mind occupied, so we planned a last minute trip to Brussels. I have never had a proper chance to explore the city and what better time to do it than now before our household goes from "just the two of us" to a family of three. 
We arrived in Brussels and started exploring...first stop...Manneken Pis. An interesting choice for a city's mascot. 
Europe's "greatest square", The Grand Place. Saturday was full of a lot of walking and I was happy that my very pregnant self was able to keep up with it. 
Here's a view of Galeries Roayles St. Hubert...Europe's oldest shopping mall. :)

And finally a quick peak at St. Michael's Cathedral before it was time for me to rest my swollen feet at an art nouveau era cafe near The Bourse.
Break time
Afterwards we had a delicious little lunch at Le Perroquet in the Sablon neighborhood, after a recommendation from a friend (thanks Faye). We walked up to Place du Petit Sablon a nice, little, beautifully landscaped oasis. 
Notre Dame du Sablon Church
The large statues throughout the garden are great Belgian thinkers that once called Brussels home.
And now for one of the best parts of our trip, the hotel. I gotta give props to my amazing-deal-finding husband who found this 5-star hotel at a very affordable price. Who knew Brussels would be so much cheaper in the summertime? Apparently when all the diplomats are out of town on summer holiday, you can get a great bargain. Nice find Jaap!
Stanhope Hotel
One bus ride away from a romantic evening
Drinks on the square
Our dinner reservations weren't until 8:30, so we killed some time having drinks on the Grand Place and enjoyed some decent people watching with nice cool weather. Jaap enjoyed his Kwak beer and I sipped a decaf coffee looking on with envy. I was saving myself for my one glass of wine at dinner. :)
Dinner was at a simple seafood restaurant in the Sainte Catherine-Fish Market neighborhood. I highly recommend La Maree on a visit to Brussels. This place rocks. Even though I debated getting some other type of seafood from the menu, I knew I would order "mussels from Brussels". I'm glad I did though...they were delicious!
Mussels "from the House"
What does Jaap order at a seafood restaurant? The filet. :)
Our romantic evening was perfect. Excellent service, simple and delicious food, and a friendly atmosphere. Just when I thought the meal couldn't get any better, the chef comes out, walks around, and asks all the guests how their meal was. I told Jaap to pinch me because you never get great service AND good tasting food like this in Maastricht. And as much as I love little Maastricht, it's still the most expensive place to eat in Europe.
I was definitely "living in the moment" trying to take in all our remaining couple time we have left before our little baby arrives. The best part of the evening wasn't the delicious food, but the great company with my loving husband. :)
Secret family recipe from Chef--we have no idea what it was...but it was delicious!
The Stanhope Hotel did not disappoint with their breakfast. Jaap and I both agree that it has taken over the number spot of best hotel breakfasts ever. Lekker!
Good-bye King Albert
Sunday was a quick sightseeing day for us, shortened by my fatigue from this horribly hot weather sweeping through Northern Europe. We just happened to be in Brussels the same weekend that Belgium inaugrates King Philippe to the throne and staying literally around the corner from the inauguration. We had a quick stroll around Parc de Bruxelles to enjoy the festivities before heading back to Maastricht.

Thanks Jaap for a great babymoon weekend!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Flanders Fields: Ieper (Ypres), Belgium

Ieper at night
 Adventures with Jaap traveled to Ieper, Belgium on a chilly and gray weekend sometime in early April. My Australian friend Rosalie recommended it as a nice weekend getaway. This region of Belgium is probably most famous for the role it played in WWI. I will admit that a weekend trip to Ieper is probably only best for history buffs. I enjoyed visiting this little city and exploring the sad history around it.
Menin Gate Memorial
We spent our first night walking around quiet Ieper. We visited the Menin Gate, a memorial dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the battles around Ieper. There are over 50,000 names inscribed on this memorial. It's incredible. 
Saturday began with a visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum in the Market Square. It's definitely the best place to go and learn more about WWI and the history of this region. Although we noticed that there was nothing mentioned about the poem itself, It Flanders Fields written by the Canadian soldier John McCrae. Weird.

Next was a yummy Belgian waffle and pancake intermezzo. :) I love eating in Belgium.
Followed by a walk around the outskirts of the city.
We bought a map of the Ypres Salient region and were off on our historical journey of WWI by car. First stop: Tyne Cot Cemetery. 
Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. It's a powerful image. Driving through this region can be depressing. Maybe the gray weather added to this vibe. I couldn't stop thinking about the soldiers who died here and the local Belgians who lost their region to war.
Our history site tour ended with a visit to the Bayernwald Trenches. What an interesting place. Come here if you want to see the typical trenches that come to mind when you think of WWI. It's a restored trench system that was built and used by the Germans complete with sandbags, woven branches, and wooden planks. Another thought provoking place to see, but the only thing I could think of was Matthew Crawley from Downtown Abbey though.
I can't remember the name of this site. Sorry. But the lambs were cute!
Our Ieper stay ended with the dinner at De Ruyffelaer. Eat here, if you ever come to Ieper. We enjoyed a delicious typical Flemish dinner with a very cozy, home-like atmosphere. Very rustic and simple, but yummy. Here's an action shot of Jaap's delicious Belgian beer as my pregnant self looks on with jealousy. :)