In Part 2 of my Europe trip review, I will talk about the days spent in Amsterdam, Brussels and London. The first week of my trip was spent in Paris. Read part 1 of my trip review to see what happen. Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much time to spend in the next three locations (I did get four days in London though).
On Saturday following our first week in Paris, we took the train from Gard du Nord into Schiphol. Our Airbnb was located near Haarlem as, unbeknownst to us when we started planning, it was King’s Day weekend. Most hotels and Airbnbs were already booked up. I think it might have been in Hoofddorp. It wasn’t ideal, but we had few options.
Day 7 – Travel and Haarlem
A good portion of our day was spent packing and travelling. We arrived at Schiphol Airport (and train station?) late afternoon. After we settled into our Airbnb, we headed out to check out some of the King’s Day celebrations and to grab some dinner. We decided to go to Haarlem as it was closer than Amsterdam and it was late. When we arrived, we found a late-night restaurant called Het Wachtlokaal. We had an appetizer platter that had cheese sticks, bitterballen and some other fried food (maybe cheese and salami). It was a good late-night snack.
After eating, we headed out to the streets to see what Haarlem had in terms of celebrations for King’s Day. We found a street fair that had a bunch of rides and food booths. Unfortunately, because it was late, most of the kid’s rides were closed, but we grabbed some appelbollen and oliebollen and headed back to our Airbnb.
Sadly, this is where things started to fall apart. Ella lost her green baby doll, which she had had since she was a baby herself. Despite best efforts by Jennifer, we weren’t able to find her (we think she accidentally got left on the bus when we arrived in Haarlem). Everyone was really nice and helpful though, and the local news outlet even wrote an article in the hopes that someone might have spotted her. (Anyone in the Netherlands reading this, she is still missing! If you find her, please reach out.)
Day 8 – Amsterdam
Pancakes and Stroopwafels
After the rough night, we headed into Amsterdam the next morning. We ended up at Pancakes for lunch. I ordered a traditional bacon and cheese Dutch pancake and Jennifer ordered poffertjes with powdered sugar and butter. The Dutch pancakes are huge, but you only get one so it’s a great meal. I also had a very nice mint and lemon tea and a mini stroopwafel.
Following lunch, we walked around more before ending up at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and Store. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we didn’t go through the museum, but I picked up a clog with tulips magnet for my mom.
Our next stop was Melly’s Stroopwafels, which was a must-have. If you are in Amsterdam, you must have a stroopwafel. Especially a freshly made one. They are delicious wafer cookies filled with caramel. I have found some locally, but for whatever reason, they are not as good as the ones from the Netherlands. I will say though, the local ones are good. Sometimes you can find stroopwafels imported from the Netherlands as well. I picked up a couple of boxes at Costco this past Christmas.
Fries and Bar Food
Our day mostly involved walking around and getting food, so our next stop was Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx for some of the best fries in Amsterdam. I passed on getting my own fries (I was getting pretty full by this point), but I did snack on Jennifer’s with fry sauce and some of Ella’s with ketchup. I can say that they were very good fries.
Our final food stop for the day was Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery located next to a windmill. Here we picked up some great snacks including dried sausage, grilled sausage, and abbey cheese. The abbey cheese was probably my favourite out of all of the items. It’s from the St. Bernardus abbey and it has a very unique flavour.
Boat Tour and Rough Night #2
Once we were done there, we headed back towards the train station. We decided that before we were going to leave for the day, we were going to take a boat tour. This was our last and only full day in Amsterdam, so we wanted to get as much out of it as we could.
While I did take some lovely photos, I can’t say that I remember much about our boat tour. We ended up having an issue with our Airbnb host, so that left me completely distracted throughout the entire tour. I spent a lot of the tour trying to find us new accommodations for the night and helping Jennifer with Airbnb customer service instead.
At the end of the tour, we headed back to our Airbnb, packed up our things and left for a hotel for the night as we no longer felt comfortable staying there. This is the only time I’ve ever stayed in a shared accommodation style Airbnb. After this experience, I would not do it again. I’m really disappointed that our portion of the Amsterdam trip was marred by so many bad experiences. I hope to go back someday and be able to enjoy the city another time. I also will try to avoid King’s Day next time, unless I plan FAR into the future to ensure there are accommodations.
Day 9 – Keukenhof and More Travel
Our final day in the Netherlands was spent at Keukenhof. Unfortunately, unless you get up really early to get in line, it can be a bit of a wait to catch the bus to Keukenhof. Thankfully, the bus stop was located at Schiphol Airport, so we didn’t have to go far. The downside is that the bus was packed, and because we were one of the last groups to be boarded before the next bus, we ended up standing for most of the ride there. As to be expected, there were tulips everywhere, even before you got into the park.
There isn’t much to do at the park itself except walk around beautifully planned gardens with ponds and other aesthetic features. There is the occasional area set up for kids to play at and a large windmill to climb. We also didn’t have a lot of time to explore the park as we needed to head back to Schiphol to catch our train to Brussels at about mid-day. We did stop at a cart for some ice cream though. That all being said, I would still go back and explore parts of the park that we didn’t get to see while we were there. If you are in the area, I would definitely check this place out.
After a lovely train ride, we arrived in Brussels just before dinner time. Jennifer and Ella headed out to meet up with an old friend of Jennifer’s while I headed to the hotel restaurant, Chutney’s. I was in the mood to try some local food, and knowing that it was very likely that I would be having mussels later, I ordered the Liege meatballs with Belgian frites. It was a little different than I was expecting. The gravy was a little sweeter than I thought it would be, but it was a great meal and very filling.
Day 10 – Exploring Brussels
The next day was basically our only day in Brussels so we tried to make the most of it. We started our day by taking a walk through Mont des Arts and making our way to one of the best lookout positions in the city outside of the Palais de Justice. We then slowly made our way towards the Grand Place, as that was where we were meeting our food tour. I will admit I may have had a bit of a panic attack when I realized I was not getting any reception on my phone and had lost GPS. Jennifer, however, knew exactly where we were. Yeah, I clearly don’t do well with uncertainty.
Brussels Food Tour
When we arrived at the Grand Place, we were a little early for our tour so we grabbed a waffle and wandered the area for a little bit, including a quick stop in La Boutique Tintin. We then met up with our guide and the rest of our tour group. We learn a lot about the Grand Place and the history of the guilds. Our first tasting was, of course, chocolate at the nearby Chocopolis. We first tried a 100% cocoa chocolate, which was very bitter and not at all to mine or Ella’s liking. We then received two different filled chocolates. I can’t remember exactly what flavours they were, but I think one was possibly a lemon or citrus flavour, and the other may have been hazelnut. They were delicious and I bought a box to bring home.
Our next stop was at Royal Puppet Theater Toone where we learned about the history of the traditional marionette shows while we had a beer tasting. Jennifer got my glass. We then headed over to Abrussel, which unfortunately is no longer in business. They had delicious beef stew, chicken stew and, I think, some kind of mashed potatoes. We also, of course, had mussels and frites. Unfortunately, because the restaurant is closed, I’m not certain exactly what we ate and am only going by the photos. I remember it being all very excellent though, so it’s a shame the restaurant is now closed.
Food Tour Desserts
We continued the walking tour learning about the history of the area and headed down Impasse de la Fidélité to see the Jeannekin Pis. Our penultimate stop was at Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, where we stopped at Mokafe for waffles and drinks. We all had a lovely chat as we enjoyed our treat before heading to our very last stop of the trip.
The final stop was another chocolate shop located in Grand Place, Mary. While Godiva was right next door, I was glad to be shown a famous chocolatier that was not quite as known in North America. Mary became the “Certified Supplier of the Belgian Court” in 1942. Here we got to sample the champagne truffles. I also bought some of these to bring home because they were so good.
Dinner Plans and Wandering Bruxelles
Following our food tour, we headed out to the Atomium. It was unfortunately closed but it was really neat to see anyway. After our very brief visit, we headed back towards the main part of the city to meet up with Jennifer’s friend who lives in Brussels for dinner at La Marée. We all opted for one or another version of mussels and frites. If you aren’t used to it, the restaurant could feel a little cramped but I found it cozy and exactly what I would think of as a European restaurant, where it almost feels like a giant family kitchen.
Following dinner, we headed out for an evening walk and bid goodbye to Jennifer’s friend. We made our way through the streets and happened upon Manneken Pis. We hadn’t really planned to check it out, but since it was there… To be honest, I don’t really get the draw of these fountains, but to each his own. Luckily there was a Godiva chocolate shop nearby and we got some chocolate-covered strawberries for our walk back to the hotel. I am still very thankful that Jennifer knew where we were because I feel like I would have gotten lost.
Day 11 – Traveling and London
The next morning started VERY early. We were up to catch our 6 a.m. bus to London. Next time, I would just opt for the train. Though the bus was cheaper, the train would have been less cramped. Ultimately it wasn’t too bad, except having to kick someone out of my seat when we first boarded.
Once we got into our Airbnb, which was a really lovely two-bedroom flat, we headed out to explore. I got my obligatory photo with a phone booth then we headed to the Tate Modern to take advantage of free art viewing.
We went to dinner at Smithfield. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what we ate (and the photographs aren’t helping). We started with bone marrow, Welsh rarebit and salad (possibly the Crispy Pig Skin, Dandelion and Roast Shallot). Our main courses consisted of pigeon and sweetbreads, peas and bacon. The dishes were delicious so we also ordered some dessert. I think Ella ordered some kind of blood orange cake, I ordered bread pudding, and Jennifer ordered Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese. We shared all of the plates. I have to admit that the dessert did not live up to the dinner (the only thing I liked was the cheese).
We walked around after dinner, and after some poor navigation on my part, ended by King’s Cross, so of course, we had to stop by Platform 9 3/4. Both Ella and I got our pictures taken with the cart going through the wall (Ella’s photo turned out fantastic if I do say so myself). After a quick stop in the shop, where I picked up some Ravenclaw merch, we headed back to our Airbnb for the night.
Day 12 – Food Tour and Harry Potter Tea
East End Food Tour
The next morning we headed out for our East End London food tour. (As a side note, we were late, partially again because of my poor navigation and failing to notice we needed to be on Commercial Street, not Commerical Road… Sorry Jennifer! Thankfully, despite being late, we met the group at the first food stop.) Our first stop was St. John Bread and Wine where we enjoyed a lovely bacon sandwich. While getting a history lesson along the way, we headed over to The English Restaurant where we had my favourite dessert, bread pudding.
We learned a lot about the area and got to see many old buildings and streets that have been around for centuries. There are a lot of narrow streets, some so narrow that they can only be used for foot traffic. We slowly made our way to Bedales at Spitalfields for some cheese and bread. We had a blue stilton and, I think, a sharp white cheddar. It might have been something else. All I can remember was that it was delicious, but I love cheese of many different types.
One of the really interesting things I learned about Spitalfields Market is that the structure dates back to the time of Queen Victoria. It’s a bit disappointing that where I am from doesn’t share the same sense of preservation of the past that London, England does.
Quintessential British Foods
Our next stop on the trip was to Poppie’s Fish and Chips, a true English staple. We shared plates of fish and chips and mushy peas. I wasn’t expecting to like mushy peas, but they were actually really good. The fish and chips were delicious, but it’s hard to match the deliciousness of my favourite local restaurant back home.
Food stop number five was Aladin, a curry house. We got to try three different curries from mild to very hot. It was hard to taste anything after the hot curry but they were all very good. I hadn’t had proper curry before so it was great to try something new.
Our sixth stop was Beigel Bake where we picked up hot salted beef beigels and dill pickles. This was one of the best things I had eaten all trip (and there are so many amazing things to choose from). I don’t know about everyone else, but I was getting really full and was almost glad we only had one last stop.
We walked a little farther down Brick Lane to Bethnal Green and headed into Pizza East for some chocolate torte and tea. This concluded our tour. There was so much food so I would recommend going on an empty stomach. Our tour guide was great (sadly, I can’t remember her name) and I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting London.
Harry Potter Tea Time
We couldn’t be in London, England without doing something Harry Potter. We booked a Harry Potter afternoon tea at Cutter and Squidge. I feel like this is an absolute must for Harry Potter fans, young and old. Funny enough though, Ella was the only kid at the one we went to.
Our tea started with making galaxy juice by mixing three different “potions”. Mine didn’t turn out too great and the juices mixed together a bit, but the girl I sat beside had the best layering. They next brought out our tea and the tiered tray of finger sandwiches, proper pie (creamy leek and potato), Yorkshire pudding, cauldron biskie, and Knickerbocker bite. I also ordered a pumpkin juice (which costs extra) to have with my meal. We were also given Rock Cakes (scones) that we could take with us or eat there (with clotted cream and jam). My favourite item was the Ploughman’s sandwich. Simple but delicious.
Next, we made our crackling cauldron dessert. We used a pestle and mortar to crush the crackly bits (I think they were something like Pop Rocks), sprinkled it on top of the pre-made dessert in the cauldron, then added the “rare purple weasel venom” (some kind of dessert syrup) and made it crackle. Ella ended up being far more successful at this than either me or Jennifer.
Our final treat at the tea was the option to pick two dessert items from the dessert table. I assume these change for time to time but when we were there, there was an apple crumble cake, 3 different cookies, and candied popcorn. As part of the tea package, we each got a pin from the Potions Room as well.
It was time to walk off all that food we had eaten between the food tour and afternoon tea. We walked through Green Park and past the Canada Gate to check out Buckingham Palace. We didn’t really look into any tours of the Palace while we were there. It had been kind of decided that because we had so little time in London, we wanted to focus on things we really wanted to do instead of just the typical tourist things. The Union Flag was flying, so the Queen wasn’t home anyway. Despite the rainy day, we walked around the area for a while, including checking out some of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk medallions, before heading back to our Airbnb to dry off and relax.
Day 13 – Notting Hill and Kensington
The next morning after breakfast took us to Baker Street. My desire to see the Sherlock Museum was strong. When we got there, the line was ridiculously long, so we just went into the store instead. With some Sherlock Holmes merchandise in hand, I headed to The Beatles Store to pick up a souvenir/birthday gift for my dad. It was really handy that it was close by.
We then headed towards Notting Hill where we took a peek in the Notting Hill Bookshop (yes, the one featured in the film, Notting Hill) and drooled over some fantastic looking doughnuts at Doughnut Time. Looking back, I kind of wished I’d picked one up. The red velvet one looked particularly delicious. We headed around the corner and went to Biscuiteers where I picked up some cookies for another souvenir. (Edible souvenirs are the best.) While we were in the area, there was also a street market going on Portobello Road. We didn’t quite make it up to the more colourful area, but we did check out what was being offered (we were only near the intersection with Blenheim Crescent).
It was getting close to our time for our afternoon tea and Kensington Gardens so we made our way towards Kensington Palace. Unfortunately, the Orangery was under construction, so our tea took place in the Pavilion. It was a bit warm in there but otherwise fine. As expected, we had finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and mini desserts. I’m going to be completely honest and say that while I loved the high tea atmosphere, I definitely preferred the food at our Harry Potter tea the day before. The tea was delicious though. I can’t remember if I had the Royal Blend or the Palace Breakfast, but it was delicious. I almost wish I had picked some up at the Kensington Palace gift shop.
Afterwards, we strolled around Kensington Gardens and I admired the lovely statue of Queen Victoria. We walked over to the Diana Memorial Playground (which has controlled entry and doesn’t allow adults in without children). It was a beautiful playground, with all of the equipment made out of natural elements (mostly wood). For adults that want to see it, there is a time set aside in the mornings that they can tour the park before the kids are there.
Day 14 – Touristy Stuff and Good Food
We got a London Pass, which allows you to visit as many attractions as you want, but with one restriction. We had to do it all in one day. (This was a special promotion pass we got for free but normally, you would choose between 3 days, 6 days or 10 days when purchasing your pass.) If you are wanting to visit a bunch of different attractions, I would definitely recommend getting this because it will save you a lot of money in the long run.
Our first stop of the day was The Shard. There wasn’t anything too exciting about this but, like the Empire State Building in New York, the view was spectacular. It was really neat to be able to see how far the city stretched and some of the iconic landmarks of the city. There is a refreshment counter and some seating, but other than that, it’s really just about the view. Afterwards, we headed across the London Bridge and checked out the Monument to the Great Fire of London as we headed to our next destination; The Tower of London.
After a long wait for tickets, we got into the Tower of London. Aside from it being a really old fortress, there isn’t a lot to see on the grounds itself. There are people dressed up in period clothing that wander around, and a guard or two. The real attraction is inside the buildings. We lucked out and the line for the Crown Jewels was short. Sorry, no photography allowed inside. There really wasn’t that much to see, to be honest. Queen Elizabeth’s coronation outfit was on display along with some of the items that the Royal Family rarely, if ever, uses. After a quick stop in the gift shop, we were off to lunch.
Kym’s Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant in the Castle Baynard ward. This is not the American style “Chinese” food though. This is the real thing. The place itself is also gorgeous. Our lunch was at 1 p.m. but the restaurant wasn’t too busy and we were served quickly. We started with some wonton soup, french fries (with added seasoning) and steamed buns. We also had the crispy aromatic duck with pear and pancakes, and Wagu beef bao (I think. The menu has changed since we were there.) Then, for dessert, we shared a pineapple bun. It was all delicious. (I feel like I’m saying that a lot in this post.)
Following lunch, we headed back to the Thames River and took a brief boat tour. I have to say, this is one boat tour I would actually take again. The tour guide was very funny and I liked that it wasn’t a pre-recorded boring history lesson. While we were given a lot of information about the sights and history, it was presented in an entertaining and engaging way. He talked about the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Millenium Bridge (featured at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), and the Palace of Westminster. He also pointed out The Anchor, a pub that has been around since Shakespeare’s days. The actors used to get dressed for their performances there. Shakespeare’s Globe was rebuilt in 1997, 230 metres away from where it originally stood next to The Anchor and is the only thatch-roof building in London.
Kensington Palace Part 2
We ended up in Kensington again after the short boat ride, so we decided to take a tour of the palace. There were several sketches of Diana’s outfits and throw pillows with members of the Royal family (from past to present) along the hallway as you walked in. The rooms that were open for visiting were the oldest parts of the palace and outfitted as they were during King William III and his wife, Queen Mary II’s reign. There were many portraits and paintings, furniture and tapestries in the rooms, along with signs explaining the history during the time Queen Mary II lived in Kensington Palace.
If you have no real interest in that stuff, you might as well skip it. The more interesting part to me was a partial exhibit (they were getting ready to open later that May, on Victoria Day) that had some of Queen Victoria’s jewels.
Our last stop for the day was Westfield Shopping Centre, specifically to get some Naked Dough. I ended up getting chocolate chip (a classic) and salted caramel and honeycomb (which I didn’t love; a little too sweet for me). We headed over to Primark next. I grabbed some souvenirs – mainly two sets of “London” socks, which I still wear. We headed back to our Airbnb, nice and tired from the day.
Day 15 – Goodbye Europe
Sadly, my trip had come to an end. I would be heading back to Canada on my own while Jennifer and Ella continued on. While it would have been nice to stay a little longer, I knew I needed to get back to work and my pocketbook wasn’t likely to recover if I kept going. It wasn’t as comfortable, but I took a Westjet flight home at about 12:30 p.m. and landed at… 3:30 p.m. Time zones are kind of weird that way.
So, I learned a lot about myself after reflecting on this trip. I have some serious control issues and can’t stand it when there is a lack of a plan. Also, I am not good at navigating on the fly and should be leaving that to someone more experienced. I definitely feel much more comfortable in a country where I can speak the language (which makes sense), and perhaps that was part of my anxiety on this trip. The local residents in each location were great though. Despite the language barrier, they were friendly and helpful for the most part. I honestly can’t wait to return to Paris or London. I also feel like I didn’t get enough time in Amsterdam so it would be great to be able to explore there more (but I have learned to avoid King’s Day – too much of a party for me).
Well, until next time…