Weekend Wrap Up

Playing with bugs. What’s new.

Beach day at Zandvoort.

Best egg salad sandwich. Ever.

Taco Shop in Amsterdam. Set up by a couple dudes from Cali.

Revan. Awesome Turkish restaurant in Amsterdam.

Beach day at Bloemendaal. Need to rent one of these this summer.

Happy Memorial Day. Ready for BBQ & picnic.

Happy Memorial Day. Here in Amsterdam, they celebrate Pentacost. Either way, Jaro had the day off.

Our first “BBQ” in Sarphatipark.


Jesus take the wheel: Girls’ road trip to France

Hey kids. I keep talking about how behind I am with my posts and not actually doing anything about it. Until now. Time to stop being polite and start being real and posting on a regular basis. …Once I catch up with all my old stories for you. So hold on to your butts seats, time to get you up to speed on a recent adventure with two of my very best friends from Chicago, S & L. Here they are:

My darlings

These two darlings came to Amsterdam in May for a visit. And, naturally, we carpe diem-ed that shit and made the most of their time here by also planning a little side trip to Paris!! How many best friends do you know that can just casually go to Paris together? How lucky are we!? Ah yes, the benefits to living in Europe. You may remember that I was in Paris recently with my parents. Truly a dream come true to be able to experience that with my family. But now with friends?? Almost too good to be true. Until it wasn’t.

Let’s dive in, shall we? It started off innocently enough, we had printed off all our Google map directions, had plenty of fuel (no, not gas, although we had that too.. I mean, more importantly, road trip snacks), and a sense of adventure. Nevermind the fact that we had celebrated Cinco de Mayo the night before, which may or may not have ended in a chugging mango salsa vodka disaster and we could barely open our eyes let alone walk…..

But, hey, Paris was waiting.

So Jesus took the wheel (as he did many times throughout the trip) and got us going in the morning on Sunday. Everything was going smoothly for about 5 seconds. Then Lizz, my dedicated directions-reader, had to read the first street name to turn on. Ruysdaelkade. You can imagine how this came out of her mouth. Now that I can read/speak Dutch, hearing my poor friend try to sound it out was hilarious. And also so confusing for me. By the time we figured out what street it was, we were already ‘lost.’ As in, not at all following the directions. Since I never drive in Amsterdam, I have no idea where snelwegs (highways) are and how to get on them. So! After about 45 minutes of torturous hell fun & laughs, we got out of Amsterdam and on the road to Paris!! Fast forward 5 hours and 1 stop at McDonald’s later, we were ‘in’ Paris. And got lost in about 10 seconds. After trying to figure it out on our own for about 45 minutes, we gave up, called our host, had her meet us at a metro, and guide us to the apartment. We stayed in a nice flat in Pere Lachaise (20e). While the flat was nice, the area was not so hot. All homes and no patisseries or shops makes a Parisian hood a dull one. Since we still had a bit of daylight, we checked out Notre Dame and the Louvre, and then we went to that magical place as soon as dark set in.

Hey, I know you!

That’s right, the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned in my other post about Paris, first timers just have to see the grand Eiffel Tower on their first day… preferably their first night when she really shines! I think it really helps get everyone in the mood. A Parisian mood. S&L loved it, right then they realized they were really in Paris! Of course, getting there included someone running through red lights, breaking her purse strap and nearly getting hit by a car, but it was worth it. Right? (Jesus took the wheel there.)

Day 2. Completely revitalized from a sober decent night of sleep. Time to hit the Louvre! We metro’ed over to it after some croissants and lines were surprisingly light for a Monday (it’s closed on Tuesday so I’d expect Monday to be super busy). Checked out the heavy hitters: Mona (always underwhelms, btw), Venus, and some others. I’m always struck by the Greek god/goddess statues, I dono why. After we Louvre’d, we lunched in Jardin du Luxembourg. This was my favorite part of the trip! Munching on cheese, baguettes & sandwiches, sipping white wine in the sun… it was the perfect afternoon!

Cheers to Paris!

After our lunch, we headed over to Les Invalides to see a must do on Stacy’s list – The War Museum or Musée de l’Armée. We wandered around Napoleon’s tomb for a minute, confused about were the museum entrance was and by the time we found it – they wouldn’t let us in! I guess we only had 10 minutes before closing and needed “at least” two hours. C’est la vie. 

So, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to one of my favorite hoods – Monmartre. Here we are having wine in Painter’s Square:

American girls in Paris

Eventually headed over to a place we had read about for dinner to find out it was closed! Again, c’est la vie. We ended up at this other cute place nearby where we had onion soup and foie gras. Oops.

The next morning, we went back to the War Museum. A few things: It is massive. Way bigger than I expected. We only walked through WWI and WWII and it took over two hours. There are a bunch of other war stories in there as well! I was really impressed, they have so much memorabilia and information- It was a lot to take in. Highly recommend! After a speedy lunch of crepes and vin, we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Since we were already on the Champs Élysées, we hoofed it to the top of the Arc du Triomphe for some amazing views at sunset!

Arc du Triomphe

It was my first time up there and I’d say it’s the best view of Paris. Better than Notre Dame, Eiffel or Sacre Coeur, but that’s just me. Had dinner that night in the Latin Quarter, which is on par with the Istanbul/Barcelona/Marrakech chaotic dining street scene. Hosts harrassing you to choose their place, etc. Great for people watching (even the crazies that troll around). Decent enough food (although I was disappointed in the onion soup). But most importantly, wonderful conversation with my girls. Le sigh!

Next morning we bid adieu to Paris, hopped back in the car and got to the Champagne region (without incident). Epernay first. What a cute little town! Of course we enjoyed some a dis:

Champagne in Champagne

At a cute restaurant with al fresco seating. After strolling through town for a bit, we realized it was sort of… deserted. Not in a spooky way, just in a quiet, mysterious way. We ended up driving over to the big houses (Moet & Chandon, Perrier Jouet, etc) and it was just so quiet. So we humbly entered the tourist office and asked where small houses were that we could check out. He pointed us toward Rheims (where we were headed anyway) and off we went through magical fields of yellow flowers, and of course, rolling hills of grapevines.

Along the way, we passed through many small villages and, while beautiful and charming, none seemed to be catering to tourists at that time. Maybe we miscalculated our timing (I did forget my guidebook after all), but it was weird. We stopped in Mailly for a tasting, but it was a ghost town so we chugged our bubbles and split. And by split, I mean left. Not the mini bottle. 😉 Once in Rheims, we walked the streets and went into the shops. It’s an ordinary French city with shopping, dining, etc. Had a nice dinner on a pretty square with a fountain then it was time to make the long trek home. Luckily, we did NOT get lost and all got home in one piece. Even the car. Phew!

We hit France like a tornado. Not the kind that drop houses on witches, more the kind that is in your bathtub as the water drains out. We floated around the whole city in a constant whirlwind and just like that, we were gone. And now my friends are gone too! Up and back to Chicago …why I oughta. Was hoping they’d stay. ❤


Turkishly Delighted

Sorry for the long delay, folks! Been busy hosting and planning more trips, which I’m excited to share with you in upcoming posts!

A few weeks ago (can’t believe how fast time is flying), Jaro and I enjoyed a nice long weekend in Istanbul. Coming off the backend of our multi-week family trip in Ukraine (more on that here and here), it was the perfect retreat for us to reconnect. We arrived in the evening on a Thursday, and were relieved to immediately remove our jackets. Finally, some less depressing warm weather! We were met by our gracious host (from our Housetrip booking) at the bus stop, who led us to our cute apartment in the Beyoglu neighborhood, near Galata Tower. In fact, we had a view of it from our terrace, see:

A sliver of Galata Tower

So pretty! After wandering the streets of our temporary ‘hood for a while, we landed on dinner at our host’s suggestion, Güney Restaurant, near Galata. Um, have you ever had Turkish ravioli? Or pitta with herbs and cheese? I hadn’t either before this trip and had NO idea what I was missing. Now I wish it could be in my life every single day. With a side of yogurt dip. Let’s just say, this was my face after trying it:

The look of satisfaction

Friday, we got after it. Checked out all the major sites in Old City – Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque. Paid for entry into each attraction, so worth it.

Jaro inside Hagia Sophia

Me inside the Blue Mosque

But here’s a freebie – The tulip gardens in the area around the Palace were absolutely incredible! They were all perfectly in bloom and just gorgeous. Did you know that tulips originated from Turkey before they were exported to the Netherlands? Fun fact for ya. Anyway, I’ll add some more scenic pics separately after the post. I was blown away by the magnitude of these structures. Truly awe-inspiring. Throw in plenty of sunshine, friendly people, good food and you have yourself a day. That night we headed back to Galata Tower, climbed it, dominated it, and felt that earned us beers and a gluttonous dinner on Nevizade, one of the craziest restaurant streets I have ever seen. It’s a hectic, chaotic combination of the food carts in Marrakech, with the repetitiveness of Barcelona and the harassment of Brussels. It was insane. But awesome. We found a great place (read: a great host that didn’t try to harass me) and enjoyed dinner on the sidewalk.

Saturday was “let’s be adults and make a big purchase while we are here” day. We always get things for our home when we travel so we have decor from all over the place, but this was a big deal. We shoved our bodies through the sardine-can-like Grand Bazaar and bought a carpet rug. That’s right, a Turkish… rug. Doesn’t have quite the same ring as Turkish carpet, but it’ll do. The difference between the two is that carpets are knotted and rugs are woven. And while also cheaper, I honestly preferred the rug anyway because I felt it was more youthful and modern. All the carpets looked like they were for old people too traditional for my taste. We ended up with this great piece that we both love and it is getting trampled laying nicely in our office area. I still don’t like the process of haggling with these salesmen though. I always end up feeling guilt-tripped into buying something and that our offer is humiliating to them. I’d like to know how many mid-twenty-somethings walk in there and plunk down hundreds of Euro for a carpet rug. I’ll guess NOT MANY, so back off while we consider if this investment is worthwhile!!! He was even a little … mean about it. I felt Istanbullied! Oh God, okay, I’m done. I just can’t get enough of the bad puns, what can I say.

Anyway, spent that evening taking a sunset cruise up the Bosporus. So lovely! Sunset is the best lighting for landscape photography. I was going nuts. Afterward, we had our small world encounter. I met up with my bestie’s roommate from college who was also traveling through the city that same weekend! The powers of facebook and social media, scary sometimes when they allow these chance rendezvous to happen. SO wonderful to see a familiar, beautiful face. We ended up hanging out in Beyoglu, on Istiklal for a bit and then back over to Nevizade and rounded out the night at Galata Tower again, where we sat on newspapers and talked, drank beers and listened to music until 2am. So fun.

Sunday, Jaro and I headed over to the Asian side of the city by ferry. After experiencing a fancy spa-like hamam in Morocco, I was bound and determined to try an authentic Turkish bath. We heard from friends that the ones on the Asian side were the real deal, less geared toward the tourist. Sign me up! We ended up at hamam Aziziye. Don’t be fooled by the English text. NO ONE in that place spoke English. And I was the most comfortable with being uncomfortable that I’ve ever been. First of all, Jaro and I went in the separate male/female entrances (a guess based on a man walking out of one of them), this was no ‘couples retreat’. Once I was inside, it looked like a locker room, complete with half naked Turkish women whispering over tea. They were all incredibly gracious to me, I felt like they were just happy to see someone new in there trying it out! Those situations can be intimidating, but this one definitely wasn’t. I just made sure to keep smiling. Once I was undressed (sorry if this is TMI), one of the women led me through a door that opened into a magnificent sauna bathhouse. I was in! Beautiful marble floors and benches, along with tiled walls and domed ceilings greeted me! What a space! I couldn’t believe it based on the outside of the building, which just looks like any storefront. I stood there just staring and the woman waited patiently while I marveled. She then demonstrated the “bathhouse” process of sitting and pouring bowls of water on yourself. Seriously, not too shabby. Then she left me in there to enjoy and relax. Unbelievably, I was the only person in the place. I soaked it up, quite literally. I slowly realized I didn’t request the scrub down or massage I had seen on the website. So I padded over to the door, opened it, had 24 eyes staring back at me and I made a scrubbing motion on my arm to explain I wanted that done. With a flick of the wrist, a woman told me to go back inside. Like a chastised child, I obliged.

A few minutes later (or 15..), a women came in and instructed for me to lay on the marble slab in the center of the room. I obeyed, laid face down, and proceeded to get scrubbed. And when I say scrubbed, I mean, scrubbed. Seeing all the dead skin rolling up on my arm was strangely satisfying. A swift slap to my butt and I knew I was supposed to roll over. That process was followed with a healthy splashing of cold water (so invigorating!) and a quick, rough massage with the best smelling eucalyptus oil I have ever sniffed. And a shampoo! I was really, really, really clean. Squeaky clean. But also soft from all that oil.

After a little more lounging, I guessed it had been an hour and headed out to meet Jaro. He had the same silly grin as I did as we approached each other. So, did I sell you on it? If not, let’s talk again. It was that awesome. Best 20 Euro I ever spent. That’s right, that hour of bliss was 20 Euro. I guess it’s not for everyone, you have to be totally comfortable wearing your birthday suit in front of others, and I suppose some germaphobes could worry about hygiene. …Over it! Here we are having lunch afterwards, smiling like goofs:

J+J and a Goblin

After some shopping (Turkish bathrobes!) and strolling, we headed back to European side. That night, we not-embarrassingly-at-all went back to Guney. Listen, you guys, I NEVER repeat a restaurant when I travel. It was just that good and super close to our apartment.

And that was that. We headed out on Monday morning back to Kiev. I surprised myself with how much I loved visiting this city. Beautiful scenery, great food, (mostly) friendly city, interesting history…. the list goes on. Istanbul’s got it all. It’s this crazy juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, happy and sad, bullies and friends. But that all makes the world go round, right? I can’t wait to go back. I leave you with this:

Turkish ravioli