Three Dutch Cities, Three Faces of the Netherlands

During our month in the Hague, we took a few side day trips to other Dutch cities: Groningen, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

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The Netherlands is a small country. Slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey. So, to us, taking a day to visit each of these places was a no-brainer. Rotterdam is a 20 minute train ride from den Haag Centraal. Amsterdam, 45 minutes. Groningen, the farthest of the three, gave us three hours of quiet time on the train to get work done.

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People seemed a little shocked that we rode a train for the interminable length of three hours to visit a city for 24 hours, but I’ve driven 4 hours each way to and from Jacksonville in one day just to hang out with people. And there’s no wifi in a car. The train ride was lovely.

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Bruges in Pictures

(Fair warning: the videos in this post have a lot of cursing in them.)

Someone recently told us that they thought Bruges was beautiful but like a museum. We didn’t really know what they meant and had no preconceived notions about the town. (Well, not many, at least. All I ever think of when I hear “Bruges” is Colin Farrel’s thick Irish accent saying, “Bruges is a sh*thole” and Voldemort saying, “It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f***ing thing?”

 (Sorry for the NSFW language but this movie is pretty funny and all the best quotes have many F-bombs.)

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Paris avec mon amour

A lot of people don’t like Paris. Whether it’s bad experiences with rude French people or confusion on the metro or witnessing homeless guys peeing on the side of a building, plenty of dirty or frustrating experiences can ruin a trip to the City of Lights.

I’ve had my fair share of hair-pulling moments, dealing with French bureaucracy or trying to get myself understood (or ruining a family trip), but for the most part Paris and I have always gotten along. I love everything about it from the old cobblestone streets and 19th century architecture to the tiny cafés and numerous crêpe stands. I love speaking in French, even when I stumble, and walking along the Seine on a sunny day. I love cheap, delicious French wine, and eating croissants every morning. I love the layout of the city, how easy it is to find your way from one arrondissement to the next, and getting purposely lost in the winding side streets. Continue reading

Barcelona in Pictures

We had the opportunity to spend 8 wonderful days in this city. We’ve seen so much, met lots of friendly people, and have blisters on our feet from walking so much. I wish we could have visited during a less busy time of year (seriously, so many people, it became claustrophobic), but overall it was a positive experience. It’s hard to sum up our experience or even choose our favorite bits. So I thought I’d share some of the most memorable moments through photos.

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Barcelona: First Impressions

We arrived on Wednesday, Aug 10. It’s been a fun, but not over-taxing, four days. We’ve seen some and still have some of the big sites to see (up next: la Sagrada Familia and Park Güell) but have walked nearly 29 miles and feel like we’ve seen a lot of the city. We’ve hung out in our quarter (el Gótico, el Raval, la Barceloneta, la vila de Gràcia). We have four more days, and lots more to see, but I wanted to go over our first few impressions of Barcelona. Continue reading

Gone for So Long

I’ve been trying to write this post for over a week. I’ve started and deleted half a dozen variations on it, but haven’t been able to narrow down to a central theme. I had wanted to post something last week, but here we are, two days out from departing, and I still can’t figure out what to write.

So let’s just go with the thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for the last week and see what happens.

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Six Reasons to Spend Six Weeks Abroad

In America, it’s uncommon to hear of people taking really long vacations or trips lasting more than two weeks because most companies in the US don’t offer much paid time off or allow people to work remotely. In Europe, things are a little different. Spain and Germany give their workers 34 days of paid vacation, Italy and France give 31, but in America only 25% of workers are guaranteed any paid time off. Add in the fact that many companies are still scared to let employees work remotely, and you probably don’t hear, “Guess what? We’ll be gone for six weeks!” very often or at all.

Justin and I feel so fortunate to be able to say those exact words. “We’ll be gone for six weeks!”

In less than a month, we will be embarking on our Euro Adventure 2016: six weeks, five (planned) countries, four booked AirBNBs, three train rides, two carry-on bags, and one month-long home exchange with a lovely Dutch couple. What the heck are we thinking?! Continue reading

Bad Schwartau

In elementary school, I used to tell people that Schwartau was the shortened version of my real last name, the Ellis Island version given to my ancestors when they immigrated to America. My real last name was Schwartauburgerhifinfiner. My friends believed me, for years. But it’s not true.

My real last name is Schwartau.

Growing up, I knew that it was

(a) German

(b) hard for people to say

(c) harder for people to spell

(d) the last name of very few people in America (according to this site, only 107 people in the US have this surname, and this site confirms)

and (e) also the name of a jam and jelly company in Europe

Every year for Christmas, my dad would order hundreds of jars of Schwartau jams, from the mini to full size, and we’d give them to everyone: teachers, neighbors, friends, the accountant, their lawyer. (Try the wildberry, so tasty!)

Never once, as a kid, did I think I’d get the opportunity to visit the town that birthed Schwartau jam and, maybe, my family: Bad Schwartau. But in 2009, my dad made that happen. Let me share with you our Bad Schwartau adventure, in pictures.

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