end of an era

It’s taken me a few days to be able to sit down and write this post. This week I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Say goodbye to my best friend of more than 16 years.

Sydney came into my life through a comedy of errors that included talking a co-worker into being a translator, a drive late at night into one of the worst neighborhoods of East LA and negotiating the sale with a 12 year old girl with special needs who only spoke English as a second language. It was under those auspicious circumstances that a handful of fur and wrinkles sporting a wet nose became my sidekick through thick and thin.

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I joke that Sydney is my longest lasting relationship, but the truth is…she was. She moved with me from one coast to another several times, living in So Cal, Cleveland, NYC, Connecticut, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Southern Utah. She knew what it meant when the moving boxes came out, and took it all in stride. She definitely saw me at my highs and my lows, but through both extremes never judged me. It was probably because her only focus in life was food, but I like to think it was unconditional love.

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Anyone who ever met Sydney has a story. Don’t get my dad started because you’ll get a recounting of the time she jumped from the back of the couch to the table to devour $80 worth of Berolina’s Bakery Christmas cookies, or he’ll go on about how she loved to eat entire bars of Ivory soap out of the shower whenever we were visiting. She earned the nickname “Sydmonster” from my then three year old niece, and for good reason.

Despite my explicit and repeated warnings never to leave anything accessible to her, anyone who ever babysat for Sydney has a story of how they didn’t think she could “jump/shimmy/unzip/unlock/decode” the “purse/bag/high school locker combo/suitcase/kitchen counter” to get into whatever they were trying to keep her away from. But she could. That list included bubble gum, entire loaves of bread, Subway sandwiches, Axe Body Spray, Ambien and many other items that if consumed should have killed her. But they didn’t. The dog had a stomach of steel. And more than nine lives. She was also a connoseuir of cheap beer. She only liked Bud Light, and if you put anything else in her bowl (especially Coors), she would snub it. Clearly she was my dog.

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In the end, I joked that Sydney was my little Evita. Her mind and spirit were as strong as the day she came into my life. She liked nothing better than to carry around a ball or a chew toy and have you try to get it from her. She jockeyed for position with the other two girls to always be in the thick of things, even as they knocked her down and ran over her. Her little body just couldn’t keep going, and it was finally time to say goodbye. After an afternoon cheeseburger and fries from In-N-Out, she left this world in what I believe was her ideal state…fat and happy.

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I said goodbye to my best friend this week. Five months shy of her 17th birthday. It’s a struggle to imagine life without her, and I have a hard time remembering life before her. She’s been a constant to me, and the emptiness in the house is glaring. I know it will get better with time, but I also know there will always be an empty spot where I expect her to be snoring away while she waits for her next meal…or opportunity to steal a meal.

Thanks, Syd, for all the memories and good times. I love you more than my luggage, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.

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not in this century…

Ok, so it wasn’t actually a Century this year. Our weekend up north to ride in the annual Bike MS charity ride for the Utah/Idaho chapter of the MS Society turned into a bit more pre-partying than expected, and it definitely had an impact on my ride.

We normally don’t participate in the ride every year. I prefer to ride every-other year so that I’m not harassing my friends, family and colleagues every year for donations. Since I earned a spot in the 150 Club last year, I decided we’d do the ride this year and planned on just self-donating the minimum so that I didn’t have to bug anyone. I ended up sending a single fundraising email to my network and pulling in nearly $1000 in a couple days, so thank you thank you thank you to all my generous friends for the support.

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Col and I talked Lisa and Jer into doing the ride this year by convincing them the 45 mile leg would be a piece of cake. Col set out intending to do the 75 mile leg, and I decided to just play it by ear. In a flashback to my first year of the ride, I ended up with a bad dental problem in the days before the event, so I needed to see how it would play out once I was on the bike.

We loaded up the Jeep with our gear and bikes on Friday and headed up to Salt Lake City. Hotels in Logan were sold out, so we planned to stay in SLC and just drive up early for the ride on Saturday morning and then spend the night back in SLC again for some post-ride partying. The plan for Friday night was a low key dinner and an early bedtime since we had to be up at 4AM to head up to Logan. Yeah…right.

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Lisa and Jer had never been to Lucky 13, so we took Trax down to the stadium and set out to enjoy some amazing burgers and “just one” beer. Lisa had been on a fast of sorts for the previous month, so she was enjoying her first beer in nearly 30 days. Well, as usual with the Good Times Gang, one led to four, and we left Lucky 13 not for the hotel, but for a bar. We ended up at The Beerhive until about midnight, which meant Trax wasn’t running (seriously, SLC get a clue!). We decided to get a jump on our bike ride and rented Green Bikes to get back to the hotel. Probably not the brightest idea, but it sure was hysterical.

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With only 3 hours of sleep, we made the trek up to Logan, arriving a little late due to my incorrect start time and a little detour I accidentally took us on.  We set out to do the 45 mile ride, but when we got to the turnaround it was still pretty early and we all felt good, so Lisa, Jer and I decided to join Col on the 75 mile ride. It was nice enough, but my mouth was really hurting which made for slow going, and I was holding the rest of the group back. Lisa had a run in with a dog (an actual run in), which was a pretty funny war story. We made the lunch stop a nice long break and eventually got back into the fair grounds around 4PM.

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Cheryl and Jeanne flew up on Saturday to have a fun SLC night with us. We made it back to the hotel dirty, tired and sunburned, but they had cold beer waiting for us. We cleaned up and then went to dinner at another of my favorites, Rusted Sun Pizzeria. From there we tried out Ty Burrell’s new Beer Bar downtown. It is a really cool concept, but was so loud it made any conversation nearly impossible. We enjoyed a couple of the beer choices, then headed back to the hotel to relax.

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Sunday morning we met Col’s parents and Amanda for brunch at Squatters, and then headed out. It was a liver busting weekend for sure, but it was fun to do the ride again. It’s an amazingly well supported event, and accounts for nearly all the funding the chapter receives for the year. Our little group raised nearly $2k among us, so we felt pretty good about our contribution. Thanks again to everyone who donated, and if anyone else is still inclined, my fundraising page is open until 31 July!

i’m in it for the commercials

We missed our normal New Year’s party at Happy Fish this year. With the holiday falling mid-week, resetting PTO banks and just all around difficulties coordinating, we did NYE in town and avoided the hassle. Since our last group outing to the cabin was back in July, we thought celebrating Super Bowl Sunday at Happy Fish sounded like a great plan.

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We made plans for everyone to arrive either Friday or Saturday and head home Sunday or Monday. Lisa, Jeanne, Jer, Cheryl and Rob all made it to the cabin Friday, while Col and I drove up from SGU Saturday after he got off work. We also invited Hayley and Lance for their first Happy Fish trip, and they drove down from SLC on Saturday.

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There was a pretty good amount of snow on the ground when we arrived, and the temperatures were pretty frigid. The lake didn’t look to be completely frozen yet, which was surprising given how cold our winter has been. Lisa said she can’t remember another time it wasn’t frozen all the way out. Even with the snow, everyone was able to get their cars all the way in, so no snow shoeing and hauling supplies was necessary. It snowed a couple times over the weekend, and some of us were hoping we’d get snowed in and not be able to leave Monday. But, there was no such luck.

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We enjoyed a fun Saturday night drinking, playing games and having fun (for some of us a little too much fun). On Sunday we spent the morning decorating for the game and getting all our food ready. We probably overdid it with our menu planning, but we enjoyed all the traditional game day snacks and delicacies…queso dip (2 kinds!), cocktail weenies and meatballs. I also made a big pot of chicken cilantro soup that came out really good.

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For once we actually had fans on both sides of the game. So, the rivalry and trash talk promised to be good. That was, until there simply wasn’t a game. It became clear very early on that it would have just been mean to trash talk Denver, so we mostly all just enjoyed the commercials and hoped Cheryl didn’t go on a rampage on us. We lucked out and nobody was injured.

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This was Kendall’s first Happy Fish trip, and she had a blast. We had been wondering what she would do unleashed in deep snow, and she cracked us up hopping through it. She didn’t seem to like the really deep stuff and would get nervous if she got too far into it. She loved playing around the cabin and hanging out on the deck, even though it was cold out. I think she’ll really enjoy our summer trips up when she can run loose in the meadow. It was quite the dog weekend with four pups in the cabin always underfoot…especially when there was activity in the kitchen.

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We spent Monday morning playing darts and hanging out before starting the inevitable (and always hated) process of cleaning and packing to go home. Luckily the weather was pretty nice for the drive home, so we didn’t have to worry about bad road conditions.

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It was fun to have a new reason to party at Happy Fish. As usual, it’s a special place for us all, and good times reigned supreme.

 

bee boppin

It all started with Lisa and Jeanne. They showed up one night at ‘Bout Time with a new Jeep Wrangler.

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Anyone who knows me knows that the Wolfe genes run strong and deep inside me. One of those genes is passed directly to me from my father and his father, and that gene is the “new car gene.” My grandparents lived in Arizona for most of my life, and I remember every time they came to visit my grandfather had a different car. The joke that was as soon as the new car smell was gone, so was the car. If he had been a smoker, it was likely he would have gotten a new car anytime the ashtray filled up. So, shortly after New Year’s I headed to the dealership and before I knew it I had traded in my trusty little Escape for a new Jeep Wrangler.

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The specific Wrangler I picked out had some pretty nice wheels and tires on it, but after going back and forth with the dealer for the ridiculous amount of money they wanted for the package, I told them just to put the stock wheels back on. Little did I know how dramatic the difference would be, and when I returned to pick up the Wrangler I was sure it was not the same one. This meant the top priority was to get new wheels and tires, and about a week later the Jeep was looking good again.

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We wasted no time taking it out with Lisa, Jeanne and Jer for some dirt road fun. The first outing was to the Joshua Tree Scenic Byway that starts very close to our house. The roads aren’t super intense, but they are bumpy, dirty and fun, and the scenery is pretty awesome. We took Kendall on the first trip, and she had a blast during our many “water” breaks.

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We took a detour out to the Bloomington Cave entrance. The entrance is blocked by a locked gate, and you have to visit the BLM office to get the code. But, after seeing the map and the entrance, I’m intrigued. Against my better judgement and my claustrophobia, I really want to make a go of the cave.

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About a week later, MPK and Roger were in town, so we took them on the same outing. MPK is in love with joshua trees, so it was a great afternoon for him. The fact we could top it off in Mesquite for some Bingo and slots was just the icing on the cake. And, Roger was a Bingo winner, so it was well worth the trip!

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IMG_1230A couple weekends later, we decided to bee bop with the girls and Jer again. We hit a backroad that winds through the Red Cliffs Preserve. The road is about 20 miles from St. George to Leeds, and sections of it were quite muddy and rough.

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There was still some snow on parts of the road. Along the way we ended up at an amazing canyon that we didn’t even know existed. The views of the steep rocks were spectacular, and we spent about an hour testing the echo while we enjoyed our “water.”

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So far, the Wrangler has been awesome. I have wanted a four door model for years, and have always missed my 2000 two door model that I owned for a few years. I’m excited about many more years of bee boppin adventures! There really is nothing like a Jeep.

 

 

 

 

brrrrr….

It doesn’t snow often in Southern Utah, and when it does it’s usually a dusting. On Saturday we got nailed with an arctic storm that dumped a lot of white fluffy flakes. It pretty much shut down the city since there are no snow plows or salt trucks to keep the roads clear. It caused a lot of hassles, but on Sunday the day was sunny and clear, and the snow was really amazing!

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HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/

 

beer fools

We departed Amsterdam for a long day of travel to Belgium. Our cheap tickets required two changes, so three trains to get to Bruges. The first train was a short 20 minute hop to a random station where we changed to a train to Antwerp. We arrived in Antwerp with only 12 minutes to make our connection. Antwerp station was one of the biggest train stations I’ve seen. We arrived on the lowest level and could see four levels more above us of trains coming and going. Of course, our next train was on the top level, so we had to pretty much run in order to catch it.

IMG_5387We arrived in Bruges in the afternoon, and Jeanne made contact with the agency to meet at our apartment. Fortunately this one had not been double booked and it was a short taxi ride from the station. We arrived and met the agent who made quite a show of having us enter the apartment. I understood why once we opened the sliding doors from the main entrance into the living space. This apartment was amazing. A modern, updated kitchen complete with automatic coffee/espresso/latte machine and an electronic juicer led into a large living and dining area. A high end massage chair looked to a large flat screen TV. The chair was pretty much fought over the entire trip.

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Beyond the living space, sliding doors opened to a small, but nice backyard. At the back of the yard, more glass doors opened into a room with a large sunken hot tub and a brand new steam or infrared sauna. Yes…this place was relaxation central!

Three bedrooms on the two additional levels upstairs meant no dorm style bunking. Col and I found our room to be small, but comfortable with a weird shower and sink tucked into the corner of the room. The house was wired for a sound system throughout; all we had to do was plug in our music and we were good to go. We set out right away for a short five minute walk into the main part of the town to find some dinner. Lisa and Jeanne had been to Bruges before, so they knew the lay of the land. We found a small Italian bistro and ate outside as the town picked up for evening activities.

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We’d known since arriving in Europe that the weather would take a turn on our second day in Belgium, so we decided on a trip to the coast for the first full day. We walked to the train station and boarded the train for a 30 minute ride to Oostende. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but figured it was worth the time to at least go see the North Sea. We arrived in Oostende to some blustery weather, but decided to make the best of it and walked down to the shoreline/boardwalk area. There really wasn’t much to see, as this are is pretty industrial. We had some fun with a large, random sculpture exhibit and then Lisa, Jer, and I decided we at least needed to get our feet wet. We kicked off our shoes and socks and made our way down to the water, which wasn’t as cold as we expected. And, now we can at least say we’ve dunked our toes in the North Sea. We wandered the city a bit and stopped for lunch to warm up before heading back to Bruges for a homemade dinner at the apartment.

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The next day greeted us with cold temperatures, wind and rain, so we stuck with our original plan to park ourselves in pubs or other indoor activities. We visited the national french fry museum (yes, Belgium claims credit for this tasty treat!) and a chocolate museum before finding a pub Lisa and Jeanne remembered with more than 400 beers available.

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In Belgium, whenever you order a beer it’s served in a glass designed specifically for that beer (think Stella and their “chalice”). If the glass specific to the ordered beer is not available, the server will come and offer you the option of drinking from a non-branded glass or order another beer. More often than not, Belgians will choose a different beer rather than drink from the wrong glass. In many of the tourist shops you can purchase a bottle of beer along with the designated glass as a box set. We hung out and enjoyed several progressively stronger beers while we waited for the weather to clear. Once the rain stopped, Jer, Lisa, Jeanne, col and I climbed to the top of the belfry in the center of Bruges. The weather hampered the views a bit, but it was still pretty spectacular to look at everything from the top of the 366 step climb! After the tower, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood where we supposedly viewed dried blood from Jesus Christ. We headed back to the apartment for another dinner in and evening in the hot tub!

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Our last full day in Bruges was another dreary weather day. We decided to brave the weather and rented bikes for the relatively short ride from Bruges to Damme. The ride is really nice and mostly along a canal on a dedicated bike path, but getting to the start of the path can be a bit tricky with all the cars and traffic in Bruges. We also had to wait about 30 minutes for two large barges to cross under the drawbridge that blocked our way. The ride was very chilly, but we still had a good time. It was clearly off season in Damme and combined with the weather pretty much everything was closed. We wandered a bit before finding what seemed like the only open cafe for lunch before heading back to Bruges.

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Back in Bruges the weather continued to make things difficult. Walking the narrow sidewalks with all the tourists and their umbrellas got to be a bit annoying…and dangerous! We made our way to the brewery that still operates in Bruges for a tour and tasting. The tour guide assigned to our time was really funny and did a great job of sharing the history of beer in Belgium. At the end of the tour we hung out and sampled some of the brews while we waited for Cheryl who was off shopping for a new handmade wedding band.

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We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to the famous Chocolate Line chocolate shop. With some very interesting flavors (chocolate with bacon and a stencil of Miss Piggy on it), the shop was a lot of fun. We took a sample box back to the apartment to share while we had our third consecutive home cooked dinner. One more night of hot tubbing and the massage chair and it was time to get ready to head back to the U.S.

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The agent from the rental company was nice enough to come to the apartment early in the morning to perform our checkout and make two trips to the train station so we didn’t need to call a taxi. We caught an early morning train to Brussels for our flights home. The heavy loads meant no business class for Col or me. The rest of the gang flew Delta to JFK while Col and I hitched a ride on United to Washington D.C. The Economy Plus seats were nice enough, and the flight attendant in our cabin took a shine to us. She provided several free beers and cocktails to us making for a pleasant ride.

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We landed in DC and cleared immigration and customs rather quickly. Initially, I was going to give my Global Entry pass a try, but ended up waiting with Col in the line for immigration since it wasn’t too long. We were listed for a flight to Las Vegas later in the afternoon, but after some checking, I found we could fly to Houston and then Vegas and be home about two hours earlier than the non-stop flight. We quickly changed our listing and headed to Houston for a tight connection to Vegas. We were rewarded with first class seats for the last leg, which meant we could get a couple hours sleep before our long drive home. 28 hours after we left our apartment in Bruges, we walked through the door at home to a couple very happy doggies.

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This is one of my favorite trips. We had such a great time seeing new places and spending quality time with our friends. An added bonus to me were the new transportation experiences making our way to and around Europe. I can’t wait until our next adventure!

The full photoset from this trip is available here.

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After executing our backup to the backup plan and making it safely to Holland via planes, trains and automobiles, with a ferry added for good measure, it was time to meet up with the rest of the gang in Amsterdam. It was finally time to start our actual vacation!

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I didn’t activate any international calling on my phone for this trip, so we made contact via iMessage with everyone else when they were in Boston boarding their flights for Amsterdam. We agreed to meet in front of the main ticket area at the Amsterdam Central Station at a particular time. So, Col and I left the boat behind and hopped on a train headed toward Amsterdam. We had to transfer to get on the line into Amsterdam, but we weren’t sure of the correct city to do so. We followed some others who we knew were going to Amsterdam and it turns out the train we ended up on made a stop at the airport station. As we pulled in, I commented to Col how funny it would be if we saw the rest of our travel group among the hundreds of passengers waiting to board. Right after I said that I looked out the window and saw Jer and Jeanne standing on the platform! I jumped up and ran down to call out to them, and for a second Jer’s face didn’t register recognition since he wasn’t expecting to see me in that place and time. We had a good laugh and enjoyed our good timing.

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With the whole group reunited, we made our way into Amsterdam. Our apartment would not be available for check-in until late afternoon, so we stored our bags at the train station and set out for a day of sight seeing. First stop was a cafe to enjoy our first beer in Amsterdam! We found a nice spot on Dam Square and paid typically inflated tourist prices for a round of drinks while we made a plan for the day. The weather was beautiful, so we decided to do a canal tour to get a nice overview of the city. We found the boats at the dock and chose a smaller, slightly more expensive tour to get a bit more personal experience. We enjoyed a couple more beers while we waited for our tour time, then boarded the boat of about 20 passengers for the tour.

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Of course the weather turned colder as soon as we were on the canal in our open boat, but fortunately it didn’t rain during the tour. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and we saw quite a bit of the city, enjoying the colorful commentary from our guide. I think this was a great way to get introduced to the city. After the cruise, Jeanne attempted to make contact with the owner of our apartment with no luck. We killed some time grabbing a bite to eat and retrieving our bags, but she still couldn’t get anyone to answer the phone, email or text messages. She called the agency we booked through and after some back and forth we found out the owner had double booked the apartment and it was no longer available to us, even though we had a reservation and had paid a deposit months in advance. Jeanne and I both had some heated words with the rep from the agency, and eventually they found us an alternative that was supposedly nicer than our original booking for the same price. We’ll never know if that was true since we never actually saw the original apartment. But, we weren’t homeless, which was the important thing!

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We dragged our bags the two miles or so to the apartment and got settled. The apartment was nice, and it was in a great location. It also came with an additional guest…a mouse who made appearances in the living room over the next couple days. Once we dropped our bags, we headed to a nearby grocery store to pick up items for breakfast and, of course, beer! A 24-pack of Heineken was on sale for about 6 Euro. Amsterdam rocks!! We ordered pizza in that night since everyone was exhausted from travel and time changes, and we planned an early start the next day for sight seeing, eating, drinking and shopping.

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Over the next two days we explored Amsterdam, including a visit to the Heineken brewery. It was a typically tourist experience, but we had fun with the gimmicks and even got “certified” in the proper Heineken pour! Now we have another certificate to add to our bar wall at home.

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We visited the Rijksmuseum for some culture, which was not my favorite part of the trip. It’s not that I don’t appreciate art or the experience of seeing it. I just don’t appreciate the hundreds (thousands?!) of other people pressed up against me while I do. It’s no secret I can’t handle crowds, so I pretty much breezed through the museum, sticking to the more open areas.

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Our most somber day included a visit to the Anne Frank House and Museum. I’d read the book version of the diary and seen several movie adaptations, but nothing really prepares you to actually see the place involved. Someone can describe the conditions and how small the space is to you a million times, but until you stand in it you really have no concept of what it meant to have so many people hiding in such a small place. And, for such a long time. Other than that, trying to put it into words seems so…insignificant.

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I know I shouldn’t have been surprised about the bikes in Amsterdam, but I was. It’s well known the Dutch enjoy their bikes and that they are a key mode of transportation, but it’s still somewhat overwhelming to see for the first time. Bikes are everywhere, and it takes some getting used to in terms of building an awareness for them as you’re walking around the city. Several times I glanced to see no cars and proceeded to cross a street only to disrupt and anger several bikers. It seems the pecking order in Amsterdam is bikes > pedestrians > cars.

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We enjoyed a nice variety of food in the city, and while it was all decent, nothing really struck me as exceptional. Prices varied, and we went from meals spending very little to meals that could easily break the bank. What struck me is the expensive meals were really no better than the cheap meals. None of us are particularly food adventurous, so we stuck to pretty basic fair, which was easy in a city this size. We did enjoy a nice Indian meal on our last evening, and it was probably the best meal we had during our stay in Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam, despite all the bikes, is a very pedestrian friendly city. We walked everywhere and never took any transportation during our stay. From our apartment we were able to easily walk to Dam Square, as well as the flower market and many other tourist spots. Since we had several days in the city, there wasn’t a need to rush from activity to activity, so we were able to really enjoy and explore at a nice pace. We took advantage of that and sampled all the fun Amsterdam had to offer.

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On our last day, we cleaned up the apartment to reclaim our deposit and headed to the Central Station to make our way to Belgium. The station ticket employees were not particularly helpful, and there are many options for traveling by train to Bruges. We ended up on a cheaper ticket, but with two connections, which meant a long day of travel ahead. But, weary travelers that we were, we still had several days of holiday and the beers of Belgium were beckoning us forward for the next stage of our adventure!

More photos from this trip can be found here.