Jan 24, 2011

New Years in Brussels and Bruges

When we returned to Frankfurt after spending Christmas in Michigan, Brian and I had our own little Christmas at home. Even though we weren't home much for the month of December, Brian was so sweet to help me decorate our tree and apartment since he knows how much I love Christmas decorations :)

Brian's big gift this year - his Citiz Nespresso coffee maker. He loves it!

For New Years weekend, we went to Brussels and Bruges. I'll preface this post with the fact that I got food poisoning or some sort of stomach virus on New Years Day, so my memories of this trip are kind of jaded :) But the cities were beautiful and we really had a good time when I wasn't sick...so here we go!

On Thursday, December 30, we left work a little early and drove to Brussels, Belgium. We were excited to go on a road trip after having spent so much time on planes! We arrived in Brussels around dinner time, so we dropped our bags in our hotel and headed downtown to get some food! When we came out of the metro station, we found the gorgeous Brussels cathedral.

Side view

Downtown Brussels was pretty nice - cute shops and fun alleyways with lots of restaurants. We were completely focused on finding something to eat!

We picked a restaurant off the "main tourist strip" because those restaurants looked quite sketchy and the Turkish and Italian guys trying to get you to eat at their restaurant were just a little too much.
Guy with non-Belgian accent, jumping out in front of us: "Come and eat at my restaurant!"
Brian: "No thanks"
Guy: "Why?"
Next guy, same description, same line

It was exhausting walking past all of those restaurants! It was like those guys could smell my hunger.

We were happy with the restaurant we chose and really enjoyed our dinner of oysters and mussels.

After dinner, we walked around the city to see what else we could find. Apparently this little statue called Manneken Pis is quite famous. It's just a 1-foot tall statue of a boy peeing! But we got our picture with the little urinating guy.

Brussels' town square, called Grand Place, was gorgeous! The buildings were ornate and beautifully lit. We took some pictures, enjoyed the view, and then headed back to our hotel. It had been a long day, and we were exhausted!

The next day was New Years Eve, and we had four goals: eat a Belgian waffle, drink Belgian beer, buy some Belgian chocolate, and try some Belgian french fries. For breakfast, we found a great waffle place - check! While walking around, we found this chocolate shop and bought some yummy treats - check!

We continued exploring and found some other fun shops. Later in the day, to meet the french fries and beer goals, we went back to the square.

The restaurant we chose was so cool. It was really narrow and four stories tall, and it felt like it was at least 100 years old. We sat on the top floor, enjoyed the view out the windows, and had some great beer and fries!

Later in the afternoon, we got in the car and headed to our next destination, Bruges. Bruges is a beautiful, quaint town. I expected it to be really low key, but I was impressed with how it incorporated a busy tempo and modern stores into it's old town feel. Brian and I spent the earlier part of New Years Eve exploring the town.

Bruges still had its Christmas market set up, which had some great food and a really cute ice skating rink. Instead of a zamboni, teenagers would skate around with ice scrapers to resurface the ice.

Gorgeous lights

A little later in the evening, Brian and I made our way to an Irish pub to warm up and have a beer before heading to the town square for the New Years Eve count down and fireworks. The pub handed out green noisemakers, hats, and masks, which we made great use of.

On our way to the town square, we stopped by our hotel to grab the champagne we had brought for the celebration.


And we headed to the square to welcome 2011 with thousands of other people. We didn't have the best view of the fireworks, but it was still an impressive show for a little town like Bruges.

On New Years Day, I wasn't feeling the best, but we went for a walk to see some other parts of the town we hadn't visited yet. Unfortunately, I didn't last too long before having to retire to the hotel room for the rest of the day. I was so bummed, because I love long walks, especially in a scenic city like Bruges! And, I really love long walks in cities where you can reward your activity with crepes covered in cookie crumbs! We have never seen that type of crepe before, and Brian seemed to really enjoy it. I sipped on my Sprite, longingly watching him consume his delicious treat. Grr...sickness. I was thankful that our hotel room was nice and had an English movie channel, though. It played a John Wayne film and then tons of episodes of CSI, which we found interesting - old school movie and then a recent, semi-popular TV show. Oh well, at least it was English and kept my mind off my fever.

On January 2, I woke up feeling better, but we thought it would be best to go ahead and call it a trip. Brian drove the entire way back to Frankfurt and let me sleep most of the time. I think we'll try to take the motorcycle back to Belgium at some point before we move back to the States so that we can experience it a little more, but we enjoyed the time we had over New Years. Happy 2011!

Jan 23, 2011

Skiing in Davos

Over MLK weekend, Brian and I met our friends Jeremy and Katie in Davos, Switzerland for a fun weekend of skiing! We left Frankfurt on Thursday after work and drove to Bregenz, which set us up for an easy drive on Friday morning to Davos. We love breaking up the drive if we can so that we can enjoy the mountainous view during the day. We arrived in Davos around 11 and checked into our hotel.

Funny story - we checked into what we thought was our hotel and went upstairs to drop off our bags, but our key didn't work. So we went back down to the desk to find out there were actually two different hotels (one four-star and one three-star), and we were apparently supposed to be on the three-star side, even though the website only showed pictures of the four-star portion. Kick in Brian's great negotiating! We honestly wouldn't have minded staying in the other side, but we do not like to be dooped. So Bri convinced the front desk to give us and our friends rooms in the four-star hotel for the three-star price!

Brian showing how FABulous the room was :) He cracks me up

I loved the fur - couldn't ever pull it off in my room, but it's nice for a ski vacation!

And the bathroom...ooooh, the bathroom was so pretty

So after negotiating, moving rooms, etc, we decided to rent our skis, buy some beer, relax on our balcony, and watch some really impressive skiers (most of whom were under the age of 15) do jumps and tricks in the half-pipe. When Jeremy and Katie were finished with their first day of skiing, we met up with them for happy hour at the base of the mountain.

Our little slice of Davos heaven

After happy hour, we went to dinner at our hotel and had fondue. It was a great first day in Switzerland!

The next four days basically consisted of the following fun: We met Jeremy and Katie for an early breakfast each morning, and then we would hit the slopes! The weather was perfect every day - sunny and warm - crazy weather for early January. And to top off the perfect ski weather, the snow was awesome! Every day, we skied non-stop until we were too hungry to keep going, and then we'd stop on the mountain for lunch with a view.

We ate at this restaurant the first day

This little place had the best grilled sausage and fries I've ever had on a mountain

Another fun lunch spot

After lunch, we'd keep skiing until our legs were ready to fall off, and we'd celebrate a successful day at happy hour.

Nothing like a hot gluhwein, whiskey coffee, or schoomly floomly (hahaha - a Swiss coffee/plum schnapps drink) on the mountain!

Then we'd clean ourselves up and dig into a delicious dinner at our hotel.

We had a great time hanging out with Jeremy and Katie - they're a really fun, sweet couple, and they're great skiers! I was definitely the slowest of the bunch, but they never complained about having to wait on me :) We hope to plan another ski trip with them soon! Here are some other pictures from the weekend:

Jan 10, 2011

Christmas in Michigan!

After Texas, we came back to Frankfurt for 3 days, and then it was time for our next trip to the USA! We were really excited to see Brian's family and to spend the week before Christmas with them in Michigan. We hadn't seen most of his family in almost 2 years, so we couldn't wait to spend some quality time with everyone!

Our flight into Midland was unfortunately a little late, but the timing ended up working out really well! Right when we came to the arrivals area of Midland airport, some of Brian's friends from church were coming into the terminal for a wedding reception. The best part was we got to see MaryBeth and Chris that night because they were attending the reception! So being late had its benefits :)

We went back to the Rentsch's house in Midland for some delicious barbecue and some fun with our niece and nephew, Alyssa and Evan. They had grown SO much since we saw them last, so we had a great time playing with them!

Brian and Evan were instant buddies

We had brought home a lot of goodies from the Frankfurt Christmas Market, so we snacked on those after dinner. Alyssa loved her chocolate Santa!

It was so nice to catch up with Janet and Stefan and to be in Bri's home. It's always so relaxing and fun!

The next morning, we drove to Elk Rapids in northern Michigan to enjoy a couple of nights at the Rentsch's condo on Elk Lake. I absolutely love going up there ANY time of year, but winter up north is really special because it reminds me of 2005 when Brian proposed. Fun memories :)

When we arrived, Brian whipped up some hot cocoa, and Janet and I decorated the Christmas tree. Her ornaments were really cool - they were mostly German and really unique!

We spent the afternoon hanging out around the house while Stefan cooked sauerbraten for us for dinner. Which reminds me, I need to get his recipe! It was so yum. That night we watched the movie Top Secret and just enjoyed each others' company.

Pretty, wintery view from the condo

The next day, we walked into downtown Elk Rapids to do a little shopping and to enjoy the nice weather. I always love walking through that little town. All of the shops have fun things to look at, and it feels like everyone knows each other. Very quaint and cute.

For dinner that night, we drove to Traverse City and had dinner at Red Ginger, an Asian fusion restaurant that served a variety of really delicious food! We all shared some great sushi and enjoyed some fun cocktails.

We spent the next morning working on the difficult puzzle that we had purchased on our walk the day before. I hadn't puzzled in a long time, and I had forgotten how rewarding it is!

We drove back to Midland later in the afternoon and met up with MaryBeth, Chris, Alyssa, and Evan for dinner at Pizza Sams. The pizza was really good, and I always love seeing Brian's old hang out spots. After pizza, we walked to Midland's Santa House so that Alyssa and Evan could see Santa! I had never been to the Santa House, and it was really amazing! The community has a house that is completely decked out in Santa's toy shop decor. There was quite a long line of kids, but it was definitely worth the wait! Evan loved finding all of the trains in the shop, and Alyssa took in every detail.

In Santa's Sleigh

Alyssa had brought her letter to Santa, and the house had a special table where all of the kids left their letters. I loved how they had the letters sitting out - some of them were so funny. One girl had the serial number of the American Girl Doll that she wanted on her list. Another kid said that his aunt needed a man. Kids are so great :)

Leaving her list so that Santa would know what she wanted

There was also a book for the kids to sign - Alyssa signed for her and Ev

Alyssa was on cloud nine after talking to Santa because he told her that she was on the good list! While we were in line, she had mentioned that she wasn't sure if she was on the good list because she had been to time out a couple of times this year (so funny!). After Santa confirmed that he knew she was a good girl, she was elated! It was the cutest thing ever.

We went to Chris and MB's house after the Santa House. The guys built a really cool bowl in Chris's wood shop, and MB and I played with the kids. It was a fun evening, and we really enjoyed our time with them!

The next day, Andrew and Kate came into town! Brian and I picked them up at Kate's house and went to Starbucks to catch up on wedding planning and their new life in Texas. Later, Chris, MB, and the kids came over to the Rentsch's and joined us for a fun family afternoon.

Typical boy time, comparing smart phones

The next morning, we geared up to go tobogganing! I didn't really even know what tobogganing was, so I was really excited about this adventure!

Getting ready to go!

When we got to the park, we unfortunately found that it was kind of under construction! Darn. I'll have to test out my tobogganing skills some other time. MaryBeth taught me the basics, so at least next time I'll know what I'm getting myself into! The park had some beautiful trails, though, so we went on a nice, peaceful walk in the woods. Peaceful until the snowball fight started!

After a nice long walk, what better cool down method than a game of Scrabble? Brian and I were losing pretty badly, but who knew that the word "Quark" could win you over 100 points??
Later that evening, Stefan and Janet took Andrew, Kate, Brian, and me to dinner at the new country club in Midland. We had a great time seeing the Rentsch's new hang out spot!

On Christmas Eve, Eric and Alicia came into town, so the whole family was in Midland just in time for Christmas festivities!

Sidenote: Living in Frankfurt makes me excited about weird foods when I come back to the States. For some reason, I had been craving Buffalo Wild Wings, so Brian and I went to get an early afternoon snack with Eric and Alicia - I love BWW's fried pickles and delicious wings! It was fun to hang out with them and hear about Alicia's new job and their new apartment.

For Christmas Eve, everyone came over for a champagne toast, and we all enjoyed a delicious Christmas dinner with the entire family! Janet and Stefan made a delicious roast, and I loved having us all together.

After dinner, we went to Christmas Eve service at Midland Reformed Church. MaryBeth is the worship director there, and she did a wonderful job with the service! It was beautiful. We came back to the house after church to exchange presents!

Evan is so cute - one of the things he's really into right now is candles and fire. If you play along, he'll have you light a candle and then he'll blow it out over and over again! The excitement never fades for him. You can see his pure awe and wonder in this picture.

Opening presents with little kids is so much fun! They were so excited about all of their presents.

We got Evan this board that has all of these different locks on it that he can open and close. I thought it was appropriate coming from his uncle who is famous for his lock-picking skills :)

Reading Alyssa's new Fancy Nancy book

Christmas Eve was so much fun - we all stayed up late talking and hanging out. I love Bri's family!

On Christmas day, we went for a walk, went over to Chris and MB's to check out the kids' loot, and just hung out at the house together. Stefan had received fondue sets for Christmas, so we had fondue for dinner. It was funny because we thought the sets had come with fuel, but they hadn't, so we used tea lights instead. Also, Kate's family came over that evening, and Brian and I were really glad to finally get to meet her brother and parents.

The day after Christmas, Brian and I had to fly back to Frankfurt. Before we left, everyone came over one last time for lunch before we took off. Chris made some really good egg rolls for us! We were sad to go but were so thankful for a wonderful week with all of Bri's family! We felt like we really had some quality time with everyone, which was the best Christmas gift of all!