...and we're off!

taking a year of pretirement to travel the world

on may 23, 2013, we quit our jobs and began our year of "pretirement." these are some of our adventures around the world.

amsterdam and belgium

We landed in Amsterdam on Thursday morning, where we would spend the next three nights.

Three days later, we hopped on the bus to Brussels… ok, ok.

We had our first airbnb apartment lined up in Amsterdam and we were very excited to act like we lived there. The apartment was located a couple miles away from the central station, in a diverse and sleepy neighborhood with easy access to the attractions. The apartment itself was a perfect place to spend time, with plenty of space, fresh air and sunlight. It was far better than a hotel, and about half the price. The first afternoon was spent getting familiar with the city and walking around the western half of Amsterdam. We especially liked the Jordaan neighborhood, which is a nice residential area full of restored traditional architecture, boutiques, and cafes with outdoor seating. We treated ourselves to some irresistible Spanish pinchos and wine before heading into the city center. We found Amsterdam to be a very beautiful city. With its cobblestone roads, canals, unique architecture and many outdoor cafes, it was the perfect place to just wander the streets and spend time outside on a late summer day.

We went on a canal tour by boat the next morning and got to see several of the neighborhoods we hadn’t walked through yet. There were some buildings on soft ground along the canals that were especially ready to tip over, which made for an interesting sight. This only adds to the quirkiness of Amsterdam. With their Dutch bikes (often carrying two people at a time), legal “coffee shops,” and strangely kitschy little bars, it seems like Amsterdam loves to be different from the rest of Europe.

Luckily, we were in Amsterdam over the weekend and got to experience the red light district on Saturday night. Walking in from the west, it feels at first like any other busy European city might on Saturday except with a slightly more drug-addled crowd. Getting closer to the city center, you begin to see the distinctive red lights out in front of certain buildings. The side streets are more crowded, the food shops are brighter, and the bar crowds are more likely to spill out into the street. Finally you come out to a packed street running south from Central Station. The street is lined with tall red-lit windows, each one displaying a woman who tries to lure passersby into her establishment.

Even when not trying to entice you, the people of Amsterdam were surprisingly friendly. On multiple occasions when waiting for the bus, a Dutch person would overhear us and just walk up to make sure we knew the best way to get where we were going. When we got on the bus for Brussels Sunday afternoon we agreed Amsterdam would be a great place to live if we ever had the chance.

We arrived at our hostel in Brussels that evening. The Meininger Hotel was a really interesting concept—the entire building was a newly renovated warehouse with what would have been nice, brand new hotel rooms except they each had six beds. The common areas were well designed and comfortable but the hotel bar was the real feature. It had couches, games, a little stage for musicians, and a great selection of low-priced drinks. They clearly want to fill up the hostel with young travelers, create a cool environment, and have them all spend money at the bar. We were happy to oblige as I consumed many a 3 euro craft Belgian beer.

Brussels was a subdued and business-like city. It seemed like a very comfortable place to live and had some beautiful squares and green spaces. However, we were surprised to notice a good deal of litter on the streets and the area outside of the city center seemed a bit run down. The architecture in the Grote Markt square redeemed all of that. The buildings were beautifully ornate, almost whimsical—we couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Monday morning we took a train to Bruges. This was a quaint little town we’d heard about (from movies and real people) and an easy day trip from Brussels. It essentially peaked in the 1400s, when it was a major hub for the region, and hasn’t grown much ever since. This seems to have caused the preservation of much of the architecture, as there was no reason to build newer, bigger buildings. The entire city stands as a work of art now, with street after street filled with preserved or restored Belgian houses and distinctive rooflines. We had a relaxing day walking around the neighborhoods and spent a few leisurely hours reading and napping under a windmill in a park. On the way back to the hostel we sampled some delicious Belgian truffles and picked up a few local beers. We finished them off out in front of the hostel in the crisp fall weather. Time after time, we find Mondays to be our favorite days.

The next morning we loaded the backpacks up again and it was off to Charleroi airport to begin the real adventure:  a week in Morocco. 

 // eurotrip to date: 4 flights, 1 bus, 2 trains, 4 countries