Strolling the Riverwalk in San Antonio Texas

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In October 2018, we had the opportunity to visit San Antonio Texas for a long weekend to attend a conference.  Having never been to Texas but having the goal to visit all 50 states, we jumped on the chance to experience a new city and part of the country… even if we really weren’t sure how much there was to do.

As with any trip, Rabbit did some pre-trip research and video watching to get an idea of what was going to be on our “must do” list.  Not surprisingly, number one was the Riverwalk, followed by visiting the Alamo, and a couple of cute shopping areas in town.  We searched online to find a hotel we liked that was situated on the Riverwalk to make sure that we would have easy access to what seemed like the heart of town.  In the end, we chose the Hotel Contessa, and were quite pleased with it’s location, the amenities (we even enjoyed the rooftop pool area!), and service.

I am not sure if it was the time of year we visited… or if San Antonio is always a bit more sleepy than cities on the east coast… but we were a bit caught off guard at how demure the city seemed.  We spent a day walking the city and touring the streets and were very surprised to find hardly anyone else out and about.

Thankfully, the Riverwalk provided plenty of restaurant options, and some beautiful scenery. We even met some of the city dwelling wildlife; the San Antonio river boasts a good population of catfish and others- waiting to get a splash of crumbs from diners along the Riverwalk. We were a bit taken aback initially by the size, number, and activity level of the fish, but became a little fascinated by them in the end. You can tell that the fish have become one of the favorite attractions – and they enjoy the spotlight!

The Riverwalk also provides some great scenery- we enjoyed stumbling upon statues, alcoves, artwork, and beautifully landscaped pathways as we strolled through.  It was a great alternative to walking a typical city street, and provided a relaxed, romantic pathway.  Rambling through the city center, the Riverwalk is a great way to walk the city – there are many hotels along the route which also offers direct access to the conference center for attendees and the Tower of the Americas for sightseers.  There are ongoing guided boat tours for those looking for a way to enjoy the sites from a more relaxed vantage point – and seemed to be a popular way to go, even when crowds were low.

We made it a point to visit the Alamo- one of the most famous historical sites in the state.  It was interesting to see the site – which is situated in the middle of the city- walk the grounds, and get an inside look of the building itself.  Despite being in the center of the city, you get the sense that you are walking on hallowed ground. We chose not to take a guided tour, but still enjoyed our time there.  It’s a definite must-see.

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Wandering the streets, we stumbled upon a few different shopping areas with local shoppes, eateries, and plenty of Texan souvenirs.  One of the best things we ate while in town was a lucky find at a very picturesque restaurant in one of the shopping areas- mini-empanadas with a green sauce that I’m still dreaming about a year and a half later!

Overall, the city of San Antonio provided one of our most relaxed trips.  The area is beautiful, the city is clean and friendly… but if you’re looking for a high level of excitement, this is likely not the city for you (unless we missed something!).  I’m curious what it is like during other times of the year, but I have a feeling that the city thrives on being a conference center; there is just enough to see during downtime for those who are in town attending conferences or attending to other business… and not much else. That being said, I wouldn’t say no to a stroll down Riverwalk right now!

Adults-Only Disney Trip: Still the most Magical Place on Earth

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I grew up just a couple of hours from Disney World in Florida.  It was my happy place long before the castle t-shirts started selling on Etsy.

Disney was my annual birthday trip, mother-daughter getaway vacation spot, yearly French Club fieldtrip (Epcot)… a place that excited and delighted me, yet felt like home.

When I became a mom in 2011, bringing my child to Disney became one of my mommy goals- sharing my favorite place, recreating memories from my childhood with my little man, meeting characters, the whole 9 yards!  It was going to be magical, memorable, and absolutely fantastic.

….and then I realized that Disney with kids is absolutely exhausting. I have no idea how my mom did it when I was little- waking up before dawn to drive a couple of hours, run ragged all day, and then drive home.  Don’t get me wrong, there is delight in bringing your children to Disney… watching their faces light up when they see their favorite characters, experience a ride for the first time… it’s all new when you get to see it from their perspective.

However, you also gain a renewed appreciation for Adults-Only Disney.  You don’t battle lines unless you want to, you get to try the restaurants kids aren’t interested in… you can do the fun experiences, and soak it all in (with appropriate pool/lounging breaks) without fearing that you’re not seeing and doing it all to maximize the experience for your little ones.

This trip was our second no-kids Disney vacation, and was full of awesome moments, and new go-to’s.  We went in September (for Rabbit’s birthday), vacationed in Disney luxury, and got to catch things that neither of us had done before- including my birthday gift to him: private surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon, and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party!

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The resort.  This trip we stayed at The Grand Floridian. Wow. I’d been to the lobby on the monorail, waltzed through the corridors exploring during previous visits… but staying there was a whole new, and wonderful experience.  It felt truly special.  A great place to stay without kids (its a little more serious and swanky than other resorts), it still had a great poolside (and kiddie area for those going with kids), and a very spacious and quiet hot-tub area (for those who may need to relax and loosen their muscles after surfing or a long day at the parks).  Food was delicious at the Grand Floridian Cafe (casual sit down), and Gasparilla Island Grille (their quick-service location).  *Bonus: if you snag a spot outside Gasparilla Island Grille at firework time, you can watch the fireworks from Magic Kingdom, and enjoy the theme music which is piped through that area of the resort for your viewing pleasure – MUCH better than battling crowds.  The lobby has a lot of hidden special touches (in Disney fashion), and was really a pleasure just to sit back and enjoy.*

The Surfing. Prior to this trip, the only “special experience” I had done at Disney was a Keys to the Kingdom Tour (also totally work checking out).  Our morning of surfing, however, left me craving opportunities to check out more special experiences.  As you may guess from their typical level of customer service, “special experiences” are truly special.  Rabbit had shared with me that he had always wanted to learn to surf (yet has a fear of sharks)… and this seemed perfect.  Staffed by professionals with real surfing experience, classes are held before park opening (yes, its an early start), and include only a small group of students.  The best part?  Professional photos of all of your wipe outs are included – along with a light breakfast.  We got very lucky, and even though the classes cap out at about 12 people, we were in a group of three students (others had cancelled last minute), so we got practically 1:1 instruction.  It was amazing… and MUCH harder than it looks! Though I only got up on the board successfully one time, and got pounded pretty well by a few of the waves, it was worth every moment (and the very reasonable cost of $199/per person).  The photos are incredible, and it was really awesome to get to experience the water park before open – no crowds, no pressure, and plenty of time to enjoy our lessons.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  You may wonder why two adults would choose to go to a seemingly kid-centric Halloween Party at Disney without kids.  Honestly, when we were initially planning the trip, so did I.  After looking closer though, how could you resist?  The Party takes place late in the day, technically after park close (you can get in earlier – I think 6pm – when you check in and get your wristband)… which means fewer crowds (and a cheaper ticket price).  Disney sets up special themed experiences and foods, has special parades and experiences throughout the park, and keeps all of your favorite attractions running for the duration of the evening.  (Idk if you’re noticing the recurrent idea that we wanted to avoid large crowds… but that was our main goal).  Though we only stopped at a couple of the candy stations (had to do it at least once!), we loved the Halloween-themed parade (complete with a dance of the grave diggers from the Haunted Mansion, a headless horseman… and the usual suspects in their Halloween best), and the overall feel of the evening.  It was a great time, and something that I definitely think we will revisit someday- perhaps even with the kids in tow. *Fun fact: if you/any of your travelling companions have a nut or other food allergy, and you’re concerned about allergy-friendly candy while trick-or-treating, have no fear.  Disney handled that extremely well, and has a token system and full monitoring of what is handed out. You’re in good hands, just make sure you check in with a cast member.*

Other highlights for us really center on Downtown Disney – aka Disney Springs.  We do a little restaurant sampling at every visit to make sure we try it all.  A potentially unpopular opinion: we didn’t love Morimoto Asia. It had great atmosphere, but the food didn’t live up to the hype or our expectations.  Surprisingly, one of our favorite spots is the outdoor seating at Splitsville.  Open late and equipped with several TV’s, outdoor heaters, and a decent menu – it is our go-to spot to relax, enjoy the sights, and watch an Eagles game while away.  It’s somewhat typical sports bar food – burgers, wings, etc…. but the pizza is one of our favorites.

We also got to check out Pandora at Animal Kingdom, and enjoy a meal at Tiffins (a more adult dining experience than others).  We planned a strategic visit- focused on our must-sees, and on enjoying our new food experience.  It was great – the rides were beyond my expectations, and the area theming is incredible!

Though an adults-only trip may not seem like the prime Disney experience, I firmly believe it’s a must for all adults- at least once in their lifetime (or per year as is our goal!).

See ya real soon!

Gabby

 

Chicago!

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As I’m playing catch-up, I’m getting to re-live many trips… and appreciate the reminder that sometimes things don’t always go as planned.  Sometimes, the surprises end up even better than anticipated.

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In June 2018, I graduated with my MSN from a school just outside Chicago.  Though I was a remote learner, I really wanted to be present for my graduation.  We made plans to take a trip for graduation so that I could walk with my class.

The day came, and we packed up two kids, ourselves and my mom, and headed to the airport filled with anticipation for a fun-filled long weekend in the Windy City.  I had never been to Chicago, and couldn’t wait see what it was all about.  Well…. after hours at the airport, watching various mechanics walk to the plane, and receiving a few notices that our flight was delayed… the flight was eventually cancelled. (Thanks to a bird who decided to fly into the engine and cause some apparent damage).  Due to our schedules, we had only allowed ourselves a short window of time for our trip, and we had to make a split decision- hang it up, try to find another airline and hopefully make it in time (and probably spend much much more!), or pack it up in my minivan and make it a road trip.

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Patiently awaiting the flight that never was…

Amazingly, Rabbit and I looked at each other, and made the decision to road trip it! (I have to say, I fell more in love with him that day thanks to his calm, sense of adventure, and willingness to be up for anything!).  We wrestled kids, found luggage, packed it up, and got started.

We arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night- with a few hours to spare before it was time to get dressed and head to graduation.  (We cancelled our rental car, and other arrangements on the road).

The graduation ceremony was great, but the highlights of the trip were definitely the sightseeing moments that we got in! We lucked out with some great weather which allowed us to pack in as much as time allowed.

We took an amazing boat architecture tour (a definite must-do), which provided just the right mix of history, construction, humor, and thrill of being on a boat that even the youngest of us was amused!

We got to explore Navy Pier, riding the merry-go-round and Ferris Wheel, checking out the shops, and enjoying some of the city’s famous deep-dish pizza! Word to the wise- be sure to allow yourself some time when you order deep dish! It takes about an hour for the pie to be ready… the bites are definitely worth the wait though! Thankfully, we ate at Giordano’s at the Pier, and had outdoor seating – we were able to take breaks to bring the kids inside to walk around, and people-watch to pass the time.

One of my other favorites was our visit to the Cloud Gate.  I’m not sure why, but something about it had me mesmerized! We had a good time posing in the bean, and taking photos – it was like watching living art… every angle was different, and the possibilities for fun photo ops seem endless!

We also took a bus tour of the city (VERY helpful for getting the kids around), and had Chicago hot dogs by Buckingham Fountain.  The bus tour offered some commentary, and meaningful stops throughout the city and beyond.  We took it the entire route, and were able to get a glimpse (and brief touch) of Lake Michigan from one of the stops… the cityscape views never got old!

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Gorgeous view of Lake Michigan – one of the stops on the bus tour!

All-in-all, hours of driving later, it was worth every minute.  I am hopeful that someday Rabbit and I can make it back to see some of the things we may have missed, and enjoy an overnight in the city between destinations.  Chicago is a beautiful city with amazing architecture and views!

Until next time!

Gabby

 

We booked our next trip!

We have officially booked our next trip! October 2020: Disney, here we come.

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We need something to look forward to.  We need the promise of a long weekend, just the two of us (and baby) somewhere happy where we can stroll, see sights beyond our neighborhood, and relax. We need to know that life will go on and we will get back out to enjoy the things we love.

It’s a baby step (it’s certainly not an international destination), but it’s us getting back out there, supporting normalcy, and planning some kind of future. It’s the idea that we will make it through this crazy time, and we will be on the other side in blue skies, sharing a magical place with our baby boy.

While we were at it, we decided to check off one of the “big three” (the resorts closest to the Magic Kingdom) resorts: we will be staying at the Contemporary! Even though it’s not the best looking resort on property (sorry, but it’s true!), there’s something about the location and the fact that the monorail goes through the main building (I’m a grown woman and still find it exciting!) that we just have to experience.

I have officially begun my trip countdown! The end of social distancing may be elusive… but I’m holding onto our October date. Time to start planning something other than what pajamas to wear 🙂

Gabby

 

Hello Again…

I hadn’t realized that so much time had passed since I sat down to write about one of our adventures… Seeing the date of my last post is admittedly quite shameful, as I truly do enjoy writing here, and had promised myself to spend time enjoying the exercise of writing creatively and reliving our experiences. (and hopefully entertaining the one or two readers who find there way here…)

So, what on earth have I been doing with my time?

Well… in the past 18 months, we have: remodeled our kitchen and most of the house; gotten married; gotten engaged (yes, in that order); each accepted wonderful job opportunities (and work full-time +); we got pregnant!; had some family changes resulting in more time with our other children; had a baby… and, of course, continued to travel here and there whenever possible.

I always have the best of intentions to share our travel stories… every time we go away, I take notes – business cards of places I want to make sure to recommend, photos of significant things, and outline posts in my mind with every intention of typing them up and clicking “publish”…. BUT somehow, I end up putting my ideas in my mental “later” file, promising that “someday” I’ll catch up.

…Enter Maternity Leave, which I thought would be a great time to pick up where I left off, and blog away…

…Then reality set in.  My pregnancy was not the easiest (though, quite thankfully, we are both healthy and happy now).  I ended up going out earlier than planned; only to spend two days per week at the doctor’s office, a couple of days in the hospital, and the rest of my time cramming in as much prep as I could get done (freezer meals, cleaning what I could, washing baby clothes… the whole nine yards) and trying not to work or worry myself into labor.  Baby’s birthday was also expedited… abruptly putting an end to the “relaxing” pre-baby time that I had set aside.  After a few nights in the hospital, and readjusting to the cadence of life with a newborn… COVID-19 came.

Preparation for our family’s safety became our number one.  Getting what we needed, pantry staples to serve as back-up if stores stopped carrying certain items… jokes about toilet paper (no, despite having a household of 7, we did not stockpile) … the usual.  After getting baby and I to our first checkups, my husband and I stopped at the nearby Target to grab some things… lightheartedly joking about the “Doomsday Preppers” and trying to think logically about what we would actually need.  A couple more days passed, news coverage escalated, and we soon realized that we had to have real plans. We made the decision pretty quickly to close off our home to any visitors for the sake of our newborn – and I stopped leaving the house other than to get fresh air and walk around the block. We then found ourselves planning for our worst-case scenarios.  What to do if one of the kids got it (our other 4 move between our house and their other parents’);  what to do if my mother-in-law got sick? How to use the attached apartment (where my mom lives) as a quarantine area… and how to somehow stay safe and set up decontamination once my husband, an ICU physician, went back to work after his week with us.

At first, my thinking was that it couldn’t be a worse time to blog about our travel… adding unnecessary fuel to anyone’s wanderlust (including my own) at a time when we should all be hunkering down and staying put for everyone’s greater good.  After giving it some more thought, however, I don’t ever want to lose sight of the great big world outside of home – especially as these walls feel smaller by the day.

When the immediate threat is over, we will all need and want to get out there again.  We will all be hurting – some financially, some potentially with health concerns… some by loss, some by the pure experience of it all.  None of us will ever be the same.  We need to remember that the world is not as small as we think, and we are all in this together.

So- I will do my best amid sleep deprivation and homeschooling chaos to share my stories- my love letters to the places we’ve been, (from Disney to Thailand) and promises to future destinations.  On the other side of this crisis, we will be back out there.

Stay tuned, and be safe.

Gabby

Day 3: Our Last Day – Eating and Relaxing in Amsterdam

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After our very full and delightful day in Brussels, our late train, and perhaps even the jet lag finally hitting us, we slept-in quite soundly on the morning of our last day.

Surprised and blessed with another day of good weather (cool, but less rainy than forecasted), we wanted to enjoy being out in the city as much as possible- soaking in the beautiful buildings, toying with the idea of renting bikes, catching a few of the sights we had left on our list… and eating.

 

Our first stop for the day was the Van Gogh museum.  Having purchased our tickets in advance (I would definitely recommend doing this! We saved a tremendous amount of time, and it made our visit much more enjoyable!), we were able to arrive at the museum during our designated timeframe, and essentially walk right in.  As Rabbit stood in line to check our coats, I was able to quickly obtain our audio tour devices.  The audio tour was a definite highlight of the museum.  The paintings were beautiful and at times very moving, but the ability to hear the story of both Van Gogh, and his artwork while moving through the open, chronologically arranged galleries was really wonderful and enriching.  The opportunity to watch his style evolve and take in the beautiful details of his works- from The Potato Eaters to Almond Blossoms to Sunflowers to Roots, and everything in between.. was truly remarkable.  The audioguides also allowed you to dial in to specific exhibits to learn more- meaning that when we were not particularly interested in a particular room, or wished to avoid a crowd, we skipped over those exhibit numbers, and took the tour at our own pace.  The morning at the museum was one of my highlights of the trip- enabling me to get my fix of local history, and enjoy some beautiful art.  (Pssst… friendly spoiler alert: A bit to Rabbit’s disappointment, Starry Night is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC – though that just means we have more to enjoy closer to home!)

After our museum stroll, we had surprisingly worked up an appetite.  During our previous sightseeing day, we had noticed that Amsterdammers seem to have a love of burgers… as fate would have it, so do we.  So, we set out to find the best burger in the city…  after a bit of a struggle with Google maps, and some on-the-fly research through google, trip advisor, and some other random travel blogs… we set our course for “Burger Bar”.  The location we found looked very intriguing… and smelled delicious.  A glass storefront opened to a simple space filled with a large natural wood community table, flanked by interesting side high-top seating, all leading up to an immense billboard-like menu at the back, with an open kitchen/grill as the focal point.  The possibilities were seemingly endless- able to choose your bun style, protein type (varieties of premium beef, wagyu, Angus, vegetarian, or chicken), cheese, and mouthwatering toppings… I knew that we were in the right place.

This burger (above, right) was one of the best things I have ever eaten.  Delicious. I’d go back in a heartbeat, just for the architecture, and this burger. It. was. that. good.

Next, we strolled the city a bit more… deciding that although we were unable to secure tickets for a tour, we wanted to visit the Anne Frank House museum.  Even if it was only for the opportunity to get a glimpse of the exterior, soak in the feeling of her neighborhood and the incredible history of the area and it’s people, the trip to the area around her home and the Prinsengracht was something I am so glad that we did. For me, the experience of being at her former home, and acknowledging the weight and importance of the history of the neighborhood was very sobering.  The neighborhood felt unlike the other parts of the city that we had explored, and had many new beautiful buildings and row homes to enjoy.

Our final stop for the day was to Pancakes Amsterdam, located just near the Anne Frank museum.  We had learned about the small chain during a travel video we watched at home during planning, and I had been very anxious to taste what made their pancakes special.  Pancakes being a go-to favorite weekend breakfast at home, I wanted to see how these differed from what I am accustomed to mixing up.  They certainly did not disappoint! The menu offered 30 different pancakes- from poffertjes (I had the raspberry!), American pancakes (we skipped these), and crepe-like Dutch pancakes (Rabbit had the apple and cheese).  Yum!! It was the perfect light-dinner that we had been hoping for, comforting, familiar, and new at the same time- it was a great way to end our day out, and send us back to the hotel to pack.

Amsterdam was a beautiful, tasty, and remarkable city! Though considered a major metropolis, the pace was slower than what we are accustomed to at home, and we were able to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds, and experiences that the city had to offer.  Extensive, yet easy to utilize mass transportation throughout the city made it easy for us to navigate the area, and the friendly locals made us feel right at home. I can definitely see why so many people love coming to the “Venice of the North” – and I would be very open to coming back… and maybe even braving the bike lane!

 

Day 2: Side Trip to Brussels

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Amsterdam Centraal Station

On our second full day away, we made an amazing day trip to Brussels. In keeping with our goal to visit as many destinations as possible, it was important for us to make a side trip.  Just a two-hour train ride away, Brussels was a perfect spot!

Having scoped out the train station, and picked up our tickets the day before, we were able to relax a bit in the morning, and grab some breakfast before our early morning train.  We took the extra time to explore the train station a bit while waiting for our train- Amsterdam Centraal Station is beautiful.  High ceilings of glass and open air made it far more enjoyable than the train stations I am used to in the Northeast, and it was a gorgeous place in its own right.

The train was immaculate, comfortable, and very relaxing. (So much so that I was lulled to sleep, and admittedly missed most of the ride).

Two hours later, we arrived in a station that felt quite different.  Still open and simple, it felt more city-like and more utilitarian.  After finding our way to the bathroom for a quick pit stop (remember to have change or small bills to pay for the toilet!!) We were on our way to explore the city.

Unsure about how easy it would be to find our way, and how long it would take to see and taste all that was on our list, we scheduled ourselves for a pretty late train back to Amsterdam, leaving us a whole 9 hours in Brussels.  Admittedly, we did not see an extensive portion of the city, but thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

On our list of sights were the Grand Place and the Manneken de Pis – both within walking distance of each other and the train station, allowing us to set off in one general direction to see what we could see.  I had not done any advance planning for the day, and left the agenda to Rabbit, who had wanted to visit Brussels during a prior trip but was unable to get a train ticket! (Tip: reserve Thalys or other train tickets in advance, as soon as you can because they do sell out!)  The goal was not to pack the day, but more to experience it, take in what we could, and enjoy.  Given that we were visiting in March, we were unable to see the beautiful flowers and related warm-weather sights, but knew that we would still find the beauty of the city.

Not really knowing what to expect (other than the statue of the little boy peeing…), it was a really beautiful surprise.  On our way to the area surrounding the Grand Place, you could feel the history, life, and age of the city- it really filled me with awe to take it in and realize that the city had been around in some form for over 1400 years, (settled in 580) and there we were. I felt connected to the city somehow, and very comfortable as we strolled along.  Given that Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, it is somewhat what you would expect from a major city, similar in tempo to Philadelphia, I think…

Faithfully following Google maps, we made our way towards the Grand Place, and after turning the corner from a rather unsuspecting side street, we were welcomed into the most incredibly stunning and beautiful square I have ever set foot in.

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Destroyed by fire in 1695, and rebuilt during the following four years, the square is absolutely captivating… gold-leafed buildings, imposing facades, ornate details, and a sense of mystery surrounded us, and I was left speechless.

After taking our picture from as many angles as we could think of, and staring at the buildings for a solid 10 minutes – which seemed to be about the average amongst the other tourists as well – we explored the Town Hall (which is the one remaining medieval building in the square.. and my favorite).

Next, we found ourselves a spot at one of the outdoor cafes, and enjoyed some lunch – the mussels were delicious!! Here, we found the most intimate shared mens/women’s room in all of what we have seen of Europe, and attempted to stay warm while dodging the raindrops.

After lunch, we strolled to some of the other buildings in the square, finding several chocolate shops (Neuhaus and Mary’s being our favorites), and an indoor mall area (Galleries Royal Saint-Hubert) with some interesting shops – including a great bookstore! – before making our way to see the Manneken de Pis and grab our first Belgian waffle! I could have happily eaten waffles all day! The yeast dough, and bits of caramelized sugar baked right in… perfection.  I am determined to find some appropriate sugar so that I can attempt to recreate them here at home. (Though I have found a restaurant who serves authentic waffles nearby!).

We strolled the city a bit more before making our way (gravitating back) to the Grand Place to spend some time in Rabbit’s favorite building – the King’s House, which is now the Museum of the City of Brussels.  I would highly recommend including the museum as part of your visit to the city- beautiful paintings, artifacts, the city’s story, and an exhibit dedicated to the Manneken and his many costumes – added to the incredible sight and experience of the building itself.

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King’s House (Museum of the City of Brussels)

Next, we made our way to another cafe in the square for some dinner and to experience the Grand Place through sunset, soaking in the beauty of the buildings in the evening glow, and watching it transform as the nighttime lights came on… the Grand Place is one of the most beautiful places I have been – and certainly the most romantic. It was such a great trip, and a welcoming city! I hope to make it back to see more of Belgium someday.

After more pictures (its hard to say goodbye to a perfect view!), and gaining our energy for the walk back to the train, we made it back to the station in time to grab a light second dinner, and climb aboard our train back to Amsterdam, and another full day just around the corner!

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