bubbles and buddies

Well hi there, friends!  I’m back with more exciting adventures as our summer of visits from US friends continues.

But first, a little fun in our own location.  A few weekends back, we met with a group of expat friends from either Amsterdam or The Hague and did a walking tour of The Hague.  It was actually really informative about places we pass by regularly, and we gathered a few new tid-bits for our future guests!  After the tour, we made our way to the harbor for a lovely seafood dinner, and then on to the beach for the main event: The International Fireworks Festival!  (PS: My vote was for the Chinese team.)  If you have been with me since the beginning, you may recall that we attended last year as well.  You can tell we have changed since then because last year we were completely unprepared and freezing, and we left after only one team.  This year, we were with friends, had blankets, brought drinks and coats!!  Much improvement.  Great fun was had by all…

Pre-fireworks shot of the Kurhaus

Pre-fireworks shot of the Kurhaus.

Snuggled up.

Snuggled up.

Group shot!

Group shot!  Sorry for the creepy eyes, everyone.

Ooooo...

Ooooo…

Ahhhhh....

Ahhhhh….

The next morning, we packed up the Civic and made the 4.5 hour drive Southeast to Epernay, France, where we were greeted be our dear friends, Bronk & Jess!  (Did I mention it rained the whole way?!)  For anyone not familiar, Epernay is within the “Champagne” region of France.  We started our stay in Epernay by wandering down the Avenue de Champagne to the largest champagne house in the area Moët & Chandon (maybe you’ve heard of it?).  We had reserved a cellar tour and tasting in advance, and we enjoyed wandering through a short path of their underground cellar.  The tour guide said they had 28 kilometers of underground cellars!!  WHAT?!  It was at that point that I decided to get no more than about 5 ft away from the group for fear of getting lost down there.  It was crazy to see stacks of 10,000-40,000 bottles in one little area!  At the end of the tour, we sampled the Grand Vintage 2005 (yeah, we’re fancy like that) and a Rosé…both were quite tasty!

Out front.

The view out front. (one of their many buildings)

Inside the cellars.

Inside the cellars.

A quick taste.

An official pour.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Then one more quick stop on the Avenue de Champagne for another taste at Champagne Collard-Picard.  (There were only a few options at 5:00 on a Sunday!)

My tasty bubbly!

My tasty bubbly!

Following the tastings, we headed out for a nice dinner.  Unfortunately a nice a rain shower changed our plans to eating indoors, but it was still enjoyable!  We had some nice French cheese and I ordered the duck…seemed like the thing to do.  We called it a night at that point, given the day’s travels had wiped us all out.

The next morning was a highlight of the trip, as we purchased breakfast from a local bakery.  I’m calling it the “France-kabob” and it was as delicious as it looks!  It also didn’t hurt that we ate our breakfast in a beautiful location just by the town hall.

It made me happy.

It made me happy.

French goodness in mini-form.

French goodness in mini-form.

Breakfast picnic location.

Breakfast picnic location.

From there, we met with Isabelle, a private tour guide that we had booked in advance to take us around to various small-sized champagne producers for the day.  (Highly recommend her – let me know if you would like contact info!)  We started out at a small family-run production, Fernand Lemaire, in the village of Hautvillers.  If you are unsure how to pronounce this, definitely inquire of BC – he’s really good at it!  We stopped just outside this adorable village to take some photos of the valley below – stunning!

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Looking at the valley.

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Looking up to Hautvillers.

View from the tasting room.

View from the tasting room.

After that, we made our way to the church in Hautvillers, which is where Dom Pérignon (the monk credited as one of the main fathers of champagne for all of his contributions to the process – yes, he was a person, not just a brand of champagne) is buried.  The abbey was unfortunately destroyed in the French Revolution, so the church was the only thing left to see.

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Outside.

Inside.

Inside.

From there, it was on to our second location.  We visited J. Charpentier in Villers-sous-Chatillon.  The son who normally provides the tours in English was on holiday, but luckily his father, the cellar master, took us around anyway and our guide translated everything.  This was a really great tour because he has a small enough production that we could see everything and he was very detailed too.  I feel like a real champagne expert now!! 🙂  It was also really fun because he gave us a lot of background about his family and the history of the area (which included multiple battles during the first world war).

With our host!

With our host!

Cool tasting table.

Cool tasting table.

Next up, lunch!  Our guide had reserved a table for us at a traditional French restaurant in Epernay.  Jess and I had a salad to start that had an unknown meat in it, and Bronk went for snails.  We felt pretty risky.  Unfortunately, we found out later that we had tried the last item on this list:

Thanks to translation, we found out it was Lamb's Tongue! EWWWWW!

Thanks to translation, we found out it was Lamb’s Tongue! EWWWWW!

For our main course, I had a nice salmon, but BC got crazy with the ‘meat casserole’.  It was mostly delicious, but it did include some mystery meat and one very identifiable pig’s foot!  He even tried it!!  After all that, I decided that I definitely had earned dessert, so I indulged in a cream cheese tart with raspberries!

Then onward with our guide to stop #3, Ernest Remy, a Grand Cru (a distinction for the best soil in the region) producer in Mailly.  This guy seemed to really know his stuff!  We got a tour of the cellars and then a tasting (even a cookie included).  I think this was my favorite stop of all – it was really pretty and the champagne was excellent (and again – he gave us cookies).

In the cellar.

In the cellar.

Isn't it cute?

Isn’t it cute?

Classy.

Classy.

Outside.

Outside.

Said cookie.

Said cookie.

One might assume that by this point we were done.  Not so, my friends.  We had one final stop (and one photo op pit stop) at a single malt whiskey distillery called Guillon.  Now, my tasting here was quite limited to like 2 sips because I think whiskey is nasty, but the others enjoyed it more.  The location was really cool – hidden in the forest on the ‘mountain’.  It was really secluded and peaceful.

The tasting options.

The tasting options.

The location of the tasting room.

The location of the tasting room.

PHOTO OP!

PHOTO OP!

Seriously beautiful.

Seriously beautiful.

Up close...

Up close…

There we are!

There we are!

After such a long, but fun-filled day, we decided that pizza would be the route to go.  Unfortunately, the process was a little slower than we expected, but tasty none-the-less!  The next morning, I had round #2 of the France-kabob, and then we were headed out on the long journey back to The Hague (this time with company).  We decided to stop quick in Reims, a larger city in the region, to see the Notre Dame Cathedral that we had heard much about.  It was in this location that numerous French kings were crowned.  I must say, it was a pleasant surprise, as I hadn’t gotten my expectations too high for some reason.

They were so excited about the car ride!

They were so excited about the car ride!

Pretty, right?

Pretty, right?

I'm in love with these windows.

I’m in love with these windows.

Grand!

It was pretty grand!

Square in Reims.

Square in Reims.

Some souvenir shopping and a quick to-go lunch, and we were back on the road!  It was a long trip, with some traffic and construction delays, but eventually we arrived back home.  It was a take-out and champagne on the back terrace kind of night after that!

The next day, I escorted Bronk & Jess around our neighborhood to get a feel for life in The Hague, while BC went to work.  After a trip to the flower shop, cheese shop, bakery and supermarket, we packed up a nice little picnic and met BC at the office for lunch.

Quite the spread!

Quite the spread!

From there, we tracked down a little bakery, took a quick snooze at home and then headed out to see the beach!  We returned home and I swapped roles with BC.  He took the crew to dinner at a nearby Indonesian restaurant that we had been wanting to try, and I went to my dreaded boot camp.  (Boo.)  Everyone was giving the Indonesian two thumbs up.  They did a traditional rice table, which is served family style, and I don’t think anyone walked away hungry after the mass amount of food!

Their photo even made the website!

Their photo even made the website!

The next day was really fun!  Bronk, Jess and I decided to rent bicycles to tour around the city.  After we had our bikes, I took them around the city center, where we stopped for a quick lunch, through an antique market and a Russian art exhibit in the park, and then out to Fredrick Hendricklaan, which is a cute, more boutique shopping area.  This is where we made a needed afternoon coffee stop!  Did I mention this place is also a chocolatier?!  It was a really tasty pick-me-up, which got us back on our bikes with energy to spare! 🙂  We even hit ‘rush hour’ for the last few blocks on our bikes on a really congested street – I think they felt really Dutch at that point!!

The antique market.

The antique market.

Our sweet rides.

Our sweet rides.

Super delicious!

Super delicious!

Another delicious dinner that night at the harbor (at the same place we went pre-fireworks because it was so tasty!).  Unfortunately, I thought we could get to the beach by walking around the harbor, which turned out to be untrue…so we remained in the harbor for an after dinner cocktail before heading back home.

Dinner @ Catch.

Dinner @ Catch.

For their last day in the NL, as you might expect by our typical trend, we headed to Amsterdam.  First up, of course the Anne Frank House.  After dropping them off, BC & I did some wandering and photo ops until they were through the museum.  From there, we wandered a bit and stumbled upon a cafe.  It was here that they tried the infamous bitterballen and some good frites!  Then onward to Museumplein to see the “Iamsterdam” sign, watch some street performers, and to check out the House of Bols.  The House of Bols was new for us, and it was a really fun place to check out.  Bols is a Dutch genever (gin) and liquor that dates back to the 16th century.  The tour is really interactive and has a lot of cool graphic design incorporated, so I enjoyed it.  At the end you get a fun cocktail.

One of our photo stops!  He loves doing this.

One of our photo stops! He loves doing this.

Friends!

Friends!

Museumplein.

Museumplein.

A quick break-dance watching break.

A quick break-dance watching break.

Nice one boys!

Nice one boys!

We all chose something different.

We all chose something different.  Bronk won best drink choice.

From there, we wandered the streets some more, through Dam Square and such, and ended back at the hotel to check in.  Bronk & Jess were kind enough to book us a room that night, so we all stayed overnight.  We had a little downtime before our dinner reservation at a very cute and delicious restaurant in the Jordaan neighborhood called Seasons.  The dinner started out great…tasty bread, some pickled veggies, and our starter courses: scallops for me, shrimp, figs and pears for the others.  Then things took a turn…we waited about 45 minutes between our starter course and the main entrees.  For Jess and I, some shrimp/avocado/oranges, and the guys, a giant mixed-grill plate.  And then again, 45 minutes later, no dessert (which we had ordered at the beginning of the meal).  At this point, we were all exhausted and Bronk & Jess had a very early flight home to catch, so we had to cancel our dessert order and get out of there.  A little disappointing, because the food we had was fantastic!  I might be willing to give it another try just because the food was so good, but it did put a damper on it…especially without much sympathy from any of the staff.

What a great dinner location though!

What a great dinner location though!

We had such an amazing time with Bronk & Jess here!  Thank you so, so much for making the trip over you two!!

Given that we had a room in Amsterdam and nowhere to be on Saturday, we decided to take advantage of the free breakfast and then head out to the Rijksmuseum.  The museum recently opened after 10 years of renovations, and we had been wanting to visit for a while now.  It was great to see the famous works of art by the “Dutch Masters” such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh.  And the museum itself was really nice!

The museum front.

The museum front.

The milkmaid.

The milkmaid.

Panorama of the room with "The Nightwatch"

Panorama of the room with “The Nightwatch”

I was really into this one!  Ink on canvas - impressive!

I was really into this one! Ink on canvas – impressive!

And quick before we left, we were determined to find a Starbuck’s in an old bank vault that we had read about in an article in the USA Today.  We did find it, and had one of the “Refresha” drinks – do they have these in the states?  I’m loving the lime one.  Anyway, it was pretty cool.

Inside the Starbuck's Bank...pretty cool.

Inside the Starbuck’s Bank…

 

Wow – what a fun week we have had!  And there is no shortage of fun in the upcoming weeks as well.  This weekend, we head to Oslo, Norway and when we come back…my best friend in the whole wide world, EOG, is going to be here!!  Cannot wait for her and Tyler’s visit!

Oh, and did I mention that we are making a very quick trip back to the states following that?  Oh yes, people.  BC is going back for work, but we will just so happen to catch a certain Iowa vs. Iowa State football game while we are back.  Email or Facebook message me if you are going and want to meet up!!

Excitement all around!  Oh, and sending giant Happy Birthday wishes to my dear friend, Heather, on Monday!!

Until next time,
-MK-

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