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Amsterdam I love you but it is time we part. May your canals be forever lined with twinkling light and dinging bikes and your rows be forever cute and filled with the ‘normal’ dutch.

We got the chance to visit Norway last weekend. Our old friend Kim and new friends Bjørn and Karel just moved to a little town north of Trondheim called Steinkjer. I think the next train stop is the Arctic Circle. They have an amazing view of fjords that were once the home of marauding Vikings. They showed us the snow covered sights. I even scared up a juvenile moose on a run from the house. They are big and move surprisingly quickly!

Norway Top 10

1. Kim, Bjørn and Karel (ok, that’s 3, but they all tied for #1!)
Norway

2. Fjords!
Norway
3. Red barns everywhere
Norway
4. $30 bowl of soup. Not fancy soup; just soup.

5. Farm tour of Steinkjer and surroundings
Norway
6. Snø

7. Hills, real hills. Mountain hills!
8. Brown cheese
9. Learning Norwegian from a 2 year-old
Norway
10. Churches perched on hills overlooking fjords
11. Reindeer taste better than beef!
12. Moose!
Norway

Last weekend, Evan and I met in Paris. I took the train up from Nürnberg and he drove down through Belgium and northern France. I arrived a few hours earlier, so enjoyed a relaxing afternoon finding our hotel in the Saint Germain district and walking around in the crisp afternoon sunshine.

I was pleased to find that our hotel was in a great area, near many shops, bakeries restaurants and even the local Saint Germain market. We booked through Hotwire, so had no idea what to expect other than a very tiny hotel room – standard for Paris. I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice place with a terrace overlooking the bustling street below. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time enjoying my view from the room since the sun was shining and I wanted to get out and explore.

Paris
My first stop was Notre Dame, a few blocks away. I strolled over along the Siene River, past all the hawkers selling vintage-style postcards and advertisements for French products along the sidewalk. Their wares are all stored in neat little green wooden boxes that line the sidewalk, and which are loaded up and locked each night with all their belongings. Seeing as it was a Friday afternoon in the sunshine, most were already closed, and some were just packing up their stools, hats and gloves as I passed by.

I arrived at Notre Dame just as the afternoon sun sent off shades of amber and honey throughout the city. Windows glinted, and otherwise gray buildings turned to caramel in the fading daylight. On I walked, through the sprawling grounds of the cathedral. I was most impressed by the sense of space and enormity of this structure and the city that beheld it. Coming from compact, gezellig (cozy) Amsterdam, I could immediately sense the spatial difference in Paris and relished in its openness.
Paris
As I was walking, I caught whiffs of melting butter, chocolate and bakery deliciousness in the air. The only other place I’ve had this experience was in Belgium, where the place literally smelled like sweet waffles. Oh those Belgian waffles. I’ll never get over how good they were. It didn’t take me long to walk to the nearest boulangerie and begin my gastronomic tour of Paris. A croissant and piece of quiche later, I found a bench overlooking Boulevard Saint Germain and sat down to enjoy my feast as I watched people head home after work. Nearly everyone carried a bag with a baguette or two poking out the top. Others stopped by the corner florist to pick up a bouquet of flowers, another European ritual I admire.

I went to a small grocery store and picked up a few Paris necessities: a nice bottle of Bordeaux, a baguette and some pungent cheese. After spending 15 minutes deciding which cheese to buy, I had a moment of panic: we don’t have a bottle opener for the wine! Should I get a twist-off? And then I remembered: I’m in France. Of course our hotel is going to have a bottle opener for me to borrow. And of course our room has two wine glasses in it, just like any other normal French hotel room would. Now I looked just like any other Parisian – heading home after work with a baguette sticking out of my shopping bag, a bottle of wine and some cheese to enjoy with Evan.
Paris
Our snacks turned out to be dinner, which was followed by a midnight walk through the city. Somehow after a 7-hour train ride from Germany and an equally long drive from the Netherlands, neither of us were tired. Or maybe we were just really excited to be in Paris and didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

We walked again along the Siene River and took in Notre Dame by dark. I was surprised that it wasn’t lit up, since that seems to be standard practice in most European cities to show off their amazing structures. Through the dark grounds, along the river and past a clown who had set up on a nearby bridge. It looked like we just missed his display of fire, water and something to do with a bicycle and umbrellas, but the spectacle of his clean-up process was enough to give us a chuckle.

We then happened upon what we thought at the time was the Louvre – an immense building with the iconic glass triangle entrance. We were pretty impressed with ourselves for finding it at midnight and without a map, and at the same time were a bit disappointed with how average it looked in comparison to the rest of the buildings we’d passed. Somehow we had thought it would be more amazing since everyone who has been to Paris raves about it.

The most interesting thing at this so-called Louvre was the team of novice ice hockey players in the midst of a heated midnight match! Their talents varied widely, but all played like it was the most important game of their lives, decked out in soaking wet acid-washed jeans (due to all their falls), and naturally sans-safety gear. Nearby, we saw a huge peleton of cyclists ride by, all suited up in reflective gear and lights for yet another midnight activity in Paris. I guess that’s just what you do in the City of Lights.

Our midnight tour concluded, we headed back to our hotel for a quick sleep before embarking on the next day’s activities. Our favorite way to see a new place is on foot during a morning run. So we headed out in the bright Saturday sunshine for a run through Paris. Once again, the scent of amazing food brought with it pangs of hunger, but we persevered and made our way west through the city along the bank of the Siene River.

The huge cobblestones lining the river path gave our ankles a good workout as we slowly realized that the structure we had found last night was definitely NOT the Louvre! The real Louvre could never have been disappointing, as it stood immense and grand in the center of the city. We ran through the massive grounds, past the gardens and to the other end. We contemplated continuing to run to the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees, but decided we would return to see those two landmarks later in the day, after a nice breakfast and coffee.

Feeling refreshed and mellow after our amazing run through the city, we headed to the Saint Germain market. We have grown to love the little organic market near our apartment in Amsterdam, but were blown away by the thoughtful presentation, huge variety and quality of food available at this neighborhood market. It made us wish our little hotel room had a kitchen so we could go home with a basket full of produce and make an amazing meal! We settled instead for a savory crepe, washed down with two delicious cups of coffee each to keep up our energy for the long day of walking ahead of us.
Paris
Fromage

Map in hand, we headed out on foot from our little Saint Germain neighborhood with two goals in mind: Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees. We figured we’d probably take the metro back, but since the sun was out we decided to walk and soak it up. And walk we did! As I have said, Paris is a place with a lot of space, and we covered nearly all of it on foot that day. We soaked up the winter sunshine and shielded ourselves from the crisp wind beneath our hoods and gloves. The cold wasn’t enough to quell our spirit of adventure, so on and on we walked taking in the space and taste of Paris on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Our walk was fueled by fresh pain au chocolate and brioche, along with lots of window shopping the amazing Easter-decorated patisseries on the way. Twelve miles and four tired feet later, we had experienced all the major landmarks of Paris, including the Luxembourg Gardens, Pantheon, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, the Louve and Notre Dame again.
Eiffel Tower


Arc de Triomphe

Hungry and exhausted, we finally made it back to our hotel and passed out for a few hours. We were given the name of a great restaurant in the area by one of Evan’s co-workers, and promised ourselves that we would wake up and have a nice French meal in Paris. Sleep nearly overtook our plans, but we forced ourselves awake, and our sore feet back into shoes.

We stepped into the tiny restaurant and were so glad we persevered. As we waited for our table, the host sang while pouring glasses of rosé for each eager customer lining the stairwell, entryway and any other available space that could be filled while waiting to be seated for a delicious meal. The restaurant was small and had two levels. The kitchen was downstairs, and the one and only waiter upstairs. So, orders were yelled down, and food was sent up via the tall French host singing and pouring wine for waiting customers. Frequent shouts of “garcon!”, lots of impatient yelling, coupled with whistling and singing definitely made for a lively atmosphere, and an unforgettable French mealtime experience. Oh, and the food was amazing too.
Panthéon
Our ‘Tour of Paris’ boxes checked for the most part, it was time to head north the following day, back to Amsterdam. Before we left, we headed out on one last run through the Luxembourg gardens. On our way there, we saw some other runners and were surprised to find that the Gardens are one of the main areas for runners in this area of Paris. Around the perimeter of the Gardens is a well-worn running path and a standard counter-clockwise direction for one’s daily run. We observed our French running counterparts and followed their lead through the Gardens, around and around three times, passing the same people, checking our pace and seeing who was going faster or slower than we were. As we headed out of the gardens, we saw one of our fellow runners who had just completed his last lap running home with two fresh baguettes in hand. Classic.
Jardin du Luxembourg
Another gorgeous morning of sunshine and crisp air made us reluctant to pack up the car and leave. So, we walked up the hill from our hotel, past the Pantheon again, and found another little market where we grabbed breakfast and some snacks for the long ride home. When it was clear we could stall no longer, we packed up the car and headed toward Versailles. The palace was somewhat on the way back to Amsterdam and we figured we couldn’t just leave France and not see Versailles.

Our trusty in-dash navigation system got us right to the palace before hordes of other tourists arrived. And it was our lucky day! The first Sunday of the month is free museum day in Paris and surrounding areas, so we enjoyed our free pass to the immense and massive grounds at Versailles. While the structure itself was impressive, we were more amazed at the finely manicured grounds that stretched on as far as you could see: lakes, fountains, angular-shaped bushes and trees forever in each direction. And runners! More runners than we had seen anywhere in all of Paris! Apparently they must come when it is free day at Versailles too, because the grounds were literally covered with runners going every which direction, through the gardens, along the lake shore, through the grass, effortlessly swishing past slow-moving tourists. I had a pang of jealousy, but knew there wasn’t enough time for a second run today.

Versailles

So, we walked as much of the grounds as we could before we realized that the actual palace entry was free as well. We hadn’t planned on spending hours at Versailles, but we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to experience the history and grandeur of this landmark. The photos will do more justice to the place than my words. Amazing, immense, beautiful, grand just don’t capture the essence of Versailles.
Versailles Palace
The drive home to Amsterdam was gorgeous in the afternoon sunlight with farms on either side, rolling hills and quaint towns along the way. We took a detour in Lille, France, just before the Belgian border, to stretch our legs. We happened upon a town festival, so lingered a bit longer to hear some live music and partake in the festivities. Then we walked into the historic center to see if we could find my only remaining gastronomic wish: another authentic Belgian waffle. I was not disappointed, and was ecstatic to find freshly-ironed waffles on every corner. I settled on the one that offered the sweet cinnamon waffles. Heaven. From there, we continued our drive north through Gent, Antwerp, Rotterdam and eventually back home to ‘gezellig’ little Amsterdam.

I picked up some tickets to the USA vs Netherlands game last night. It was a “friendly” game in preparation for the World Cup in June. I figured I had to go support the USA and see my first European football match. After the Olympics I knew that Dutch sports fans were pretty crazy. I did not quite realize how crazy. I arrived to see a sea of Dutch orange (Oranje) entering the stadium. The orange hats, jackets, face paint, flags and even the occasional full orange lion suit was a bit intimidating. I am glad I left my stars and strips jump suit at home.
The swoosh did a great job of painting the stadium red and selling red shoelaces to support the Red campaign.
Amsterdam arena-USA vs Netherlands

The match was good but overshadowed by the intensity of the Dutch fans who did not miss a chance to wave their flags or do the wave.
Check out the video…
http://www.flickr.com/photos/geisthaus/4405140208/

Final Score
USA: 0
Neth: 2

Plenty of time to tune up before June.

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