Catching up...

Let me try and catch up on all that we have done.

We left Paris and our adorable apartment feeling very sad to go. We hopped on a train (get used to reading that) and wound our way through Belgium. We only had time for a small stop, though, because we were due in Amsterdam and tulips wait for no one!

We arrived in Amsterdam on the fabled Queensday weekend. It is the yearly celebration to comemorate the day that Queen Beatrix took the throne. It was insanity! There was a carnaval set up in front of the palace and hundreds of booths set up around it for several blocks. The streets around the inner canals were wall-to-wall people. Be warned, that should you ever show up in Amsterdam during the end of April, wear something orange! You have been warned. It was fascinating to watch this revelry, however, the crowds, noise and smoke were a little overwhelming for us.

Our first agenda in Amsterdam was to visit The Anne Frank House. Of all the things we are doing in Europe, this was Emma's #1 on her Must Do list. She was not disappointed. We waited outside in the cold for over an hour just to get to the ticket booth. Once we got inside, though, we forgot about everything else.

The museum is actually the old office building of Otto Frank, Anne's father. It is the location of the Secret Annex. The Frank family, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfiffer lived, hidden away from the Nazis, in those few small rooms for two years. Not only do you get to walk through the Annex, you get to see Anne's diary. The museum was beautiful, filled with informational plaques, quotations and well done video clips, but mostly left bare so that you could get a sense of the space and history. There were no photos allowed inside the museum, but I doubt a photo could have captured the essence anyway.

Next we took a canal cruise around the city. We stopped by the Rilksmuseum to see Rembrandt's most famous painting, The Night Watch. We also enjoyed the 1800's dollhouse displays there.

The following day we spent almost the entire day in the Van Gogh museum. It claims a collection of over 200 of Vincent's works, not to mention letters and sketches. It houses works of his contemporaries, as well. They also had a temporary display called, Picasso in Paris. We adored everything!

We followed our museum trip up by renting a pedal boat and wondering up and down the canals. The timing was perfect, as it was slightly warm for the first time since arriving.

That night we ate at Jamie Oliver's restaraunt Fifteen. Fifteen is not just a restaurant, it is a project that takes 15 young people from disadvantaged, economically depressed areas with little prospects and perpares them to work in top restaurants anywhere in the world. It is also concerned with sustainable food practices, recycling and innovative green projects like converting the food waste into fuel. All this and an exquisite meal!

Our last day in Holland had us traveling through Haarlem to the famous gardens of Keukenhof. The fields around Keukenhof produce 70% of the worlds tulip production. They can have as many as 8 million tulips blooming at one time. The Keukenhof gardens are specifically designed to showcase all the types of flowers famous in the region. It was magnificent. We spent th day wondering through breathtaking gardens, enjoying the activities and discovering the local food. Yum! The Broodje with hot mustard and the warm maple waffle cookies are not to be missed!

We bid adieu to The Netherlands and began our train journey towards Italy. I will skip over the travel logistics of taking four trains over hundreds of miles, and just give you the highlights. Lunch in Lugano overlooking the gorgeous blue lake with the towering Alps and the picture perfect town on the hill was heavenly. Traveling from below sea level to the Alps provides endless magnificent views! Arriving in Milan, exhausted from traveling to sit down to a plate of spaghettini with garlic and hot red pepper in olive oil...pure bliss!

We are off to see Da Vinci's The Last Supper and eat more pasta! Ciao!

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