Our trip to England, Belgium, and Holland

20 May

Adam and I had a blast visiting eight cities in three countries in our 2015 European adventure. I’ll share some of the highlights from each place plus some tips to pass along.

LONDON, ENGLAND

Our first stop was extra special as we had the chance to stay with our friends Leah and Brian, who were wonderful London hosts and tour guides. We visited Camden Market, Abbey Road, had afternoon tea at an adorable place called BB Bakery, saw Kensington Palace, walked through St. James’s Park and Hyde Park, ate in Covent Garden and SoHo, and saw “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Even though our wallets couldn’t believe London’s prices, we had a great time in this iconic city.

Crossing Abbey Road, taking that obnoxiously touristy picture, stopping traffic

Afternoon tea! (obviously my favorite part of the whole trip)

PRO TIP: Get your tickets far in advance for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; also, buy a multi-day transport for the Tube. Finally, we used the tour company Sandeman’s New Europe for London, Brussels, and Amsterdam and really enjoyed them.

BATH, ENGLAND

Bath was the first of many cutesy, storybook towns we visited. Not only is it adorable, but it also is known for its ancient Roman baths — and its modern-day thermae spa! Our day in Bath was a perfect mix of touring, eating (Sally Lunn’s amazing famous buns), and relaxing in the heated mineral water pools of the spa.

Sally Lunn’s buns (mine with cinnamon and his as a sandwich)

Those shops over my head are tiny little shops on a bridge. Could this town be more adorable?

PRO TIP: Go on a weekday to avoid long lines (er, “queues”) at the Thermae Spa.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Brussels, Belgium, or: The Place Where We Ate So Many Waffles We Nearly Became Waffles. Belgium is known for its waffles, chocolate, beer, and Belgian fries (I’m not even going to call them by their misnomer, French fries), but the waffles found a dear place in our hearts (and thighs!). In Brussels we took a walking tour of the city, learning about its beautiful Grand Place square and its beloved Mannekin Pis statue (Belgium’s mascot is a statue of a little boy peeing … yeah).

Grand Place square, with buildings lined with gold

Mannekin Pis … no one seems to know why it’s here, but everyone loves it

PRO TIP: Vegetarians, beware — some of the famous fries here are fried in beef fat!

GHENT, BELGIUM

We loved Ghent — such a lovely little town that nobody has ever heard of. While many tourists flock to Bruges (see below), Ghent is quieter and not yet taken over by crowds. We took a canal tour (the first of three canal tours on this trip!) and enjoyed strolling through the town.

Canal tour

Are we in a Disney movie?

PRO TIP: Make time in your plans — even for a day trip — to come here!

BRUGES, BELGIUM

Bruges was cute, but, yes, crowded. We enjoyed the Friet Museum, some windmills, and the adorable town. The weird thing about Bruges, though, was that every single restaurant had the exact same menu. The same menu! Mussels, omlettes, pizza, pasta, and chocolate cake, basically. The menus outside of each restaurant were practically in the same font. Odd, right?

The Friet Museum

Another canal tour!

PRO TIP: To escape the crowds, head to the small park near the windmills on the northeast side of the town center for some peace and quiet.

AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND

If you like canals and bicycles, well, you’ve come to the right place. Amsterdam has a great feel to it, except — watch out! — don’t get hit by a bike! We took a walking tour and a canal tour of the town, visited Anne Frank’s house, and enjoyed the beautiful waterways.

Bridges and bikes!

The cars here are all so tiny … it’s really a bicyclist’s world here!

PRO TIP: We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Keizershof (including a delicious breakfast), but get in shape at home on your StairMaster to prepare for the many flights of stairs in the hotel; get your Anne Frank tickets at the same time you book your flight to guarantee avoiding the lines. Also, the city is well connected, so get multi-day tram tickets.

HAARLEM, HOLLAND

We wanted more cuteness, so we visited a town near Amsterdam called Haarlem (I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced “Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarlem”). We saw more cute architecture and more cute windmills.

A real-live Dutch windmill!

For some reason, all of the outdoor seating at the restaurants faced outward — when we walked on the street, we felt that we were the actors in a play!

PRO TIP: Try to go on a market day to see the town really come to life.

KEUKENHOF GARDENS, HOLLAND

We were so lucky to be in Holland during the tulip festival. We went to Keukenhof Gardens, where we enjoyed beautiful displays of tulips and other flowers — a wonderfully relaxing way to end our time in Europe.

Beautiful flowers

A windmill and a freshly made stroopwafel, my new favorite food — two thin wafer cookies with a layer of yummy caramel

PRO TIP: The garden is only open March through May, and the the tulip fields are best seen in April — in May they are already completely picked over (but the gardens themselves are beautiful throughout its open dates).

It was a great trip, and we’re excited for wherever our next adventure takes us!

Tap water, how I missed you!

13 May

Well, we’re back from Europe, and I’m … exhausted. (Stay tuned for a full recap of our trip in an upcoming blog.)

Why am I so tired? Not because of the jetlag, or the time difference, or the 20,000 steps per day of walking (thanks for keeping track, Fitbit!). Not because of squeezing a different city into each day of our trip.

I’m sure that I’m tired because of dehydration, which I blame on the Europeans.

Waiter in Brussels restaurant: “Anything to drink?”
Me: “Can I just get some tap water?”
Waiter: “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have tap water. Only bottled water. Still or sparkling?”

And that’s how we managed to spend anywhere from £2 to €6 on a bottle of water at a restaurant. Often, frustrated by the price and the hassle, I just chose to enjoy my meal without any water. Hardly enjoyable.

I am not known to be much of a water drinker — it is my favorite drink, but I just don’t find myself all that thirsty all that often. I keep a water bottle by my desk to force myself to drink water at work, but it is truly a chore that I have to force myself to do. But somehow, in Europe, I guess I never knew the value of water until the water came in a glass bottle and cost as much as my plane ticket.

Europe, it was nice hanging out … but for now, I’m happy to be home, in the land of the free, home of the brave, the United States of Aqua.

Top five things your selfie stick says about you

6 May

Dear blog readers, after all this time, I’m sure you’re wondering: When will Lia tackle the “selfie stick” in her blog? Well, friends, today is your lucky day.

Adam and I are having a wonderful time on our trip to Europe — I’ll be sure to post more on that later. But for now, a short piece about the selfie stick.

selfie stick

Selfie stick in St. James’s Park in London

 

Selfie stick in St. James’s Park in London

 

Selfie stick near Kensington Gardens

Selfie stick near Kensington Gardens

Presenting: The top five things your selfie stick says about you:

  1. I am a tourist — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m definitely, surely not going to even attempt to blend in with my surroundings
  2. I love architecture, but I think that famous buildings like Buckingham Palace, the Taj Mahal, the Egyptian pyramids, and so many others would look better if my face were in front of it.
  3. I’m not interested in talking to strangers — even the nice, friendly ones who would gladly take my photo and then in exchange I’d take their photo, and then we’d talk about where we’re from and think, wow, this little world really ain’t so bad.
  4. Seriously, I am so uninterested in asking a stranger for help that I would rather carry a metal stick around with me all day.
  5. I truly believe that my metal stick and my arm are more capable than you to take this picture.

I will credit my dad with one great idea, though — if only a selfie stick could double as an umbrella, we’d be on to something!

See you on the other side of the pond soon.

The beauty of spoofed/spammed e-mails

29 Apr

Last August, I wrote about some crazy Nigerian hackers sending out spammy e-mails on my behalf.

Sorry to say, friends, it happened again.

FIRST, A TECHNOLOGY LESSON

I’ve recently learned that it’s not actually called “spamming” in this case — it’s called “spoofing.”

Many of you probably received an e-mail that looked like it was from me because they used my name; but the e-mail address was totally different. This means that possibly a long time ago, some obnoxious nobody with no morals somehow got my address book and is sending e-mails to my nearest and dearest — but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve changed my password, I’ve set up two-step authentication in Gmail, I monitor where people are logging into my account from, but the deed has been done and I can’t fix it.

IGNORE THESE KINDS OF E-MAILS FROM ME

So, for now on, you’ll probably get some sketchy e-mails from me occasionally. Please accept my blanket apology and just don’t click on the link. If you’re not sure if it’s from me or not, contact me to find out, but I tend not to write e-mails that look like spam.

Here’s an example of an e-mail that one of my friends received last week from “me”:

Subject: from: Lia Lehrer

Salutations Jill

[SKETCHY LINK, I WON’T INCLUDE IT HERE JUST IN CASE YOU GET CONFUSED AND CLICK ON IT]

Lia Lehrer

Sent from my iPhone

There are a few warning signs in this e-mail.

  1.  Subject line. You will never see “From: Lia Lehrer” in a subject line from the real me. Obviously you can see who it’s from in the “from” line, so I can use the precious subject line for more important things like “Dinner tomorrow night” or “Pizza toppings” or “Dancing monkeys visiting my office with Oreos.”
  2. Weird words. I have never and will never use the word “Salutations.”
  3. Full name signature. Rarely do I sign an e-mail with my full name. Come on, if I’m e-mailing you, we’re probably already besties and on a first-name basis … and also, who are these other “Lia” friends spelled the same way that you’re cheating on me with??
  4. Sent from my iPhone. Remember those commercials: “I’m a Mac” and “I’m a PC”? Well, friends, I am a PC. I’m not getting an iPhone. I love my Samsung Galaxy S5.

THE BEAUTY OF THE SPOOFED/SPAMMED E-MAILS

You gotta look at the bright side of life, though, right? Here’s what happens when spoofed e-mails get sent on my behalf: Without my even trying, here I am, showing up in your inbox, keeping in touch with you!

Wow, I haven’t heard from Lia in a while, but oh, that’s so nice of her to e-mail me. I should really call her.

I have one specific friend who lives out of town and we have a hard time keeping in touch as often as we would like; but she consistently texts me after receiving these spammy e-mails to make sure it wasn’t really me sending them, and, BOOM, we’re texting!

It’s like an alien has come into my inbox and e-mailed people on my behalf who he thinks I should be in touch with. “Lia! You haven’t e-mailed Sally in a while! You know what, rather than waiting for you to reach out, I’m just going to do it on your behalf.”

Spammy spoofy roboty alien, you know what might be better? Maybe send these people some actual content. Cut it out with the virus-inducing links; instead, maybe there’s a way you can include a message with my latest blog post and an intro message like…

Hey Sally, it’s been a while, I thought you might like to read my latest blog post.

[Excerpt from latest blog post.]

Hope you’re well! Salutations! Greetings, Earthling!

Lia Lehrer

Sent from my iPhone

Friends, I look forward to keeping in touch with you soon … whether it’s from me directly or from my social assistant, the Spammy Hacker!

Dram ewe, auto carrot

22 Apr

Editor’s note: For this week’s blog post, please enjoy a guest post, written by my friend Benjamin Singer.

Computers are sew smart.

Sorry — that was supposed to say “so” smart. Ergh. Stupid autocorrect.

Sometimes my phone fixes typos perfectly. Or takes a complex voice dictation and flawlessly relays it, with proper nouns and all. For example, I told Siri to have Lia tell her dad that I enjoyed the Passover seder with the MIDI files. Basically perfect.

Other times, I’ll be typing too quickly, and the phone amazingly corrects “dint” to “don’t” and “ehy” to “why,” “cant” to “can’t,” “thst” to “that,” “ehere” to “where,” and even “Lia lhrer” to “Lia Lehrer.”

But for some reason, sometimes it can’t type what I tell it explicitly.

When a friend of mine gets engaged, receives a job offer, or wins an election, I like to tell them “mazel tov,” congratulations. (Or “mazal tov” if I’m feeling extra Hebraic.) But a few years ago, I facilitated a discussion with a volunteer corps called TOV. I had an Android phone. At some point they got added to my contacts, and a year later, my new iPhone started autocorrecting all of my “mazal tovs” to “mazal TOVs,” making me appear either incredibly enthusiastic, 70 years old, or both.

But that shrinks in comparison to my oddest, most common, and most embarrassing autocorrect.

If there’s one word I use more than “mazal tov,” it’s “justice.” And every time I write “justice,” it autocorrects to “jolly rancher.”

So “pursue justice” turns into “pursue jolly rancher.”

“The importance of social justice” turns into “the importance of social jolly rancher.”

“Systems of justice” turns into “systems of jolly rancher.”

I once wrote this to a rabbi — check out the picture.

IMG_3529

And, in a bizarre twist, the only way I can actually type “justice” (and keep it that way) is by mistyping it as “justic” and then accepting the correction to “justice.” That’s right — if I want to type the word correctly, I have to type it incorrectly.

You don’t even want to know what Siri thought I meant when I wanted to tell my roommate “happy holiday” in Hebrew: “Chag sameach.” Use your imagination.

And if you figure it out, mazal TOV!

Uggghhh.

A fanny pack of one’s own

15 Apr
My new travel companion.

My new travel companion.

A keen follower of this blog might observe that this not my first post or even my second post about fanny packs. Is it possible that I might be the only person in history to devote more than 1,500 words over several years to these lovable waist purses that the haters hate hate hate?

In June 2012, in “Bring back the pack,” I wrote about my deep desire to make fanny packs “a thing” again. A few months later, in August, I wrote about how my cousin Jeanne read my fanny pack blog and bought me an adorable shrinkable runners’ fanny pack that holds keys and a phone. I even borrowed my mom’s fanny pack on a trip to Disney World.

But this past weekend, I decided it was time for me to own my own full-sized fanny pack — not just for runners, but one that I can really wear all day, all night. I’ll wear it on my walks around Chicago neighborhoods, when traveling, and any time my shoulders have just given up on supporting the mini-Walgreens I carry around with me.

I am 28 years old. I have a full-time job that I love. I’m getting married to my dream guy in October. I have many wonderful friends. I am at a point in my life where I think I can afford to let my inner fanny-pack-dorkiness shine. Hey, world! If you don’t like my fanny pack, well, maybe you’ve got some problems of your own that you’re dealing with on the inside and don’t you dare blame it on my amazing shoulderless carryall. This is MY life.

But somehow I think the revival of the pack still hasn’t quite gained momentum, and over the weekend I visited every single store on State Street in Chicago, disappointed with the blatant lack of packs.

Dejected on the bus ride home, I turned to the anti-State Street: Online shopping. I found the perfect fanny pack for a mere $7 that came in a variety of colors (though I decided to just get black — let’s not get too crazy all at once).

I would like to share with you one of the online reviews of my new fanny pack that arrived this week.

This fanny pack completes me.
By Carlos

So I was hesitant on purchasing this fanny pack. But let me tell you. This fanny pack completes me. As a 34-year-old adult male, I have no idea why I have never used one before. The moment I heard it “click,” I knew I was a fanny packer for life.

Everything I need to carry with me is one zipper away from me. My keys, my gum, money, nail clippers, my bottle of Tabasco sauce. It’s all right there bellow my waist.

I have to tell you that every time I hear that click of completion, I feel like Batman suiting up to fight crime, the only difference is I’m not fighting a crime, I’m living my life (thanks to this fanny pack).

Sometimes people will glance at it and I get the impression that they just don’t understand the life of a fanny packer. I can only think that this is the same way batman feels when people look at him.

If I could wear two of them, I would, I just don’t have that much stuff to carry.

Get one today!

Europe, I’m coming for you in a few weeks. The people of London, Amsterdam, and Belgium are going to look at me and say, “WOW! Who is that amazingly beautiful and stylish girl with gym shoes and a fanny pack? She walks like she owns this place. There’s no way she can be a tourist. She must be a model.” See you soon, European fashionistas.

Politicians on cell phones

8 Apr

Politicians sure must spend a lot of time on the phone.

obama

romney

 

It seems like I hear it on the news all the time. Obama didn’t call Netanyahu to congratulate him on being re-elected as Israeli prime minister. Romney called Obama to concede the election. World leaders are constantly calling each other.

I would just like to know: How do they do it?

The first picture in this post has a subheading that says, “Bibi still waiting by the phone.” Am I right picture him looking something like this?

phone

Here’s how these phone calls probably happen.

Obviously they text each other first.

Obama (via text): hey bibi, u free? wanted 2 say congratz on the win.”

Netanyahu (via text): oh yeah lol, thx, [happy emoticon alien]. im driving right now, can u call in 5 min?”

Obama: (via text): kkthxbye

When the time comes to make the call, Obama whips out his iPhone and says, “Siri, call Bibi Netanyahu. … No, don’t search for Bambi on the internet search engine Yahoo!. Call Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu answers the phone. “Pizza Hut, how may I help you? … Nah, just kidding, what’s up, Barack?”

“Barack???” Obama says. “You must have the wrong number, because I’m Ruth Bader Ginsburg!”

They go on to chat for a few minutes, but then Netanyahu says, “Sorry, I’m in a bad cell area, I might lose you!”

They play phone tag for a few more minutes (clearly they haven’t read my Caller Calls Back blog) and then they’re back. They chat for a while.

And then: “You hang up first,” “No YOU hang up first.”

In my mind, I am imagining it to be extremely adorable. But if I want to find out the truth, should I just try to call Barack on his cell directly? Nah, I should probably text him first.

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