B's Surprise 30th Birthday Trip!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Its been a few weeks since we got back from a surprise trip to Europe, but I'm still smiling from it :)

If we've spoken in the past year, you've let me (did I give you a choice?) anxiously, giddily, chat with you about a surprise trip I was planning for B's 30th birthday to London for an Arsenal game (his truest love — remember how many games I had to watch on our honeymoon?). He thought he was tagging along on a business trip with me, my boss and my boss' husband to New York since there would be a lot of downtime for me, but instead, I surprised him at O'Hare that we were going to London!

Last year, on his birthday, I emailed our closest friends and asked them if they'd be interested in joining us. It was a big ask, and I was thrilled when people said yes. Fast-forward a year: A group of friends surprised him at O'Hare, his best friend at Heathrow in London and his family at what we convinced Brian was our Airbnb (it was theirs). This was his mom's first international trip, and Brian has been encouraging her to go for a long time, so that surprise was extra special. After a few days in London, B and I went to Amsterdam, where I unveiled a couple more surprises...

My boss happened to have a flight to Brazil at the exact same time with the same airline, so he drove us to the airport to keep the lie going. Days leading up to the trip B was onto me that something strange might be going on, but he said when my boss picked us up from our apartment, he figured we must be going to New York and it must be for a business trip. Gotcha! 

I have all the surprises on video, but I love that one of our friends got this shot of him seeing his parents! He was so shocked and confused, mission accomplished :)

We stayed in the Shoreditch neighborhood, which is full of hip pubs and cafes, colorful street art (our favorite was the one above ;), eclectic stores and legendary nightclubs. It was a bit too edgy for us nerds, but it made for lots of inside jokes. And maybe it was the adrenaline crash after lots of surprises and sleepless travel, but nothing has ever tasted better than the pizza down the street from our Airbnb that we grabbed immediately after getting rid of our suitcases.

We spent our first night in Covent Garden, eating fish and chips, drinking Rekorderlig cider (the passion fruit one is so delicious, and I recently found it at the nearby liquor store at home, so my summer is set :) and eating sweet treats. It was such a special, relaxing night and felt surreal spending it with some of the most important people in our lives ... across the ocean. So many times during the trip B and I would marvel at how good this life is and how lucky we are to have filled it with such genuinely good, smart, funny, talented people. We're so, so grateful for these relationships. Best adventure buddies around <3

We walked into Crosstown Doughnuts on a whim one morning and found ourselves back again and again. We were skeptical since they're vegan donuts and we all had our share of vegan pastry horror stories, but these were out of this world. 

We spent most of our first day hitting up the big spots, like Tower of London, St.Paul's Cathedral (so. many. steps), Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I grew up in England, and B and I have been together and separately before as adults, but each time feels just as fascinating. There's so much history, so much to see and do, so much culture, we always leave discussing what it would take to move there (not much, just a couple of jobs :)

Our friends Harsh and Monika fell asleep at any opportunity, and B took a picture each time. We've got a handful of snaps from buses, planes, trains, couches. People after my own heart, these two. 

That night we unwinded with more pizza, beer and cocktails, which led to sharing embarrassing stories (of mostly me). Again, maybe it was the nearly 30,000 steps we walked, but that pizza, man. We ended up sleeping around 3am, which hasn't happened in years

I know it gets a bad rap, but I love English food. Maybe it's because it feels nostalgic, but a solid crumble, beef wellington, shepherd's pie, Sunday roast or good old Marmite sandwich is never lost on me. I also love a traditional English breakfast, although I still can't get behind black pudding.

I loved Highbury, the neighborhood where Arsenal plays. We've decided it's a contender for if we ever live there (for him, the stadium, for me, the cobbled streets and cherry blossoms), but the fancy cars parked on both side of the streets let us know we should keep dreaming. 

B was on cloud nine the entire time we were at the game, and although I'm typically sports-averse, it was exhilarating. A friend of mine in England helped me get the tickets (he's a diehard, goes to home and away games no matter where they are), and he killed it (thank you forever, Nickan!!!). We had club seats and couldn't have asked for a better view (or better weather).

There was an open bar at half time, where I sat and ate malt balls and sipped wine inside by myself because you can't take drinks into the stadium and B didn't want to miss a second of the excitement.  

While we were gone our cutie friends went to the British Museum and sent us this picture <3 

That night we met up with everyone and had the most special dinner at Via Emilia. It's a tiny Italian restaurant, and we told the waiter to bring us whatever he wanted. We had course after course of breads, meats, cheeses, pastas over nearly four hours. It was all so delicious, and the stories we shared (B's parents told the sweetest one from their honeymoon that neither he or his sister had ever heard before!) made it so memorable. 

It's probably because I'm intermittent fasting now, which means cutting out breakfast most days, but I'm really missing my breakfasts past. And its been so cold and dreary in Chicago the past few days, a pot of tea would also be really nice. 

We spent our last day playing board games at this bar, eating lunch at Borough Market, drinking more cider, walking around Chelsea and having Indian food with one of my best, longest friends, Aryan, at Dishoom. I always get sentimental when worlds collide and new friends meet old ones (a reason our trip to Croatia with Aryan's family and my family was so special). On the last night of our trip B and I laid in amazement of this extended family that we have. I know I already said it, but such, such good, lifelong friends. This trip wouldn't have been possible without these people, and we love them so much for it.

On the morning that everyone left, I surprised Brian at breakfast that we were now off to Amsterdam! And I haven't stopped talking about that breakfast since. B's yogurt parfait was the best thing I tasted the entire trip. I don't know what it was about it, but I haven't stopped thinking about it. Don't leave London without a stop at Ottolenghi's (a recommendation from my friend Catherine, who killed every recommendation!), and please bring me back some granola.

A lot happened while we were in London: After more than 20 years, Arsenal's manager stepped down; Queen Elizabeth celebrated her birthday; it was Saint George's Day, a national holiday; and another royal baby was born. We spent some time at the airport lounge before heading to Amsterdam catching up on news, our inboxes and eating everything at the buffet to make sure I go onto the flight feeling my worst (my specialty). Also, I'm not a beer drinker, but I really like Kronenbourg 1664. It's probably a really mediocre beer, but something about it is so good to me.

I think my favorite surprise, of all the surprises, was B finding out we were staying on a boat. Once we landed in Amsterdam, I was trying to lead us to our Airbnb, and we were walking along a row of boats. He jokingly turned to me and said, "Babe ... are we staying on a boat?" And when I said yes, his face was so surprised. We both laughed so, so hard. It was a tiny space (the tiny wooden part on the top of the boat) with an awkward bathroom situation and a sweet, funny family of five living underneath, but it was such a cool experience, and we had the best sleep of our lives. 

We dropped off our suitcases and went straight out for fries after doing extensive fry research.

We've been fans of Tony's Chocolate for a while (we always stock up at World Market or Whole Foods) and were amazed at all the flavors you can get in the Netherlands (where the company is based). I came home with a cardamon-honeycomb and a orange-rosemary bar. Brian had a white chocolate strawberry one, which was delicious. More importantly, the chocolate is crafted with cocoa from 100% slave-free farms. Bravo! 

Cozy, stormy nights <3 

I had been recommended Pancakes Amsterdam before we left (and told specifically to get the bacon-apple pancake), and it was so delicious. We split a couple types of pancakes that morning, but this one was my favorite. There's a Dutch pancake restaurant by our apartment we've been wanting to go to, and now we can't wait to compare (since we're pancake experts now, of course).

Brian's not a big fan of pictures and so sweetly indulges me, but I think if I took another canal photo on this trip we wouldn't have lived to tell the tale. So, I'll spare you. But should you want more, I think I have this shot of every canal (and there are 1,281 bridges, so....).

One funny thing about Amsterdam are the public restrooms. Metal structures are peppered around town, and guys can just go in and pee, even though passerby can see their feet and faces! I couldn't help but blush every time I saw someone (Brian, on the other hand, wants to bring them to States)! 

My kind of museum. Where we ate our weight in samples. 

Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, but I had no idea just how many bikes there would be. There were bikes everywhere, and this tandem bike carries four people. 

Since our trip was so short, we decided to treat it as if we were, more or less, living in Amsterdam. So we would sleep in, walk through back streets, and then have a delicious meal and drink wine beside a canal. We'd see where the day took us (or I'd steer us to yummy stroopwafels), and it was a fun, relaxing way to experience the city. We didn't go to many of the tourist attractions, other than visiting the tulip fields and Banksy Museum — even though I knew I was supposed to get tickets to the powerfully affecting Anne Frank House before we left, I didn't, and we regrettably weren't able to get in. A huge mistake on my part.

Dinner at De Reiger, which Brian suggested, was fantastic. I know my mussels, and these were some of the best I've had. 

We were lucky that the big Netherlands tulip festival was happening while we were there, and anyone at home who had been before said we couldn't pass it up. It was so beautiful, and we want to go back with our moms one day. 

The final surprise of the trip was staying at a fancy hotel (with the #1 rooftop bar in Europe!) for the last few nights. My parents actually gifted B all of our Amsterdam lodging, which was extremely sweet of them. This was the perfect cap to a perfect trip.

The cheese and meat fondue at Cafe Bern was a trip highlight. We got the last table at the bar (early, around 6) before they told customers they were full for the night. We'd definitely recommend going (and going early!).

The apple pie at Winkel 43 lived up to the hype. It was the best apple pie either of us have ever had, and if the line wasn't so long, there would have been seconds.

Our last day in Amsterdam was King's Day, which was like nothing either of us had ever seen before (750,000 visitors come to Amsterdam for it, which has a population of 850,000!). To celebrate the king's birthday, every street in the country is a party. Everyone was dressed in orange, drinking and dancing (and huge yard sales) as far as you can see. It was unreal! 

You can't really see it, but there's a man in a short wedding dress and veil in the picture above. These guys turned the whole sidewalk into their beer pong tournament. 

Naive me learned that those balloons contain nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and that the Netherlands has learned to put soft drugs in just about anything. 

Naive me would always rather inhale a burger. 

Before we went back to England for a day, we had breakfast at Metropolitan, which led to the biggest and best sugar coma I've ever experienced. 

We spent the last night in the suburbs of London with my friend Aryan and her family, making lots of future travel plans and reminiscing for hours over dinner.  I mentioned this on Instagram — I didn't get to say goodbye to Aryan when we moved from England because she was sick, and my mom was pregnant with my brother and couldn't risk getting sick while moving two kids across the ocean alone. I threw tantrums, and my mom ignored them and told me to put on my big girl pants, that Aryan and I would see each other again and again, that I'd be back in England all the time with my own family. Moms are always right.

And that's that! It was such an amazing trip, from start to finish! We love you, Brian Lee Hayes! Thanks for giving us an excuse to adventure and for our friends and family for being the highlight of the trip and our lives <3 

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