Step One: Take train to Amsterdam, where you will board ship to the UK.
Edit: Said train derails (or maybe something less dramatic), leaving us stranded in Oberhausen, no where near Amsterdam.
Step Two: Totally screwed. This ship won't wait for our little party of four. Unless some really really kind woman who works for D-BAHN decides at the last minute to voucher us a taxi to Arnheim, where we can catch a train to Amsterdam and catch the ship just.in.time.
And so began our voyage overseas. OK, just the North Sea, but you catch my drift.
After 30 hours of travelling we arrived in Old Deer, Scotland, where we rested our weary heads until the morning when we picked up our house keys. Lack of heating, cut telephone wires, and a dancing washing machine later, we're somewhat settled. Meaning only that there is only 77 and a half boxes still to go through, as opposed to the gazillion we started out with.
One train ride and two packs of bubble gum later, Claudia is a pro! I, likely, just have cavities.
And ... We're home!
I think it must be some kind of cosmic joke that I've ended up in a place saturated with playgrounds. It's no secret that I've disliked taking the kids to the park. It's not that I've wanted to deprive them, it's more that I didn't want to deprive myself. Parks are boring for the adult (this adult), unless you're willing to get sand in your toes while your kids yell at you to push them higher and higher on a swing.
But, these parks are different. Nary a swing in sight, they're amusement parks. And they serve booze. It's a perfect mix for all involved and happens to be something that I wholeheartedly stand behind.
Happy little chicks. And a happy husband, who loves to climb trees. How could he resist this rope monstrosity? He couldn't.
This park was in Genk, in Belgium. It was a very worthwhile stop between home and holiday. The restaurant even served bitterballen, so that made for a very happy family of four.
On the flip side, we chose to stop in Arnhem in the Netherlands on our way back home. The Hoge Veluwe National Park was so vast and breathtaking. They are famous for their free white bikes that you can hop on and off of as you attempt to tour the 5000 hectares of unique land.
Also inside the park you find the Müller Museum, home to an incredible collection of works by Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. The gallery space is my dream home. Nestled into the woods, its enormous glass windows made me slightly week in the knees. It was the highlight of the park for me.
And then, like all things, our vacation was over. All my fretting was for naught. Our days were a happy mix of children's activities, relaxing family time, and a little indulgence for the adults. All smiles and sunsets. Except for the getting lost every day part. That really sucked.
In Flanders fields, the poppies grow. Or, on the edge of the road outside of Brugge. Either way they're beautiful.
Our "city day" brought us to the medieval Brugge. It's beautiful, but crammed to the top with tourists (yes, us included) and more lace and chocolate shops than you can shake a stick at. It's picture postcard perfect. And that, my friends, is illiteration.
Brugge means bridges in either Dutch or Flemish, and the city is known as the Venice of the North. Which reminds me that Hamburg is known as the Venice of Germany. Maybe we should just leave Venice alone, no?
Remember how everyone stopped calling themselves tourists and insisted they were travellers instead? Well, we went waaaaay back and did some bone fide sight-seeing. We were shameless. Camera bag strapped across the chest, anyone?
We skipped the lace & chocolate and headed straight towards the home goods. There were a few gems. At the risk of sounded extra obnoxious, did you know there was a ZARA home store?!? Eloise fell in love with a beaded tassel and tried her best at convincing us of the necessity of owning it.
"I need purple hair" didn't quite cut it.
I adored this kitchen store, the name of which is failing me. Something & Something, for sure. I bought the red & white twine for brown paper packages needing to be tied up with string. And Aaron was the lucky recipient of some fancy Belgian pancake mix.
Our feet aching and faces a little dewy, we stopped for a drink and a snack before crossing our final bridge back to the car. Our nice, air conditioned car that would endure us getting horribly lost through back-country roads. I have never heard so much early 90s soft rock, not even in the early 90s. The Belgians sure have a thing for Billy Joel.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret I have. I love the Netherlands, if for no other reason than the culinary awesomeness that is The Bitterballen. Nothing is better than sitting on a patio with a beer in one hand and a plate full of crunchy goodness in front of you. Soft on the inside, and crackling on the outside, these are the be all and end all of croquettes. We chose a mix of vegetable filled and ham filled, complete with spicy dipping sauce on the side. It is the perfect bar food.
At SAM SAM in Enschede.
While I was busy doing this:
And a little bit of this:
Aaron and the kids were busy making this for me. I'm feeling pretty special. Please ignore the various references to violence; "poking eyes" is not as common an activity as Eloise would like to suggest.
I was introduced the the website Little Brown Pen
before leaving for Paris. The author of the site has published a book on the colours of Paris, using inspiring photos she's taken around the city. I was struck by this beautiful blue door and can empathize with the need to photograph every little detail the city offers you at each turn. It's like a treasure chest.
One of my first apartments was a converted coach house. All exposed brick, fireplace, loft bedroom. Oh man, I loved that place. I also fell victim to marathon episodes of Trading Spaces, and somewhere in there I got a hard on for decorating. Shabby Chic was my first love, and the flea markets of Paris were my Mecca. This last week I finally made my pilgrimage. Consider me reborn.
Les Puces is as old as the hills. On the outskirts of Paris, it's where vagabonds came to set up tables filled with a nights worth of dumpster diving goods. After you make it through the maddening crowd of people shoving knock off Gucci in your face and "magicians" playing slight of hand games, you're rewarded with a meandering maze of bric-a-brac and everything vintage and lovely. It's hella expensive, but just taking it all in is worth the trip.
The vintage fabrics were the best buy. Easily transportable and reasonably priced, they were a treasure just to look through. Très jolie.
Paris was everything I could have hoped for and more. Rambling walks, wine hour #1, wine hour #2, more walking, it was perfect. There is just a glow to the city that I've never seen before. It's opalescent. More posts to come on the most beautiful of cities.
Tomorrow is May Day, and I don't think I will ever tire of the crazy way Germans celebrate the most innocuous of holidays. Tonight I should be having a bonfire to scare off witches and dance into the morning. Or, Dance into May.
Traditionally, tomorrow would also see the arrival of the May Pole, or maybe even my secret admirer would put a mini one in my garden to let me know he's sweet on me. The day is meant to be spent outside, welcoming spring. Apparently people go into the woods and forage for sweet woodruff
to make a sort of tea. I could not make this stuff up if I tried.
Instead, I'm off to Enschede, in the Netherlands, to shop. May Day is also Labour Day in Germany. And as old habits die hard, I will pull the Southern Ontarian card and book it over the border where the world hasn't shut down to go for a bike ride.
My father in law is all about cultural experiences. Exploring bike trails, eating local cuisine and apparently clicking in at 200 km/h on the Autobahn. He also isn't the greatest at accepting criticism, so we all just sat back, silent as could be, as he hurled a minivan towards the coast. A two hour drive magically became a one hour drive and we all took turns patting Peter on the back for getting us to the sea in such great time.
We settled on a place called Dangast, a small cove town on the Jade Breast Bay. I don't remember the German name, but it does actually translate to Jade Breast, because of it's shape and the colour of the water. The weather was chilly, with the threat of rain looming, but we made the most of it. The girls and I rolled up our jeans and headed into the muddy water. My tiny girls were able to stay above ground while their not so tiny mother sank into the mud with each step. I convinced myself that I was at the spa getting some kind of clay treatment. My mother in law was just convinced that I was nuts.
Eloise took no time in getting soaked in muddy water. I had no choice but to take off her sopping jeans and fashion a makeshift sarong out of my scarf for her. We thought this was a pretty good improvisation until a stranger came up to Aaron and gave him a new pair of pants for Eloise to put on.
I may or may not still have clay imbedded under my toenails.
On our way to and from Austria, we made stops into the cities of Rothenburg and Bamberg, both in Bavaria. Rothenburg is a strictly maintained city from the middle ages and is flocked to by more tourists than you can shake a stick at. The main town attraction is a pastry called Schneeballen, which is essentially leftover pastry crust rolled into a ball and dusted with sugar, chocolate, you name it. It was disgusting.
Aside from tourist shops, a medieval torture museum (that didn't accept human donations, the nerve!) and a toy museum, the only thing left to do was to find a quiet place for the kids to run around and play hide and seek. This was our favourite part of town, with pretty views and a desire to steal candy coloured houses to call my own.
I'm not a fan of posting pictures of myself unless I resemble my 23 year old self, or it has inherit comedic value. This one has the latter. Aaron, bless his heart, is a full foot taller than me. His remedy for this is to bend his neck so that it level with mine. This results in near dislocation of my own head, but at least we're in the same frame, right?
Severed nerves do not make for the best facial expressions.
Walk with me a little. We leave Rothenburg, go to Austria, sing DoReMi, turn around and land in Bamberg. Destination chosen because of its halfway to home location and its Rauchbier. This beer is brewed with smoked hops, and essentially tastes like Polish sausage. We attempt to find a legit place that both brews and serves its beer with hearty Bavarian fare. Tada! We find it. All hustle and bustle, suspenders and pretzels. We find our seats, order our beer and are handed our menus. Oh, mother of God. We hardly understand a thing on this menu. We know, by now, that Schwein means pig, but all those extra words surrounding it could mean boiled testicle on a bed of raw onion. We had to ask for help. Worst decision ever. Our waitress was, excuse my language, the nastiest bitch we have encountered to date. Holier than thou German bar wench. "Umm, can you please tell us what - schweintesticleonion - means?" For which we received a glare that turned the children to stone and the reply of "Don't you have your guide book with you?" HUH?!?
So we quickly grabbed our beers, asked for the bill, waited for the 5 cents change, which was Aaron's idea as he didn't want her to think we were tipping her five whole cents, and ran into the courtyard. From there we spotted a second dining room and came up with a plan. We would go in there, hope that our wench didn't see us and try to order again. Enter scarier looking wench than the first. Start to sweat as she approaches the bar man and whispers in German. He stares our way, and starts moving towards us. "We just want a pretzel!" I blurt out. He asks where we got the beer from. I'm not above crying at this point, but decide that tattling might prove to be more useful. "The waitress on the other side doesn't want to serve us! She asked us where our guide book was!" Tattling totally works. He handed us an English menu, gave the girls "sweeties" and waited on us himself. The meal was delicious, the beer even more so. We're never going back.