After we visited Austria, we came home to Laren for Christmas. Chris and I decided a while back that we weren’t going to fly to the US to see our families, and even though I questioned that decision a few million times, we ended up with a very nice ‘blended’ holiday: we incorporated the majority of our old family traditions, but also experienced some new things here in our Dutch world….
We put up our tree before we left for Austria (it was a little dry when we got back…). This year it was Jack’s turn to put the star on–Cooper will do 2014. I had packed our ‘important’ ornaments, which is not an easy task….Chris and I both grew up in families where the children received annual ornaments. Then of course we started the tradition for our children, so needless to say our tree gets pretty crowded. I usually try to give the boys an ornament that symbolizes something significant from that year. When Jack was 5 for example, he received a pewter bicycle because he learned to ride that year….(putting it on the tree this year I felt like it could have symbolized our move to Amsterdam). This year, however, a “sledder” was the choice, from the Salzburg Christmas market and our memories of Austria We also brought out our Jultomten….Swedish Christmas Elves. My Mom has Swedish heritage, and Chris’ Mom pretty much has always wanted to be Scandinavian, so we have lots of these little guys to line our mantel and sit upon our tables On Christmas Eve, the stockings were hung, literally ‘with care’….because our mantel was tricky…… and then we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which we do every year. Cooper shared with us that “Donder” means “Thunder” in Dutch, and “Blitzen” means “Lightning”…. (an “aha!” moment for us…)
Christmas morning came early (at least for Chris and I)….and the boys and Rooney dug into their packages. Another tradition, from my father, is to put clues on the gift tags, so the recipient has to guess what is inside. I think I only stumped Jack once this year, with his Skylanders game (it doesn’t help that Lego boxes SOUND like Legos from the outside when you shake them…not fair!?).
The rest of the morning was spent building Legos, trying out new games, and relaxing in our PJs……
I ordered my Christmas ham from Rotterdam (we liked the rhyme), and despite a few issues with a new oven, an unfamiliar cut of meat, and lack of knowledge about ingredients/cooking times, it was one of the best hams we have ever eaten! …go figure.
I think everyone’s favorite part of Christmas was ‘being’ with family via Face Time. In the course of two days, we were on the line with the Clarks/Shipmans in South Carolina, the Bonds/Ruperts in Portland, as well as our other ‘families’ in Oregon– the Priests and the Evans. I didn’t cry that much, so I thought of that as an accomplishment.
The day after Christmas we packed the car and headed to Belgium. One of our priorities for our second trip was not boarding Rooney again……(yup, we’re a dog-centered family), so a road trip with a dog friendly accommodation was a must.
Bruges was our destination, and it proved to be the beautiful ‘outdoor museum’ everyone told us it would be.
As we headed into another place with incredible historic and cultural significance (the entire city of Bruges is an UNESCO World Heritage Site)….I was determined to find a way for the boys to appreciate (some of?) it. In the last 6 months of traveling, it has been evident that their priority isn’t racing from museum to museum to absorb every last piece of art or musical history….hmph.. So, I got a little creative and gave them a project: create a photo journal of our time in Bruges, and include some of the things for which the city is famous: diamonds, hand-made lace, swans, chocolate, and a legend about a bear being the first resident of the city. We read about all of these during heavy traffic through Antwerp.
After we checked in at the Hotel Prinsenhof, we took Rooney for a walk around, and then thought about dinner. It makes Chris and I laugh that in our 4 days in Belgium, we ate at a Chinese Restaurant, an Irish Pub, and an Argentinian ‘asado’ (grill). Cooper was the only one who had a traditional Belgian stew…which was delicious, I might add. I don’t think we were consciously rejecting Belgian food, it just seemed to end up that way. Speaking of food from Belgium, the boys enjoyed Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce our first night at the Christmas market. Beautifully lit up in the Belfry square, it also had an ice skating rink. yum!
The next day we got in line early for a canal tour. We thought sitting at the back of the boat would be a good idea for pictures (and it was), but it wasn’t so great for hearing the guide over the boat motor. So much for taking in history/culture…..
But look! Some pictures of swans and lace for the photo journal…..
It was chilly, but sunny, so we walked the city …..and sampled chocolates along the way. In one shop, we watched truffles being made, and then purchased one to go.
We had heard of the famous ‘Dumon’ Chocolatier, so we also went there. Is it a surprise that Cooper had a sore tooth on day #2?– probably not.
Jack found a depiction of the Bruges ‘bear’ legend as they continued the search for their journals…This shop made chocolate swans,…….. double bonus!
Despite Jack and I buying hats at the Christmas market to cover our ears, the boys got tired of walking in the cold, so they headed back to the hotel. Chris and I took the pup for a walk to Minnewater: “the Lake of Love”. We also walked the grounds of a Beguinage, (or “begijnhof” in Dutch). First set up in the 12th century, these were a series of small buildings around a courtyard, used to house Beguines –predominantly Roman Catholic women– that wanted to serve God but also not be completely cut off from their community. Historians say there was a surplus of women due to war/violence at this time, and they needed to unite and acquire the support of benefactors in order to survive. It was a beautiful, quiet place. I walked briefly into the chapel, and there were about 25 women, in habits, doing a reading together.
That night we went to Delaney’s, an Irish pub, for dinner. The boys had become a little obsessed with playing euchre since we taught them over Christmas, so we played a couple of hands while we were there, and also back at the hotel. Jack’s minion hat from the market proved to be his ‘lucky hat’, and he wore it the rest of the trip (despite our objections). I think he even wore it to bed. Nice game face.
After the boys went to bed next door –(it is uncommon to find two double beds in one room in Europe)–Chris and I watched: “In Bruges”. It is film about two hired killers that have to hide out in the titled city after completing a ‘job’ in London. The movie is moderately violent and a little troubling, but is filmed entirely in Bruges—the location was not only beautiful, but now familiar! We knew we wouldn’t ever look at the Belfry tower the same way again…..
Early the next morning, I got up with Rooney for a walk. I enjoyed the sunrise, he enjoyed the ducks in the canals No need for details, but poor Rooney was having a few stomach issues, so he went on a lot of walks in the short time we were in Bruges….
We (again) enjoyed the buffet breakfast at the hotel ….salmon, fruit and hot chocolate? no complaints there! As we ventured out, we first checked the line to climb the Belfry. Since it was ridiculously long, we opted for Jack’s request to visit the Diamond Museum. On our way there, we passed beautiful courtyards and churches. Spotted a bagpiper on a canal bridge….the pic is for you, Dad.
The Diamond Museum was small, but interesting. In addition to learning about the history of the “world’s leading Diamond country”, we watched a demonstration of diamond polishing. (Jack has the full video from the front row, if you are interested….:)
To the future partners of my sons, I am pleased to report they now know the difference between a ‘brilliant’ and an ‘emerald’ cut diamond…. (you’re welcome).
We had lunch at De Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery, and although we didn’t take a tour, we sampled their product.
We browsed a few shops– .. and walked by a candy shop making lollipops. Jack became easy to spot in that hat….
There were an incredible amount of chocolatiers, and no way we were going to sample all of them. But we did stop at quite a few just to check out the fantastic window displays. The figures made out of chocolate were amazing. A worker at the “Chocolate Line”, another famous shop:
We had an Argentinian dinner at El Churrasco Steak House– lots of grilled meats and spicy sauces. It was delicious, and Chris got to use his Spanish a bit.
The next day was our last day, and our last chance to climb the Belfry tower. Because of the narrow stairs and the limited space at the top/along the climb, only 40-50 people are allowed into the tower at a time. There was some family discussion about ‘giving up’ when we saw the line, (particularly since it was REALLY cold), but we decided to stick it out with 700 of our closest friends. For about an hour (Cooper timed the wait on his phone-),the boys kept warm by jumping benches, creating obstacle courses, and just being silly
We also admired the work of a painter who was doing watercolor, and ended up buying some very inexpensive postcards from him..
Finally we were in (just in time– the wind picked up and it started to rain), and began the 366 stairs to the top. This pic was taken about 1/3 of the way up, looking down on the square: There was a bit of history provided on the way up, and we learned that the tower was built first in 1240, but rebuilt several times due to fire. It was used as a kind of ‘town hall’, and at one time housed municipal archives and the treasury. It was also used as a watchtower, which isn’t surprising at 83 meters.
The carillon was impressive, its gears clicking away mechanically, timing the chimes…. But then of course there were the bells themselves. 47 Bells in all, they weigh a total of 27.5 tons. There was one bell that weighed close to 12,000 pounds (which is interesting to think about when they are mounted above your head…)
The 360 degree view from the top– It was VERY windy, so we didn’t stay long before we headed back down. You can see why they don’t let a lot of people in at the same time– very narrow, very steep.
We got some hot chocolate and lunch to try to warm up, but the weather was definitely turning, so we decided to walk back to the hotel.
Nap and postcard-writing time..Rooney loved the company (and he was feeling a lot better!)
We had one last dinner at Delaneys, the Irish Pub, and after a few more rounds of euchre, we went home, packed, and got ready to get on the road the next day. We were all ready to get home, and that is a good thing!
Our highlight to end the year was an invitation by our neighbors to join them in celebrating “Oudejaarsavond”, or Dutch New Year’s Eve. I had heard stories about the craziness in the Netherlands, because fireworks (even the larger kind) are legal, and people young and old set them off ….everywhere…..
I know living in Amsterdam would’ve been a much more extensive light and sound show, but our little village put on quite a display in her own right.
It was a great night, and fantastic to celebrate with our Dutch friends. We ate olliebollen– (fried dough with powdered sugar), ..” drank champagne and lit fireworks. Jack took a video of one that exploded right above our heads, and his commentary is funny: “wow, big fireworks….OK, that’s right there….and big….” It was one of those nights that you didn’t realize what time it was until you got home at 2.30. What a fun way to start 2014!
Gelukkig Nieuwejaar! Tot ziens!