Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 4: Walking the Streets of Brugge, Belgium

Brugge Canal & Bridge


  1. Walking tour of Brugge including, but not limited to:
    1. Belfry
    2. Town Hall
    3. Waffles
    4. Blind Donkey Alley
    5. Fisher's Market
    6. Mussels
    7. Find a particular bridge with fantastic view that I know is in a general vicinity, but not exactly sure how I’ll find it
    8. Old hospital with a 15th century de . . .
    9. View the only Michelangelo statue known to have left Italy during his lifetime in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk
    10. Chocolate
    11. Enter the Begijnhof where the Benedictine nuns dwell
    12. Wander their gardens around the Minnewater or “Love Lake”
    13. Beer

Let me just begin by saying if there were one city in this whole trip that I wished we could have stayed a week in, it would have been this one. Any recollections from this day were each a treasure a will carry with me for the rest of my days.

We awoke for a wonderful breakfast in the front room of the Brugge mansion. The weather was ideal and we were all anxious to get on our feet and head towards the main attractions. I had found several suggestions via websites and tour books which outlined ideal walking tours of Brugge and I used these to make up my own. My "tour" started at the town square which I’d calculated to be a 5 minute walk from our hotel, but even though the walk did not consist of the “real” sites there were just too many things to see along the way turning 5 minutes into about an hour. We found ourselves posing in front of old churches and pointing out odd features of buildings. It seemed treasures were lurking around every corner or through every store window in this beautiful gothic city. One thing in particular peeked out at me and caught my attention through the open door of a little botique shop. Both Jungle Dad and I spotted it at the same time and answered its call by stepping into the store and trying it on. It was a beautiful little straw hat which had my name written all over it. When the shopkeeper came out of the back room she immediately reminded me of the prim and curt Dutch Dames; she simply stated its price as if I were waiting to ring up at the cash register. Her abruptness and the price tag of 40 euros was a bit too much for me to take in one bite, so I stated in my own matter-of-fact manner, "Forty euros? Oh, that is too much." Whereupon she began a long rant towards an invisible guest over the dismay that Europe could bring American workers over and not pay them enough to even buy a forty euro hat and ended the conversation by looking at me and stating, "Well, then you'll just have to go to the market if you want to buy a hat." Properly rebuffed, we left on our way for further adventure but my mind would scarcely leave the shop where my hat lay dejected and lost.

With every twist in the road my first site was closer in view and hung majestically over the array of buildings and with each of those turns in the road I had to take another snapshot. The one you see here is my very favorite shot of the historic Brugge Belfry.Brugge Belfry It just so happens to be one of the only bell towers in the world and was built around 1240. It actually used to have a wooden spire which crowned its top, but fire and lightening had burnt it to ashes twice. I am not sure if this was the same fire which burnt the city archives as well; being a genealogist this part grieves me more than the missing spire. We climbed the 366 stairs to the top of the tower while the grandparents watched the kids and found seating at one of the café-style restaurants surrounding the square for lunch. The walk up those narrow, steep, and ancient stairs was grueling but the view was amazing! Jungle Dad loved the bells and all their mechanisms and each time we heard them ring thereafter we were swaying with them at the top of the tower again.

At the café below the waiter assured us that we must try their lobster as that was their specialty and to assure us it was fresh he brought the little bugger out to meet us on a tray. The girls squirmed to think of the poor thing being killed just so his mother could eat him, but I held no similar convictions and we ate like proper Belgians: A liter of beer, a big pot of mussels, and freshly cooked lobster! It was a meal which could only compare with the French pastry breakfast we ate in Reims a week or so later.

It so happened that the rest of the family could not resist a visit to the top of the tower after hearing our raving reviews and we somehow convinced the grandparents that the two oldest girls could make the 366 steps along with them. I somehow forgot to mention the fact that by the time we had exited the bottom of the tower I loudly groaned upon realization I had yet to traverse the last flight of stairs (probably a whole 15) down into the market square. While they did this we went on a hunt for a cap for Jungle Dad's head. The first souvenir place we stopped found us a very attractive hat, but it was only four euros and I figured if we could find a cap for four euros mabye we could find the kind with the extra neck protection for ten, so off we went. We walked to the end of our time limit and found a sports store with a variety of those I'd been thinking of, so many that it took us out of our time limit to try them all on, only to realize he didn't like the look of any of them. Now we needed to book it back to our meeting place and I told him to run ahead so they knew we hadn't forgotten about them while I speed walked through a shortcut. I love shortcuts! I got there long before he did and we found ourselves all waiting for him to find us. Among the confusion of trying to figure out where one or another was we all ended up eating ice cream and presenting each other with our favorite hats! He was so sweet to have gone back to the store and purchased that forty euro hat that we both loved and I felt even better about it after he let me know the same ranting woman had not been in the shop at the time of the purchase. Phew!

So off we wandered with ice cream in hand, hats on our heads, and smiles on our faces through the meandering and wondrous streets of Brugge. The town was once a bustling port city and is now home to many gothic buildings and architecture. It is also lined with so many canals and where there are canals there are bridges. Like all the other streets in this part of the world they were made of cobblestones and as the lines of horse-drawn carriages passed by with their tourists the streets and squares were filled with the delightful sounds of hooves on stones. Along the main streets were people performing one art or another for a few coins in a hat and we obliged one who was passing out kisses on the hands of young maidens and picking flowers from the cobblestone street for those with an imagination enough to see. The girls didn’t know what to think of him but it was worth the few coins just to see them give him their furtive shy glances as they walked away.

Site upon site met our eyes and soon we were wandering with heads spinning. My map was in hand but suddenly everyone in our group had a different direction in mind. The afternoon sun had sapped us of all mental energy making it evident to each that we must find something to drink and snack on. The problem was that if one person would move it was towards the shaded lane headed down a dead end or back towards the hotel or to a spot of shade under a tree. It was one of those group moments where everyone seems to want the same thing but they King Maskeach go about it their own way. I thought they understood that if we kept walking in the direction my map suggested we'd not only find shade along the treed marketplace, but we’d also likely find eats and drinks once we neared the next major tourist region close to the historic cathedral and ancient hospital. Unfortunately they only seemed to hear "trees" and "flea market" and gave up like a pack of lost mules on the side of the path ready to trot back towards home. I understand that the prospect of traveling another block or two was a very daunting task at the time because we’d been clocking about a block an hour due to all the amazing little things to look at and take photos of. But I knew if we kept our goal in mind and just moved trying to ignore all the beauty and ingenuity surrounding us I was sure we could make it, rather than walking the 20 blocks back to our hotel that didn't have a restaurant. I don't know how we did it, but the pack began to finally move down the trail again. Yes, we did get a little distracted in the flea market and the cathedral doors were open and calling to us and we did get a little disheartened when the water holes along the way would not let us drink at their tables without ordering an entire meal, but we eventually found ourselves following arrows pointing down a back alley toward "food and WC". It was down that alley that we found many empty tables at a restaurant which would let us order a waffle and waters. The restaurant sat in the courtyards of the Old Saint John's Hospital which had been run by nuns until 2001 (give or take a year; I can't quite remember quite which year they left it). Here there had been built a more modern building (dated 1855) where they'd turned the vacated open wards into restaurants and such. We sat just outside a beautiful courtyard with a single young tree in the middle of the lawn. In this courtyard the girls found a few plastic yard toys which they entertained themselves on while we rested. Here it seemed that the ancient Brugge met modern Brugge, although it was not so easily visible. They still make the houses with their tall peeked roofs and similar facades, but my eye was drawn to a strange absense of something. Much like the "doors to nowhere" in the Manchester Mansion in California I noticed a void in the middle of the skyline, a void which was half camouflaged by overgrown weeds. You must know that feeling when something is out of place and your mind keeps pulling your eyes back to try and place the puzzle pieces together. After my mind had tugged enough I finally decided to pay it some IMG_2501attention and discovered the large hole was the remains of a covered bridge which must have crossed over the canal at quite a high point. The people of Brugge must not have been able to decide what to do with the bridge after it had collapsed because it remained half looming over the canal crumbling away with weeds growing out of its brick laid street. It made my mind return to Minnesota for a while . . .

After our little rest we were ready to make our way to the gardens, but our attentions were distracted as always by a chocolate shop or laces or a pretty canal view and we arrived at the entrance to the Begijnhof just as the nuns quietly closed the doors. No matter, there were still plenty of roads to travel and buildings to admire, so we spent the rest of our evening meandering our way through the streets back towards the town square where we were determined to find some Belgian waffles for “dinner”. The attempt was successful and the rest of the road home was on a full belly and with happy spirits. Enough so that I was able to convince the group to head down a few of the roads less traveled on our way back to the hotel and I am so glad I did. If we had not have traveled just a few blocks out of the way I would never have gotten the beautiful photo which rests at the top of this entry. I cannot say for sure which is my all time favorite photograph of the trip, but this one would be up there in the top 5. It was taken while my husband and his mother purchased an evening snack to go with some of our wine after the kids had fallen asleep in the hotel room.

W.C. Report:

The toilet situation in Belgium seems to be the same as in the Netherlands, but once regular business hours had passed no public toilets were open either. The girls and grandma made a bee line run towards the WC sign only to slam into a locked door. This resulted in a scramble for the nearest toilet which was nowhere in sight. For some reason the search for a toilet always brought up the larger discussion as to which direction our meanderings should take, be it towards the hotel, dinner, north, west, east, or south? In the end I rushed the girls into some bushes while the men conversed in front of a map. I must say that having mapped out all of the sites throughout the city on Google ahead of time had prepared me enough not to let them convince us to walk through the residential part of town and rather through the remaining gardens, over a well known bridge, past a couple Roman columns, and back to the square for dinner. Still, there were no available toilets along the way and at some point while walking the trail through the gardens Spider Monkey let out a cry of concern, "Help! We lost grandma!" It seemed the eye of every person taking in the evening scene of the peaceful gardens was drawn towards our direction. Poor grandma! That’s all she needed was a search party organized to help track her down hidden behind a potty bush. I still wonder what the rest of the tourists thought as we shushed the child and rushed out of the garden without looking back for grandma.

Tragedy Report:

None really unless you count the fact that Jungle Dad and I spent the last hour before sleep in intense discussion over how to navigate a tired and thirsty family through a walking tour. In the end we determined it had all ended well, but that next time more communication might be better. Did the discussion as to how to lead a pack of people through crowded streets help later? I’m not so sure, but at least I never saw them huddled together within a tiny spot of shade ever again.

Read comments (8)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day Three: On the Road to Belgium


  1. Pack for entire trip
  2. Hop on The Tour Bus (our trusty(?) Ford 8-seater van) for a road trip to Brugge, Belgium
  3. Stop by Madurodam on the way
  4. Take an initial tour of Brugge upon arrival

Today was a lovely day and could have been that much more lovely if we could have just gotten packed and out of the house! It is normally my mother-in-law and her multiple bags of cosmetics, hair styling equipment, and drugs,vitamins, or first aid for any calamity which we may meet that keep us waiting in the idling van, but today it was the unprepared family who needed to sort through the freshly laundered piles of cloths and cloths which Grammy had brought over for everybody and get them either on the kids or in the suitcases. I ran from room to room grabbing things out of the hospital bag, from this drawer, from under the couch, from out of the toy box and shoving them into one suitcase or another. In all the confusion I found my passport, which I had fortunately remembered was in the pocket of my jacket, and ran it upstairs where I specifically remembered setting down next to my husband who was printing out all the trips maps and details for me and told him to put it with everybody else's passports because he had the special wallet we kept them in hidden somewhere in one of his many bags. Confused yet? I must have been because we were packed and loaded when we realized my passport was MIA. I again ran from room to room of the house searching, even went to far as to search the refrigerator and freezer. I felt so bad not knowing where I could have laid such an important document, but in the process I found even more important items we were forgetting: the baby crib, hats, swimsuits, sunscreen. I tell you, I've never been so unorganized for a trip in my life and here this was to be the trip of my lifetime. I had so drastically failed my own standards of order and timeliness that I began to wonder of the success of the entire trip. After someone found my passport packed in one of the bags I had packed (who knows which one because I packed them all) I leaped into the van and secretly wished for an Enterprise transporter room; I knew we probably could have already been to Madurodam by that time. It is of no coincidence that we named our captain Fearless Leader (aka Pa) as he always waited with the utmost patience next to our craft as each straggler came and went again with each days scramble to embark. He would calmly grab packed bags and load them into the back of the van as they arrived, his having been the first packed, and would give those who were lagging behind the nudge they needed to move a little faster to keep us on schedule, but never with the air of one who could wait no longer and threaten to leave them behind. I wish I had those qualities. Next to him sat Mr. Navigator who felt his occupation was predestined due to his ability to navigate our previous Tour Bus in and out of Germany within the proper days (give or take a few hours here or there) without the aid of a proper map. I was the only passenger to let known my fears of his qualifications, as I was the only adult present who had experienced that journey. I will leave the rest unsaid.

Fearless Leader and Mr. Navigator pulled the Tour Bus into the parking ramp of Madurodam with daylight to spare. The kids were not yet willing to leave The Bus without bribes as they were still enjoying their backpacks full of toys too much, so we convinced them they'd be able to play giants in this tiny world.

I was not exactly sure what to expect. I had only seen a few pictures of Madurodam; the one which stood out the most in my memory was that of a politician standing in a suit with one big leg standing in the middle of a miniature Dutch town. I doubted they would let us walk the streets of these miniature cities, but I figured I'd best set my mothering sensors at critical. I needed not have worried too much. There were displays the girls could reach out and touch easily but the world was so full of displays I doubt their minds had much curiosity left over for touching and feeling. Instead of wandering tiny streets lined with buildings we walked along guided sidewalks from one numbered building or village to the next. Each was so rich in detail I could have stood for hours to admire, just as I might had I been standing in front of the real thing. There were railways and highways with cars, trucks, and trains which ran the route of the entire miniature world. I've always had a thing for miniature trains or, actually, just their tracks and the worlds which you can set them up to travel through, so I was very jealous of the person who got to set up several train tracks to run through this huge world of bits and pieces of the Netherlands. What a treat it must have been.

There were modern buildings and ancient buildings, people and vehicles, and my favorite of all were the trees. The trees were perfectly sculpted bonsai's to look just like the real things in miniature. You did not just look at a replica of a building, but of the building in the midst of its landscape complete with detailed flowerpots in the courtyard to the meandering stream. At each display things were in motion as you might find them in real life. Boats navigated the rivers and canals, bridges raised for them, cars traveled parking lots, semi-trucks docked and undocked with loads for various businesses (those of which we figure probably paid a large sum to get their name or building into the city of Madurodam), and you could even drop a coin into some displays to witness the more spectacular events. For example, a wedding promenade, the band playing in town square, the rides move in an amusement park, or a car go through the car wash. Supposedly you could stay until dark to view the entire place lit up with tiny little street lamps and lights from the windows of the houses and buildings. It would have been beautiful I am sure, but we were on a tight schedule. There was still hope that we may get to Brugge in time for the evening glow of a real live village, but first we needed dinner.

None of us having seen any possible dinner on the road through Den Haag we stopped at a map just outside the entrance of Madurodam. It listed every McDonalds you could find within a 50-mile radius! None of us having set out on this adventure to try McDonald's we tried to spot the most likely cluster which would bring us into an area of eats and treats. I suggested the beach. There was a cluster of streets next to the beach just a few kilometers away and was bound to have a café or two overlooking the ocean waters. Why waste our opportunity of a beach walk when we were so close?

We stopped in the part of town which looked the most active and made our way towards the smell of sea breeze and dinner and found ourselves plopping down at a Surinamese restaurant. I cannot say the service was great, kind of a laid back Jamaican kind of atmosphere, but the food was out of this world! We couldn't stop eating, even after our tummies were full and the sea breeze was tickling our fantasies. I'd observed a steady flow of foot traffic making its way through a hole in the wall towards what must be the beach and Mr. Navigator had come back with reports of wonderful smells and an ocean view after parking the van up the same direction with Fearless Leader, so off we all went.

As we came into view of the beach I knew in an instant I had certainly led us in the right direction. Before my eyes was the view I had only witnessed in travel books and my Dutch textbook: Scheveningen Beach. It was hard to mistake the notable esplanade and long double-decker covered pier. The first time I heard of this beach was in my Dutch Language class last year in Minnesota. My instructor told us that during WWII the Dutch used the name Scheveningen to find out German spies as only the Dutch could pronounce the "Sch" with the proper spitting, hacking, and scratching sound. He he he, I'm just poking a little fun at the Dutch language there, but my instructor did use this as a proper example of how difficult it is to properly pronounce some of the more complicated Dutch sounds. Though today the beach is better known for it's soft sand and long stretch of beach.

We did not get to spend as much time on the beach as I would have liked and I made my husband vow to bring us back there again some day. Even the sands of Barcelona could not compare; though I cannot say the same for the water. We all waded in the water and the girls got downright drenched. I would have likely swam also if it didn't mean I had to be stripped down upon arrival at the van, held up by my arms naked in the cool breeze, shaken, and rubbed down with a beach towel to rid me of the last grains of sand in front a long line of traffic waiting for the vans parking space. After that the girls were tossed into the van, dressed in their PJ's, and buckled while the van sped away towards it's next destination.

Traveling from one country to the next in Europe does go by quickly, but it seems the mathematics to figure out kilometers per hour differ from that of miles per hour. Our estimated 1 1/2 hour trip was really a 2 1/2 hour trip and we pulled in after the kids had all drifted off to sleep. We had called ahead to let the hotel know we were coming in late (something we've learned you should never forget) so we had gotten the security code and the keys were waiting in an envelope in the foyer. Our bedroom was a beautiful room with a sofa bed for the girls and a corner just big enough to put the fold-up crib into which took up the entire front of the second floor of the building. Did I mention it was beautiful? Our parents got the "two-person room" which was up another two flights of stairs to the fourth floor, or should I say the attic garret room? My husband saw it first with Pa and when he came back down while was tucking the girls in bed; he sounded a little concerned. His mother had just gone upstairs to their room and he was a bit afraid I'd made a mistake while I was reserving the rooms. I told him it was impossible to tell what we'd get; they just listed off the different sized rooms by how many people were to sleep in each and stated I trusted they would be nice as the hotel had gotten really good reviews. He said, "It's really cute, but I wonder if they'll think it's a bit too small?" Naturally I had to run up and inspect since it was I who had booked it. Upon entering I found his mother charmed by it's uniqueness and it's beautiful view, so I was requested to run back down and grab my camera for pictures. So, there we were taking time-lapse photos of the view and trying to find the best angle on the room to get as much of it in one shot as possible while the guys were packing the huge suitcases up those 5 flights of stairs. Note that these were not just any stairs either. These were stairs which had been around since the mansion was built in the early 20th century so they were a little narrow, leaning a tad, with a few wobbly rails here and there, and no light. By the end the men were carrying flashlights in their teeth to light their way, so I can't say whether or not the men liked the place, but us women loved it.

W.C. Report:

As I stated in the last chronicle, I wasn't so sure the quantity of available toilets would meet Grammy's demands, yet I was unprepared for the drastic measures which would be taken to accommodate those needs. After our leisurely wade along the Scheveningen Beach we had packed into the van assumedly prepared for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Brugge. Fearless Leader and Mr. Navigator had just figured out how to navigate the one-ways streets to get us out of the town square and headed towards the right interstate when Grammy spotted a Burger King. One might think of Burger King as a source of fast food, but Grammy obviously relates it to "Available WC". We had been stopped in the left-hand turn lane for the last two light changes and the call of the available toilet was just too much for Grammy to ignore. Just as the light changed again and we were ready to roll out of town she leaped from her seat, slid the van door open, and ran across the other two lanes of traffic calling behind her "I just have to go use the Burger King restroom! Come back around for me!" While the rest of us where in shock that Grammy jumped ship, her son was on his feet and running after her calling back, "I've got a cell phone! Call me so you can find her!" Being Mr. Navigator, he knew we were in the worst spot in the road to try and reroute, but reroute we did while the girls anxiously peered out the van windows in hopes of spotting the lost passengers. Find them we did and after they reboarded her son had to reprimand her not to jump ship again, especially without her cash as he had to bail her out at the cue. He found her crossing her legs and begging at the entrance to the WC with a stern faced cleaning lady refusing to let her in without paying the dues. And since this occasion we begged Fearless Leader never to bring the Tour Bus to a halt in front of a Burger King again.

Tragedy Report:

None today!

Read comments (8)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do I have to?


With a small interruption in the midst of my travel chronicles I break to share with your our latest events.  Upon returning from our wanderings from country to country with Grammy and Pa we faced the pending doom of the First Day.  We were all feeling a bit down and lost after waving the grandparents off at the airport and Dad and I decided we needed a bit of a "celebration" to lift the spirits.  He suggested we celebrate making it home.  I, being the practical one, suggested we go school shopping for the girls.  What better way to lift spirits than to go shopping?  Well, at least for us females, but for the man in our household we first went out to eat "one last time" . . . for enough nourishment before entering a store.  But the minute I let the word "back to school" out of my mouth both girls went into a panic.  The daily countdown and biting of fingernails began.  Lesson learned: Don't mention "back to school" mere hours after your vacation has ended.

We did buy them both a beautiful dress of their choice, each with one accessory.  And to help cover up my mistake we took them out the see a movie and eat dinner with Dad after work one of the last weekdays left.  Still we were questioned every morning, "Is today a school day?"  We've made the best out of each remaining day left to us by playing games, some of which were made up just to refresh their little minds without calling it homework, and trying to teach Squirrel Monkey how to ride her bike without training wheels.  Then, last night, we had to break the news to them that the First Day would meet them face to face when they woke up in the morning.  Naturally we broke it to them as easily as we could and we got two very interesting reactions. 

Squirrel Monkey practically leaped for joy at the thought of being back in her classroom.  She was thrilled to see her friends again, even her teacher, and to learn enough to pass the test in December so she can move on the Group 3 with the rest of her friends.  The girl could hardly keep herself from doing gymnastics in bed and we had to threaten to tie her to the bed to get her to sleep through the night.  It's no small wonder she was the first to awake this morning.

Spider Monkey, on the other hand, immediately went into a fit of tears and worry.  She begged us not to force her to go to sleep as the night was going to be to short and she'd have to wake up too early and she didn't want to have to go to school and, and, and . . .  She'd worked herself up into a sobbing mess curled on our bed with her dad.  She spilled her biggest fears to him, told him of every instance she was scorned, embarrassed, and harassed from the entire last school year up to the other day when a boy laughed at her on the street.  She even spilled why her best friend had not invited her to her birthday party which was something I've been trying to get out of her for the last two months.  With all the worry and frustrations this girl has kept pent up I'm amazed she even made it through the holiday without a complete mental breakdown.

It took some adult reasoning to sort out the truth from her own interpretations and we were soon explaining the realities of life with her.  "Some boys laugh at me because they think I'm silly," she'd sob.  Dad would ask,"Do you think they're silly sometimes?  Do you laugh at them?" An affirmative was assumed at her increased wailing and burying of head in the covers.  It took a Dad to explain that she probably wouldn't find very a many boy who wanted to be her friend for a very many years after this year anyway.  As for the girl problems, it took Mom to explain over a bowl of cereal and OJ that they are all quite fickle at times and if she can just keep a smile on her face with a bit of love and patience in her heart she'll be able to pick out the true friends from the thick of their circles.

I marched them off to school this morning in their new dresses adorned with bows in their hair and smiles (of one sort or another) on their faces.  Squirrel Monkey bowled people over trying to get to her class and, smiling at her teacher, sat down beside her.  I left her with a peck on the cheek and began the journey with Spider Monkey over to her new classroom.  Fortunately for me, she pointed out which one it was.  For a moment I was beginning to wonder if she'd feign ignorance so we could just give up and wander home mission incomplete.  Upon arrival we spotted friends; friends who called out to her with returning smiles of relief.  She hid her head from the teacher, even though it is the same woman who fought alongside us to keep her in this school, so we just slid past and found the desk with her name on it.  They'd placed her in a group of four desks with three of her favorite buddies and after I encouraged her to slip over and give them hugs the air in the room began to clear and she held her head a little higher.  I expect a positive report from her at lunch and I expect that somewhere along her life's journey she will began to understand the social aspects of the human being.  As her father stated last night after we'd settled them into bed, he's thankful that she had such a dramatic breakdown now as it can be used later for demonstration: "Do you remember when . . . It wasn't really so bad after all, was it?"

I'd sigh and thank God for not keeping me in those years for too long, but although I am not 7 years old anymore I still find myself facing those same fears.  Does it matter I'm a little better prepared after the years of trials, pains, worries, failures and successes?  I admit I was a bit nervous myself for The First Day.  Would the other mothers still smile and accept me?  Could I pull off looking the equipped and on-top-of-it mom if my daughter decided to experience a complete breakdown in front of her class and their mothers?  Yes, I think those years do matter.  Although I may still experience the feelings of fear and insecurity I can now assure myself that I can make it through them and if I don't . . . I'll still live to try again.

Here's to you, my daughters.  May you learn and live well.  You've just jumped one more of life's hurdles and I hope you remember and learn from it well.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day Two: Amsterdam


  1. Frost Cakes
  2. Prepare for two-week vacation
  3. Give "The Amsterdam Tour"

The day was slow on the uptake a bit. I had an order for a cake that I should have start on while I was stuck in the hospital, so the whole cake turned out to be a bit more rushed than I would have liked. That along with the fact that it was my first ever art cake, I was a bit more nervous about it than I probably should have been. And to top it all off the whole family was waiting on me to be able to get out the door for our day in Amsterdam. The cake took all morning long to decorate. I don't know why it took so long, but it seemed absolutely forever to make. I had to mix up enough frosting to fill and cover a 12" four-layer cake with enough left over for the art on the top. Then I had to mix the perfect colors to match a Piglet and Pooh with a couple other colors for the balloons. I drew the art first on a piece of wax paper, cut them out, place them on the cake to trace around them, and then fill it in with my colored frosting and outline with the black. It may not sound like much, but when you've got everybody waiting on you and their all buzzing around trying not to act anxious just makes you want to be anxious for them. Or at least that is the way it seemed to me. Finally, after long hours of mixing and drawing I was finished and we ran out the door.

By the way, what do you think of the cake?

Amsterdam was lovely as always. The weather was not to hot and not too cold and allowed for us to stroll through the canal streets at ease. Our first order of business was to find a place to eat, and them having settled on eating traditional Dutch I set out to find a place my girlfriends have told me about. My mother-in-law was not so certain I knew the direction after we kept walking and walking, and I must say I was starting to wonder myself, but I think it was just preparing all of us for the amount of walking we would be doing the rest of the two-weeks. Hubby and I are used to walking the meandering cobblestone streets for block upon interesting block in Amsterdam, so this little trip from Centraal Station to Spuistraat was nothing for us, but the days ahead would wear our legs to rubber and our shoes into the garbage.

Situated in the exact location my friend had so accurately described sat the charming Dutch restaurant of Haesjes Claes. It was situated in typical canal house that must have been merged with another as it created a marvelous wandering feeling as you moved from room to room. I couldn't help but explore the entirety of the building before our orders were taken. I could have always used the excuse of looking for the bathroom, but I think they just left me be once they saw me taking pictures of every corner, window, pot, tile, vase, you-name-it. Just charming! It had seating on many floors, each room getting smaller as you went up. By the third floor I was convinced I had to take a portrait of the family from the window to the street below. (You'll find it in the album "European Tour August 2007" along with more from this adventure.) The food was wonderful and the atmosphere "gezellig". We could hardly pull ourselves away from the place to wander the streets again, but wander we did.

We took them along the canal ring where we pointed out houses that so-and-so lived or where so-and-so got drunk and messed up his meeting with so-and-so. To tell you the truth, it was all rather boring reading the little tidbits from the tour book, so we soon just stopped reading and walked and looked. The bridges really are my favorite and the detail on each houses facade is lovely. Naturally, I have a thing for the windows and shutters as well so you'll see plenty of those in the album.

It was debated whether or not we should take a boat tour, but by the end we had walked most of the tour ourselves. Fortunately we have been on the tour enough times that we could point out facts the boat would have, plus a little extra. Besides we got to stop and take pictures and taste a few bites from the shops as well. What more could you ask? We also had to pick up some pastries for breakfast in the morning. This came in quite handy as it was quite the rush to get packed and out the door the next morning. Especially after a late night of fun on the town of Amsterdam.

We had to take them to Rembrandtplein to see the famous figures from Rembrandt's "Night Watch" and it is the perfect spot for people watching as well. Though we had given them a good flavor of the Dutch food we had not yet gotten them the traditional french fries with mayonnaise, so on a hunt for those we went. I don't know why, but Rembrandtplein must be just too high class of a place for such simple things. We were forced to go into my favorite Irish Pub and get some fish and chips. I was not complaining that the fries were not your typical fare as the atmosphere in this pub is excellent. We all had Guinness beers and big smiles. As the evening wore on the baby took game in collecting all of the Heineken coasters and piling them up just to set her sippy cup on. We had to get a picture of our baby in the bar playing with the Heineken coasters.

Afterwards and well into the evening we made our way past the evening tourist spots. The girls were tired and delirious enough we figured they'd just take the ladies under the red lights to be getting ready for bed having forgotten to pull the shades. As it turns out the girls were one of the main attractions there. The ladies in their nighties were leaning out of their doors to coo at them and pinch their cheeks. We joked with Dad that if he wanted a good deal to remember to bring the kids with him the next time ;) Granted, we may have been the only couples who brought their kids to the red light district while it was at during it's prime time, but they've seen the ladies during the days anyway. Thankfully, they do not yet know why those ladies stand in the windows with their nighties on. My favorite quote from the night came from this part of the trip.

"Mommy, look at all of those pretty lights on the water," said Squirrel Monkey pointing to the reflections dancing in the canal.

"Mmmm, especially the pretty red ones, hu?"

W.C. Report:

It was at this point that I realized we may have some serious issues ahead of us. Grammy seemed to have the need more often than one could find a sparse European toilet. They were amazed that you had to pay for a toilet and that you could not just walk into a place and run into their bathroom.

Tragedy Report:

None today!

Read comments (5)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day One: Picking up from the airport and getting settled/ready


  1. Bake a Four-Layer Cake for decorating and delivery tomorrow
  2. Bake a smaller two-layer cake
  3. Give the weary travelers a clean place to rest their heads and shower
  4. Keep them in the sun so they'll wake up tomorrow morning
  5. Prepare for packing
  6. Do laundry
  7. Clean the house!

Seeing as I was kept in the hospital for the two most critical days of preparing for our trip and our visitors, I was in a slight panic when we returned from the airport with them. I had sent home a list of things for the family to do to prep for each, but they seem to have read the list, torn it to shreds, and randomly start doing odd jobs that had been on the back burner for the last several months (for good reason). I love my family dearly, and I communicated that quite clearly when I saw all the hard work they had put into (1) piling every item from the kitchen counter onto the dining room table so they could (2) oil the counters with a stain which could take days to dry depending on the amount they layered on and (3) cleaned off the heating elements in the kitchen so you couldn't notice the nearly invisible amount of dust which had only accumulated for the last 4 weeks and (4) had cleaned a few spots which had been bugging him on our kitchen/living area sliding divider, but had not (1) cleaned the bathroom or (2) washed the sheets or towels or (3) taken out the garbage or (4) given the hermit crabs a final bath. Okay, I'm so not being fair here because they did sweep the floor, remember to take out the garbage bins on pick up days, and submit Screech Monkey's photo into the Johnson&Johnson Shampoo contest before the deadline.

By the way, do you like it?

Anyway, we were able to eat a decent meal provided by the man who had taken care of two children on his own for two days and done all that housework. We settled into the backyard garden to get in as much sun as we could and enjoyed catching up and being able to look at each other from across a table rather than across a computer screen.

We each got in a bike ride here and there to the grocery store for some beer or other missing element and I was glad to see we were not the only American's who had a hard time getting used to a Dutch bike.

They brought over two extra suitcases filled with gifts, American food, and all kinds of miscellaneous items for my new cake business that I'd spent weeks ordering off of eBay or checking of my list to send my mother-in-law in search of at a Michael's. It was just like Christmas in August. The kids were trying on cloths, attempting to put together the broken plastic tiara's and eating American snacks.

Though my cake baking kept us around the house all afternoon it was probably a good thing as they were ready to retire at an early hour and we all needed the rest for what was coming next . . .

(The following reports are included as they are critical details which should never be eliminated from proper travel logs, as you'll learn throughout the next several days.)

W.C. Report:

Somehow it was magically cleaned by the time I made it there; I think one of our guests did it! *blushing*

Tragedy Report:

My brand new pants were ripped in the leg while I was riding my husbands bike to the store! I think I cried over this as they were the first pair of pants I've had in over a year that I actually liked.

My cake was a disaster! On the same trip to the store I asked my husband to take the cake out when it was ready, but he took it out early and the whole cake was a soppy mess which after an effort of trying to rebake it still failed. We crumbled the half baked pieces onto a plate and ate it for dessert ;) I still ended up having to make another batter and spent hours baking!

Read comments (2)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Adventure Began Earlier Than Expected

Sorry to have left without a word, but I can rightfully claim emergency circumstances. Just days before the arrival of my parents-in-law Squirrel Monkey took ill. She vomited nonstop for a day and night and by morning her hands and feet were blue. You can hope against hope but in the end you have to make the phone call. We took her to the local doctors office and from there they sent us to the hospital. With no car, three kids, one who is listless and could vomit all over my back at any moment we made our way through the village streets to the hospital in the next town over. A trip to the hospital was the one adventure I have been dreading to make since we moved, but was thankful my husband could give me decent biking directions. My only major quarrel with the situation was that my usually reliable husband must have acquired some of the Dutch tendency to vastly underestimate the travel time. The 10 minute bike ride was a painful 30 minutes at best, but on the plus side my sick girl didn't have to find a receptacle along the way.

Once at the hospital they determined she was dehydrated and admitted her "until she balanced her fluid intake with her loss". I wish I could say it was as easy as that, but when you add two other perfectly healthy children confined in the cramped quarters of the doctors offices without the aid of the second pair of hands . . . Well, you can imagine things got a little crazy. Then there was the fact that we were unable to eat any dinner until the second parent finally arrived near 8 o'clock at night! By this time I was ready to shoo them out of the door and find a bed to lay next to my limp and delirious child.

As is with most nurses and doctors in the hospitals, they had other plans. In order to hydrate her their plan was to put in a nasal drip rather than the US's traditional IV. I am not one to demand a different form of treatment than the doctor suggests, but from now on I will never let them put another one of those things in my child again. First, they failed to pass my sterile test by dropping the tube on the hospital floor and instead of replacing it with a new one they rinsed it with a bit of water and soap and set it back on the tray. Then they grabbed my limp child and held her fast while they shoved the plastic tube through her nose and into her stomach. She retched and screamed and reached with every last ounce of energy she had left to get into my arms. Her eyes showed a look of terror I have never seen on any face before and hope I will never see again. It was so extreme that I found myself screaming alongside her at them to stop and just pull it out. It took every bit of my will power to stop from grabbing the tube and pulling it out myself, picking her up and running out of the hospital as fast as my legs could take us. In the end they had to establish that the tube had made it to the stomach by forcing air into her stomach and then pulling some of her stomach juices out with a syringe. After all this torture they set her in my arm and she gave them a look to kill and roared at them. I need not question why they felt it best to leave her in her crying mothers arms for comfort at that moment. I would like to question why the Dutch feel they need to use a nasal drip method over the less intrusive IV. If we ever find ourselves in the same situation again I will stamp my foot down and demand and IV. It does have it's own pain factor, but it is nothing in comparison with what my daughter was put through. By the next day they determined she had not had sufficient intake and determined to keep her another day. This made me wonder if we had given her an IV if she'd have already been back on her toes. The last two times we've been to the hospital with her for this she has had an IV and was feeling and looking much better with mere hours.

The final night in the hospital was interrupted repeatedly with a child who had to pee every hour. My warning was a little whine and if I failed to miss that cue the whole train of events would be thrown into a catastrophic scene. Next she would jump out of bed and start running at full speed towards the toilets whilst searching for her underpants. This groping slowed her enough that it gave me enough time to round the hospital bed, grab the pole she was attached to by the tube stuck into her stomach. This tube was quickly running out of slack and I'd have to chase after her without getting the electrical cord caught up on anything along the way as there was only enough tube and cord to extend taught to the toilet. I learned through much trial and error the best place to set the collection pan so that I could easily grab it with my free hand along our race to the toilet. This I had to get situated precariously on the toilet seat before she could work her panties to her ankles and jump on. This was usually done by hopping over a cord or tube and patting her on the head with a reassurance that I was sure she could hold it in just a second or two longer. After each of these races were completed my heart was beating fast and I had to force a calm into my voice as I tucked her back in bed. The night was long, but by the end they had determined they had finally filled her with enough liquids to stop the drip.

In the morning I begged the nurses and assistant physician to let her out in time to meet her grandparents at the airport by 11:45. They could not guarantee anything and wanted to see her drink more on her own which I informed them they wouldn't see until they pulled that nasty tube out of her throat. Every time she tried to eat or drink she'd quickly stop, grab at her throat, and complain that her throat hurt. The following conversation is a testament to her state of illness at the time of admitting. Upon trying to get her to prove to the nurses that she really could drink on her own I tried to convince her that the tube in her throat was the only thing that was making it hurt and that it was actually rather soft, just like the own she was fiddling with in her hand.

"There's a tube in my throat?!?" She gasped in shock.

A bit shocked myself that she could not have grasped this concept over the last two days I tried my best to sound casual about it, "Yes, honey, the tube you have in your hand is the same one that goes down your throat into you stomach."

"It goes into my tummy too!?!?!" Her mouth is now open in utter disbelief.

"MmHm, that's how they put all the extra water you needed back into you."

With a look of dawning comprehension she responded, "Oh, so that's why I'm not supposed to pull on this tube; it's attached to my tummy."In hospital with tube in nose and listening to her favorite Dutch TV program, Mega Mindy.

Poor kid. Here she thought she just had a pet tube to fiddle with. I hoisted her up too look into the mirror and she was again put into a state of shock when she realized her pet tube was actually going into her nose exlaiming, "It's in my nose?!?" But, again with a look of a light bulb clicking, "So is that why I am not supposed to pick at or itch my nose?"

When I had finally convinced the nurses she would eat or drink no more unless she could do it without the pain the tube caused they reluctantly conceded to pull it out. She asked if it would hurt and they told her that only the tape they used to keep it in place would hurt. She gritted her teeth through the pulling off of the tape and as she gave a sigh of relief the nurse gave one quick tug and the tube was gone. Squirrel Monkey gagged and by the time she turned her head to look at the thing that had invaded her body it was already tucked away in the garbage.

She then proceeded to devour her food and drink an entire bottle of apple juice just in time for the morning rounds, when the doctors (again reluctantly) gave her the approved discharge papers, and we ran out the doors without looking back towards our awaiting chariot: man on bike with two kids and an extra bike for the escapee and her mother (the side-along method of transporting an extra bike achieved not as gracefully as the Dutch can do it, but still affective). We rode like mad through the streets to catch the train to find the grandparents at the airport and from there it is a whole other story. Each day was an adventure in and of itself which I will chronicle with the attention they deserve over the next couple of weeks, complete with photos.

Currently I am settling into a simple pace of life again after our European tour of five countries and 8 cities in less than two weeks. I am sifting through laundry and unpacking from the trip and the hospital stay. I still have not yet mailed out the postcards from the trip (yes, it was that busy!) and do not dare look at our email inbox!

Read comments (8)