Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Amsterdam

Despite having spent the entire day in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day, I still felt as though I saw the city without seeing the city; I gained a feel for the people, the culture and the love of a good party without seeing any of the sights due to the large quantities of orange accessories, confetti bombs, vendors and trash commandeering my attention.


With our two days sightseeing in Amsterdam sandwiching a day in the bulb fields, I had a short break from the city to process all that we had seen on Queen's day. So it was with a feeling that I was seeing it for the first time that I returned to hit the main sights we had left unseen two days previous. Roberts lived in the city for a short while, so he had favorite places, preferred routes to get there and beloved views of certain canals he wanted to show me, but he had also seen a majority of the must-see sights. Therefore it was with only Mikus as company that I braved the line for the Van Gogh Museum after the stroll through a shockingly empty Vondelpark (shocking because the last time I was there it was shoulder-to-shoulder full!).


I’m not usually a big fan of museums, as I would much rather experience a city and its history through walking the streets, photographing the monuments and being there. The Van Gogh Museum turned out to be a noteworthy exception. I have never seen a print or reproduction of Sunflowers that will replace the feeling I had standing in front of the original. Although my favorite, Blossoming Almond Tree, was on tour elsewhere in the world, other celebrated canvases such as The Starry Night and Irises were on display. The special exhibit currently showing is “Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky” and I was happy to see a few works by Munch in addition to Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Reaper. In the courtyard between the two buildings they had recreated this painting using only stones and the resemblance was striking. This exhibit is only there through June 17th.


Having rejoined Lauris and Roberts, we headed from the museum district through the South Canal Belt to the floating flower market. After finding a crêperie with outside seating, we made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the scene during lunch. The bloemenmarkt has been a floating market since 1862 and had the selection of an enormous plant nursery. I couldn’t resist buying some interesting bulbs (although not quite the right season, I hope they bloom!) before venturing further into the old city center.


We found our way to Begijnhof, the Beguine convent that was founded in the 14th century and is a bizarre pocket of tranquility in the heart of the city. The city’s oldest house with its wooden façade faces the church and grassy area. Although it dates back to the 15th century, the majority of houses are from the 17th and 18th.

Just a little ways north we emerged from the main shopping artery (Kalverstraat) back into the Dam, which seemed utterly empty without the sea of orange and storeys-high carnival rides. I was amazed that the city had succeeded in picking up the majority of the trash; the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk were once again the focal points in this main square. The Protestant New Church is where Queen Beatrix and all the country’s sovereigns are crowned (Queen Beatrix’s coronation was April 30th, 1980). The town hall (1650s) became the Royal Palace in 1808 during the reign of Louis Bonaparte, and behind it is the beautiful Magna Plaza building, which was a post office but now houses a shopping center.


The Oude Kerk (built in 1306 and the oldest in the city) is not too far east, right in the middle of the Walletjes, or red light district. The word means “small walls” and refers to the extremely narrow streets that radiate out around the church.

We spent a quiet hour sitting canal side, enjoying some snacks and a rest from the walking. The canals each had their own, distinct personality, and this one was quiet, shaded by the leaves of giant poplars with the tall, thin buildings colorfully standing guard.


We passed the Anne Frank House on our way west, reminding us of a darker history than that which is visible on the surface in this city. It is good to remember, but nice to have such beautiful canals to soften the tragedy for me on such a whirlwind trip. I had steeled myself for the sadness before our time in Normandy, but the grief flowing just looking at the unassuming house from beside the Prinsen Gracht canal caught me unawares.

We met the friend that had opened up her flat to us on Queen’s Day for a much needed break that crazy day, and headed to a local favorite for dinner. According to Jill the Café de Oranjerie is “about as Dutch as it gets.” We had bitterballen, something Roberts fondly remembered from his time in Amsterdam which turned out to be breaded and fried meatballs, and kip sate met frites, chicken with peanut sauce and fries.



A short walk to the tram stop was the last of the walking that day, and it was good because we were all beat! Our final evening in Amsterdam before departing south to Den Haag and Rotterdam couldn’t have been any better, and I’ve added Amsterdam to the list of cities that I hope to return to some day as we left the famous Rijksmuseum unseen and dozens of canals unexplored. Maybe next time a different view, from perhaps a canal tour by boat?

Monday, May 28, 2012

The tulips



It was tempting to laze around the morning after an extremely long day, but we couldn’t let Queen’s Day keep us from the main motivation behind this trip: tulips. The weather forecast was just as uninspiring as our sore calve muscles, but we packed up some raingear and headed west.


I had decided to start our tulip tour in Haarlem. It's the capital of the province of Noord-Holland, and in addition it is the center of a large bulb-growing region. We were scarcely outside of town limits when we saw the first flashes of color. Bulbs have been grown in this region for hundreds of years, as the sandy, well-drained soils are conducive to their growth and the tulips thrive in climates with long, cool springs and dry summers.


It was once we got closer to Lisse that we really saw the bulb growing fields in all their glory. The stems are cut off soon after blossoming in order to strengthen the bulb which will then be sold for planting in the autumn. Our timing was perfect; we might have even been on the tail-end of the season, as we could see fields where the bulbs had already been harvested.


Today bulbs cover about 36,000 acres in the Netherlands, and more than a half billion euros’ worth of bulbs are exported all over the world each year.


The second half of the day was spent at the Keukenhof gardens, which very well may be the most famous gardens in the world. What started as an exhibition site for a group of bulb growers has developed into a national showcase that attracts over 900,000 visitors a year. Open only March 22nd to May 20th this year, but with three layers of bulbs planted on top of one another, it's guaranteed something is blooming in every bed the whole time.


Fountains, ponds, themed gardens and art are scattered throughout, and the Groningen windmill on the north edge has a good view of the surrounding bulb fields.


The gardens were extraordinarily beautiful, and the cost of entry reasonable (at €14.50), but it was crowded. Being that it was considered the peak of tulip season, the day after Queen’s Day and it wasn’t raining (although it was overcast and cold the entire day), I thought it understandable that it was hard to get a picture without other visitors in it. Although, we did discover that the park really emptied out about ½ an hour before closing time (which is 1930), and nobody was actively herding us out even when the park was officially closed. I believe this is also when the park was at its most beautiful, and we really lucked out when the sun poked out from behind the clouds as it was setting. The atmosphere is probably similar right when the gardens open at 8am with fewer people and the morning light.


Our loop back home led us past a pancake house just in time for dinner. That evening we arrived at the hotel late, but extremely satisfied with a lovely day spent in the flower fields. It was bedtime for everyone, as the following day we hoped to explore Amsterdam without the distraction of a million people celebrating the Queen's birthday.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queen's Day in Amsterdam

I’ve been in New Orleans for Marti Gras, experienced Chicago after a Bulls 3-peat, and I’ve seen NYC on New Year’s Eve, but nothing had prepared me for Amsterdam on Queen’s Day!

Happy birthday to the Queen!

We arrived in Amsterdam from Luxembourg via the Hautes Fagnes on Queen’s Night, or the evening before Koninginnedag, Queen’s Day. A national holiday in the Netherlands, the day celebrates the birthday of the Queen of the Netherlands (Queen Juliana’s birthday actually, the mother of the current Queen Beatrix, whose birthday is really on January 31st: but who wants to celebrate during the winter?). The royal family is the House of Orange, and so the color orange has become the national color and on Queen’s day was to be seen everywhere; I was somewhat surprised the canals weren’t dyed similar to the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s day!


We didn’t join in the party that evening, instead we donned our orange apparel the following morning and headed into the city through Vondelpark. Queen’s day turns the city into one giant flea market as you can sell almost anything almost anywhere, but in Vondelpark the selling was reserved for the children. The entire 120 acre park was full of them; they were selling their toys, selling refreshments and snacks, playing instruments ranging from tubas to drums, offering face painting, games of luck, games of skill, everything you can imagine! Lauris had his portrait drawn by a lovely young artist for only one euro, and in our enthusiasm over a particular toy piece of construction equipment, we forgot we were walking around the city for the rest of the day and purchased a giant Liebherr 574 for santimes! It was truly fantastic, for some children their creativity must have truly paid off. We saw homemade arcade games, handmade jewelry, gymnasts performing, a dozen recorder players, and everywhere there was a sea of orange flowing on the paths.

Lauris sitting for his portrait
Upon reaching the east gates the children were replaced with a bit of an older crowd; the vendors were now selling beer, and the flute players were replaced by DJs spinning to crowded streets. Confetti bombs were going off, and music was blasting from speakers everywhere.

The canals were full of party barges, cruising to their own music with tightly packed dancers cheering every bridge they passed under. The banks of the canals were lined with revelers as well, but it seemed that the majority of people were on the move, via foot or boat as even the main mode of transport, the bicycle, wouldn’t get very far that day.


We wound our way through the city in an orange river and with the excitement of the day I forgot about being a tourist. My first glimpse of the Dam, Amsterdam’s main square, was not of the Royal Palace and Nieuwe Kerk, but of the carnival with screaming people aboard theme park worthy rides. Thankfully we were staying for a few days, and I would get a chance to see the sights on a different day.

As the day wore on the festivities slightly shifted from an enthusiastic party scene to a more… well, intoxicated one. The alcohol was flowing freely, and more and more trash was being thrown on the streets and in the canals. The public urinals (and don’t get me started on that, there were free urinals everywhere, but the use of a toilet cost between 1 euro and the price of a meal) started overflowing straight into the canals. The pickpockets came out to work, the number of slurring college students increased exponentially, and we even saw a man tossed into a canal after picking a fight with an entire boat of people. Of course, there were people that went swimming voluntarily as well. After a certain time the city was no place for children. Luckily a couple of friends had invited us to visit them, and after a quiet rest for mom and kids while dad checked out the canal-side party scene on Prinsengracht canal, we started the long trek back to the hotel.

The kids in Vondelpark were having a blast

Somewhere on quieter streets we passed a crowded tapas restaurant, and our stomachs immediately started growling. It looked like an awesome place, and judging by the crowd the food must have been great as well so Roberts ducked in to check if there was room for us. He emerged shaking his head, and just as we had decided to try our luck elsewhere a waitress came running after us. She set us up with a glass of wine outside at a table watching the cyclists zoom by, and before long she was ushering us inside to seat us in the hubbub for some of the best food I had on the trip. The place, Café Dos, and even though it wasn’t local food I would recommend it to anyone in the area… 

And for one euro you, too, can have an egg to throw at these enterprising young chaps!

And so ended our Queen’s Day experience. Our walk home brought us past a wine store whose purveyor sold us a bottle of Moselle wine before closing up, and we crossed canal after canal in the fading light until finally falling into bed. It could have been a dream, as the whole experience was so unreal! Though the next morning we did have an orange hat and lei, and a Liebherr 574 road loader to remind us of our adventure in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day…

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hautes Fagnes, Belgium

The trip from the Petite Suisse Luxembourgeouise to the Hautes Fagnes went quickly as we cut through Germany to reach the moors, and most of the time was spent cruising on the autobahn watching the scenery flash by. Less than an hour east of Liège, Belgium, is the Parc Naturel Hautes Fagnes-Eifel that ecompasses the Hautes Fagnes, the valley of the river Our, several lakes, and the Eifel. It runs into the German Nordeifel nature park, and the combined Deutsch-Belgischer Naturpark covers an area of 926 square miles.


The view of the high fens from the tower


Our destination was the Signal de Botrange, which at 2,277 ft is the highest point in Belgium. After stopping at the Centre Nature de Botrange to learn about the ecology of the area and grab a few maps, we found ourselves walking through the restaurant to find the unmarked door to the tower that stands guard over the area. The view over the non-native conifers to the moors that stretched all the way into Germany was desolate but beautiful, and with enthusiasm we bundled up for a short walk to experience the nature reserve.

Created in 1957, the reserve protects a very delicate ecosystem. The windy, harsh climate attracts and supports plant and animal species from high mountains and northern latitudes, and the peat bogs are unique as well. Fire can be fatal for the entire area; I remember how fire would travel underground through the duff and live on for weeks in the southern US where I fought fires, I imagine a peat bog fire would be similar in that it would burn incredibly hot, deep and travel underground.


We set out on boardwalks laid out over the bog, and I found an intense calm in the absence of sound other than the wind. Few other people had ventured out which might have been due to the weather; although it was overly warm in the sun, as soon as we were in the shade it seemed cold and the wind cut right through.

The wind turbines provided high contrast to the nuclear power plant to the north
Clumps of beech, oak and birch broke up the landscape as well as the plantations of spruce. As we walked, we saw evidence that the reserve was attempting to eliminate the non-native species and replace the middle ground between road and moor with native seedlings. Other than the boardwalk and a few informative placards, this was the only evidence of people. Practically deserted now, however the Hautes Fagnes have at some point been home to humans as traces have been found of the Via Mansuerisca, a road thought to date back to the 7th century.

Just south of the Park Roberts found his ville...

Once back in the car we wound our way north, soon crossing the border into the Netherlands. With tired feet from a long day of hiking and climbing we found a roadside restaurant to fill our stomachs before shooting the rest of the way to the next destination on our trip, Amsterdam.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise



The forests, pastures, heathland and rock formations of the Germano-Luxembourg national park haved earned the next stop on our itinerary the title of Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise. Little Switzerland did have an uncanny resemblance to what little of the real Switzerland I’ve seen, and I’m very happy we took the slight detour to see it. We could have spent two to three days hiking along one of the rivers, exploring a gorge, scrambling through the rock formations or hiking one of the many long-distance trails, but we only had the morning. In addition, we had dreary weather and two enfants that wouldn’t be able to pull their weight in a 20-mile hike. So instead of the 10 km hike I had dreamed of I settled for the Michelin guide driving tour of the region with quite a few stops to see the highlights.


Only 30 minutes from Luxembourg, we started in the Müllerthal, the name given to the Ernz Noire valley. Trails crisscrossed the valley, and more than a few tourists had braved the chilly weather to explore. We stopped at the Hallerback river for a hike, and spent a lovely hour following the river through first a short section of planted pine, then through a deciduous hardwood forest filled with giant beeches, hornbeam, birch and oak to a small series of waterfalls. We didn’t see any of the areas wild boar (which is a good thing!) but did spot some cows in the pasture, and some giant slugs. Maybe it wasn’t the day for wildlife?


The spot we spent the most time in was on the road from Berdorf to the Müllerthal. The giant rock formations rose alternately on either side of the road, and a few of the biggest had parking areas and trails so that visitors could take a closer look. Predigstuhl was a pulpit-shaped rock and the Werchrumschluff was just beyond it. Narrow stairs leading into crevices, bridges crossing to rocky pinnacles, and sandstone rising up on all sides, it reminded me of a cross between the Garden of the Gods in Illinois and a park famous for rock climbing somewhere in Georgia that I once visited with a friend (help me out Styron, do you remember the name?). It turns out we were in for another rock climbing mecca experience on this trip albeit back in France, but more on that in a later post.


If Lauris hadn’t fallen asleep once we were back in the car, we might have stopped in the Gorge du Loup (gorge of the wolf) for another quick walk. Once more a network of well-worn paths connected the valleys, and we could even identify the one particular trail that had been recommended to me (but was 11 km long) that runs a loop from Echternach and back. Echternach, the tourist center of the region, is also known for the remains of the abbey founded there in 698 by a missionary from England, and after driving through the quaint little town we turned east and crossed the Sûre river, cutting through a corner of Germany to reach our next destination, the Hautes Fagnes in Belgium.



Sunday, May 20, 2012

The train party

On a different topic from the recent posts about our trip to the Benelux countries, I would like to tell you about a little party we had in the flat a few weeks ago...

I went overboard, I can admit it. However, I decided early on that I would go all out, as this was Lauris’s 2nd birthday and a very good excuse for a party.

Up until now I've not quite understood hosting "themed parties" for children, mostly because Lauris doesn't have a favorite cartoon character or superhero. But I’ve changed my tune because the train party was so fun, for me to organize and for Lauris and his guests! Lauris has been absolutely mad about trains ever since the Clermont-Ferrand Christmas train made its appearance in early December of last year, and imagining his excitement at seeing trains everywhere was enough to me thinking.

Girls like rock stars?

I started constructing a train out of boxes that the kids would be able to actually get in and out of, and after Roberts gave it a base coat Karīna helped him deck it out. It was a success, and a big hit with the guests. To my surprise even three kids sitting on top didn’t put a dent in the locomotive, so we have a permanent cardboard train in the living room now. The day of the party we put down some “tracks” with tape to complete the railway look.

Using smaller boxes I built a “snack car” train for the snacks, including a “log car” for the pretzel sticks. This was very fun for me to build and let the guests know as soon as they walked in the door that they would be seeing trains all night long. As if they needed help figuring that out after seeing the giant cardboard monstrosity in the living room.


The party wouldn’t have failed without train-themed paper plates and napkins, and these were nowhere to be found in Clermont-Ferrand, but we did stumble on some Thomas-the-Train party supplies while in Amsterdam. Perfect!

Coloring pages with trains and paper trains the kids could glue together were our party helper's ideas, and I was amazed at how long these activities held their attention. Dancing, running, shouting and eating seemed to be the other favorite activities that night.
The coup de grâce of my preparations was the train cake, complete with two wagons and tracks made of fondant. Again, super fun to make and if I can be considered an impartial judge, it was delicious! Of course no birthday would be complete without the Latvian kliņģeris and some crazy cupcakes (paldies Karīna)!


We had a wonderful time, and as the guests stayed until after 10pm I believe they had a marvelous time as well. As for the birthday boy, he spent the night choo-chooing away all over the flat, sharing nicely with his friends, and despite the lack of nap was in a superb mood.

My "attention les enfants!" didn't quite have the intended effect...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

At just under 1,000 square miles, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is ruled by a grand duke and the world's only remaining sovereign grand duchy. We arrived in Luxembourg from Dijon to overcast skies and cool weather, but nevertheless set out across a bridge to explore the capital and largest city which was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1994.

"Site du Chateau de Sigefroi, origine de la ville de Luxembourg, 963"

Built on a sandstone bluff surrounded by the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, the city and fortifications are perched high up and connected to the surrounding modern city with several bridges. I had my camera out from the moment we left the hotel as there were fabulous views of the old quarters and city defenses across the Pétrusse river the entire walk to the town.


Once reaching the old center we followed the deep gorge around to the Chemin de la Corniche, “the most beautiful balcony in Europe.” From the Plateau du St.-Esprit to Le Bock, views stretch across the two valleys and the city. Le Bock is a spur of rock that formed the foundations of the 10th century castle of which only one tower remains. In the rocks below are the Casemates du Bock, extensive defensive labyrinths that linked the various parts of the fortress and even served as a shelter during World War II.

"The most beautiful balcony in Europe"

According to the IMF, Luxembourg has the world's highest GDP per capita and this was somewhat evident in the car models with Luxembourg plates that lined up for entry into the car park in the center of town that evening. However, there were plenty of restaurants serving up delicious sounding fare, and between the pleasant outdoor atmosphere and the aromas in the air at dinnertime, I understand why residents choose to converge on old town to eat on a Saturday night. Place Guillaume II was also home to a carnival that evening, and the ice cream cones proved irresistible to two out of four in our party.

The view from Le Bock

In my opinion the two most impressive buildings are the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and the Palace Grand-Ducal. The 17th century cathedral was originally a Jesuit church and the delicate-looking spires were only added in the 20th century. There is a gallery especially reserved for the Grand Ducal family. And the palace, with its three wings; the left (formerly town hall) was built in the 16th century, the right was added in 1741 and the rear in 1891. It was interesting to wander the steep streets, but there is a lack of parks as the plazas aren’t very child-friendly and the green space is restricted to the gorges and the valleys which would take some serious leg muscle to return from. I was also in a bit of a snit as coincidentally the author of The Expats was in town to do a book signing and we arrived at the bookstore 15 minutes too late – I’ve been wanting to read the book and it would have been very cool to meet the author. To think we dawdled at the hotel for 20 minutes and spent another 15 in tiny little Clairefontaine Pl. just a hundred feet from the store that we spotted the posters advertising the event in! In any case I was most taken with the views, not just from the Chemin de la Corniche but as I mentioned earlier, from the bridge, the walk back, but most of all from the top floor of our hotel where I spent three hours the next morning having breakfast with a little 3 month old insomniac.

My three bed-heads
An interesting country, that’s for sure. I enjoyed hearing people speaking the national tongue, Luxembourgish, and although the other two official languages are German and French, most people spoke English as well. If we ever return to this part of the world, I would like to explore the northern part of the country, called Oesling (the Luxembourg Ardennes) with the higher altitudes and interesting geography. However that Sunday morning we were headed east along the North Luxembourg escarpment to Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise, the little Switzerland of the lower altitudes in the southern Gutland region.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Three years

It’s been 3 years since our wedding, but a dozen since we met. I can’t wait to see what the next dozen will bring…


Wishing my Roberts a happy third wedding anniversary. Seeing as the traditional gift is leather, I hope you like the new pants I've bought for you!

Photo credit: Gunārs Lucāns

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dijon

Our destination was the Benelux countries, but a convenient halfway point was Dijon. A city I would never have thought of visiting had it not been on our route, it turned out to be destination-worthy. Roberts and I agreed that we could spend a weekend in the capital of Burgundy, with its museums, architecture and dining options.

My favorite place in Dijon - a little cafe just off the the Place de la Libération

However, we didn’t have a weekend, as I had planned the stop to be a rest from the drive north instead of a tourist destination. When I discovered the Michelin guide to the Burgundy/Jura areas had awarded it three stars my mind was quickly changed, and I started looking into which sights to see the morning after our arrival. The historic centre seemed to be a good choice as there were supposedly quite a few old stone mansions and half-timbered houses on the pedestrian-only streets. We headed towards town on rue de la Liberté and our first impression that was only reinforced throughout the morning, was that Dijon was a city under construction! Hoping to modernize the city, boost tourism, decrease traffic and increase efficiency, the city is installing a tram system, and it seemed that all the major boulevards were torn up. Luckily this didn’t extend to Place de la Libération and the old city. The magnificent square proved to be our first taste of a beautiful town center, with the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy on the north side and streets radiating out like spokes from the semi-circular plaza that dates to the 17th century.

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy visible behind the plaza with its waterworks

To the northwest is the charming Place François-Rude with an old half-timbered house looking over a statue and fountain (the Bareuzai) that seemed to be our prelude to the Mannekin Pis we would eventually see in Brussels as the grape-stomping wine grower is wearing only verdigris… The streets that morning were filled with vendors, we purchased the obligatory mustard as well as a little bouquet of muguets to celebrate the coming of spring and for the enjoyment of their pleasant aroma in the car.


To the east of the Palace is Place du Théâtre and a little farther the 1529 St-Michel church. A Gothic interior contrasts with the Renaissance façade, and I was impressed by the detailed stonework above the three doorways.


To the north of the Palace are dozens of little streets with centuries-old homes that I could have explored for many hours, but we circled to the Église Notre-Dame, a 13th century construction that still has its original façade (although it is currently being restored in portions) and the Jacquemart clock brought from Courtrai by Philip the Bold in 1382 after his victory over the Flemish. On one of the buttresses there is a statue of an owl, and legend has it that the bird will grant the wishes of visitors who stroke it with their left hand. Just next to the church is the Hôtel de Vogüé which dates back to the early 17th century with a gorgeous tiled roof.


Finally, to the south is the Palais de Justice, formerly the Burgundy Parliament. We took a different route back to the hotel in order to pass by Cathédrale St-Bénigne and St-Philibert, two more beautiful churches.

A lovely stone house behind Notre Dame
When I was later reading more about Dijon I discovered that the Order of the Golden Fleece was based in the chapel of the ducal palace in Dijon. In 1404 Philip the Bold had created the Order of the Golden Tree. Philip the Good was married to Isabella of Portugal in Bruges in 1429, and for the first time wore the insignia of the Golden Fleece: a chain with a sheepskin hanging from it. He created the order to strengthen ties of Burgundy to the Church as well as to strengthen the duchy’s position. The Order still carries great prestige and implies a commitment to a disciplined life, and the official insignia must be returned by the heirs upon a knight’s death (so it can not be inherited). Did you know Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, was inducted into the order in 2011?

Half-timbered houses
Another little tidbit, about the Jacquemart clock I mentioned; the name describes the figure of the man who strikes the bell of the clock with a hammer. The people of Dijon decided in 1610 that he must be lonely and added the woman, and in 1714 a son was born. Jacquelinet’s hammer strikes the little bell for the half-hours. And of course they need a daughter also, so in 1881 Jacquelinette was added; she strikes the quarter-hours.

This one is for you, mom!
We really enjoyed our time in Dijon, and possibly might return for another look at this city rich with history and lore. However this particular Saturday it was off to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Laurim divi gadi - Lauris is two!

For English, please see below

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Lieli notikumi šeit Francijā! Jauns prezidents ievēlēts; 51,63% nobalsoja par socialistu François Hollande, un 48,37% par Nicolas Sarkozy. Tad vēl, maija brīvdienas nozīmē kad liela daļa no Francijas atvaļinājumā (vismaz tā liekas); 1. maijs, Fête du Travail vai Labor day, 8. maijs bija Victoire 1945 atzīmēt otrā pasaules kaŗa beigas Eiropā, 17. maijā būs Ascension (par kuŗu rakstiju arī pagāšgad), un beidzot 28. Lundi de Pentecôte, pirmdiena pēc Pentecost. Frančiem arī patīk faire le pont, būvēt tiltus (ar brīvdienām), un tā arī 30. aprilī, 7. un 18. maijā ņem brīvdienas. Bet vislielākais notikums, Laurim šodien divi gadi. Manam mīļam Laurim novēlu daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā!!! Nevaru ticēt, ka divi gadi jau pagājuši (liekās kā divpadsmit!).

Nesen man jautāja, vai dzīve Francijā patiešām tik varena un rožaina cik tā izklausās lasot manu blogu. Bija jāpadomā, jo pagatnē esmu sūdzējusies par to, ka cilvēki rāda fasādi savos blogos un nestāsta par „īsto dzīvi”. Vai es neesmu arī vainīga, apslēpjot tās nepatīkamās lietas kuŗas mums kādreiz notiek? Tomēr rakstu šo dienas grāmatu lai nākotnē varētu atcerēties visus piedzīvojumus, visas vietas kuŗas apciemojām, visus cilvēkus kuŗus satikām. Varu droši teikt, ka negribēšu lasīt par tantrumiem kuŗi Laurim bija, par tām reizēm kad Mikus visu nakti raudāja, par tām dienām kad desmit reizes pārģērbos jo viens vai otrs bērns mani apšpļakstija ar sulu, uz manīm atspļāvās, uzvēma, utt, jo tos brīžus tagad jau labprāt aizmirstu. Es (un cerams Lauris un Mikus) vēlēšos lasīt par mūsu ceļojumu uz Amsterdamu un Briseli (par kuŗu rakstīšu nākam nedēļ), par draugiem kuŗi mums rīt brauc ciemos, par vecmātes ciemošanos nākamās nedēļas, un par Lauŗa 2. dzimšanas dienas viesībām.


Un tā arī ielūdzu jūs atpakaļ nākamās nedēļās dzirdēt kā izdevās viesības ar 12 maziem bērniem un vilciena kūku. Palasīt par mūsu ceļojumu redzēt Hollandes tulpes un Manneken Pis, kā arī izbraukāt Petit Suisse Luxembourgeoise. Un uz brīdi aizmirst tās ikdienas ķibeles un raizes kas mūs tik bieži nomāc, jo tomēr pasaulē tik daudz vietas kuŗas redzēt, draugi vēl nesatikti un gudrības ko iegūt.

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Big month here in France! A new president was elected in the runoff elections Sunday; the socialist candidate François Hollande received 51.63% of the vote while incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy received only 48.37%. May also means the country is on holiday half the month; May 1st was Fête du Travail (or Labor day), May 8th was Victoire 1945 to commemorate the end of WWII in Europe, May 17th is Ascension, and finally the 28th is Lundi de Pentecôte, or the Monday after Pentecost. Of course since the French like to faire le pont, (meaning to build bridges, a phrase commonly used to describe the practice of taking the Monday/Friday off to extend a holiday that falls on a Tuesday or Thursday into a 4-day weekend), April 30th and May 7th & 18th were also “holidays”. However the biggest event for us is Lauris’s second birthday, today! I can not believe two years have already passed (feels like twenty…).


Not long ago someone asked me how life in France really is – it can’t be only the exciting travel and wonderful experiences I write about. This got me thinking, as I’ve often complained that people will present a totally false façade, pretending the gritty/boring/painful never happens to them. For example, some new moms only talk about the wonders that parenthood brings, how they’ve never been happier and brag how the little screaming bundle of joy in their arms is already sleeping through the night. Am I guilty of this as well? I rarely discuss the difficulties and trials we face here in France, not just with parenting, but with life so far away from family and the familiar, dealing with the minutiae of life in a foreign language. I’ve decided that I am not, as this diary of our travels and adventures is meant to serve as a reminder of all the wonderful things and people we saw, experienced and met. I’m sure that I will not want to read about the tantrums, the sleepless nights and the days I change outfits ten times, although I don’t pretend these things never happen to me (see posts here and here). It is comforting to hear that I’m not the only one going through the trials of parenting or of being an expat, but in twenty years hopefully my children and I will want to instead read about our trip to Amsterdam and Brussels (which you may hear about next week), about the friends coming to visit tomorrow, about the weeks the boys’ grandmother will be joining us, and about the birthday party for our brand new toddler.

So I invite you to stop by these next few weeks to hear about how the party with 12 children and a train cake turned out. To read about our trip to see  the tulips and Manneken Pis, and our drive through Petit Suisse Luxembourgeoise. To forget about the rough days we all have and the hardships we must often face, because the world is full of places to explore and friends we haven’t met yet.

"Mom, stop! You're getting way too corny!"

Happy birthday Laurīt, daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā.
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