Saturday, July 04, 2009

Driving Fast

As fast as we are driving, we don't seem to get any place too soon. Our mistake? We may have aimed for too many stops in our European Sampler. Geoff will never admit that he regrets stretching ourselves so thin, even though we are sitting at a German rest stop while he naps. Yesterday we drove from Gelderland, Netherlands, through Limburg and all the way to Triberg, Germany. And by “we” I mean Geoff, because we are in a manual transmission Espace. I drive automatic. Anyway, driving all that way and stopping to see the Kasteelruins of Valkenburg, got us in to our hotel at 23:50. Such a beautiful drive, while it was still light, but hard too. The GPS is either doing an amazing job or she, we call her Sheila, is completely random and prone to stoopidty. It's hard to tell. We drove through the Netherlands, then Belgium, then France, then Texas, then back in to Germany... Sheila delights in making us take horrible and absurd detours when a u-turn would suffice.

Update: That was written on our way to Switzerland on the fourth of July and now it is Sunday morning. 5 July. Brienz Switzerland.

Geoff never should admit we are spread too thin. It is all worthwhile. We are a bit travel weary and we definitely wish we had more time to spend in the places we are driving through and the places we have stayed over.

Triberg, Germany was adorable and the people were incredibly friendly and considerate. We made an embarrassingly fast visit of the town. Saw the giant cuckoo clock and took dozens of pictures of window boxes full of the brightest and prettiest red geraniums I have ever seen. Everything was unbelievably quaint and charming... to the point where I have abused the words “quaint” and “charming,” and was forced to rely on “cute” and “precious” as well. The drive out of town was almost excruciatingly quaint, charming, cute and precious and I was gasping, sighing and exclaiming over every barn, window shutter and foxglove filled meadow in sight. We even came to a narrow stretch where we had to wait for cows to be herded across the road. Chickens on haystacks and a woman in an apron and a kerchief on her head was raking in a forest clearing... I got the picture in my mind, but unfortunately not in my camera.

Switzerland. Whoa. Hey, when they say “going through the Alps,” they are not kidding. We have never been in so many tunnels in our lives. Long ones. Forget the time of day long. Uphill long. Really, really long. Longer than this description.

We had a blast. We laughed and marveled and delighted at every twist and rise. Toward the end of our drive we stopped going through the Alps and actually started driving up the mountain. The green and lush, waterfall dotted, chalet covered mountain. I begged to hear yodeling and craved fondue. I wanted to find grandfather and the goats and drink milk and make cheese and braid daisy chains to wear in my hair. I need a dirndle.

We passed many lakes that are a color I have no name for. Slate blue? Sky gray? Iced jade? It rained. It is a perfect temperature. We arrived at our hotel and could not believe our fortune. Brienz is the kind of place you would feel lucky to see, to drive by and hope to visit, and we are actually waking up here... on a lake! We are in a comfortable hotel apartment with views of the lake from all three rooms. We have been watching clouds and water, chalets and boats, ducks and mountain faces... all changing, appearing and disappearing in the sunlight. It was not fireworks for our Fourth, but it has been a breathtaking display. Also in view is a church and we have been serenaded by its bells ringing the hour. The view from every corner, from any angle, is an idyllic postcard. Honest. How will we ever leave? When can we return?

I do not want to temper my mood, but I am keenly aware of how much I want and need to appreciate being here, being in the moment and thanking God for our blessings. I am quite certain that the Blue House will not be ours. It breaks my heart. Pity Party forthcoming.

My aunt Liz has been keeping us updated on her parents' health. My tia and uncle Bill have been fixtures in my mind and heart for as long as I can remember. If I were not here, I would be there, visiting them and trying to find the words that comfort, trying to be helpful somehow. Liz, and Beckie... their entire family, my Abuela too, are all easing my tia's days as she prepares for heaven.

At this very moment the church is ringing out the hour and a calling for service. Tearfully, I recall our own church in El Valle, all the services there and the inspiring and sustaining faith my Abuela has. The resonance of the bells is vibrating in my heart. It is not stopping. To the very last ring, it stirs the air and my spirit.

Maria has been sad, homesick, only twice on the entire trip. The first time did last several tear filled hours in which she mournfully called out for Izzy. “I miss Izzy! I need Izzy! Izzy. Izzy! Oh, Izzy...” sniffle-sniffle. I've been homesick too. I think every pretty house, fat hen, and lovely town makes me wish for home, for a home of our own... otherwise I think I could just keep traveling and seeing new sights and waiting. Someday I will have flower boxes and chickens on haystacks and a fenced yard with a veggie garden. Someday I will be unpacked and have family pictures on walls... walls painted the colors that I like.

But now... now we are Here and here is a beautiful place to be. We are healthy and feeling strong from many great walks. We have enjoyed amazing sights and good laughs, even the stimulating challenge of being a bit turned around or wondering if we are in the right place, doing the right thing... just yesterday Geoff and I had an unexpected lesson in “how to use a public bathroom in a Swiss truck stop.” Our trip won't last much longer, but I hope to be in the moment, appreciating all of it while I am here and then savoring the memories later.

Oh for goodness sake... it's too good here. Too good, I'm telling you. Geoff just called me to the porch so I could see the white swan on the lake. It glided by on mist, as regal and elegant as any fairy tale swan could ever be.

I am too cynical to believe that any place is perfect.
I am too hopeful to stop wishing for something that comes close.

I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Like Comic-Con With Better Food!

Bruxelles is one lively place. Once we parked and settled in to our rooms it wasn't long before we realized we were in a place that was going to be ideal for sights and fun. Our hotel was a lucky find... about a two minute walk from the Grand Place, a UNESCO world heritage site. I know I already mentioned the food, but seriously... good food is not hard to come by in Bruxelles! And laundry day was a huge success too!

We were only there two nights, but our rooms were comfortable and we were more at ease about everyone moving at their own pace. Geoff took a long explore on his own. Alex and I met fellow blogger and new resident of Bruxelles, Dallas... she's keeping a beautiful and travel inspiring blog about her new life living in Belgium. It's a great mix of amazing photography, nature, daily adjustments and sewing... For The Journey is a favorite blog. Today she is posting about the heat wave... it's pretty bad here in the Netherlands too!

Dallas also passed along her comic-mural map of Bruxelles. The city is dotted with comic scene murals painted on walls. We found some of them, and the Tintin store. William and Alex were reading Tintin before we arrived in Europe, so it was fun to visit the gallery-store and to recognize the mural near our hotel. Max and Maria joined their brothers in Tintin appreciation.

My mom was asking to hear from the boys... what are they doing and thinking? The answer is: They are trying new foods, taking long, long walks, exploring sites and people watching. We met Del and Joyce, a couple from Chicago... we shared a long lunch and engaging conversations about Wisconsin, video gaming, traveling, multiculturalism and where to find the best chocolate! They ordered the mussels and even Max gave the local favorite a try. He said they were good and he said he did not need to order a pot of his own. William got to enjoy a chance to share his knowledge of video games and the process of making games... the kinds of games and methods of producing different game styles. Later William took over the camera to capture some images of this beautiful place... we all love the local custom of gathering in a central place, relaxing, conversing, expressing through art, music... I know, this is my point of view, but mom, the boys play so hard and so late that they sleep until we are on the move again! Computer time is brief and I get it only because I wake early to write before we head out the door again! Until they tell you or make time to write, know that they have been engaged and intrigued and good and very, very busy!

Did I mention Alex is talking about going to school in Bruxelles? He is especially taken with the city, including the “pedestrians first” traffic rules, the amazing sandwiches and definitely the jar of Speculoos Dallas gave us. He also loves the many bookstores and all the great comic art.

The time! Gotta go!

We head to Germany today, all the way to the Black Forest. It may be sometime before I can post again... depending on WIFI availability etc. We are making our way from Netherlands to Barcelona in the next 4 days!

One of William's beautiful Bruxelles photograph.

Coming soon! The future is now!
Can you guess where our last stop in Bruxelles was?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Time to Reflect

We are in the Netherlands. I wrote a brief update about how much we love this quiet and comfortable place in the Veluwe... it was brilliant, so naturally it got scrambled and lost when I tried to post it last night. Wish me luck as I compose a second post... this time reflecting on our last day in Paris. You see, it is so calm and relaxing here, that I am beginning to process all of the sights, sounds, impressions and highlights of our days in France.

We got brave our last day in Paris. Since half of us wanted to go back to the sailboat pond in the Tuileries Garden, and the other half wanted to walk under Paris in the Catacombs, we decided to split up, take different Metro lines and meet later at the Louvre. Geoff, William and Alex left first and they took the camera. Max, Maria and I left soon after and our first stop was a last visit to the Marche San Quentin... where we could buy beautiful fruits and fresh baguettes and even chicken... feathered-severed head optional. We bought bread and cheese and fruit, juices, and cured sausage... all for a garden picnic. Maria makes a friend in every shop and marche stall. She collected a small breakfast she could eat as we walked around the small open stall market. She and Max shared cherries and petite croissants, then we made the brisk walk to the Metro Station Gare d l' Est for our ride to Palace Louvre on line 7. Max learned to keep track of which line we needed to catch and which stop was best for our destination.

The walk from the Louvre station to the Pond is fairly long, especially through crowds and with a four year old, who's knee is all better by the way. We took our time. We walked down the Rue Rivoli, then cut across through the Louvre, near the Pyramid. Every language can be heard walking around Paris and we were surrounded by school groups and vendors, a bride and groom posed for portraits, and of course there are cars, buses and bike and motorbikes in the mix too. It's a rush. Either exhilarating or exhausting, sometimes both. Never dull.

We were lucky and grateful to find chairs in the shade. We parked ourselves in view of the ferris wheel, near the statue of Cain... poor Cain stands in utter shame and remorse after slaying his brother. How does an artist carve grief out of marble?

We unpacked small toys for Maria to play with, we talked about how long it might be before William and Alex and Geoff joined us. We looked for the man with the sailboats, and we knew he would not come around as long as there were still storm clouds... the thunder, lightning and rain came heavily in the night, just as the boat man had said it would. We ate berries and shared a croissant, then munched on baguette... is there a better breakfast? We enjoyed bird watching and people watching. I think we were enjoying the last cool day in Paris... all reports since have been about heat and humidity. We were fortunate. Paris may be beautiful, but I can do without heat and humidity while staying in a noisy hotel without AC.

On our way to our shaded chairs we were walking steps behind a vendor. Every where we went there were men carrying rings of Eiffel Tower key chains, souvenirs they sold in every size and color. It cannot be an easy way to make a living, and Paris is an expensive pace to live or visit, so these people must struggle to get by. The man in front of us carried hundred of shiny towers in his hands and a pack on his back with more inventory and... and an open pouch. Thinking and worrying about pickpockets and opportunistic thieves is a constant preoccupation in any city, Paris is certainly no exception, so I got his attention and in my highly qualified French (gestures and sympathetic mutterings) I explained that his bag was wide open. He looked stunned and took immediate action, he was only quietly grateful, but it was plain to see his relief, I even recognized the look of speculation as he considered what he might have lost. He turned his back and took a tower from his large hoop of dangling key chains and he slipped it in to Maria's hand, nodding his head, smiling. Maria loves her small treasure. I love that our souvenir is a memory of making contact... crossing the barrier between sightseeing and being engaged.

When the rest of the family came walking towards us from the direction of the Louvre, we could see they had enjoyed a good adventure. William wanted me to see the pictures they took and he described the images, the dark rooms beneath Paris where bones were amassed to empty the cemeteries that were dangerously overcrowded, beginning in the 1700's. It is a fascinating history... with stories still unfolding to this day. They had walked a long way beneath the city and came to the surface in an all together different part of town, but they made their way to our meeting place safe and sound and full of new impressions.

Now for the Louvre! Just as we packed the remains of our lunch and watched the giant pigeons enjoy our crumbs, we saw the sailboat man arrive with his boats. Geoff took Max and Maria for a last bit of sailing while William, Alex and I went to get museum tickets. The long line moved quickly and it was no problem walking in to the popular Pyramid entrance. The escalator takes you down below the pyramid and into a very modern and sunlit courtyard... as busy as the streets and courtyards above. We waited for the sailors in the book store... what a treasure room the book store is! Every art subject, in every language... surprisingly few nick-knacks, but loads and loads of books. I could have spent as much time in there as the actual museum.

What do you see at the Louvre? What don't you see at the Louvre? We knew we were never going to get the total package. The place is probably miles worth of art... miles and layers and corridors and levels and separate buildings... it goes on forever. Geoff decided we should see Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. I thought he was nuts for choosing two of the most popular pieces, but I was also grateful to have a plan... this place can easily stop you in your tracks just in the planning phase! And his plan turned out to be just fine. Yes, it was crowded, but we saw breathtaking Greek and Roman marble statues and we saw hundreds of Italian Renaissance paintings and we saw Her, "the lady," as Maria called the Mona Lisa.

In a very big room and surrounded by larger works sits a quiet and unassuming portrait of a pretty lady. She sits serenely and completely at ease with the crowds waiting for their turn in her presence. You can tell when someone finally focuses on the Mona Lisa, when they realize that their search is over and they are actually seeing La Gioconda... they gasp or sigh... no matter what language they spoke there were reverent utterances throughout the gallery.

Maria had been getting tired and losing interest, so I made a game. Sitting in a quieter corner, near the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I patted Maria's back, rubbed her little legs and let her tell me all of her woes...
“I'm tired and my feet hurt and this is just so long!
I sympathized on every point and then I sighed. I took a deep breath and said, “I want to go too, but we haven't seen the lady yet...”
She perked and asked “What lady?”
“Mona Lisa. She's here somewhere and we want to find her, because she is so beautiful. It would be sad if we could not see her pretty dress and long hair. She is smiling and she looks like a nice lady, but where can she be?”

Maria saw the print of the La Gioconda on the wall, with the arrow pointing in the direction of the gallery where we would find her. Having a mission and purpose, she led the way. We looked in to a lot of faces, Madonnas and angels, ladies and saints and Maria kept the pace eagerly looking for Mona Lisa. Success. Not only were we seeing art and moving along without dragging Maria, but Maria was completely engrossed in the search, and when at last she found her... Maria was enchanted and pleased.

William helped me get a picture of the crowded gallery, the people amassing in front of the tiny portrait. Alex reminded me that it's painted on a piece of wood, not canvas.

After Mona Lisa, William asked to see the rest of the Italian Renaissance paintings, so Geoff thought of a new theme for Maria's game... find ladies dressed in blue! Ladies in blue, in a gallery of Italian Renaissance paintings... brilliant! She loved this game very much and all of the lovely Madonnas and angels seemed as pleased and willing to play as Maria. Max and I sat together and talked about religious themes in art, about art patrons and expressions of faith. We saw a small painting of St. George slaying a dragon. Max sympathized with the dragon. Alex studied the guide and found an area where we could see Medieval Paris. Maria counted 42 ladies in Blue.

We found Venus de Milo. And Maria made up her own theme...find statues missing limbs. There were many examples of these and we explored more and more of the museum, without complaint.

Next Alex directed us down, below, where original buildings below the Louvre were excavated. Suddenly we were in Medieval Paris. The thick walls and dark recesses... it was a moving and almost chilling view of the hard life in those days. Walking through the rooms I could not help but feel the oppression, the struggle it must have been for most people to get by in Medieval Europe.

We needed air. On our way up and through the gallery of Greek and Roman statues, Maria decided on one more theme: Naked people. Max found this rather embarrassing, but given the art before us, I found it an entirely appropriate and observant theme. We found lots and lots of naked people.

Goodness... I am ready for a break! Just thinking of our last day in Paris has got me ready for a stretch and fresh air. We walked to Place de la Concorde. We rode a Metro to Ecole Militaire and walked to the Eiffel Tower. This time Alex and Geoff climbed the Tower. William, Max and I watched Maria play in her sandbox, in the playground beneath the southern leg of the Tower... this is where she played and made friends when William and Geoff climbed the Eiffel Tower. On that first visit to the playground and after two hours playing with other children, as we were leaving she said, “There are so many people talking French here!” Geoff and Alex joined us and we realized it was already after 9PM... that tricky non-sunset fooled us again. No dinner, exhausted and a very long way from our hotel, we did the only logical thing... we stayed to watch the sun finally set and to see the Eiffel Tower shimmer and sparkle. We sat with hundreds of Parisians and tourists, with rowdy revelers and picnicking families, with sweethearts drinking Champaign, and tour groups on Segways...

and we waited

and then we saw the Eiffel Tower light up the night... our last Paris night.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Place is Amazing

No pictures. No links. No prose or poetry.
No time to compose a real post, with real content.
It's just that we are having too much fun and by the time we pause to catch our breaths... well by then we are drawing the drapes and saying goodnight... even with the sunlight glaring.

We are in the Netherlands, near Apeldoorn and Arnhem and the Veluwe... near all, because this country is so small. It is small, and appealing, in too many ways. We are almost overwhelmed with how much we find appealing. Today we swam for hours, then rode a quad bike for four and a low bike with a sidecar. We walked and played and jumped. We read and showered and made plans for tomorrow. We've seen new born baby goats and Max even held one! I have never seen as many rabbits, every size and breed, together in one happy place in all my life. There are geese and doves and even a solitary chicken.

Tomorrow we are going in to Amsterdam, which may prove a difficult negotiation. The children will question the merit of leaving the quiet country, pools and bowling, bicycles, mini golf and marvelous playgrounds for another city. I suspect that Amsterdam will not disappoint them. Would anyone care to suggest eating places in Amsterdam? We are aiming for scenic walks, the Anne Frank House, Rembrandt's home, and the Van Gogh Museum... if that isn't too much already maybe You have a suggestion for a cannot miss activity-sight-taste?

Monday, June 29, 2009

It Gets Better and Better

Someone asked where our trip began, and it made me pause. It was... uh...we were in... London! It felt like such a long time ago, and I could not even say how long we were there. Very slowly, like peeling back layers of fog, I began to recall certain details, like the British Museum and peas, the big park with geese... oh, yes, Hyde Park. I couldn't be certain that these were genuinely my memories and not just guidebook recall. I concluded that I hope to return someday, because we barely scratched the surface, because I really want to give those peas another try and because the first two or three days were completely zapped by Jet Lag!

Jet Lag hit each of us at different times and with varying degrees of unconsciousness, crankiness, slow thinking, disorientation, thick tongues, heavy feet and a general feeling of uhhh. “Uhhh” is a feeling and it means “Please take care of me, until I am reconnected with my brain.” During the first three days we took turns being either semi-capable, or fully jet lag impacted and therefore mostly useless. It can be insidious, deceptive. You can believe that you are semi-capable, but those around you will confirm that you were babbling incoherently or wearing your shorts inside out. I may have dropped to the floor and pounded it with my fists, while flaying my legs and saying “I want to go home! I want to go home!” I don't know. It was last week after all and we under the influence of time travel and high security check point interrogations and sleep deprivation. Did I mention I got a clothes-on, full body security groping in Calgary? That will throw you, let me tell you.

London was lovely, I am pretty sure. I hope to return someday, when I am actually awake.

I am imagining it helps to be in a tour group, especially for the initial few days of a trip to a new destination. It would have made a tremendous difference to have been met at the airport by a smiling, confident guide, then bussed to a hotel. It would have been a relief to hear someone say “We are taking you to these places and we are feeding you at this hour and all you have to do is either stand or sit.”

We got on a plane in the light of day and we never saw the sun set and then when the flights were over it was 24 hours later and we had not slept and we were supposed to pass through customs, figure out public transportation, find our hotel, carry luggage, safeguard four children... four children who may or may not have bitterly resented us, but who certainly doubted our choices... lol.

I say all of this to remind myself... to make me think carefully... if we ever manage to take a second trip of a lifetime we should seriously consider starting in any destination that we don't mind forgetting or perhaps booking a package tour for the beginning, so that someone else does the heavy lifting. Wouldn't that be a brilliant business? Someone could create a three day guided tour of major airport destinations for tourists that otherwise want to be independent. For three days someone would handle all my major thinking and logistical matters, throw in low key sightseeing and generally ease the client through the fog. Brilliant.

Well, the jet lag is gone. And everything keeps getting better and better. We love Bruxelles, we loved Paris and London too. William is taking photos, Alex is planning to return to study, Max ate mussels in Brussels and Maria thinks Belgie children's television is wonderful and I think she could be fluent in Dutch if we stayed any longer. But we are not staying any longer... in fact we need to get packed and outta here! More soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

And Now Bruxelles!

We're here. We managed the whole Paris exit fairly well. No major problems. We had great fun in Cambrai, France and Geoff's GPS worked admirably well, getting us into Bruxelles, but now we are wiped out. Our first impression is of a very busy, bustling, narrow streeted, high traffic kind of fun park, and that's just the hotel block... there is more out there waiting for us! Hopefully we will find an Internet cafe and dinner. Hopefully we will be able to fall asleep in broad daylight. It's 20:30 and the light suggests 15:00. PLease attribute spelling errors, bad grammar and brief post to having had lots of fun our last night in Paris. More soon.

Le Quack-Pack du Cambrai

Como se dice "quack" in French?

For us, novice European travelers, barreling along a French highway is interesting, a new experience... but any good road trip calls for a detour. Detours away from the main expressway or freeway or superhighway... those deviations from the GPS sanctioned route will lead to great discoveries.

Our drive from Gare Nord to Bruxelles was going smoothly. We did see the Marche du Puces en Ouen, but unfortunately we kind of got swept up in the traffic. It was Alex that wanted to see the stalls of the rag and bone men, the curiosities and knick knacks, but wedged in to the back of our Renault, he felt the pull of forward momentum stronger than the need to try turning around to battle traffic in the opposite direction. I hope we can make it up to him... somewhere between Bruxelles and Barcelona we hope to find a flea market where an artistic, history loving, robot building, imaginative young man can bargain for Medieval curios, old coins and cool bow ties.

Happily we found ourselves on the A1, completely by chance, and it couldn't have been too much easier to follow the signs out of Paris, on our way to Belgium. Geoff got used to driving a manual transmission again. We fiddled around with the windows, adjusted the AC... the usual little things that occupy your time in a new car. Outside the windows we saw more and more open land, planted fields and forest. Cows. Wisconsin? Is that you? Ever imagine you are seeing a familiar face in an unexpected place? Well, we were seeing a familiar space in the French countryside... rolling fields, steeple topped villages, farm houses... any moment I thought we would come to Cambridge.

OKay. Other than the pleasure of thinking of Wisconsin, the fast drive and steady hum of a straight road, with only occasional cows and steeples to capture the imagination... well, it got a bit hypnotic, kind of droning, sleep-inducingly hypnotic. Maybe it was stayin up to the oui hours in Paris the night before... whatever the reason, Geoff needed a nap. The GPS protested: stay on the A2... do not digress, no. NO! U-turn, u-turn! We made the exit for Cambrai. It looked like a big enough dot on the map for a scenic nap spot. We aimed for the steeple, for the center of the Ville and we all perked up seeing the funny, blue, French pick-up truck, the ivy covered brick building, the very old homes and all the beautiful flowers. Geoff turned the car in the round-about, then we turned right where the sign said "Ville Centre," then we saw the duck pack.

Hold on.
Did you see... did you... was that a duck in a pack on the man's back?

Geoff was already stopping, pulling over on the little street, because he had seen it too, and when you see a full grown man, dressed interestingly, surrounded by a laughing crowd,and sporting a wire cage with a live duck, there is no other thing to do but stop.

I grabbed the camera (too obvious?) and set forth. A fair size crowd of young men was gathered around a man dressed as a fowl, duck or chick, whatever... he was actually still in a shell, with felt covered bird feet coming out of the bottom. Actually, I had second thoughts about approaching a rowdy crowd of strange men, and only my searing curiosity about the duck on his back propelled me forward. I had to get the picture!

The rowdy young men, handsome too, were jovial, high spirited, and obviously in league with the hatchling and even though I only wanted a picture of the duck in the wire cage back pack, I was in store for so much more! The man dressed as a newly hatched bird and wearing the duck pack approached me with a binder full of flyers and he began his talk, in French, blushing hard, laughing harder.

"Hables espaniol?" I asked hopefully. He did not, but he called out to his buddies for a Spanish speaker and it became an urgent mission of theirs to communicate their cause to me. A friend stepped forward, eager to help me understand, and in French-Spanglish he explained...

This hatchling is either

1. married to the duck and in need of a home


2. a bachelor, enjoying his last days of bachelorhood and in need of a home.

I definitely understood that this was a "gran fiesta!"

The binder was full of real estate flyers for small homes, some with gardens and views, hand painted, lovingly maintained, all for sale. I could buy a home, sign his certificate and support his bid to get a honeymoon cottage of his own, by donating a small fee and putting it in the duck decoy he wore around his neck (next to the noose.) As an added bonus one of the guys brought out a boombox from the decorated wagon they were pulling and I was treated to an embarrassed yet brave version of the chicken dance, with music. His friends called out and howled good naturedly, and he tried to remember all the steps... hatchlings aren't too coordinated and remember he did have a duck on his back!

At last we have a home of our own! He did not realize we share this common ambition, not to mention a shared interest in fowl. We have at long last bought ourselves a place to settle down. I would say it is a fixer, a bit rough around the edges. Only three bedrooms, but there is a garden and I think we can add-on. And why quibble? I got it for five Euro. He is closer to his goal too I hope.

This was the most original, funny, creative thing I have seen in a long time. If it is a tradition, if you understand it better than I do, I would love to learn more, because no matter how much was lost in translation it was still hilarious and wonderful. And yes, I am thinking of making a Betty-Pack and soliciting for a real home of our own!

If we do not return to Garage Mahal, please forward Betty, the cats and Joe the rabbit, to Cambrai, France. We are in the orange roofed house. I will plant blue lobelia in the window boxes.


I Heart Bruxelles

Our hotel, near the Grand Place is lovely and even with us spread out in three rooms, the arrangement is good. We are in a peaceful corner of a very busy city, in a very busy neighborhood, and though we were a bit overwhelmed initially, we are definitely warming up to everything quickly. The hotel clerk not only checked us in and assured us the Renault Espace would fit in the narrow courtyard, he also gave us maps and directions, suggestions, recommendations, warnings... without any inquiry from us, he kindly offered a guidebook's worth of useful information, including where we should eat.

We went to our three adjacent rooms, dropped our bags and dropped in to our beds. I think we napped or just zoned. Some of us showered. I watched some television... a lot about local culture can be picked up from a little viewing of the flat box. Then we willed ourselves to rise and go out and stretch our legs, find some food.

Gah! It was half past eight. At night! We have become night owls. The boys would have nothing to do with our plans. They needed peace and quiet. Max explained that they were happy with their time alone to think and read. Fair enough.

Maria, Geoff and I took our map and very quickly realized just how close we are to the sights. The sights include Mannequin Pis, and how a peeing statue the size of a large burrito ever came to be the emblem of a city... go figure. But we took pictures and sort of gave a nod to the local attraction, because why not? We will not be buying Mannequin Pis chocolates, frittes, cork screws (picture it if you dare,) T-shirts, ashtrays, shot glasses, tea towels or plates. I did see a cute shirt about the rain in Beligium, some pretty lace and waffles, lots and lots of waffles.

Then we came to the Grand Place and it is quite a site and sight. It's the expression and success of merchants that built the towering buidings around the main square, and all the flowers are a crowning touch that take my breath away. Hanging from baskets, in flower boxes and window boxes, in corners and every little niche are every kind of bloom, full and abundant... so lovely. We walked all around the place and up and down a few side streets.

We made a note of the shop with the strawberries and the chocolate fountain. We looked for the restaurant our hotel clerk suggested. We listened to the many languages, watched the guides leading tours, raising their umbrellas to lead the way through the milling crowds.

We owe the hotel clerk a hug, unless that would be faux pas. But he deserves a hug... he did not lead us astray. We did not get a table outside on the Place, but we walked up the stairs and inside T'Kelderke and we waited patiently. Maria was almost patient. Poor thing deserves dinner well before 21:00. It was worth the wait... we ate, as Alex said it is done in Belgium, as much as Germans and as well as the French. Our dinner was delicious and with beer and the peaceful nook with stunning views our night was complete. We'll have to sell our place in Cambrai if are going to move here and have onion soup and grilled goat cheese in honey for dinner every night.

Now it is morning and we are preparing to do laundry, not in our sink, but at the laundromat across the way, then we have got to find WIFI... so au'revoir for now.