Netherlands Friends Reunion

We left Paris and rolled into the Netherlands by late afternoon. B slept most of the way, which would be a running theme for the rest of our trip. We had rented a shared farmhouse / cottage in Breukelen with two other families – and we were looking forward to seeing our friends from Belgium and Indonesia.

The place we rented was a little farm with some modern cottage apartments – more than enough for all of us to stay comfortably. And there was a large shared kitchen space that proved essential when hosting 6 adults and 6 kids for 3 days! More importantly, there was a barn full of cows and cow poop and tractors and the kids were in heaven. It was a great few days of nice meals, evening games, plenty of drinks, sightseeing and catching up. B spent the whole time sick in bed, basically on the edge of death from bronchitis. But the rest of us had fun!

On our first day, we took the train into Amsterdam for the afternoon. Wow, it really does smell like pot, and it was crazy overrun by tourists. We didn’t have time for too much, but we managed to squeeze in a canal boat tour. It was looking like it was going to be a pricey tour, something like 20 EUR per person (we were 7), but then in a Christmas miracle some random guy walked up and gave us free passes. Apparently he had won them in a contest but couldn’t use them. Free boat tour! I enjoyed seeing the city from the canals, though I would have liked to explore more of the winding streets and little shops on foot. We did manage a bit of walking around the city after that, but it was cold, and our troupe of kids got bored and whiny no matter how many waffles and treats we gave them, so we headed back home.

The next day we went into Utrecht, where we had prearranged a really nice city walking tour. The guide was a younger guy who went out of his way to make it a fun quiz game, stopping at different spots for fun and spooky stories about the old town, to keep the kids engaged. It was a beautiful little place and I would have, again, liked to see more of it!

The next day was time to go, and thankfully B was feeling a bit better. We decided to stop again in Utrecht for one more quick look around so he could say he saw something in the Netherlands other than a barn and cottage and bed. It was nice to take a bit more time, seeing some little shops and having a nice lunch before saying goodbye to our friends and hitting the road.

It was about a 10-hour drive home, so we spent the night at a hotel in Luxembourg. That was a nice break, just to relax somewhere with a pool and a nice breakfast. Too bad we left the next day and didn’t realise until halfway home that we had left behind our electronics bag that contained ALL of our device chargers and plugs. Argh. Luckily the hotel found them and kindly mailed them along, so we only had to go a week without.

Time to start planning next year’s trip!

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Cabot trail

Cape Breton
This photo of the Cape Breton coast (not quite the Cabot Trail, but close enough) is in honor of all our relatives meeting there for a family reunion this week. We’re sorry to be missing the rich blue ocean, rugged landscape, kitchen ceilidhs, whales, and hugs, but we’re with you in spirit!
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Cape Breton sunshine

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Summer 2013 at the family cottage in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. This one is credited to LittleB, who photographed every single thing in the outdoors after we gave him an old camera to play with. The sticky-fingerprinted camera lens led to this unexpected gem of a photo – a perfect memory of breezy summer leaves in the late afternoon sun.

Cottage & Tea

It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

I had a friend visiting from the UK, mainly for work, but we were able to enjoy a few great nights out during the week. More exciting, we took him up to the “cottage” that my work maintains in the mountains nearby. Ostensibly this is a place where you could hold work retreats and have a bit of isolation, but really I think employees just rent it out for party weekends – which is exactly what we did!

Let’s backtrack a bit, though. Last year, we had a really great masquerade party at the end of our Annual Meeting. During the course of the night, I won the door prize, which turned out to be a free night at the cottage. Until now, we had never been able to find a time to go up, but the certificate was expiring in October, so it was becoming a bit desperate. Luckily, with our friend in town and some other friends interested in joining, it was perfect timing.

We headed up after work on Friday, only getting trapped in about an hour’s worth of traffic. So it only took us 2.5 hours to drive the 25 km to the cottage – a holiday miracle! The cottage is located up in the Puncak area, which is nestled into the side of the local volcano and generally considered vacation country. It is much cooler than the city, and the cottage itself is quite private. Calling it a cottage is not really fair – it’s more like a small mansion, with four bedrooms and a huge living space. There were 7 adults and the 2 kids, and we fit very comfortably. It apparently sleeps 16 if you pull out all the extra bedding and mattresses.

After we arrived, we enjoyed a great evening of drinking and impromptu ukulele karaoke. In the morning, we lounged around and the kids had fun exploring the area. In the afternoon, we took a little hike up the hillside to a nearby tea plantation. The guide said it would be about a 40 minute walk, so we figured that wasn’t a big deal. He neglected to tell us that it was literally 40 minutes up a cliff. It was a bit of a workout! I really shouldn’t have drank that Smirnoff Ice right before we left. Anyway, after braving the rainforest, a few mosquito bites, a couple of leech attacks, some major kid whining and several long rests, we made it to the top. And it was worth it!

The view was a bit cloudy, but it was cool and lovely, with a breeze washing over us. We enjoyed the scenery for a while, took a meander up an old cobblestone path and rescued LittleB when he tripped and gouged his knee skin off on said cobblestone path. We had to peel the skin back and rinse it out with water, bleh. But he’s a trooper.

Soon the rain clouds were threatening so we headed back down. It was a bit slower going with the kids, who tended to build up too much speed and start tumbling, but we made it. We only found one leech on our friend after arriving home, and we blasted that sucker with salt – it was science in action. Afterwards, we took a swim in the still-filling pool, which unfortunately was a bit grimy, but we did find some frog eggs! We kept them in a jar and watched them grow over the weekend. More science in action!

On Sunday, we relaxed and swam some more, in the now-filled-and-cleaned pool. We headed home in the afternoon, again getting stuck in some initial stand-still traffic, but once it got going, we made it home in about 2 hours or so.

Definitely worth it, and I think we’ll be making a regular weekend out of it!