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!
We are back online after a little break. Time to catch up on some recent adventures!
The best thing about living in Central Europe is being able to visit nearby cities easily by car. So at New Year’s, we decided to take a quick weekend trip to see our friends in Leuven – one family lives there now and another was visiting from Indonesia for the holidays, a perfect excuse to go!
We woke up (very) early on New Year’s Day and hit the road. Personally, I was excited to see the sights as we drove up through France, Luxembourg and into Belgium. As we set off, up and over the Jura mountains, the sky started to lighten and we caught glimpses of beautiful green valleys and misty fields. Then the fog rolled in. And in, and in… It was so foggy that we could only see a few meters ahead of us on the road. And it stayed with us, as we drove up through France, Luxembourg and into Belgium. We saw no sights. At one point, we decided to stop for lunch and the only thing we could find – literally – was a McDonalds. Thank goodness for those glowing golden arches. We couldn’t even see far enough off the road to find a gas station when we needed one.
But we made it to Leuven safely with a joyous reunion (and well-deserved beer) at the hotel. That night, we grabbed some Italian food with our pile of extremely tired kids and planned our city touring for the following day.
Top of the Belgium bucket list was beer. The guys were keen to try all the Trappist beers that Leuven had on offer and they made a little dent in them – unfortunately, the brewery that they tried to visit only gave tours to 8 or more people, so they had to settle on simply drinking all the beer in the bar instead of on the tour. I think that was an acceptable compromise. The rest of us wandered the city, checking out the remnants of New Years parties and explaining to the kids every five seconds why there was so much confetti and empty bottles on the street. But we topped it off with some gourmet hamburgers, so all was forgiven.
We also found a delicious chocolaterie with amazing handmade truffles. The owner let the kids dip their fingers into the chocolate fountain – I’m really not sure how sanitary that was, but the kids were thrilled. Then we bought some pies and books in the market, and gave ourselves a walking tour of the amazing city architecture.
That night was dinner with the whole gang – and more joyous reunions took place! The kids went wild while we tried our best to have some adult conversation. And J was lucky to have a sleepover with her bestie that night. Note to self: don’t ask the kids to take the photos of you and your friends because they will all be out of focus.
The next day we said our goodbyes and headed back on the road for another foggy drive home. We decided to take the long way around the Jura, heading up through Geneva instead of over the mountains – good choice, since we could now see the snow that had fallen over the weekend and blocked our way. Phew!
Looking forward to our next trip!
We’ve spent the last few days acting like real locals. First, we attended a celebration for Indonesia’s Independence Day at my work on Friday night. Then we visited with friends, went to the mall and toured around the city a bit on Saturday. Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to a family picnic day by the pool and then a dinner with some more friends. It’s like we live here or something!
Time to regale you with a bunch of pictures:
This has been a busy week chez the Cayas. Both kids started on Monday at the international school, we’ve been (unsuccessfully) house hunting, and we opened a bank account!
At school, J is in a preschool-level class, which she already loves. Even the teachers commented on how she just walked in and started conversations with everyone (i.e., forced the other kids to be friends with her) and how she felt comfortable enough to play right away (i.e., used up all their art supplies). LittleB is in an SK/grade 1 class, which seems to be significantly harder than the schooling he took in Canada. It turns out that you actually have to learn here, and do homework and stuff. I think he’ll figure it out eventually.
Next up was our first house hunting trip. The local real estate agent took us to see two houses in the area near the school. I was pretty excited to see some houses, get a baseline for what we want and look at the prices. Unfortunately, it was a bit anti-climactic. We did see two houses, but when I say “see” I mean it quite literally. We were only able to see the outside of the houses, since the caretakers of both places were not there. So the grand culmination of our trip consists of these two photos:
And even after all that, we later found out that this particular house is the infamous “turtle house” – a few other colleagues had come to see it recently and told us that inside there is a showcase of taxidermied birds of paradise and a giant preserved galapagos turtle. I’m more concerned that my kids would actually like to live with those, so I think it’s a pass… At least there was a tiny dead lizard on the front step that the kids enjoyed stomping on, so the trip wasn’t totally wasted.
Then today, we braved the language barrier and headed to the bank to open a local account. I think we managed to open a savings account with something like 4% interest. So we deposited $2 million into it!! Before you get too excited, that’s about CDN$200. It was a big deal, though. I also it connected to B’s cell phone, I think? Or else I signed him up for cat facts, I’m not sure. Anyway, at least now I can actually get paid and we don’t have to hoard cash in our hotel room like the immigrants we are.
Coming up next: another “word of the day”.