Bella Italia

We have recently returned from spending 9 days traveling all over Italy.  This trip, which we lovingly refer to as our Italian Sampler, was both exhausting and really enjoyable and included beautiful sites, delicious food and lots of walking and driving.  This is going to be a long one guys so strap on your helmet, jump on your Vespa and away we go.

Day 1

Our first day was really mostly about driving.  We had to head through Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Switzerland before entering Italy.  We had snow in Belgium, France and Switzerland.  Driving through the Alps, the snow was actually coming down and some roads were closed due to the amount of snow.  Not exactly how you want your vacation in mid-April to begin.

Luckily, by the time we entered Italy, while the temperatures were chilly at our destination of Menaggio in the Lake Como region, it was sunny and snow-free.  When we arrived, we took a ferry from Menaggio to Bellagio.  It was really windy and the ferry had some decent waves to traverse, but the ride was quick and the views were quite lovely.

In Bellagio, we walked, or rather climbed, the streets past shops up to a main square with a church.

We continued walking around for a bit before catching the ferry back to Menaggio where we decided to get some dinner.  We began the meal with a local fried cheese with polenta and jam paired with a red house wine.  For the main meal, we had gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese sauce, ravioli with vegetables and a braised beef with polenta.  It was all very good.

Feeling quite tired and cold, we headed to our Air BnB.  We had to drive up a lot of winding roads in the dark and walk with our luggage through very narrow steep streets to get there, but when we arrived it was a very charming place with a rustic kitchen and cozy living room as well as many bedrooms.

Day 2

We woke very early for our drive to the next region and found that where we were staying was actually a very small old village which was very interesting.  And as we walked down to the car, we were treated to some terrific views of the sunrise over Lake Como while the church bells were ringing.

It was time to head on to Cinque Terre, more specifically, Manarola.  Upon arriving, we had to park at a lot and then walk the rest of the way into the town.  We began by walking the narrow streets on the side of the cliff to Billy’s Trattoria for a lunch overlooking the water.  The food was terrific.  We tried a local white wine with Caprese salad.  Then, we moved on to a local pesto dish made with trofie pasta which had potato and green beans in it.  To finish the meal, we had tiramisu along with biscotti which you dipped into Sciacchetra, a local sweet wine.  We also tried two digestifs- limoncello and grappa (the grappa we were not fans of).

After the amazing lunch, we walked down a few of the streets past some amazing views to catch the train to Riomaggiore.

There, we walked some of the streets (and by walked I once again mean climbed) to a church and castle.  The views were terrific, but we did meet a strange old man who ended up calling us ridiculous (always good to have a weird story from your travels)!

We made our way back to Manarola via the train and climbed up through the cliffside vineyard, stopped in a church and climbed back up the 10 minutes to the parking lot to retrieve our bag before heading to dinner.

While dinner was quite cold because it was out on a balcony overlooking the town and a bit of the sea, the atmosphere was nice.  All of the dishes were served on hand-painted plates, and they had some fun music playing including one of our son’s current favorite songs, Mambo Italiano.  We ordered an appetizer of black rice and veggies in a pea sauce-different but good and a gin with local herbs (really nice).  For the main course, we had a pizza with a local-style pesto and cheese, Margherita pizza and a pizza with buffalo mozzarella.  The pizzas were good, but the one pasta dish that was ordered with prawns was not, as the prawns were raw.  We had a local wine with the dinner, and we enjoyed the dessert of lemon cake and tiramisu along with limoncello.  After dinner, it was time to settle in for the night.

Day 3

It was a very early morning climb back up to the parking lot before leaving Cinque Terre behind for what we hoped would be the flatter Tuscany region.  On our way there, we breakfasted on some focaccia that we had purchased at a bakery (plain and with green olives).

Our first stop was in Pisa to see that famous leaning tower.  We only stayed about an hour but it was long enough to see the tower and the Campo dei Miracoli complex, Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knight’s Square) and Santa Maria della Spina along the river.

After our Pisa visit, we moved on to Florence.  Once we found a place to park, we walked into the center of the city to Santa Maria del Fioro (Duomo).  It was completely packed with tourists with a line snaking around the building, so we opted not to go in.

Likewise, the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the Capelle Medicee were also packed, so we just looked from the outside.

From there, we moved on to Palazzo Vecchio where we decided to sit in an outside café and have a cappuccino, hot chocolate and cannolis.   It was a nice moment to just watch the people and horse-drawn carriages around the square (and enjoy the sun).

There was a museum on the square which allowed you to walk into a couple of courtyards for free, so we took a quick look before passing by the Basilica Santa Croce.

We crossed the river and walked along it to Ponte Vecchio which was an interesting bridge with houses built onto it, but the bridge itself was packed with people looking at the many jewelry stores on the bridge.

We decided to go back to Palazzo Vecchio for lunch.  We sat outside across from a replica statue of David where we enjoyed a lunch of Pecorino Tuscano (Tuscan Pecorino cheeses including wine flavored, plain and spicy) with pears and honey, Ribolita (a soup made hearty with the bread mixed into it) and a pasta with pappardelle pasta, mushrooms, truffles and a cheese cream.  All very good.

Having had enough of the tourist-packed city, we left Florence behind and made our way to Siena which was a very cute city.  There was climbing involved, but at the top of the city, we went into a really wonderful cathedral which featured a lot of artwork on the walls and ceiling and a library with books that had been hand-painted by monks in the 14th and 15th centuries.

After the cathedral, we made our way to the main square which was very large and tons of people were sitting out on the cement sunning themselves and enjoying the fountain.

Next, we stopped at an Abby for a quick look before making our way back down to the original water supply fountain for the city.

We drove a bit further south to Val d’Orcia.  Along the way, we stopped at some viewpoints of the Tuscan landscape as well as at a small chapel before arriving at our destination of Montichello.

This was another very small village overlooking the Tuscan countryside.  It was really lovely.

We found a small place for dinner that felt like eating inside a cellar but cozier.  Our dinner began with a complimentary tomato, basil and cheese appetizer along with bread and a local olive oil (it must have been like liquid gold because they seriously gave each of us about ¼ teaspoon worth, if that).  Our first course was a mushroom and chestnut soup which we shared before enjoying our pastas of tagliatelle with artichoke and bottarga (fish roe) and pici cacio en pepe (this was a really nice pasta noodle with a pecorino cheese sauce and pepper).  We also had a local red wine and ended the meal with Crème Brulee and limoncello.  This was probably one of our favorite meals.

Day 4

We began our fourth day with a short drive into Montepulciano, a really cool old city.  Because we were there so early, it was very quiet as we hiked up the streets to the piazza and church, and we were treated to some amazing views of the clouds over the Tuscan landscape.

We stopped in a bakery and grabbed some pastries for the car (something like a small pistachio cannoli, a chocolate tart and a cream-filled croissant) before beginning our drive into Rome.

After arriving in Rome and dropping our bags, we walked to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain before finding a streetside restaurant for lunch.

We had some lasagna, carbonara and cacio en pepe along with an Aperol Spritz and Italian beer.  It was not spectacular, but it wasn’t too bad.  We also tried a little pastry for dessert that was a kind of jam tart.

Our next stop was the Colosseum, but we walked by Campidoglio (designed by Michelangelo) and the Foro Romano on the way there.

At the Colosseum, we had tickets to go inside to the arena which provided some nice views but was quite busy.

After leaving the Colosseum, we entered the Foro Romano to have a look at the ancient ruins before stopping in several churches on our way to the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona.

Here, we selected another streetside restaurant to have Caprese, Carciofi alla Giudia (fried artichoke) and Carciofi alla Romana (an artichoke in a lemon sauce).  Our main meal consisted of a nice red wine with carbonara, gnocchi in a four-cheese sauce, mushroom fettucine and an oil with garlic and peppers pasta.  The dinner was fine, but the tiramisu for dessert was delicious as was the torta della Nonna (custard-style dessert) with limoncello.

After dinner, we decided to walk to Castel St. Angelo and back to the Foro Romano and Colosseum.  They were much quieter, and it was nice to see them by night as well.

As an added bonus, we saw a hedgehog walking around on a grassy hill.

Day 5

After some much-needed rest, we got up more slowly and sat at a street café to have some pastries and a latte macchiato and cappuccino.  We had croissants and a cream-filled pastry as well as some special pastries called sfogliatelle (a little shell-shaped pastry with a custard-like cream inside) and Babu con rum (a spongy pastry in a rum sauce).

After breakfast, it was time to head across the street to Bascillica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore.  It didn’t look much like a church from the outside, more like a government building.  Inside, it was full of gold and ornately decorated side rooms-very pretty.

From here, we made our way to the Capuchin Museum and Ossuary.  The first part of the museum was just artifacts and information about the Capuchin monks but the ossuary was really interesting.  We have been to ossuaries before, but this was really different in that the bones had been disassembled and, along with some full skeletons dressed as monks, used to make art communicating various messages.  I really wish I could have taken a picture, but it was not allowed.  I will say that if you have the chance to visit this spot in Rome, I would definitely recommend it as it’s a quick activity, costs little and is really unique.

After the ossuary, we made our way toward the Vatican and had lunch at a street restaurant near there.  We ordered some Italian beer and had the fried artichoke again, and this one was really good.  We also tried fiori di zucca fritti which is fried squash blossoms.  They were so good as they were also stuffed with a little cheese.  Our main plate was cacio en pepe, risotto with burrata cheese, pizza and bucatini (like spaghetti with a hole in the center) with a tomato sauce.  It was all really good, and the beautiful weather outside added to the enjoyment.

After lunch, we stopped for some seasalt caramel gelato on our way to the Vatican.

The Vatican was packed- I think my exact comment was that it was worse than Disneyland.  We made our way through the extensive and elaborate museum rooms filled with paintings and sculptures to the Sistine Chapel (sadly, no pictures allowed of the chapel).

After taking some time to view the chapel, we made our way back out of the complex and to St. Peter’s Basilica.  The line was seriously massive to get inside, so we opted to enjoy the view from the outside only.

Near the basilica, we stopped in a small shop for suppli and arancini (rice ball snack).  They were a bit too oily for us.

Hoping to leave the crowds of the Vatican behind, we walked (past Castel St. Angelo) back toward Trevi Fountain which was equally crowded.

We found a restaurant on a quiet side street and had a beer and some olives and puffed corn snack to kill some time until dinner.  We found a small restaurant that could seat us inside, and it was a good thing we found it when we did because, shortly after we arrived, a line formed outside and the inside was full.  And probably for good reason-the food was really nice.  We decided to start with the fried artichoke and squash blossoms again as well as Caprese salad.  To accompany everything, we had some Chianti.  The main dishes were black truffle pasta, carbonara, tomato gnocchi and a really delicious arancia (orange) ravioli.

After finishing, we walked back to Trevi Fountain to see it illuminated and stopped for gelato (this time I tried tiramisu flavor and arancia (orange) dark chocolate which I highly recommend).

Day 6

On our sixth day, we munched on some black olive and tomato focaccia on our early morning drive to Pompeii.

Pompeii is really cool (I had been before, but this was the first time for my husband and children).  The sheer size is overwhelming, and the level of preservation is amazing when you think about how old it is.

This time, we found our way to the brothel, and I have to say, I really enjoyed the well-preserved naughty pictures illustrating what probably took place there as well as the stone beds.  Let’s just say that some things stand the test of time (both figuratively and literally).

After several hours in Pompeii, we drove up the mountain to the Amalfi Coast area.  We arrived in the area too late for lunch which was a shame since we were all hungry.  We decided to begin the Path of the Gods, but, with nothing in our stomachs, we just couldn’t make it very far.  We decided to stop at a small café built on what must be someone’s house overlooking the sea.  The owner was selling lemon ice from local lemons, and it was really delicious.

After the quick stop, we decided to head back on the path to our car.  The path itself was enjoyable with lots of nice views and tons of lizards and some goats.

At this point, the need for actual food was too great and no dinner restaurants would open for hours, so we drove into a very small town square near the entry point for the path.  One of the restaurants on the square had some bread and pastries, so we grabbed some as well as a beer and an Aperol Spritz and sat for a bit.

Luckily, they also provided some olives and cracker snacks because we devoured them.  We walked around a tiny bit before finding a dinner place overlooking the water.  The dinner began with much promise as we had a local wine, Caprese and an assortment of cheeses which were all good.  Sadly, it went downhill from there as our carbonara, spaghetti with tomato and oil and lemon ravioli were not so great.  The fritto misto di fruit di mare (assortment of fried seafood) was ok as were the fried zucchini flowers.  The views were nice though, and the desserts of tiramisu and a lemon sponge cake were good.  We especially enjoyed the limoncello and the amaro del capo.

Our apartment was overlooking the coast but was very remote, so after dinner, we had to drive some dark winding roads to get there and then climb up some dark stairs to walk through a tiny path with plants growing over it.  Not the best, but the views over the water were really great, and it felt very secluded.

Day 7

We woke up to sit on our balcony overlooking the water and eat some Colomba (a special Italian Easter bread which was kind of orangey in taste and covered in chocolate).

After hiking back through the plant path to our car, we headed off for Arezzo.  Once we arrived, we began the afternoon by looking at the ruins of a Roman theater, walking around the old city and seeing things like churches, shops and the main square.

We decided to grab some gelato (the lemon flavor was quite nice) before heading up to the main cathedral, which was really nice, the palace and through a park to the remains of an old fortress.

After the park, we went to the main square and had a beer and Campari Spritz before heading to our apartment which was outside of the city on a farm.

We found a nearby restaurant for dinner where we had a house wine with some really good mushroom bruschetta and a pecorino bruschetta.  We tried mushroom and asparagus risotto, mushroom ravioli, gnocchi in a cheese sauce and a mixed seafood platter.  It was all pretty good as was the tiramisu, limoncello and amaro del capo.

At this point, exhaustion was really starting to set in, so we made our way back to our apartment and got to bed.

Day 8

Exhaustion being merely a way of existence now, we got up early and drove to Venice.  Upon arriving, things were pretty quiet, and we enjoyed walking through the small streets and canals.

We hired a gondola and spent some time on the small canals and a small piece of the Grand Canal.  We saw the Rialto Bridge as well as many historic homes before embarking on foot to St. Mark’s Square.

Along the way, we stopped in a few different squares with very interesting buildings.

St. Mark’s Square was packed- I thought the Vatican was bad, but this was insane.  We viewed the Basilica from the outside only as we were told the line to get in was an hour at least.

We did go into the Doge’s Palace where we viewed many state and judicial rooms as well as the armory and the prisons.

The rooms were very gaudy with lots of paintings, gold trim and heavy, dark wood.

The prison path took us past the Bridge of Sighs which we also viewed from the outside.

We took a few minutes to view the Grand Canal which was bustling.

We did a quick stop in the Correr Museum which had some nice ancient pieces, particularly sculptures, and some really cool old lampposts.

After leaving the museum, we stopped at a place for lunch where we had chichetti (different fried appetizers/small dishes).  We had the zucchini flowers, artichoke and mozzarella with anchovies on toast.  I also tried a Venetian Spritz which was nice.  Our main meal consisted of a tomato pasta, a seafood pasta, a pasta with artichokes and a local sausage and nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink pasta).

After lunch, we walked back out of the city, and the crowds were ridiculous.  It was a far cry from the quiet of the morning, so we were ready to head to Verona and some quieter areas.  That was a joke- if I thought that the Vatican was bad and St. Mark’s Square was worse, then I have no words for Verona.  It was a madhouse and completely chaotic, which was unfortunate because there were some really neat old buildings and architectural elements- you just couldn’t really see them.

While in Verona, we walked past the old amphitheater to Juliet’s house (being that Juliet was a fictional character, it’s not really her house but rather the house of a family that once did feud with another family in Verona).  Nonetheless, the line to get in was unbelievable and made the street even more packed.

Next, we headed to the main square which had an open-air market, many statues and a fountain and was lined with old buildings.

To escape the hoards, we walked down a side street to a tower and some very interesting raised tombs belonging to an old royal family of the city.

Down another side street was the former home of the other feuding family of the city, dubbed Romeo’s house.

We began walking back to our car at this point and had to walk down a street with wall-to-wall people.  Coming out of Covid era, this felt really weird.  After making it back to our car, we left Verona behind for Bergamo.

Luckily, it was much quieter.  We stopped at a place for dinner and since it was our last meal in Italy we decided to go all out with a local wine, bruschetta and fried polenta sticks.  For the main meal, we had cacio en pepe risotto, homemade pasta with Genoese pesto and a homemade pasta with tomatoes.  It was all very good.  The desserts were a bit of a disappointment, but, nonetheless, we had some tiramisu, tiramisu ice cream and a cannoli with linomcello and amaro del capo.

After dinner, we took the funicular up to the old city where we walked through the little streets to the old square with its tower and cathedral.

We happened upon an Easter service at the cathedral.  The priests were standing outside reciting some things and singing while the people in the church were in complete darkness.  Then the priests lit a huge candle and entered the church where other priests lit the candles of the churchgoers.  At the altar, some other large candles were lit and the whole church was illuminated.

The service continued, but as it was in Italian, we decided to leave and continue exploring the old city.  We saw some really nice artwork and architecture on the baptistery building next to the cathedral.

Then, we walked down to the old city gate where we had some great views of the city below.

The ride down was packed on the funicular- we were standing packed like sardines and at one point our daughter thought she might end up on the lap of the guy sitting next to her.  Definitely a weird and uncomfortable feeling after two years of avoiding being in close contact with others.

Day 9

As it was time to say arrivederci to Italy, this was a day full of driving.  The best part of the day was probably eating the sticky nut pastry and the traditional polenta pastry from Bergamo that we had purchased the night before.  It was a polenta cake outside with chocolate cream inside and an orange layer over the top.

Our drive was long crossing back through the Alps in Switzerland, crisscrossing from Germany to France, back into Luxembourg and Belgium before finally making it back to the Netherlands.  And just like that, the Italian Sampler was over.  While it was a tiring trip, and we covered a lot of ground and saw so many churches that I literally cannot tell them apart, it was really a good trip.  It was great to experience so many things together as a family and to explore many different regions.  I think everyone would be happy to go back to Italy, though, other than a weekend trip to see some museums that we wanted to see in Florence that were closed, I don’t think it will happen in the next few years.  But, for now, everyone is happy to have finally taken this trip that had been planned for two years ago.  And, if you made it this far, I hope that you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of Italy.  Until next time, ciao!

War from Our Vantage Point

As we find ourselves on this side of the pond with war underway in Europe, it is a strange feeling to be this close.  Growing up in the US, while there were wars during my childhood, war heroes and the memory of war, no war had touched American soil in any recent period of time.  War always seemed a long way away.  While this war is not quite at our doorstep, we do feel a bit closer, see a bit more of the effect, I believe, and especially being part of an international community with our school and friends, see many more angles than if we were currently in the US.  So, I thought I might outline a few of our observations from our situation:

  1. As a part of an international school within driving distance of a war zone, our children have war on their minds in a bigger way than if we were in the US.  Yes, I believe that if we were in the US there would be discussions about the war, it would be on the news, and there would be donation and relief efforts.  However, I believe that most kids in the US right now are probably not harboring fears that the war could end up at their door and are not worried about how it is effecting friends and their families.  In addition, I think that our kids may be engaging more in relief efforts and considering how they and their school community can help.  In fact, kids in the US just may not be having discussions about it quite as much as we are.  Kids are discussing it every day at school; we discuss it and the school discussions in our home every day; it is coming up in all our conversations with friends and colleagues and some are really scared: scared that this could involve more countries soon, scared that invasion could spill into other European countries and scared because it is personally affecting them, their family members and friends.
  1. Of course, Ukrainians are experiencing the worst of the war and their situation in unimaginable, but war affects so many. Our Russian friends are hurting too.  There is uncertainty with their families back in Russia and concern for them (the family members often being elderly parents), there is uncertainty with their economic situation because of their assets in Russia, and there is fear over how they will be received simply because they are Russian (one thing that we have seen many times since moving here is how people often get unjustly lumped together in these situations-during WWII not all Germans were at fault (Nazis were) and in this war, average Russians are not at fault (Putin is) and don’t deserve to be treated as such).  War affects the mental state of everyone as we listen to one another’s fears and worries.  And, of course, we all worry as costs begin to rise even further as the ripple effects of the war begin to make their way into our daily lives.
  1. The effects of the war, at times, feel a bit more “in your face” than they would in the US. Every day on our expat group on Facebook, there are requests for people who can house specific Ukrainian women with their children.  The government is making provisions and assistance opportunities for refugees.  There are local people collecting items that they will personally ferry to the Polish border for refugees, not just an opportunity to donate money online that will be handled through an agency.  There are local people driving to the border to transport refugees.  There are local people who are going to Ukraine to help fight.

As just a small example of the way war feels more present here, let me tell you a few snippets from our past week.  We saw demonstrations, large amounts of signage and flags supporting Ukraine, and refugees being transported while in Poland; we packaged up a bunch of outgrown clothes and shoes and took them to a local butcher who is taking them to refugees in Poland; we had many conversations in our home about how several of our friends/classmates are being affected and our concerns for them; we had conversations with some of these friends about how they are doing; we made an assignment in the school newspaper club to write an article about the war and how the students feel and are personally affected as many in our school community are; and finally, every month the sirens that signaled an air raid during WWII are tested on the first Monday at noon.  This past week, there were many reminders in various groups and news outlets that these would be tested (though we all know this to be the case), and that it didn’t mean there was a problem and to especially communicate this to any refugees so that they would not be afraid.  All of that really makes things feel pretty close.

  1. Finally, there is something hard to explain about a war underway in countries that, just 80 years ago, had large scale war on their soil. Already, the sense of WWII is different in Europe than in the US.  The remembrances here, the scars, are not just from soldiers who fought, the families left behind or the economic sacrifices that had to be made.  The scars here belong to almost everyone in a personal way, to the cities and the land that was destroyed or rebuilt, to the physical reminders of an unimaginable horror.  And those scars live in the people in a way that they just don’t in the US.  To now have another war on European soil, to see the similarities to the past: the lands and cultural landmarks that are destroyed, the people trying to be subdued and oppressed, the people who are rising against the invaders, the people who are trying to help even at their own risk is sickening and frightening and opens old scars.

Having shared this, I am by no means trying to say that no one outside of Europe is worried or feeling the effects of the war or doing their part to help and support those being violated.  Of course, we all are and we all will.  I just thought I would take a minute to record a few of our personal observations and encounters with the situation both to record this moment in history and to share a little about different experiences in order to help us all to consider different perspectives and viewpoints, understand one another better and unite in the face of tragedies such as this.

A Perfect Week in Poland

After having to make arrangements for a winter holiday trip to include our dogs because the boarder couldn’t take them and then having to change our plans due to Covid restrictions, we scrambled to find a location we could travel to with the dogs and finally settled on spending five days in Poland.  Then, about a week before the trip, war broke out in neighboring Ukraine (Krakow is about 2 and a half hours from the Ukrainian border).  After closely watching the news and checking with people we know from Poland, we decided it was safe to still go, so we headed off on the twelve hour drive with a car full of people and dogs.

Day 1

We drove through a lot of forested areas and open land to arrive in Krakow.  As we had been driving all day, our first mission was to get some dinner.  We settled on a small restaurant close to our apartment.  It didn’t look like much, but the food was really good.  We kicked the holiday off right with some Polish beer (both wheat and stout), compote which is a fruit punch type drink, mushroom soup (zupa grzybowa), fried Halloumi cheese, sausage and 3 types of  Pierogi (dumplings) which were filled with mushroom and cabbage, spinach, and potato and cheese.

While eating, a demonstration of support for Ukraine marched past the windows of the restaurant.  This seemed like enough excitement since we were tired from driving all day, so we called it a night.

Day 2

After reminding ourselves why we would never want to live on the top floor of an apartment building with dogs, we got them all settled in the apartment and headed out to see Krakow.  We first walked to St. Florian Church passing some old remains of a fort or castle (not sure) and a large monument with many interesting statues.

There was a service going on in the church, so we just took a quick look, but it was very gold inside.

After leaving the church, we walked under St. Florian’s Gate, the old city gate leading to Lost Soul’s Alley or the Royal Way which was the path of coronation of kings in centuries past.  The path led past many shops (and many pretzel stands so we grabbed a few) to the main square (Rynek Glowny) of the Old Town.

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In the main square was the Cloth Hall, this building from the 1500s sits on the location of the market since the 1200s, and St. Mary’s Basilica.  This church is home to the largest Gothic Alter in the world.  Unfortunately, no pictures of the inside were allowed, but it was very gaudy and there was a lot of blue and red coloration.  Outside again, the clock struck the hour and played a trumpet call type of song.

Our walk continued past Saints Peter and Paul Church

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to Wawel Castle, which was the seat of the throne (Krakow used to be the capital of Poland), and Wawel Cathedral.  We didn’t go inside either, but it was a large complex and quite pretty.

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From here, we headed through the old Jewish district, the Kazimierz, where much of Schindler’s list was filmed.  We made our way across the river where we saw this interesting bridge with sculptures hanging in its suspension lines.

As we made our way through the residential streets, we saw a plaque commemorating the location of the former Jewish orphanage which the Nazis invaded, immediately killing the children under 3 and taking the older children and the caregivers who refused to leave them to concentration camps where they were murdered.  We made our way to Schindler’s Factory for a quick look and then headed back through the city to get some lunch at a great restaurant called Starka.

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The meal began with “cottage cheese” with chives spread (more like cream cheese) on bread followed by Pierogi of potato and cottage cheese.  The waitress also recommended the apple cinnamon and blueberry vodkas so we gave it a go-apple cinnamon was terrific.  For the main meal, we had Borsch beet soup, sour rye soup and pork loin.  We ended the meal with the traditional cheesecake with a poppy seed cake bottom-so good.  Then they brought us a free dogwood berry flavored vodka.  Also good, but the apple cinnamon was still the best.

As we made our way back up the Royal Road, we ran directly into a large demonstration in support of Ukraine and condemnation of Putin.  It was really surreal to feel like we were in the midst of history happening and not just watching it unfold on TV.

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We got past the crowd and grabbed a few filled donuts (black currant, salted caramel and strawberry with cheese) to snack on in the car as we left Krakow and made our way to Warsaw.

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While Warsaw was a much bigger city than Krakow, we were staying in an apartment on the edge of the old town so we walked into that area for dinner.  It was another really good meal in a small restaurant with a cool vibe.  This time we had Bigos (hunter’s stew with meat and cabbage), fried Camembert, bread, fried Pierogis, ribs and cabbage rolls.  To finish off the meal, I had an old style Polish coffee and we all shared a traditional apple pie (kind of like an apple crumble cake texture).  They once again gave us a free shot of vodka-this time cranberry.

After finishing, we walked for a bit in the old town area where we found that they still had the Christmas market with ice skating rink set up.  There were actually quite a few lit up Christmas decorations and some Christmas trees still.  It was pretty, but very cold so we headed in for the night.

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Day 3

We began our day in Warsaw with a walk through the old town to the old city wall.  The important thing to remember about Warsaw is that it was almost completely destroyed during the war, but the citizens rebuilt it in an exact replica of what it looked like before.

From the city wall, we walked to Market Place and on to a cathedral.

After a quick look inside, we made our way to Castle Square which was very pretty and has been the site of many important events in Warsaw’s history.

From here, we began down the Royal Road (Krakowscie Przdemiescie).  We walked by the Presidential Palace which is where the Warsaw Pact was signed and past Chopin’s former residence.  All along the path, there are benches that play Chopin’s music when you push a button on them.

From here we stopped at Holy Cross Church where Chopin had his heart encased in a pillar after his death.

Just past the church is a statue of Copernicus, who went to college in Krakow, which was taken for melting during the war but was recovered before it was melted.

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From here, we left the Royal Road and the Old Town to venture into the city.  From a distance, we could see the Palace of Science and Culture which is a skyscraper that was a gift from the Russians under Stalin.

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Then we stopped by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where they had just completed the changing of the guard.

From here, we walked all the way through the modern downtown area to the Uprising Museum.  The museum was a bit confusing, but it had a lot of information and items from the uprising which was when the residents of Warsaw attempted to fightback against the German occupation.  While they did not succeed in retaking the city, it was an interesting look into the spirit of the people and their unwillingness to accept their situation.  It was also a bit disturbing to observe some similarities in the situation occurring in our present world when we tend to think of these things as being in the past and are unwilling to believe that they could occur again.

We walked to the Jewish Cemetery of Warsaw where members of the Jewish community have been being buried for hundreds of years.  The oldest tombs we saw were from the early 1800s, but the cemetery was kind of unkempt looking and spooky.

We didn’t stay for long before making our way back to our apartment.  Our path took us through a park with an old palace on its edge.  Across from the palace was the Polish Supreme Court.

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At dinnertime, we stopped at St. Anne’s Church.  It was pretty dark inside, but we weren’t sure if that was because the sun was setting, or if it is always like that.

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We had dinner in a small restaurant where we tried cheese croquettes with a cranberry sauce along with a flight of vodkas including a regular, a premium brand called Bison Grassfed, a lemon flavored and a Tabasco.  For our meal, we had assorted Pierogis, potato pancake with mushroom sauce, pork knuckle and Kartacze which was kind of like a very large cheese stuffed dumpling with a mushroom sauce.  It was all very good.

Day 4

After an unsuccessful attempt to see Wilanow Palace and Lazienki Palace in the morning, we began our drive to Gdansk.  After arriving and once again getting the dogs situated, we took a walk around the old city to St. Catherine’s Church. 20220301_162757

Along the way we saw another cathedral and an old building with an open market in front of it.

After stopping in the cathedral, we saw a lot of cool historic buildings as we made our way to the Golden Gate which was right in front of the old prison tower.

Then, we walked under the Upper Gate onto the Royal Road or Long Street.

There were a lot of old homes and buildings on this street that were very colorful with ornate stonework and artwork.

We stopped in a few bakeries along the way and then took a minute to admire the Town Hall building with its clock tower and Neptune Fountain before heading to dinner at Mandu Periogarnia.

The restaurant is known for its wide variety of Pierogis.  We decided on a potato and cheese version and a vegan version with cabbage and meat substitute.  The food was okay, but we had some truly awful beer.

After that, we were ready to go to the apartment and try some of the pastries we had purchased earlier.  We had a cheesecake type dessert, Kremowka which was a layer of light cream between two thin sheets of pastry, an apple pastry and Makowiec which was a poppy seed cake with fruit and a glaze.  Everything was pretty good though the cheesecake seemed to be everyone’s favorite.

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Day 5

On our last full day in Poland, we began with some Polish pastries filled with cream and berries.

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We walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral which was quite open and empty seeming when we first walked in, but, on closer inspection, it actually housed a lot of interesting artwork and ornamental sculptures.

From here, we walked to Long Street to look at the Town Hall again as well as Neptune Fountain.

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We also saw the Golden House which was a home built for the mayor in the 17th century and the courthouse referred to as King Arthur’s Court.

From here, we walked the rest of the way down Long Street to the Green Gate.

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After passing under the gate, we came out on the river and walked along Dluge Pobrzeze which is the old dock area.  We also saw the Gdansk crane which is the old machinery used for loading goods from boats to the dock.

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We went down Ulika Mariace (St. Mary’s Street) off of the dock area.  It was very cute and had a lot of shops selling amber which Poland is well known for.

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We walked down some side streets past the armory

on our way to do one of the craziest culinary things we have ever done while traveling- we ate Mexican food in Poland!  It was actually toted as a Tex-Mex place and since we really struggle to find Mexican like that in the Netherlands and we had already had a lot of Polish food, we did it.  It was not really Tex-Mex as we are used to, but it wasn’t terrible.

At dinner, we decided to redeem ourselves a bit by going to a Ukrainian restaurant.   We tried some Ukrainian beer and a liquor with honey and pepper along with a plate of pickled vegetables and a pickled plum-interesting.  We also got a traditional Borsch soup with bread, Ukrainian potato dumplings, potato pancakes with mushroom and sour cream and some ribs.

After dinner, we strolled down the Long Street after dark before making our way to our apartment to eat our final pastry which was a white and dark chocolate Kremowka cake which was pretty good.

The last day of our trip was spent driving the twelve hours back home.  While not an exciting day at all, we did see a convoy of Red Cross vans and cars carrying what appeared to be refugees as they were filled with women and children.  We aren’t sure if they were Ukrainian or Belarusian refugees, but it was a strange feeling to see nonetheless.

And with that, our Polish vacation was over.  We really weren’t sure what to expect with this last minute trip, but we actually really liked Poland.  The food was very good, it was inexpensive, and it was really quite pretty (albeit a bit cold).  We are definitely glad that we made the decision to visit Poland.

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Great Greek Getaway

This past week we were finally able to complete one of the trips that we had to cancel due to Covid.  After wanting to go for so long, we finally spent a wonderful week in Greece.

Day 1

Our trip began very early in the morning (actually the middle of the night) with a flight to Athens.  After arriving, we headed straight into the city to see the Acropolis.  Upon entering the area, we were first met with the ancient theater-Epidaurus Theater.  We climbed further up through the old gate, Beule Gate, to the Parthenon.  Next to the Parthenon, stood the Athena temple.  After wandering at the top for a while, we ventured down the slopes to the Socrates Prison.  There is no actual proof that Socrates was actually imprisoned there; it is likely legend.

After walking for a bit, we experienced our first real highlight of the trip-lunch!  We had a local beer, Fix, Greek Salad, Saganaki (fried cheese), Feta me Meli (feta in Phyllo with honey), Dolma (stuffed grape leaves), tomato fritters and Souvlaki (chicken skewer).  It was all so good.

After refueling, we walked to Ancient Agora where we saw the Temple of Hephaestus as well as an ancient church and a reconstructed forum filled with statues.

We walked back through the city to the Acropolis Museum.  They had a really nice collection of things that were recovered from the Acropolis slopes such as statues, wall pieces, pottery, coins, etc.  They also had an archeological site that revealed a collection of ancient homes.

We rounded out our day in the city with a stop at Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus.

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Then it was off to a bakery and dinner where we tried another local beer, Alpha, a fried cheese from Crete, kolokithokeftedes (zucchini balls), more tomato fritters, fava (smashed split peas), fried cheese cubes and black eyed peas.

Day 2

We explored more ancients today with a drive to Delphi.  Our drive took us through the rocky, hilly landscape past Thebes.  Thebes is the city that the character from Greek mythology, Oedipus, hailed from.  We stopped for an amazing view next to Mt. Parnassus overlooking tons of olive trees before heading on to Delphi where there were also many Cyprus trees.

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At Delphi, we saw the Temple of Athena, the location (really just a rock) where the oracle gave prophecies, Apollo’s Temple, many treasury ruins, a theater and a stadium.

We walked through the Delphi Museum which had many interesting pieces-mostly statues and wall pieces but also some tiny carved figures and gold adornments.

Then it was on to lunch in Delphi at a restaurant overlooking the sea where we had fried sheep and goat cheese, leek pie, fennel pie, olives, grass pea balls with onion chutney, moussaka and wine.  It was all so good and then they gave us some baklava style dessert to finish the meal.

After lunch, we went to Arachova where we walked around some small streets, stopped for a Greek coffee, Gelaktomboureko (custard in a puff pastry) and Kataifi (a honey and nut baklava made with “spaghetti”).

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To work that off, we walked up a ton of steps to a cathedral which was so ornate on the inside with ceiling and wall paintings, massive chandeliers, mosaics, designed floors, metal sculptures and strange small stained glass.

Back in Athens, we enjoyed a small dinner on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis. We tried Dakos (a tomato, feta and dried bread salad), Halloumi with grilled vegetables and Spanakopita (spinach and feta in Phyllo).  Once we made it back to our apartment, we had some baklava and a nut cake for dessert.

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Day 3

On our final day in Athens, we took a long drive to Ancient Olympia.  Along the way, we stopped at the Corinth Canal to see the man made channel between the seas.

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Then we drove through the mountains to Olympia.  Apparently, it was a significant day in Ancient Olympia as the Olympic Torch was being lit and sent on it’s way to 50 cities throughout Greece before heading to the location of the winter Olympics.  As we arrived at the area, the torch was passing by (sadly, it is not carried by a runner but driven in a car) which was pretty neat.  Once inside the “city,” we grabbed a quick lunch of Gyros and walked to the Ancient Olympia Museum.  The museum contained some very old artifacts (700 B.C.)-statues, vases, edifices, sculptures, helmets, etc.

Next, we entered the archeological site where we saw the ruins of many temples, the gymnasium where the athletes trained, monuments, treasuries and where the Olympic torch used to be lit.  We also walked (my youngest ran) the length of the original Olympic stadium-pretty cool!

At the Museum of the Olympic Games, there was some interesting memorabilia and information.  The old discus, descriptions of when various events were included in the games nd information about women in the games were unique.

Our final stop in Olympia was the Archimedes Museum where they had replicas and information about ancient inventions such as the robot server, a water activated alarm clock, an automated theater and automated temple doors (sadly, no pictures allowed).  On the way back to Athens, we stopped at Ancient Corinth where Paul addressed his letters in Corinthians.

Back in the city, we had dinner of fish roe dip, cheese croquettes, cheese pies, grilled Halloumi, spicy baked feta and tomato croquettes along with a flaming cider drink.

Day 4

We flew to Santorini early in the morning and drove to our rented cave house (traditional style home built into the cliffs).

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In the afternoon, we walked into Fira (Thera) and strolled along the Caldera (the section of coastline overlooking the volcano in the middle of the sea).  Eventually, we made it to the highest point on the island, observing the water, white buildings and domed churches along the way.

We made our way back down to Firastefani for a lunch overlooking the sea.  We had some amazing fava beans, tomato fritters, cheese pie, mushrooms in lemon butter, Santorini salad, Slouvaki and Dakos. We finished the meal with a dessert of Macedonia nut ice cream and a “bread pudding” consisting of the spaghetti style baklava with a special clotted cream.  The restaurant gave us a free dessert wine as well.

After spending some time back at the cave house where the kids soaked in the pool, we walked up to a view of the Caldera for sunset and a dinner of fava beans, tomato fritters, Saganaski and white aubergine (eggplant) rolls stuffed with vegetables.  At the end of the meal, they gave us Ouzo-an anise flavored liqueur.  On the way to the cave house, we stopped in a bakery and bought some baklava type dessert with chocolate and nuts inside and some small orange, chocolate and coconut cakes. It was all very good.

Day 5

After a breakfast of assorted pastries and Koulouri (sesame seed covered bread ring), my daughter and husband went on three scuba dives, so my son and I made our way to a black sand beach where we saw wind surfers and some interesting formations of sand.  Our divers enjoyed their day and saw many fish and lava rock grottos.

Once we were all back together, we went to dinner where we had Pastitsio (a moussaka with noodles in it), mushroom pies, tomato fritters, fava beans and Halloumi with grilled vegetables.  We also tried the local Yellow Donkey beer.

Day 6

Today, we filled up on vegetable pie and Nutella and cream filled donuts before going to Perissa beach (black sand).  We laid out, the kids got in the water, and we collected pumice rocks-generally we just enjoyed the sun, blue skies and clear water.  Across the street, we enjoyed a lunch of fava balls, cheese balls and cashew garlic dip with pita bread as well as some mushroom gyros and falafel wraps.  All of that went well with some Alpha beer and a mojito After that tasty break, we sat on the beach for a while longer.

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In the evening, we drove to Pyrgos where we climbed through the village streets to the top of the city and sat outside a church to watch the sun set while snacking on some cheese, olives, veggies and Tzatziki and eggplant dips.  We sat back, sipped on some Red Donkey beer and watched the sunset.

After dark, we went to Megalachori where we walked the main street which was pretty with the lights.

Day 7

After some cheese, vegetable and chocolate pastries, we drove to Oia.  Though it was incredibly pretty, it was very crowded so we headed to a less busy area to enjoy the views over the water.  We had a lovely lunch overlooking the sea.  We decided on Volkan beer, white eggplant, spinach pies, tomato risotto, baklava and Gelaktomboureko.

In the evening, we walked to a 100 year old restaurant, Aktaion.  We had a really amazing meal consisting of Retsina wine (a wine infused with pine resin), Loukoumades (fried cheese ball donuts), vegetable fritters, Dolma (stuffed grape leaves), fava bean and a traditional tomato pasta and mushroom and truffle oil pasta.  We finished it all off with a Greek yogurt and cream cheese dessert and a small shot of a digestif.

Day 8

On our final full day, we drove to Emporio and walked around a bit.  It was a very interesting little village with many small nooks and passageways and an abundance of cave homes built into the cliffs.

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Then we spent some time at another black sand beach where the water was so nice that we all got in it a bit.

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We stopped for a lunch at the dock where we had a dip platter (spicy feta, eggplant, fish roe and Tzatziki), Saganaski and tomato fritters.

We walked to the Red Beach and the archeological site at Akoriti.  The site was interesting as it was a preserved city (thanks to lava flow) from 2000 B.C.  Something that old is really hard to process.

We went to one final black beach before making our way to the lighthouse to watch the sunset.

We returned to the restaurant where we had lunch on our first day on the island and had many of the same dishes as well as grilled Halloumi, feta balls and mushroom risotto.  The restaurant gave us a free aperitif called Raki and we finished the day off with a Mythos beer.

And just when we thought our time on the island was done and all that was left was for us to travel home, we saw our first sunrise on the island while waiting on our plane.  It was truly amazing how the sun would appear and disappear at the horizon as if it was really the edge of the world.

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We really had an awe inspiring (all the remains of the ancient civilizations) and relaxing (warm weather and nice beaches) week in Greece.  And hopefully all of our walking helped to burn some calories, or we may really be in trouble thanks to all the delicious food.  We are so thankful that we finally got to make this trip, and we will definitely carry the memories of the sun soaked vacation with us as we head into another Dutch winter.

Holiday in Hannover

This past weekend we went to visit some family friends in Hannover, Germany. They just returned to Hannover two months ago after a five year hiatus, and they were eager to show us this place that they will now call home again.

We took a tour of the city by bike which began in a huge forest area right near their house.  Before entering the forest though, we rode by their church.

We biked through the forest for a while finally emerging in a field area before entering city streets.  We biked along the street (carefully because there was a triathlon going on) for a bit before biking along the large man-made Maschsee Lake.  Our friends told us that this lake (which I regrettably have no pictures of myself) was dug by hand during the Third Reich to keep people busy and not thinking too much.  It is a really large lake so one can only imagine how intense the construction must have been.  It is a beautiful spot for boats and rowing and there is a swim beach and club to one end.  We stopped at a beer garden along the lake and had a drink which was very nice.

We then biked to the new city hall which is still very old by American standards.

We saw an old gate and wall of the city and then on to the old city hall, a church in the area and a walk around some of the streets in the old part of the city.

We had lunch near the old part of the city.  I didn’t take any pictures (not like me, I know) but it was really good.  One dish was a traditional German style potato pasta with mushrooms and cream and the other was mushrooms on rosti (hashbrown style potato).  Of course, we had a little more German beer as well.

After lunch, we biked through the more alternative or “punk,” as our friends called it, neighborhood which had a more artistic feel.

Then it was on to the formal gardens, Herrenhausen.  The gardens were built in Hannover because the House of Hannover has a tie to the British Monarchy.  The grounds were very large with many different garden alcoves and huge fountains.  There was also a grotto with a modern art interior.  There were so many women at the garden having pictures done in their wedding gowns that I lost track of the number we saw.

After the gardens, we biked through more park space in front of the university and then through the more modern parts of the city on our way back to their section of the city.  Near their home is a pedestrian area where no cars or bikes are allowed.  It is lined with shops and restaurants.  Children can lay out blankets along the path with used items for sale any day of the week all year long as a way to make a little money.  They even had a carousel and we were told that they have a really nice Christmas market there in December (might be worth a return visit!).

On Sunday, they took us to Marienburg Castle which was about 30 minutes drive from their house.  The castle was once a gift to a princess who was not happy with it as it did not have a heating system.  The castle was fairly large and very pretty.  We toured the inside and then walked around some crafter stalls and a children’s area as there was a summer festival going on.

Sadly, that was all we had time for on this weekend visit, but we would definitely consider going back as there seems to be a lot to do and see there (and of course we would love to spend more time with our friends).

Happy Anniversary-Year 3 In the Books

This year marks the end of our 3rd year in the Netherlands.  This year has been interesting to say the least.  It has probably been our most isolated year since we moved here.  We saw few neighbors, went to basically no stores or restaurants, didn’t travel, my husband didn’t go to the office more than a dozen times during the entire year, I saw very few other parents and only went on to school grounds a dozen or so times and our son spent half of the school year at home with almost no interaction with any kids except during digital classes or meetings.  Our daughter was the only one of us who probably had more social interaction this year than any other due to a special relationship that wasn’t going to be slowed down by Covid.  In a lot of ways, we really felt that we were being cheated out of the experience of living abroad this past year.  We tried to make the most of it-we tried to get out and enjoy the nature areas around us, tried to get together with friends a few times that felt safe, tried to  have fun with special occasions and holidays.  And while I think we did succeed with that for the most part, for about a quarter of the year our efforts were overshadowed by a huge cloud of uncertainty as we tried to determine what the end of this year would bring-would we stay or go.  And if we went, where would we go to and if we stayed, how would that impact the future. A decision like that is hard enough for adults but factor in the impact on your children, and it becomes agonizing. This coupled with worries over how our decisions would impact our families and an enormous amount of stress and time pressure on my husband as he navigated the next chapter for his business made the first part of this year very tough.  And while the decision to stay finally became clear, it brought with it a whole new host of decisions and uncertainties about what happens in the next couple of years and beyond which made this year an emotionally challenging year to say the least.

While closing a very big chapter of our lives by making the decision to stay and to sell our house in the States rather than return last month as originally planned feels strange, we are feeling pretty good about our decision to spend more time living here.  This has been an incredible experience for all of us.  While it isn’t always easy to deal with the uncertainties, the volatility and the complications that come with living in a foreign country and an expat community, it has really opened our eyes to the wider world, to all the possibilities out there (which is sometimes a problem itself) and to the fact that you can feel at home and build a life in many places.  And while the complications and uncertainties are not over, we are looking forward to making the most of our time here, to continuing to learn more about the world and explore new places, to meeting and spending more time with the amazing people in our community and to continuing to grow through this experience.

And now, it’s time to revisit those goals from the start of this third year:

  1. Take some family bike excursions to work up to a several hour biking trip in the spring/summer – while we skimped a little on the bike excursions leading up to it, we did bike to Kinderdijk a couple of months ago as a family.  That is about a 2.5 hour roundtrip excursion.  It was a lot of fun and there were hardly any complaints.  Now that we know we can do it, we have plans to try a few other trips in the future.
  2. Visit more places (I’m not giving up on this one; I just need Covid to cooperate!) – it didn’t cooperate!  This year was almost entirely tripless thanks to lockdowns and closed borders.  However, we tried to make the most of what we could do by taking a short trip to the south of the Netherlands, taking a few driving excursions and most recently taking a day trip to Belgium.
  3. Complete a couple of artistic projects that I have worked up as well as a cross-stitch that I have been doing on and off for about 20 years (mostly off which is probably the problem) – the cross-stitch is nearly done!  I think I need about 2 more days.  As to the other artistic projects, I only worked on one or two.
  4. Walk for an hour at least 3 times a week – I did this with no consistency.  In the fall, I did some walking and biking.  In the winter, we did take several walks in the evening but they were not an hour long.  By spring, I completely gave up on the weather and just took walks here and there.
  5. Play tennis weekly with another couple and with moms at school (again I need Covid to cooperate) – and again, it did not.  Tennis courts were closed most of the year.  We do not have open courts available to play, so if the facility was closed, there was no playing.

All in all, I would say I did alright on last year’s goals but not great.  I did add a few goals in recent months-working on Dutch and Portuguese and learning to play the piano.  I have been doing pretty well with those things and have been pleased with my progress.  I also decided to complete the Everest Challenge offered through my kids’ school.  It involved a lot of flights of stairs in a 1 month period, but I did it.

So, what are my goals for year 4?

  1. Continue to progress with Dutch, Portuguese and piano.
  2. Get back to a consistent workout plan to lose some extra weight and get in shape.
  3. Read at least 1 book a month.
  4. Travel and visit a few more places in the Netherlands that we want to see (for goodness sake Covid, give a girl a break!)
  5. Take more bike trips

There you have it-another year in the books and now on to year four.  To all of you that have come along for the ride through this blog during these past three years, thank you!  I hope you have enjoyed yourself and gotten a small glimpse into life as an expat, and I hope you will continue to tag along as we move forward.  Here’s wishing all of us a fabulous fourth!

Waterloo

This past week, after a year without travel outside the country, we finally drove across the border without restriction.  For this momentous occasion, we decided to head to Waterloo in Belgium, a mere two hours from our house.

Waterloo (and yes we were humming the song the entire time) is the site of the famous battle in which Napoleon attempted to rebuild his empire by reforming his Imperial Garde and taking Belgian and Dutch land, but instead met with a crushing defeat from a combined force of British, Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers led by Duke Wellington.  The battle was a particularly brutal one.  By the end of the day of fighting, 40,000 men and 10,000 horses lay dead or seriously injured on the field.

Using a historical walking route provided by the Boy Scouts of America in this region of Europe, our first stop was to see Le Caillou, the farmhouse that Napoleon used as his headquarters the night before the battle.

 

Next, we stopped at an observation point that Napoleon used when he returned to the battlefield in the late afternoon (apparently he spent the day at an inn further down the road due to an attack of colitis that was incredibly painful).  The Imperial Garde could see the battlefield from this location, but they never had a view of the full field until the battle was almost over, something which proved devastating to their efforts. 

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Our walk took us past the L’Aigle Blesse statue erected to symbolize the fall of the Imperial Garde.  This particular spot was chosen because it was there that the Garde had their last defenses. 

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From there, we began walking through the fields where the battle was fought toward Hougoumont Farm.  Here, the Garde spent many hours attempting to take the farm from the British, but even after heavy casualties and burning the chateau and chapel of the farm down, they were unable to succeed.

Next, we made our way through more of the fields to the path leading to the ridge that proved to be a key to the battle.  This ridge allowed the British forces to remain unseen by the Imperial Garde.  The Garde, believing that the British had been scattered and crippled, charged the area, discovering that the British were merely below the ridge after they were too close to allow for success. 

Today, what remained of the ridge is part of the earth used to build the Butte du Lion (lion monument) which commemorates the battle. 

Finally, we walked past La Haie Sainte, another farmhouse used by Duke Wellington.  This one was so close to the Duke’s battle line that is would have been devastating if the Garde took control, so a group of German soldiers were assigned to protect it.  Again, the Garde spent great effort attempting to take the farmhouse but the Germans, though very few survived, managed to defend it. 

The final point that we saw was La Belle Alliance, which in addition to being the inn where Napoleon spent much of the battle due to his colitis, is also where Duke Wellington and the Prince of Prussia (who provided late aide to the British troops on the battlefield) met to declare their victory after the battle was over. 

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All in all, it was a nice day for a long walk and an interesting lesson in history.  And to make the trip really worthwhile, there was also a stop in Brussels for some Belgian waffles!

Hopefully this was the first of travel posts to come in the not too distant future.  Until then!

Marvelous Maastricht

It finally happened-after almost a year without a single bit of travel, we were able to take a mini vacation.  Granted, we didn’t feel ready to leave The Netherlands, but nonetheless the idea of a long weekend away seemed like a nice escape.  So we headed south to Maastricht, which has an ancient history of both Roman occupation and serving as a river crossing point in medieval times.  

On our first day, we spent time in the city of Maastricht.  We checked out some of the churches in the city such as St. Servatius and the Bascilica of Our Lady.