Christmas In Wasseiges & Evening In Liège

First of all – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes to all no matter what you celebrate and believe in. May you be blessed with the love of family and friends all year round!

I slept in this morning. I didn’t realize I was so tired. I’m not really sure why either. Turns out I didn’t need to get up as early as I planned, but still. I attended mass today with Adeline and Bastien. Greg stayed home with Sylvain, you know, with him being sick and loving to wander around and all. Bastien played a shepherd! Too cute. And he had his little stuffed dog up there with him. It was my first time stepping foot inside the church I’ve lived next to this past year. It was at 10:30, so not too early. I was actually awakened by the sound of phone beeping telling me I had received a text. It was Greet saying Merry Christmas and sorry we couldn’t get together. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, Greet was an exchange student with a family we know in New Dundee before Jean came to live with us. She lives in Antwerp. My parents visited her this summer. That’s one place in Belgium they’ve been that I haven’t!

After mass we came home and opened the rest of the Christmas gifts. I got Bastien a collection of Grimm brother’s Fair Tales (illustrated). He was a little put out, said it was a book for big kids because there were no pictures (or something like that). Adeline showed him the pictures. It may in fact be a little old for him, but he can grow into it and it’s actually a really nice book, it has a ribbon bookmark and everything! Sylvain got a book as well. His is really short (only 5 or 6 pages) with only a couple of lines per page. It also has a teddy head that when you push its nose it lights up and plays ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Only thing is it plays the music quite loud. Greg made a valid point when he commented how all music in books and things designed to make kids go to sleep is always really loud with no way of changing the volume. For Greg and Adeline I got an egg separator (yolks from whites) and salt and pepper mills (their other ones broke…they still work, they just don’t look as nice anymore).

I also got a box of assorted Neuhaus chocolates from Sybille. She originally gave a box to me Friday night, but then accidentally took it and opened it for us. There was some confusion with the multiple chocolate boxes. She was a little upset that she gave me one and then took it away so today she dropped one off. I’m excited to dig in. Unfortunately for my family I won’t be bringing them home. There’s no room in the inn…er…suitcase! I’m being serious though, it’s a relatively heavy box and I don’t have any room to spare. So I’m going to share them with Greg, Adeline, Jean-Go, and Val Ou tomorrow.

I continued to organize my ‘life’. I folded all of my clothes and reorganized where I’m placing certain things. I won’t really know where I stand as far as space goes until I get my clothes all vacuum sealed and ready to go. Then I’ll be able to figure out the rest. My pjs will just go on top. I think I’ll do that first tomorrow and then go make sure the car is clean…on the inside at least. I had planned to go last week and wash it, but that was my Thursday or Friday trip and with the boys being sick it didn’t happen. I might still go tomorrow and check it out. As far as feeling like I have enough room and not, it goes back and forth a lot. Sometimes I’m ok, sometimes I’m freaking out. I guess I’ll just take care of things as they happen. I can’t believe it’s only 2 sleeps away!

I decided on a whim to call my family today to wish them a Merry Christmas. I managed to talk to both my parents and Lisa before my phone ran out of credit. I knew that would happen, but I don’t need it anymore so I feel it was a good phone call to make. Everyone had just woken up from not so good sleeps so they all sounded groggy and tired. I felt bad. It was around 9:15am in Canada when I called. Not too early, but still a little bit. And I guess we’re not having a Brenneman family get together on the 28th. Mom said she emailed me, but I didn’t see it….

After naps we went to Liège. This was originally planned for tomorrow as something for my last day in Belgium, but I’m glad we went tonight. I think I’m going to be a bit of a mess tomorrow. If my mental state the days before and on the day I left Canada are anything to go by I might go a little crazy with nerves. I’m just like that. I still have to make my declaration list! Actually, I don’t think I technically need one, but I want to make one so that if they decide to question me I have all that information right there and don’t need to try to remember of f the top of my head. Apparently if I would be leaving a day later I would be considered to have been gone an official year and could claim things differently. The tax-free amount stays the same, but anything that I’ve bought and used for at least 6 months would not need to be claimed….and there’s some other stuff about that too, like personal household items or something. But in order to qualify for the year thing I would need to come home the 28th. Dec. 28th-Dec. 28th. Oh well. Too late now. 😛

Anyway, Liège. It was dark by the time we got there, but that made enjoying all the Christmas lights even better. We walked around the Christmas market for a while, all the booths are made to look like little wooden huts all decorated up for Christmas, so magical. Just like the Christmas Market I walked through in London (pictures can be viewed on my FB page). We stopped to get some baked goods. Bastien got a waffle and I got another pastry with sugar clumps and raisins that in Liège is called a bonhomme, but Adeline knew it by a different name. Greg got a speculoos flavoured square. I also saw the Palace of the Prince-Bishops. We also went for a ride on the Ferris wheel which provided a really neat view with all the Christmas lights.

I finally tried Peket! It usually comes in a little shot glass, but where we got them they were a bit bigger than that. I got strawberry flavoured, Greg raspberry, and Adeline lemon. I think I actually preferred the lemon. Adeline said I could not come to Liège and not try some. I think this was my 3rd opportunity so I had to take it. 20% alcohol and I had to down my second half of it…I’m a slow drinker. I didn’t have to down it, but everyone else was finished. Bastien had even finished his juice box! We also had some hot wine which wasn’t bad. I prefer hot apple cider myself, but apart from the slight burn (from the alcohol, not the temperature) it felt good going down.

We also came across a Canada booth from Quebec! I was the first to spot it…and the last to walk by it :P. So we stopped and took pictures. We talked to the people running the booth, told them I was Canadian, you know, the usual stuff. The one women had a headband with Canadian flags sticking up out of them and she let me borrow it for a couple of pictures. We also bought cheese curds and gravy mix to make poutine!!! I don’t know if we’ll do that tomorrow or not. It’s not like I can get some when I get home :P. And they had real maple syrup there and other maple products and everything! For those who don’t know, the slogan on Ontario license plates is YOURS TO DISCOVER. What I didn’t know – but found out tonight – is that for Quebec it’s LA BELLE PROVINCE (or ‘the beautiful province’). I haven’t seen enough of Quebec to confirm or contradict that statement, but I can believe it. I just thought it was so funny to come across that tonight. Awesomeness!

Then we went for supper and of course I had the Liège meatballs. They came with your choice of potato (yeah, went with fries) and a tiny little salad. They weren’t bad I just found them to be sort of bland. Maybe that was my taste buds playing with my mind or maybe they just weren’t the best meatballs. You can’t have amazing food every time you go out :D. Sylvain was – as usual, especially these days – quite entertaining, but a bit on the hard to handle side. Grabbing everything, ripping up the paper place mat….and Bastien was his usual not-wanting-to-eat self. I sat beside him and he was actually (at least at first) happy about that. He did give me a big hug and told me he loved me. And as a way to distract/calm him down before the food arrived I read to him the story he had brought (Disney’s The Fox and the Hound or Rox et Rouky).

We ended up misplacing Sylvain’s soother somewhere so he didn’t have it in the car on the way home. I think he was tired of being stuck sitting down (he had been in a stroller most of the time, only getting out to ride the merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, and walk around a little), and just tired so he cried until we were a little over 10 minutes from home and then he fell asleep. He seemed to be in a good mood after waking up though. He cried at first, but by the time his shoes were off and his coat and stuff put away, he gave me a kiss* and a wave goodnight with a smile on his face. *His version of kisses are sometimes just resting his head or his cheek against you. New Sylvain update! He’s starting to get the head nodding and shaking down. It’s so cute to see him respond yes or no to a question. Because of course up until now I’m just used to talking to him and not expecting any kind of real answer. I know I talk about Sylvain a lot, more than Bastien, and it’s not because I like him more, it’s just that at his age he does a lot more growing in a shorter period of time. So things are always changing.

Back up to Christmas stuff – in his stocking Bastien got a collection of plastic pirates with a little treasure chest, pirate skeleton, and cannon. Sylvain got a bath toy, but also another gift – a castle complete with knights, a king/prince, a princess, and other figures. At one point today Bastien said he killed the prince and princess with his canon – I said that wasn’t nice and I don’t like mean pirates and I think he said (I forget, not because I didn’t understand) they’re not really dead, it’s just a joke. I am so going to miss the crazy antics of these boys. I’m also going to miss evening TV time with Greg and Adeline – our reactions to things that happen and such. And also the fact that Adeline – or I – will break out into random song – usually because the lyrics have something to do with something someone just said – and I’ll join in. Sometimes in unison, sometimes in parts, but either way it’s really fun and I’m going to miss that.

And oh my goodness it’s almost 2am!! Approximately 40 or so hours until I’m in Toronto! BAH!!!!

                                                                                                                        

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London Calling – Day 1

*I apologize in advance if the paragraphs aren’t separated… apparently I’m having some formatting issues. At least I was while previewing the post. Drat* 

Friday, November 18, 2011:

The morning was spent getting ready. After lunch Adeline and Bastien dropped me off at the train station in Namur (around 1:30). I left Namur at 1:51 and arrived in Brussels at approximately 2:58. My train from Brussels (with Eurostar) wasn’t scheduled to leave for an hour, but I’m glad that I was there so early. I was able to go to the washroom and have lots of time to wait in the check-in line. This was my first experience with border control since leaving Canada/arriving in Belgium. I had to show my passport and Belgian residence permit. Then once that was done I had to stop and fill out a landing card for England. This had my name, birthday, place of birth, address of where I was staying in the UK, how long I was staying, how I was getting there. Then I had to hand that in and get my passport stamped.

The women I dealt with here was nice. She asked me how long I’d been in Belgium (almost a year). Is this your first time in the UK? Yes. What took you so long? Well, I had to wait till it worked for my friend! I laughed…well, I laughed after the fact, internally. I might have chuckled with her, I’m not sure. Then it was time to get in line and go through security. I’m so glad I was able to put everything in my backpack and purse. A suitcase would have been easier on my back, but my smallest one is too big to take for a weekend storing it on the train would have been a little harder. Not to mention stairs. When I finally got to the waiting area I looked for a place to sit down, but it was pretty crowded. I spotted an ATM where I could get some UK currency. That made it really easy. By the time I had my money I only had to wait a few minutes till we could start boarding. It was awesome because the car where I had my seat was right in front of the ‘moving carpet’ (or whatever those escalator-things that aren’t steps are called) that brought us up from the station. I had a window seat and no neighbour. I kept expecting someone to come and scan my ticket that I had printed off. No one came. Maybe I was supposed to scan it myself somewhere…

Ready for lift off! Oh wait...wrong form of transportation.

I kept a log of travel times on my iPod:

  • Departed Brussels: approx. 3:56pm. For both rides, there and back, I was facing backwards…you only noticed if you were looking out the window…which I did a lot.
  • Arrival Lille Europe: 4:30
  • Departed Lille Europe: 4:36 – still no neighbour.
  • Entered tunnel under the channel: 5:03 (4:03 UK time)
  • Exited tunnel ”                                     “: 5:26 (4:26)
  • Arrival Ebbsfleet International: 5:44 (4:44)
  • Departed Ebbsfleet International: 5:47 (4:47)
  • Arrival St. Pancras International, London: 6:00 (5:00)

My view upon arriving at St. Pancras International in London.

Of course when I got there I couldn’t see a thing because the sun sets just after 4. It took me a little while to find Martha. I just sort of followed the crowd, went down another ‘moving carpet’, went through a deserted area that had Customs signs everywhere (but no checks), and finally out into the station where I spotted Martha. Maybe I should explain who that it. Martha is a friend of mine from school. I guess you could say from childhood because we’ve shared classes and been friends since grade 1. That’s a long time. Actually, almost 19 1/2 years now. Crazy! We went to school together until the end of high school. She went on to the University of Toronto and I did a victory lap before heading off to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Right now she’s in London attending Law school. This is something she always wanted to do and I think it’s awesome that she’s able to, and in London! September 2010 I sang at her sister’s wedding. Well, the 2nd sister. She has 4 older siblings: brother, sister, sister, brother. The 2nd brother (Martin) is just a few years older so we did go to the same school as him occasionally. Martha’s family is German. As far as I know all of her extended family lives in Germany, it was just her parents that came to Canada. He mother is so nice. She had my Mom and I over for brunch once, I went over there for meals a few times to discuss wedding stuff…and since all the kids are fluent in German and English, it doesn’t really matter when their Mom talks using both in the same sentence. For me it was a little different, and her English is pretty accented. It was neat though because I had studied German in school and was able to pick up a bit.
Anyway, so we’ve been friends for a while. I thought – if it worked out for her – why not try to visit her since I’m over here. Thankfully it worked out! So once we connected we loaded up an Oyster card for me. That’s a card you use to take the tube or bus. On the tube you scan when you enter a station, and you scan when you exit one. The price it calculated based on how many zones you travelled through and maybe time too, I’m not sure. I sort of got the hang of the tube by the end, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I didn’t have to lead/find my own way. I just did my best not to lose her in the crowds. We had to stop off at her campus to print off our ticket for the show we were going to see. After that we stopped at a grocery store – I felt like a bull in a china shop with my bag! – stopped for coffee, and then finally went to her flat. She warned me it was ghetto, and it was, but not really any more ghetto than our hotel in Amsterdam :). Her two roommates happened to be Canadian as well. Huh.
So we were just getting ready to leave when Martha asked her one roommate if she knew what the dress code was for the place we were going. Dress codes are taken very seriously over there and a lot of places won’t let you in if you’re wearing jeans. I guess this place was one of them. So we both changed. Although, we were both wearing really dark jeans that if you didn’t look real close might not have been jeans… Finally we were on our way. We were afraid we were going to be late. Turns out we weren’t. We took the tube for a ways and ended up getting off at the station (I can’t remember the name!) right across from the Tower of London. We were there twice, but I never really saw the tower because both times were at night! >_< Then we had to walk a while. We actually almost walked past it, but I saw a sign and we stopped. Then a guy walked right into Martha and apologized profusely. As we were waiting to get our tickets checked that same guy came in and made a comment about how he swears he wasn’t following us. It was funny. Don’t worry, he wasn’t creepy or anything ;). We took a seat near the bar so we would have a good view. Plus we weren’t eating supper there (there’s the option of doing the dinner/show deal). Martha got a Manhattan, I believe, and I tried my very first Cosmo. It was actually pretty tasty. Martha’s Manhattan was a lot stronger than she was used to. The guy we had bumped into twice  came up to us to ask if one of the stools near us was being used, while apologizing again and making sure we knew he wasn’t following us. Then when Martha was up at the bar getting the drinks he offered to buy us each one. She declined. I think he was there alone. When Martha told me about it she said he was sitting by himself at the bar and me, not being sneaky at all, very obviously (but also accidentally) looked right at him. So he probably knew we were talking about him. Anyway, I just thought that whole experience was funny.
Now, time to try to describe this place. Have you ever seen that movie that just came out about a year ago with Cher and Christina Aguilera, Burlesque? If you have, then you’ll have an idea what this place looked like and the atmosphere. The waitresses were all in corsets, little shorts/skirts, some had stockings, all black. The design of the place (what I could see in the dark and dry ice floating around) looked 1920s. Like Chicago. It was a cabaret show called ‘Decades’. It started out in the 20s and with the use of costumes, music, and dancing took us through to the present. They ended the show by inviting people to come up and join the dancers – a nice segue because after the show the stage opened up as a dance floor. It was quite the show, very high energy, and very entertaining. They used a big area including the stage and the floor among the tables. When they were on the stage though it was hard to see because there was a big post in the way. We still had a great time though. I didn’t get to see a musical, but I can go see one in Toronto if I want. This is something I’ve never done before and it was a lot of fun. Plus, between acts Martha and I were able to catch up on a lot of stuff.

The blond girl in the back was the host/singer. She was fabulous! As you can see from the feathered women right in front of me, even some of the patrons got into the spirit of the place.

 By the time we left it was after 11. We got there around 7:45 I think. When we arrived at the tube station we saw a sign for a Jack the Ripper walking tour. We decided we wanted to do that, it was something Martha hadn’t done yet that she was interested in. I though it would be a good idea. More about that in the post on Day 2.
I was pretty tired when we arrived at her flat. I think it’s about a 10-15 min. walk from the closest tube station to her flat. And I walk a lot slower than she does. Before going to sleep I took some time to look through the booklet I picked up at the station in Brussels. When I finally went to bed it was 1am – a.k.a. 2 am – and I was beat.
And so ends the tale of my first foray into the city of London. I didn’t see much because it was dark, but I still had a fun time. I wonder how long I’m going to say ‘pardon’ instead of sorry when I bump into someone? Or how long I’m going to say ‘merci’ instead of thank you? I was doing that so much, it’s ingrained in me now, it’s just my reaction. Even in an English-speaking country I still reacted with French! Not much, but it was still my first reaction.

For the rest of this tiny album click here.

                                                                                                                    

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Awesome Amsterdam Adventure (Part 3)

So I realized after thinking on it that our last (part) day in Amsterdam wasn’t really eventful at all. We got up, finished packing, ate breakfast, hopped on the tram, took a bus at the station, stopped, took a subway, and were back at the Park + Ride Arena before we knew it. When we went to pay for our parking we had to stand in line for a bit. When we got to the booth the women told us we had to pay at the machine… thanks. We were all pretty tired, not really having got that much sleep the past two nights. I looked at a little more scenery on the way home.

And here we have one of the thing the Dutch are known for - windmills! Sorry it's a little grainy...I zoomed in, took the picture, zoomed again, and cropped. It was pretty far away 😛

We got home around lunch time I think. Or maybe it was after. Bah. Either way we did some laundry and chilled and figured out what we were doing that night. There was a fair type deal in Gembloux, which is the city where Val Ou (Jean-Go’s fiancé) went to university. They had asked us before Amsterdam if we wanted to go. They had all kinds of ride/games for the kids and lots of food and beer! There were also these different coloured shots – that I can never remember the name of – that I was supposed to try…but I forgot. I did try a dessert of fried balls of dough smothered in icing sugar. Lisa and I shared them. Yum ^_^

Yum ^_^. Icing sugar and fried dough.

Gembloux was the first time I saw the plastic cups they have for the beer. The heavy-duty re-usable plastic cups that if you bring back you get back your 1€ deposit. They’re everywhere where there is a lot of beer outside. We used them at the 24h Velo in Louvain-la-Neuve as well. I got to keep one and my family took home a few. They say Jupiler on them. That was my Dad’s favourite of the Belgian beer he tried. Jupiler is your basic beer. Really common…not really crazy flavour wise. Your basic beer.

So that was that. It was a good end to a good three days. Now I can say I’ve been to Amsterdam!

Val Ou, Jean-Go, and friends in Gembloux.

Find the full album here!

                                                                                                                      

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Awesome Amsterdam Adventure (Part 2)

Day 2 in Amsterdam started with a somewhat early breakfast in the hotel. I think we were eating by 8. We had to make our way to the station to catch a train to Haarlem. It was only about a 15 minute train ride or so, really quick. Actually, it was my first train experience – that I know of. Since we got to Haarlem by about 9 or so, things were still pretty sleepy in the town. We walked from the Station to the Corrie ten Boom House/Museum/Clock shop.

This sign juts out into the street above the clock/watch shop which the ten Boom family used to run. The entrance to the house is off the alley to the side.

You don’t have to make a reservation, you can just show up and there’s a schedule outside the door to the house that tells you when the next tour is and in which language (Dutch/English). They take a max of 25 people and my Mom really wanted to make sure we got into the first one so we did in fact make a reservation. There was only one other family – from the States – who was in the tour with us. It’s not as popular a place as the Anne Frank House, but I actually liked it better. It might have something to do with the fact that Corrie and her family were Christians and their faith and love was the most important thing to them. It plays a huge role in their story and why they did what they did. People don’t always respond well to the gospel. My Mom had seen the movie The Hiding Place which tells Corrie and her family’s story.

The Ten Boom’s were watch/clock makers and repair-people. They were able to use the shop as an excuse for the constant stream of people coming to and from the house during the occupation. Of course curfews made things a little difficult, but Corrie was able – with the help of many people and the Dutch underground – to supply food stamps and other things to those families and homes sheltering Jews. They had a system to let people outside know if it was safe or not to enter the house. They didn’t turn anyone away, even when one of the Jews they ended up sheltering permanently was an old woman with terrible asthma who had been turned away from every other shelter. And a man whose features were so Jewish he would have been arrested on the spot without question. His family had been taken in by others, but they wouldn’t keep him because it was too risky.

See the little triangle clock statuette there in the bottom middle of the middle window? If that was in the window people knew it was safe to enter the house. If it wasn't there they knew to steer clear.

One of their ‘boarders’ was an electrician and he installed a bell and buzzers all over the house. It was loud enough to be heard throughout the house, but not outside. At one point there were 7 Jewish adults living with the Ten Boom’s. They had to climb up a couple of flights of steps to get to the secret room. They were able to go outside a little, on the roof, because the railings surrounding the porch-like area was covered. So as long as they crouched down and stayed quiet they could get some fresh air. The secret room was a small slice of room behind a false wall placed in Corrie’s bedroom. The false wall was made of brick so as not to sound hollow. There was a little door that could be raised at the bottom of a bookshelf. The Jews living in the house had to store all of their belongings minus the clothes on their back in the hiding place when they weren’t in use. When the room was built Corrie was told that they had to run drills to try to make sure everyone one of the Jews in hiding would be able to reach that room from anywhere in the house in a minute or less. And not only reach the room, but all be inside it. This was no mean feat! This meant at least 2 flights of winding, circular, narrow stairs (I can’t remember exactly) – if they were in the dining room – and a climb through a tiny hole. During dinner this meant taking plates, cutlery, and anything else that would give away another person eating there, all done as silently as possible with no dropped food or anything. At night this meant grabbing bed sheets and blankets and flipping the mattress so as not to give away there is a warm spot from a sleeping person. They finally managed to shave the time from 4 minutes to 70 seconds. Quite impressive if you ask me. I wouldn’t have wanted to run up those stairs that fast!

Can you imagine running up two fights like this as fast and as quiet as possible? I guess if your life depended on it you would.

One day when Corrie was quite sick (fever, dizzy-ness, headache, etc) a man came to the shop and refused to speak to anyone but her. Her wouldn’t look her in the eyes and there’s a Dutch saying along the lines of ‘you’ll know the measurr of a man by the way he looks at you’ or something like that. Basically, whether or not he looks you in the eye. He kept going on about needed money to save his wife (or someone) and was really distraught, but wouldn’t look her in the eye. She was suspicious because of this, but didn’t want to take the chance that he was telling the truth and someone suffered for her inaction. It was a lot of money, but she told him to come back at a certain time. He finally looked her in the eye. Later that morning there was a raid on the house. She was in bed at the time and remembers waking up to a buzzer sounding and not remembering scheduling a drill for that day. She remembers hearing the wheezing of Mary (the women with asthma) and praying for God to heal her and stop the wheezing before the soldiers came in the room. Miraculously it worked. Corrie had prepared a prison bag that had all the essentials she would need including medicine for her sister. I didn’t mention it before, but at this time I believe Corrie was already 51. In her haste she had thrown her prison bag in front of the door to the secret room. The soldiers ordered her to get dressed and come downstairs. As she went to reach for her bag she realized they might be able to see the door that way so she left it. It was a really hard thing for her to do. So, the Ten Boom’s and some other relatives and friends who had been there for a Bible study (which if not illegal at this time was not something you wanted to be caught doing) were all herded into the dining room and one by one taken into the clock shop and questioned.

They wouldn’t admit to hiding any Jews, knowing that it would be almost impossible to find the secret room. And in fact, I don’t believe the German’s ever found it. They found the spot where all the jewellery and things were hidden, and under the bottom step where all the food stamps were, but not the secret room with the 6 Jews (one of them was away at the time of the raid – the electrician – he was installing a buzzer system somewhere else). The ‘all’s clear’ sign had been knocked from the window and broken. One of the soldiers noticed Corrie look at it and picked it back up, put it together, and placed it in the window. Shortly after an unsuspecting person came to the door yelling that one of the others had been caught. They too were arrested and the soldier said ‘I knew it!’. He had a feeling about the clock statuette. All in all because of this I think they arrested 35 people that day. The Ten Boom’s also had a working telephone – pretty sure that also wasn’t allowed. Of course they had codes – all to do with clocks and watches – so if someone was tapping the lines they wouldn’t be found out. But that day a lot of people from the underground had been discovered and people weren’t taking precautions like normal, they were distraught. Corrie answered 3 or 4 phone calls in an unusually brisk manner, but it wasn’t until the last that the person on the other end caught on and hung up before saying anything.

Corrie and her family were all put on a bus and shipped out of Haarlem along with many of their friends and underground helpers. They were taken to prison with the others before being sent to concentration camps. Corrie was the only member of her family to survive. She was released due to a clerical error. All the women of her age were meant to be executed, but somehow (by the power of God) her name was put on a list of younger women and she was released. She spent the rest of her life telling her story and spreading God’s message across the world. It’s a very moving story. One women, one family willingly risked so much to save the lives of God’s chosen people.  There’s so much more to the story and I actually got out the book I bought there (for the first time since I bought it) and read a little bit to try to get more information. I know the people hiding had to stand in that place for at least a day if not more with no food or water. They had to wait until they were sure the coast was clear. And since the Germans were positive Jews were being hidden the house they made sure to look everywhere.

This is me trying not to get stuck in the door. The bedroom isn't that much wider than what you see in the picture. The width of the secret room was only about 2 1/2 feet or so, I think. Not very wide. With 6 adults it was standing room only.

I have to say, this tour moved me much more than going to the Anne Frank house. I think it was because it was more personal and not as many people. The women who gave the tour was an elderly volunteer, she was a child during the occupation. One ‘yeah!’ moment for me was when she informed us that it was the Canadians who liberated Haarlem. So far in my travels in Belgium and to Dachau, Germany it had been the Americans doing all the liberating. Not that that’s a bad thing! Liberation is liberation no matter who did it. It seems that the Canadians did more liberating in the Netherlands and the Americans in Belgium. I’m proud to be North American ;).

We had lunch in Haarlem before making our way back to Amsterdam. I forgot to mention that before the tour while we were waiting for it to open my parents spent a bunch of time in a cheese shop that’s just a couple of shops down from the museum/house. They bought some (picked up after the tour), but not before having a taste of a bunch of different kinds. The guy helping them was very helpful and enthusiastic. Lisa and I stood outside (I think the smell might have been a little too overpowering for me, can’t remember) watching traffic jam up on the small street. There was a truck making a delivery and because the street was narrow and because he wasn’t able to pull very far to the side, traffic was held up for a while. I thought it was funny. But only because it wasn’t me stuck in it. I think apart from the morning and the evening that street was pedestrian only.

Dutch cheese!

Once back in Amsterdam Lisa and I went off to do our own thing. She wanted to take me to the coffee-shop where you could buy brownies…or space cakes. Oh yeah, we’re bad. As an aside for those who don’t know; a coffee-shop sells marijuana, a café sells coffee.  We ended up wandering around, not knowing where we were. We managed to find this place we had been the day before and followed a group of kids in bright orange t-shirts because we figured they were going to the Anne Frank house (we were right) and the place Lisa was trying to find had sort of been around there. Her had Dad had found it the day before. Of course there are coffee-shops everywhere, it’s just trying to find one’s that sell baked goods. In our somewhat aimless wanderings we stumbled upon a shop that sells legit Absinth. It’s not green (yellow in fact) and you don’t light in on fire. Don’t let those sneaky Bohemians in Moulin Rouge fool you. The man selling it was very helpful and took us seriously. It was Lisa who wanted to buy some. I thought maybe because we are still sort of young (Lisa younger than me) that he would treat us that way, but he didn’t. Then again, we can be mature when we want/need to be ;).

And here are the different types of Absinthe as well as accessories to go with it.

We didn’t find what we were looking for on the other front. The Absinthe was something Lisa wanted to look for, but we weren’t really looking for. It was a fluke that we even saw the sign. And I guess we managed to find 1 of only 2 stores in Amsterdam that sell the real stuff. Finally after walking almost non-stop for about 3 hours we started to make our way back to the hotel. We hopped on a tram. We should have just walked, we weren’t that far. We started going in the wrong direction (I was still getting used to all the little tram details). I figured it would be easiest to head back to the station and then get on the right tram from there. We finally got there and got on a tram I thought would take use to our stop. There were so many, I just got one of the #s mixed up. It was not the right tram. But we got on just as it was getting ready to leave and we couldn’t get off. This one in fact only made about 6 stops and went right out of the city! Ahhh! And we were already going to be late in meeting our parents. Finally at the 2nd stop we got off, crossed to the other side and went back into the city. We then got on the correct tram and made it back in one piece. In rain because, yes, it had started raining during all this.

We ended up going for supper at a little place across the ways from our hotel. We got there just before they closed down the restaurant. After supper we wandered around more through the shops looking for little things we wanted. Some things we found, others we didn’t, and spirits weren’t the highest. Lisa and I left our parents again on our quest to find the right coffee-shop. And to see more. So we took off in a different direction. We ended up making a big circle and thankfully after a fruitful search making it back to familiar territory. We found this coffee-shop:

So classy. And right on the edge of the Red Light District too.

There are a bunch of ‘The Bulldog’ shops and I swear we went into each one. Finally outside this one there was a security guard who asked for I.D. As we were taking out our passports we asked if they had any baked good because there was no sense going in otherwise. And they did! The guy behind the counter was really open and friendly and pretty cheesy too. We were polite, saying things like ‘we would like’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. One thing led to another and he said ‘that’s how I knew you were Canadian, you’re so polite’. I wish I could remember the rest of our conversation with the guy because it was really entertaining and I thought it would make a great story for here. But alas, 3.5 months is too long for my brain. I know one thing you’re probably all wondering about was whether we saw the Red Light District. The answer is yes. Again, by accident. Beside this shop was an alley. In this alley there were scantily clad women in windowed rooms selling all kinds of things I would never sell and doing it in the glow of creepy red lights. We walked through this alley to get home and to say that we did. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I think it was something bigger (there were other alleys) and more…pronounced? I just thought since it seems like such a big deal and something that everyone always associates with the city, I thought it would be a little more obvious.

After finally achieving one of our goals for the day we quickly headed back to the hotel. We were tired, our feet were sore, and we just wanted to go to bed. And so ends day 2 of our Awesome Amsterdam Adventure!

Click here for information on the movie The Hiding Place which is based on the ten Boom family, the raid on the house, and their time spent in Concentration Camps.

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London Calling…

Hello all!

Today is Friday and that means that by the time you read this I’ll either be on my way or already in London. This weekend while I’m catching glimpses of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, you will have the chance to read of my adventures in Amsterdam this summer.

Day 1 was posted back in September,  but there’s the link for you again if you missed reading it and want to give it a go.

And here’s the video that inspired my title:

                                                                                                                      

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Lest we forget – My visit to Vimy Ridge and how it brought me closer to history and home.

I guess technically I was geographically closer to home than I am here in Belgium. I’m not sure why I didn’t get my act together and post this sooner (story of my life), but it seems fitting that I post it today. I didn’t plan it like this I just thought since I hadn’t posted it already that it would be a good day to do it. Please forgive in advance any glaring historical errors. I will gladly correct any that are pointed out to me. So here we go…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011:

I remember Lucie and I had to drop Sylvain off that morning. We stopped at the bakery first  – I wanted to take Lucie before she left and then we also had a snack for on the road – and after dropping him off realized I didn’t have the address and the monument wasn’t listed as such on my GPS. So we went back home and I turned on my computer before thinking it might just be faster checking on my iPod. It was. It was difficult to find because the address does have a number, only the postal code. I eventually just selected a road near the town (Canadian Way) and hoped for the best. My ‘final destination’ was a little before we actually entered the 107-hectare site that was France’s gift to Canada, but we ended up finding it no problem. It was a little frustrating that there’s no actual website, but we managed. I was a little worried for time because Google Maps said it would take around 3 hours to get there. In reality it only took 2. So even though we left half an hour later than planned, we still got there before we thought we would.

The drive wasn’t bad. It rained a little off and on and was pretty cloudy the entire time. I think Vimy is only about 30-45 minutes from the France/Belgium border. Under an hour anyway. When we actually entered the site it was really neat. It’s been reforested to prevent erosion and in among all the trees is the bumpy terrain from artillery. It felt like we were in a large park. The roads inside are still main roads that connect the surrounding towns, but it didn’t feel that way to me. And then we saw all the danger/warning signs and the Government of Canada signs and we started to get excited. For me it was a little like a homecoming. It’s been a while and I’m missing my homeland. Being surrounded by familiar symbols and flag made me feel all giddy despite the sombre mood of the day and the history of the place. The memorial is actually the Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada and is one of only 2 Canadian national historic sites outside of Canada.

I'm not sure if this was made from above or below... Either way it's huge!

As we walked up to the Welcome Centre we noticed there was a large school group and we got a little nervous. We didn’t really want to be in a tour with them. Small tour groups are always better if you can manage it. Fortunately they have separate public tours. We arrived just before noon, but the next available tour was at two so we chatted a bit with the girl who was stuck working by herself while the rest were on their lunch break and took a look around inside at the information, and pictures and things. We were curious about how you could get a job working there. I guess you have to be a current student who plans on going back to school after your term in France. You also have to be bilingual. All the guides are Canadian which made it really neat because we were able to talk about home with them.

We also watched a video of the restoration which took place from 2005-2007. Unfortunately for us that group of students came back in from finishing their tour and were really noisy. A bunch were sitting ‘watching’ and I was happy that I could read a bit of French (the subtitles) because until they left we couldn’t hear a thing. After that we went to visit the Canadian cemeteries. First was the Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery which contains the graves of 111 soldiers. The Canadian Cemetery No. 2 holds only 693 Canadians, but over 2000 British and other soldiers. We signed the registry books that were in each, reading where our fellow Canadians were all coming from and when. Of course it’s not just Canadians who come, but there were a lot who signed the register. In the 2nd cemetery there are many, many graves with the nationality of the soldier, but no name, just ‘Known unto God’. On some they don’t even know what country. I find that to be one of the saddest things of all. For the families to not know. I guess they would have an idea of where a soldier had died because they would have known where he was fighting, but to want to come and visit the grave, but not know which one…I can’t imagine.

Row after row of simple headstones mark the country in which many laid down their lives fighting an enemy who would have preferred to be their friend.

By the time we walked back to the Centre we had just enough time to eat out lunches and for me to take more pictures before meeting up for our tour. I think there were about 8 of us – all Canadians actually – most from Ontario, but a couple from Saskatchewan. Lucie and I were the youngest one’s there by far. This time of year it’s mostly British and French school groups. It’s busier in the summer. The monument itself is actually accessible 24/7, it’s just the Welcome Centre that isn’t.

After 50 years of being our own country we were finally recognized as such. Unfortunate that this recognition cost so much.

Canada officially became the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. It wasn’t until 50 years later – April 1917 – that we were finally being recognized globally as a separate entity from the British. Up until Vimy Ridge Canadian victories were celebrated as British conquests. We had managed a feat that neither the British nor the French had been able to accomplish. Of course, this was just one battle. It just happened to be an important area. Up until this battle very few people actually knew any battle plans. The general Private was kept in the dark. They just marched and fired when they were told to. This makes sense in case of capture. Vimy was different. It was so crucial for the plan to work exactly as laid out that everyone knew what was supposed to happen. Soldiers studied maps of the area, aerial photos, plans. They practised for months in between digging the tunnels that would bring them close to the enemy. So close in fact that they had to be careful because the German’s would be able to hear digging and conversation from their own tunnels.

The attack happened on April 9th. They had considerable firepower but only showed about half of it on March 20. On April 2 they started bombing in earnest. Thus began what the German’s called ‘the week of suffering’. After the targets were destroyed, the bombardment was slowed down before the actual attack. If I remember correctly what normally happened after an artillery strike was an immediate charge. I guess by slowing this down, they were able to confuse the enemy. This was the first time all 4 Canadian division were fighting together. They had to advance 700 meters over a 7km front to reach German trenches. Hill 145 was the main goal and is where the monument now sits. It was captured on April 10th. By April 12th the entire ridge had been taken. One tactic that was used was the ‘creeping barrage’. This is where the artillery would strike and behind them would come the soldiers. After the first set they would bomb again and then more soldiers. Things had to be timed down to the second or your own men would get hit from shells falling in front of or behind them. And when the artillery is coming from 10km away….timing was everything. I believe they didn’t start bombing the German’s right away, they started a littler further back thus enabling the men on foot to remain hidden and have that element of surprise. I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but before the attack the men who were to rush out of the tunnels first had to first wait inside them. They had to stand, as silent as possible, with their 30kg packs and rations for 12 hours. For some reason they had to wait for longer, maybe twice as long before they actually attacked. How they managed it I have no idea.

One tactic employed was digging smaller side tunnels deeper and closer to the enemy tunnels/trenches. They would then place explosives at the end which when detonated would create huge craters. Then as the smoke was clearing they would charge the enemy. It didn’t always work very well because the enemy knew that after that happened they would be under attack. And all they had to do during an artillery strike was stay hunkered down in their fortified tunnels and wait it out, no lives lost. This is why it was so important to confuse them when it came to artillery.

The upgraded version of one of the tunnels.

On the tour we were asked what we thought they used down there to see. They actually used electricity. You don’t want to have open flames in a tunnel for a number of reasons. They turned off the main lights and said that the emergency lights they have now would have been very similar to the lighting in  1917 – basically non-existent. Then again, stay down there long enough and your eyes will adjust. The entrances/exists were very basic, just muddy openings and slopes. The soldiers packs weighed 30kg (60+ lbs) and they had to run out and up these slopes without falling and do it relatively quickly. I couldn’t do that without a pack let alone with one that heavy on my back.

Also preserved are a length of both Canadian and German trenches. This part I really do forget, but it was an anniversary or something and there were a bunch of veterans there and they filled sand bags with cement to create realistic looking and long-lasting trench walls. The effect is really cool. For those of you who don’t know the trenches were never straight, they were always curvy. This was important because if artillery blasted in a trench the shrapnel would go further and kill so many more men if the trench was one long straight line. Also if the enemy managed to breach a trench they would just have to walk along and fire and no one could hide. The curved, zigzagging shape allows for some protection from both those things. It’s amazing to see how close the trenches of the two sides were in some places. I’m no good with distances, but I would say a few hundred feet or so. Not far at all. You had to be super careful when you were on the lookout.

This is the German trench. That big cement slab covers an entrance to their tunnels.

That cement ladder looking thing on the ground is meant to be a more sturdy replica of the wooden duckboards that were used during the war. And now enough with the iffy history lesson. On to the actual monument.

That's me on the steps. Seriously. It's me.

We were fortunate enough that the sun came out for a little while. I was so glad that I had Lucie with me. It was great for the both of us because it meant we were able to get pictures of us that we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. I’m glad I didn’t go alone. There is a paved lane that goes tight around the monument, but also wider around and it seems like the people who live near by just use it for walks and such.

This is what the pathway originally looked like. I'm not sure why they changed it during the restoration.

It’s hard to describe what I was feeling at being there. This is a place that I’d grown up hearing about in history classes. A place that we were told we should really try to see someday. In grade 12 I read the book The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart. At one point one of her characters (a women) comes to the monument as it’s being built. It took 11 years to build and was inaugurated in 1936. The woman knows how to carve stone, but isn’t one of the carvers (I’m pretty sure she disguises herself as a man). She ends up getting close to one of the men who carves the names and he lets her help him carve the name of her fist lover who died somewhere in France. It was the closes look I had at the memorial until now. It’s such an important moment in our nation’s history and it was a little overwhelming to realize I actually made it. It was one of those places that I always said ‘well, if I ever get to Europe I would really like to go’, but never actually thought I would get the opportunity. That I did it on my own (no parents) is also something.

"This sorrowing figure of a women represents Canada - a young nation mourning her dead."

By the time we actually got up there and were taking it all in it was just the two of us. There were others that came before we left, but for the most part we were able to look and take pictures is peace. Makes me really glad I didn’t go this summer. On the inside of one of the walls this is carved: “The Canadian Corps on 9th April 1917 with four divisions in line on a front of four miles attacked and captured this ridge.” I feel like this is something that all Canadians can take pride in and at the same time I feel guilty. I can’t take any personal pride in it obviously. I don’t even personally know anyone who fought in any war let alone at Vimy. This monument stands as a sign of change in our history. With this battle the Canadians earned respect as well as a combined pride in our country both on the front and at home. It brought them together. For me, I feel like everybody loves ‘Canadians’, everybody knows we’re so polite and nice – this stands as a reminder that we’re not simple-minded doormats that you can walk all over just because we say sorry all the time. We may be a country that prefers to keep peace, but we have the strength and character to do what is needed when called upon. Some of that might be my reaction to an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’, the one where Barney finds out he’s 1/4 Canadian. Heck, I don’t even get some of the Canadian references Robin makes and usually I’m pretty easy-going about Canadian stereotypes. I usually find them really funny. I think that episode took it too far. For me at this time anyway. I love my country and I want everyone else to – is that too unrealistic? Oh probably. Not everybody will love everything.

As we were preparing to leave this group from France started talking to me. I managed to have an entire conversation with complete strangers. And I translated for Lucie as well. It allowed me to see how far I’ve come in regards to French, but also how far I still have to go. It was a little difficult at times because they were talking fast and I didn’t catch everything. Maybe I convinced them that I knew more than I actually do, I don’t know. But it was a neat experience.

Once back in the car we went to Arras which was about 15-20 minutes away. Lucie was taking the train from there to Paris. We got there earlier than expected and she wanted to try to take the earlier train if possible. Again I played translator. Arras is small enough that it’s not a guarantee people will speak a little English. After saying goodbye and watching her get on the train I stopped somewhere for supper and headed back to the monument. I wanted to see it at night with the lights. There was a couple of people leaving just as I got there and again, I was the only one there. Between taking pictures and just reflecting I was there for about another hour. I felt so fortunate to be able to be there, taking my time, and enjoying the silence around me. I tried – and failed – to imagine what they went through, both sides. At one point I was almost moved to tears thinking that as lovely as this monument is how unnecessary it all was. All that death and destruction. War may be a part of history, present, and future, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I have a strange fascination with the two World Wars. I have an interest in history that isn’t as intense as some people, but the interest is there. Maybe part of my desire to visit war memorials is because I miss home and some of the memorials are a way to connect with home if only in name. Sometimes when I think of being on the ridge I don’t believe it was real. I feel that maybe if there would have been a whole lot of people there (or at least a few others) that it would have seemed like I was actually there at the real monument. As it was it kind of felt like a dream. Especially when I went back that evening. I have this strong desire to go back. I think it’s more the lure of the Welcome Centre and my fellow Canucks than the monument itself. But with it comes this little bit of fear that my car will break down again even though I’m always going to be so careful when it comes to putting in gas.

Well, we all know my camera isn't the greatest, but here's my only shot of the full front of the monument.

 

Full album here.

                                                                                                                      

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Mardasson Hill American WWII Memorial in Bastogne.

Seeing as how tomorrow is Armistice/Remembrance Day/Veterans Day I wanted to visit a memorial this week. Clémence is coming tomorrow and spending the night, so with her and the boys we’ll have our hands full. Actually, it’s going to be one adult/kid since it’s a holiday both Greg and Adeline are home. I decided to go to Bastogne for a number of reasons. On Mardasson Hill just outside Bastogne is an American WWII Monument dedicated to the 76, 890 Americans who were killed, wounded, or marked missing in the Battle of Bulge in the Ardennes that took place from Dec. 16, 1944-end of January 1945. It was a memorial I hadn’t been to. And in Band of Brothers they fought in Bastogne, so I thought it would be neat to go there.

I couldn’t have asked for better weather. The past few days have been grey and threatening rain, but today was sunny. I think it got up to about 18° in the sun, but in the shade it was definitely crisp and cool. I found myself wishing I had brought my mitts this morning. When I was standing on the path leading to the monument reading the information there my hands were pretty chilly. The drive there and back was very enjoyable. The sun made all the crisp reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves stand out. There wasn’t much traffic either so I was really able to take in the scenery and enjoy the ride.

Also on site is the Bastogne Historical Centre. Unfortunately is closed in March for 18 months so no museum today. When I got there I noticed a bus in the parking lot. While I was standing on the path leading to the monument, reading the info board, a group of what I think were students was on top of the monument. By the time I finished reading they had left and it was just me and one other guy. It’s sort of strange being at a big monument like that all by yourself. It was like that at Vimy as well. Just you and the silence, alone with your thoughts and the incredible view. This monument wasn’t as influential for me because I had never heard of it before coming here. Unlike Vimy, which I learned about in school. In fact, the only reason I knew about it was because it’s in my The Best of Belgium book.

The monument is in the shape of a 5 point star and has the name of all the states along the top – outside and in. Along the outside of the wide columns are lists of the army units that fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Along the inside of those pillars is carved the same thing written on the info board, explaining about the battle and why the monument is there. At least I think that’s what it says. I just glanced quickly at a few of them, but they looked familiar. Inside the start there is grass and some bushes that give it a really warm, welcoming feel. There is also a spiral staircase (I really don’t like spiral staircases) that takes you on top of the monument. The view was amazing. After a while fog started rolling in. It created an interesting effect in some of my pictures. Well, at least it’s interesting to me :P.

It’s a beautiful monument, very inviting with benches all around, nestled in trees and fields with grazing cows. And I really liked how all the states are listed. No names, but the states and army units. It didn’t stir within me the same sense of I don’t know what that I felt while at Vimy. I think it all comes down to the flag. I’m patriotic – not insanely so – but as the year comes to a close I find myself yearning more and more for home. I feel a sense of excitement and longing when I look at a Canadian flag. As close as the good ol’ US of A is to my home the star-spangled banner doesn’t make me feel the same way. I have friends and relatives in the States and I’ve enjoyed all my visits. Of all the cities I’ve been to with school or on family trips, I’d have to say Boston and Nashville are my favourite. I haven’t been to New York so I have no idea what I would think of that city.

All in all I’m really glad I went. It was a beautiful monument, a beautiful place – despite the construction – and a beautiful day. Now come take a look with me.

This star-shaped monument stands as a reminder of the 76, 890 Americans killed, wounded, or marked missing from the Battle of the Bulge.

Inside the monument.

A view from atop the star.

Stars and stripes forever.

 

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Bruges, Ypres, and the Last Post.

Wow. I’m finally getting around to writing this. Almost 3 weeks later! Well, at least it’s 3 weeks rather than almost 3 months late (Amsterdam). This post is dedicated to iamjoe over at the blog Dynamic Flux who asked me for a post on chocolate. While it may not be exactly what you were looking for, this along with the rest of the pics on Facebook do give quite a bit of information!

Sunday, October 16 2011.

Lucie and I are up, have breakfasted, and are out the door by…oh, it must have already been around 9am. The drive there was nice. Not too much traffic. I’d never driven in Northern Belgium before. I mean, I’d been up there, but it wasn’t me who drove ;). I missed the entrance to the parking garage the first time round, somehow that always happens. So I just drove around the square, took the round-a-bout again and this time we were golden. When we walked up from the garage, it was to find that the square we were in was mostly deserted. Then again, Sunday morning isn’t the busiest time of the week and from what I could gather this wasn’t a super busy area. There was a large fountain at the one end that we took a bunch of pictures of before moving on. We had a map, but didn’t really know which direction to go in. Finally we looked up and scanned the skyline. We saw a few peaks of buildings and decided to head in their directions.

Holy moly I'm actually here!

The biggest thing we saw was the Belfry in the Markt. Good thing to because that’s where we were originally headed. Again, the Markt wasn’t that busy. It was pretty full when we returned later in the day. There were some people in line for horse-drawn carriage rides, that could have been fun. There were also canal rides we could have gone on, but the line for those was super long and we had a schedule to keep to. So after hanging around in the Markt to take pictures we chose a side street at random and started walking. One of the first shops we encountered was a lace shop. Belgium is also famous for this lace so we had to go in. The women working there was very nice, let us take pictures, – they had an example of how the lace is made on display – and thankfully spoke English. Although, that’s not really a surprise because Bruges is a tourist town. Of course, up there they speak Flemish. Lucie and I both walked away with a purchase and I feel that the items were quite reasonably priced for homemade lace. For me I got a key chain with a lace H in side – a little tacky, I know, but it’s something I can use – and I got two other things, but they’re for gifts and in case the recipients are reading I don’t want them to know ;).

Such beauty and art. And all by hand.

Right beside the lace shop was a chocolate shop. Then another, and another, and oh my goodness it seemed like every second shop held chocolate and/or candy. We had been forewarned by Adeline, but even then I wasn’t expecting so many. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the yummy window displays. And on we walked. Every street and sidewalk was paved with cobblestones. This is a Medieval city after all. In fact because of its closeness to the sea and channels it became quite the trading hub. Between the 11th and 13th centuries it enjoyed considerable economic development thanks to its location at the ‘crossroads of Europe’. With the sanding over of the Zwin (a large channel used for the transportation of goods)  and the competition with the port of Antwerp, after the 15th century things slowed down in Bruges. It wasn’t until the 19th century with restoration and tourism management that Bruges once again became an important city and is now granted UNESCO world heritage status.*

Dude you want what? There's so much to choose from. What do I do? What do I do!!

I didn't know this was City Hall when I took the picture. Huh. It was built in 1376 and is situated in the burg (a square).

This is the burg with City Hall on the left and at back-left (attached to City Hall) is the Basilica of Saint Sang(the dark building with gold).The lower chapel was built in 1139 and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

As we walked we took many pictures – of the architecture, the waterways, the statues. We even got someone to take a picture of us together! We walked through a small tunnel and into another square and – quite by accident – located the City Hall and the Basilica of Saint Sang. I didn’t know it that day, I only just realized what those buildings were today as I was looking through my one guide-book. I remember taking a picture of what I now know to be the Basilica because it was so dark, ominous, and old-looking – truly Medieval (the lower chapel was built in 1139). We found a bench to sit on and proceeded to eat lunch. After lunch we continued on our way. Our goal was the Chocolate Museum. Yes, there is a chocolate museum. They even have free samples they give out. The things you didn’t know about chocolate! Okay, I’m sure some of you already knew these things, but I didn’t. I did know that in South American cocoa beans were a big deal. The first way that cocoa was consumed was in drink form. Hot, spicy, smooth. It wasn’t until Cortez and the Spanish came though that sugar was added. I know it’s commonly known that sugar comes from sugar cane, but did you know it also comes from sugar beets? I only found that out once I got here. This area of Belgium grows a whole lot of sugar beets. Now that they’ve been harvested you’ll pass by fields and see a long, high pile of sugar beets close the road waiting to get picked up and transported to the nearest factory. There’s one about 15 minutes from us. Holy sugar beets. Did you know that 10 cocoa beans would buy you a rabbit, and 100 beans would buy you a slave? They also had special cups for the drink – some even had a special tube you could blow in to create froth. They loved them some frothy cocoa drink. They also had this special ‘stir stick’  that would create froth. Cocoa was also used for medicinal purposes. And not just in South American either.Do you like froth in your hot chocolate?

Chocolate can do what?!

Napoleon was noted as saying that chocolate is good for one’s health and in the next turn he denied it all. It was a drink the wealthy partook of often, creating their own special mugs and saucers just for their chocolate drink.

Well if Napoleon said it's healthy, who am I to disagree?

Belgium is famous for its pralines. In 1912 after inheriting his father’s chocolate business Jean Neuhaus – an expensive, but oh so good chocolate store – created the Belgian praline. First it was a hazelnut coated in chocolate and then a little filled chocolate cup. Leonidas is also a chocolate shop you see around in Belgium. Leonidas Kestekidès was a Greek who lived in the United States and then fell in love with a Belgian women before settling in Belgium and opening up a tearoom and the Leonidas company.

Even the jungle animals are crazy for coca beans! By the way...before this I didn't know that cocoa beans were found in those pods. And someone in this museum must really love LEGO because there were little models EVERYWHERE!

There were many plaques like this one including the answers to the questions 'does chocolate make you fat?' or 'does chocolate give you cavities?' See them all in the full FB album!

At the end we entered into an area that was full of statues made entirely from chocolate. There was even one of Barack Obama. At the end of this area was a chocolate demonstration and then you were finished – but not before walking through the shop part of the museum.

Yes. Those are entirely made/carved of chocolate. Eat your heart out. ^_^

Then it was on to the French Fry museum! Again, potatoes come from South America before making their way to North America and Europe. Potatoes, like chocolate, are also known for their healing effects. For example raw potato juice is incredibly soothing (said a plaque, it wasn’t me). Also, you can eat as many potatoes as you want – they don’t make you fat, it’s all the sauce and gravy you eat with them ;).

Why French Fries are called French Fries. Now you know.

Have you ever wondered why the fries in Belgium are so yummy? Well, you might if you were here eating them :P. I will tell you why. There are a combination of reasons – the appropriate variety of potato is cooked with the appropriate variety of cooking fat, they are often freshly peeled and cut, they are cooked in unrefined beef tallow and sometimes mixed with horse fat (ummm…), and the fries are cooked in two separate phases. I’ve noticed that. When you go to a Fritterie you will see a pile of fries sitting on a ledge above the cooking area. I was curious about that until going to this museum. They are cooked for a little while and then placed up here. Then when there’s an order they take the appropriate amount and toss them back in the cooking fat to finish them off. This makes them tastier and cuts down on customer wait times. Clever huh?

When we finished up there we set out again, intending to head back to the Markt, but we ended up going tin the wrong direction and were going out of the city centre – the old part. So we got set straight and found our way back to a chocolate shop so Lucie could buy some chocolates. Then it was on our way to Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum, and the playing of the Last Post. The cloth industry was a the main contributing factor in the rapid growth of Ypres in the 12th Century. The cloth halls were built in 1260 (the IFFM is located here). They were destroyed in WWI, but rebuilt in the old style. The large Menin Gate is a monument to the 54,896 British soldiers who died in combat.* Their names are carved on the walls. Canada was still considered to be British during this time. Although, after the battle of Vimy Ridge it started to gain recognition as its own country. More on that in my post on Vimy Ridge.

The In Flanders Fields Museum takes you through some history behind Ypres, detailed information about the war itself and why Ypres, what the German’s objectives were, and so much more. You also get a card at the beginning that you put into information stations and it gives you info on a specific person involved in the war at Ypres. I got an American nurse. I missed the last info station because the museum was closing. So we kind of had to rush through the end, but at least we got to see it. The museum is actually closing November 31 to expand. It’s quite the place already. In one area they had a raised platform with clear plastic columns. In these columns were different gas masks. The lights would be off and there was a reading of the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. Then there was a reading of a letter written by a soldier (I’m pretty sure) and as he described the war zone and the gas attacks the columns would light up and you could see the gas. It was very eerie. There was also a section dedicated to the telling of how on Christmas 1915 or ’16 (I’m so sorry I can’t remember!) there was an unofficial truce between enemies. How both sides travelled into No Man’s Land to shake hands, wish the other a Merry Christmas, and share things like sausages. The conditions the men had to face here are unbelievable. Belgium usually gets a lot of rain, but during these battles there was more than normal and a lot of things went missing in the mud (including horses). And the psychological damage…it’s a wonder anyone managed to come back and lead normal lives.

Unfortunately we didn't think to take a picture before it got dark so it's not the best quality.

Here are the rebuilt Cloth Halls now home to the In Flanders Fields Museum.

This is either Ypres of Passendale. Can you imagine? I certainly can't.

At 8pm every single night there is a gathering of people at the Menin Gate. They place flowers, read something to those gathered, play the Last Post, and have a moment of silence. I can’t remember what they recited because I couldn’t hear it (I’m pretty sure it was in English though). There was never a moment of real silence which bugged me. Even as packed as the area was it was definitely possible. There was a school group from the UK there. Teenagers. Unfortunately the one’s near us were quite disrespectful. Not all (I don’t want to generalize), but a lot. And pushy too. The kept wanting to see. Well, there wasn’t much to see as it was dark and I think the point is more about listening. Lucie and I were right up against the chain you have to stay behind and we were both being pushed so much we almost fell over. If I wouldn’t have had boots on I think I would have had bruised shins. So that was a little frustrating and disappointing, but I’m glad we got to experience it.

I have to mention this even though I forgot earlier. For supper that night I had fish and chips. I haven’t had fish and chips in ages! I’m really picky when it comes to this dish because I don’t like it when there’s too much batter on the fish because it ends up being all gooey instead of crispy. Plus I’ve only started to like fish in the last few years. My favourite place to eat fish and chips back home is a restaurant called Joey’s Only. So good. And in Ypres, oh my goodness, I was very happy with my choice. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum ^_^.

So all in all it was quite the busy day! 3 museums, 2 cities, and really good company. I’m just sorry it took me so long to post about it.

*taken from my book The Best of Belgium.

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It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere; 24H Velo comes to a close.

Remember when I was talking about the 24h velo in Louvain-la-Neuve? Well, it’s a race. There are teams and each member takes a turn riding through the city. It goes all night. Except for the folklore bikes; the one’s all decked out and decorated. Those stop from about midnight till 5am. There are prizes for things like fastest time (regular and folklore), best decorated, and all that stuff. The morning after, when things are finishing up and the race is coming to a close there’s a concert in the main square. This serves the purpose of either keeping awake – or waking up – the people who stayed up all night or just really late partying it up. And let me tell you, it’s still a party the next morning. We got there around 11:30. The beer tents were going strong. Which brings me to the point of my title.

I drank 3 beers in just over an hour. They’re not large, but not tiny either. I think I would say less than your normal sized North American bottle. Let me tell you, I was tipsy. Maybe it was under an hour. I just remember looking at my iPod and seeing that it was only 12:35. I wanted to text my sister, but didn’t want to wake her up. I was thinking it was hilarious that I was already tipsy before noon and then thought of the song ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’ and decided it was alright. It’s not every day I do this right? Turns out it was 5:35pm in Bangkok. Back to the first beer; it’s tradition to chug the first one. Oh boy. I’ve never done this before with anything other than water. Maybe pop when I was really thirsty and it was there, but never because I was actually trying to chug it all down. It’s really hard! It took me so much longer than Adeline and before I could even start I spilled some on my jacket :P. Adeline said the first time is always the hardest.

Then we got another, except this time I tried mine mixed with Pop. It has a name that I forget (for the 2nd time today) and I wouldn’t know how to spell it though it starts with an M. After we were properly supplied we made our way to the stage where the concert was starting. We managed to squeeze through so we were fairly close. I kept taking mini videos and my goal is to edit them together. I know, I know, I still have to do that with the folk dances :S. The performer today was Allan Théo. I guess Adeline was saying that normally for these concerts they get ‘have-been’s’, but that this guy was a ‘has-not-been’. I think he really only had two songs that everybody knew. He ended up doing them twice. They’re kind of catchy actually. Although in the one he switches back and forth between English and French in the most awkward of ways. That’s they way it seems to me anyway. I was still pretty reserved – I’m not usually one for big crowds like this; beer, cigarette’s, (even some pot), music so loud you can feel it pounding in your entire body – but then I got into it a bit eventually. I realized I’m never going to see any of these people again, and even if I were, does it really matter what I look like dancing around if I’m having fun? The answer is no, but I still have a hard time of it. So this is Allan Théo in the 90s with his song ‘Emmème moi’:

It was actually pretty fun. The atmosphere was pretty charged considering most of the people there had probably been up all night. No classes for them today. 😉 And the crowd really got into it with the 2 songs they knew! Everyone was singing along. I think that’s why they choose who they choose for this concert – so that everyone will know the music and sing along! That’s my theory anyway. Here he is again, but this video is from a concert in June, so this is what he looked like today. ‘Lola’

After the concert – it wasn’t that long – we grabbed another beer before the lines could get really long. That’s when I really started to feel it. I had only eaten two small oranges (uh, clementines….? I honestly can’t remember right now) for breakfast and it was past lunch time. That’s when the crazy idea to text Lisa came upon me, but I was alert and aware enough to know it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. And I thought of the song and chuckled. We managed to get right up to the barrier they had made so the bikes could pass by while they said all the thank you’s and gave out the awards and stuff. Finally we had to leave because we had to pee so bad! I didn’t see that many cool decorated bikes…I don’t know if they just hadn’t got there yet or what, but I got pictures of a couple so that’s alright.

We ended up going to Pizza Hut for lunch. I got a plain old pepperoni pizza. It’s been so long since I’ve had pepperoni on my pizza, I was so excited! It tasted just like the Pizza Hut at home (not that I got that often). We were both pretty tuckered out. I had actually been up till after 1am talking to a friend on MSN. We got home and about half an hour later I went to pick up the boys. Adeline and Greg went out tonight so it was just the three of us. I gave them baths, we ate, Sylvain fell asleep in his chair, and Bastien played while I put Sylvain to bed. Now they’re both all tucked in and quiet. Mom, Dad, Lisa; he still remembers your names. I said I was going to miss him when I go home and he said ‘well, Sue and Lisa, and uh, and Mike will be there so you won’t be sad’. He’s too smart for his own good. Like this morning on the way to school I said I was afraid of the Halloween decorations on this one house (they totally went all out and they have a witch hanging from a tree with spiders and webs – think the witch from Disney’s Snow White) and he said in a very matter of fact way ‘Holly, you don’t need to be scared, they aren’t real’. Good for you Bastien. 😀

So the 35th year of the 24 Heure Velo in Louvain-la-Neuve was a success! At least the parts that I experienced seemed to go well. I’m glad that I could go and be a part of it even if it’s generally not my scene. And now, I hope you all enjoy this video and as we become full ensconced in Fall you can all wish you were Alan Jackson on that boat.

                                                                                                                      

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And if you look to your left you’ll see….hey, where’d it go?

This morning it was back to routine. Except instead of cereal for breakfast we had cake again. Lucie and I made sure we were ready to go, and after dropping Sylvain off we made our way to Waterloo. I told her she would be able to get pictures of the Butte de Lion (the big hill with the lion statue) from the road as we drove up. Normally this is true. Today was so foggy that you couldn’t see it until we were practically right underneath it. So she didn’t really get great pictures of it. Our plan was to just go and take a look-see, not to climb up or anything. This was just as well because we wouldn’t have been able to see anything once we got to the top anyway.

Then it was on to the 2nd part of our agenda; pictures with a Waterloo town sign. These were highly successful. Lucie even managed to get one on her camera of both of us. Well, all three of us, Freddy was there too of course. This was in fact his first time to Waterloo. You gotta love timers on cameras. The problem was finding a stable spot on the car and then her getting back  to the sign in time. We had fun, but I bet the drivers coming into town wondered what the heck we were doing/why we were taking pictures with the sign. Or maybe they’re used to odd tourists….

Then we headed to a grocery store where we picked up some chocolate for Lucie’s friends and family that would survive being mailed home. We also mailed her postcards from the store. We couldn’t mail the chocolate because they didn’t have any boxes. The guy who showed us where the post are was, was nice. He asked if he could help us and I tried to explain, but temporarily forgot the word for stamps, but we figured it out. I explained we were Canadian and he said ‘oh Canadians are nice people’. ^_^ Yes, yes we are. Although you really can’t be universal like that. Actually, that makes me think of a Weird Al song – Canadian Idiot – where some of the lines are: ‘break their nose and they’ll just say sorry. Tell me what kind of freaks are that polite? Gotta mean they’re all up to something. Quick, before they see it coming. Time for a preemptive strike *cue missile drop noise here*. I think that song is hilarious. I laugh every time at the stereotypes he lays out. In case you don’t know or didn’t guess from the title, it’s to the tune of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’.

After that it was home, but not before picking up some bread for lunch. After lunch we just did our own thing. Lucie had some more bookings to make with trains and hostels and things so she did that while I started doing blog catch up. I also got a text today saying that class was cancelled because Madame Colette is sick.

Tomorrow we’re going to get up pretty early to make sure we’re all ready. Then I’ll go about my usual routine before stopping at the bakery (it was closed today, but I really want to take Lucie), dropping Sylvain off, and then heading to France! I’m already so tired – maybe it’s all the driving in the last two days? – so I’m pretty sure Wednesday I’m going to go right back to bed after seeing everybody off. I’m definitely going to be putting on my glasses to drive home tomorrow night. My eyes are still burning from wearing my contacts all day yesterday :(.

Even though I’m going to be so tired from doing about 6.5 hours (round trip with trip from Memorial to nearby town with train station) of driving, I’m so excited! We don’t actually have a lot planned and what is planned shouldn’t even take up half of our allotted time. Maybe when we’re there we’ll find something else we want to do, who knows.

A foggy day in *Waterloo* town! Had me low (not really), had me down (not at all!). 😀

                                                                                                                    

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