I’m starting to like train travel.

This morning was interesting. It started out as usual, but Greg stayed home today. And Bastien was off from school. I was supposed to watch him, but because of this whole car thing the plans were changed. So Adeline, Bastien, Sylvain, and I piled into the car. First stop was the babysitter’s where we dropped off Sylvain. Then it was on to Namur to take me to the train station. There was a train going to Lille at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30. My goal was the 9:30 train. We pulled up to the station at about 9:15/20 or so. I said my goodbyes and rushed inside. The Namur station is bigger than Lille and Douai so the ticket booths were a little harder to find. When I did find them I had to wait in line. I think there are machines there and you can buy your ticket through them, but because I was short on time and had never done it before I didn’t want to risk it :P. Finally it was my turn – I was stuck behind a couple who were trying to sort out an issue – and the women at the booth was having problems with her computer. Go figure. No matter, it worked in the end with 4 minutes to spare. While waiting to purchase my ticket I had looked at the screen’s to find what, oh my goodness…I can’t think of the word in English (it’s voie in French)…platform! I looked to see what platform I had to go to so I could run there once I had my ticket. So with ticket in hand I quickly walked out into the main hallway and noticed that I was near platforms 7 & 8 – I needed to be on platform 3. Thankfully Namur is a little easier to navigate, at least for me. Where as some stations you have to go down a flight of steps to an underground tunnel, the, find your platform number and go up those steps to wait. It’s not hard, it’s just sometimes there is so much stuff on the signs it’s hard to see what you need to see. In Namur you walk up from the street. Then everything but the tracks are up on that level. Each stair way leading down has only 1 number listed on either side. So easy!

It was quite cold once I got down onto the platform and I didn’t have to wait long before the train was there. I settled in for a nice 2 hour ride with my audio book. I also started responding to a letter from a friend. When I got to Lille I didn’t actually know what train I had to take to get to Douai. The first time I did it I had two tickets – one from Douai to Lille, and then Lille to Namur. This time I only had one. I just had to find a train that was going to Douai and get on. There were at least two. I was going to take one, but it wasn’t there yet and I noticed that the one beside it was also going to Douai so I hopped on. But not before authorizing my ticket on the machine. First time I did that. I think I was supposed to do that from Douai to Lille, but I was distracted and had no idea. So now I have to send my tickets to the insurance company and they’ll reimburse me. I kind of want to keep them…our TGV and my Eurostar tickets I printed out so they’re just on regular paper. Oh well.

By the time I got to Douai and walked to the garage (only about 6 minutes, not bad) the office was closed. Someone saw me and took me to talk to someone else and we discussed some stuff, but I had to come back because they technically weren’t open again until 2. So I walked back to the train station. There were two reasons for this. 1) I really had to pee. 2) I knew they had food there. So I bought a cheap ham on baguette sandwich and made change to use the self-cleaning washroom. It wasn’t free like the one’s in Paris. It wasn’t as nice either. I don’t think it works very well because it definitely wasn’t very clean and it kind of smelled. Yuck >_<. But when you have to go you have to go. I ended up taking the long way around from the garage back to the train station because they were doing construction on the other road – the road that is a straight line from point A to B. The first time I went they must have all been on their lunch break because no one was there. I didn’t want to get in their way the 2nd time or walk into traffic so I took a more circuitous route. I think by the time we got everything sorted out I was on the road by 2:35-40 or so. I was supposed to get back by about 4:30. Everything was fine for a while. I had to stop and get gas again and I made sure I put the right stuff in this time. That’s when things started to go a little down hill again, but this time it had nothing to do with me.

I had talked with Adeline as I was leaving and it was decided that yes, I would pick up Sylvain because I would be back in time. Sounded good to me. Yeah, not going to happen. I came upon what I thought was a traffic jam. I thought even for a Friday (and not a holiday one) it was a little early in the day for that. Turns out, it wasn’t because of traffic. There was an accident. A tractor-trailer had gone off the road (as far as I was able to tell without gawking and stalling traffic even more). Not fun for him. I called Adeline to say that by the GPS’s reckoning I now wasn’t going to arrive until 5:08. She said she was leaving Louvain-la-Neuve (she went with Bastien to the pool there) and she would pick up Sylvain. Alright, all’s good. Again, not so. Only a short while later (maybe about 10km) I hit another ‘traffic jam’. This time there were sirens coming up behind me. I always get nervous when that happens, even in Canada. I always feel like I’m right in the way. This was happening at a point where the highway split in two. So, police car, ambulance, and another vehicle with sirens all came up behind us and thankfully had enough room to drive on the far right side of our side of the highway. It turns out there was yet another accident. This one would have been super recent because emergency crews were just getting there. A guy flipped his car. Rolled it. I saw him (or at least one guy, I don’t know how many people were involved) on the grass lying down. They were getting the ambulance ready. I don’t know how he got out because the car looked like it had rolled many times, so much so that the roof was caved in and it was probably half the normal height. Then it landed on the passenger side. I don’t know how it landed and stayed like that. It wasn’t propped against anything (it was in the middle of one lane). There were two other cars that I saw, but I don’t know if they were involved because they looked okay from what I could see. These two accidents make what happened to me seem minuscule in comparison. I mean, sure I was super stressed out, but I wasn’t hurt. And I ended up being able to drive my car away. That second car – not going to happen.

I ended up getting home about 5:15. So it felt like a long day. A long day that went by both fast and slow and felt like I didn’t do anything. But man, am I tired! As hesitant as I was when it came to taking trains before I got here, I think if either Wasseiges had a station or we lived in a town that did, I would take the train more. It’s impractical for me now because I have to get a ride there, but it’s really not as hard as I thought it would be. I guess most things aren’t when you actually just do them. Thankfully both Wednesday and today were beautiful, sunny days. I wasn’t stuck walking around those towns in the rain!

I talked with Bastien about me going home. I asked him if he remembered how my family was here and then they weren’t and if he knew where I was going. He said Canada. I asked if he knew I was staying there. He did. I asked if he was sad that I was leaving. He said no :P. In some ways I want him to be sad and to miss me because I’d like to think I mean something to him (he does tell me he loves me a lot ;)), but at the same time I don’t want him to be too sad. He’s just a little tyke.

                                                                                                                      

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May the stilts be with you.

Today was actually quite relaxing. Bastien was a lot more chill and Sylvain was calmer as well. I think we’re past the worst with him. His spots still look sore, just fewer and fewer look like they’re ready to explode. Adeline and Greg were in Namur today I believe. I actually forget what they said they were doing exactly, but I think this weekend is part of the Fête de Wallonie in Namur. That’s the Walloon Festival. In case you’re not sure, the Walloon region is the French region of Belgium (as opposed to Flanders –> Flemish). They were invited to some pretty exclusive stuff and were gone all day. They actually got back a little earlier than planned.

So apart from a little time outside, Sylvain’s treatment schedule, and happy boys, nothing extraordinary happened for me today. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was a good day. Bastien had a few loud moments and fancied himself a pig during lunch today (at which I threatened that he’d have to eat outside because of course pigs don’t eat at the kitchen table), but both boys ate well, slept well, and were generally in good humour the whole day. Just after lunch we listened to one Henri Des CD, and before/during supper we listened to one of his live CD’s. No jokes, I think I’m going to put them on my computer. At least the live one anyway. It’s fun to listen to! The more I listen the more lyrics I catch and the more I’m beginning to understand. Funny how that works….

I also (sorry if I’ve mentioned it twice now) have three more kid songs memorized. I can now sing 5! That’s quite the accomplishment. Pft. I should know a lot more. My favourite is the one about the mouse, a green mouse!

The kids went to bed late tonight. It was about 8:30/40. They had late naps this afternoon and we all want them to sleep as long as possible tomorrow so I wasn’t too concerned about getting them to bed  at the normal time. Of course tomorrow is different because Bastien goes back to school Monday! And so do I. It’s official, my school term is starting up again Monday. I’m not sure about the teacher situation. I’m not even sure if that was the issue or not. I hope it’s the same teacher because I want her to see how much I’ve improved over the summer. I still make a ton of mistakes, but that’s not unusual. Mostly it’s when I’m not quite thinking it through and I’m just letting my mouth run away with me. But hey, that happens in English too! Here’s looking forward to my (hopefully) last few months in school. Although who knows. Not that I plan on going to get my Master’s or another degree or anything. You just never know when it comes to job hunting if I’ll need to augment my studies at all. I sure hope not. Full time student might be what I know and am used to, but it’s not something I want to continue forever.

Below are links to two videos of people fighting each other on stilts. The first is video of the Walloon Festival in 2007 and an event that has been in existence for 600 years (1411-2011). The second is sort of an advertisement (I’m assuming) and is just plain awesome.

Echasseurs
Jedi Stilt Wars

Hope you enjoy the videos!
                                                                                                                     

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Namur Citadel and homemade Liege waffles

We met Jean and his brother Charles-Antoine at Jean’s apartment in Namur. He made us tacos (soft shell) and for dessert homemade gauffres de Liège! They were very tasty, and so filling. I want to bring home a box or two of the sugar clumps that go in them. Then all we have to do is get a waffle iron and we’re set! We were going to try to have a Brussels waffle at one point, but Jean told us they are very similar to the ‘Belgian waffles’ served in Canada; light, fluffy, with ice cream, toppings, and sauce. It was his first time making them and I’d say they turned out great!

After eating we drove over to the Citadel of Namur. It’s huge, the biggest in Belgium and probably one of the biggest in Europe. It’s sort of a self-guided/walk through type thing, but I think if you wanted you can get a guided tour. The building that housed the barracks is used for parties and the like. I got some awesome pictures, but there was one really big problem; I forgot Freddy! I know, shame on me, how is that even possible? It was too bad, I could have gotten some good pictures with him.

Jean did a really good job of being our tour guide. He knows a lot about it. My Dad found this empty room (that apparently is normally shut) and decided to explore. There was an old staircase apparently leading to some tunnels. You had to be careful because there was only a railing on the length of the stairs and a smaller one in another spot, but there was a small section with no railing and it was dark in there. Well, Dad and Lisa went exploring. For a while. We didn’t have that much time so we had to try to call them back so we could continue. Eventually we got to the point with the barracks and Dad and Jean continued on up while Lisa, Mom, and I waited. Dad would have gotten pictures but I haven’t seen them yet. On our way back Lisa went ahead and went the way we came. The rest of us went a different way. Then we met up and headed for the car. It’s a nice place to just walk around, all big and roomy. Maybe have a picnic up there. ^_^

Sorry, I’m a little distracted. Lisa and I are talking and I’ve got music playing in the background (everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival, to Jessie J, to the song ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’, and so on) which if you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know is no good for me. So this is turning into a really odd post.

We actually did a little grocery shopping this morning. Mostly for chocolate (ie, Chokotoffs), yummy ^_^. Mom and Dad are in Antwerp tonight visiting Greet, and exchange student that stayed with a family in New Dundee that we know. She’s expecting a baby soon and my Mom brought some gifts.

I really need to go to bed, especially since I’ve taken way too long to write this short post. I’m sorry there’s not more detail, but, if you remember my pictures from Dinant it’s the same sort of thing, but different. It’s made of stone and was used to defend the city. It shares a river with Dinant (and many other places from France to the Netherlands!), and it high up! Ok. I’m super tired which translates into giddy which turns into really sloppy blog post that doesn’t make much sense :P.

Good night.

Rush hour and hostage situation make for a wonderful journey.

Ok. So today I picked up Bastien from the babysitter’s and took him to the hospital in Namur where Adeline and Greg were with Sylvain. A normally 27 minute journey took me 1.5 hours. Most of that (at least an hour, but probably closer to an hour and 10-15) was spent in stop and go traffic in Namur. Bastien was pretty good about it – although every time someone honked their horn Bastien would say ‘oh! an accident!’ – it was cute, but of course not true. I had to ask him a few times to not make random loud noises because  I was trying to concentrate in a huge traffic jam in an unfamiliar city with a GPS that I couldn’t hear (and couldn’t find the volume button on). Most of the way was straight, but there were times I had to be really careful.

Because I don’t have a working phone at the moment and my radio was off (although, being in French I wouldn’t have understood them anyway) I had no idea that this kind of traffic was not normal. In fact, at the hospital Greg informed me that there was a hostage situation somewhere in Namur and so a bunch of roads were closed, thus causing the horrendous traffic. I sat at one light and watched it go from green to red to green to red to green to red and finally to green again before I moved. Lots of fun :D.

Greg was actually at the entrance when I pulled up and saw me when I was getting my parking ticket out of the machine and he took Bastien upstairs while I parked. Then I had the daunting task of finding the pediatric section. I knew it was on the third floor and I had the room #, but there were so many doors to go through. Actually, in the grand scheme of things finding them in the hospital was the easiest part! I didn’t even have to ask for help.

So, now I know that I do have the ability to keep my cool and not succumb to uncontrollable road rage…not that that’s ever happened before. :S All in all, a good experience. The drive home was awesome. There was almost no traffic, even in the city. It was clear sailing. I got home, gave Bastien his bath and was reading him a story when Greg got in. Greg came upstairs and Bastien went right to bed. He was actually very well-behaved in the bath tonight. Normally he hates when you wash his hair and get him wet with the shower head in the tub, but tonight he just went along with it really well. Also, in the car on the way home he was going through the -vers again. Holly-ver, Mamma-ver, Pappa-ver, etc. I didn’t even bring it up, it was all him.

So Sylvain is still at the hospital tonight, but he hasn’t gotten worse so that’s good.  He’s so cute when he sleeps. Aren’t all babies adorable in that state? Of course, Sylvain is ‘si mignon’ all the time!

King’s Cake

Hello!

Today, so far, has been a great day. I got up to help get breakfast and Bastien ready (although I slept in a little >_<), and then after I went back to bed for a nap….that took the next three and a bit hours. I didn’t realize I was THAT tired. Then again, yesterday was a very full day. Let me explain…

January 6, 2011

After sending Greg and Bastien off, I went to get ready for the very full day ahead of me. Adeline picked up the Gâteau des Rois (or King’s Cake) and then we were off to Louvain-la-Neuve. She had a doctor’s appointment so I stayed with her Mom and Sylvain. When she returned we were off to Namur to see Jean-Go and to get my tour of the city (the old part of the city). It was raining (while it’s not England, it still rains a lot!) and I was very grateful for my Mountain Equipment Co-op rain jacket! 

You may be asking; ‘why did Holly go on a walking tour of Namur in the pouring rain?’ Well, it wasn’t quite pouring….all the time, and you can’t control the weather, so if possible, just go ahead with your plans! We went to the old part of the city that is all paved with cobblestones and there are certain places cars can’t go, so it’s really nice to walk around. We went to the old market square and went inside this old church (which was beautiful in a lonely kind of way). Before doing much though, we went for lunch at this restaurant called ‘Le Royal’. It was….decorated with a lot of pink.

They even had Canadian lobster on the menu! I had this really great dish called Bouchée à la reine. It was chicken with mushrooms in a cream sauce inside this pastry bowl, with fries on the side.  There are always fries! With mayonnaise! So tasty. Did you know that fries were invented in Belgium? The art of double frying them for extra crispy-ness originated in France, but the story goes that fishermen were in the habit of deep-frying their fish right on the boat. One day someone said ‘hey, why don’t we do that with our potatoes?!’ So they did. They realized that what they really like about this process was the crispy-ness of the outside so they thought that if they cut the potato into strips there would be more crispy-ness!  And fries were born. (That is the story as best I can remember from Jean-Go telling me yesterday) After lunch is when we did our tour. I think we spent a little more than 3 hours walking in the rain. We did make lots of stops to take a look at things and we even went into a toy shop to warm up (this was Jean’s idea, I always knew he was just a big kid! ^_^). We saw a basilica that has a wine brewery in the basement and they have tours in October and November (which Jean put his name down for), so that will be neat to see. Jean took us by his university and we ran into this brand new building that looked very out-of-place amongst all the others. Jean was surprised by it because he had never seen it before and it looked quite ugly surrounded by the older buildings. We saw the ‘Arsenal’ which until just after WWII, I believe, was the arsenal for the army and it’s right along the river. Now it’s conference rooms and a university restaurant. We couldn’t go inside because it was closed, but Jean tells me that while it looks old and historical on the outside, on the inside it’s new (like a lot of buildings). Let’s see, what else. Now I’m not sure how correctly I remember all this, but Namur used to be a really fortified city (we didn’t get to go to the citadel, but we will some other time) and it’s on one of the main rivers in Belgium. This river goes all through Belgium, and out to the sea. Where the citadel is, is also where two smaller rivers meet as one, so it was a very important center back in the day.

We also went to a coffee shop and saw the coffee roaster outside. Did you know that before being roasted, coffee beans are green? Neither did I. They pointed out a liquor store (which is unusual, normally you can just by beer and other things in the grocery stores), which specializes in rare alcohol. There was a lot to see, that I don’t even remember all of it! I will definitely go back when my family comes later in the year, so they can see it. Hopefully it won’t be raining and I can get pictures without my camera getting wet!

Now I bet you’re all wondering what a Gâteau des Rois is? It is a very tasty cake that’s what! In Belgium on January 6, they celebrate the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the three Kings to the Baby Jesus. For more information you can check out this link http://blog.pangea-collection.com/2010/01/06/celebrating-epiphany-with-a-kings-cake/. We were invited to Adeline and Jean-Go’s mother’s house for dinner and cake, but before we that Adeline had already ordered her own from the local bakery (boulangerie). So now we have extra cake! (Which we actually had for breakfast…..yummm). It is cake on the inside and pastry (like pie crust) on the outside. Somewhere in the cake is baked an item (ranging from a bean to a plastic king! *except that plastic would melt, so of course it’s not plastic*) and whoever  gets the piece with the surprise wears a paper crown and is King for the day (or at least of the rest of the night). In Belgium, to make sure that the distribution of cake pieces and possibility of getting the special one is fair, they have a tradition of having the youngest member in attendance go underneath the table and calls out the names of the people around the table. At first Bastien wouldn’t come over so Jean-Go said that I would have to do it! (although they weren’t going to make me climb under the table) But, Bastien came over eventually. He wouldn’t go under the table though, so he just stood next to Adeline and said who should get each piece. Alas, I did not receive the special piece, it was Adeline’s Grandma who did. I would like to get a recipe for making this cake. It was very good! And you don’t even need icing.

January 7, 2011

I hope you all have enjoyed this post and maybe next January when I’m home I can make my own King’s Cake!

Bonne annee!

Ok. So I almost dropped the ball here. I’ve got 31 minutes before I miss a day of blogging. Although if I go by Toronto time I still have 6.5 hours! The following is an outtake from last night. I wrote it down on paper before going to bed….I guess it was very early this morning. Here we go:

What a night! We had so much food (some I liked, some I didn’t) and the dessert! Delicious chocolate truffles and more. It is now 2:42am January 1, 2011. Which means it’s not even 9pm for you guys in Ontario and in Vancouver it’s not even 6! (I still can’t get over this time change thing….) I’m spending the night @ Jean-Go’s, and we cleaned up most of the party stuff. There will be a menu for this evening coming, and I got pictures of some of the desserts, but I didn’t think of doing that for everything else. The things we had tonight are not common here, most of it is for special occasions only. I had a great time trying new food and I’ve discovered that I like duck…at least the way it was done tonight. That’s all for now, I need sleep. One more thing; Jean is going to help teach me how to cook. He’s invited me over to learn. It sounds like fun and I’m hoping that I can learn to enjoy taking the time to make things. Bonne nuit!

So that only really touched the surface, but the most important thing to take away from this is that even though I didn’t know what they were talking about unless Jean translated for me, I still had a great time.

Also, we had this drink that was like champagne, but was not champagne because it did not come from Champagne, France. It was made by Jean’s uncle, and had Bubbles for Him and Bubbles for Her. Very exciting.

I leave you now with some eye candy ^_^:

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