July 2009

13 July 2009, Monday Dear Ladybug, This morning started out like all others, with a nice breakfast. Breakfasts here in Belgium are a little different than what we are used to at home in the United States. The assortment of choices could be compared to what we would have for lunch, yet we all are enjoying the subtle differences between the cultures. This morning we were offered an assortment of breads and rolls (your Auntie Heidi’s favorite is one of our daily choices), several different cold-cut meats and cheeses, fresh preserves, peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles, yogurt, and fresh fruit. We are offered quite a spread each morning, and love to select different things each day. Following breakfast, your Nana and daddy hopped into the car with Marcel to go to the bank to cash some traveler’s checks just down the street at the local bank. Unfortunately, small banks no longer cash traveler’s checks, so they headed off to Antwerp to a much bigger bank hoping for better luck. Unfortunately, again they were told that the bank no longer cashes traveler’s checks. The trio was told to visit a small kiosk around the corner, which they did and finally they had success! I am not sure when the banks over here stopped accepting traveler’s checks, but this is rather disconcerting. Daddy did not have all of our traveler’s checks with him, so I am hoping that the next time we need to get some money we won’t have this much of a hassle… this time we know just where to go. Today Marcel had to work, and there is a rather interesting story attached to his interesting job. In the back of Marcel and Melanie’s house is a warehouse that they used for their former business. They sold various condiments, pickles, pickled vegetables, French fries (fritters), and small frozen meats to local French fry stands and small restaurants all over northern Belgium. Marcel’s favorite aspect of the business was driving the van for deliveries. He loved that part of the job because it gave him the opportunity to travel all over the countryside, driving from town to town. A few years ago though, it was time for Marcel & Melanie to retire, so they sold the business. Though retirement was nice, Marcel missed the traveling around the countryside making his deliveries. So, he soon looked for another opportunity to do just that, only part-time, because after all, he was retired (he did enjoy some of his relaxation and freedom from a constant schedule). Soon, the prefect job came calling, and he jumped at the chance to be working again, delivering and driving through the countryside. His new job entailed driving from little farms, picking up a package and delivering the package to another farm. The contents of the “packages”… pig semen. Apparently, pigs are pretty big business out here, but the little farms are unable to do the “job” themselves, so… Marcel is the middleman. He loves his new job because just like the first, it gives him the opportunity to travel all over the countryside, driving from town to town. It might be a strange job, but somebody’s got to do it! Now, back to our day. Later in the afternoon, after Marcel was finished working, we packed up some things and piled in the car to drive to southern Belgium were we will stay in a nice little cottage for a few days. The drive took us about two hours and was simply gorgeous. Of particular interest was the definite dividing line where the Flemish speaking northern Belgium gave way to the French speaking southern Belgium. I never realized that there was such a definite dividing line, but on the road with the road signs, it was very apparent. Just before we arrived at our destination we stopped at a fritter stand to rehydrate and eat a little snack. Although we didn’t end up eating dinner, we did enjoy a nice appetizer of fritters and sausages (yes, Papa Shoo, we thought about you!). They tasted wonderful and were just what we needed to recharge our batteries for the rest of the trip south. We eventually made it to our destination, a little town called Wibrin, which is located close to Houffalize. Wilbrin is a quiet farming town in the middle of the countryside. In the backyard there are large pastures and forests in the distance, not a house in sight. We are staying in an adorable little house with enough beds for all of us to sleep comfortably. It is simply gorgeous, quaint, quiet and peaceful. Just the place to enjoy a few days. After a delicious dinner and a gorgeous sunset, you and Nana went away to the cute little room that you two are sharing during our stay here. Lucky little you, having a slumber party with Nana… don’t keep her up too late! Here are a few more photos from today… Two cool freeway structures in southern Belgium, Lights through the tunnel, Negotiating with Nana and Melanie what you would like to eat and drink, Hanging out at the friture store, Your mommy and daddy at the cottage, You and daddy in the back yard of the cottage, wow how beautiful! Love you little girl, ~~Mommy

12 July 2009, Sunday Hello Little Ladybug, Because of our fun-filled, very busy day yesterday, we decided to take it nice and easy today. Your mommy spent some of the day working on the computer and working with the photos, while daddy and you took to the streets and walked around Wuustwezel. Thus, I missed your adventures in town, so daddy is taking over writing the journal today. The day started with rain and rain and more rain, so we bundled up in our rain-slickers and headed out to downtown Wuustwezel in the stroller. As we walked down one of the main roads, we watched as the rural farmland gave away first to tightly packed residential houses and finally to restaurants and stores in the main downtown. One of the things we noticed was that many homes and businesses where flying yellow flags with a lion on them – the Lion of Flanders – in a celebration of July 11, a Flemish holiday in Belgium. However, it being a late and rainy Sunday – one at the start of a national holiday, no less – the town was mostly empty. Our main destination was the large brown brick Catholic cathedral in the middle of the village, one with a massive square clock tower/steeple. Unfortunately, the doors to the chapel were firmly locked, so we could not go inside the church. However, we did go around to the backside to discover a large churchyard with row after row of stone crosses, statues, and Flemish headstones. As we walked up and down the rows of graves, some a hundred years old, we talked a little about dying. Eventually you asked, “Why did they all die?” I tried to explain: “Most of these people were very old and very sick.” “Are you going to die, daddy?” you asked. I smiled and tried to comfort you: “Not for long, long time.” You seemed unconvinced: “But you’re old…” After that, we spent some time writing my will. After we took a lot of pictures of the church and the cemetery, we went back to the stroller and headed down a dirt bike path through some of the picturesque farmland along the periphery of Wuustwezel. We watched cows graze in the grass and a white-speckled deer make its way along the backside of a barn. Eventually we wound our way back to the center of the city, at which point you’d had enough scenic touring, suggesting that we ought to go back home before promptly falling asleep in your stroller. We came back home in time for dinner – soup, steak, veggies, and “mashed potato sticks” – before we decided to head out for a second walk, this time with Melanie. She had suggested we might like to see the “Wuustwezel zoo,” a small farm with cows and ponies and goats and chickens and donkeys just up the road a ways. As we headed there, she warned us that it was a “little dirty,” which I assume is Flemish for “extremely foul smelling.” Really. It stunk. As we got within a half block of the farm, you looked up with a crunched-up nose and announced “It smells here;” as we got closer and closer, the smell got worse and worse, and your face wrinkled up more and more until you were finally covering your nose with both hands like a gasmask, gasping for breath and shouting “Oh, it stinks!” over and over. We saw several cows, one of whom walked over so you could pet it… but that would require uncovering your nose and risking a whiff of the stinky air, so you passed. The same could be said for the pony that came up to you, or the goat that came up to you, or even the farmer who came out to see you. Eventually, Melanie and I got the hint, and so we packed you back in your stroller and headed home, this time for good. You whiled the last minutes of sunlight singing Abba songs into a lawn sprayer while I pondered the state of your sanity. Love ya kiddo, ~~Daddy (and mommy too!)

11 July 2009, Saturday Hello Little Ladybug, Wow, did Marcel and Melanie have a special day planned for you today. We hopped in the car this morning and crossed the border into the Netherlands to visit a place called Efteling. As it turns out, Efteling is the largest theme park in the Netherlands, it opened in 1952 and is one of the oldest theme parks in the world. Efteling is located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, and has received various theme park awards over the years. The park appeals to “children” of all ages with a fairy tale theme and forest, a nature park with a playground, a several amusement rides and roller coasters. Although you napped on our way there, as soon as you discovered where we were once we arrived, you squealed with joy… you were so excited to play. We started by wandering around the park, and came upon a boat ride called the Gondoletta that took us around a beautiful lagoon through the wonderful flora of the Efteling gardens. The ride lasted twenty minutes and gave us an opportunity to discuss what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go the rest of the day. Our next destination was the Pagoda, a ride that looks like a Thai temple. It gradually moved upwards and slowly rotated as it rose. Once up high above, we had a gorgeous 360 degree view of the park below. We stopped for a little packed lunch, then took off for our next destination, the Maze, a life-size garden labyrinth that twisted around and around. You loved this attraction, dancing, running, crawling, playing, and laughing your way through the maze. At one point we even crossed a bridge that spit water over the bridge from side to side. We all tried to cross it without getting wet, and although you and daddy did great, you mommy wasn’t so lucky because I happened to get sprayed in the leg as I crossed. After drying off, we hopped onto another ride, the Carnival Festival, that is very reminiscent of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland. You enjoyed your time, pointing to all the little animatronic singing children throughout the ride (on a side note, I noticed that the most the animatronic children, which represented various cultures throughout the world, were created using gross exaggerations of particular ethnic features, crossed eyes, buck teeth, etc. Not very politically correct). Our next destination was the Fairy Realm where we meandered our way through some beautiful gardens created by the Laaf People ( hard-working, jolly, joking people who love to laugh). While there, you and Daddy crossed a little pond by skipping on stones, and eventually you found a park to swing and run and play in the sand making cobb salad (which, by the way, was the perfect place for the adults to rest for a bit while you played and worked off some energy). We then continued our quest through the Fairy Realm to visit Sleeping Beauty’s castle, a Gnome Village, Rapunzel’s castle, Hansel & Gretel’s home, Little Red Riding Hood’s place, The Frog Prince, Snow White’s castle, Cinderella’s castle, Indian Water Lilies, and a very peculiar attraction… the Donkey. The story goes,

After seven years, the carpenter says to the eldest son, “You have worked extremely well, my boy. So now I am giving you the best gift in the world to take home with you.” And he gives the boy a perfectly ordinary grey donkey. The boy thinks, “What am I supposed to do with that?” But he doesn’t want to be rude, and says nothing. “Wait,” says the carpenter, and calls out, “Donkey – lift your tail!” And look, at least a hundred golden ducats roll out from under the donkey’s tail. “Well, master, thank you!” the boy says, and sets off home singing…

Although this was a fairy tale that I was not familiar with, the attraction did open my eyes to the humor of the Europeans. You and daddy walked up to the donkey, which was placed high on a pedestal, put some money into the slots, and the donkey would then begin. His tail raised his tail horizontally to the ground… and out came a silver coin from under his tail. When we first was this happen, all of us seemed a little shocked (there is no way that this attraction would happen at Disneyland). Then, after watching it a few times, our shock turned into laughter. It really was silly to watch… although a bit odd. After being at the park for most of the day, we finally piled back into the car and headed home. Our evening was spent relaxing after a very busy day, and reminiscing about everything we did. You loved every minute of today and shared with all of us your memories of today. I am so happy that you enjoyed your day. You are so much fun, and I feel so blessed that you are a part of my life. Thank you for making this trip so special. Here are some more photos of our adventures today: You watching some ducks ever so carefully, You and daddy watching a show, Daddy and Nana on the boat, You and mommy in the Labyrinth, You and daddy in the Labyrinth, Daddy and the Ladybug on the twirly ride, Argh… a pirate, Peering in a window, Daddy’s kisses, Resting with daddy after a busy day. I love you darling,


10 July 2009, Friday Hello Little Ladybug, Well little darling, we slept in a little bit again this morning because the effects of jet lag are still kicking us in the tushy. After breakfast, mommy finally had the opportunity to unpack and get organized… it feels so good. While I was up in our room moving things around, you went downstairs to the table and started painting. Melanie loved watching how serious you are when you paint, and was amazed at what a little pro you look like when you are “in the moment.” You are one lucky little girl to be staying with Melanie because she is an amazing artist who will teach you many things while we are here visiting. She cannot wait to spend some special time with you painting and sculpting in her studio. After our lazy and artistic morning, we piled into the van and started driving again. This time to a place called Hoogstraten. We were lucky to visit a beautiful, ancient, Catholic Church with 40 foot high ceilings, gorgeious stained-glass windows, and hand-carved wooden sculptures. Although you thought the church was gorgeous, you found the accoustics and the long center aisle the perfect place to try your musical renditions of Mamma Mia (we made sure that there was no one else in the building first). Surrounding the church were buildings that were originally used as housing for the nuns, but now are rented to upper-middleclass people from the town (this fact seems funny to me… humble rooms once inhabited by nuns, now rented by wealthy people from town). In one of the former nun’s chambers we visited a quaint art museum with some beautiful paintings and sculptures. This was the perfect place for you to observe some beautiful artwork… and play a little hide-and-seek with daddy in the various rooms. After wandering around the rainy city a little bit more (yes, we encountered some more rain today), we went to a wonderful restaurant for lunch. You were such a good little girl there. You ate some delicious tomato soup with meatballs, with a nice bottle of apple juice to wash it down. Toward the end of our meal, the waitress came by our table with a special little gift for you, a puzzle game. You thanked her and then gave her hug… something that then made the chef call you back to the kitchen. He pulled out a few little toys and told you to choose two toys… you chose a toy mini-camera, and your favorite, the whistle. You must have impressed them very much because Melanie commented later that restaurant workers never do special things like that for children. Wow little girl, those restaurant workers thought you were very special. We hopped back into the vehicle and made our way to a large warehouse filled with many, many, many different varieties of beverages. Your daddy’s favorite section was the beer section, where we spent about 30 minutes wandering up and down the aisles looking at all of the varieties of beer and their accompanying glasses.

9 July 2009, Thursday Dearest Little Ladybug, Good Morning! After a very long journey out to Belgium, we all had the opportunity to get some very good rest last night. At one point in the middle of the night you awoke fussing and whimpering a little bit. I walked over to your bed and asked you if you were okay, and what was wrong. You replied to me that your pajama pants were on backwards. Needless to say, I was a bit perplexed. Why all of a sudden did you awaken and realize that your pants were on the wrong way? It seemed very strange to me (and it entered my mind that it might be a ploy for you to just get out of bed), but I picked you up anyway and placed you on our bed, whereupon I turned your elastic waistband over to see if there was a tag in the front… and low and behold there was tag! So, I quickly stripped off your pajama bottoms, turned them around and redressed you. You then decided that you were sufficiently dressed for bed and quickly fell back to sleep. Way to go… although you are a little strange! After a lovely breakfast this morning (and a fun little game of ro sham bo between you and daddy) we headed on out to Antwerp to walk around the city. By the time we made it to the center of Antwerp it was pouring down rain, and we were getting soaked. Despite the downpour, you enjoyed walking around in your ladybug raincoat and playing with your umbrella. Fortunately (for the adults), the rain only lasted about one hour, so we were able to continue our roaming around the city with the sun peaking through the clouds. We meandered our way through the ancient cobblestone streets, window-shopping our way through the city. We eventually found a place to eat lunch, and daddy was able to finally taste authentic Belgian beer. After the short respite, we wandered some more and finally walked back to our vehicle. All in all we spent about five hours wandering around the center of Antwerp. It is such a beautiful city, and a great way to begin our vacation in Belgium. (On a side note, while driving around the city, we passed a concert hall with thousands of people waiting outside. We wondered why there were so many people, and who would be performing. Then we saw… two girls wearing “I Love Britney” t-shirts. It seems that these people love their Britney. I thought we were in Belgium, not the United States?!?!?) After leaving Antwerp, Marcel drove us to the house of Melanie’s niece, Pascale, and her family. You see little girl, Pascale and your mommy became friends over twenty years ago when your mommy first visited Belgium with Nana and Papa F, and Auntie Heidi. Pascale, who is about the same age as your mommy, is now a mommy herself, with two children, Melan (a six year old boy) and Yasmine (a ten year old girl). While we were at Pascale’s house, you played with the children and played with their toys. Although none of you could communicate with each other because of the language barrier, you still played together and enjoyed each other’s company. After visiting for over an hour and reminiscing about old times, we realized that we needed to get home for dinner and to get to bed. Upon this announcement, you informed us that you wanted to stay and play… for the rest of the trip. You really seemed to enjoy

« Previous PageNext Page »