Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Week 7 Back in London

We arrived back in London on Monday evening after the weekend visit to Munich and Cologne.  We took the train from Cologne to Lille, got our luggage and headed back to London, that trip wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, considering we had all our luggage. 
Tuesday morning it was back to work for me.  The kids also had to get to work because my sister was coming on Thursday wither her son, Braden, who is about their age, so not a lot of school work would be happening at the end of the week.  The kids worked in the morning and then took an exciting trip to Tesco, a large grocery store.  The Tesco isn’t within walking distance like our little local place, so they had to take a bus.  They got home about the time I did from the Tesco and we were well stocked.    As we put stuff away, we figured out about 1000 things we forgot, so we went back Wednesday after work.  It was raining Wednesday afternoon.  Originally we were going to meet at (a different) Tesco, but then I just came home because of the rain.  After dinner it stopped raining, so we went ahead.  We rode the bus to Uxbridge (passed several groceries on the way).  We thought there was a large store in Uxbridge, but it was a smaller one, so we got back on the bus and rode it back to the passed Tesco and proceeded to shop.  It is really fun for me to shop in a large store and see the difference in food etc.  They had cut green beans as a snack and raw peas.  Those were yummy. 
So Tuesday and Wednesday were about working, and shopping, and then Thursday morning my sister came.  Mom and Dad and the kids met her at the airport.  Then the came home, dropped off the luggage, freshened up and went to Legoland.  The Legoland is close by and we had bought season tickets.  Thursdays was bring a friend day.  They got home about when I did and we all had dinner.  Friday I worked while they went to London.  I met them at Hyde Park (at the Princess Diana Memorial Garden).  After playing we decided to head off to Harrods.  That place is big.  I had to buy a Heidi Pie again so Heidi could try one.  We bought some other food, but mostly waited to eat till we got home.  (If you wait till the store is almost closing a lot of the food is ½ off).  On the way  home, Paul, Jacob and I stopped at a little market that we pass, and everyone else went to McDonalds.  We got bread, fruit and frozen pizzas.  We had run out of bread and fruit for lunch on Saturday.  We ate at McDonald’s, they finally talked me into it.  It pretty much tastes the same anywhere, the only difference here was the ice cream treats.  They had Cadbury Caramel Milkshakes (and some other local candy blizzards).  We went home and went to sleep.
The next morning we were trying to get up and get going to see the changing of the guards.  Everything took much longer than we wished, but we got there just in time.  We had an ok view, at least I am tall and people were very nice letting the kids push to the front.  I had 120 pictures left on my camera which I thought would be enough.  Since I didn’t have a great view, and Jacob was in front and Elizabeth was on my sholders for a lot of it, I had them take pictures.   We were out of pictures before the end of the changing.  Don’t tell them, I am going to have to delete some of those.  There was a band that played music like Michael Jackson, so that was cracking me up (I thought it was supposed to be this formal ceremony).  So we saw that.
After the changing of the guard we went up to the subway and went to the Tower of London.  When we got there we ate our packed lunch.  Then we went for a tour.  It was very interesting by a older warden.  The adults enjoyed it a lot, he was very entertaining.  The boys sit in the back and played hand games.  Libby paid attention.  The nice thing was that I had seen on the brochure or somewhere that they had some kids activities, so when we checked in at the visitors center we asked about it.  They got a button, (I think they called it a badge) and a pencil saying “practicing princess” or “knight in training” and a booklet.  The book had things for them to look for and to do along the tour which really seemed to help them have a purpose when we were walking through looking at the rooms and the crown jewels.  Hopefully, they learned something.  They had to do things like count the maces in the mace room, or look for answers of questions in the exhibit.  They kids really like doing those. We spent most of the afternoon in the Tower of London.
After that we decided to go to the London Eye (this huge Ferris Wheel type thing).  We stood in line and bought tickets and went up.  The views were amazing and it wasn’t too scary.  It was a clear day.  After that they had a 4D movie which we all went to.  I think the kids liked that best.  We had to wear 3D glasses and they had smells, and bubbles and things coming at you.  It was pretty fun. 
After the London Eye, we decided to go home.  Keep in mind, since we are on the edge of the city, going home is a long process, maybe 1 and a half hours.  We had our frozen pizzas (it was Saturday night after all) and we went to bed. 
Sunday we got up and went to church.  We packed other clothes and a lunch and went straight from church (which is conveniently located next to the bus stop) straight to Windsor.  We ate lunch on a bench when we got there.  It was really windy.  We didn’t have a lot of choices since we didn’t want to carry it all, but we had meat, cheese, and Nutella.  (only my Dad ate all of those together).    We had these delicious little oranges, like clemintines, only they tasted like mandarine oranges.  They were very juicy.  Yum.  I also bought some candy, called Turkish Delight.  Now, if you have read “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” you will know why I had to buy these.  I was especially pleased because this Turkish Delight was rose flavored.  Britian is one of the few places in the world with use flower flavors in candy.  So eating rose flavored candy was an interesting experience.  Libby liked it, the boys didn’t.  I was pleased with the experience.
After lunch we went to Windsor Castle.  Again they had these books for kids to do.  The boys got one about armor and Libby got one about Castles of the Past.  It was really nice again, because it explained some things in and easier way and it gave them things to look for.  The Queen was at home, as you can tell from the large tower.  If it has her standard flying from it, she is there, if it has Union Jack, she isn’t home.  It was fun she was there, of course, we did not see her.  The boys learned about the colors of armor, how HUGE Henry VIII’s armor was and some of the weapons (lances etc).  Libby learned about the battlements and set up of the castle, and how that helped in defense etc.  This kids programme even came with a parents guide with extra facts (and the answers!).  That was nice. 
I really enjoyed Queen Mary’s dollhouse.  It was very elaborate and even had running water.  I would like to go back and spend more time looking at it, it was hard because there were so many people in line, you couldn’t take as long as you wanted.  Of course it also didn’t help that the boys were bored and running ahead, that had to keep you moving as well.  The state apartments were very impressive.  One interesting thing to me was that in other of the older castles we have seen in Europe they always had ceramic heaters in every room, these have a fire in them and they are fed by a secret passage in the walls by servants so as not to disturb the inhabitants.  Windsor castle did not have these, they had vents along the floor that had blowing air.  A warden told us that there is one air system for the entire castle and when the Queen is there, it is much warmer than when she is not (the Queen likes it warmer).  The warden was even saying it gets too hot.  I thought that was kinda cute.  Just like an old lady, eh?
After the castle, we went home.  I gotta tell you, the train platforms are SCARY.  You stand there and these trains come zipping by so fast.  It is a wonder more people aren’t zipped away.  Just a warning if you come and ride the local trains.
We got home in time to decompress a little.  We got to talk to the kids grandparents who are coming this week, play chess with a cousin (we like Skype) and talk to Dad.  Then it was time for bed to be ready for another fun week.
Monday the kids went to Greenwich England and stood on the dividing line.  They took a boat from downtown London to Greenwich.  They went to several of the museums there, which they reported were very good, and very hands on. They took a tour and had a very nice time. 
I finally had a reasonable day at work, so I didn’t come home a grouch.  We had delicious skillet lasagna and worked on the blog, our journals, and postcards.  Of course, as always there was lots of Lego playing.  Legos was the one toy we brought along.  Libby brought some other little figure animal type things, and stuffed animals and a doll, but the one thing they play nearly every day, is Legos.
We went to bed a little early, people seemed to be dragging from the hectic pace.  And that gets us through Monday May 23.  This week we are all looking forward to the arrival of Matt’s parents and Matt himself whom we haven’t seen since April 3.  The time we have left in Europe will go quickly.  After this week in London, we have 2 weeks in Lubeck Germany, and then 3 weeks back in London, and our time will be done.  We are really having fun and getting to do lots of really neat things.  I can’t believe we get this opportunity, and I hope I am appreciating it, being appropriately thankful and enjoying it all I can.  I sure am trying!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Paul from May 1

We saw the Eiffel tower.  It was very crowded.  You could get lost easy.  The Eiffle tower is made iron.  You could get to the tippy top of the Eiffle tower.  There are three stops on the lift.  I like the Eiffle tower a lot. 

Today we went on the Glacier express.  It has 91 tunnels, 291 bridges and 4000 valleys.  2005 was the 75th anniversary of the train.  2005 was the 100th anniversary of the Rhine gorge and alba lines of the Glacier Express. 

Pauls 5/15 post

We went to see the castles.  The castles were build by King Ludwig II.  The second castle, Walt Disney used as a model for Cinderella’s castle.  I got a blue wallet made out of deerskin.  I saw red stag antlers. They were hanging on the wall because they used the castle as a get-away castle.  They would hunt in the woods.  I would have that bed in my own castle that you would live in all the time.  The bed from Neuschwanstein castle.  The castle I would design would have a cave full of rubies and gems and pearls and gold and silver and platinum.  I would give some of the jewels to the poor people.  I would make 5 big rooms that are all connected for family.  (Mommy, wouldn’t you and Daddy want to share a room since Daddy is warm?  Yes)  I also would have three guest rooms for all my friends.  I would put stars made out of clear crystals and put a lamp that twinkles on and off and changes colors really quickly on the floor above.  (this is what King Ludwig II did in his bedroom).  I would put little clouds and make a glass floor and under it would be a little sculpture of the city so it would look like a flying room.  In the back I would put a maze.  Also in the back I would put a water park/amusement park. 

We went to a cathedral.  We went to see the bell tower.  We had to walk because there was no elevator so we had to take stairs.  Just to get to the bells there were about 300 stairs.  To get to the top there were 533 stairs.  I did not like going to the top but Mom forced us, and it wasn’t very nice because I don’t like heights. 

We had a very fun time in Germany. 

Jacob's post from 5/15

Today we are traveling to Cologne Germany.  We are on our way back to London.  The train ride is 4.5 hours long, we got on at 1:30 and we will get off at 6.  Right  now we are stopped at big train station for some weird reason.  We thought the car 38 was going to be the last one, and the cars were so big it was actually the first one.  There were two trains connected together, at a town (Stuggart) the two trains separated and went different ways. 

Yesterday we were in Munich called Munchen.  We took a tour of two castles.  The first castle wasn’t as beautiful as the second castle.  The second castle was filled with gold and even had a fake cave inside.  We went to a restaurant last night, and Paul, Libby and I had shisk kabobs.  I had meat.  Libby had some tortellini thingies.  It was german food.  Mom had beer and cola mixed together.  I thought it tasted plain and dull. 

The first castle was called the swan castle and it had lots of fountains that all stood for something but I don’t remember what now.  The kitchen was in a different building than the house.  There was a painting in the dining room.  The painting was of a battle but there was no blood.  The tour guide said  they must have actually died of heart attacks in the battle since there was no blood.  King Maximillion built the first castle, and his son King Ludwig II built the second castle. 

We got a new wallet made out of deer leather. 

If I had a castle I would build it in a maze.  I would not like to live in the second castle because it was too big.  The castle is by the mountains and it was hilly everywhere but sometimes it was flat.        

Second week in Lille - weekend in Munich and southern Germany

We returned to Lille late Sunday night (after the train disaster).  Monday it was back to work again.  The routine was pretty well established by now, work, home, eat, go out for a walk or to the park, bed.  The kids worked on fractions this week and still Robin Hood.  They also worked on writing (which hopefully will be posted very soon).

Work was going well, it was good to be in Lille.  This week we had several meetings with people who worked there that helped us in our planning and designing.  We had a new consultant, who was very helpful but unfortunately he had to go home on Tuesday.  The week went by quickly at work.  We had meetings ½ the day and then we had to work to get more details into our design and documentation (details are not my favorite part).

Monday after worked we walked to the grocery store, bought some cooked chicken and other things (a bagette) and had a picnic in the park which was right there.  It was a beautiful day.  We then played in the park.  E  and I climbed to the top of this giant spider web thing, we had been to the park before.  I was feeling brave.  They would never have a climber that high in the US.  It was scary, and pretty fun. The boys played on it too, we all spent a log time playing at park.  There was a slide ingeneously built into the side of a hill.  There were also nice trails for walking.  We had a good time.

At night before bed we have  been reading fairy tales every child should know.  We are currently on Aladdin, it is a long story.

Tuesday at work I got pretty frustrated, some politics of the business were getting me there a string… MOM water is coming from the ceiling.  The water was coming down so hard, it looked like a string.  We grabbed a bowl to collect it, but we noticed the water etc had already gotten on a suitcase and clothes.  I called the front desk.  It turned out to be the air conditioning.  We had to sleep in a different room that night.  It was frustrating to move and on an already bad day.  We decided to go to the grocery store and get chocolate.  I bought the kids kindereggs.  They are chocolate eggs with a little toy inside.  Libby got Papa Smurf.  The boys were jealous.  We split a delicious chocolate bar, the trick was, we had to pick something you couldn’t (easily) get in the US.  That limited us because much of what we could find, we could get in the US.  We found something delicious.  It made me feel better.

During the day on Wednesday the kids went to Paris to the Louvre.  On two previous occasions they tried to go to the Louvre, once the line was too long and we didn’t have enough time, and once it was closed (apparently may 1 is mothers day in Paris, though I think taking her the Louvre would be a nice thing).  They seemed to like the Louvre.  Grandpa tripped and almost fell against a priceless statue, the Mona Lisa looked like it was looking right at you no matter where you moved.  Jacob liked a statue of wood made out of thin pieces of plywood.  They also toured Napolean’s Apartments.  It was a good day.

Wednesday after work we decided to walk to the city center, because I had not been there yet.  We walked and it was very nice.  We found a creperie.  Yum.  We had gallets.  The waiter did not speak much English.  The boys thought it was very funny, because when I ordered I said I would share what Elizabeth had.  He said “same” and I said yes, but in retrospect, I should have said no.  He brought me the same thing elizabath ordered.  We had two of them, and too much food.  The boys thought that was very funny and from then on, always wanted me to tell the waiter I was going to share.

Thursday we were trying to pack etc to get ready to go from Lille.  They had found an ice cream store named Chuck’s close to the hotel and wanted to take me there.  We went for ice cream first, because it closes early.  Then we went to the grocery.  We were too late for chickens and we were at a loss of what to get, keep in mind the only way we could cook was tea kettle (hot water warmer).  We ended up having instant mashed potatoes with ham and cheese.  It was pretty good.  Can I tell you how great my mom is, how many different meals we made with just hot water?  We had chicken twice,  With the leftovers we had couscous with tomatoes, black olives and chicken, we had potato chowder with corn, we had tacos with beans and cheese.  Each one of these things represented quite a savings.  To go out to dinner usually cost a lot.  There is no way to save money when you eat out, soda is cheaper than ordering water.  I eat off the kids plates and don’t usually order something for myself, but still.  Sheesh.  So I am very grateful we though of all these different meals to have that would save money.  For lunch we mostly had sandwiches.  Baguettes are very yummy when fresh, and we had a lot of those. 

Friday morning I got up very early to work.  We let the kids sleep in and Elizabeth didn’t get up until 9.  We were all packed and ready to go, and the train left at 11.  We took the train to Brussels.  In Brussels we went to a ticket place to get reservations for our journey.  You don’t have to get reservations, but then you have a seat, on some of the fuller trains, it isn’t a bad idea.  We got reservations to Frankfort, but not all the way to Munich, so the second train we had to just find seats that weren’t reserved.  E had a seat separate from the others.  Mom and Dad were behind each other and Paul and Jacob found places across the isle.  We were all in one car, but I didn’t have a seat.  I had to be on a conference call for work, so I stood in the hall outside the car, with my headset.  I could keep Elizabeth in my eye.  It was pretty cool to work from the train while driving to Munich.  Just about the time that my call was over, the seat across the Eisle from Elizabeth opened up.  I was able to finish the call sitting across from her (most of my talking was done by then).  It was so nice to have that seat across from E.  We got in to Munich.  We had to get a town train to the airport since that is where our hotel was.  The airport sure is out of the way.  No wonder it was so much cheaper than in the city.  We got on the right train going the wrong way the first time, but Mom figured it out quickly, when we finally got to the airport we had to wait forever to finally to get the airport shuttle.  We finally got t, our rooms were not ready (so much for a reservation – prepaid)  finally we got to our rooms and went to sleep.  The bed was hard and the pillows were small and I was sore the next day.  No wonder the rooms were so cheap. 

On Friday we literally had no time between trains so we had to have sandwiches for lunch and for dinner.  The kids were pretty bummed, but we made it.

Saturday was what I called CASTLE DAY.  We rented a car in the morning and we went to Hohenschwenstien and Neuschwenstein castles.  It was about a 2 hour drive.  We got a little confused getting out of the city, but finally found our way.  We had this HUGE people mover (their name for mini van).  It could hold 9 people.  Mom and Dad didn’t think it was much bigger than my van, but it sure seemed bigger.  I thought we were driving a boat.  It was blue, it was a Mercedes.  Maybe it seemed bigger since I haven’t been in mine for 6 weeks. 

So we drove through Bavaria to these castles.  The countryside was beautiful.  The first castle Hohenschwenstien castle was called the swan castle.  It was built by
King Maximillion on the site of a medieval knights castle.  It was a hunting/summer castle.  It is still owned by the family and they tour guide was an employee of the royal family.  He was a very good guide and the tour was very interesting.  The boy liked the dining room which had a battle seen painted on the wall, but in the scene, there was no blood painted, because that would not have been appetizing.  I thought it was interesting that it was believed that in the old Swan’s Knight castle, it is believed that Martin Luther hid there for a while.  King Maximillion had a son who built the other castle – Neuschwenstien – new swans castle.  He was the last king of Bavaria.  He built 4 castles duing his reign.  He became king at age 18.  The family doesn’t own any of the castles he built, because he just like to spend money and he racked up lots of debts.  After his death, the family had to sell the castles back to Bavaria to pay the debts off.  The castle was pretty amazing.  He only lived in it 172 days and only about 1/3 of it is finished.  We saw King Ludwig II’s private rooms.  Each is decorated after a different Wagner musical.  King Ludwig II was a supporter and good from of Wagner.  The castle was the inspiration of Cinderella’s castle.   It is not to hard, after touring it, to see how he became broke.  It is pretty elaborate.  Construction lasted 17 years, when it had to be abandoned after his death. 

So, his death was pretty interesting.  He was raking up all these debts, and he fired one advisior who told him he was too in debt.  His next advisor secured a loan to pay his debts but instead of doing that, he just funded more construction projects.  He built these different castles, and at least two theathers, supported several artists (including Wagner), ETC.  So, the state of Bavaria had him declared insane, though no doctor actually examined him.  This is why he is sometimes called Mad King Ludwig.  He was taken into custody, and the next day he was dead.  Interesting…  They say he died under mysterious circumstances.  I don’t know if he was mad or not, but he sure did like to spend money and had very nice taste.  His bedroom had this furniture which took 60 workers in 2.5 years or something like that.  He even had indoor plumbing (thanks to being build on a hill and a mountain stream).  It was a very elaborate castle.

After the first castle, while waiting for the second we had brats, “meatloaf” and pomme frits at a Biergarten.  Yummy!  There was a very long uphill walk to the second castle.  Mom, and Dad decided the walk might be too much, so they took the horse wagons.  Elizabeth went too, because, well, it involved horses.  The boys and I walked up.  After the tour we walked back down.  The woods were beautiful, I really liked that part of the country.

We went back down, had ice cream and popcorn from this crazy machine that popped it right into your container.  It didn’t taste as good as it looked.  We did some souvenier shopping and it was time to drive back.  We stopped at a little place in a small town along the road and the food was so yummy.  It was here Jacob said “This is the best day of my life, everything is meat”.  They had little brain puzzles in small clear plastic cubes and our table was covered with them.  I had ½ wheat beer and ½ cola.  It was so weird, I had to try it, from a flavor perspective.  I couldn’t imagine it.  It was very sweet.  I liked it.

Finally we made it back to the hotel.  Dad and I decided to return the car right away so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning.  We had to wait for 40 minutes for a shuttle and when we got back Mom had the kids in bed.  So we went to bed.  Paul decided to sleep with Grandma and Grandpa since the extra bed wasn’t too big.  This lead to some interesting conversations with Jacob.  We are laying in bed and he says “Mom, what is a spinal tap?” When I explained it he said “does it hurt?”  I don’t know what that kid thinks sometimes, or how his brain works, where this stuff comes from.  I do like talking to him though, and I am glad for the quiet moments where I finally get a peak in there. 

Sunday morning we got up late, had a long leisurely breakfast and took the train back downtown.  We had an hour to wait for the train so we walked around the block and tried to get a little bit of a view of “Munchen”.  We got on the train and rode for 4.5 hours and got off in Colonge.  The main cathedral (Dom) was close to the train station.  We walked to the hotel, checked in and then walked to the Dom.  It was Sunday night, so when we got there they were just starting mass.  They had the most beautiful organ music playing.  We stood at the back.  I didn’t know if I wanted to force the kids to sit through church – in german – after sitting all day on the train, but we stood at the back for a very long time listening to the music and the singing and talking.  For my part, I enjoyed Church that day emensly.  We then walked to a german restaurant and had more delicious food.  Mom and I shared this pizza type thing which was a local specaialty.  It had a very thin crispy crust, and then sour cream, bacon, onions and cheese.  I liked it.  Elizabeth and Jacob had snitzel with cream sauce, Paul had pasta and Grandpa had Snitzer with an egg.  We had apple flavored soda, but with a little bitterness to it, we really enjoyed it.  We went to bed.

Monday morning we got up and went to the visitors information center and asked what we should do with just a couple hours, they said go to the cathedral, we said, we have already been there, and they said, did you go to the top of the towers?  We hadn’t so we went there.  We got mom situated in the pews with our luggage listening to more organ music and we were on our way.  The towers are 157meters high, though you don’t climb to the very top.  You do, however climb, 533 steps, so we were pretty tired!  The boys didn’t want to go, they were afraid of heights and their legs hurt.  I made them.  I am not a nice Mom.  There was a beautiful view of Colonge from the top.  Colonge is a different city because the buildings are much more modern than most of the cities we had seen.  It was bombed on 262 occasions in World War II.  90% of it was leveled and rebuilt after the war.  An interesting thing is, this cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world for a long time, the highest building in the world before the Washington Monument was built, was not damaged in these raids.  Colonge was the site of the first 1000 bomber night by the RAF - bombed with 1400 tons of bombs in 90 minutes.  And that is just one of the 262 air raids.  One bomb was reported to hit it, but it did not go off.  It is a beautiful gothic cathedral, and I am glad it was not destroyed when most of the rest of the city was.

We then decided to walk to the Rhine.  I took off in one direction, thinking it was a good idea, but we walked too far south, and well, we ran out of time about a block away.  We had to go back to the station.  At least we saw the rhine from the top of the bell tower.

We then got on our train to Brussels, and switched in Brussels to a small local train, and then another train and then to Lille.  We will eventually end up in London tonight.  We then start the season of visitors.  First my sister and her son, then (finally) Matt and his parents.  So the next two weeks in London will be quite busy.  The kids are looking forward to people speaking English again.  I am a little tired of trains at the moment. 

The next post (from me) will start on Tuesday May 17th. 

1st Week in Lille France (and the weekend in the Netherlands)

We arrived in Lille, France on Sunday afternoon.  We had left our luggage the week before, and the hotel was right across the street from the train station (very convenient).  We drug all out stuff up to our rooms.  We had to rent two rooms for the week because of the number of people.  The nice thing was the rooms were at the end of the hall and had a key to access, and then a small entry way and then a key to access either room, however, these doors could be left open so you could walk back and forth.  These two rooms were bigger than our London apartment.  It all would have been perfect, if not for the lack of a kitchen (more on that later).
We arrived late Sunday afternoon and we were really too tired to do anything but find a place to eat.  It was May 1 which is a holiday in France so many resturants were closed.  We walked down towards the city center (but not all the way there) and found a nice, local restaurant.  My Dad and I had a local stew type thing, which they said was meat cooked in beer, but really it just tasted like sweet barbeque.  It was very good and generous portions, but a little sweet for me.  Elizabeth had a local sandwich which was like grilled ham and cheese.  It had melted cheese in the middle and melted cheese on top, she liked it.  The boys both got hamburgers.  My mom got a salad.  We went back to the hotel and went to bed.
Monday morning I got up and went to work.  I met my co-worker and we rode the metra and then walked.  It was a 1.4km walk from the stop to the office.  It was a bright sunny day and we enjoyed the walk. 
Monday the kids had to get back to school work.  They worked on 2 and 3 digit multiplication this week.  The first couple days back it was hard to get them to work.  They complained about writing, and it was a fight, when I came back home from work, they still had not completed what they were supposed to do.  They worked in the morning and then went to the laundry mat.  It sure was nice for me coming home from work to some clean clothes after dragging everything (dirty or wet) around for a week.  I guess they packed a couple suitcases full of clothes to take to the laundry mat.  That night they had just gotten home not long before me, and so we decided to walk to an area of town that had lots of restaurants.  We found it ok, but it was very overwhelming trying to pick which one to eat at.  Finally I heard someone say “Michelle” which was a little weird, but I turned to see my boss.  He and some other people were just leaving a restaurant, and getting into a cab.  He said that restaurant was good, so we said, ok and picked it.  I was also proud that we walked, and they said hotel had told them it was too far and they needed to take a cab. 
We had more local French food for dinner.  Jacob had something that tasted like potato casserole (potatoes and cheese), Paul had something that tasted like egg bake.  We liked the food.  I didn’t order anything because it saves some money to just eat a little off of everyones plate and I get enough food. 
Tuesday it was back to work for all of us.  They also made a trip to the grocery store and we began our adventures in cooking in a hotel room. 
I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have a kitchen, the only real cooking equipment we had was a hot water warmer.  Instead of a coffee pot like we might have, they have a machine which boils water, then you add instant coffee (very common in Europe) or tea.  So, we could boil water.
I will give you an idea of some of the things we made.  It doesn’t take long going out to eat before you are glad to figure out a way to save some money.  The first night they bought rotisserie chickens to eat.  The second day we used the left-over chicken mixed with tomatoes, black olives and couscous.  We also had tacos with beans and cheese.  Of course lunches aren’t so hard, but we sure had a lot of bagettes these two weeks in Lille.  The fresh bread is delicious. 
Wednesday they kids did more school work.  They are reading Robin Hood. After school work time they went to the belfry in town.  It was the largest TV tower in Europe when it was built.  From the top you can see all the way to Belgium.  They had a nice tour and enjoyed the day. 
Thursday after school work the kids and my parents went to these tunnels in a down about 30 minutes south of Lille.  Apparently, in the past, they were a mine when they used the stone to build houses (limestone).  Later bricks came into fashion and the mines were abandoned until World War II when someone remembered them and decided they would be a great place to hide.  The French army used them as a barracks.  Their plan was to have the English attack from one side, and the French army would pop up from the backside.  The allies ended up winning this battle, but the French were a little late, so the English sustained a lot of causalities. 
Elixabeth at the top of the Spider Web
Friday we found a park nearby.  Actually we knew the park was there, but we didn’t know where the playground equipment was.  We decided to go for a walk after work, we walked to an old city gate, and then walked around the park.  When walking around the park we found the play equipment.  They had a slide built into the side of the hill, and they had a HUGE (what we call) spiderweb.  You would never find anything this large in the US , if you fell off, you could get seriously hurt.  The kids played on it for a long time.  We went back home and went to bed.
Saturday morning we left early and set out for Haarlem (and then Amsterdam) in the morning.  We had to take trains to Brussels, then to Haarlem.  We arrived a little after noon (we ate lunch on the train).  We headed for the Corrie Ten Boom house.  It is a place I have looked forward to visiting for a long time.
Jacob 1/2 way up the spider web
Corrie Ten Boom is one of my personal heroes.  She live in Haarlem, Netherlands in WWII.  She lived with her parents and her sister.  She was the first female watch maker in the Netherlands.   I believe when the German invasion of Netherlands started she was 48.  Her family built a false wall in their house made of bricks and hid Jews and Dutch young men (who would be sent off to work camps in Germany if found).  They hid them and had to steal ration cards to get enough food for everyone until someone whom they trusted turned them in.  Corrie, her sister Betsy and their father were sent to concentration camps.  Her sister and father both died in the camps, but Corrie survived and was released due to what is believed to be a clerical error about 2 weeks before the execution of all the older prisoners in the camp (if she stayed, she surely would have died).  For the next 30 years she traveled around the world with a story of forgiveness.  I find her pretty amazing.  I have read many of her books. 
The visit to the house was very interesting and spiritual for me.  I probably can’t really describe it, because it was a personal experience, and much of the time the tour guide was speaking I had tears in my eyes.  The tour guide had a couple challenges for us, one “what would we do?” if faced with similar choices, or as hard choices find you in the days ahead.  I don’t know, but I sure wish I could be as brave as Corrie and her family.  A couple things really struck me from the visit. One is that Corrie has always been a hero of mine, but Corrie considered her sister Betsy as her hero.  Betsy had two visions right before she died in the concentration camp, one about Corries release date, and the other about the ministry that Corrie would have traveling the world telling people about the power of forgiveness.  Corrie also tells how Betsy was the one who could always look on the bright side of things (in the blessing even in the curses).  Betsy told Corrie to “thank God for the fleas” in the concentration camp.  The barracks they stayed in had fleas; they would end up with bites always on their bodies. The blessing was that the guard knew that barracks had fleas and would therefore stay away, which allowed them to have a Bible hidden and to conduct prayer meetings so they could have hope even in the horrible conditions. 
Another thing that struck me was the hand of God through the life of a family.  The guide told of how Corrie’s Grandparents held regular prayer meetings for peace in Jerusalem and for the Jews.  This was during the Ottoman occupation of Jerusalem.  It was interesting that years later, this family was used again in relation to the Jews, the family surely had a heart for those people.  I wonder how the thread continues. 
In a separate post with pictures, you can see the kids in the little room.  They have broken out the wall now so you can see inside.  The people, who hid, had to crawl into the room using the bookshelf which had a false door.  During the raid in which Corrie, Betsy and their father were arrested, the people in the house crawled inside.  They had to stay there, in that little space, with no water, and no light for 2 days.  Finally, they were rescued by some police who were part of the underground.  The people who hid inside were never captured. 
I hope I have courage like Corrie and her family, and I also hope that I can use this to remember what is really hardship in life, and what really matters. 
After leaving the Ten Boom house we went to Grote Kerkthe (High Church) a Dutch reform church at the center of town.  It was the church where the Ten Boom’s went one of the most famous landmarks in town.  It was consecrated in 1559.  It is an old church, obviously.  An interesting thing is the floor has gravestones (people are buried beneath it).  It is built in the gothic style.  There is a large organ which has even been played by Mozart. 
After finishing in Haarlem it was time to go to Amsterdam.  We went to the train station, but unfortunately trains were not running from Haarlem to Amsterdam on this day (construction), so they had a bunch of buses to take people back and forth.  It was a warm sunny day so standing waiting for a bus was getting hot.  People were very pushy, and we missed the first 2 buses, and I was getting a little frustrated, but I just thought:  what would Corrie Ten Boom think.  She would probably think there was some reason we needed to be on that (3rd) bus.  When we finally got off the train (bus to edge of town, train downtown), we were very tired.  We found the tourist place were after a couple people we made a view of the visit.  We decided to get ice cream first, then boat tour, then walk around a little, meet my friend, eat dinner. We had previously decided to have Pankakes for dinner (pancakes).  The ice cream was yummy, the tour was very interesting.  Finding a bathroom was a pain, we finally met my friend.  Before the pancakes, a couple comments about Amsterdam.  Amsterdam has a series of cannels (like Venice).  There are a lot of house boats that line the cannels.  Some are run down, but some are so fancy with gardens and everything.  The streets are lined with these gables houses, they used to be charged taxes by the width, so many are not very wide, but long and thin instead.  Amsterdam is a beautiful city. 
The Pancakes were as big as a plate.  I got a ginger one (cause I thought it was the one matt would like best).  Paul and Jacob got ones with cheese and bacon, and Elizabeth got an “animal” one.  I thought it would be an animal shape, but it turns out that it is just the shape of a plate like everyone else, it just comes with a stuffed animal.  She was very excited to get a lion.
After a filling dinner we made it back to the hotel, which was by the airport and went to bed.  The kids were excited that this hotel (finally) had a pool.  We got back too late to go on Saturday, but on Sunday morning we got up early so we could go before starting the day.  I think we snuck in a little early (before it was supposed to open).  After swimming, we went to the airport, and we hadn’t had breakfast.  We ate a Starbucks, sheesh that was a lot of money!  We spent this day with my friend Silvia from work.  After breakfast we got on a bus and went to Keukenhof this amazing garden type place with all kinds of flowers blooming, tulips, orchids, it was amazing.  I wished my father-in-law was there, he would have loved it.  One of the kids said, “everywhere you look, you think, this is the prettiest, and then you go around the corner and think, no this is the prettiest”.  That pretty much described it.  We spent most of the day there.  We left about 4 and what was a two hour trip to Amsterdam took more than 4 hours to get home.  Many of the trains were not running because of construction or because it was Sunday.  The woman who told us which trains to take didn’t tell us correctly.  At one train station we had the help of a friendly passenger who knew the train schedule and english!  It was amazing.  He got us along another step on the journey.  Finally we made it home and fell into bed.  Good thing at one train station we had just a few minutes so we went across the street to a grocery and bought food, or we would have been really hungry.  We ate on the train.  Everyone was patient with all the delays and setbacks, so it wasn’t too bad a day, though I was longing to be off trains.
Monday was back to school and back to work.  I will write more about that later.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Paul in Venice

Elizabeth playing with a girl who only spoke french on the train.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Pinky's Pictures

Pinky's in the Costwolds on a Zip-line

Pinky's in Luzanne

Pinky's in front of the Matterhorn

Pinky's in Vienna

Pinky's eating ice cream OOPS (in Venice)

Pinky's on a Gondola (in Venice)

Pinky's in Corrie Ten Boom's Hiding Place

Pinky's on top of a windmill in Holland

Pinky's and tulips in the Netherlands

Pinky's in front of the Eiffel Tower

Monday, 2 May 2011

Vacation Part 2 - Switzerland to Lille, France

So, in the morning we took the glacial express to Chur.  When we arrived in Chur at around 1, we had a layover until 10 pm where we would take a train ½ hour to a town down the road and board an overnight train to Vienna.  We found a locker and stashed our stuff, and took off to explore the town.  The information place told of several old churches in the historic old part of town.  It was a cute smaller town quite, with the mountains in the background. We found a post office to buy stamps.   After walking for a while, we found a park with a waterwheel to play with and a zip line.  It was a hit with the kids.  In the end we had to wait in the train station for a while after it got cold and dark.  I thought it was a good time to break out the computer movies, but they didn’t work of course, so we played uno and apples to apples to pass the time.  Rachel, unfortunately, twisted her ankle on the stairs, but somehow she made it to the trains we needed.

The night train, was not a sleeper train, we did not have reserved seats, so we were lucky enough to find an empty car for 6.  The three kids, Rachel and I took that.  Mom and Dad had to go off in search of another place to sit.  The seats didn’t  fold down or anything, so we kinda had to sleep sitting up, or laying on each other.  Rachel gave up on the chairs and slept on the floor, that left three seats for Paul and Jacob and three for me and libby.  It wasn’t the best nights sleep ever, but we were glad we got a car, because I think it was literally the last empty one.  Mom and dad found a place where the seats folded down, they had to share, but, at least they got to lie down.  So in a way, we were both blessed. 

We arrived in Vienna the next morning.  We were able to check into the hotel early, so we left our bags and set out for the days adventure.  Rachel’s ankle was swollen and hard to walk on, so we decided to take a bus tour of Vienna.  We found these guys on the streets selling tickets to a concert that night.  We decided to go because Vienna is a city for culture.  So we toured around and found lunch in a cafeteria type place.  We had sausage, and sauerkraut, and  apple strudel.  Jacob got potatoes and goulash.  Paul got spatzel (whatever those noodles are).  I decided I needed to relearn to make goulash (the stuff Jacob had was good).  Eventually we made it back to the hotel, at the hotel, we took a nap, and then got up and got ready for the concert.  The concert was really neat.  They played Mozart and Strauss.  It was a chamber orchestra with some dancing, and opera singing.  It was designed for the uninitiated, so even the opera, was cute and playful.  Of course it was Jacob who said in a loud whisper, “I cant understand a word they are saying”.  At the end he was saying, “it was definitely worth the money” and “can we do this again mom?”  I think one of the opera numbers was from the Marriage of Figaro.  The actors were fighting over whether they would have a boy or a girl, which was pretty funny.  It was a nice cultural evening.  After dinner we found a restaurant and had some good Austrian food.  Paul had noodles and sausage.  Libby had schnitzel with a cream sauce, Jacob had it with cheese and potatoes.  We all like Austrian foods.   

The next morning we got up and went to see the Lippenzaners practicing.  These are famous dancing horses.  It was really neat to watch them practice (and much cheaper than an actual show).  I have always wanted to see the lipensaners since I was a girl, so it was especially neat for me.  After that we took the public transportation out to the famous Hapsberg house and took a tour.  The palace was pretty amazing.  Elizabeth liked it that there was a famous Empress Elisabeth.  It is interesting that the Hapsbergs had such an influence over Europe for many years.  After the tour of the house we went out to the gardens.  They had built some fun hedge mazes and we played there (and in a playground) for most of the afternoon.  About 5 we thought we should start heading back and it was then we realized that the house closed, which would not have been a problem but they made me check my backpack.  I ran around the house to the front, and made it (with 4 minutes to spare) to get my backpack.  That was a scare.

Vienna was really beautiful and we had a very nice time.  I am definitely glad that we added it to our itinerary.  It was a very pretty, cultural city and the food was yummy.

We made it back towards the train station, because that night we took a night train (with couchettes) to Venice.  This time we had beds.  They gave us linens and the saddest pillow.  In the morning we had rolls and (yum) coffee.  I haven’t been able to drink much coffee.  Many times for breakfast we are buying something from a bakery and eating on the run.  So train coffee from Italians was a treat. 

We arrived in Venice mostly refreshed.  We had directions to our hotel.  We had a self-catering apartment this night, and mom and dad had a room at a bed and breakfast.  We had to buy a pass on the boats, which they called buses or water buses.  We took one 45 minutes to a stop in the old part of Venice where our apartment was.  The bed and breakfast building was first built in 15 century.  The apartment wasn’t built until the 1600’s.  It was a nice part of town to stay in because it wasn’t very touristy.  We dropped off the luggage and made it to San Marco Piazza which is the main attraction.  We went to the tourists information center there and decided to go to the glass factory that day.  We took a water bus there and were able to see a demonstration on them blowing glass which the kids enjoyed very much.  Then we mostly walked around looking at all the glass in the stores.  We had bread, sausage and cheese for lunch, it was nearly impossible to find a place that had somewhere we could sit and have lunch.  We had a map and it would have green on it (for green space) we would walk to it and it would be like a tree.  Venice was beautiful, but it had a remarkable lack of green.  They did have lots of flowers growing in every window.  After finally finding a place to sit and eat, we were off again in search of glass treasures (at a good price).  We finally accomplished all this and we were tired so we went back to the hotel.  As we got off the water bus stop at our stop for the apartment there was a nice park (with lots of green and trees).  The kids played there while we went to check in.  After checking in we went to the grocery store to buy stuff for breakfast.  We made it back to the apartment and we watched a replay of the royal wedding while we did laundry.  It was a tiny place, just two beds.  Libby had to sleep with Rachel and Me.  We made a bed for Paul on the floor but I noticed he was in Jacobs bed when I got up in the morning. 

That night we went out for Italian food at the bed and breakfast owners recommendation.  It was delicious.  We had pizza, and ravioli and spaghetti.  It was just a short walk from where we were staying and very local.  The waiter was very helpful with the menu.

Saturday morning we got up and “self catered” our breakfast.  We had eggs, prosciutto and provolone cheese on bread (which I had to toast in the oven).  It was delicious!  I had to try and iron the clothes since they didn’t dry overnight and the apartment only had a washer and not a drier.  Walking around Venice on nearly every street there are clothes hanging.  So, I don’t think they really have driers, and everyone just hangs stuff out, that works ok if you live there, but if you are only there for one night, it isn’t so great.  I tried to iron the clothes but they were mostly still wet, so I wrapped them in raincoats and put them in the suitcase.  We made our way back to the main square (San Marco Piazzo) and toured the cathedral.  We then walked around the streets to the most famous bridge.  The bridge even had shops on it.  It was pretty big.  We stopped at a bakery and got pastries in the morning.  I also had decided not to carry a backpack, so we were all so thirsty.  I bought a liter of water and we had it drank in less than 20 minutes.  From the visitors center, we had a list of sites to walk to (a walking tour) so we followed that most of the morning.  We saw a gondola yard (where they were repairing gondolas) and got a great view of the city.  It is full of canals and tiny streets and lot of churches.  It is a very different town.  We finally decided to end with a Gondola ride for Rachel, me and the kids.  It was very nice and very relaxing.  Mom and Dad had cappuccino by the canal while the waited for us.  Then we made our way back towards the Bed and Breakfast but stopped to have lunch first.  We had some time before the train so we decided to walk back to the oldest church in Venice.  It was a white and bright building so different from many others which were dark, and not well lit.  After the church we decided to get our stuff and head to the train station.  The kids played at the park, well Paul and Elizabeth did, while we got the stuff.  Jacob came with because he had to go to the bathroom.  He ended up going in the place we had lunch.  We were waiting forever, and finally I went in to check.  When I got there, three Italian ladies were yelling at him through the door to turn it to the left.  (Yelling at him in Italian), Somehow Jacob had locked himself in the bathroom.  I arrived, assessed the scene, and looked at the lock, which I was able to move with my fingernail, and unlock the door.  We left.  Poor Jacob.

The day before we had had our gelato by the Bed and Breakfast which was DELICIOUS.  Since we had all our bags etc, we decided to wait till we got to the train station.  It was kind of a mistake because that gelato was not nearly as good as the day before. 

Rachel left us then, and she headed to the airport while we waited at the train station.  We took a train to Milan, which we basically just slept at, and then the next morning we got on a train to Paris.  From there we head to Lille where we will stay the next two weeks. 

Impressions of the Trip
Paul:  One of my favorite parts was going to the glass factory (in Venice) because I had never seen a glass factory and I had only seen one glass sculpture in Indianapolis (children’s museum).  I also liked the pasta and the pizza. 

Jacob:  My favorite part was the gondola ride because you can sit back and relax and the guide told us lots of stuff.  We saw the tomb of Marco Polo.  We rode on lot of boats in the ocean.  We went to a glass factory and saw how they made glass.  Paul got some penguins and I got some glass seals.  Today we are riding on a long train to paris and then lille france.  We went on the glacier express when we went to Switzerland, and Switzerland had lots of mountains.  My favorite food was sausage and the strawberry ice cream tasted better than in the US. 

Elizabeth:  My favorite place in Europe is Zermatt because lots of goats live there and I like goats.  I got a glass kitty cat and a gondola driver hat (in Venice).   I also like Venice because its streets are canals.  My favorite thing about Venice was riding in the Gondola.  I liked the strawberry gelato and the schnitzel with cream sauce.  We are riding on a train to Lille France.  There are lots of mountains out of the window of the train.