Monday, 23 May 2011

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.

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