Friday, February 23, 2007

Holland Snow

It has only snowed twice here this winter. The first time was a dusting that melted quickly. Last week the snow actually stayed around for a day. Have to say that it was beautiful, but we are glad we haven't had the bitter cold that the midwest US has experienced lately.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Holidays 2006

Our first Christmas holiday in The Netherlands could have been lonely but ended up being anything but. Our friend Jon came to visit, we met up with our nephew Tommy, and we had a visit from Flat Stanley!

Jon came in on the 14th and stayed in Amsterdam for the weekend. We spent Sunday exploring Amsterdam; on Monday we picked him up and Tuesday we were on the road. We had decided to visit some Christmas markets in France and Germany. Along the way we stopped in Bouillon, Belgium to check out the 1000-year old Bouillon castle.

Pictured (click to enlarge); View from Bouillon castle, Flat Stanley on the torture rack (this pic didn't make it into his report for obvious reasons!)

Our next stop was Strasbourg (check out the archives - previous post for Alsace-Lorraine). The highlight was our quick daytrip to three favorite wineries, the result of which was a crowded back seat. The food in Alsace is great but gets old fast -- how much sauerkraut, sausage, and onion tart can you eat? Also, let's just say that the food can be a little "rustic" -- not quite to the taste of adventurous but sometimes squeamish Americans. The recommendations from the owner of one particularly authentic cafe were as follows:
Baeckeoffe de joues (joues de boeuf, pied de veau) Translation: casserole of cheeks (ox cheeks, calf's foot)
TĂȘte de veau ravigote Translation: Calf's head (an Alsatian specialty ... yum!)

Furthermore, a special not on the menu was lovingly translated by the owner as "Bambi." Now, we ended up having a nice meal (Jon & Rich: chicken, Rochelle: sauerkraut & sausage), and the owner couldn't have been nicer, but it was all we could do not to totally crack up as we ordered.

Pictured: shopping street at night, Strasbourg cathedral

On to Germany: we stayed in Koblenz so that we could visit the Marksburg castle. We just made the last tour after a panicked hike from the lower parking lot to the visitor entrance. It was just the three of us plus our guide, who conducted the tour in english for us. The castle sits high above the Rhine river and is also very old – it was started in the 1200s, and during the 1800s it was actually used as a prison.

The next day we drove to Munster but made two stops. First, we visited the beautiful Romanesque abbey of Maria Laach, located on the shore of a volcanic lake. Midday we visited Koln (Cologne). The cathedral is magnificent and we visited one of three markets there, sampling the gluhwein & bratwurst.

Pictured: Marksburg castle, Maria Laach, Kolner Dom

Munster has rebuilt its center nicely and although beautiful the streets have a strange sameness (and being northern the buildings look very Dutch). The market was fun, we tried some gluhwein with other liqueurs added in (rum & amaretto) and the market was even more fun. We went to a bar after dinner -- sitting at the bar, the bartenders were very nice about putting up with Rich's very bad attempts at German.

For those of you who haven't been to northern Germany or the Netherlands, "normal" beers here are quite small, about 10 ounces or so. If you want something closer to a pint you have to ask for it. Sometimes you get a slightly disapproving look when you order a bigger beer. While we were sitting at the bar, a waitress came up to the bar and mocked some customers, saying REALLY loud "TWO BIG BEERS PLEEZE" much to the chagrin of the bartenders, who obviously knew we were english-speaking. We decided to let them off the hook and Rich said "Oh, there must be some other Americans here." The waitress didn't skip a beat, replying "No, they're British!" We all had a good laugh and "two big beers pleeze" is now part of our vocabulary.
(ps, if you doubt the beer size story, check out's "guide to dutch beer at )

Pictured: Munster at night

From Munster we headed back to Wassenaar (Rich was adamant that we make it back before the stores closed) for a couple of days of relaxation around Christmas. The day after we hopped on a plane to London. Although expensive, we love London, it's so diverse and has a lot to offer. We visited Harrod's for the famous after Christmas sale (never again), saw three musicals, dropped into umpteen pubs, and visited Hampton Court (Henry VIII's palace), saw mice in the underground, and so on.

Pictured: dancing at Hampton Court, another Flat Stanley picture that didn't make his report

We were lucky enough to spend a day with our nephew Tommy, who was in London with his high school marching band to perform in the New Year's Day Parade. We started the day at Starbucks (Rich has been going through withdrawals), went on the London Eye, visited the Tower of London, waited in the rain for the London Dungeon, and dropped him off at Westminster Cathedral. We had a great time and particularly liked egging him on by the tower ravens ... they looked like they were in the mood for some American food. Speaking of food, we lunched at a pub, a slightly controversial choice but a great place for some real English fish & chips.

Pictured: Tommy & Rich across the Thames from the "Eye"

We returned to Wassenaar for New Year's Eve. The tradition here is for families to buy fireworks (the real stuff). At midnight you really wouldn't believe how many fireworks are going off in all directions. The neighbors were out, so we ventured out to join them. Friendly as always, they explained that the city tried to ban fireworks around the windmill (after all, it is 300 years old and made of wood), but it was useless so they finally repealed the ban. The next day the streets are literally covered with junk -- the remnants of thousands of different fireworks, sparklers, and bottle rockets. The weather wasn't great (kind of a sleety rain) but that didn't stop the celebration.

The next day we dropped Jon at the airport and spent a quiet day recuperating, watching the Simpsons, and breaking into some of the Alsation cremant (sparkling wine) we picked up on our trip. And although we missed family & friends we had very little time to be homesick!