Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deutschland: Meine Heim- Unser Zweiste Urlaub Woche (Und erste Deutsch Post)

For the English version, please scroll down.

Wir hier in Deutschland seit fast eine jahre (9. Sept letzen jahre) so das ist zeit für meine erste Deutsch schreiben.  Sorry für die schlechte schreiben (das ist schwierig). 

Überall, unser urlaub war ser güte, aber reisen mit Dylan für acht tage war voll stress.  Die nächste woche auf urlaub wir blieben in Borken.  Manchmal, blieben auf dem haus ist besser als reisen. 

Ich war erwache früh mit Dylan im dem morgen on Dienstag, Donnerstag, und Sonntag morgen (so ist einem urlaub für Dana auch.)  Die andere tage waren ser schöne wiel ich kanne bis sehn uhr schlafe.  Die wetter war schöne, so ich was drausen währen der tag gehen dunkel haut und lesen einege Jack Reacher bücher. 

Dienstag war eine einkaufen tage, und wir im Essen für Ikea einkaufen (ist nicht ein or zwei stunden für Ikea, ist ein halb oder ein voll tag.)  Zwei betten und €200 später, und wir züruck in Borken auf 21.00 uhr. 

Sonntag war ein schwimmen tag mit Dylan bei Aquarias.  Dylan ist ser lustzig wenn schwimmen.  Er hat keine angst.  90 minuten da ist normallich güte, und wir beide müde wenn fertig. 

Jetzt, unser urlaub ist fertig und basketball training und die nächste semester sind fast beginn, so ich jetzt habe viele arbeit. 

Jede tag auf dem speilplatz/ Everyday at the Playground

Vor der basketball speil: Duetschland gegen Bosnia in Bremen
Before the Germany Bosnia game in Bremen

Written in English for our English Readers

We have been here in Germany for almost one year (last Sept 9) so it is time for my first German writing.  Sorry for the bad writing (this is difficult.)

Overall, our holiday was very good, but travelling with Dylan for 8 days was stressful.   The next week of vacation we stayed in Borken.  Sometimes, staying at the house is better than travelling. 

I was awake with Dylan in the morning on Tuesday,Thursday and Sunday (this was a vacation for Dana as well.)  The other days were beautiful as I was able to sleep in to 10 o'clock.  The weather was also very beautiful, so I was able to get a tan outside and read some Jack Reacher books. 

Tuesday was a shopping day, and we went to Ikea in Essen (shopping at Ikea cannot be done in 1 or 2 hours, it's either one half or one full day.)  2 beds and €200 later, and we were back home in Borken at 9 o'clock. 

Sunday was a swimming day with Dylan at Aquarias.  Dyan is very funny when swimming.  He has no fear.  90 minutes is normally good and we both become tired and ready for sleep. 

Now, our vacation is finished and basketball practice and the next semester is almost begining, so I have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nord pas de Calais, France - Our Family Vacation Part 4

I kind of feel like this past week I've been forcing our blog readers through a grueling old-fashioned slide show of the most mundane details of our recent family vacation.  I mean, how many photos of Gravensteen castle can I post, right? (Note: there are LOTS more in my iPhotos folder.  Want me to post them? Anyone? ... Anyone?... No. Ok, your loss.)  Are you guys groaning "Nooooo! Not more vacation photos!" For those of you who find this boring and painful to read - don't worry, this is the last one and we'll be back to regular, more exciting blog topics like how the Netto grocery store that I went to every day has closed and how this has ruined the flow of my daily life by forcing me to find a new grocery store within a reasonable walking distance. So, as you can see, this is the best we've got as far as exciting topics to write about.

Anyway, back to Calais.  I'm pretty sure we're the first people ever to spend 3 full days in Calais, France.  When booking the hotel, they gave us the 3rd night free, which we thought was great until we realized that - tricks on us! - there are not 3 days worth of activities to do in Calais.  If this part of the world was known for its spectacular weather instead of its spectacularly crappy weather, then 3 days at the beach in Calais would be perfect, but instead it's a bit disappointing not being able to enjoy the nice beaches.  This photo of Dylan about sums up the beach weather in Calais:

"Umm, Mommy, this is not how I remember the beaches from Florida. "
To be fair, the weather wasn't totally terrible. On Friday we spent the day driving from Calais to Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez, which are two large cliffs that overlook the English channel and where you can see England's "White Cliffs of Dover" on the other side.  We did have really nice weather this day (It was so warm for about 30 minutes we took our jackets off! Wow!) and enjoyed the high cliffs and sandy beaches.

First glimpse of the water, just as the sun is beginning to burn off the clouds...

My handsome guys...

White Cliffs of Dover ... the whole time Bryan was humming the Eric Johnson "Cliffs of Dover" tune that was his favorite to play in Guitar Hero.  Funny at first, annoying by the end of the trip.  

Beautiful views

We got in about 30-45 minutes of beach time before the tide came in.

Gorgeous beach.

Dylan was trying to make friends with the kids who had the shovels.  They weren't into sharing.

The water was freezing and Dylan would shriek every time his toes got wet.

Bryan tried to teach Dylan how to skip rocks.

It was so nice to have nice weather, even if it didn't last long.
Saturday morning in Calais was super rainy, so we went to the mall.  At least it was a big indoor place where Dylan could run around and get his energy out.  We didn't do a whole lot else this day because Bryan was quite ill from the gross sandwich he ate from a street vendor the night before.

For dinner on Friday night he ordered a monstrosity called "The Texan."  This sandwich was on a massive hogie bun and included: 2 or 3 hamburger patties, nacho cheese, slices of ham, scrambled eggs, spicy sauce, grilled onions and was topped with about 1/2 pound of French fries.  We guess that this sandwich had about 2,500 - 3,000 calories in it, and anyone would have gotten sick by eating the whole thing as Bryan did.  (Note: Here's a new rule of travel - don't order sandwiches named after America or have an American sounding name in a French speaking country. This backfired on us when we were in Liege, Belgium and ordered "The American" which was one of the grossest sandwiches I've ever had.)

The only good thing (for me) to come from Bryan's illness is that he stayed in the hotel room with Dylan while he napped and I was able to have a few hours on my own.  By this time on Saturday the sun was out again, and I had a chocolate eclair and a glass of wine at a local Brasserie, sat in the sun and read my book in peace.  Probably my favorite part of Calais.

Sunday morning came and we hightailed it home in about 4 hours.  More than anyone, I think Dylan was excited to be home.  By the time we got to France he had started to ask about home by saying "Mommy, home?" and giving me a quizzical look.  While we had a good time and got to see 4 cities we've never been to and experienced things we'll always remember, Bryan and I agreed that our next vacation will be a little more stationary and we'll probably rent an apartment or house and stay in 1 location for the duration of the trip.   

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bent on Gent: Our Family Vacation Part 3

We were ready to hit the road after 3 nights in Brussels and checked out pretty early Thursday morning.  To our surprise, we made it to the highway without getting lost and were closing in on our next destination, Gent, within about 50 kilometers.   After booking our hotels and researching the destinations we realized that Calais, France (our final destination) might not have enough activities to keep us occupied for 3 full days, especially if the weather was bad, so we planned to spend our Thursday "morning shift" before Dylan's nap exploring Gent, Belgium.

I really wanted to check out the Gravensteen Castle, which is located in the center of the city and has a really cool medieval vibe to it.  The castle was built in the 1100s and is known as the "Castle of the Counts."  The castle was not "stroller friendly" and didn't look very compatible for a 2-year-old's energy.  It had countless narrow, windy staircases and lots of high ledges with no railings for Dylan to fall off of, so Bryan graciously took Dylan to a nearby park while I got to explore the castle uninterrupted.  

For a castle, Gravensteen isn't really all that big, so I was able to do a thorough tour in about an hour.  There was a huge room full of fighting devices (swords, knives, clubs, axes, hammers, armor, etc.) followed by an equally huge room full of terrible medieval torture devices.  And there were lots and lots of great viewing points along the tower walls to take gorgeous panoramas of the city of Gent below.

A view of Gent from one of the tower walls.

Thank you, stranger, for taking my photo.

Good ole' fashioned guillotine. 

Another view of Gent from the castle walls.

Gravensteen Castle.

Chapel room in the castle.

Spooky dungeon.

Gravensteen Castle 
Gravensteen Castle
After the castle tour I met back up with Bryan and Dylan and we had a really great lunch at a local cafe.  It was a rare moment where Dylan was peaceful in his stroller and we were able to enjoy our meal together.  We enjoyed Gent so much that, in hindsight, we should have left Brussels a day early and spent more time in Gent.  Regardless, we were glad we took the time to detour our travel plans for half a day to see this charming town.

Bryan and Dylan exploring Gent.

Beautiful view of Gent

More beautiful Gent

Gent, Belgium

Best lunch of the whole trip.
We packed ourselves back into the car, yet again, in the early afternoon and made our way down the road to Calais, France for the last 3 days of our trip.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brussels: Where it Rains Often - Our Family Trip Part 2

Bright and early Monday morning we set off for our next destination - 3 nights in Brussels, Belgium.  We weren't on the road but for a few minutes when we had a slight driving snafu.  There was very little traffic and about 1/2 mile up the road we noticed a large bird right in the middle of our lane.  As we got closer, both Bryan and I started shouting "Move! Move!" and waving our hands, and we could tell this massive bird (a hawk or an eagle, perhaps?) was just sitting there watching us as we bear down on it.  Right at the last second this enormous bird/possibly endangered eagle finally tried to move, but it was too late and it hit the frame of our car next to the windshield, feathers exploded everywhere and our antennae bent to a 90 degree angle.  Luckily, it didn't hit our windshield; we would have been in big trouble.  The whole incident reminded us of this steamroller scene in the first Austin Powers movie:

We made it to Brussels around noon, but it took us until about 2:30 p.m. before we actually found our hotel, The Van Belle.  Yes, we drove around Brussels for 2.5 hours shouting out street names as we passed them by and fervently searching our pathetic GoogleMap seeing if those roads were within the quadrant that we had printed out.  We had written directions, but like other large European cities, Brussels is deficient in clearly displayed street signs, so we missed our first turn off the highway and were immediately lost.  We finally parked, walked to the nearest hotel we could find, which happened to be the very hoity-toity Royal Windsor Hotel, and asked for a map.  Then we asked if they could show us where we were on the map so we could get our bearings. The snooty concierge wasn't amused.

We decided that we were done driving for the next three days and parked our car.  The first night we went to the Grand Place and the shopping district and wandered around, but had to dash in and our of places because every 30 minutes a rain cloud would pass by and downpour on us.  I didn't realize that it rained so much in Brussels until I saw a T-shirt in a tourist shop that said "Brussels: Where it Rains Often" and had an image of a person under an umbrella.  That's not really a great catchphrase for a city, but it certainly fit the bill.

Rainy day at the Grand Place.

 Bryan puts on a brave face after driving us through Brussels for 2 and 1/2 hours.  At least we remembered our umbrella. Although, it did turn inside-out several times due to strong wind gusts.

Getting ready to rain again ... time to take shelter.

Seeing Baggers (German for excavators) are the highlight of Dylan's day, no matter what city we're in.

Taking shelter from the rain once again.
I can't remember the order that we did things in Brussels, but it often felt like a lot of walking in circles. Here are some of the other things we did and saw:

  • Bryan got a Dylan-free lunch on the famous Coin de Mer street where he ate the famous Mussels in Brussels. It was his favorite part of our trip to Brussels.  
  • It was so cold that I had to buy a scarf to stay extra warm.
  • We went to the famous Jeu de Balle flea market which had lots of cool stuff and lots of junk all mixed together.  
  • There was a big carnival near our hotel that was set up in the median of a major thoroughfare.  This greatly added to the confusion when we were trying to find out hotel.
  • Our room was so tiny that a travel crib didn't fit anywhere in the room.  Dylan had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. PS, don't expect too much from a 3 star rating in Europe.  It's not like a 3 star hotel in America.  4 stars here and you are in the clear.  3 stars and under, and you are booking at your own risk.  Our Rotterdam Hotel was 4 stars and our Brussels & France Hotel were 3 stars.  Huge difference.  
  • The Mannekin Pis (statue of a boy peeing) is really tiny.  Not sure what all the fuss is about, but it's always surrounded by about 50-75 tourists taking pictures.
  • Walking tours in English were super expensive, so we didn't do any.  In fact, I still know very little history of Brussels even after being there for 3 days.
  • The chocolate is too expensive.  I couldn't justify spending 6 Euros on a 100 gram chocolate bar when I can buy a 1 kilo Ritter Sport at Netto for less than 2 Euros.

Good view over Brussels. No, this is not the view from our hotel room, although that would have been nice.

Lovely streets to walk down through the city center.

We can get about 15-20 minutes of peace by buying Dylan and ice cream cone (followed by a 45 minute sugar rush, but it's worth it!)

Family photo, minus Oscar.

Jeu de Balle flea market - very cool!

Oops.  I snapped the photo right as he tripped and fell.  Time to hug it out with Daddy.

Aren't my guys the cutest?

Finally, no rain in the Grand Place.  Dylan is actually clapping his hands, he's so excited.

Grand Place - gorgeous!

More Grand Place.  Lots of people come out when the rain stops.

Coin de Mer - best food in Brussels right up this narrow alley.

Mannekin Pis - translation "Little Boy Pees".

There weren't a lot of places in Brussels to let Dylan run around to expend his ample energy.  This made him 'ready' to do something as soon as we tried to sit down and have any sort of meal together.  'Ready' is the word that he would shout and let the area square block know over and over again when he was ready to move on from remaining stationary at a shop or restaurant.   This made for some really quick and stressful meals while we were out.

In case you haven't noticed by now, each day was broken into two parts. The morning shift, which starts at breakfast and last until Dylan's mid afternoon nap, and the evening shift, which starts around 5pm and lasts until Dylan's bedtime (anywhere from 8:30 to 9:30 on our trip).  Our meals were usually eaten either one at a time, or very quickly eaten together while Dylan ate a snack or an ice cream cone.   Needless to say, we weren't eating at any fancy establishments. At least that helped us stay within our budget.

Overall, Brussels was a very nice city to visit...without a 2 year old.  The city center was beautiful and everything was accessible by foot.

After 5 days on the road and a stressful Brussels trip under our belts, we briefly considered calling it quits and heading back to Germany.  But, we are too stupid for that.  On Thursday morning, we checked out of our closet, I mean Hotel room, and headed onward.

Monday, August 15, 2011

9 Days, 4 Cities, 3 Countries, and 1 crazy 2 year old - Our Family Trip Part 1, Rotterdam

We just got back yesterday from our big family vacation and are going to try to update the blog quickly while it's still fresh in our minds.  Ideally, we would have liked to have booked a flat somewhere (in one location) for an entire week, but everyone else in Europe was also on vacation last week.  Anything that was available was really expensive.  So, like the crazy parents we are, we decided to book hotels in three different cities with our 2 year old monster in tow.  Dylan was good for our 5 day trip to Berlin in April, so we decided to push our luck and proceeded to book a 9 day and 8 night vacation spanning 4 cities and 3 countries.  Oscar stayed in Borken with a friend.

The first stop on our itinerary was Rotterdam, Netherlands, a city that we knew nothing about.  We chose Rotterdam for no particular reason other than it was in between Borken and Brussels (our second stop) and based on Google searches, it seemed like a decent place to kick off our holiday.  We could have gone to Amsterdam, but we've "been there, done that" and weren't really interested in going back.

Rotterdam turned out to be very cool.  We stayed at the Novotel Hotel near Erasmus University and were just a short walk to the metro station, and 5 stops away from the city center.  Rotterdam has a variety of open air, pedestrian malls, all pretty close together.  The most popular one is The Beursplein and is very large and has all the typical European commercial establishments we've come to expect (aka: an H&M every 100 meters).  There was also the Lijnbaan, which I promptly pointed out to Bryan as we window shopped, "This was the very first outdoors pedestrian walking mall in the world," a fact that I learned while researching the city, to which Bryan scrunched up his face, slid imaginary glasses up his nose and said "Ohhh, really?" in his 'nerdy' voice.  We also enjoyed walking up Nieuwe Binnenweg, which has a nice eclectic mix of shops and bars.

Bryan and Dylan walking through the Beursplein.

A popular brand and store in Europe ... this explains why skinny jeans and capri pants are so popular for men here - they shop at Sissy-Boy.

Walking along the river in Rotterdam.
In the evening of our first night, as we were walking into the train station someone came out and kindly told us that there has been a security threat in the train station in the city center and all the metro trains were shut down, therefore we had to walk.  So, we walked a long way and ended up hungry and near the city center just as it began to pour down rain and we realized Dylan's rain jacket and our umbrella were still packed in the hotel room. We took shelter in a local park and got a pizza, and wandered around in the rain before taking the light-rail (apparently not affected by the metro bomb scare) back to the hotel.  It turned out that some unlucky traveller had forgotten their suitcase in the train terminal and the Rotterdam police took extreme precautions to ensure it was not an explosive.
We did come across the famous Rotterdam Cube Houses which, although cool to look at, seem painfully awkward to live in. 

On Sunday, we spent the morning walking around the Delfshaven neighborhood, which is like Rotterdam's "Old Town."  This area of town was spared from being completely bombed during WWII, so many of the buildings are very old.  Being the dork that I am, I also pointed out to Bryan that this is where the original Pilgrims set out from on their journey to America.  Unfortunately, their original boat, the Speedwell, was very leaky and barely made it to England where they all transferred to the more famous Mayflower. He didn't appreciate the history lesson, but I like to know these details about the places we visit.  Delfshaven was really my favorite place in Rotterdam.  The old architecture and canals reminded me of Amsterdam, but without the prostitutes and drugged up tourists.

Delfshaven, Rotterdam, Netherlands

The Pilgrim's Father's Church - they held their last service here in 1640 before setting off on the Speedwell to America.

Bryan trying to hold Dylan still enough to take a photo.

Dylan was enamored with this old blue car and really wanted a picture with it. 

"Onward to America!"

Delfshaven architecture.

Running through the streets of Delfshaven.

Finally, it's not raining!

Being a rascal, as usual.

The old windmill.  Dylan calls this a "Big Fan!" 

Inside The Pelgrim brewery and bar.  Bryan got a "Dylan-free" hour in the bar to sample some original brews while I chased Dylan around Delfshaven.  
Being a Sunday, we were expecting to only be able to walk around and window shop, but to our delight and surprise around noon everything opened up.  All of the retail shops in the shopping centers opened from noon to 6 and even the grocery stores were open!  Bryan even took Dylan for an hour and I got to shop alone and uninterrupted - what a gift!

We missed Oscar (who stayed with a friend). But he wasn't too far from our thoughts.  This cute statue even has a characteristic "poo" pile that's easy to trip on if you're not paying attention, much like regular dog poo left on the sidewalk.

These creepy street performers were everywhere.  We stood and debated whether or not this was a fake or real.    After a couple minutes of analyzing, I dared Bryan to touch him.  It turned out to be a really cool place to lock your bike.

After two good nights of sleep, we checked out of our hotel on Monday morning and moved on to our next destination, Brussels Belgium.