Nath Knits

and should probably be doing something else.


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She knits! – Day 40

(Full picture set for August is available here)

The house is quiet.  Dr. Thingo took the kids into town for an event that turned out to be a dud.  Apparently, they’re playing in a park with some kids and won’t be home for a while, so here I am.  Hello!

To catch you up on our bureaucratic adventure:  No, we still don’t know which school the kids are going to.  No, I still haven’t received information about what kind of supplies/uniforms I’m supposed to get.  Yes, we’ve been pestering the council at regular intervals.  School doesn’t start until next Tuesday, so I guess it’s theoretically possible they’ll be placed on Monday (it’s not a holiday here).  There will be more pestering on Monday.  And the fact that they do everything by mail and not email* means they could be placed, and we won’t hear about it for two days after.  I figure, worst case, we go sight-seeing in the city on the first couple days of school – things should be fairly quiet!!  On the visa front, I have my visa back, though there was some runaround with that too.  A huge thanks to Carmen, who facilitated its return to me.

This being a knitting blog and all, I figured I’d catch you up on what I’ve been making.  Progress has been slow, but I have a few things to show for my summer.

A couple of days before we left Canada, I finished this top:

I cropped my head because, truly, I looked like a dork.

The yarn is String Theory Caper Sock.  I’m quite happy with the end result, though it’s been far too warm to wear, so I haven’t yet.  I made it up on the fly, armholes, bust darts, neck gathers, and all.  Consequently, I ripped back often, especially the armholes.  But since this was supposed to be a project to regulate my blood pressure during pre-sabbatical preparations, I was not in a hurry to finish it.  The process was good!  I was inspired by this sweater, but too cheap to buy the pattern.  Not that I have anything against Amy’s designs.  Quite the contrary – her book is the only hardcopy knitting book I brought to London with me! I think the sweater turned out well, though I could have put in some ease (I decided to go for zero ease everywhere.  Maybe an inch or so would make it a little less boobtastic.  Though Dr. Thingo really liked it.)

Then, seeing that I had a huge amount of yarn left over, I decided to quickly look for something to make that wouldn’t be too taxing, and came up with this (Elissa hat and scarf, by Amy O’Neill Houck).

(a note on that bedspread:  When we first got here, I kind of hated it.  Now I kind love it.  Sure, it’s a little ratty.  And a little bright.  But in the very spare room with the super-soft-light coming in through the rice paper blinds, I love it.)  I whipped up the hat in the evening before we left, in my super-clean living room (sigh.).  I worked on it a tiny bit on the plane, and in dribs and drabs during our European vacation.   Crochet is totally the way to go with scarves, since it’s so fast.  Because scarves suck out my will to live.  Take this one:

That’s the Rill Scarf, by Miriam Felton.  It’s the same section, repeated again and again and again.  It’s mostly stocking stitch.  It’s pretty, but it’s BORING.  I started it in May.  It came with me to a cottage, on vacation, and to London.  I just finished it a week or so ago.  I’m planning on sending it to the lady whose apartment we stayed in in Paris – judging by the colours of and the artwork she had around, I think she’d like it.  It needs blocking, though.

So, given my feeling about knitted scarves, it’s ironic that I picked this as my Souvenir Yarn purchase from La droguerie in Paris:

Yep, that’s a lace scarf kit.  And it’s mohair, which means that if I mess up, tearing it out will be a nightmare.  But it’s pretty, and it comes with lovely trim that I’m going to sew on at the end.

It turns out that there are no yarn stores in my corner of London.  There was one in Greenwich, a short bus ride from here, but the owner of that store apparently went to the US for a visit in July and decided to just stay there and close her shop here.  So that’s that.  I did drag the kids to the store that is geographically closest to me.  It was a good half hour bus ride.  Then a bit of a walk.  And then a bit of a disappointment.  It’s really more of a quilting store, with a little yarn.  There was one kind of sock yarn, in three different colours.  Lovely though it is, it wasn’t worth the trip there.  The owner was very nice, and gave me the balls at a discount, so I bought one for each of the kids to make them socks.

I’m looking forward to the Yarn Crawl in a month.

* Seriously, they love their letters here.  Originally, when we first applied for council tax, we were supposed to get a letter from the council confirming our application had been received and processed.  We were supposed to provide this letter, by mail, to the council office (yes, same council, in the same municipal building.  Apparently, they haven’t heard of email) to proceed with the school application. Which would have been annoying, but fine, if they hadn’t lost our tax application in the first place.  Then, later when we asked the branch of our bank why I hadn’t yet received my card, which would allow me to access funds in Dr. Thingo’s UK account, they said “you’ll get a letter from the branch when they get your card”.   A letter?  Seriously?  Wouldn’t it take less time to send me an email than print off a letter and mail it?  Or call me?  Or walk it over?  Also, why is it going to the branch in the first place rather than directly to me, but that’s a whole other story.  If the mail was fast, it’d be ok, I guess, but it takes two days for a letter to get here, from what I’ve seen.  Luckily, they deliver on Saturdays.  Oh, and the doctor’s office (that’s another long story – I have no intention of using them for anything, but we were required by an insurance clause for something somewhere to register with a physician.  So we did.** ) sent me a letter to inform me that Zebula wasn’t up to date according to their immunisation schedule.  Surely, a phone call would have taken less time than drafting and posting a letter.  Maybe I’m just crazy.

** One positive is that, unlike in Ontario, there is apparently no doctor shortage.  This clinic has nurses and nurse-practitioners doing the daily, routine stuff, and a doctor who takes care of whatever actually requires a doctor.  And there was a sign in the lobby that said “Pregnant?  Call a midwife!”, so, that’s an improvement on the way things are run in Ontario.


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Who lives in there, anyway? – Day 33

(For those of you who are interested, the full photo set for August, since we left Paris, is here.  I just keep adding to it.  I’ll be making a set for each month from here on in)

We left a month ago yesterday.  It seems crazy that we’ve been gone so long already, the time has gone by fast – it’s almost time for the kids to start school!  Once they finally get a placement, that is.  At the same time, it seems that it should be longer – so much has happened since we left Canada.  Ah, time.  Anyway, that’s enough cliches for now.

This is “Hahn/Cock”, the newest sculpture in Trafalgar Square. I like it. Apparently, the press had a field day when it was installed: “Giant Blue Cock Unveiled in Trafalgar Square”

It’s been a fairly quiet week.  We’re settling in, and the neighbourhood feels more familiar now.  We’ve taken the bus a lot.  Most of the buses that run in our neighbourhood are double-deckers.  The kids love this – they like to sit at the seats right in front of the bus on the top floor.  I have a hard time with it.  I tend to get nauseous in buses already (my reading on the bus days are over.  Knitting is still ok, since I can look forward while I do it).  Being on the top, which sways a lot, and being right in front and seeing how narrow the roads are and all the near misses, and the cognitive dissonance of driving on the wrong side all the time, don’t help.   So we compromise and go half the time.  I’d let them go to the top and just sit at the bottom by myself, but I’m not yet comfortable enough here, being the crazy foreign lady with the loud kids and weird accent, to yell up at them that “This is our stop, let’s go” from the bottom of the stairs.  I’ll get over it.  Or they’ll know where to get off on their own.

I’ve found a small-but-good-enough grocery store a 5 minute walk from the house.  And there’s a green-grocer right next door.  That, combined with the butcher, fishmonger and cheese shop that were recommended to me by my landlady in Greenwich, which are a short bus ride away, and the awesome farmer’s markets on the weekends mean that my food needs are met.  Oh!  And there’s a fantastic, huge East-Asian (here, it’s called Oriental – Asian generally means just India) supermarket about 15 walking minutes away.  So I’m good.

We did take in some sight-seeing.  On Saturday, we went to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which is next to the National Maritime Museum and the University of Greenwich.  They are all at the north end of Greenwich Park, which is a huge green space.  We walked around the grounds and then went into the planetarium to take in a show.

Looking up at the observatory. The grounds are great. Apparently, there are stones in a line down the Meridian (which goes down this hill and to the right), but it’s all grown over. Maybe we’ll go looking for the markers some other time.

The kids’ favourite part, of course, was the huge playground at the end of the park.  It really was good – with stuff ranging from toddler-sized to preteen size.  Plus a giant sandbox.

And wooden sheep, of course!

Monday, the kids and I went into the city.  The plan was to see Big Ben.  Well, to see the clock tower that houses Big Ben.  Big Ben, as every website (and now this one too) about London will tell you, is the bell that chimes the hours.

Parliament Clock Tower. The British Parliament buildings are very pointy.

Then we took a walk. We saw the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace.

 

This sucker’s huge. Each one of those pods fits up to 25 people.  We’ll go up at some point.

 

Westminster Abbey. It’s Very Impressive. Especially with my finger across the top like that.

Admiralty Arch. This is at the end of The Mall, which ends, about a kilometre or so later, with Buckingham Palace.

Front door, Buckingham Palace. I wonder if they use it, or if, like for many other homes, they just come in through the mud room.

 

Oh, and we saw 12 Downing St.  I had to take the picture through the bars.  You can’t get anywhere near it.  I’m guessing 10 is to the right of it.  The guards with guns make sure nobody gets too close.

Seeing all this iconic stuff is weird, like it can’t be real.  I told Dr. Thingo: “They just have this stuff out for the tourists.  At night, they roll back the scenery and it’s all concrete buildings.”

Obligatory shot of impassive Royal Guard in full regalia. See? This can’t be real!

I was disappointed that Queen Elizabeth didn’t come out to say hello.  I should have emailed her I was coming.  Then I found out that since the Union Jack was flying outside the palace, and not the Royal Standard, it means she wasn’t at home.  Apparently, this time of year, she’s usually at Balmoral.  Oh well.

Vorlon asked, “Who lives at Buckingham Palace.  That’s  a really big house for just one queen!”.  So I explained that she has staff, etc, but then I looked it up.  Apparently, she and Prince Philip live there, as well as the Princess Royal (that’s princess Anne, Elizabeth’s sister), Duke of York (that’s Prince Andrew, son of Elizabeth), the Earl and Countess of Wessex (that’s Prince Edward, also the queen’s son, and his wife), and Princess Alexandra (the queen’s cousin).  Yes, the boys still live at their mom’s.

We’ll do more focused sight-seeing later, but for now, it’s fun to just walk around.


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Our house – Day 26

Hello!

It’s a dreary, rainy, chilly day in London.  Which is comforting.  I was beginning to wonder if all that talk about the weather in England being dreadful was just propaganda, because it’s been beautiful every day!

It’s been a quiet week.  The entries in my daily journal, which I’ve been keeping since we left Canada, have been very terse since we got to London, because life has been a whole lot less busy.  It’s been nice to just hang out at home, explore the neighbourhood, and make the space ours.  Dr. Thingo’s been back to work since Wednesday.   I want to explore London, but I needed a break.  I think we’re going to start with the Greenwich observatory this weekend.  Yes, we live in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, home of Greenwich Mean Time!  Though we’re currently on British Summer Time.  Anyway.

I’ve been asked to post pictures of the house.  Ask and ye shall receive!

Front entrance. Note the hoodies on the stair rail. That’s because there are NO HOOKS ANYWHERE. No coat rack. Nothing. Where did they keep their coats??

Great Room, Living room view.

Great Room, dining room view. This is officially the office space. It should be good and cluttered in another 4-5 days.

Kitchen, view 1

Kitchen, from the opposite end.  Those magnets on the fridge are all Chinese syllables.  There’s a project for the next year!!

Vorlon’s room. It was the office/spare room. Much of the office crap is still there. They did clear the right-most closet, which is where Vorlon’s clothes are piled up. And one of the bookshelves, which you can’t see. That table next to the closet was a diaper changing table, and is still loaded with electronics boxes. I still need to deal with this room…

Bathroom. The shower scares me a little. I’m not sure I’m grown-up enough yet to take a shower without being super-alert so that I don’t accidentally hose down the whole bathroom.

Master bedroom.

Master bedroom, view 2. Sorry about the empty bags – they need to be taken down to the basement. Knowing us, this should take a few weeks.

Zebula’s room. It’s actually not pink – it just looks like that because of the light reflecting off the duvet. The owner’s 9-year-old daughter sleeps here and left a lot of her toys, which has been great!  But this room needs reorganising too.  At least it has a dresser and a wardrobe with a rod.

I love this house!  We’ve been so lucky with accommodations since we left Canada.  But we especially lucked out here.  So, the owners didn’t really declutter before they left.  But the house is large, and bright, and airy (the ceilings are super-tall).

The kitchen is extra-amazing – there’s a deep, tall counter, and the stove has two ovens and 5 burners.  After a fairly intense bout of reorganizing and storing stuff I won’t use, and marveling at the amount of tea (seriously, I thought we had a lot of tea. They have tea all over the place.  Tea with labels entirely in Chinese that I can’t identify.  So much tea!), I’m in cooking heaven!  Though I’ve had to get a few extra things (cheese grater, large mixing bowl, wooden spoons, more bowls for eating, glasses, French press).  There are no dry measuring cups, but there’s a kitchen scale, so I’ve been baking.  And there’s a rice cooker, which I’ve already used.  And an ice cream maker, which I have not yet.  And there was a drip coffeemaker, but I put it away after I got the French press.  And a mocha pot.  I’m going to need a cookie sheet.  And a decent knife.  And more tea towels (there are 2).  And more bath towels (there are 4.  I’m not organised enough not to need spares).  And a coat rack.  And maybe some kind of hand mixer (I miss my stand mixer already).  And the owner left her cookbooks, which I’ve already been using.  I’m going to like it here.

We’ve explored the neighbourhood a little bit.  It’s walkable (the places we’ve been have all been within about 3 km from here), but the buses are very frequent, and I bought an Oyster card, so it’ll be easy and fairly affordable to get around.  There’s no tube stop nearby, but we’re serviced by two overland train lines close by.  The transportation system here is a crazy combination of train lines, subways and buses, and I haven’t got it all figured out yet.  I did have to make a trip over to Canning Town to send my visa back to New York to get fixed, and managed to make it there and back without any fuss.

Oh, and we have two kitties, Seren and Zeki:

Seren

Zeki, who wasn’t feeling terribly social at the time of the photo shoot.

Seren is a teeny cat (she’s maybe 2-3 kilos).  She has a huge meow, however, and is very chatty and demands a lot of attention.  She’s the perfect size for taking a nap on your belly while you take a nap.  Zeki is also a sweetie, and is generally social and follows the kids around the house.  He’s fluffy, and has a confused look on his face all the time (it must be part of the breed), so he looks adorable.  They’ve taken well to us taking over their space.

I just got a mobile phone yesterday.  Phone plans here are ridiculously cheap compared to Canada.  I got a ‘Pay and Go’ phone (this means no contract, so I had to pay for the phone, but I got an older model BlackBerry, so it was cheap).  My plan is £11 per month for a year, but the first three months are free.  This gives me all the data and talk time I need.  Crazy.  Are you listening, BellRogersTelus??!?  Incidentally, if you’re on BBM, my pin is 2B2FFB65 – chat with me!  Sadly, though, international texts are still extra.

We had a delicious lunch at a Nepalese/Tibetan place in Woolwich where I want to go again!  And there’s a Vietnamese place next door that was also delicious.  Thus negating the stories I’d heard about the dismal London food scene (who spreads these rumours around??).  I haven’t had good luck in the supermarket/food shopping department, however.  I’ve tried 4 different supermarkets in 5 days.  The Marks & Spencer is nice, I guess, if you want prepared foods, but not so great if you want to cook by yourself.  The Sainsbury’s is ok, but a pretty hefty walk.  Mind you, that’d be good for me, I think…  The Asda was fine, but Superstore-like, which I find offputting (I don’t need to buy shoes with my cabbage).  Also, Asda, I found out later after some research prompted by the fact that they sell George brand clothing, is a subsidiary of Walmart, so that was the end of that.  Then there was Tesco’s, which is even bigger and more Superstore-like, so I probably won’t go.  What I was really hoping for was an old-school setup where there was a butcher and a greengrocer and a baker nearby, but that isn’t proving to be the case.  But I got some recommendations from my landlady for a butcher and cheese shop and fishmonger about 4 km away, so when I finally scrounge up the courage to get on her bike, which she left me in the basement, I’ll go check them out.  Or take the bus.   Or walk.

Speaking of cycling courage, it’s taking me longer to adapt to left-hand driving than I expected.  Jaywalking (or even just crossing the street) is nervewracking – I have to look both ways about 5 times before I decide it’s safe enough to go (so, don’t jaywalk, I hear you saying…)  I can’t even imagine cycling on the left yet.  I’m glad I won’t be driving!

There’s a public library a 5 minute walk from here, and a park, with a cafe right next to it, so that’s promising.  I already got a library card, and the kids and I have taken out some books.  The library is a branch of the Greenwich library system.  It’s fairly small, but we can also go to the central branch a little farther off if we decide we’ve exhausted the selection here.

We’re still waiting to hear from the school board about where the kids will be attending school, though they did send a confirmation of the receipt of our application.   School starts in two weeks – I hope they send word soon!


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Paris – Days 17 to 21

Full photo set for this post can be found here.

Obligatory Eiffel Tower picture

It’s hard to say anything about Paris that hasn’t already been said.  By me, even.   I love it – I love how green it is, despite its size.  I love the Eiffel Tower, because it’s pretty.  I love that you can’t get bad food (at least I never have).  I love how walkable it is.  And I love that it’s crammed full of history, everywhere you go.  And that, wherever you are, unexpectedly, you’ll look up and get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

So, I left off at the train to Paris.  On the train from Bruges to Brussels, on the car that we randomly chose to sit in, there was a TV crew.  Turns out, they were filming practice runs of a Cash Cab-type gameshow.  Basically, they ask people (with their consent, of course), questions and make them accomplish small tasks.  If they answer correctly, or execute the task, they can win money.  Otherwise, they are let off at the next station, regardless of whether it’s their destination or not.  Since it was summer vacation, they were just practicing for when the season starts up again in the fall.  They got a few people to participate, and encouraged the rest of the passengers in the car to applaud or express sadness as loudly as possible whenever the answer was right or wrong.  There were trivia questions, all offered in rapid-fire Dutch.  I only understood snippets, but did manage to understand enough of one question to be able to answer it correctly.  There was also a paddle-ball test (I think the participant had to hit the ball 15 times without dropping it).  They went around filming random passengers on the car, asking them questions, and when they got to us, they switched to English.  It was funny and weird and made the trip a lot of fun.

For the trip from Brussels to Paris, due to late booking, for some reason the First Class tickets were cheaper than the Second Class ones at the time we booked.  So we took it.  Big cushy seats, snacks, free wifi.  It was nice.

We were met in Paris by Jean-Marc, who is friend of Dr. Thingo’s (I think they may have collaborated too).  He very kindly had offered to let us stay with him in Paris, but decided that his apartment was too small, and arranged for us to stay at a friend’s apartment instead (the friend was away on vacation, like most of Paris in August).  He took us there, via the Metro, gave us a fast tour of the neighbourhood, and then went off back to the train station to meet another friend who was arriving in town later that same day (I owe him a knit hat, which I will make soon!).

It was so good to be in a country where I speak the language fluently.  I felt more relaxed.  Not that I was all that stressed-out about deciphering Dutch, but it’s very nice to see a sign and immediately know what it means.  Or know that if I ask somebody a question, I’ll understand the answer, and I won’t feel like a doofus for having to admit I don’t speak any Dutch.  The kids did ok too!

This visit was fairly low-key.  We’d been travelling for almost two weeks by the time we got there, and the sight-seeing was starting to get tired.  We did manage to do a fair amount of it.  Unlike my only other visit to Paris, we actually went into some of them.

Arc de triomphe. We didn’t go up, but I like to go see it. It’s very impressive. Napoleon had himself some issues, for sure.

We went up the Eiffel Tower. Well, part of the way up.  The queue to take the elevator up to the top was ridiculously long (and apparently there was another wait to take the elevator up to the top from the second floor.  Noticing how short the stair queue was, we decided to walk up.  This meant that we could only go up to the second floor (there are three viewing levels), but it made for a much shorter wait.  670 steps later, we were there.  The view was amazing!

We also went into Notre Dame cathedral.  It’s a beautiful monument.  It seems impossible that it was built so long ago.  It would be neat to run around and check out all its nooks and crannies.  But climbing the tower meant another queue, one that I wasn’t willing to wait or pay for.  Also, most of it is off-limits, understandably.

And we went to the Louvre.  I was surprisingly disappointed.  Like Craig said, it’s the art equivalent of reading the phonebook.  Part of the problem was undoubtedly the fact that we tried to take in too much in one day.  It’s huge, and has an astonishing collection of art, but there’s so much of it, in every room, that it doesn’t seem like it has any kind of rhyme or reason to it.  There were some beautiful pieces, of course.  And the Michaelangelo statues they have were amazing.  But it’s all too much to take at once.  Jean-Marc later mentioned that he used to work nearby and had a membership, so he used to pop in on his way to work, just to look at one or two rooms, and then leave.  That’s the way to do it.  Clearly, I have to come to Paris for two years and do this!

Crowd of people taking pictures of Mona Lisa, complete with guard making sure nobody goes right up and licks it. Or, probably, so that nobody gets pushed by the crowd and ends up squashed against the wall. Dr. Thingo got in trouble for taking pictures of the crowd. The kids and I are in there somewhere.

I did brave the mob of people and pushed my way to the front to actually see the Mona Lisa.  Most of that mob of people was taking a picture (why???).  The Mona Lisa itself is kinda small.  I was surprised.

We went to the Palais de la découverte, which is a science museum established in the western wing of the Grand Palais.  The Grand Palais itself was built in the late 1800’s for the Exposition universelle of 1900.  The museum itself was quite good – like the Ontario Science Centre, only better, I think.  And they give these great demos and small talks throughout the day.  We went to a dinosaur one that I enjoyed a lot, but the presenter spoke very quickly, so most of it was lost on the kids.  But I learned a lot!  We went to meet Jean-Marc and see the exhibit on symmetry that he helped create, in the Math section.

I love the juxtaposition of science exhibit and palace.

My favourite part, though, was Les Berges.  This is a temporary (I think) installation of play areas on the banks right next to the Seine, between the Pont de l’Alma and the Pont royal.  They have boardwalks, and gardens, rest areas, lounging areas, a bouldering wall, cafes, exercise stations, a music zone.  It’s a 2 kilometre stretch, and we had a good time walking and letting the kids try out all the stuff (and us too sometimes.  I still can’t do chin-ups.  Sad.)

And, in the only bout of shopping we had since we left Canada, we hit the Pralus store for yummy chocolate, La droguerie for a yummy scarf kit, and Gibert Joseph for comic books (en français) ostensibly for the kids, but really for me.

And then it was time to go!  We came back to London on the Eurostar.  Which was a little scary during the 50-kilometre stretch when we were underground in the pitch blackness, under a body of water, ears popping from the change in altitude, trying not to think what happens if the train stops suddenly and you have to get out somehow.   Maybe that’s just me.  But we made it, safe and sound.

I would like, if we go back, to go to the catacombs, and Montmartre, and just wander around some more.  We should go back.  It’s less than 3 hours away by train!

It’s good to be back in London and get settled.  And wear something different from the 5 t-shirts I brought with me on vacation.  And not have to worry about packing every couple of days, or cooking meals that will generate zero leftovers.  But what a good trip it was!  And now we get to explore London.  Well, in a few days, at least…

Gargoyle!


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Bruges – Days 14 to 17

We’re back in London!  Sorry about the radio silence – there was no wifi in the apartment in Paris, so I didn’t so much as check my email the whole time we were there. So I’m behind.  I haven’t told you about Bruges or Paris yet.  I’ll give you Bruges today, and Paris tomorrow.  And then hopefully I’ll have some London stuff to tell you.  All I can tell you for now is that I really like our house, and that I wish the owner had spent as much time clearing out their stuff and cleaning as I did on mine.  Oh well.

Full photo set for this post can be found here.

So, Bruges!  Or, more precisely, Brugge, which is the Flemish name, and it’s definitely in the Flemish-speaking part of the country (though from what I’ve seen of advertising, in English, it’s refered to as Bruges).  I didn’t know this, really. Truth be told, I didn’t know anything about the city at all, other than that it was pretty.  All I knew of Belgium was that it was flat, it invented french fries, it made a lot of beer, and has produced comic books, in French, that kept me entertained for most of my childhood.  So I assumed that we’d be leaving the Netherlands to go to a country where I was fluent in the official language, which would make a nice change.  I was wrong.  We crossed into Belgium on one of the four trains it took to get us to Bruges from Amsterdam without so much as a sign.  All of a sudden, there we were, in Belgium.  And the signs were all still in Dutch, with no French to be seen.  Turns out, while people can speak French there, they really don’t.  You have to go to Brussels for that.

“Sorry, you may not park here. Better to take the bus.”

Flemish is a dialect of Dutch, with a slightly different accent.  I still had my dictionary with me, and of course everybody could speak English, so we got along fine.

After the four-train trip to Bruges, we got off at the station, found the right bus to take and went most of the way to our B&B (the bus driver dropped us off at the wrong stop).  Dr. Thingo eventually got us oriented and we finally made it there.  It looked like a suburban house, but has evidently been running as a B&B for some time, even getting some awards.  It’s a nice place – I recommend it if you’re ever there.  The owners were very welcoming.

The one little drawback is that it was 3km from the centre of town, which is where you want to hang out.  This made for some tiring days, and a fair amount of whining from the youngest member of our group.  We walked it every day, because it was easier to do than to figure out, and wait for, the bus.  Which made up a little for the fries and beer.

It’s like this everywhere. Old trees and old buildings and mossy bridges. Beautiful!

Bruges, as promised, is beautiful.  The centre of town is still mostly original buildings, most dating back to the middle ages, and very well preserved.  That, combined with the canals means that everywhere you looked, it was pretty.  Postcard-pretty.

We went up in the Belfry (or Belfort, in Flemish), all 366 steps of it (there may have been incentive, in the form of waffles, promised for after).  The Belfry was cool – it was built in the 13th century, and underwent many changes in the meantime.  The climb was fun, with some stops on the way to look at the bells, and the carillon, which still rings every 15 minutes, driven by a huge copper drum that looks like an enormous version of those wind-up music boxes that play things like Swan Lake with a spinning ballerina at the top.

The Belfry.

View from the Belfry. Note the flatness.

We took a boat tour, too, which was a nice way to see the city.  The driver gave a blazingly fast commentary in FlemishFrenchEnglish.  Again, everywhere you looked, it was pretty.  And it was a lovely warm day.  We visited a chocolate museum, which was surprisingly informative, and came with a demo and tasting at the end.  And we went into one of the cathedrals (Notre-Dame – a Gothic cathedral, but much smaller than the other Gothic cathedral of the same name in Paris).

Dr. Thingo and I relayed each other and took a stroll through the Béguinage.  They want you to be silent and contemplative when you go in there, so we thought it best to leave the kids out.  The site was beautiful, and calm, with an overgrown courtyard in the middle.  The Béguinage itself has an interesting history.  It’s basically a lay convent – the women lived in a monastic-type community, but didn’t take any vows.  They became more popular during the crusades – many men died, and so women came to the Béguinages as a way to live communally and survive.  They helped the poor, and got to keep their possessions and property if they had any and return to the world when they wanted to.  They are designated as UN heritage sites now.

The Béguinage from outside

Courtyard of the Béguinage

My favourite part of our trip to Bruges was a bike excursion we took.  Dr. Thingo found out about a network of bike trails that run along the canals.  So we rented bikes for a day, and set out.  Dr. Thingo and Vorlon shared a tandem bike, since they didn’t have individual bikes small enough for Vorlon.  Zebula and I got our own.  The tandem was weird – it was built like a mountain bike, but with a much shorter back end, clearly designed for a child.  We set off, at the recommendation of the bike rental guy, for Sluis, which he said was a nice little town about 17 km away.  The ride was lovely, all along the aspen-lined trails.  The trails were well-marked, and generally free from cars, though we did see a few (I wonder if they were supposed to be there).  We saw people fishing, a neat self-propelled ferry kind of thing, people camping, many cyclists, scooters, racing cyclists, a horse-drawn carriage, farms, cows, sheep. The trail was, of course, very flat.  Though at one point we were below the level of the canal (there was a dyke), so obviously there was some kind of grade change, but I didn’t notice it.

Tree-lined canal

Sluis itself, however, was a disappointment.  It was packed with tourists, and seemed only to offer stores and bad restaurants.  We’d brought lunch with us (bread and meat and cheese from the supermarket).  So we basically ate it, and some fries from one of the restaurants, and (surprisingly good) nectarines from one of the fruit stands, and headed back, with a little break at some ruins just outside of town.

Belgian cows. Or maybe they’re Dutch.

The surprise was that Sluis is actually in the Netherlands.  There was a tiny sign on one of the trails that said ‘Nederland’ on it, and that’s all the evidence you got that you were crossing a border.  I guess it’s not a big deal.  I’m just used to the border crossings in Canada, where you have to wait, and passports are stamped, and questions are sternly asked.  I can’t imagine these trails just started existing after the EU was founded, so maybe it was never a big deal.

Better view of the bike path.

So, disappointing tourist town notwithstanding, the ride was good.

I LOLed.

Once again, though, except for fries and beer, the food is nothing special. The beer, however, was very, very good.  My favourite was a Grimbergen (warning: super-annoying noisy website), which was blonde and nutty and lovely.

We spent three nights, in total.  The owner of the B&B insisted on driving us to the train station, which was very kind.  And bade us goodbye with three kisses each (Where I come from, it’s two.  Three seems like a lot of kissing!) The train to Paris was interesting.  There were two legs, one from Bruges to Brussels, and then from Brussels to Paris.   But I’ll talk more about the trip in tomorrow’s (I hope) post about Paris.  Stay tuned!


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Amstedam – Days 11-14

We’re in Bruges and have been here for three nights.  We’re leaving for Paris today (!), but I haven’t put a post up on Amsterdam, so here I am.  The rest of the family is still sleeping – I’ll try to type quietly.

The view from the living room window, looking to the right, of our flat. Do people ever take this for granted when they live here?

The full photo set for this post can be found here.

I loved Amsterdam.  Though when we first arrived, I felt overwhelmed.  Enschede was nice, but fairly small, with a population of about 158 000 (thanks, Wikipedia).  Amsterdam is far, far busier, and when we got there , it felt like it was probably 80% tourists.   We figured out how to get to our flat, and hauled our possessions up 4 storeys.  Our flat was great!  Bright, and spacious, though a little short – Dr. Thingo had to be careful all the time not to whack his head on any beams.  Except for the shortness, and the 68 very steep steps it took to get up there, it was perfect!  I’d be in good shape if I lived here.  Or only leave the house once per day.

The traffic is busy, and we learned quickly to lookout for bikes and cars – the cars come from the direction they should (the roads on either sides of the canals are one-way), but bikes come from everywhere, usually ridden by tourists who have rented them and are still a little wobbly (cobblestones are hard to ride on).  Bikes rule the road here, just like in Enschede.  Still no helmets.

The living room window. It made me very nervous.

It was nice to get into a place where we could cook our own meals.  We did, only eating out for lunch.  This made a nice change from heavy restaurant food, and saved some money.  As in other places I’ve been, the food in supermarkets is quite inexpensive.  Basically, as soon as somebody prepares it for you, the price goes way up.  Which I guess is true in Canada too, but with less of a difference between the raw goods price and the finished product price.

We took a boat tour before dinner on the day we arrived.   It made for lousy pictures, since the boat moved fairly quickly and we were pretty low down.  But it gave a good overview of the city.

I think the boat captain said there were seven bridges in a row in this view, but you can’t see them all here.

On our first full day, we went to visit the Tropenmuseum, which is currently showing an exhibition on Escher and Islamic Art (which is a good summary of Dr. Thingo’s PhD thesis…).  The exhibition was great, and the rest of the museum was impressive.  It used to be called something like the Colonial Museum.  It felt a little strange – the theme of the museum is basically ‘stuff we took from places we’ve colonized’ – but the focus is shifting from ‘stuff they took’ to more of a historical and cultural focus.  It was very interesting.

I also found a yarn shop, less than 5 minutes from the flat.  Penelope’s Craft, it was called.  The owner (I think she was the owner) was from Colorado.  The selection was nice, but I didn’t end up getting anything.  I had sort of meant to go back, but never got around to it.  We also hit a couple of bookstores – the kids each got a book (in English…) to freshen up their reading selection.

The next day, we went to the Rijksmusem.  The Rijksmuseum is AMAZING.  For one, it’s huge!  For another, it’s crammed full of art, furniture, textiles, model ships, jewelry.  We split up, Vorlon and Dr. Thingo headed off in one direction and Zebula and I went in another.  My favourite artists were Breitner and Rembrandt.   I’d have liked to spend more time gazing at paintings.  I could easily have spent two days in there.  But the kids’ attention spans would not have allowed it.

Knitted whalers’ hats.

Then we made our way back to the flat to catch the end of the Gay Pride parade.  That was also huge.  There were hoardes of people lined up along the Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal) to watch the floats.  People were walking down the street, drinking beer, in a cheerful mood.  Considering how much public drinking there was, and the fact that most people were not locals, I was surprised at how well-mannered the crowd was.  Many stores were decorated with rainbow displays.   And it was a beautiful day.

A couple of people turned up for the parade.

People were watching from windows (including us – we secured a ground-level windowsill).  Float after shiny float went by.  Lots of 80’s dance music.  Lots of gold and silver lame.  And feathers.  And I’ve never seen so many buff, hairless abs in one place, both in the floats and in the audience.  It was a lot of fun.  Though I feel sorry for the street sweepers – the streets were a mess of confetti and empty beer cans after it was all over.  The party went on for quite a while after the parade was done.  We could hear boats playing loud music passing by our window for a long time after.  Actually, there were party boats passing by the window every night we were here, but the noise would end by midnight every night (is that when they open the sluices?  I should look it up).  I liked it, actually – I liked having that much life happening just outside the window.

We left the next morning for Bruges (or Brugge, as is more appropriate – the official language in that part of Belgium is not French, as I thought, but Flemish (which is a dialect of Dutch)).  But more on that later.

I was a little sorry to leave here. I would have liked so spend a little more time to get to know the city a little better.  Though maybe in the winter, when there aren’t so many tourists.


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Enschede Part 2 – Days 8 – 11

Goedemorgen van Amsterdam!

We’re in Amsterdam, and leaving tomorrow, but I thought I should catch up on the end of Enschede before we leave here.  I’m currently at the dining room table of our flat, drinking coffee, listening to the kids waking up, looking out of the huge windows onto the Emperor’s Canal (Keizerssgracht).  It’s pretty wonderful.

Full photo set for this post can be found here.

The kids and I went to the Rijksmuseum Twente which is translated, I guess, as Heritage Museum.  ‘Rijk’ means rich.  Twente is the region Enschede is in.  There’s also a Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which we’re planning to visit.  The museum building was donated by a textile merchant, who also donated his personal art collection.  All the works were by Dutch artists.  I quite enjoyed it, though the kids lost patience before I did.  My favourite artist was Renie Spoelstra – she does large-scale (2 – 3 m wide) charcoal drawings and I found them very absorbing.

Rijksmuseum. I don’t know what was so funny.

It wasn’t that warm that day.  Maybe 19 degrees in the afternoon.  On the way back to the B&B, we stopped by the skate park near the train station, which has a long, flat water fountain.  There were no skaters there, and our neighbours (who did the mime show a couple of nights before) showed up.  The younger one’s intent was to go in the fountain, as she’d seen somebody do that a few days before.  So in she went, and in all the other kids went.  It looked like fun.  But it was freezing!!

(Names and faces omitted for privacy)

Until some skaters showed up, and told us, mostly politely, that the kids were making the ground slippery and could they please stop.  We soggily walked home, and the kids got changed and warmed up and all piled up in the room next door to watch a movie.  It was nice that they all hit it off like that.  It made for some fun breakfasts in the common room in the morning!

The next day was bike excursion day.  The tour was run by one of the conference attendees, who is an architect and lives in Enschede, and wanted to give us a tour of some interesting local buildings and landmarks.  I appreciate architecture, but don’t really know much about it.  I just wanted to go biking!  They provided us with rental bikes, including the kids.  Unfortunately, Vorlon was too short for his, so the original plan was that Craig would just take him on his luggage rack, as we’ve seen many people do here.  Another local attendee, whose name I never got, kindly offered to take Jonas with him, both because he was used to having people behind him, and because he had saddlebags, which Vorlon could straddle and which would prevent any foot-spoke interaction.

I love how smug Vorlon looks in this picture.

These bikes were comfy.  Zebula asked me at some point what the difference was between Dutch bikes and ours at home.  We’d just walked by a bike shop, and I was a little shocked at the prices (they’re not cheap).  But it makes sense – these bikes aren’t built to be recreational (light, fast, etc) – they’re built to be very functional and comfortable.  And they are – they’re solid and heavy, you sit upright and high up (not like on a Townie cruiser-type bikes, where you’re low enough to the ground that you can touch when you’re sitting on the seat), they come with some kind of cargo attachment (in the case of the rental bikes, there were rear racks.) and the seats are wide and have shocks.  Very comfy.

The tour took us to various buildings, including a super-energy-efficient office tower (one of only five buildings in the Netherlands that meets the requirements for the highest rating), a synagogue (“the most beautiful synagogue in Western Europe”!), a Pavilion built from plastic bottles, an art dealer’s private home, some artists’ studios, and the neighbourhood where a fireworks factory explosion caused a lot of damage, and which has since rebuilt.  (there are more details in the photo descriptions in the Flickr link above, if you’re so inclined). My favourite part of the tour was just the biking around.  Zebula loved being helmetless.  Me too, truth be told, but I had to fight hard against 30 years of conditioning.  I got over it.

It isn’t like this everywhere, but this was a nice example of what the bike infrastructure looks like from above. Bike lanes are the red ones.

Zebula’s on the red bike. Dr. Thingo is just ahead of her.

This is how Vorlon enjoyed the tour. People do this all the time in the Netherlands. And I took this picture while biking, which I do not normally condone.

Community garden at PET pavilion

Synagogue ceiling

Vorlon plus graffiti

I love my bike.

We wrapped up the day with dinner with a bunch of Bridges attendees, on a terrace outside.  Very pleasant and quite delicious.  We left the next morning and headed to Amsterdam (two trains).  Next post, Amsterdam!

ETA: Fixed bad Dutch.

ETA 2: Fixed Vorlon’s secret identity