Archive for 2008
The mission: Christmas markets in Cologne (known in Dutch as Keulen and in German as Köln (and apparently in Spanish as Colonia – somehow my Google Maps started giving me Spanish names)). We left Sunday morning for the two hour drive to a park and ride on the outskirts of town where we took the metro into the city, a choice we patted ourselves on the back for once we saw the traffic downtown. Plus, I think we would have had to buy an emissions sticker for our car in order to enter the centre. The metro was great and our hotel was in a perfect spot within minutes of the train station two of the markets. And they had the crib for Sprocket all set up. Very nice.
We got there, met my cousin and her friend who were on a semester abroad and travelling to a new place every weekend. They were here despite their scheduled departure for Canada in two days. Together we wandered around the angel market. Then Sprocket and Dutch Boy had had enough and went back to the hotel for a nap and I wandered with the girls in the central market and in the gnomey market – checked out the boat market but that involved a €2 entrance fee. Said goodbye to the girls and feasted on market food: Hungarian pizza with a salty soft cheese and herbs, mushrooms with creme fraiche and herbs, gluhwein and a baked apple added to the potato pancakes with applesauce I’d had earlier.
Monday we saw the cathedral – truly impressive – and wandered around four of the markets, as well as picking up some vegetarian baby food and other good German baby stuff. Our hotel breakfast buffet was good so we didn’t eat for a while, but we had roasted chestnuts (which Sprocket loved!), a fresh pretzel, potato dumplings with sauerkraut, some gluhwein, more potato pancakes with applesauce, a different Hungarian pizza with a sort of sweet and sour sauce on it (it being deep fried bread) and a pizza from Alsace-Lorraine.
Today after another good breakfast we packed up and did some last minute shopping before heading home through the fog. For pictures of the trip click on the photo below, or here
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Zeeland was the last Dutch province Sprocket and I hadn’t been to, so of course, that’s where we went for a weekend away. We spent the weekend in a little town, Breskens. We rented a bungalow (the Dutch use the word for vacation houses) in a bungalow park close to the beach. It was quite nice – two stories, a bedroom, big bathroom and living area on the ground floor and two bedrooms (and a sleeping closet) and another bathroom on the upper floor, 8 beds in total. It was in a complex of similar houses. Here’s the view out the upstairs bathroom window – the ridge behind the houses a dike, behind it is the sea.
We got there late on Friday night since I planned a long route, hoping to go see the Oosterscheldekering and the cool, free museum I’d heard about, with working models of the whole thing. Of course, we got on the road later than we’d thought (why are we still surprised by this?) and by the time we got there it was about 4 pm. No problem right, it’s free. No. Sometime recently the museum became for profit, and quite healthy profit at that, and they augmented the stuff we wanted to see with all sorts of water attractions. Sigh. We were looking at €30 to go in for the hour they were still open, including parking. Needless to say, we didn’t.
Then I thought we’d take the ferry between Vlissingen (Flushing) and Breskens. Unfortunately, I was looking at an old map since the ferry now only takes foot and bicycle passengers since there’s a tunnel a little way over and I didn’t look at the new map until we were in Vlissingen. Oops. And Sprocket wasn’t all that thrilled with spending so long in the car.
But we got there all right, and actually watched The Bank Job on DVD (been a long time since we did that!) after Sprocket went to sleep. Saturday we had a lazy day, and in the afternoon finally went for a walk along the beach. Here’s looking down at the bungalow park from the top of the dike.
It’s a beautiful beach and I’m sure it’s cheek-to-jowl in the high season. I don’t think I’d like it then, but it was nice, if very windy, now.
We walked over to the old ferry terminal, and I had a bit of fun taking black and white pictures of the abandoned car terminal.
After a snack, we walked back. Sprocket doesn’t like to keep his mittens on.
Our little family.
We saw a lot of ships go by, stacked high with containers. They move pretty fast those ships.
Then we went to the supermarket for dinner makings for dinner for ourselves and Dutch Boy’s sister C and her boyfriend N who joined us Saturday night. After all, we were having problems using all 8 beds. We had a fun time, actually played Monopoly (they have all Dutch street names). Not sure when the last time I played that game. C was lucky in the property acquisition and refused to trade almost any of them, so won.
The next day C and N looked after Sprocket and Dutch Boy and I escaped to Vlissingen. Long walk in along a windy boring shore.
Under the windmill and cannons was a museum in an old German bunker. It had been restored to how it looked like when the Germans occupied it and had all sorts of old memorabilia. The volunteer manning the bunker said something that originally got my dander up – he said that the Allies, when attacking, hadn’t cared about the inhabitants, just the strategic value of the place. I misunderstood at first and agreed with him, thinking he was talking about the Germans, which annoyed me when I figured out I’d agreed with him in criticizing my own country’s actions when we all know that the Allies were in it for noble reasons (yes, that is to be read a bit ironically). But I just read the Wikipedia entry, and maybe he had a point. Although it was important to take the port of Antwerp to help liberate the rest of Western Europe, the civilians in this area didn’t fare so well.
We then wandered around Vlissingen, which the English for some reason call Flushing, a cute old town.
We joined this guy at looking up
But we’re not sure what we were looking at
After a lovely hot chocolate (a chunk of dark chocolate on a stick, melted in steamed milk) and a bit more of a wander with the evening moon appearing
We caught the bus back to the ferry with a minute to spare, and walked back to the house along the beach.
After dinner, C and N left and I studied for my Dutch writing test the next day (bad timing, yes, but we planned this weekend long ago).
Without the detours, the ride back was just over two hours, which got me to the test on time. I think it went well – it just measures what level I’m in now, but should give me some indication of how much longer I’ll be studying. Luckily for me, the first question on the test was to write an email to a friend about a recent vacation and advise her whether she would go. I didn’t have to think too hard for that one!
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When people asked where we were going on vacation, we pointed vaguely east and said “that way.” But even though we didn’t know exactly where we were going, we were determined to leave Wednesday night, 20 August. Of course, because it was us, that turned into very, very late on Wednesday. It didn’t matter so much since our first step was Dutch Boy’s parents, from whom we were borrowing a bigger tent. We got there late and only didn’t wake them up because they sleep especially soundly.
We spent most of Thursday with Dutch Boy’s mum and had a nice wander and a yummy coffee with her. We left in the late afternoon and made it through Belgium to Luxembourg, where we camped at Troisvierges (three virgins). Troisvierges was where the hostilities on the Western Front began on Aug 1, 1914 when the Germans violated Luxembourg’s neutrality. It’s also where the Battle of the Bulge was fought. It’s interesting seeing what that area looks like after having heard so much about it in history class – I hadn’t known it was so hilly.
As darkness fell, we put up the tent, which took a bit of figuring out – the English translation kept saying “zipper” when it meant the straps under the tent. Then, after a quick pasta dinner, to bed. The half-hourly trains 100 feet from our tent were a little annoying, as were the teens breaking into the pool and loudly chasing each other about. But probably most annoying, for Dutch Boy anyway, was that his ThermaRest was flat and wouldn’t hold air. He wasn’t so comfortable. Then Sprocket woke up a few times and was awake early. The positive side of being up early was that it let me experience the best thing about this campground: a bakery truck that made it’s rounds of the campground between 8 and 9 with all sorts of yummy baked goods – nothing like having the best baked goods we had all trip delivered right to the tent. I went back to sleep and Dutch Boy then tried to patch the ThermaRest, but it seemed to have spontaneously developed a myriad of small holes over an area – we’re not sure why as it was just fine when we had our camping trial. After this, we started to pack up – of course just as the rain began pouring down.
The mattress failure meant a trip to the border mall (mostly Belgians and Dutch shopping there – lower taxes in Luxembourg) to find a camping mattress. We went all car camping like and bought a big thick comfy double air mattress. After stocking up the food supplies we were on the road, again in the late afternoon and with the rain still heavily falling. We headed for camping in Saarburg, Germany, which I’ve just found out was occupied by Luxembourg after WWII. Dutch Boy was determined to camp, despite the continuing rain. Thus we found ourselves putting up a wet tent in the rain while Sprocket was confined and unhappy. It took over an hour and there was much swearing and insults to the designers of the tent on my part. It’s a great tent once it’s up, but is not designed for quick and easy ups and downs. Finally it was up and the rain stopped and we went to sleep – a sleep marred for me by being cold because of the cold air trapped in the air mattress.
The next morning I had absolutely no desire to take the tent down again, so we ended up spending the afternoon taking the cable car down the hill to Saarburg, which turned out to be a charming little town, although being Saturday everything except cafes had already closed at 1 pm. We did find an open supermarket and bought dinner. We also stocked up on baby food – surprisingly, the German’s have far more variety in jars of vegetarian baby food than the Dutch, although there is much less specifically vegetarian food available for adults both in the supermarket and in restaurants.
I had pushed for the campground we were in because it had a pool and I wanted to take Sprocket swimming; however, the experience was ruined a bit by an officious old life guard. The rules said that kids without a swimming certificate needed a floatation device, so even though Sprocket was not going to leave the hands of his parents he was forced into a floating seat which kept most of him out of the water – not really the point of the whole swimming thing, so we didn’t stay very long. It was the particularly joyless and condemning way that the man enforced the rules that really put, and pissed, me off. I’m not so good with mindless rule-following.
Sunday, we packed up and got on the road again, heading for the lovely old city of Heidelburg. We had a lovely wander through the town wherein Sprocket discovered that going aaaaaaaah is really fun while going over cobblestones. His normal stroller has big soft wheels and shocks so he doesn’t get to do that. We then took the funicular up to the castle ruins and had a nice dinner before heading to the Formula 1 to sleep. I had given Dutch Boy an ultimatum – the tent would go up only one more time on this trip. And Formula 1s are cheap and easy.
Monday we headed for the Romantische Straße, joining it in Feuchtwangen, a charming little town to stretch our legs in. Then down the Straße to Nördlingen, a quaint old town built inside a meteor impact crater. We walked through much of the city and along part of the wholly intact city wall. Then off to Augsburg to find a pension to sleep in. We were eventually successful and had a yummy dinner from a snack bar – thank goodness for immigrants.
Thanks to Sprocket, we were up for breakfast (pre-Sprocket, Dutch Boy and I tended to sleep through most hotel breakfasts) and on the road at a record-breaking pre-11. We headed straight for Füssen, where we stopped for lunch, before looking for the campground that would be our home for the next four nights. We settled on the camping on the lake near Wertach.
Wednesday we were up early and reasonably well-rested so we decided to do our long driving day to Liechtenstein. We headed off to the alps and had a most scenic drive through Austria – I failed to hold myself back from singing “The hills are alive….”. Of course one road turned out to be much slower than we’d thought – we barely left second gear – so we reached Liechtenstein in the late afternoon. Now, that is a small country. It’s also much less cute than we’d imagined – I had in my mind a quaint cobblestoned windystreeted sort of place, so wasn’t quite prepared for the modernity we found. There were some nice older houses, but not the scenicness we’d thought there’d be. No matter, we did accomplish the primary goal, which was to get a stamp in Sprocket’s passport. Many, many years ago my parents took 3-year-old me and my less than one-year-old sister hitch-hiking through Europe. At that point the two of us shared a passport, so my father made sure it got stamped in Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, two little countries for two little girls. We just needed one and Liechtenstein makes it easy – they do it for €2 at the tourist office – so Sprocket’s Dutch passport now has one stamp. His Canadian one doesn’t have any.
After Liechtenstein, we took the faster way back to Wertach, going through Switzerland. The day’s trip had me edging out Dutch Boy from the lead in the countries visited game, giving me 32 to his 31, and put Sprocket at 11, meaning we have a break if we want to keep months of life and countries visited on par. Of course Dutch Boy is now talking about going to Denmark and Sweden so he can take the lead again. We got back to Wertach fairly late, but our worries about the gate being closed were unfounded – oh, it said it would be, but I think it relies on the rule-following Germans to just believe that it is so because it opened for us.
Thursday we did nothing but sit around and read. Oh, we walked into town to buy dinner at the grocery store, but nothing else. It hit me how hard it must be to be vegetarian in non-urban Germany – the grocery store didn’t even have tofu! Now, I don’t eat a lot of tofu, but it is reflective of a vegetarian presence, so that was a bit surprising. Lovely day in the sun. Sprocket really enjoys playing outside.
Friday, our last day, we again got a late start but headed out to visit Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle of “mad” King Ludwig. But tales of his madness were greatly exaggerated in order to depose him and stop him spending money. The interior of the castle is fabulous and worth the hike to the top. Sprocket loved being able to see everything from his back carrier and spontaneously serenaded our tour group in many rooms, testing the acoustics. After the castle (and a nice fresh pretzel on the way down), we went for dinner in a nearby town on the lake. Quite a nice dinner – I have to say that German food is better than Dutch, much more flavourful (if, of course, you can find something without meat in it). Then back to the campground (late again) for our last night.
Saturday dawned hot and clear again – we’d had wonderful weather the whole week since we’d left Saarburg – and we packed up and got ready to go. We were in no hurry since we planned a leisurely two-day return, so we got on the road at 1. However, en route it became apparent that we could get home that night if we pushed a bit, so we did, stopping only to stock up on veggie baby food and German beer. We were home by midnight, which gave us Sunday to unpack and unwind. All in all a lovely vacation, despite the camping bumps in the beginning.
For a whole gallery of pictures, click on the photo below or here.
And this was the trip down:
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And the return trip:
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Today we took a short jaunt to Schokland, the Netherlands’ first UNESCO World Heritage Site (there are now several others). It was pretty sad compared to some of the other UNESCO sites I’ve been to, and I got to wondering just how many that was and whether I was just remembering the spectacular ones so I compiled a list. Turns out I wasn’t – pretty much all the other ones I’ve been to are better than Schokland.
Schokland is a beautiful place, and it does have a cool history and I think I would have liked it a lot more had I not been expecting something in the order of the other UNESCO sites I’ve been to. Schokland was an island in the Dutch Zuiderzee, and in the Middle Ages was a thriving community. But with the rise of the sea, the island became increasingly threatened and the islanders restricted to three elevated parts with a wooden walkway only wide enough for one person to walk along – this led to the Schokland dance, a sort of dos-si-do to get around each other on the walk. The island flooded badly in 1825 and in 1859 the King, tired of expensive emergency relief, ordered the islanders to move elsewhere and destroyed most of the buildings, I guess so no one could go back. In the early 20th century the sea in that area was reclaimed, and now the former island is surrounded by some of the flattest land you’ve ever seen, flat even by Dutch standards.
The lack of awesomeness comes mostly from the fact that most things were destroyed as the island was abandoned. There’s a museum there which is reasonably interesting though, and there’s a bunch of archaeology stuff. And the landscape, the former island raised just slightly above the seas of grass, is pretty. It was a nice afternoon, but it was not awe-inspiring the way some of those other UNESCO sites were. However, we did get to go eat at my favourite restaurant in Lelystad, the vegetarian Chinese place, afterwards, and that made the day great! Pictures are available by clicking on the cow sculpture below.
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We have plans to go on a camping trip for the last two weeks of August. Normally, no problem, but we weren’t sure how Sprocket would react to camping. I’d done some internet research and consensus seemed to be that babies slept better than ever in tents and they didn’t need a special bed, just to be cuddling with the parents. So we decided to try camping with our existing equipment, just to see how it went.
Our trial trip was the weekend of Dutch Boy’s birthday. The night before we left, a friend kindly offered to babysit, and we got our first date night since Sprocket was born – dinner and a movie. As fun and needed as that was, it did put us behind in our packing, and it wasn’t until late afternoon that we managed to get on the road. We abandoned scenic routes through the Netherlands.
Once in Germany, we were presented with thunderstorms so intense that it was hard to see where we were going, which sort of took away the fun of the autobahn since we couldn’t safely drive the posted suggestion of 130 kmh, let alone any faster. And as evening came, we decided to try and find a hotel in Brühl because it was still absolutely pounding down rain. But none of the hotels had a crib and we hadn’t brought anything but the tent. Just as we were trying to decide if Sprocket could sleep between us, the rain let up some and we deided to try camping. That was the point of this weekend, after all.
The second campground had room for us – apparently a bunch of folks had left because of the wetness. We set up the tent and had dinner at the campsite restaurant slash fly attraction. Dutch Boy got a special treat – he got to speak Spanish and German when he helped a Spanish family communicate with the server. And then we attempted sleep.
Sprocket went down to sleep without problems, but didn’t really stay that way. And in an effort to not be the most hated people in the campground, I fed him each time and got him back to sleep. By morning Sprocket was OK, and Dutch Boy and I were pooped. After a bit of play time, Dutch Boy went off to find money – we’re so used to pinning, or using our debit cards, that we forgot that this wouldn’t work elsewhere and the campground didn’t take credit cards – and I went back to sleep.
Needless to say, after a search for a bakery for breakfast – and man do the Germans make bad coffee – we again got a late start. We decided to just head down to the Mosel, the river that flows from the Rhine to Luxembourg. The roads along the entire valley are marked green for scenic and the hills are lined with vineyards. Of course we took the green scenic roads to get there. We were amazed at the sheer numbers of motorbikes on the roads, and envied them a fair amount. When we realized we were going right past the Nürburgring all the bikes suddenly made a lot of sense. Well, that and the roads were perfect for biking.
We reached the Mosel in Cochem, a scenic type place complete with castle and tons of tourists. We took a wander around and had ice cream – it was a very warm and humid day – I have to say I was tempted by the cuckoo clocks for sheer tackiness value.
Then time to go home, via a bit more of the river and then the autobahn to Belgium, where we would stop for dinner. I mean, if you had a choice between eating in Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, what would you do? I got to play on the autobahn this time, determining that the car’s top speed is 160 kmh but that I feel most comfortable in that car at about 140. Eventually the thunderstorms started again so we had to slow down. I felt bad for all the motorcyclists stuck under overpasses waiting it out. Dinner was at covered tables watching intermittent thunderstorms and downpours in Malmedy. To really make it special for Dutch Boy, he got to practice his last language, French, making it all five for the weekend, as well as Limburgs to his parents.
And then home, contemplating our lessons from the weekend. Sprocket loves being in the tent and camping, but we are going to buy him a separate camping bed and probably borrow a tent from Dutch Boy’s parents. And we’re going to have to modify our style somewhat, driving less and stopping more. But we’re looking forward to the trip.
So, click on the photo below for a link to the gallery where there are many more pictures, with descriptions even!
And for map folks, our route for the weekend.
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