The Air at 4 o’clock in the Morning

While I was gone my mother-in-law gave my husband some stuff to take home in this cute dish. I baked her a pie in it for when we return. It came out pretty. I put it beside my regular pie dish to show the difference. It’s hard to tell but it’s much smaller.

UGH! Re-entry continues much more slowly that I would prefer. I am so tired at 8pm I have to go to bed and then I’m wide awake at 4am. And my brain wheels can barely turn by the end of the day. Sure, it could be worse but the day is coming, very soon, when I’ll need to keep my eyes open past 8.

I had to retire one pair of my garden pants. The denim has been disintegrating for some time but yesterday I felt a breeze on my bottom and realized it was time to trash them. I’m wearing one of my other pairs but it’s pretty close to being done, too. I’m going to have to buy some new jeans and move some older pairs to the work pile.

This is the pumpkin patch this year. A little disappointing. The vines did get a little cooked a couple of times. I keep promising I’ll do homework to improve my results.

Yesterday I did some major clean up out there. I haven’t been able to do yardwork in weeks. I would say that this summer I have been at least 50% less active in the garden and the results are much less than 50% worse so I expect I will use this information as an excuse to be more lazy in the future. I didn’t yank the tomatoes but I whacked them back. We’ll see if I can get a few more tomatoes before we’re finished.

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Before and After

The sisters are swapped in the photo below, in case you can’t tell.I believe this photo is 1970-ish.

Home! A million things to do and running out the door right now to get back to work.

Hopefully more comprehensive catch-up this weekend.

Overall great trip, so glad we went.

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We made it to Bad Kissingen. Operation Elder Birthday is now in full swing.

I hope you all have the pleasure someday of having your almost 90 year old Auntie try to wrestle your suitcase from you when you come to visit. She wanted to carry it up the stairs. (No, I did not let her. She did get to carry the computer bag. You have to pick your battles with this woman.)

We had a nice visit last night and some dinner and have checked into our hotel. She’s already got us on a bus tour this afternoon.

My German Aunties just love shipping us off to a bus tour. I thought it would be nice to hang out at her place and read our books and drink lemonade but nope, we’re going to tour around the area – which is lovely right now. We’ve been so lucky on weather. It’s sunny but cool and you can see the trees starting to change. There’s a big tree outside the window of our hotel that has bright red leaves at the top.

The train journey went smoothly. We had this family with about 10 people and 15 ginormous suitcases, 2 whiny children and some noisy electronics in the car with us on the first leg. I was thrilled to switch trains in Brussels but they were in the same car on the leg to Frankfurt, too. To their credit, they tried to keep the kids entertained but they were only marginally successful.

We left them in Frankfurt.

A couple snafus: there was a problem with my credit card at the hotel yesterday – their machine was on the fritz and I think the multiple attempts must have triggered something on the bank’s end because they were unable to process the charge once the machine was working. Bob is going to get it sorted out. Then within a 12 hour period I had 4 phone calls from unknown numbers. That’s more incoming calls than I normally get in a month.

I put the phone on Do Not Disturb and am trying not to worry that this is some sort of scam that will turn up on my bill later. No time for problem solving right now.

We were able to wash some clothes last night and the shower in this hotel is wonderful so I’m refreshed and ready for my bus tour. The last hotel had a terrible shower: barely lukewarm mist so this was a great treat. Not sure if I’ll check in again. Maybe if I get some good shots from the bus tour.

(Aside to Kenman: we were on a DB train yesterday that was 10 minutes late!!)

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Great trip continues. I bought about 9 kinds of Belgian chocolate today and sampled it all and then wasn’t hungry for dinner. I ate something anyway and ordered a salad with goat cheese and bacon which was more goat cheese and bacon than salad. Way to make salad, Belgium. (Not complaining.)

I bought a bag of Belgian fudge which tasted like candy corn. Will re-wrap and hand off as a gift. Just kidding. (kinda). But everything else was amazing.

We took it easy today. A lot of the sights seemed so similar to things we’ve already seen we sort of glanced and moved on. We sat in the park for an hour and read our books and watched people play with their dogs.

First crisis of the trip. I have numerous itineraries in my computer, Google drive and email plus sent to other people. I made a single sheet cheat sheet with everything on it. And I wrote my Auntie’s phone number on it with a pen – meaning this was the only place I had the phone number. And guess what I lost?

Yeah, so I have calls in to husband and father to email us the phone number so we can remind her that we arrive tomorrow. Long day of travel tomorrow with a total of 4 (!) trains.

Belgian beer and chocolate: completely as advertised. Recommend.

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There Once Was A Lady From Gent

Doesn’t Gent sound like a town that people should be writing limericks about?

I thought having the laptop would be handy for blog posting but what I’ve been using it for the last half hour is looking up the best places to get croquettes in Bruges. (Where we’re going next.) We missed out on the place that was recommended to us here.

Gent is wonderful. I was in love with it 15 minutes after we got here. I didn’t hate Brussels but it’s quieter here and I think the people a tad friendlier. It’s busy but not chaotic. We’ve had really terrific meals the past 2 nights. And our hotel is wonderful. Excellent hospitality, great room, convenient location.

We’ve spent most of our time walking around, enjoying the weather and scenery.

This morning we went to the botanical garden and then spent most of the day at the Museum of Fine Arts. In the afternoon we walked around and sat in the sun by the canal before finding dinner.

I put Pixelmator on the laptop and am still learning to use it. Yes, there was major tweakage on this photo.

More time tomorrow before we go to Bruges. Our hotel host says it’s 23 minutes on the train. I said: it takes me longer to get to work. There are a few more things we’re hoping to check out here before we go to Bruges.

Two nights in Bruges and then to Bad Kissingen to visit the nonagenarian.

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Brussels Day 2

Before we do anything, if you haven’t seen the Daily Show clip on the Washington football team, please do so now.

Now back to Belgium.

We watched a half episode of Big Bang Theory dubbed in French. Hilarious.

Today we went to the European Union visitor center which was amazing. To see how far this vision goes back and how much work went into making it a reality. I have to say I was swept away by the presentation of the process for making a law and thinking how great it was.

Until I remembered that I was being shown an ideal of how the process works. I’m sure you could make an equally group-huggy video about the US Congress or the National Congress of American Indians but when you have some insight into how process actually works, it’s not quite as magical.

Not intending to knock it because giant collaborative efforts aren’t pretty – just pointing out that I know in reality there’s a lot more involved in making things happen.

In the afternoon we went to the fine arts museum which is housed together with the modern arts museum and the old masters museum and one or 2 other exhibits. We arrived late in the day (even skipping lunch, just like I would do with Bob) so it was a rush through. I told Erin I saw everything by jogging through the galleries.

We’re in a bit earlier tonight. We have some time here tomorrow and then we’re on our way to Ghent.

Yesterday when we came back from breakfast we noticed one of our curtains was missing. There is a gauzy white curtain and a heavy blackout curtain. The white one was missing. Oh no! We had opened the window wider to get some air in there. We looked down into the courtyard to see if our curtain was there.

It would have been quite a task to unhook it from all its hook and float away, but it seemed odd that the cleaning crew would come in and take our curtain and then go again. But that must be what happened. Our curtain was back when we returned last night.

At least 7 times a day I say, “Let’s never drive here.”

The driving seems extraordinarily insane. Narrow streets. Lots of cars and buses and vans. At one point we saw a car driving through an intersection stop for a car making waiting to make a left and chew the guy out. I’m not clear what the left turn guy was doing wrong or why it was worth the trouble to stop and yell at him. Later we saw a bus that was stalled? in the single lane moving in that direction. So buses and cars trying to get around it had to get in the oncoming traffic lane. So the oncoming traffic was jumping over a low lane divider to get in the bus/taxi lane.

The only car I’ve seen driving slowly was a driving school car. It’s a busy big city so maybe it will be different in a smaller place. However I will share that the guidebook said: don’t even think about driving in the fast lane on Belgian highways. They drive very fast and nose-to-tail and it’s too much if you’re not used to it.

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Severed Heads of State

Yesterday at the Belgium history museum I read that the King had met with severed heads of state. I had to pause a moment and try to figure out what that meant. He actually met with several heads of state. Whew.

The first night we were so tired we slept a good 12 hours+ solid. Not so lucky last night. I’m moving slowly this morning but I had my tea and ready to head out the door.

No time for an update. Lovely weather yesterday. Half of Belgium seems to smoke and the other half jog. At one point we thought we saw someone doing both. Chocolate on every street corner. Especially in the touristy zone. The Belgian beer is everything as advertised.

Hopefully time for more comprehensive update later.

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The original itinerary was for us to leave on Monday evening and arrive in Frankfurt on Tuesday afternoon. Then we’d have Tuesday as an acclimation day and then take the train to Brussels midday Wednesday.

But when we got to the airport on Monday I was showing my sister my airline app and we noticed that there was a delay on our domestic flight that would get us in after our international flight had taken off. Uh oh.

After a bit of a go around we were given a number of options that all ended with us taking the Tuesday Dulles flight to Frankfurt.

We went back home and returned Tuesday morning at dawn to catch a domestic flight, connected to the Frankfurt flight and arrived in Frankfurt at 7am Wednesday.

Our lovely acclimation period was ruined and we had to eat the Frankfurt hotel room. We spent the day willing ourselves to stay away and wandering around Frankfurt which was cool but some sun breaks and nice to be outside. Snacking also helped.

By the time we got on the train we were nodding off while we were talking. But we made it here. We found our hotel. We’ve had something to eat and we’re going to bed at 7:45pm. More details at 3am?

[Note to Bob, Erin is way better at this than we are together. She bought the SBahn tickets in 3 minutes while explaining to another traveler how to do it. She also is great at directions and maps. We also helped someone in the luggage room so somehow we are the pro travelers at this point.]

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Not in Belgium Yet

Just a test to make sure I know how to do this from my laptop. (By “this” I mean getting a photo off the camera, edit it and upload it and then post.) Yesterday I set everything up but didn’t have a change to try it out. Cab will be here in a couple hours.

I’ve already read these books but I’ve been wanting to read them again so a trip with lots of planes and trains seems like a good time. Bringing both is probably a bit optimistic but who knows?

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Quebec City and Montreal Wrap Up

Let’s see if I can get this story wrapped up because a new one is starting tomorrow.

We had a day planned for laundry and there was a place very close to our apartment except after wandering around in circles and using the “smart” phone we finally realized: it was gone, demolished for a new hospital that was being built.

There was only one way Bob could deal with a setback like this and that was food. He remembered a breakfast spot close by (because of course he did) so we went and fortified him with some sort of huge egg poutine thing with meat and cheese, and pancakes on the side. I got a fruit plate that was an actual fruit plate. There were at least 10 different kinds of fruit. I want that fruit plate to be served to me forever when I order a fruit plate.

We later found a different laundromat and in the process discovered another delightful neighborhood area that we wished we had more time to explore.

I guess it was the next day that we took the train to Quebec City. There is the mother of all food courts in the main train station in Montreal. I am not a big sandwich person and I couldn’t believe there were so many sandwiches I wanted to try, all collected under one roof. You can imagine how Bob felt.

The train ride was lovely and relaxing and went by too quick. We especially loved the safety routine which involved the train conductor pointing to a tiny red hammer next to the window at the front of the car and telling us, in case of emergency, to rap that in the corner of window and then kick the window out — but not onto active tracks. Then hand the hammer to the next people. He also asked for a volunteer to show the override on the door between the cars. We thought it was hilarious.

When we got to QC it was raining like crazy and we hauled our bags up the hill into Old Quebec which I didn’t realize was such a major tourist trap. Mobs of people everywhere, lots of pricey mediocre food. Our hotel was funky and overpriced but terrifically located. Due to the weather we didn’t wander around much but we found a dinner spot and I had MAPLE SYRUP PIE! It was like pecan pie only with maple syrup and no pecans. It hurt my teeth but I loved it.

The next day we got an early start but already the tour buses were disgorging their umbrella toting masses. We started off at the Plains of Abraham which was a battlefield site and then walked along a small portion of the riverside trail park. Gorgeous and peaceful.

Sadly, my notes at this point are pretty sketchy and also confusing but since you weren’t there and wouldn’t know the difference I’ll just make stuff up to fill in the skanty bits.

The first museum we hit was the Musee de la civilisation which turned out to be our favorite museum of the trip.

OH NO! While looking up stuff about this museum, I just learned this museum suffered a terrible fire. The article makes it sounds like the loses were minimal. I don’t have time to do more research but even the tiniest bit of damage is a shame.

There were amazing Fine Arts works, Canadian artists and amazing First Nations works. We had another terrific tour guide who took us through a historical tour and at the end someone asked her for her opinions on the secessionist movement and she gave a very diplomatic answer and then the person said: no, I wanted to know *your* opinion. And she was very careful but candid and loved that we were so interested.

At this point we had been moving for most of the day and I was drooping in a big way. There was a tiny cafe – more like a food counter and we had one of our best meals of QC: carrot & orange soup and a sandwich with goat cheese and vegetables. I had about 3 bites and Bob said: Are you feeling better? I said: After a snack and 5 minutes?

But I rallied and we went to at least 2 more museums that day. My notes say things like “old pottery” and “starting to get repetitive.”

Our last day we had a big chunk of time to kill between when we checked out of our hotel and when the train left. We went to the last museum on our museum card: Musée de l’Amérique francophone which is about the development of Francophone culture in North America. We don’t use the world Francophone enough. It’s such a great word.

From there we found a nice outdoor market and took turns sitting in the sunshine with the luggage or looking for fun snacks.

At one point two men were looking for a place to sit and of course our ugly American luggage was all over the place so I invited them to sit down as I moved all our stuff out of the way. They didn’t speak English and gave me a funny look but when they saw what I was doing they smiled and sat down. When they walked away one of the men turned around and waved and said very carefully: Good Bye.

That was another one of my favorite trip moments. It’s really weird to be in a place with English and French spoken side-by-side but finding pockets of one or the other where there isn’t crossover. We didn’t run into too many language problems and we tried to speak a few words of French here and there.

It was still a bit early for the train but there were some ominous clouds in the distance and I suggested we hustle our booties to the station. And about 15 minutes after we sat down there was one of those rain storms where you look outside and can’t believe how hard it’s raining. Lucky we weren’t caught in that.

We had a quiet trip on the train and got a little bit lost finding our last hotel. It was a funny place that was total low budget but very lovingly done. It was an old building that was once a nunnery and then a post office. The guy who was telling us this said: And who knows what next, maybe a prison. We had one more day in Montreal before we went home and we went to the Biodome which the Internet tells me represents the 4 major ecosystems of the Americas and the site was the velodrome for the 1976 Olympics.

It was one of the few really crowded sights of the trip and there were approximately 100 million children there so we got through pretty quick. It was really cool though. There were birds and penguins and we saw a capybara. We walked around another park and saw a fox. We did some more walking around Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood and by this time we were both getting fried.

We bought some food at a outdoor market by the train station and had a picnic at our room and back to the PACNW the next day.

These outdoor stairs are a Montreal thing. There’s a heritage article here and a history lesson here. We saw a snippet about them in one of the travel videos we watched.

Right before we left we chatted with the host of our funny hotel and I asked him about the stairs: Aren’t they dangerous in winter?

He shrugged and said: Everything is dangerous in winter.

On that note, I’m signing off. If all goes smoothly next time you hear from me I’ll be in Belgium.

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