Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Zipping through the trees

On a recent weekend, we took the kids to a local adventure park where they could climb up high in the trees and fly around on zip lines. 

Luckily for my heart, the beginner course wasn't too far off the ground.

Needless to say, they loved it. 

 First, we did a brief training where they taught us the procedures, including how to clip and unclip the two carabineers attached to the harnesses.  One of the carabineers had to be clipped to a rope at all times.  

And then they turned the kids loose to climb... 

 ...tightrope walk...

...leap from one swinging log to the next...

 ...and generally have a fabulous time. 

This round, we convinced the kids to stick to the relatively tame "debutante" course, but I have a feeling next time they're going for the scary course!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Eernewoude, Holland

So my plan of getting caught up on this blog isn't going too well.  Lately it's been derailed by my obsessive planning of our next getaway, a road trip from Luxembourg through France to Normandy and Brittany.  And when I say "obsessive," sadly, I am not exaggerating.  The planning may or may not have involved multiple Excel spread sheets, several potential Google map itineraries, hours (days?) spent reading hotel reviews on Booking.com and scouring travel forums for the very best places to visit.  (No one has ever accused me of being spontaneous.  Or underprepared.)  But it's all planned and booked now, which means I once again have time to write about our past adventures!

During the kids' spring break, we spent a few days in the north of Holland, an area we'd never visited before.  It was the wrong time and location for seeing tulips, but we'd already done that so we didn't mind.  Even better, we went with some Dutch friends who knew the area well and did an excellent job of playing tour guide for us.

That, I have decided, is the best way to travel.

The tiny town we stayed in, Eernewoude, is in the province of Friesland way up in the north of Holland.  I knew nothing about it before we went but it is a beautiful place that seems very proud of its identity.  They have their own language (Frisian) and their own flag too:

We rented a bungalow in a lovely national park that was crisscrossed with canals (some bungalows even come with a boat!) and beautiful nature trails to explore.  It was gorgeous.

The view behind our bungalow
The bungalows

Lots of houses in the area were topped by these decorative....things (I've forgotten what they're called), many in the form of swans.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit to a farm that produces cheese.   First we watched cheese being made in the factory. The curds/whey start in a giant vat and then are separated by machine and scooped--by hand--into round molds.

They make many different kinds of cheese.  On the day we visited, the cheese had cloves mixed in!
The molds are then stacked three-high and pressed down by machine so that all the whey drains away.
Kate found the whole procedure fascinating.
Then the cheese moves into the next room to be coated, aged and sealed in wax. 
Will didn't really like this part of the tour.  It did smell pretty bad.

After touring the factory, we got to visit the farm and see the cows that provide the milk for the cheese. 

Will skipped most of this part too.  According to him, it didn't smell much better than the factory.
Naturally, we bought a ton of cheese in the gift shop, and Kate and I made a pretty good dent in it before we even left Holland.

I also really enjoyed driving around the cute little villages in the area.  Unfortunately, I didn't get many pictures but did manage to snap a few photos of the thatched houses that seemed to be everywhere!

Interestingly, many of them were only half-thatch, half-tile.  
When I asked about the half-thatched roof, my friend told me that the back part of the house used to be the barn and was tacked on to the originally very small farmer's house much later.  More info on Frisian farmhouses here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frisian_farmhouse

It was a very relaxed vacation.  We spent time just wandering around the park, chatting, letting the kids play together, drinking coffee.  Though our friends kept worrying that we would be bored (one of them referred to the area as "the Oklahoma of Holland") we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  It was so nice to discover an area of Holland we may never have thought to visit, to enjoy the picturesque villages and countryside (the kids were particularly delighted by the adorable lambs that were everywhere) and for me, just this once, to leave the planning to someone else.

No obsessing necessary...

More tourist info on Friesland

Saturday, May 5, 2012

And so it begins...

...the onslaught of mail that I cannot read.  At all.

I guess this move really is happening, despite the fact that I've been doing my best not to think about it for the past couple of months.  Though we won't actually move until July when the kids finish school, we got the keys to the house in Berlin this past week.  So for the next couple of months, Roger will be camping out there during the week, flying home for the weekends.  There's no furniture, of course, and it'll be pretty dark since there are no light fixtures either.  Oops.  We forgot about that part.  Personally, I'd have let the company put me up in a cushy hotel instead of camping out in a dark, empty house but Roger is determined to stay there.  I'm thinking the kids and I will take a trip to Berlin soon so we can hit up Ikea for a lamp or two and maybe an air mattress. :)  And then maybe we can do some painting and figure out if all our furniture is going to fit.  Oh, wow.  We have a lot of work to do, don't we?

On a related note, I started my first German class this week.  It was... hard.  The teacher rattled on in German and I think I caught about every tenth word.  She asked some questions, answered them herself, then the students were supposed to do the same.  I contributed a lot of blank stares and not much else.  I didn't realize quite how lucky I was to have a solid background in French before moving here, not that my French is perfect, but I can at least understand most conversations and read my mail, for goodness sake!

I have a feeling that Google Translate and I are going to become the very best of friends in the near future...