Saturday, September 3, 2016

In Brugge

Our trip to Brugge, which was a few hours away from the Netherlands, was a magical experience...perhaps on par with Disneyland, but minus the rides. Mike had already visited during college, and was raving about how much he loved this place. In the evening, when all the lights were lit, it felt like a walk down main street. I know they do a lot of renovations (I hear the swans were added too) to this town in order to make it tourist-worthy, but we soaked it all up!

For our stay, we found a little B+B which was a self-sustained farm located just outside the city. The place had great reviews, and pricing was very modest. What made their breakfast so impressive was the fact that our hostess prepared mostly everything from scratch-- from the cheeses to the yogurt, jams, milk from their own cow, fresh eggs, quiches, sweet breads and she even took her apples to have them juiced  fresh at a local juicery! The room was what you would imagine a farmhouse loft to look like, but minus the filth and smell. It was incredibly spacious for our family, and it gave us a small taste of what life would be like, living on a little farm. Our oldest son loved seeing all the animals (even though the pigs sort of frightened him) and chasing the chickens. In the morning, they allowed us to watch the cow being milked using an electric pump (I had much empathy for the cow!), and then our hostess took the milk to be low-pasteurized. If anyone is ever thinking of visiting this beautiful, quaint town, I highly recommend Le Plat Pays!
Breakfast spread each morning at our B+B farmhouse

This building facade was several hundred years old, and currently houses a candy shop
Visiting the heart of Ghent, an old Medieval town next door to Brugge
A tiny soup n' sandwich shop bustling with locals- this was perhaps the most challenging dining location, as there was no space to put our stroller, and we even had a few nasty glares from customers who were unhappy about where we initially placed our folded-up stroller! Thankfully, we encountered some kind folks who gave us their space...-__-
First Liege waffle

A mix of old and new
Our favorite French girl drove all the way from Bretagne to meet up with us ^^
Brugge in all its picturesque glory- can you spot the swans?
Our hostess pasteurizing milk from their cows
The view from Belfry Tower 
The Chocolate Line -- Had the most interesting flavors, such as Cuban cigar! :O
Art during tea time with Morgane : )
JJ was entertained while we sampled beers ^^
The route to our farmhouse never got old
Our host, showing JJ Mama cow and Bebe calf
All smiles after breakfast


Old Photos from our Trip to the Netherlands

Stroopwafel hot off the press
Can't tell you how many people asked to take a photo of this pretty Dutch girl ^^
Demo for the kids on "How to make drinking chocolate."
A gloomy, drizzly day for visiting the windmills
We climbed inside a windmill!
And more windmills...
Our little room in the woods of Putten, Netherlands
Fell in love with the thatched rooftops
Into the fairytale-esq woods
Collecting acorns to leave a trail
Magical 'shrooms
Couldn't get enough of these beauties (and we didn't dare to touch or eat them!)
Missing Lukey at this age...they grow too quickly!
Yes, these photos are very much delayed from our trip last year in October to the Netherlands-- old enough to be considered throwbacks. We went as tagalongs for Daddy's business trip. I've been meaning to post the rest of these photos since my other post, but never got around to it. So here I am nearly a year later, getting hit hard by the travel bug and decided to revisit these old memories. 

To be honest, when Mike first suggested that we come along with him to the Netherlands, I wasn't all too excited. Sure, I had never been there, but other than the thought of windmills, wooden clogs, and the infamous Red Light District, I didn't know what else there was to see and do there-- and especially because I would be toting around two little ones on my own in a foreign little town up in the woods, an hour away from Amsterdam. 

Needless to say, we ended up going anyway as we usually do; I'll always choose travel over being at home! After our first few days in Amsterdam, we rented a car and drove into this little town called Putten, population: 24,148 (as of 2014), where Mike ended up having his work conference. There was something magical and fairytale-esq about being in the woods. The amount of greenery and fresh air was very different than the Redwood trees we typically saw in California. This place would be our home for the next several days, and we took our time to explore each day. 

Since breakfast was conveniently provided by the hotel, I took the children to grab breakfast each morning. Every time we walked into the dining room, all eyes were upon us. We were one of the only foreigners with black hair in a sea of platinum blonde (au natural) and gray. But after flashing a nervous smile, accompanied by my loud, boisterous children, the stares turned into warm smiles. We were often approached by the older folks, who would carry on a conversation with us in Dutch,  which I wish I was able to understand! 

I was a bit nervous on my first day out with both children-- I had the stroller ready for the younger one, plus the Ergo carrier inside the stroller as a back-up in case the older one grew tired of walking. I  brought along a makeshift doggy leash for the older one as well, attaching it to his belt-loop and to the stroller (you can never be too sure with toddlers). All the street signs were in Dutch, and since I am the worst with directions, I carried a small map with me. The stroll turned out to be quite refreshing, and the homes were beautiful, with well manicured lawns, some even reminiscent of the maze in Alice in Wonderland. People in passing were very friendly and often waved to us. Their tiny downtown area was walkable within less than 10 minutes, and I even stumbled upon a neat little store called HEMA, which reminded me of a cross between IKEA and Target. However, communication was definitely a struggle, as most locals were older in age and only spoke Dutch. 

On the third day, I grew brave and ventured out to get dinner with the children, because Mike typically had work dinners to attend. It was a Monday, and nearly everything was closed, except for an Italian pizza shop on the other side of downtown. I made the mistake of leaving at dusk, and by the time our pizza was ready, it was already dark out. I ended up making a wrong turn and was lost for about 15 minutes, enough to put a good scare in me! The town seemed relatively safe, but when you're carrying one child and have another in the stroller while being in a foreign place, it's enough to put you in a sweaty panic. Thankfully, we found our way back onto the big street, and we rushed back to the hotel to eat our nearly cold pizza.

After that incident, I was a little afraid to head out into the thick of the forest with the kids on my own, and I wasn't sure if the whole leaving breadcrumbs behind would actually work out ^^. We ended up visiting the forest on our last day in Putten, when a wife of a fellow co-worker from Switzerland decided to come with us. Being an extrovert, having another adult to accompany us really did make a world of a difference!

As much as I love visiting big cities, there was something about the smaller towns that captured my heart. Visiting the Netherlands far exceeded my initial expectations, and gave me a greater appreciation for the raw beauty found in nature. We had no "itinerary," or set sites we needed to visit, and we took advice from locals (which is never a bad idea). People were incredibly friendly, even though we didn't understand half of them. The drives were also a treat because they were filled with "color," as we drove across neighboring towns. Gorgeous autumn leaves all lined in a row, and grassy fields with grazing cows (no corn-fed beef!) and other small animals were the norm. One of our best meals there for a modest price, was found in the historic fishing town called Elburg. The biggest highlight of our trip to Putten was having the opportunity to sit in during a sharing done by Brother Andrew (his book, God's Smuggler is an inspiring read), the founder and visionary for the organization Mike works for. To this day, that trip was possibly one of my favorites, even despite the challenges of toting the littles with us. But seeing how much they also enjoyed the trip (primarily JJ, since Lukey was only 6 mos old), made it even more worthwhile.

I recently heard that a study was done to compare the amount of joy one receives through traveling  vs. buying material goods. The results were that travel outlasts and exceeds the short-lived instant gratification through buying material goods. I guess their point was to save up so you can travel and build lasting memories, which I would agree with 100%! Not to say that travel is the means to happiness, but if you were to put the two the side by side, traveling would probably be the better investment. I'm sure that even includes traveling even an hour from your own city-- there is always something new you can discover!