Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunshine, finally!

Everyone told me that Belgium is a rainy country, but I am only starting to see this for myself.  It rained pretty much everyday for like two weeks here.  Saturday was the first day in a while without raindrops in the forecast, so we decided to get out and take a drive to Bruges (or Brugge to the Flemish).  We are so lucky to have this beautiful city an easy 1 hour and 15 drive away (perfect timing for Ava to catch a nap on the way there and back). 

We had a great day just walking around, enjoying the rain free weather, window shopping and checking out the disappointing Christmas market.  Enjoy the pictures from our day. 

The Markt (The Center Square)

Belgium is divided into three regions: Walloon, Flemish, and Brussels-Capitol.  Each region has its own language making things a little complicated (especially when towns have different names depending on which region you find yourself).  We live in Walloon, which is French speaking.  Bruges is in the Flemish region, which is Flemish (derived from Dutch) speaking.  The capitol is officially bilingual (actually tri-lingual as most people speak English). In Walloon, center squares are called Grande Place.  In Flemish, the center square is called the Markt.  Bruges has a beautiful Markt with many cafes and the Belfry at the center. 

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The Christmas market was in the Markt.  Apparently you need to watch your wallets while here.  Bruges12-29-12 (39)

Belfry- Built in 1240 and then rebuilt in 1280 after a fire.  The top portion was added on in the 1400s.  You can climb 366 steps to the top for a fee. 

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Ava at the inside of the Belfry courtyard.  That is the line to climb to the top behind her.Bruges12-29-12 (40)

Burg Square

This is the earliest inhabited part of Bruges (as early as the 2nd century).  This was also the center of Bruges when it was the wealthiest city in Europe and is home to the Town Hall.

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Pictures around Bruges

canal on the outskirts of town

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It is a little hard to see in this picture, but do you notice the Simpsons reference. You will definitely see it in the next picture. Bruges12-29-12 (8)

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Interesting architecture.  Bruges12-29-12 (10)

The tower from the Church of Our Lady.  In this church you can find the only Michelangelo outside of Italy. Bruges12-29-12 (16) 

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My wonderful neighbor, Melissa.  Though it looks like she is trying to get away from me in the picture:)

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And no trip to Bruges is complete without a little treat for the ride home.  Chocolaote from Dumon, a family owned and operated chocolatier.

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This is not an actual strawberry, but marzipan and white chocolate. 

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nuremberg Christmas Market

Europe is the place to be over the Christmas season.  Starting the beginning of November, Christmas markets have been going on around the area.  Since we are stationed at an international base, we were lucky to be able to visit Christmas markets from our friends in Canada, Germany and Italy.   

We decided we would spend a weekend visiting one of the most famous Christmas markets, The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany. 

Our hotel was located right near the subway station in Fuerth, which takes you right to the market (this was good, because parking would have been a nightmare).  The market features 180 wooden booths all selling handmade Christmas decorations, yummy gingerbread, plum people, Nuremberg sausages and mulled wine (gluhwein). 

Here are some photos from the market:


Here is Ava on her first train ride ever.  She also had her first bus ride on this trip.  She really enjoys interacting with new people while we are traveling.  She is especially mesmerized when people speak to her in a language besides English.

  baby backpacking

We met this kind  man on the train.  He lives outside our stop and he walked with us for a while to show us some places to check out and eat.  His backpack doesn’t include a baby:)

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The market has strict rules regarding who can set up a booth inside.  But, outside the market there were several other booths selling produce, meats, cheeses, olives and things that are available inside the market, but cheaper (like Gluewine and gingerbread, which we bought outside the market).  By the way, the gingerbread sold at the market is the best I have ever had and I may or may not have eaten an entire loaf by myself.

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We started our market adventure right here, at the Gluhwein stand.  This one was not a particular favorite, but it was outside the market so it was cheaper.  The best way to have your Gluhwein, in my opinion, is with a shot of Amaretto added. Perfection.  When you get your Gluhwein for the first time you pay a 2.50 Euro deposit for a mug.  You just bring your mug back throughout your time for refills (you still pay for the wine, just not the deposit).  Each year the market designs a mug that all the vendors use.  Some of the markets also had previous year’s mugs, so we got one of those too.  They make pretty cheap souvenirs.  Here were the mugs:

DSC_2037The one on the far left is not an official mug.  The orange mug is this year’s and the white mug was from 2010 and it was the 175th anniversary mug. 

Nuremberg Christmas market (23)The Nuremberg Christmas Angel welcomes you to the market.  They actually choose a young woman, between 16 and 18 years of age to be the Christmas Angel.  Her “reign” lasts 2 years and in addition to opening the  market from the top of the Our Lady’s Church, she also visits children in schools and hospitals.

Nuremberg Christmas market (1)    Nuremberg Christmas market (11)A German Christmas Pyramid.  Most German Christmas markets feature a giant pyramid, which is a popular decoration that spin with the help of the heat from candles. 

Nuremberg Christmas market (3)Nearby was the Kinderweignacht, which is the market for children (Kinder is children in German).We planned to go here on Saturday, but the crowds were insane.  So, we missed out on the children’s market.  This was a bummer because I really wanted to get a picture of Ava on the carousel.  Here is picture of it from the Christmas Market’s website.


Nuremberg Christmas market (16)We spent most of our time walking through the market on Friday.  It was empty on Friday compared to the mass crowds on Saturday  This is a shot walking down from the Imperial Castle towards the market so you can get a small idea of how crowded it was (these are people walking out of the market).

Nuremberg Christmas market (18) I had to take a picture of the Nuremberg Bratwurst (I ate one every day and it was delicious).  These are different from Brats in other parts of Germany because they re small, 7-9 cm to be exact and weigh about 20-25 g (about the size of a breakfast sausage in the US).  They are grilled over beechwood fire and have a strong flavor of marjoram.  They serve 3 sausages on a brioche roll with or without sauerkraut.  I am kind of drooling on my computer as I think about this sandwich.

Nuremberg Christmas market (19)Here we are in front of the Frauenkirche, or in English, The Church of Our Lady.  This church was built between 1352-1362.  This is where the angel, as I mentioned before, opens the market.

usaAdjacent to the Christkindlesmarkt is the International Christmas Market where you can find boots from the 14 sister cities of Nuremberg.  Hey, this stuff looks familiar.  It resembles stuff you will find at an elementary school holiday store.  People must think all Americans eat is junk food…oh wait.

Nuremberg Christmas market (17)We had a great time checking out the sites at the market.  Too bad I didn’t leave with one of the famous prune people as a souvenir. 

prune people Really?What do you do with one of these guys.  Can you store them for next year, or are they a one time thing? 

Here are some pictures from Fuerth (this is where we stayed) and the Imperial Castle.  The castle was originally built sometime between 1050 and 1150.  It was partially destroyed during WWII and rebuilt.


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The Imperial Castle

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Thanks for reading.  From our family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Strange things about Belgian homes

When we moved in to our house there were many things about it that I found to be very different than homes in the US.  So, I took some pictures of those oddities and I am now sharing it with you, my friends and family back home. 

Windows and Doors

Dan says that people in the US have doors like this, but I am yet to see them.  The pictures below shows the doors that are in our living room.  We have 2 sets of these doors.  The screen (which is really crappy by the way) is only behind the door that opens.  Which is really stupid, because in order to get outside you have to pull a lever on the door to the left and then swing that door open.  A lot of work to let the dogs outside to do their business if you ask me.  If you want to get some fresh air in the house you can either open the door or you can turn the knob up and pull just the top of the door will open (see picture). 

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Most of the windows (with the exception of the window in the next picture) open the same way.  The windows all either swing in or you can open just the top.  The house has huge window sills, but you can’t really use them as shelves because then you wouldn’t be able to open the window fully. 

Two rooms (the bedroom and gym) have one of these windows. 

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strange things about belgium home (20)These windows do not have screens (it would kind of be impossible).  We live next to a farm, so a fly swatter is a necessity in this house. In order to open the window you pull from the top and swing the window all the way around and latch the top of the window to the bottom of the frame (the first picture shows me opening the window and the second is of the window fully open).  As you can tell these windows are on an angle (they are actually in the roof of the house).  If you know the weather in Belgium you will understand how impractical these windows truly are, but everyone has them. 

The next picture shows the lock to our front door.  You have to lock and unlock with a key (nothing strange there), but what is strange is how many times you have to turn the dang key.  One lock controls both the lock and the deadbolt.  So, you have to turn the key about 105 times in order to lock and unlock the door.  I have lived here for almost 2 months now and I still have not gotten the hang of this, which is kind of embarrassing when someone is at the door.

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The locks on inside the house are not much different.  All of the doors have locks which only work with old fashioned skeleton-type keys. 

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Kitchen and Bathrooms

First thing is the stove.  Take a look at these burners; they remind me of hot pot burners.  I was very surprised, but this range works great.  Two of the burners are designed to heat very quickly and we can boil water in half the time that I am used to.  It is a little hard to control the heat on these, so I may or may not have almost set the house on fire making a pot of rice. 

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Second to my Easy Bake Oven, this is the smallest oven I have ever had.  I had to put all my regular sized cookie sheets in the attic, because they are too big to fit in this oven. 

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The house did not come with a dishwasher, just the hook-up.  Fortunately, we  were able to borrow one from the base.  As you can see it is not uncommon to have free-standing dishwashers.  European dishwashers require you to put a certain type of salt in a dispenser before operating. 

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Hmm…so how do you use this thing? 

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Oh, no worries.  There is a very helpful guide on the inside of the dishwasher door.  Wow, that was helpful.

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That guide is almost as helpful as the control panel for our microwave oven.

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In every house I have seen in so far the kitchen sinks are super small and instead of a double sink as you would find in the US, you have a built in dish drain.  (don’t judge my cleaning abilities, the water here is really hard).

strange things about belgium home (17) One of our toilet rooms does have a sink.  A very small sink, with only cold (very cold) water. 

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Check out the toilet flusher thingy.  Little button for number one and big button for number two.

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Random Stuff

Tiles in the garage

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Really big light switches (most have an outlet with the switch)

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Dangerous stairs

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Heating units- you set your main thermostat and then use the dial on each room’s heating unit to control the amount of heat going to that room.

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There you have it, strange things about Belgian homes.  I don’t think these things are exclusive to Belgium.  The hotel in Germany had a lot of the same features.  The next time I write should be after my visit to the Christmas Market in Nuremberg.  

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!!! XOXOXO