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CHINA-1, Beijing; a city of many surprises

21 Oct

CHINA, BEIJING – a city of many surprises

China – Beijing, a city that houses 22 million people and one of the 7 wonders of the world that many dream of visiting (us four included)! We have come to know Beijing as a city that has a new surprise in store for you each day, so let me tell you a bit about them.

The first surprise we encountered was our hotel called Hutong Ren, This little place of rest boasts only 8 rooms and is located on a side street of the very crowded and lively Dongcheng area. The staff gets it perfectly – after a day of intense sightseeing (where the masses of people, smells and sounds overwhelm you, and take you by surprise each time) – you need a place to kick back & get back to balance. So at Hutong Ren, we relished the wonderfully calm background music, the delightful assortment of teas, the laughter of the sweet & helpful girls that work there and the enthusiastic welcome of Blackie, each time we entered back “home” (Emile & Filou particularly liked this super sweet dog, who would crawl on their laps for cuddles or run and play with them).

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Staff of Hutongren Hotel with “Blackie”

The Dongcheng area is one of the city’s interesting districts where you can get a great, first glimpse into Chinese culture. It is a maze of charming, small streets  & alleys (hutongs), which boast an interesting mix of buildings, food establishments and stores. Side by side you will find designer stores (where you can buy the most beautiful silk scarves, bags and clothing) and little food and nick-nack establishments (some completely falling apart, others doing their best to cater to the tourists). And the city seems to have enough of those – apparently about 2 million foreign visitors and 60 million domestic travellers visit Beijing each year). So, you can probably imagine how busy those streets were!

The Dongcheng Hutong area particularly comes to life at night as it is then when many street sellers crowd the hutongs and you can buy anything from silly toys (and the Chinese do LOVE their toys – teenagers walking around with wooden noise makers that we would consider buying for toddlers or putting silly, fuzzy animal ears on their heads as a headband), to meat or crickets on a stick!  Each night we went out, we saw something different and it was always a great adventure to decide what to eat, what to do to cope with the masses and not get run over by one of the many honking motorcycles, food carts or bike taxis, or how to overcome the incredible smell that is apparent is some of the streets (the exploration was so worth it as it was super fun, but the smell is one that I still find hard to forget)!

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Dongcheng District; the cultural and commercial centre of Beijing 

Our first night, we enjoyed a nice hot-pot – boiling pot of water in which you cook your own vegetables and meat (a good first choice!). Very close to the restaurant, we saw a barbershop with a young, funky hairdresser who seemed to know what he was doing.  Emile & Filou had talked for a while about getting their hair cut off (practical look for on the road that would require little maintenance and a crazy experiment that isn’t as easily tried at home).  However, we were surprised that Filou was dead-set on getting his buzz cut that first night!  But, we happily obliged his enthusiasm and entered the shop.

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Emile with the hot pot

During the whole haircutting process, Filou laughed hysterically! And once his new look was completed, he showed similarities to a little monk – but he was happy as pie (and still is).  Emile (a bit jetlagged) was not quite ready for this adventure and got a regular haircut. Although two days later (after some encouragement from his little bro – who wanted to become the bald brothers) he went back and did the same.  The boys’ new look (which is a bit more in line with Chinese kids), has proven to be somewhat of a defense mechanism as on many occasions, the kids are being stopped, stared at or taken a photograph of (some Chinese have just never seen Caucasians before). It should be said, that the attention does make them feel like little rock stars!

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The Bald Brothers with their funky hairdresser in Beijing

Of course Beijing’s incredible history is mind-blowing and we joined the masses in visiting some of the city’s top attractions. The changing of the guards & flag lowering ceremony at Tiananmen Square was interesting in that we thought there to be a major festival due to the thousands of people – however we later were surprised to learn that it was just a regular day!  The Forbidden City (the Imperial Palace and home of the emperors for over 500 years – from the Ming to the end of the Qing Dynasty) was incredibly impressive in size and history, and the Summer Palace (the largest and best preserved imperial garden in China) was a beautiful, serene place, that the boys most enjoyed.

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At Being’s Forbidden City

At the Summer Palace, Filou focused in on a local artist who was making grasshoppers out of bamboo leaves. He was charming the man with his attention and after sitting with him for a while, a nice Chinese couple appeared and kindly offered him one of these crafts (they were just so taken by his enthusiasm).  Emile, too was lucky to get one – and he happily gave his away to one of the super-cute little Chinese girls he met in the park later that day.

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Summer Palace

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Filou with his grasshopper made out of bamboo leaves

798 Art Zone is Beijing’s leading concentration of contemporary art galleries and shops (and many wonderful little cafes). This thriving artistic community, located in the Chaoyang District is housed in various 50-year old decommissioned military factory buildings of unique architectural style. It was a place on Anthony’s hit list!

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So we spent a lovely afternoon browsing through many interesting galleries and funky shops. We even came across an outdoor rock concert (with a terrible sounding band!) – but in a cool courtyard with fantastic vibe.

We left the arts vibe and enjoyed our best and cheapest meal in Beijing when we found some 5-6 food carts lined up outside on the street (the four of us feasted for about $5).  When waiting for our last portion of delicious grilled vegetables, tofu and meat – Emile almost got run over by the food cart when it suddenly packed up, rushing away in great hurry when the police arrived.  Quite the nightly adventure that the boys still talk about – illegal street food was definitely a new experience for them!

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The guy that made our delicious “Illegal” street food

But the highlight of our stay in Beijing was undoubtedly our walk on the magnificent Great Wall of China.  We picked a perfect day for our adventure as it was slightly cloudy and therefore not too hot for our big walk.  We chose to go to the “Wild Wall” (the portion of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai). This portion is still in its original state (has not been rebuilt or renovated like some other portions) and is a lot less touristy due to its more distant location from the city (about 2.5 hours outside of Beijing – instead of Badaling which is only 1 hour away).

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Little guy on the Great big Wall

We usually like to do things on our own, but we chose to go with an organized tour for this one (as we didn’t want dishonest cab drivers to ruin our day). We learned that the Great Wall is in fact a discontinuous network of wall segments (and not continuous as many think) built by various dynasties to protect China’s northern border. This UNESCO World Heritage site is over 20,000km long, and took millions of people (soldiers, common people & criminals) over 2000 years to build.  It is the longest man-made structure in the world, and seeing all those big rocks, it must have been a tremendous job to create this masterpiece (without any tools but bare hands)!

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Once arrived, we chose to take a cable-ride up to the #10 Tower on the Great Wall – from there, we would make the trek to tower #20. Frankly, I was ignorant in thinking that the Great Wall of China was an ancient structure that once arrived at, could pretty easily be walked upon. O, was I wrong – it is 4 days later now and my calves are still in serious pain – best stair-master ever!  There were several portions of the Great Wall that we could only climb, using both hands and feet –as double strength was needed to pull ourselves up on the incredibly steep staircases (nothing for you mom!).  But it was little pain for the privilege to be walking on this most incredible, historic structure.  Gazing out, there was stunning nature all around us – looking left were the mountains of China while paying attention on our right, and we were looking at the gorgeous scenery of Mongolia.

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It is without saying that the Great Wall of China needs to be preserved at all cost and no littering of any kind is allowed (including the human bathroom kind).  If you have to do your business (with no facilities anywhere in sight) you need to climb down from the Great Wall to find yourself a secluded spot. And of course, our little boys with small bladders had to (they thought that this unfortunate incident made for a cool story though, as now they can say they did “pipi” in Mongolia!).

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We met several sweet locals on the Great Wall – encouraging us to keep going and trying to sell us some souvenirs. But we were happy, taking our memories and our many “snaps” with us from this most wonderful day.

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So the surprises of Beijing were many;

– The serenity of our hotel amidst chaos

–  The incredible masses of people everywhere & the traffic that knows absolutely no rules (motorcycles zoom all around you when you cross the lights on a green – even cars don’t respect the signs and go when they feel like, even go against traffic all the time!)

–  The many different smells & sounds (loud and not always pleasant)

–  The mix of designer shops & little merchants everywhere

–  The childlike interests of the Chinese and their love for toys & mega drinks

–  The variety and multitude of food (some extremely spicy!) – we even discovered some fabulous Japanese restaurants in Beijing when looking for a change of cuisine

–  The unexpected safe feeling, moving around the city

–  The incredible history of each Beijing attraction

–  The differences in restaurant service (waiters will stand by your table immediately and wait till you have made your selection without giving you a few minutes to ponder the menu and/or dishes come out when ready – and never at the same time for four people dining together!)

–  The deliciousness of Beijing’s illegal street food

–  The incredible beauty and steepness of the Great Wall of China!

–  The behavior of the Chinese, which we at once consider to be rude (spitting, making loud noises during meals, pushing – an 80 year old Chinese woman gave me a mean push when she felt I was taking too long trying on a scarf in front of a mirror) and very kind (laughing and staring at us, being thankful for the opportunity to take pictures of us, giving us gifts, assisting us in showing how a meal is properly eaten or giving us directions, helping us make the best of our stay in their fascinating city)!

La belle ville de Paris, a little boy’s wish come true

19 Oct

LA BELLE VILLE DE PARIS, A LITTLE BOY’S WISH COME TRUE

Emile and Filou go to a nice French school in Toronto (George Etienne Cartier – http://gec.csdccs.edu.on.ca); a deliberate choice on our part to raise bilingual kids and open their minds to a different culture and way of education.  Over the years, they have learned a lot about “La Francophonie” and French culture in Canada and other parts of the world.   It is for that reason that Emile requested we go to Paris, as it was his dream to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa.  So great… and why not?  We changed our plans to fly from Holland to China, and took the Eurostar Train to Paris (a smooth 2.5 hour ride from Rotterdam, although I do not suggest paying extra for Wifi on board as it didn’t work).

France is also Anthony’s second home (due to his years of French literary studies) – he a real Francophile and adores Paris, a city he once lived in! Therefore, he was eager to share his love for this exciting city with the boys.

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Anthony enjoying the French book stalls in Paris – one of his favorite activities

Our Paris apartment was located in the 13th arrondissement – Place d’Italie – a perfect little place we found on AirBnB (https://www.airbnb.ca/rooms/413487) – it was close to the METRO, and located in a non-touristy area with lots of amazing bakeries, outdoor markets and local shops. This area gave Emile the opportunity to feel independent, as each morning he loved walking by himself to the local bakery to get us a delicious, fresh baguette and some croissants.

On one of our firsts walks through the picturesque streets of Paris, we ended up at Le Jardin de Luxembourg – one of the city’s beautiful gardens, a spot that quickly became Filou’s favorite (mainly, because there was a fun play park within, where he and Emile had a blast with a large group of Parisian boys their age).  It surprised me that we had to pay 2.50 euros per child to enter this play park – given that in Canada we are blessed with so many free play structures & parks everywhere.  However, on the flip side, the museums we visited were always free for the children.  I guess it is clear where the French put their emphasis (and probably their tax dollars!).

The cultural institutions that received our attention this week, were Le Centre Pompidou and Le Louvre. We spent a sunny afternoon at Beaubourg – the wonderful artsy district surrounding Pompidou – where many fun and talented street artists kept the kids’ attention. (and even engaged them in helping with their act).  Filou was also drawn to the various sellers of jewelry and knick knacks and spent half an hour negotiating with them to sell him something for the 1 Euro he had in his pocket. Although 5 euros was the minimum price for the smallest piece, he did walk away with a bracelet and a sense of negotiating satisfaction. It must have been his smile or cool look that day!

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Filou in Beaubourg, negotiating with his 1 Euro

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Emile at the cool floating structures at Pompidou

At Le Centre Pompidou, we visited an exhibition of the American pop culture artist Lichtenstein and visited a fun’s children’s exhibit (where the kids made cool structures out of clay). At Le Louvre – the main objective was to see the Mona Lisa, the world famous painting that was on Emile’s wish list.

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Anthony at one of Lichtenstein’s famous paintings

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Emile with the airplane he made at Le Centre Pompidou

But the highlight of our week and the reason why we went to Paris was of course our visit to the Eiffel Tower.  The structure quickly impressed the boys, who decided they wanted to climb up. So we bought the tickets and started the 600 steps upwards.  I quickly realized that I am afraid of heights (especially open stair cases) and after about 200 steps or so, I chickened out and returned back down.  But the boys were happy to take in the Parisian view from the first level of this magnificent structure (not afraid one bit, even though it was Friday the 13th!).

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One happy boy, seeing his dream structure, La Tour Eiffel

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And his brother was pretty excited too!

While they were up on the first level, I sneakily joined an English tour group and learned a few interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower such as:

  1. That it was built for a world fair (and that the other ideas floating around for a Paris structure were a large Guillotine (a device designed for carrying out executions by decapitation) – perhaps not so welcoming! – and a large fountain).
  2. That it took about 2 years to build and that even though there was no protective gear for the workers, no one died (except for one Italian worker who sat down on the first level while taking in the sunset – he however, loved his glass of wine a little too much and fell down)!
  3. That it cost about 30 million Euros (in today’s money) to build the tower- and that it took Mr. Eiffel and his investors only 3 months (of charging fees) to recover their investment.
  4. That it actually wasn’t Mr. Eiffel who drew the tower but two of his engineer students
  5. And that it is still one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world today!

From the Eiffel Tower, we walked through the adjacent park to take some memorable pictures – when we heard drums. We followed the sound and ended up at a Japanese cultural Festival – where they were promoting Japanese culture, design and food  – with a focus on healthy living.  The boys were excited to sign up for a small Japanese cooking class – which was both informative and fun. A delightful and knowledgeable French nutritionist guided the boys and 5 other Parisian women how to make onigiri (rice balls – but French style with blueberries in them!), miso soup (but a much darker then the kind we eat at home), and stir-fry vegetables.  With their Japanese heritage, the boys knew the dishes already (and had eaten them!) but it was still a fun experience.

 

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Emile, Filou & I taking a Japanese cooking class

Then on a very large, outdoor stage next to the cooking demonstration, appeared 5 youngsters leading a fun (and fast) exercise class – to the beat of some loud, funky music.  As I hadn’t exercised in ages and was eager to move, I joined the 30 or so Parisian women in this class. It was thrilling… as dancing in front of the Eiffel Tower is not something you do every day! Emile quickly realized too – it was pretty special, so he joined in and was left with a very unique Eiffel Tower experience!

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Emile & I dancing on a stage near the Eiffel Tower

And dancing was necessary after all the amazing food we consumed in Paris – we devoured all our favorites; the Pommes Noisettes (potato balls that Anthony and I were crazy about when living in France), the Epinards a la crème fraiche (creamed spinach) and of course the many baguettes and croissants with that butter that melts in your mouth!  And of course, not to forget the many delicious cheeses and desserts.

So we happily said good-bye to La Belle Ville de Paris – a city that gave us the “dreams-come-true” for our big boy and tied pants for us all!

A FUN TIME FOR KIDS; RECONNECTING WITH FRIENDS and FAMILY, NETHERLANDS – 3

9 Sep

Emile and Filou have had a blast in the Netherlands!  In our second week, we moved to the North-East province of Drenthe, and got treated by Opa and Oma to a fabulous week at Landal Green Parks “Hof van Saksen”.  This park is completely set-up for families, and provides children with the opportunity to experience something new and exciting every day.

The boys built huts out of discarded crates, did target practice with a bow and arrow, spent an afternoon wood crafting and made a beautiful wooden horse and seal for their Opa and Oma, raced across the lake on self-made rafts, had dinner by themselves in the children’s restaurant, cycled around the beautiful surroundings (paths that led them through gorgeous forests and farmlands), saw the inside of a working windmill, fished, and must have gone a 100 times down the amazing water slide this resort offers (http://www.hofvansaksen.com/gb-en/holiday-park/the-netherlands/drenthe/hof-van-saksen). What an amazing time to have spent with their grandparents, who enjoyed every minute of their time with the boys.

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Oma and Filou

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Opa and Oma with Emile

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Emile biking through the Dutch countryside and making friends!

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Beautiful early morning ride in a Dutch Forest

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Filou in the “BAKFIETS” (bucket bike)

As the resort is not too far from where my favorite cousin Marloeke lives, we met her, her husband Mark and her two adorable sons Coen and Ties at the Vlietland Climbing Park, a newly built nature & activity park with gorgeous surroundings, where our “monkies” could climb to their hearts content (and where cousins who had never met, nor speak the same language, could bond). It was a great success as the four boys instantly clicked and enjoyed spending time overcoming climbing challenges.  Not only are they very similar in age, they have somewhat similar looks (and were even wearing the same colour t-shirt!). http://www.wscvlietland.nl/land/klimpark

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Filou & Emile having fun with cousins Coen & Ties

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Filou being a monkey at the Vlietland Climbing Park

Then it was onto my BFF (best friend forever), Frédérique who lives, with her husband Frank and three children (Bregje, Ted and Huub) in a gorgeous bungalow with spectacular garden in Oisterwijk, in the province of Noord-Brabant – very close to where I grew up.  With good friends, you just pick up where you’ve left off, and so too in this case…It was “ouderwets gezellig” (this one is hard to translate! – but basically means that we had the same kind of fun like in the good old days).

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BFF’s reunited again

Our first full day together was Emile’s 10th birthday – so to celebrate his double-digit status in a big way, we headed to “The Efteling” – one of Holland’s most spectacular amusement parks.  When I was growing up, we went to the Efteling, for its amazing “sprookjespark” (fairytale park), but after all these years it has evolved into a real amusement paradise with shows and thrilling rides (with one ride – The Flying Dutchman – that Frederique encouraged me to try – although she knows rides are not my thing. And so, I hung on for dear life – as this ride went up-side-down and through the water at very high speeds– I had my eyes closed the whole time and it still has my knees shaking, just thinking about it!).

But the day ended well, as we sang happy birthday for Emile while enjoying a delicious Dutch “Pannekoek” (pancake) in a fabulous pancake house  (appropriately named the “Globetrotter Restaurant”)– a beautifully decorated place where Emile was invited into the kitchen to create his own birthday ice cream dessert – which was eaten with a chef’s hat on, and big smile on his face.

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The kids enjoying the fairytale park at the Efteling, seeing “Lange Jan” (Jan with its long neck).

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Emile on his 10th. Birthday with his self-made icecream, at the “Globetrotter Pancake house”

The next day was Friends’ Reunion Day and my dearest high school friends (Karen, Leteke, Anoek, Frédérique, Yvette, Ingeborgh, Dorien, Nathalie & Wim with partners and children) gathered for a wonderful afternoon of catching up and barbeque. It was kind of surreal seeing some of these friends again, as for some it had been over 20 years.

It was interesting to notice that personalities really don’t change much over time, and that they are still the same fun, outgoing people that I used to love hanging out with.  Moreover, they must have good Dutch genes because the aging process really hasn’t affected them much (judge for yourself but as you can see from the picture below– still a great looking bunch).  And although everyone came to see “the Canadians”, it was as much a nice re-connect for everyone present – and I am grateful that our family could be the instigator to gather such an amazing group of friends again. Thanks bunches to Frédérique and Frank for hosting this very memorable afternoon – you are fabulous hosts & friends!

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My high school buddies: Ingeborgh, Frédérique, Leteke, me, Karen, Yvette & Anoek

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My dear friend Dorien van de Ven, who left Canada and returned to Holland

The next day, Emile and Filou were invited to Ted’s class to share their world tour experience – Emile happily answered the many, interesting questions posed (with a bit of mom’s translating help) – and as a result, now has more Instagram followers and friends.

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Emile doing his “World Tour Presentation” in front of a class of Dutch, 12 year olds

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Emile with his new Dutch friends

It was great to see that youth activities in Holland have not changed much, and that our boys enjoyed doing the same kind of things with Frédérique’s children as I used to love doing as a child.  Filou was delighted to gather frogs in a pond by the house, with Huub and his friends. Emile loved seeing Bregje play a field hockey game (a sport I used to LOVE playing!!) – she even gave him a quick first lesson.  And at the schoolyard of Ted’s school, Filou was corralled into playing “touwtje springen” with the girls – a fun jumping rope game, I spent hours doing at his age.

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Bregje teaching Emile some field hockey moves

And even my old neigbourhood in Berkel-Enschot hasn’t changed much – the house I grew up in on the Panislaan – was the same I remembered it (although perhaps a bit smaller in reality then I had remembered it as a child).  Being in my old hood, a stop at Auntie Claar’s house was inevitable and fun (such a sweet lady; a best friend of my parents, I used to spent hours playing at her house).

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The four us with sweet “Tante Claar

Then, we made a quick stop to visit the “Golden Girls”; my sweet aunties Grietje, Jetty, Else & Anneke.  A delicious sandwich lunch was catered by Else and her husband Edwin in the backyard of their beautiful farmhouse in Biest-Houthakker. The kids loved the surroundings (picking fresh apples from the trees, and getting farm fresh eggs from the chickens). What a nice-catch up with these very fun ladies that despite their health and other challenges see life so beautifully and have a great deal of fun & laughs!

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Me with the “Golden Girls”, my aunties Grietje, Jetty, Else & Anneke

After a few more wonderful days in Maastricht with Opa and Oma, where Emile and Filou visited the very impressive American War Cemetry in Magraaten, enjoyed swimming in a new, local pool, and strolled around this beautiful walled city, it was onto s’Hertogenbosch to visit our good friends Anoek & Sjoerd and their wonderful, smiley daughters Jip and Cato. A fabulous weekend that consisted of nice country walks, field hockey, dance parties, lots of good food, drink and chats and reminiscing over old high school pictures.  A perfect ending to an amazing time in Holland! Thanks Anoek & Sjoerd for your wonderful hospitality!

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Best Buddies Cato, Emile, Filou & Jip 

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Anoek, Yvette & Me – having a great time sharing old memories

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Last evening with my parents

With some sadness, I say goodbye to “my country” and my trip down memory lane. To my dear parents – It was a wonderful occasion to celebrate your 75th birthday; a huge thank-you for this amazing vacation. It was priceless to see your laughs and interactions with Emile & Filou!  And to my dear Dutch friends & family – you have made this leg of our tour unforgettable and so fun!   We will miss you all.

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Our family goodbye’s at Maastricht Train Station

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And our final goodbye to Holland at Tilburg Train station – taking the Thalys to Paris

Tot de volgende keer dan maar weer!

Paris, here we come…..

Newfoundland – 3, Gros Morne National Park

8 Aug

Gros Morne Park – one of these places that should be on everyone’s “bucket list”!

Gros Morne Park is one of Canada’s national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is not hard to see why its distinction, given to the park in 1973, places it alongside such company as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (which Anthony & I had the pleasure of visiting some 10 years ago – also stunning!), the Pyramids in Egypt or Yellowstone National Park in the United States.  It’s awe-inspiring. Beautiful like none of my words or pictures will come close to describing. Like I said, a bucket list item…. especially for my Canadian friends as Newfoundland is accessible and gorgeous all around, so this is a must!

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The park was designated a world heritage site for its “exceptional natural beauty” and its “outstanding example of representing major stages of the Earth’s history and development”.  The rocks of Gros Morne National Park tell the story of ancient oceans, and the collision of continents.  Many international scientists have already visited the park to study its rock formations.

Upon entering the park, you have two main routes to choose from, one that heads north on Hwy 430 or one that veers towards to west on Hwy 431.

We headed north, and our first stop was one of the lookout points along the highway where we stopped to have a little lunch and take in the incredible scenery. Anthony found the spot inspiring and picked up his travel guitar, while the boys did some crazy dancing and running around!

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Hiking is a must in Gros Morne, and the two hikes we did were completely different but equally spectacular.  The first one was a 10 km walk (which took us about 3 hours) to Bakers Brook Falls  – this path guided us through very lush and dense forests during which we enjoyed mountain views, encountered many a beautiful pond with frogs (which Emile was excited to photograph) and amazing wildflowers…plus at the end, an incredible waterfall (in my opinion, a rival to our Niagara Falls in beauty!).

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Bakers Brook Falls Hike 

We met a lovely retiree with his family at the waterfall – his son, a bit of a daredevil – started climbing the waterfall with his camera.  Filou, who is also a bit of a thrill seeker, was “encouraged” by him and quickly followed suit, taking Emile with him.  The boys actually found a spot on top of the waterfall where you could sit and have an incredible view of the water rushing down. They were delighted, and we took some nice pictures.

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Bakers Brook Waterfalls

Our second hike was a 6 km coastal trail hike (which took us about 2 hours). This walk took us along rugged shoreline and included landscapes of cobble stone beaches, marshy ponds, ocean breezes and many different kinds of shorebirds. Emile was really hoping to see a moose in one of the marshes, as it seemed the perfect place to spot them, but I think that the enthusiastic chatter of the boys probably kept them at bay.Image

Coastal Trail Hike (first part through forest)

Being a water girl at heart (I lOVE to be by, on or in the water), I wanted to take in the beautiful park scenery from the perspective of the water. So we drove to Norris Point and took the Bon Bay Discovery Tour, a delightful, children-focused boat excursion of the bay, plus a visit to the local aquarium.  On board, the boys enthusiastically partook in 3 different science experiments, and learned a lot about the local bay and marine life.  Emile even spotted a bold eagle soaring over the mountains (he has a fantastic eye for nature and often is the first one in the family to spot an animal or something else of interest)!

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Entrance point for our boat tour at Norris Point

In Norris Point, we enjoyed a nice meal out a little local restaurant (bit of an exception as we make most of our meals in the RV!), but the boys were tempted by the promotion of eating a MOOSE burger.  Anthony thought it was quite good, but Emile, who gave it a good try, did prefer his salmon.  Filou loved the local vegetable and turkey soup so much that we took 3 extra containers with us for lunch the next day (keeping up with the food intake for the boys remains a challenge especially now that they are so active and in fresh air all the time – non-stop eating machines!).

We ended up in a KOA campsite in Norris Point (which apparently is a large US chain of campgrounds), a location the boys really loved – mainly because they had a very large jumping cushion (big enough for 10 kids to jump on at once). This attraction provided for many hours of jumping fun – and facilitated the making of some buddies – such as Allen who thought that Filou was a nice “chatterbox” friend to hang out with.  Anthony & I also loved this location as it was a breathtaking spot for a quiet swim, overlooking spectacular mountains.

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Emile diving for the ball at Rocky Harbour

The KOA staff recommended us to go to Rocky Harbour for some children’s activities (again a stunning location!).  The local mothers of the area had organized a scavenger hunt on the beach – the kids were excited to look for anything from a curtain rod to pennies to mittens and goggles. Our team – Emile & Filou, me and 2 local girls put forward a nice effort and were awarded with a black t-shirt that said Rocky Harbour on it – little souvenir that the boys treasure – and can actually take with them (the moms had a variety of prizes such as backpacks, water bottles etc). 

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Filou & Emile in their newly acquired Rocky Harbour t-shirts

In chatting with the locals, we learned that no new developments are allowed in Gros Morne Park since becoming a heritage site, but that one can still build in existing communities that range from 50 to 1500 people.  Also, as work is limited for local women, some work for the Oil Sands – and get flown in from the park every 2 weeks, to work in Alberta.  Challenging for sure – but also incredibly blessed people that live in a place that provides such peace, serenity and incredible beauty!

Next: Twillingate; home of Iceberg Alley, whale watching and most importantly…a fishing paradise for Emile.

Y.O.L.O! Mom on the Go…

23 Jul

Y.O.L.O!  Mom on the go….

Recently, my Dad turned 75 and told me that on his birthday, he reflected back on his 75 years of life and concluded that he was very satisfied with his life…that there were a few small things that he would have done differently….but that all in all, he looked back on a fulfilling life without regret.  This is a man who was very fortunate to travel the world for his work, to see and experience many wonderful things, and to this day still lives by the motto: Carpe Diem!

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He certainly passed the travel bug on to me, taking me all around Europe on wonderful family vacations, always with the mission to show my sister and me that the world was bigger than “Berkel-Enschot” (the small town in the Netherlands where I was raised). So, after high school, I went off to the South of France to learn another language and met my wonderful husband Anthony from Canada.  Together, we continue and  had some of our best times travelling and experiencing life together.  Our long-term goal: To one day travel the world.

So now, at our “midlife inspiration” point, that day has come! We are travelling the world for a year with our two sons: Emile who is almost 10 and Felix (Filou) who is 8. Our journey will start with some family time in Eastern Canada and Europe, then onto China, South-East Asia, New Zealand, Japan and Latin America. I have yet to really grasp what this year will hold for the four of us, but of one thing I am sure: When I am 75, I want to look back on a life well lived, without regret – and for me, this trip will certainly help accomplish that mission.

As I write this first blog, we haven’t even left yet, and already we seem to inspire others. How cool!  Friends are telling us that we are encouraging them to follow their dreams, such as opening up their own business; others are motivated to ponder how they might live life differently!  And then there are those who are motivating us to live “a life without regret”, such as the wonderfully jovial and entertaining court judge who was seated next to me at a restaurant bar, there to celebrate Father’s Day. He kept congratulating us for taking this bold step, and at the end of dinner, gave me the biggest hug and whispered in my ear:  “I was just diagnosed with MS and should have done this with my kids when I was younger. Go have a fabulous time and film everything!”

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So here it is – a life without regret: Carpe Diem. Or as one cool teenager recently taught me, Y.O.L.O!  You Only Live Once.  So, here I go: Y.O.L.O! Mom On The Go… with my three wonderful men – travelling the world. An absolute dream come true!