Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Final week in Netherlands

The weather has been pretty cruddy this week it’s been cold, windy and rainy. Brett has been working at the Amsterdam Intel site each day. Monday me and the girls took the bus into down town Amsterdam and walked to “Dam Square” in the center of the square there were hundreds of pigeons a guy was feeding, they were all over his arms and head. The girls had fun watching and Alana even got to feed the pigeons. They also had horse drawn carriage rides, we just petted the horse. We saw a big cathedral Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), and walked around the pedestrian areas and went into a couple shops.
Tuesday was a big day in The Hague-on the 3rd Tuesday in September each year the queen comes and delivers a speech from the throne. The Hague or Den Haag, in Dutch has always been the seat of government and the official residence of the Dutch monarchs. Since Brett had many late night meetings that night, he was able to go with us in the morning to check out the big event. We walked around and saw the Binnenhof Court, the Parliament buildings and saw all the people lined up to see the Queen arrive. There were lots of people everywhere. There was a big parade with band and horses, the girls went on our shoulders and could see everything. The best part was seeing the Queen arrive in her golden coach like Cinderella-drawn by high stepping royal horses. We left after the royal procession, and drove to see the temple in the Netherlands. It’s small but it was neat to see the Hague Temple.
Thursday evening, our last night in Amsterdam, we went to downtown Amsterdam and walked around. We saw the Oude Kerk (Old Church). We passed by the edge of the Red Light District but didn’t go in as we thought it would be inappropriate especially with the kids. Ironically, it's actually a large tourist area. Prostitution is legal here and is controlled in this area. Everything is legal here, it’s normal to walk down the street and smell people smoking pot. I think it would be tough to raise kids here, as you would really have to teach them why those things are bad even if they are legal.
This past weekend we moved from Amsterdam and headed for Switzerland. On our way down we stopped in Germany. On our way south we went to Cologne and saw the Cologne Cathedral. This cathedral is Germany’s greatest Gothic cathedral and took around 600 years to complete! The twin towers are 516 ft tall. We toured the inside of the cathedral and saw the Shrine of the Three Kings, the Altar of the Magi, and an early Gothic carving of the Virgin Mary. The chapel contains huge stained glass windows! We decided to hike to the top of one of the towers, there was no elevator so we carried Allden in the backpack and carried Addy part of the way, but Alana did great hiking up all those stairs! We saw the huge bells and looked out and saw the city of Cologne.
Saturday we saw the Marksburg Castle it is famous because it is the last original castle along the Rhine River. It is sitting on a hill overlooking the town of Braubach. This castle was never attacked. We hiked up a hill to see the castle and walked around for a bit. However, the main attraction of the day was Burg Eltz. This was probably our favorite castle so far, at least one of the top 3. Burg Eltz is about 850 years old and is on top of a hill surrounded by a mysterious forest. We went on a tour of the castle. We had to gather up a few English speaking people and then had the tour in English. It was a neat castle and we learned a few things along the way. It was a comfortable castle for its day: 80 rooms made cozy by 40 fireplaces and wall-hanging tapestries. Its 20 toilets were automatically flushed by a rain drain. The delightful chapel is on a lower floor. Because "no one lives above God," this was problematic. But because the chapel fills a bay window, which floods the delicate Gothic space with light, its position was acceptable. The three families met — working out common problems as if sharing a condo — in the large conference room. There, a carved jester ("fool's freedom") and a rose ("rose of silence") look down on the big table, reminding those who gather that they are free to discuss anything, but nothing discussed leaves this room. It was quite a hike back up the hill after the castle and then we headed to Heidelberg where we stayed the night in a hotel. Heidelberg is situated on the banks of the Neckar river and is said to be one of Germany’s most beautiful towns.

Sunday we found the “military ward” and went to church there in Heidelberg. It was nice because everyone speaks English and most people were Americans that were moved to Germany for the military. After church we ate at a Greek restaurant (I’m venturing out now and trying new foods) it was good! We saw the Heidelberger Schloss it is towering over the town and is a vast residential complex that was built and repeatedly extended between the 13th and 17th centuries. After this we hit the road to head to Switzerland. It was about a 4-5 hr drive. Parts of the trip we got to drive on the Autobahn, there is no speed limit. Brett took the car up to 210 kph (130mph), cars were flying down the freeway! I guess that’s why Germany makes all the good fast cars. We are driving a Peugeot 407SW and that’s about as fast as that car wanted to go. Most of the time we were doing 130-150kph. We got to Switzerland late so we didn’t get to see the mountains until the next morning but they looked huge! We are staying halfway up a mountain in the Swiss Ski Lodge. The ski lifts are right by our house, but you'll have to wait until next week to see the pictures.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

2nd week in the Netherlands

This week we moved into our apartment in Amsterdam. We are on the 2nd floor and have to go up a very steep narrow set of stairs to get to our door. It’s quite difficult getting out the door on my own carrying Allden, stroller, purse and locking the door. We’ve met both neighbors and they are very friendly. It’s much different in an apartment because the walls are thin and we have a neighbor above and below. The neighbor below us likes the girls and showed them his fly eating plants.
Monday we visited the playground near us, did lots of laundry the problem is there is no dryer and only one laundry rack and it takes forever to dry the clothes-I definitely appreciate my dryer. We also went grocery shopping at Albert Heijn it’s like the Albertson’s back home. It rained most of the day so didn’t get out much. Brett drives the car to Intel each day so we don’t have to pay for parking, I don’t think I would want to drive in this city anyways. We have a bus stop right by our house and a little grocery store and library and park, everything we need.
Tuesday we took a walk to the big Westerpark it’s very pretty with walking paths, stream, green trees and a couple little playgrounds and a little petting zoo with ponys, cow, pig, goats, chickens etc.
Wednesday we adventured out and took a bus to the central station in Amsterdam and walked along the busy pedestrian streets and went shopping. We can’t buy too much since we have to haul it around with us but bought a couple long sleeved shirts for the kids since the weather is really cooling off now. It’s been in the 50’s and 60 for the high. The hard part is getting on and off the busy bus. The bus is usually packed and we have to stand up and hold on (not easy to do with 3 kids) The bus drivers don’t wait for you to get on and get settled as soon as everyone is in the door off he goes.
Thursday Brett took a little time off in the morning and we went on a canal tour in Amsterdam. That was a lot of fun to go through some of the big canals to see the sights. Then he went into work and worked late.
On Saturday we drove down to Belgium again and went to Bruges and Ghent. It was about a 3 hr drive. On the way down we drove through the southern part of the Netherlands close to the sea and over some really huge bridges. We had a picnic lunch next to a river or canal (not sure what they call it here) it was lined with trees and sheep grazing. Bruges is famous for their chocolate and waffles. As we walked around the downtown area we let the girls pick out candy and Brett and I got some home-made chocolates yummy! This place is great for chocoholics, there are chocolate shops everywhere. This place is also famous for their handmade lace. Bruges has a historic city center, and the spaces and structures have been preserved as they were in the past. We walked through the old cathedral (St. Savior’s Cathedral) these old churches are amazing! The architecture and the ornate decorations and paintings inside are amazing. We couldn’t leave until we got some yummy Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. MMMMM! Then we drove on to Ghent, they were having a big festival here so there were lots of people. We got to listen to a live band out in the middle of the town square. One lady was playing the bells, it was really amazing, it was a huge instrument on it’s own trailer with a lady inside playing a song on the bells. We walked around and saw the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, the Belfry and the Saint Nicholas Church. Ghent is also a beautiful historic city. We ate dinner here and enjoyed walking around. We got back to Amsterdam late, we didn’t want to leave we had a wonderful day in Belgium.
Sunday we went to church in Haarlem its only about 15 minutes from Amsterdam. The girls both went to nursery since the primary lesson was in Dutch. During Sunday school we had someone translate for us so that was different. Then during sacrament meeting we wore headphones and someone translated everything into English. The people were all very friendly and welcoming, they speak English but all the meetings are in Dutch. After church we explored Haarlem. We saw 2 giant Cathedrals one was the Gothic St. Bavo’s church and we walked around the Grote Market, the beautiful central market square. Most of the center is pedestrian only streets, there are lots of shops but they were closed because it was Sunday. Then we drove up to lands end Den Helder, the Northern tip of the Netherlands. We saw the Ijsselmeer a great lake that is 250 miles in circumference. It looks like the ocean (it actually is) they created a giant dam and so the ocean was on one side and this great lake on the other side. We drove across part of the bridge/dam. We had a picnic dinner with the Ijsselmeer Lake on one side and the ocean on the other. We wanted to see more but we ran out of daylight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

First Week in the Netherlands

Sunday we drove from Paris France north through Belgium and into the Netherlands. It was about a 5 hour drive. France has expensive toll roads!
We stayed in Vianen this week in a hotel since we were unable to find an apartment for a reasonable price for the week. I guess there was some big conference going on and everything was booked. It all worked out, we had a big family type room with a separate room for the kids. We had a little fridge in the room so we were able to have breakfast and lunch in the room, but had to go out for dinner every night, which can be somewhat difficult with kids. We managed to find all the American fast food chains here since they are the least expensive and most kid friendly. They have McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King. The other problem was no washing machine so we had to do a bit of laundry in the bathtub =) (we had a big Jacuzzi tub so it made great bubbles!)
Brett had a training class Monday through Friday just up the street from our hotel. He passed his EMC certification test on Friday YEAH!
We enjoyed our little town in Vianen it’s right by a little river and very green, with a neat downtown area with shops. Across from our hotel was a pasture with little pony’s so we had to go visit them everyday. There was also a little playground at the hotel so the kids loved that. We also found some baby goats and deer that we went to visit nearby.
Monday evening we drove north about 10km to Utrecht it’s a good sized city. Everyone rides bikes around here! I’ve never seen so many bikes in one place, but they have a good system here for bikes with their own paved pathways and they can get through traffic easier and can park it anywhere for free, it’s also flat here so its easy to ride a bike anywhere. It would be a bit difficult to try to take the 3 kids on a bike on my own 2 would work they have kid seats for the front and the back. We walked around a pedestrian area with lots of shops and ate dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken (but they had no mashed potatoes and gravy! My favorite part!)
Tuesday the kids and I got on a bus near our hotel and went into Utrecht we found a fun playground for the kids and a mall. It’s great that everyone speaks English here, they teach the kids in school. People usually speak in Dutch to you unless you ask for English, they say they speak a little English but usually its very good. Everything is written in Dutch so I have to ask for translations.
Wednesday the kids and I went into Nieuwegein where Brett had his training class and we found a little mall and bought a new stroller for Allden yeah! His little stroller/backpack was falling apart since we’ve used it so much and I had to backpack him everywhere, so this will save our shoulders and back. In the evening we drove into downtown Amsterdam to check out an apartment. The traffic was pretty crazy and navigating through the big city was a little crazy but we found our way. The city has a lot of character and is different than any other city we have been to. There are tall narrow houses all along the canals and bridges everywhere! We found the Intel site where Brett would be working the next couple weeks it’s near the airport. A friend of one of the guys Brett works with was allowing us to rent her apartment for a good price starting next week.
Thursday we explored our little town and shops, it has a really cool downtown area with nice walking paths. I saw some wooden shoes for sale but they looked pretty uncomfortable and would be too big and bulky for the luggage. (I haven’t seen anybody wearing wooden shoes here)
Friday the kids and I went to a nice park near Brett’s training class it had a little childrens petting zoo with sheep, cows, pigs, goats, bunny’s, pony’s, and chickens and it had a playground and best of all it was free! I think I like the small towns better than the big towns. The people are all more laid back and friendly. Friday evening we drove south to Rotterdam. It’s a big city and a huge port town. We were walking along the road and all the sudden the bar comes down and the road lifts straight up and a boat goes through. This is normal for a country with so much water. Most of the Netherlands is actually below sea level and they have used windmills to get the water up and create more land.
Saturday Brett was finally free so we drove down to Belgium near Brussels and went to Mini Europe. It was a park where they made models of famous places around Europe from all the countries in the European Union. The models were made on a scale of 1/25 and were very accurate compared to the real monument. One model took 24,000 hours of work to complete (the equivalent of one person working for 13 years!) It was fun to walk around and learn about famous places around Europe, we’ve seen a few of the places and look forward to seeing more.
Sunday we moved out of our hotel and traveled north to Amsterdam, about 45 minutes. We are staying in a little apartment here for the next 10 days. This place will be fairly close to the Intel site. We are very close to the center of Amsterdam but in a pretty good location close to a huge park and playground. The downside to being in town is paying for parking everywhere even at our apartment. The apartment is tiny with only one bedroom but it has a bitty kitchen and a washing machine (what the hotel lacked) so we’ll make do. It’s about 485 sq ft. It makes you realize you really can get by on much less. This trip has made me appreciate what we do have. An oven, dishwasher, and clothes dryer are all luxury’s we don’t always have here. I’ve also tried shelf milk-when it’s cold it’s not too bad. Also Cheddar cheese is very expensive here so we have tried some different cheeses. It’s much different living daily life in a place than just coming for a vacation, you definitely see and live as the people here would not just a “tourist”.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A week in France

Bonjour! We just finished up our week in France. Brett had a server outage the first part of the week so he worked a lot of extra hours so the kids and I were on our own. Nobody speaks much English here so that was a challenge. We found our way around, to the grocery store and around our town. We stayed outside of Paris right on the river Seine which was very nice.
The kids and I ventured into Paris on our own one day. We rode a train from our town (no way was I going to attempt to drive into the big city on my own with 3 kids!) It was about a 30 minute train ride and the kids got to see the metro so that was fun. We went to the Luxembourg house and gardens. It’s a huge park and a beautiful house. There were walking paths, trees grass, a big pool where kids race little sail boats, and the most important part for the kids a big playground. After they played they got to go on a pony ride which Alana loved! Luckily I found someone to speak English so I could catch the right train back home. Whew! I’m glad I don’t live in the big city its just difficult with small children, people everywhere you just have to always hold onto them. We had a fun day in Paris!
Thursday night we travelled into Paris to see the Arc de Triumph and the Eiffel Tower. It was fun to see the Eiffel Tower it lights up and sparkles like a Christmas Tree. We took the lift all the way to the top. It was a very long wait to get to the top but it was worth it. A once in a lifetime experience I guess. You could look out over the city and see all the lights. The Arc de Triumph was also neat to see, it’s in the middle of the road in a gigantic roundabout with 12 streets connecting into it, hope you take the right exit! What a fun night!
Friday afternoon Brett was able to break away and we went to the Palace of Versailles. This place was amazing! We took a tour of the gardens which were huge with statues and fountains and lakes. Then we took a tour of the Palace which was lavishly decorated with no expenses spared. I liked all the paintings on the ceiling.
Saturday we took a trip to see Mount St. Michael, it was about a 4hr drive but it was worth it. This place is amazing! It’s a mountain out in the ocean with a big castle/abbey on top, and a little village built all around it. When the tides come in it is surrounded by water. The tides come in really fast and covers the parking lot at high tide. We got there when the tide was on its way out so then it just looks like a mountain in the middle of a big vast sand bar. We spent half the day touring the abbey and walking around. This place was our favorite in France, and one of the highlights