Saturday, February 03, 2007

Not Going to Brussels

One of my requests, as someone whose main duty on this semester abroad is to look after the interests of my almost-5 and 3 1/2 year olds, is that I be given a copy of the itineraries for any out of town trips. I want to know where the potential trouble spots are.

Last weekend's trip to Gent and Brugge was ideal. Minimal time on the bus, lots of walking tours in beautiful locales, and just one short tour that needed an alternate plan (the Gravensteen in Gent).

When I got the itinerary for today's trip to Brussels, two major alarm bells went off. First, after a 45-minute bus ride just to get to Brussels, the itinerary says "two hour bus tour with guide." This means the girls would be on the bus, having to be quiet, with no access to food or a potty for two hours at the most active time of their day. Not a deal-breaker...I could always just ask to be let off near the town center which I've visited before. But then strike two: an hour and a half guided museum tour during the part of the afternoon when they're used to curling up with a quiet toy, a book or their LeapPads. Basically this would mean spending most of the day away from the group, ambling around Brussels in The Stroller.

It just didn't make any sense whatsoever, so we're staying put and we'll see hubby/daddy at dinner tonight. Our next trip, in a few weeks, is to the Ardennes and Western Germany and we're definitely going because it's a 3-day, 2-night jaunt. More on that later in February.

So what will we do with our day? The weather seems cooperative, so we have a choice between two different spots, both within walking/easy tram distance: Antwerp's famous zoo, with its Art Nouveau gates and buildings, or Aquatopia, a huge indoor aquarium complex. Both of these places are adjacent to Antwerp's Chinatown, so perhaps we'll get lunch there. I would love some good Chinese food, and it's also interesting to see how Chinese cooks adapt their recipes to suit the tastes of the locals. You will find Chinese restaurants all over the world, but depending upon where you are, the dishes are not ever prepared in a truly authentic way unless you're in China proper. The "Ristorante Cinese" in Italy is heavy on noodles. American Chinese Restaurants do a lot of breaded and fried stuff and lean toward sweeter recipes.

I look forward to hearing from John about the tour of Brussels. We've already decided that we'll do a family daytrip there on one of our free days coming up. Frankly, I've got a touch of bronchitis so I'm thankful for the rest too.

Yesterday the girls had a day off of school so we took them by bus to Pirateneiland (Pirate Island), a huge pirate themed indoor play park with plenty to climb on, crawl through, slide down, and bounce around. And since we're not in sue-happy liability insurance land anymore, they actually had some FUN things for kids to play on! And they have an interesting take on what parents might do while the kiddies are climbing around saying "ahoy, mijn hartjes:" there are three kinds of Belgian beer on tap! Stop hovering, mom and dad--chill out by the window with a pint! The bar wasn't open on Friday morning, because that's when school groups come through...I suppose it would be bad form for the teachers to knock a few back while the 100+ kids that they've just spent an hour on the bus with run around like crazy gnomes. Ya think?

Since there's a food theme lately I will of course share what we had for lunch: JieJie had a croque monsieur again (hot ham and cheese), MeiMei had a grilled cheese (croque monsieur with no ham), John had boeuf bourguignon (sp?) and I had a traditional flemish beef stew in (what else?) beer sauce. We all shared a bowl of frites (fries) with the Belgian condiment: mayo. The girls didn't ask for ketchup, and they're starting to say "ja (yes)" and "nee (no)" regularly. Wonder how long it will be before we hear an entire phrase in Nederlands (Dutch) pop out of their mouths.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

School: To stay or not to stay (all day)?

We have been so happy with the school we found for JieJie and MeiMei, and they clearly feel at home there too. Of course it's not been without the predictable bumpy moments as they adjust. JieJie says some kids don't let her ride on the few tricycles they have at playground time (they block her like a tiny little traffic cop), and she reported that some other kids were pulling MeiMei by her arms (we wonder if they were just fighting over who would play with her and got carried away) but we haven't heard more stories like that this week...I think/hope it is just normal kids-testing-each-other stuff, and trust that we'd have heard if there were problems that merited our involvement. It will be better for JieJie when her little friend is back.

The teachers and staff are very firm disciplinarians but clearly very loving and kind. JieJie's teacher went out of her way to find out how her preschoolers could learn to make their own snow globes, since they're studying winter this week. They turned out so well! We were asked to bring in a jelly jar (actually it was an empty red cabbage jar). Yesterday, JieJie made a snowman out of dough. The teacher took all the little snowmen home and baked them, brought them back, and then the kids assembled their snow globes with water and glitter, and it works just like a real one. JieJie's creation is proudly displayed on the mantel in the apartment. It may be the only "snow" we see this winter, very mild weather we're having.

Since things are going well enough after three weeks of school, we're starting to think about having them stay for lunch and the early afternoon which usually consists of art or music or some other fun activity. They seem curious to see what happens when their classmates head in the opposite direction at noon when we pick them up. Probably best to try just one day next week and see how they react.

If you look at the big picture, it might be good for them to spend longer days in school. They won't really have a ton of days in school, between school vacation days and our side trips cutting into the weeks. Between now and the end of April, they'll be out for four weeks total! There's a week off in February (that's when our program goes to Germany), then we're gone the last week of March to Luxembourg/Strasbourg/Paris, and then the school takes the first two weeks of April off for Easter...then they have only 8 more days of school til we leave. I can see why some people who bring older kids on a semester abroad choose to home-school them through online courses. If the girls were in first grade or beyond, they would miss a great deal of school, though travel is of course very educational.

Food again - Bakkerij Goossens etc.

Just a P.S. to yesterday's post, the dagmenu at 't Injaske did not disappoint. I was almost going to order Moussaka but decided to try the dagmenu (menu of the day). It just said something in Dutch about a plate baked in the oven. They make great comfort food there - sounded like casserole to me. It was like au gratin potatoes with ham and leeks, with some cheese sprinkled on top and put under the broiler to make a crackly crust. It was served with some squash soup as a starter. Yum.

This morning we wandered around looking for a cafe after the girls were safely ensconced at school, and ended up at Monaco on the Meir. Cappucino was good there. We read a London Times and watched the traffic go by.

Next we decided to try Goossens Bakery. That's the place I'd found in the "starfish" of pedestrian streets just off the Meir, on Korte Gasthuisstraat, the one with a line out the door. I found out why there's a line out the door--what scrumptious stuff they have there! I got some whole grain bread, sliced, a coffee cake type pastry with frangipane filling for tomorrow's breakfast, and six koekjes (cookies) that are like pinoli cookies sandwiched around a pistachio filling. Yum! I hear they make bread with apples every Friday morning...we'll have to stop by there again for more scrumptious treats.

Finally we stopped into a bookstore called Standaard Boekhandel. They have a good children's book section and a good English language novel section, but we didn't get anything today. I'm still working on Dave Eggers' What is the What and after that is Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children. The girls have a small but growing collection of English language books (the one thing we could've brought more of--hard to find here!) thanks to my mom and aunt, who have so generously mailed a few at a time.

Got back to the apartment and hung out til John went to get the girls. I made lunch while they were on their way back. No school tomorrow, so we're looking into a daytrip of some kind.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Foodies Rejoice!

Today has been a great day for eating amazing food.

Breakfast was our usual whatever-people-want, with MeiMei's Choco-Muesli, JieJie's dipping eggs, John's coffee, and my Special K with red berries.

Uniforms on, school bags packed, and it's off to the #7 tram, switch to the #8, get off at our stop on Lange Leemstraat and head to school. Remind MeiMei to kiss & hug because she's already showing her new headband to her teacher. Peel JieJie's hands off my thigh as she makes a big show of wanting me to stay (same thing at her Virginia school--we see the giggle in her eyes now when she does it, so it's not a concern).

John and I walk back toward our place, stopping at a nice cafe on the Wapper, a few doors down from the Rubens museum. We've been here before and like the Boulanger, which includes two individual pots of coffee, with little chocolates of course, and a basked of croissants, butter and strawberry preserves. This has become date-time, this period between drop-off and 10am when stores open. We don't do dinner and a movie anymore, it's leisurely breakfast and it's great!

This morning we decided to go to the National Maritime Museum at the Steen castle on the Schelde River. It is a really nice museum, and all museums are free the last Wednesday of the month (today) - what luck! In the museum we enjoyed a fine collection of all things having to do with the history of the Port of Antwerp, from paintings to artifacts to the many many many models they have of different types of ships that have docked here. In the most impressive room toward the end of the exhibit halls, you start by looking at a dugout canoe from the earliest recorded history here, and end up looking at a fascinating cross-section model of a luxury steamship operated by the Red Star Line between Antwerp and New York. My dad in particular is going to want to spend some time there, as his dad was in the U.S. Navy and my dad has always liked boating-related stuff.

On the way back to the apartment, we went through the always-impressive Grote Markt with all the guildhalls overlooking the square and the Brabo Fountain. I hope I never take that view for granted. We wanted to grab some chocolates just to have around, but little did we know we were going to get an education about Belgian chocolates!

It was 11am when we walked into a chocolate shop just off the Grote Markt. We were the only ones in the shop for the next half hour and the shopkeeper takes such pride in what he sells, it was a truly amazing shopping experience. I asked if he had an assortment. He asked if it was a gift--I said sheepishly no, it's for us, just to have some in the house. He got a gleam in his eye and started asking about our tastes. Did we like dark, milk, or light chocolate? Did we like marzipan? Nuts? Nougat? Caramel-butterscotch? Marshmallows? Grand Marnier? Cognac? Were we American, French, ?? We answered the questions and said we were American. He said "I know what you want" and started throwing all kinds of chocolate into a small bag. I'm thinking it's going to get expensive, but I was too interested to care.

Along the way, he handed us all kinds of samples. Here--try this dark chocolate with cocoa powder...Americans like it. Here--try this framboise and taste how the flavors bloom one at a time, chocolate, raspberry, cinnamon, and chocolate again, and never too sweet. Here--try this thin slice of dark chocolate that children like to melt on their toast. No don't eat it yet--hold it to the light first and see how it shines. That's how you know it's good. Do you like this? It's a crunchy caramel--toffee, I said we called it. He told us about the amazing eggs that will appear on his shelves before Easter, Picasso eggs he called them. And hollow eggs that you hang by ribbons. and eggs filled with candy confetti. And on and on.

Finally, the piece de resistance. He turned the radio off in the shop so it was totally silent and held up a cube that he said was dark chocolate covered mocha marshmallow. Listen! he said. And he broke the marshmallow--I swear you could hear tiny air bubbles popping right there in the shop. We tried the candy (John is NOT a marshmallow person) and agreed it was just heavenly. The girls would love a strawberry one. I can't wait for Easter!

The damage for the whole big huge bag of assorted chocolates, enough to last us til next payday, was only 15 euro. The shopkeeper talked a lot about how Americans think they are buying Belgian chocolates but that what we are getting is made so that it lasts a year, and "real" Belgian chocolate is only good for a month. He kept using the word "fresh," a word I've never heard associated with chocolate. You really can taste the difference though, and you can tell that there's real cream and butter in some of the fillings, which would make the "fresh" idea make sense. I believe we now have a favorite chocolate shop. If you go to Antwerp, go chocolate shopping at Chateau Blanc on a quiet morning when you have time to be spoiled with enough samples to fill you up for the day!

Lunch was with the girls, at the Frituur Die Witte near their school. A Frituur is a place where you can get all different kinds of fried things, especially french fries--ahem, Belgian fries. We had a mini order of fries (a kleine is huge) with curry ketchup, my new favorite condiment, and also a breaded hot dog called a currywurst, and a chicken/onion kebab deep-fried and sprinkled with spices. The girls raided the fries till there were none left, and JieJie had a second currywurst. Not something we're going to do a lot of--they use beef lard in the fryer so it's delicious but extra-unhealthy--but it was a delicious treat for a Wednesday afternoon.

Tonight's dinner will be at a neighborhood restaurant called Eetcafe 't Injaske. I'll probably order the Dagmenu (menu of the day) because it's a great way to get a good value and try a regional specialty. Last time the dagmenu there was trout wrapped in salmon in a cream sauce with leeks and mashed potatoes and it was yummy.

We've also learned how to order beer Antwerp-style. You can order a "Bollecke" (BOWL-uh-kuh) which is a kind of beer DeKoninck makes, or you can order a "Pintje" (pinch-ya) which is a small glass of the house beer. I'm not a huge beer drinker but when in Antwerp...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our DeLijn 3-month Passes

De Lijn is the company that runs trams and buses that serve the entire Flanders region. We've started to learn which trams and buses take us where we need to go. If it's bad weather, instead of taking The Stroller, we can walk down to the end of our street, catch the 7, transfer at a number of points to the 8, and get off at the end of the street our daughters' school is on. Timing can be tricky. Depending upon how long it takes to get that first tram, and how far behind the 7 the next 8 is, it's taken us fifteen minutes to get the girls to school, and it's also taken an hour (twice as long as walking) because of traffic. Since the trams run on the regular streets without their own lane much of the time, they are affected by traffic lights and rush hour just as the cars and buses are. Still, it's a fun way to see the city and a pretty effortless way to get around.

What we decided to do, with part of our transportation allotment from the university, is buy a 3-month pass on De Lijn. It will expire the day before we leave Antwerp--perfect! It costs 75 euro for the pass, but once you have it, you can take any bus or tram in the region at any time.

To buy a pass for DeLijn, bring your money and your passport to the DeLijn office on Franklin Roosevelt Plaats (it's in one of the low buildings in the midst of all the buses at that depot area). You should also be prepared to write down your local address, which goes on your pass. The pass itself is just a slip of paper in a plastic holder. We keep them in our passport holders, since if we are ever checked for our passes, we'd need to show our passport at that time as well.

It's kind of weird getting on all these buses and trams and never showing anyone a ticket, but we've been told that sooner or later a conductor will spot check us, so we'll make sure always to have it with us.

Lactose Intolerance in Dairy Paradise

It is not uncommon for people of Chinese descent to have problems with lactose allergy (most common in babies and young children) or lactose intolerance (which comes on in childhood and persists through adulthood). JieJie has a mildly bad reaction when there's too much dairy making its way through her system. We used to handle that with soy milk until MeiMei came along and proved allergic to the protein in legumes. Our compromise, rather than having four kinds of milk in the house, was lactose free cow's milk, something readily available at home in Virgnia.

Here in Antwerp, and indeed in much of Europe, you can find many wonderful dairy products. The butter is wonderful, spreadable right from the fridge. The types of cheese we can try are nearly endless. So far my favorites are young Gouda and Leerdamer. And can we talk yogurt? There aren't yogurt sections here, there are yogurt AISLES. You can get drinkable yogurt, pourable plain yogurt, fruity yogurt, diet yogurt, tiny little shots of probiotic yogurt to promote digestive health, yogurt tiramisu, kids' yogurt, snack yogurt in a tube, Fristi yogurt and fruit drink in a juice box...and both girls LOVE yogurt.

JieJie would eat yogurt and cheese til the cows come home, and then she'd ask said cows for some milk. Poor thing, she loves the thing that causes some pretty bad lower digestive tract issues, not to get too graphic about it.

I thought well, at least we can get lactose free milk, but it was really hard to find initially. Most milk is not stored cold in a dairy case, but is sealed until needed--if you're familiar with Parmalat, or any of the vacuum sealed soy milk products, you get the picture. There's a whole milk aisle of different products, and I finally found in one little corner of the Super GB on the Groenplats a section of "lactosevrij" milk from Finland, so that's what we've been buying. It's actually pronounced like lactose-free, since the v is more of an f sound and the j is like a y.

Problem solved, and JieJie's little system seems to have settled down, as long as we don't go overboard with cheese and yogurt. Now if only the bean allergy weren't keeping us from getting cans of tempting!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Our IKEA Adventure

So once the girls are home from school for the day, it's lunch, then quiet time, and then...??? It's easy to feel cooped up right now. The weather's cold and cloudy/rainy, the days are short, and the apartment, though well laid out, is still smaller than the upstairs of our house at home.

This afternoon I told the girls if they wanted to go to IKEA, I'd take them. They know from visits to Grandma and Grampa's near the Mall of America in Minnesota that IKEA has a very cool kids-only playground. They said "yippee" and got ready.

We walked to Franklijn Rooseveltplaats where all the buses arrive and depart, and found bus 502 which goes out to the 'burbs, specifically Wilrijk. It took about 45 minutes to get to IKEA (pronounced EE-KAY-uh here) and we went through a beautiful, ritzy neighborhood called Berchem which reminded me of nice areas around Capitol Hill in Washington DC--gorgeous townhouses.

The girls wanted to stay in the playground area, so I showed the attendants my passport and gave my cellphone number and the girls hopped in. How cool, I thought - they're in heaven and I get a whole hour to shop in a store I like. Just in case they balked after a half hour, I went straight for the kitchen accessories section and found what we needed for the apartment: soup spoons (we've been eating soup with espresso spoons) and a kitchen scissors (only one euro!). Didn't find the cheese knife (how can any apartment in this city not have a cheese knife???) but I've seen that at HEMA, which is such a nice store you really don't even need IKEA.

I went through checkout before learning that I should've bought a plastic bag for 10 cents, so went back to get that, then got the girls out of the play room where they were coloring and watching a Princess Jasmine movie in Dutch. I got the feeling they would've stayed much longer, but it was time to get back, already 5:30.

We went out to the bus stop and just missed the 5:39 back home, so had to wait til 6pm. Even a year ago, that would have meant certain disaster, but the girls are just old enough that they can start to go with the flow a little bit, lucky for me. It was my fault for not checking the return schedule.

At one point, as we whiled away 20 minutes at the bus stop, JieJie said "I wish we lived here Mommy." I said "really? what do you like about it?" thinking she meant Belgium, thinking how wonderful this experience could be for a kid, thinking the furthest I'd been from home at her age was Brainerd. She said "well, if we lived right here we wouldn't have to wait for a bus!" Oh....duh.

So the bus came, we headed back into town, then we caught a tram that went within a block or so of the apartment, and around the time they usually go to bed we sat down to dinner.

I learned that trips to IKEA are probably not a good fit between quiet time and dinner, but I would much rather have an adventure like that than stay in the apartment all afternoon, griping at each other about not jumping on the couch for the 23rd time! Let's hear it for De Lijn, bus and tram service of Flanders! Heck, I'd hop a tram just to see where it went if the weather gets yucky again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Daytrip: Gent and Brugge

200 people viewed this blog last week! No Lauren, you're not the only one posting. All readers, please feel free to post comments.

What a fantastic day we had Saturday! It was our first daytrip with the whole group of 30 JMU students, our Director of Logistics Mr. K, John, JieJie, MeiMei and me. Our destinations: Gent (Ghent, if you're British) and Brugge (Bruges, if you're a French-speaking Belgian).

We met the tour bus promptly at 9am at the bus stop on the Paardenmarkt (Horse Market). The Stroller fit beautifully into the baggage compartment and the driver was so sweet to the girls. Right away, JieJie asked if she could sit with a college student, and in the next few minutes, I got a glimpse of her as a teenager. I called out to ask who would like a seatmate, and JieJie put her hands over her ears and hid, totally mortified. I'll have to be more subtle. Anyway, she and MeiMei each buddied up with a 20-something and we were off to our first stop, Gent, capital of East Flanders. It was about an hour on the bus. The countryside is flat, lots of farms with little towns here and there. You'd think it would be more built up with so many people in relatively little area, but it's quite bucolic not far from the city limits.

Gent is BEAUTIFUL, historic, pleasant, people were friendly, and I definitely want to go back when we have more time. To prepare for the trip, I got an itinerary about mid-week to see if there were any parts of the day that wouldn't suit preschoolers. Mr. K had forewarned me that the major tour of the morning, of the Gravensteen, or Count's Castle, was not a good place for an accident-prone 3 1/2 year old because it's a real medieval castle with precarious stairs, no railings, and some steep drops if you lose your step. Also at the top of the climb there's an exhibit of medieval torture devices (how in the world do you explain to a preschooler that people would go to so much trouble to hurt someone else so badly on purpose????).

Anyway, looked like we'd have an hour to use as we pleased, so I read up on the other things to see. Luckily, the city center of Gent is compact. It's easy to see lots of things without walking all over the place. When we parted from the students and John, we decided to get a snack and then see the beautiful canals, bridges, cathedrals and guildhalls of Gent.

We walked into a tiny bake shop and the girls saw what they wanted: eclairs and Bismarcks filled with custard. I chose an eclair. We went back to the unheated lounge area of the Vleeshuis (Meat House, which used to be like a meat market but now features regional food specialties) and sat there with our jackets on, getting our faces full of chocolate and powdered sugar. It was JieJie's first eclair, a momentous occasion indeed. It was so quiet in that building, JieJie asked if people came there to pray!

From there, I decided we should walk along one of the canals and cross by St. Michaels Bridge, which is supposed to give one of the best views in the city. It was really easy to find the way, and we were rewarded with a beautiful view in every direction. We could see the wide canals where boats used to tie up in front of guildhalls for hundreds of years when Gent was a major trading center. The weather was perfect too--we really lucked out.
Here's one shot I took, of a tour boat going down the canal. We didn't have time to take the 55-minute boat tour, but that's something that would be really fun to do another time. The area around the canal was a good place for the girls to stretch their legs without worrying about traffic, but I'm glad I strapped them in The Stroller as we went down toward the cathedral - there's a major bus/tram transfer point and the roads are very busy.

We met up with the group to reconnoiter, settled on a meeting place and time, and then went into Cafe Leffe for lunch, just our family and Mr. K. The girls shared a Croque Monsieur (that's hot ham and cheese) and the rest of us had omelets. Our coffees came with something sweet on the side (this is the norm - if you order coffee, you either get a little cookie or a chocolate with it) and we shared those with the girls.

After lunch, JieJie wanted to stay with her daddy and MeiMei wanted to come with me. We ducked into a chocolate shop and got a treat - mine was made to look like an acorn and it had hazelnut filling. Hers was a chocolate covered cherry. We got extras for John and JieJie. Since we were right by the big cathedral, we went in there to see it and it is truly magnificent. We lit a candle together (she said her usual dinnertime prayer) and then went around the nave. The sculpture around the pulpit was most impressive. Above the priest is a "roof" and above that is a depiction of the tree of knowledge from the garden of Eden with a voluptuous golden snake entwined in the branches, and a golden apple hanging from one spot (at least I think I remember the apple!). Seems a clear enough message. There's a famous tryptich in there by Jan van Eyck but there wasn't time to see it on this trip--another reason to go back. Mr. K says he prefers Gent to Brugge because it's a working city, not so much a tourist destination. I'm inclined to agree, though Brugge is enchanting.

We gathered everyone together to head for Brugge, another hour or so on the bus. I had prepared for the ride - you never know the girls' frame of mind that time of day, so I had some sticker books for them to play with and they each chose a college student to help them find the pages where each sticker was supposed to go. I had time to look out the window and daydream. What a lovely way to travel, and the girls were truly great--interested in things, willing to try all the different foods, and good about the time on the bus.

We arrived at the Brugge bus let-off and met our tour guides. With such a large group, we split into two smaller groups for the city tours, and John hit it off with our guide right away because this guide teaches American history as well! The walking tour of Brugge was great, though I missed about half of it because I needed to keep the stroller at the periphery of the group. No matter - the city speaks for itself much of the time. We walked down streets no wider than the hallway of our apartment, and strolled out into magnificant plazas with stunning architecture. Much of Flanders and The Netherlands has a style of roof called a "step gable" - I have a photo of a street in Brugge that shows it fairly clearly - you can see how the facade comes to a stepped point at the top in the row of buildings at the right.
After the formal tour concluded, John joined us for a walk to a museum called Choco-Story ( where we learned a little about the history of chocolate, how it grows, what people have made from it, even different types of beautiful serving and storing containers called bonbonnieres. And of course you get to sample some chocolate along the way. The girls got this little sticker game to play as we went through, so they'd have to watch for different important things in the different exhibits. It was a great way to keep them looking really carefully at things, rather than just heading straight for the samples!
We had time to kill, so we strolled around the compact historic center of the city and wound up at the Markt, a great big public square with spectacular buildings on all four sides dating from architectural eras spanning the last thousand years or so. Maybe that's what's so impressive about both Gent and Brugge (and Antwerp for that matter)--seeing so many different aesthetics and building materials/methods right up against one another, distinct yet harmonious.
Dinner filled me with trepidation. We had hoped the girls would nap during the walking tour but they didn't. This meant that they could be at the very end of their energy for the day right during dinner...yikes.
We took up most of the restaurant, the 35 of us, which helped a bit. The girls had some buttered bread to start, and then a tomato cream soup arrived in little turreens--it was absolutely delicious. The main course was salad, steak, a baked potato AND frites (french fries) with ketchup or mayo. Mayo is the Belgian way. The girls actually did pretty well, and when they wanted to get down and wander between courses, which we normally don't allow, it worked because they just wanted to go sit in college student laps. The students were really great with them.
Dessert was called Dame Blanche, but it's really vanilla ice cream and whipped cream with hot fudge sauce. Mind you, in this case it was the best chocolate sauce I've ever had. Mr. K says it won't be our last Dame Blanche, that it's a pretty common dessert here.
We walked to the bus, girls fell asleep in the stroller and we thought for sure they'd sleep all the way back but they woke up as soon as we got on the bus and stayed active the whole time. Luckily there were several students who were interested in showing the day's photos from their digital cameras, sharing music on ipods, or just playing patty-cake games.
We got home and fell into bed at 9pm - what a day! Sunday we did little to nothing - most things are closed anyway. We watched some cartoons, hung out in our pj's, and did a late afternoon walk around the deserted Meir shopping street, where the huge TOTALE UITVERKOOP (everything must go!) signs are now being replaced by a sales term I need not translate: NIEUW COLLECTION! The fashion for spring seems to be, in no particular order, ruffles and more of the layering, with dominant colors being white and khaki. Blah. I may have to sit this one out.

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