Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2,000 Hits and Counting!

I just checked my site meter and the magic number 2,000 has been accomplished. How cool!

So a fitting topic for this entry might be an ode to JieJie and MeiMei's new favorite singing group, K3, otherwise known as "kah-dree" in Flemish (and flip the "r" if you want true authenticity). Our friends M & R (or more correctly their sons, S & V, who had suddenly become aware that boys aren't supposed to like a girl group) gave us the cd "The Wereld Round" and we hear it several times a day.

At a recent trip to the public library, JieJie spotted the DVD of the Wereld Round concert so now we hear the cd AND we see the concert version several times a week. The concert version has some seriously second-rate choreography...I've taken step aerobics classes that were more aesthetically complicated, but the girls really like it, and I have to admit the show is very wholesome. Kind of like Dutch ABBA, as far as the music goes. John really likes it and dances around the apartment to their songs, though he's pretending to make fun of it (after all he has to be Mr. Cool Guy). I like their belly dancing song "Ik Van Je Hou."

So now you can help your preschool girl graduate from The Wiggles to Kah-DREE...I'm actually contemplating taking the girls to the Sportpaleis in April for their concert "The 3 Piggetjes" (the Three Little Pigs, if you haven't guessed).

Thanks for reading! There's plenty more to come.

Tagging along to Leuven

wow--almost 2,000 hits on this blog...thanks for spreading the word!--a
JieJie and MeiMei are getting to be great travelers, and genuinely seem to enjoy getting out and seeing things. They have half-days of school on Wednesdays, so when the university group's trip to Leuven was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon, I told Mr. K (Director of Logistics) that the LL's (Little Ladies, as he calls them) and I would be along for the ride.

We would need to find our own things to do because the students, who are studying business-related subjects during their time in Antwerp, were going to Leuven to visit InBev, the world's largest brewery, maker of Stella Artois and Jupiler among other brands. No little kids allowed in the brewery.

No matter. Our Michelin Green Guide to Belgium indicated that Leuven is known for its extravagantly decorated town hall and its cathedral, and the map showed a walkable city with plenty to keep us occupied for a little while. We loaded La Stroller on the bus and settled in for the ride, a little over an hour.

When we got to InBev, Mr. K pointed the way to the center of Leuven, we arranged a rendezvous time for the return trip, and we were off. We walked past a big bus depot, the train station, and turned down Bondgenotenlaan for the stroll to the town square.

The girls wanted to look in a few stores along the way, and finally we arrived at the town square, which is small enough that it wasn't possible for me to capture the whole of the impressive Stadhuis (Town Hall) facade all in one photo frame. Today the Stadhuis is the seat of the provincial government of Flanders (Vlaanderen), the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. We didn't go in the Town Hall but we did go in the 15th-century St. Pieterskerk right across the square. It was (as is usual with these great European cathedrals) beautiful, lofty, full of wondrous things to see. JieJie and MeiMei wanted to light a candle. As I lit the one JieJie chose, she sang a prayer in Flemish, one she had learned at school. Pretty neat. I like that they get the connection and we have never had to admonish them about being respectful in these amazing buildings, either. They seem to understand.
One of the things I've enjoyed are the elaborately carved wooden pulpits in the cathedrals. I've never paid much attention to them before but I'm tempted to look for a book on the topic. The thing I find almost funny is the reason behind the elaborate decoration, or one reason anyway: the inevitability that some congregants will daydream during the sermon/homily. And when their attention wanders from the person in the pulpit, what do they see? The tree of knowledge with a snake coiled in the branches, the dove of peace, a crucifixion scene, palm trees symbolising Paradise, or perhaps their glance travels to the base of the pulpit where (in Leuven anyway) they see a vision of a horse and its rider being sucked down into Hell. I took some photos of the pulpit in Leuven, which the Michelin guide says is a scene of St. Norbert struck down at the foot of a rock, but they are a bit too dark to post.
We popped into a toy store called Krokodil just off the square--great store!!! We ended up getting two additions to our growing collection of Groovy Girls, which are great little rubbery plastic dolls with names like Oki and Vanessa and O'Ryan...very cute, ethnically diverse, not at all like the Junior Sluts dolls (Bratz) I can't stand. So we came home with Jenna and Bretta and their dune buggy and bicycle.
John sent a text message that things were wrapping up, so we headed back to InBev, stopping along the way for a Croque Monsiour to go for each of the girls. It was a bit raw and windy, so we ducked into the train station waiting room to eat. We ran back to InBev, which we needn't have done because the students spent almost an hour in the gift shop wasting their money (IMHO) on Stella Artois t-shirts and beer mugs. We hung out with the InBev security guard for a while and then were allowed in the secure area to go get on the warm bus for the trip home.
The rest of Leuven, from what I could tell, looks like a nice place, though it's similar enough to other places we've been in Flanders that I wouldn't go out of my way to go there again before we leave.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Boullion in the Semois Valley

We left Bastogne on our whirlwind overnight and headed southwest to Boullion, a beautiful town in the Semois Valley. So far, Boullion has been my favorite place of all the stops on our semester-long itinerary. This photo manages to capture all of the things we did in Boullion. You see the Semois River winding through the photo. The light tan building across the river is the Archeoscope which tells the story of Godfrey of Boullion. In the foreground you see the center courtyards of Godfrey's castle (I took the photo from the uppermost parapet), and in the courtyard you also see the blue bleachers where we sat to view a falconry demonstration. A most useful picture indeed.

So: the Archeoscope. It's really a great place to take kids before you visit Godfrey's castle. It was especially helpful for our group too because in 24 hours we had skipped around historical eras with alarming suddenness. Charlemagne...19th and 20th century coal miners...WW2 battlefields and now The Crusades?! A little orientation was most appreciated. Godefroid de Boullion was born in the 11th century and was a Crusader who sold his castle to pay for his crusade to the Holy Land, where he took the title Defender of Jerusalem (or something to that effect).

The Archeoscope experience is part film, part multimedia, part diorama. We walked through a dark room where a booming voice told us about (love it in French) Godefroid de Boullion (you've gotta say it out loud, gohd-FWAH duh bool-YOHN...French is fun). Then we went into the next room and got front row seats thanks to Mr. K's insider tip on where the exit from part I was located. We sat down and put on headphones, selected English and chose our volume level, and then a great little show unfolded on a stagelike area in front of us, with moving models and different projections showing the story of Godfrey and the castle. MeiMei noted that Godfrey and his wife "fell into love." I asked her last night what that means and she said "when you fall into love, you really want to hug each other."

JieJie listened pretty intently to the narration. MeiMei's head is a bit small and the headphones kept slipping off, but she did ok. We came out into a gift shop and John bought a great book of puzzles that depict life in a castle. It's in French, but he can read it to them so no matter.

We boarded the bus in the increasingly heavy rain and rode to the castle itself, then found a place to sit for a demonstration of the art of falconry. The falconer had owls, vultures and hawks that are trained to hunt smaller birds and other types of animals. Dogs are not allowed in the castle for this reason. One stubborn dog owner disregarded the rule and the owls apparently got both of his small dogs. The falconer said these were American owls and their names are Bill and Monica. Lovely. Anyway.

The rain picked up considerably and I dreaded another 2 hours in the bus with the girls, who obviously wouldn't be up for a tour through the cold wet castle. Mr. K generously offered to take them back to the bus and hang out with them and Rene the bus driver so I could tour the castle. It is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me as a mom, and I almost wept with gratitude. The girls trotted happily off holding Mr. K's hands and we heard later that he bought them a candy bar, they played hide and seek in the bus, and just generally had a great time. Thanks Mr. K!!

John and I enjoyed the tour of the castle and the spectacular views from the parapets. I couldn't help thinking what a great trip it would be to tour the Semois Valley, by car, by boat, by bicycle, or even on foot, and stay at a little inn along the way. If you are looking for a quiet, idyllic, not-too-touristy place for a long weekend while you're in Belgium, allow me to recommend quaint, picturesque Boullion.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...