No new entries will be posted til April Fools' Day. Tomorrow morning we leave on our longest university trip of the semester, and it's a doozy. It looks like this:
Monday: bus to Luxembourg City, tour the city, continue on to our hotel in Strasbourg, France
Tuesday: tour Strasbourg and the wineries of Alsace, stay in Strasbourg that night
Wednesday: Leave Strasbourg for Paris!
Thu-Fri-Sat: Tour Paris, arrive home late Saturday night.
Best news of all: the weather is supposed to be absolutely ideal. Partly sunny to mostly sunny skies, highs in the 60's. We can't believe our luck, especially since this past week saw a return to the raw winter weather that Lonely Planet described as "wretched." Mid-week, JieJie and MeiMei actually had to put hats, mittens and scarves on after we were certain they were gone for good.
I've been reading Take the Kids to Paris, a handy guide for our situation. The plan is to go on as many excursions with the JMU students as possible, but to have some alternates in mind in case it gets to be too much. The Tuileries gardens look like a definitely possibility, especially since they're right there at the Louvre, one of the stops on our tour. Only bummer is, a lot of things don't open til April 1, including the little amusement park area at the Tuileries and also at the Bois de Boulogne. But we will certainly find plenty of great things to do. JieJie and MeiMei have gotten to be experts at going with the flow, so I look forward to this trip knowing we will all have a great time, not that there won't be the Meltdown du Jour, but they're growing out of a lot of that too, especially since our usual response is kind of a blase "are you done yet?"
It's so strange to feel as though our time in Antwerp is coming to an end, but in a way it already has. We have no more truly open space in our itinerary. We know what we're doing with almost every day until we leave Belgium for Spain. That's a real mental shift. When there are entire weeks on the calendar with nothing specific planned, it's like the unopened presents under the Christmas tree--they could be anything, sitting there in their pretty wrapping. Now, though, we know what's under the tree, though we haven't actually unwrapped it.
So what's on tap after Paris? Well, here's the long and short of it: JieJie and MeiMei have no school again until April 16th because of a two-week Easter break, or paasvakantie (kind of funny when you think about the easter egg coloring kits that Paas makes! There's the name, and I never knew that's why the company was called Paas!). We have decided to use the first week to rest from Paris and do day-trips, maybe rent bicycles in good weather, go to Mechelen one day either to the zoo (if weather is good) or the Speelgoedmuseum (toy museum). Then on Good Friday, I hope to see the Bach St. John Passion at the Carrolus Borromeuskerk--what a thrill that will be. If one of the students is in town, John will come with me and we'll make an evening of it. Then comes Easter Sunday. We're going to see what our options are for Easter services. On the one hand it would be nice to go to the giant Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Our Dear Lady's Church), but on the other hand, a service in English would be nice too, and there is certainly an impressive cathedral somewhere here with a service in English.
Initially we had thought a trip out of town over Easter weekend might be fun, and I had done some research into biking the flat trails in Germany's STUNNING Moselle Valley, which follows a tributary of the Rhine River through the heart of the Riesling country (my goodness you must think all we do is drink wine and plan to drink wine). Ultimately though we decided to shelve that trip for another time, maybe a Germany/Czech Republic trip. Staying in Antwerp for Easter means that the girls can have their Easter baskets, we can make a nice dinner, and all that jazz.
Easter Monday we are heading out of town, however. The prospect of two weeks with no school sent me researching options for getting away with the girls, preferably to the sea, and I found a great deal for that second week. John will be able to join us for one, maybe two nights, but will have to spend much of that week in Antwerp because our students are still in the midst of their classes and he has logistical responsibilities.
I have decided to rent a studio apartment in DePanne at the Belgian coast. We'll have a sunny balcony and a view of one of the most beautiful beaches in Belgium, very wide, unspoiled, with beautiful dunes. JieJie and MeiMei LOVE the beach. Even if it ends up being cold, we can always play in the sand, rent bikes and explore, and near DePanne is the kiddie amusement park called (you gotta say it out loud) Plopsaland! And if it's rainy and we're cooped up inside...well, at least we'll be cooped up somewhere new. Because it's still the low/off season, four nights in DePanne at the place I found (to be revealed after we are safely home of course) only costs about 300 euro. We'll bring breakfast stuff, cook lunches at the apartment and find affordable dinner places, and ta-da, instant beach vacation. Yay. Also, the rail system is offering half-price fares to the coast during the first two weeks of April so my ticket will be 50% off.
And the day we get back from that, we got tickets to the K3 show "De Drie Biggetjes" (the three little pigs)!!!!!! The two shows they had scheduled sold out, so they added shows on April 13th and we snagged four seats in the 16th row. It should be so much fun. The girls were on their absolutely best behavior all week trying to earn the tickets, and they succeeded.
I'm excited that we were able to use JieJie and MeiMei's paasvakantie time for them, since they've been so great on this trip. They'll have two weeks where it doesn't matter what time they wake up, they don't have to wear a uniform, cram down breakfast, rush to the tram, etc and they can just hang out.