Thursday, December 11, 2008

Catching up yet again

Ok - while the girls try to settle down and fall asleep after a joyous round of tree decorating (no ornaments broken, no tantrums from them or us), I'll tell you about MeiMei's 5th birthday...before she turns 6!

As you might recall, we went to Belgium last summer for about 3 weeks, with a side trip to Germany's Rhine valley area. We got back to Antwerpen, used the rental car to go to Plopsaland, and then were invited by Belgian friends S & Ie to go on a sailboat ride. It happened to be MeiMei's 5th birthday, and at first they said "maybe you want to do something more traditional and you don't want to come to the boat?" Our quick reply was "Oh, we DEFINITELY want to come to the boat!"

We still had the rental car (keeping it thru the weekend was the same price as returning it on Friday...we're SO glad we kept it!) so we turned on the Obi Wan Kenobi GPS unit and made our way to the port town of Vlissingen (which would be Flushing in English, like the town in Queens, NY) in The Netherlands, just across the border & a very short drive. We found the port area easily, called our friends, and they walked to meet us so we could walk with them to their folks' sailboat. Ie's parents were very welcoming...after all, we were complete strangers, bringing two little kids aboard their boat, so who knew what would happen? But soon we were having sandwiches, wine, and delicious fresh cherries from the market in Antwerpen. When I asked Ie if I could bring anything from town, she had asked for more bread for sandwiches--it was still warm from the oven when I picked it up at Spar over by the Meir--and when I saw those cherries they were too good to resist!

JieJie and MeiMei played with H & E, our friends' two little girls, we had pastries from Bastin instead of cake, tried to have candles to blow out but the wind beat MeiMei to the punch, so we just laughed and ate the yummy pastries, including eclairs shaped like swans. Ie's dad suggested we go ahead and sail. E had apparently been afraid to sail, but they thought maybe if she saw our girls enjoying themselves, she could get over her fear. Soon we were out of the port (through a VERY narrow passage!) and out onto the Schelde Estuary, where the River Schelde empties into the North Sea. It was choppy, but manageable. Every time we hit a big wave, our girls just thought they were back on a thrill ride at Plopsaland, no big deal. E soon settled in and we were so happy she wasn't scared.

It took maybe a 1/2 hour to get across the estuary to the little port town of Breskens on the other side. We went to a little eatery there and had a drink and snack, and the girls played on the playground a bit. Then we went back to Vlissingen, over noticeably rougher water--the girls were strapped to the boat!), said thank you and goodbye to Ie's parents, and drove with S & Ie to the town of Middleburg to have some dinner. You should, in your abundant spare time, search for Middleburg on Google Maps and switch to satellite view. You can really see the shape of an old, old town, with a center containing fortress-like buildings, streets arranged in rings around the center, and just outside of that, a zig-zag of moats and canals still in use today. We found a nice outdoor place to eat where the girls could run around in a cobblestone courtyard while we waited for the food to arrive. Dinner was lovely, and then we walked around Middleburg a bit. If you've ever been to Delft and enjoyed just walking around, you would definitely love Middleburg! It is spotlessly clean, too...I joked to John that they seem to have vacuumed the outside walls of their houses!

To get back to Antwerpen, S drove us the secret way on roads that cross the border with little fanfare. He told John that smugglers used to drive those roads. It took a few u-turns to figure out how to cross some of the canals in the HUGE Port of Antwerpen before we found ourselves back in town, but we did it, and what a neat way to go.

So THAT, finally, is the story of MeiMei's 5th birthday. John and I joke about how, gee, it's just so much like our own 5th birthdays...NOT...

If I don't post again til 2009, I wish you and yours a happy, happy holiday season and good fortune in the new year. We have no immediate plans for amazing, blog-worthy trips...most recently we spent a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town, (Edina, MN) for Thanksgiving. Happy 70th birthday, dad!

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