Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Americans in Paris

What a weekend! We finally have visitors!!! My parents, aunts, and uncles have come to visit and we spent our first weekend together in Paris. I'm so happy I get to show my family our new home and the sites of our little city in Limburg. My parents have finally arrived and are enjoying their vacation. It has been a long anticipated event. Lots of planning, researching things to do, and things to see. I'm happy to have them close. It's hard when I have to go so long without seeing them. They are visiting Bruges right now and will return to the Netherlands tomorrow. I can't wait to show them Maastricht and learn more about where we live, but first...Americans in Paris!
Venus de Milo
What an incredible city. The architecture, the museums, the charm. I loved everything about it. Parisians live the good life. There is never enough time to do everything you like, which is another reason why I am so happy we live relatively close to Paris. A stop at the Louvre was a must and that's where we went first. Being that it's the largest museum in the world you can only pick and choose what you would like to see. It's impossible to see everything. Most people choose the Mona Lisa and we did as well and then just wandered around for awhile. Of course we had to pay a visit to some good ole Flemish and Dutch paintings as well. :)

Our first evening stroll ended at the Eiffel Tower. It's beautiful to see it lit up at night. 
Place des Vosges, built by Henri IV in the early 1600s
Saturday was an incredible day. It is still early to see things in bloom, but the first week of spring brought warm and sunny weather. Before meeting the family at Notre Dame, Adventures with Jaap began with brunch in the Marais neighborhood. We walked through the oldest squares in Paris, Place de Vosges. Beautiful fountains, statues, and children playing outside. We sat at a café around the corner and shared some bread with jam and of course a croissant. 
It's hard to coordinate travel requests for eight people, so we decided to start our Saturday solo and meet my parents and relatives at Notre Dame in the afternoon. I'd like to walk up the bell towers when we come back another time.
A little romantic afternoon lunch break with Alsace wine and crêpes. 
Followed by a quick Metro ride to Montmartre to visit the Basilique du Sacré Coer. 
A painters square around the corner from Sacré Coer.
And since we're in the neighborhood, a quick stroll past the Moulin Rouge.
Followed by a delicious dinner at a restaurant close to the Centre Pompidou with the best crème brûlée and chocolate soufflé I have ever had. Well, technically it was the first time I have ever eaten chocolate soufflé. Lekker, lekker, lekker!!!! 
Sunday we spent the day at Versailles. More about that next time. For now, I'm anxiously awaiting the return of my parents so we can show them the good life that Maastricht has to offer. 
Me & Mom

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Eijsden, Houffalize & Clervaux

3 for 1. Three countries, one day. What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Three countries in one afternoon might sound a little ridiculous, but when everything is so close, it's a reasonable day trip from Maastricht. We spent the day with our friends (and neighbors) Pete and Jacob. After a delicious breakfast of homemade American pancakes (thanks again guys), we hit the road!
First stop was at Eijsden Castle. A little unplanned side step. The castle was built in 1636 and sits right on the Maas. The interior of the castle is not open to the public, but the grounds and courtyard are a public park. Eijsden has become one of my new favorite towns outside of Maastricht. I love this area. It's right on the water, cute cafés, and it's a perfect bike ride from our apartment on a sunny day. 
Houffalize, Belgium
Our goal for the day was to explore something new and commune with nature. Jaap suggested Houffalize because he went camping there when he was younger. It's only about an hour from Maastricht and it was a cute place for some hiking and wandelen. Our hike was only about an hour, but it was nice to see some different terrain. Everything is so flat in the Netherlands. It's unlike anywhere I have ever lived, so it was nice to get out and see something different. 
WWI & WWII memorial
Hiking in the Ardennes
Houffalize is in the province of Luxembourg in the Ardennes region and is a part of the area where the Battle of the Bulge was fought during WWII. The picture above is an abandoned German tank from that period. 
Beautiful drive through Luxembourg
Since it was time for a koffie pauza we thought that since we were so close to Luxembourg, let's just go there! The Luxembourg countryside is spectacular. These pictures don't do it justice. It reminded me of driving around the Valley Forge area in Pennsylvania where my friends Diane and Chris live. Beautiful rolling hills and fields scattered with patches of tall pine trees. Great views on a sunny day. We stopped in a little town called Clervaux for a quick break before heading back to Maastricht. What a great way to spend a Saturday. We're on a the brink of spring here and there are many more exploration days ahead of us. 
Clervaux, Luxembourg

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Alaaf til you drop! Part II

I hope these pictures give you an idea of how much fun it is celebrating Carnaval in Maastricht. Maastricht turns into one huge party for five days with bright lights, elaborate costumes, music, and people partying in the streets all over the city center. The costumes alone are incredible. The amount of time, effort, creativity, and money that goes into these outfits is impressive. My friends and I quickly realized that we were underdressed, but we're already thinking of ideas for the next one!

After spending Friday and Saturday in Oirschot with Jaap and his Redt Band, we came to Maastricht on Sunday for a different scene. I heard from many people that Sunday is the best day of Carnaval and it is the first official day of the holiday in Maastricht. On Sunday the Mooswief (that's dialect) is raised up in the middle of the Vrijtof and the parade officially begins. They bring her down on Tuesday at midnight for the official close of Carnaval. I went with my friends Pete and Jacob to watch her descend on Fat Tuesday. We were a little sad. (sniff sniff).
Here is a picture of one Jacob's favorite souvenirs from Carnaval. Who says you can't turn a tambourine into a beer tray?
Pete & Jacob showing off their freaky colored contacts
This is how some small children experience Carnaval. Their parents build them a huge contraption (typically in the shape of a castle or pirate ship) and sit it on top of a wagon. This way they are 'protected' from the crowds of drunk people in the streets. These are the die hards. If it was me, I think I would prefer to get a babysitter. Not sure if three year old really cares about being covered head to toe in pink feathers and being stuck in a crowd full of drunk people. 
Even crocodiles and parrots enjoy frites!
Someone told me that Monday and Tuesday is when all the drum corp groups come out and perform. This was my favorite group of the day. They're called Bateria Volle Petaj. We stopped and listened/danced to them for about a half hour. I love the contrast between the goth looking costumes and their energetic sound. 
Once t' Mooswief is lowered to the ground at midnight on Tuesday, Carnaval is officially over. :( The bars start to close, crowds of people start making their way home, and Maastricht turns back into a pumpkin. Here is a clip of a 'funeral march' we saw on our way home. Everyone is sad to see it end, but there's always next year! 

I have a new respect for Maastricht. People here really know how to live life. I see this in every day things like the city's café culture, friendly attitude, love of fashion and food, and the way they enjoy a good slice of vlaai without guilt. But Carnaval is making me see more and more how this city is very unique from the rest of the Netherlands. I'm happy we live here and I'm looking forward to making Carnaval one of my new traditions. Alaaf!