Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our American-British-Dutch Thanksgiving

This year's Thanksgiving was a multi-cultural affair sharing our American traditions with Dutch and British friends in Maastricht. Our international Thanksgiving celebration was a beautiful day. Good friends, good company, lekker food, and an abundance of reasons to be thankful and grateful this year. As the Dutch would say...het was gezellig!

Busy kitchen at the height of the preparation madness
It was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I'm sure the first of many to come. Special thanks for our hosts Pete and Jacob! (These are two of the first people I met in Maastricht while following my first Dutch course). Well done with the turkey and coordinating our amazing feast. It was delicious.
Classy table
Thanksgiving was not just a gathering of Americans. It was a collection of American, British, and Dutch friends. All bringing their own food and fun to the gathering. 
Me & Angela giving thanks for good sparkling wine
One of my favorite traditions lived on at our celebration: Giving thanks and saying what we are grateful for. 
The dessert buffet
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without someone passing out on the couch. Here's Pete enjoying his post-Turkey eating coma. 
And of the course...the best thing about Thanksgiving....GAMES! (Minus the screaming and yelling of family members). New places, new people, new traditions. All in all a wonderful day with friends and love.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pardo Family Turkey 2011: Uncle George carving the bird.
These pictures were just sent to me from my uncle back home where my family is currently enjoying their Thanksgiving feast in NY. My first Thanksgiving in the Netherlands is about to come to an end. It's strange to be so removed from this holiday. And even stranger that I had to go to work today! Despite being away from family and friends, Jaap made today very special for me. We enjoyed a romantic dinner for two at a delicious restaurant in our neighborhood, Eetcafé Ceramique and a nice skype session with family. (I also came home to some candlelight and flowers on the dining room table). The traditional Thanksgiving feast will commence with our friends in Maastricht on Saturday. I'm looking forward to it!

It's very hard to be so far from family and friends on my favorite holiday. I was feeling pretty down at certain parts of today. I was sad that I was so far from some of the most important people in my life. While working in my office today after school, I was listening to CNN online in an attempt to streamline the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Although my plan was unsuccessful, I did watch a segment of U.S. Troops in Kuwait broadcasting live to their families back home. It made me realize that I am lucky to live the life that I do. I am grateful for so many things. 

So for this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my American & Dutch family and friends, my work, living an exciting life abroad, our health, and of course my love, Jaapie. Happy Thanksgiving to all and to all a good night!

Photos courtesy of Uncle Angel Tirado: Jaap and I skyping with the Pardos in Queens, NY

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Night at the Opera

View of the Hoog Brug at night
A night at the opera is a great way to start off the weekend! Through a friend and fellow arts colleague at work, Jaap and I received free tickets to see Kát'a Kabanová by Leos Janácek at the Theater aan het Vrijthof last night. Along with a group of other colleagues from work, we enjoyed a night of good music, champagne, wine, and lekker haupjes (snacks) for free! Free things are always good. 
Theater in the background of the Vrijthof
I really enjoyed the opera as well. A sad love story of a married woman falling in love with another man whom, you probably guessed it, commits suicide in the end. (A typical bizaare opera story line.) A tragic tale, set in Russia, sung in Czech, and produced with Dutch subtitles. Interesting. I didn't think it would turn out to be a place for me to practice my Dutch, but I actually understood a lot of the subtitles. It was good practice for me. And well done to the Dutch performers singing in Czech! 

Afterwards, Jaap and I like to discuss the performance, the orchestra, the stage & direction, what we liked and what we didn't like. It's our own little critics corner. It's the best part of our music nights out and one of the reasons I love him so much. :)

So to any other Maastricht or Limburg residents out there...I would recommend seeing this production by Opera Zuid. For anybody who is afraid or turned off by opera, it's only 1.5 hours. What's not to love?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our Mosel & Rhine Vacation: Bacharach

Here is beautiful Bacharach! A small town surrounded by vineyards, castles, and  spectacular views of the Rhine river. Our last day exploring this area of Germany was spent with a day trip down part of the Rhine. Of course, this came under the recommendation of Rick Steves. Thanks Rick! (We're a first name basis now).

Bacharach was about 1.5 hours from where we stayed in Ernst on the Mosel. The drive alone was made it well worth the trip. Below is a picture of some of the stunning views we had traveling through the mountains from the Mosel to the Rhine river. 
It was a quiet day of hiking and sightseeing. The city center is a picturesque German town. Very similar to the village of Beilstein, just slightly bigger. Cute little market square (pictured with the Altes Haus below), castle up on a hilltop, and acres of white grape vineyards. 
Altes Haus: Medieval timber-framed house built in 1368
This is only a small portion of the all the surrounding rows of grapes
Ruins of Werner Chapel: 13th-14th century Gothic church
The Werner chapel is a famous church in ruin. There's a sad story of a legend that goes with this chapel. I'll spare you the horrific details, but something along the lines of a young boy named Werner being murdered and the town Jews being blamed for it, ending with the Vatican refusing to make the boy a saint. It's a feel good story. Despite the gruesome tale, the ruin itself is an interesting structure. 
Stahleck castle  turned into a youth hostel
Views at Stahleck
We took the town walk along the former city wall. The city used to have 16 towers surrounding the wall. We passed a few of the remaining ones along our hike. We were very lucky to have sunny and somewhat warm weather for our hike. 
Checking out the grapes
Great views of the ruined chapel
After a nice and hearty German lunch we got back in the car and drove up the Rhine. We passed about half a dozen castles along the way. We couldn't get the camera out fast enough to capture them all. It's truly a unique place. You just can't experience moments like this in North America.
Gutenfels castle
Pfalz castle in the middle on the river
Rheinfels caslte is one of the places Rick Steves recommended. We stopped to use their restroom at the 4 star hotel and then got back in the car. We'll have to save it for another trip!
That's Katz castle in the middle of that mountain
We wanted to end our last night of our mini-vacation back in Beilstein. It was the perfect ending to a great trip. We did a short hike up to Beilstein castle (now in ruins) and watched the sun start to set. 
And why not do one more wine tasting? Don't worry. We didn't drink all of this, but we tried!
After searching the town for some dinner, we decided to stop here. Mostly because nothing else was open, but it was a good choice. A quaint little hotel with a restaurant and cozy atmosphere. Het was gezellig! I had to pinch myself because I was expecting Hansel & Gretel to walk out from around the bar. The place was so cute, I felt like we in a fairy tale.
Our little Mosel & Rhine vacation has to be one of the most relaxing and refreshing vacations I have ever had. I'm glad we decided to stay along the Mosel river because it was so quiet, less traveled, and serene. I felt rejuvenated and relaxed before our trip home. Til next time Germany. Auf wiedersehen!
A brief hike in the fog through Ernst
Lunch in Cochem, i.e. a Berliner, apfel struedel & heiße Schokolade

Our Mosel & Rhine Vacation: Mayen & Beilstein

Hiking in Beilstein
The town of Mayen
The second day of our German holiday was spent exploring parts of the Mosel and some neighboring villages and towns. We got some travel advice from our lovely hotel owners at Haus Schwarzenberg

A quick note about our hotel. I highly recommend staying here if anybody is ever traveling in this area. It's in a small town called Ernst, only 3 kilometers from touristy Cochem. (I would completely skip seeing Cochem altogether). The hotel owners are a young couple who were very friendly and helped us plan our second day around the area. They gave us ideas of things to do and places to see. And their breakfast was very delicious. :)

So, under the recommendation of our hotel we drove to the town of Mayen to walk around town and visit the Eifelmuseum. It's a museum that exhibits the history, culture, geography, and folklore of the Eifel region of Germany. 

Below is a picture of us touring the mining section of the museum, which describes the mining and slate industry of the Eifel area. How many of you know exactly how slate roofs are made...well, we do! LOL. 

Isn't Jaap cute in this hard hat? We had to wear them to tour this portion of the museum.
The best thing about the museum were rooftop views of Mayen.

Afterwards we drove to a nearby castle, Schloss Bürresheim. It was pretty desolate and we didn't see any visitors, but it was still open. We decided to just take some pictures and continue on to another town. 
Inside the courtyard of Schloss Bürresheim
Our hosts at the hotel also recommended seeing Monreal. It's a small town near Mayen and not far from Mayen. We took pictures of the castle in ruins and did a quick stroll.
I wanted to end the day at Beilstein, which was very close to where we were staying and only about 10 kilometers from Cochem.
Driving past Cochem Castle

Beilstein is a very quaint village on the Mosel that's only a few kilometers away from Cochem. There's pretty much nothing there except wine cellars, hotels, a church, and a castle in ruins. It's very charming. We didn't just end up there by accident.  I gotta give some credit to Rick Steve's for another great travel suggestion. 
View of another village across the Mosel
Beilstein has to be one of the 'cutest' places I have ever seen. Tiny streets, small restaurants and hotels, a castle in ruins, and lots of place to taste delicious wine. Lekker!

I kept saying to Jaap, "It's so cute, it looks fake. I feel like we're in Disneyworld." I guess in my mind this is what a very typical German town looks like.
One of the things we were looking forward to the most on the Mosel was the white wine. This region is favorite for Riesling and we found the perfect place to do a tasting. A very old wine cellar lit by candles that was almost completely empty. A nice relaxing and quiet time for Jaap and I to enjoy each other's company and sample a delicious variety of wines.
Everything we tasted was delicious, so we had to make a few purchases. This was my souvenir for the trip. It was the perfect ending to our day of sightseeing! 
Loving life at this moment
View of vines in Beilstein