Thursday, September 13, 2007

First Big Road Trip! BRUGGES, BELGIUM, 9-2-07

America's Labor Day Weekend... Back home friends are firing up the BBQ, setting up tents for one more camp-out, and purchasing last-minute school supplies. Us? We looked at one another and, for the thousandth time since arriving one month ago, said, "We're in Europe!" There's a reverant moment of silence before another, "We're in Europe..." And another whispered moment of awe, "Thank You, God, for such a fun present!"

As you know, our friends, Dennis and Fran very generously loaned us their van for the first several weeks since our arrival. In the meantime, we searched and searched for the "perfect" vehicle. We especially looked at the Volvo's, Mercedes, BMW's, and Volkswagens as they are European-made, fuel-efficient diesel, and made to handle high speeds... (More on that later... that's it's own chapter.) Eventually, we did the American thing -- we bought a Japanese-manufactured vehicle! So now we own a beautiful, built-for-endurance, 2004 Toyota Sienna. It's only had one owner and 52,000 miles on it! We are extremely grateful!

So we decided a road trip was in order. Okay, this was our first experience away from the "Compound" -- what I call our "Bubble World," the Air Base, and, boy, do we ever have a lot to learn! Traveling all over Europe as a family of six... There just has to be a book in here somewhere. For starters, we've figured out, and are coming to terms with the idea, that we're simply going to spend all our retirement, any potential inheritance our children would have received, any and all future college funds, and then... We don't have any doubts that it's worth it! However, while we try to figure out the whole "exchange rate" deal and a million other little details, we're road-tripping it just like we've always done. Above is a picture of our first tail-gate lunch.
Although, you can't see it behind the trees, this Restraunt is built over the Autobahn. So we had our lunch and then decided it would be a novelty to eat our dessert over the Autobahn...
The restaraunt had your typical Denny's atmosphere except that everyone spoke French. This particular A&C Restaraunt is situated just about 20 minutes East of Brussels, Belgium. We shared strawberry shortcake, payed our 30 cents Euros each to use the toillette, and got back on the road.
I wonder if at some point, I'll stop being so taken, so fascinated by the architecture... Here is a photo I took while we were lost in Brussels.
When you're lost for over an hour in one city, trying to get out, you try to make the most of it by noticing all the fun quirks about that particular place. There were several different quirky signs such as the one above. It is these funny little moments that make getting lost not only bearable, but quite the adventure in and of themselves. (Okay, for the record... These episodes of getting lost are taking our marriage to a whole new level that we never predicted or thought possible! Do I hear an Amen?)
Finally, we made it to Brugge where we exited the Autobahn and promptly proceeded to get lost, again. After driving in circles for... a long time... we found a sign pointing us to the Police Station. These people treated us as if they receive a commission depending on how kind and helpful they are to "tourists." He hooked us up with a map, made some light-hearted jokes about getting lost, (he had no idea about the marriage aspect of that), and even gave us a foreign language lesson! We learned that in Belgium they speak French and Flemish, and that in the West part of Belgium they speak a particular dialect of Flemish. Then he taught us how to say Brugges in Flemish -- Brue-ha! But you don't really say the "ha" part, you just sort of breathe it -- like an exasperated exhale. Come to find out, this dialect pretty much breathes the latter part of every word.
Okay, about the picture above. We checked into our hostel and then we all agreed it didn't make any sense not to go to the beach, even if it was dark.
So there's the children standing on white silky soft sand. At this point, we had just removed our shoes and we told the children we would walk out to the water, but that we were just going to get our feet wet. Yeah, right. When do the Olsons ever "just get our feet wet!" I smile even now as I think about myself saying this! Within a few minutes the children were whooping and hollering as they jumped the waves, splashed, and immersed themselves in the warm North Sea. "...just get our feet wet..." Whatever!
Although condos, townhouses, and a few closed snack shops lined the beach, we found this restraunt still open. The Big Barrel, with it's dim lights, mustard colors, and impatient waiters was just what our famished family needed! All smiles after frollicking in the waves!
Tired, hungry... and still happy!
Petting the proprietor's puppy while waiting for our food to cook!
We barely got the clean, crisp sheets on the bed before Isaiah passed out. I have to tell you, at some point during our time at the restraunt on the beach, we lost it. I mean, one by one each of the children began to cry and finally, our whole family just let down and we had one big bout of severe homesickness. I believe it was due to a culmination of, well, a lot. (Sometimes a little move and some small changes along the way takes it's toll... hm.) And then the children started talking about how cool it would be if our cousins could experience the North Sea with them. And wouldn't it be wonderful if so-and-so were here? And this person would love this and so-and-so would laugh about that... Yep, pretty soon we were a blubbering bunch of homesick people who would like to think of ourselves as first-class world-travelers, but who really, really want to be able to experience it all with YOU.

Here's Israel, excited about her first time to sleep on the Top Bunk! I was nervous. She was not.
See that building across the street? Yes, well, it is a Disco. By the time we got back to our Hostel, it was just starting to rev up for the night. Since they have a terrace in the back, they of course played their music out there, too. So they blasted their techno and rock music all night long. It was 6:00 AM when they turned it off. Thankfully, our family plays so hard when we're awake that by the time our head meets the pillow -- loud music... It is no problem. (In fact, the only way I knew they played their music all night was because of the occasional trip to the bathroom with various children.) The next morning we mentioned this to the owner of the Hostel and she just smiled, "Yes," she said with resolve in her voice, "they don't know when to stop partying here."
But we woke to the sounds of rain sloshed in puddles by city traffic. And this gorgeous sky!
Breakfast at the Hostel consisted of cold cereal, fruit, hard boiled eggs, and toast -- with Nutella for the spread!
Oh! And hot chocolate!
The toaster was a novelty for us as you put the bread in a little basket and then push it down to toast. When it pops up, you take the basket out and dump the toast on your plate. So fun!
Bottoms up! Hot chocolate in a cozy Hostel on a rainy morning in Brugge, Belgium! Does it get more romantic than that?!
We were exposed to exotic art as the proprietor of this hostel has decorated with finds from his many travels to Africa.
A walk in the warm drizzling rain.
Gabled buildings, narrow cobblestoned streets, bicyclists -- young and old -- everywhere, gothic architecture...
Everywhere we go, we are in wonder and awe...
Every building has a fortress-like door.
Notice the beautiful brick masonry on the corner of the building? See the ivy climbing up the wall? Notice the quaint courtyard? The City of Brugge is about 2,000 years old. I just had to smile at the modern plastic turtle sandbox in the middle of this setting... We've figured something else out: If we pass the camera around and let everyone take pictures, then when we get back to the computer and gather around for the "slide show," we are pleasantly surprised by all the different perspectives in this family! Many of these pictures were taken by different people in this family.
Brugges is known as the "Little Venice of the North" because of it's canals all throughout the city. Another characteristic of Venice, Italy is it's many, many lions everywhere. So that is how this lion from Brugges ended up in these pictures.
I spend much of my time telling my children to stop climbing, come down off of there, "That's a wall, for pete's sake! Come down! And, no, you can't climb to the top of that statue and sit on it." I am telling you, they climb everything! In fact, they were just beginning their ascent on the walls of this building when I told them to hold still for a picture.
This is the courtyard of the Belfry. I just thought this yellowish-green umbrella looked too picturesque in the otherwise gray drizzle.
We climbed the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry and reached the top just as the bells rang on the hour!
Zae. Don't even think about it! Like I said... climbers! Here Zae is looking out on the town of Brugge from the top of the Belfry.
More views from the Belfry...
And yet another view from the Belfry... This view has a cathedral that looks just like the one back home on Grand Blvd! The buildings are neutral colors with roofs all various shades of burnt orange. And there's a prevalent gothic style of architecture.
This is the view looking down on one of the many canals in the city. See those boats? After we visited the Belfry, we took a ride in one of the boats. But just before we got there, the battery died on our camera. Hm. So, I'll just tell you, the boat ride was wonderful, with rain pouring down off and on throughout, and the tourists putting up their black umbrellas that the tour guide gave us, and us ducking our heads as we went under ancient brick bridges. We couldn't understand a word the tour guide said, except for "oldest" as he pointed to this and that.
The Markt in the center of Brugge.
Looking up at the Belfry.
I can't remember what this building was but evidently the square in the front of this building is famous for it's concerts and other major events.
This is the "only artwork of Michael Angelo's to ever leave Italy. We're very proud to have it," announced the brochure telling about about the history of Brugge.
A lace boutique and a chocolate shop. That's Brugge for you! And it was at this point that our camera battery died!
Ack!! And now I must go pick up my children from school! More later... Oh, there's so much more to share!
Next time!


  1. The real "only artwork of Michael Angelo's to ever leave Italy" is inside the Church of Our Lady. This is definately not it.

  2. Thank you so much for those beautiful pictures and how exciting for your family to see all those neat places. Love, Lori