Enjoying Erlangen

After a filling breakfast in Cologne, we were back on the train and headed to Erlangen. We stopped for a bite to eat in Nuremberg, where the kids were literally climbing the walls. All in all, they were amazing travelers, so it was good to let them burn off some steam.

“Have fun storming the castle!”

The architecture in Nuremberg is fantastic, particularly near the train station. There were a few of these narrow, pedestrian streets and they were charming.

Quaint streets in Nuremberg

From Nuremberg, we were off aboard a train to Erlangen, which was our planned stop for the night. The ride to Erlangen was much livelier than any of our previous trips. We were joined by a boisterous crowd clad in lederhosen and dirndls who were headed to Erlangen’s beer festival.

After arriving in Erlangen, we hired two cabs to transport us and all of our gear to an AirBnB. The kids and I were in a Mercedes cab, which allowed them to pop the seats up for the kids to make built-in booster seats. Very cool!

The apartment was bright and spacious and even had chocolates waiting for us. (Chocolate is definitely a great way to make a first impression). We had room to spread out and rest for a bit before walking to the local beer festival. The walk through Erlangen was peaceful, especially since we had no idea where we were going. We walked down a couple of major roads before walking through a park and along a small path between open fields on one side and woods on the other. The fields ended about a block from the entrance to the festival, which made for a beautiful setting.

The beer festival was exactly what I hoped a German beer festival would be. There were displays of enormous heart-shaped cookies for sale, carnival rides for the kids and adults, and very large steins of beer.

The hearts at the top are all cookies! “Ich liebe dich” means “I love you.”

The beer set-up was also clever. When you buy a stein of beer, they charge you a 5€ deposit. That way, if you walk away with a souvenir beer mug, they can buy a replacement. We took home a couple of souvenir mugs, so we liked that system a lot.

4 of the 6 Walters had a couple of drinks and all of us had a great dinner.

There weren’t many people at the fair. It began to rain lightly as we arrived at the festival. It caused the crowds to thin as evening rolled in. We were grateful to find seats under a tent before the rain got thicker! It rained on and off throughout the evening, but there were enough places for us to shelter that we didn’t mind it. The kids had a chance to ride on several of the carnival rides, which kept them from being bored as the grown-ups hung out and chatted.

There was a live band playing in one of the other tent/open areas. They were great! They played several songs we’d never heard, but they also played covers of a few songs we recognized, so we could sing along. Most of the crowds were singing and dancing near them, which added to the party atmosphere.

Our final stop at the beer festival was the crepe stand. Isaac & Laine enjoyed Nutella crepes. I had Nutella and some Grand Marnier in mine. Yum!

Nutella and Grand Marnier: a winning combination

We walked back to our apartment for a good night’s rest before riding the train to our final stop in Germany: Munich.

Kolossal Köln

Stepping from the train station in Cologne (Köln) is a breathtaking experience. We walked out just below the largest cathedral I’ve ever seen. It was so large I took a video. I couldn’t take a photo that would capture the entire building. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring.

We checked in to our hotel and then grabbed a quick snack at a Bavarian style restaurant. We were *thrilled* to learn our hotel had air conditioning in the rooms! I definitely miss that luxury.

Pretzels and beer – pretending we were in Bavaria

Once we’d filled our bellies a bit, it was time to explore the cathedral. Previously, a 4th century, and later a 6th century, church stood here. The foundation for this building was laid in 1248, but then it took 600 years to complete the rest of it. The existing building was damaged in World War II, but did not collapse. It has been under constant maintenance since the 1950s. Given the many intricate details in the facade, it’s not hard to understand why. The towers at the front are 515 feet tall – the tallest in Germany. They’re tall enough that the scaffolding attached to them doesn’t even come all the way down to the ground.

A side view of the cathedral – the darker areas have been damaged by the sulfuric acid in rain

The cathedral is supposed to attract about 20,000 visitors every day. That’s 6 million people per year! There were hundreds there at the same time we were. Only a few joined the service taking place, though. Listening to the singing during the service was delightful. The Gothic arches lead to incredible acoustics! And the stained glass windows make everything inside glow with beautiful colors.

Very tall, very lovely windows

All around the exterior of the cathedral, there were street artists creating amazing pictures with chalk. This one was my favorite because of a book club party the kids and I attended earlier this year in Austin.

A lovely copy of Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

As we left, the kids walked down a reconstructed Roman road toward the river, the park, and dinner. The stones are original, but the road itself has been remade.

Roman road stones!

We walked down to the Rhine River to watch some of the boats cruising. From there, we walked toward our hotel and found some outdoor seating for a nice dinner. We retired to our rooms (and air conditioning!) for the night. The next day, we were up for a quick breakfast and then off to Nuremberg and Erlangen.

Amazing Aachen

On our 10th anniversary, Todd and I wrote a “living” list on our dry erase board. The list comprises things we wanted to do within the next 10 years of marriage. We’ve made some progress on it, but there are sill lots of things left. One of our checklist items was to visit Germany with Todd’s parents. Well, friends, we checked that item off our list in grand style.

We started our tour of Germany in Aachen. This city was home to Charlemagne and his stamp is literally all over it. There are little brass plaques with his symbol on the streets and sidewalks as well as many of the buildings.

We rode the train from Leuven to Aachen on a Sunday. Upon leaving the Hoptbaunhof (train station) in Aachen, the kids were excited to greet the horses out front.

This horse, in particular, was happy to greet them back.

We walked through town to the historic area and settled down for lunch outside. The weather was perfect and it was fun to share Dave & Judy’s first German beer with them.

Little Miss was too excited about taking the photo to notice her finger was in it. 🙂

Aachen has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever entered. Charlemagne commissioned the cathedral and construction of the original church completed around the year 800. Charlemagne was buried there after his death in 814. The church building has grown significantly since then. It was the church of coronation for 31 German kings and 12 queens!

The Barbarossa Chandelier holds 48 candles.

Aachen was an “Episcopal seat” from 1802-1825. The church is now Catholic, however. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is an important church for pilgrimages. The church houses several significant relics: “the apparel of the Virgin Mary, the so-called swaddling clothes and the loincloth of Christ, and the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist.” (notes from the leaflet at the church)

The impressive ceiling above the chandelier

All of the architecture in the church is impressive. The architectural style covers 3 different distinct eras with some interesting juxtapositions. There is gold on most ceilings. There are mosaics, marble paneling, and marble floors throughout. The stained glass windows were all replaced in 1951 after the previous windows were destroyed during World War II.

The stained glass windows here are behind the altar.

Despite all of the pomp and circumstance, I felt very peaceful inside the church. I honestly think the scent of church incense has that impact on me. Funny, considering how many people think it stinks!

View of the cathedral from the town hall

After our tour of the church, we walked across the square to the town hall. This was also a key location thanks to Charlemagne. Fun fact, this building is called the Rathaus (rat house). The existing building stands on top of the remains of the buildings before it. Construction of this building began in 1330, but it has undergone many changes due to damage from civil unrest and later World War II.

Aachen’s town hall building

The Rathaus tour offers a great deal of information about the destruction of Germany during World War II. It’s fascinating to see it from the German side. There is one room where you can listen via telephone to various speakers. Each person talks from a different perspective about events during the war or the restoration afterwards.

As we wrapped up our walking tour, we said goodbye to the horses and caught the train to Cologne.

Bye, “Sunshine!”

Learning More About Leuven

From London, we rode the trains to Leuven. It was tremendous fun to introduce the grandparents to our temporary home.

Train-traveling troupers…

Laine took her grandparents on a bit of a tour of Leuven on Friday. Isaac was incredibly sick that day, so he and I stayed home while they explored. One bonus from their trip was their discovery of Leuven’s Friday market. It is a HUGE open market open on Friday mornings and the kids and I have gone every Friday since we learned about it. It’s pretty easy when it’s only a block from our apartment!

Saturday we walked through Sint-Pieteskerk. Construction of the church in its current form began around 1425. As in most of Europe, the church was severely damaged during World Wars I and II. It took decades to rebuild the church to the current building. Inside the church, the area behind the altar is still under construction. It should open in September, so we will visit again then. I would like to attend a service there sometime, but it will be in Flemish, so I won’t be able to understand much of it.

The scale of this church, particularly when I realize I live only a block away, is astonishing to me. We saw larger cathedrals in Germany, but this was still amazing. The Baroque pulpit there includes a life-sized portrayal of Norbert of Xanten falling from a horse. I should have had one of us stand next to it so you’d have a better feel for the scale of it.

I cannot imagine hearing a sermon from this pulpit. How intimidating!!!
The pillars in this church are huge!

Naturally, we introduced Dave and Judy to some of our favorite Belgian beers. We also visited the waffle/ice cream shop at least twice during their 3 days in Belgium. They were a hit!

Waffles from Pinocchio are the very best!

London Fun

Todd’s parents came to visit us on their first trip to Europe! They flew to London Heathrow and landed on a Tuesday morning. We rode the EuroStar up to England and caught the Underground to meet them at Paddington Station.

Reunited at last, we grabbed lunch and a few pints of cask ale in Westminster. We all opted for traditional English fare and some of us even ate our (not mushy) peas!


We stayed at a terrific AirBnB in Whitechapel, London. They even had shampoo and laundry detergent for us; which I’ve learned I shouldn’t take for granted. We also found this gem of a toilet in one of the bathrooms.

Todd and I immediately wished this were in our tiniest bathroom back in Leuven. Such an efficient use of space!

Once we finished settling in, we climbed on a local double-decker bus to see a few sights on our way to dinner. The kids, young and old, felt excited about riding in the front seat with such a great view!

Grandparents and grandkids in the front seats

We spotted an interesting building as we rode through Whitechapel. It turned out to be attached to a park. The St. John-at-Hackney Churchyard Gardens had a small playground and fascinating history. The kids enjoyed the playground. The adults discussed the history. The short version is this: the garden used to be a cemetery. When they ran out of space, they dug up the graves and moved the headstones to lean against the church walls. There’s no explanation on where the previously-buried people went.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Day 1 drew to a close after a delicious dinner at The White Hart Brew Pub. We walked back to our apartment and headed for bed.

Todd, the kids, and I found a great breakfast spot the next morning. Todd and I ordered the largest breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever seen. Laine ate about a quarter of Todd’s sandwich and they still didn’t finish the whole thing!

We stopped at the apartment to pick up the grandparents and we were off to find more adventures! We walked along the Thames and discussed the history of the Tower of London.

I was elated to share one of my Top 2 favorite cities in the world with her.

We opted for a boat tour so we could learn more of the city’s history and not wear out either the kids or the grandparents. First “stop:” Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London. If you entered through this gate, there was only one way out and you were leaving soon.

Though now sealed, Traitor’s Gate still makes my blood run a bit cold.

The boat cruise lasted about an hour and was superb. Our guide used just enough humor to keep things light (“the Tate Modern is free because no one would pay to see modern art”) and enough history to keep us marveling.

We spent the afternoon at the Science Museum. It was one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Todd, the kids, and I spent most of the afternoon in the WonderLab. The kids could touch and experiment with a wide variety of displays. The “Explainers” were engaging. There were at least a dozen programs during the time we were there. The programs covered a lot of different areas: states of matter (gas, liquid, solid); outer space; electricity… Our kids attended some of them. I went to nearly every class like the big ol’ science geek I am.

Dry ice evaporating: Isaac spent a long time here

There were so many activities for the kids to try. There were dry ice demos and a model of the sun/Earth/moon large enough to ride along in orbit. There was a spinner to stand on and experiment with centripetal force. There were chairs on pulleys to pull yourself up. There were far too many experiments to list them all.

Fire! He soaked the paper in a mixture of water and alcohol. The result was that the alcohol burned, but the paper was not consumed. Very cool!!!

Both kids loved the friction slides: one made of Astroturf, one of PVC, and the last one of wood. Adults weren’t even allowed on the last one because it would be too fast. Coming down the PVC sliding board felt like flying!

The “grass” slide was the slowest, but it was lots of fun!

The following morning, we had a hearty breakfast at the same restaurant. The we boarded the Eurostar to Belgium. The adventures continued!

Lovely Luxembourg

Friday, we embarked on a day trip to Luxembourg City. This means we have now been to all the countries where German is a major national language. Germany, Austria, and Lichtenstein use German as their primary language. It is a co-official language in Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Luxembourg’s official languages are French, German, and Luxembourgish. Additionally, our kids have a geography CD with songs about the countries of the world. The only one of the “Western Europe” countries we haven’t visited is Monaco. We will try to do that, as well.

The views in Luxembourg are magnificent. The hillside runs right through the city, so there are highs and lows throughout. We parked at the top of the hill before making our way down into the “old city” in the valley. The modern areas are on top of the hill.

The sign on the red bridge says Luxembourg

I found the Casemates du Bock to be the most noteworthy thing. The casemates are underground tunnels – except the “ground” is the top of a hill. It is similar to a bunker, but with a better ability to defend the position. Work on the tunnels began in 1644. The casemates were then used to defend the city. In 1867, they were enlarged and could house 50 cannons and 1,200 soldiers. I imagine the cannon fire and volume of people talking in the stone tunnels led to severe hearing damage.

A view of the casemates from the valley below

In the late 1700s, An 82-year-old, Habsburg Marshal von Bender lived in the casemates for 8 months. He led his Austrian troops to defend against the French attacks.

Isaac tried to fire each cannon we found. An American gentleman walked past one on his way to look out at the view. He told Isaac “I’m innocent! Don’t shoot!” which made Isaac’s day.

The well for the castle (which used to be above the casemates) is 47 meters deep. A mermaid named Melusina is rumored to visit there. Laine saw her, but the rest of us were less fortunate. “According to legend, Melusina was the wife of Sigfried, 1st count of Luxembourg, living in his castle on the rocky Bock promontory.” She told him that one night per week, she needed absolute privacy. Then one day, she caught him spying on her in the bathtub. He saw her fish’s tail. Melusina then vanished into the Alzette river.

Lovely bridge built in 1735. It is part of the casements. There are escape routes above, through, and under this particular bridge. We walked all 3 levels.

Luxembourg’s architecture is less intricate than Belgium’s. Many of the buildings are similar in age, though. One of the many things I’ve relished living in Europe is the tunnels over walkways.

Construction all around, but this building was interesting to me

Luxembourg City offers an abundance of green space in the older areas of town. There’s a wonderful park along the canal and we stopped there for a rest.

The city’s Notre Dame peeks above the pedestrian bridge

An idea unique to Luxembourg is “My Urban Piano.” I saw 3 of them, though I didn’t understand the first one. It sits under a canopy in a small open grassy area above the casemates. Seeing the second allowed me to understand they the first one was there. The second one resides in an indoor courtyard. The third is near the Info desk in one of the town squares. There are 22 pianos in all.

Luxembourg has an unusual motto, which translates into English as “We will stay what we are.” The gist of this is “we’re happy this way. Leave us alone.” Historically, Belgium, France, and Germany have tried to control the country and Luxembourg would prefer they did not.

After an enjoyable day exploring a new country, we headed back to Belgium. As we left, we took one of the elevators up from the bottom of the valley to the top of the hill to save ourselves a bit of hiking. The kids thought this was a brilliant plan after a day of walking. And Laine got to push the button inside the elevator, so all ends well.

Beautiful Brugge

Our friend/visitor Jennifer left our place headed for Bruges and then Amsterdam. She told us a bit about how charming the Bruges is, so we decided to see for ourselves. We spent Mother’s Day weekend there. It is indeed a beautiful city.

The kids are becoming masters of train travel and the ease of catching a train made the decision easy. We’re used to living in Leuven, where cars aren’t even allowed into the central parts of town. But Bruges allows cars everywhere. I wouldn’t want to drive through all the tourists, though!

Todd found the perfect hotel room for the 4 of us. We checked in there before walking downtown. Our first order of business was to stop in at The Chocolate Line to watch them making the chocolate… and to taste a bit of it. It was really neat! We were able to see where they ground, melted, and then poured the chocolate into molds. Plus it was absolutely delicious!!!

From there we continued on to the central plaza. Tourists and cabs everywhere! Horses with carriages. The scents of waffles and fries. Lots of hustle and bustle.

The central plaza (the Markt – there’s one of these in every city I’ve visited in Belgium)

To stave off hanger, we stopped for lunch near the main square. The place was called Poules Moules – they are known for their chicken and their mussels. Todd and I ordered mussels to share and they were even better than the ones in Brussels! Isaac and Laine had homemade lemonades that were both tasty and pretty. But I think Isaac was the happiest of all with his order of lobster bisque.

It was too good to leave the last drop in the bowl!

After walking through the tourist section, we found a boat tour for a new perspective. Thankfully the captain told us about the city in both Dutch and English. It was gorgeous to see the view from down in the canal. We went under a few bridges – one was so low Laine was able to stand up and touch it. We also went under at least one house!

Old mixed with new along the Bruges canal

Part of the history our guide explained was the unusual red on a few buildings (see below for an example). The middle class would mix ox blood with the paint to achieve this color.

An example of a middle class house

If you look closely at the picture above, you will also see the vertical black iron pieces on the front of the building. They connect to iron rods running through the width of the building. They basically hold the building together and keep it from collapsing. The brick walls of the houses are structural. We saw a lot of houses with these iron rod connections.

We spotted a brewery from down in the canal and decided to stop there afterwards. We opted for a flight to sample a few options.

Todd’s favorite was the IPA (of course) and mine was the strawberry lambic

As it is throughout much of Belgium, the architecture in Bruges is delightful. It’s also fun to look at the roof lines and see how wavy many of them are! Many of the buildings have iron works holding the brickwork together, so it is obvious that they’ve stood for at least 150 years. A lot of them buildings have dates on the front of them; many from the 1600s and 1700s.

We walked along the canal to dinner. There are lots of lovely little gardens along the way. The weather was perfect, which made it easy to enjoy the stroll.

The houses opposite us on the canal had small backyards with a lovely view.

We had a savory dinner at Herberg Vlissinghe. It first opened in 1515! The dog who lives there is a charmer. He watches to see when your food arrives. Then he parks himself beside your chair to see whether you’ll share. If you don’t notice right away, he’ll put his front paws on your leg. There’s a sign on the door warning you not to do that. Unfortunately for him, my dinner was too tasty to share.

“That looks yummy! Wanna share?”

During dinner, we were seated at a large table with 2 other groups. The married couple beside us spoke English. He’s from England and she’s an American. They live together in Germany. She is a retired elementary school teacher. Laine sat beside her and the two became fast friends.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so I got to choose our activity for the day. As such, we climbed the Belfort. 366 steps up. Then back down. On our way up, we studied the interior ironworks connected to the outer pieces I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say things are on a MUCH larger scale in the belfry!

Todd and Isaac doing engineery things.

The steps taper approaching the top of the tower. I was on tip toes by the time we finished our climb. The view is unparalleled. It is the tallest building in the area, so nothing blocks the view from the top. You can also look down on the bustling market square below.

The view from the top!

We were at the top when the bells rang. I nearly fell down the stairs from the surprise! The belfry was originally used to communicate the time to the townspeople. The clock wasn’t always accurate, however, so it only showed the hour. There was no minute hand. There are 47 bells and they weigh a combined total of 27.5 tons.

Each of the bells is numbered to make it easier to maintain them.

The history of the building is fascinating. It was built in 1240, but caught fire in 1280, destroying the city archives stored inside. It burned two more times, but the current building has been standing since 1822.

Working machinery inside the clock tower

As we spiraled back down from the top, we passed an open doorway to some of the controls.

That’s right! It is controlled by a clock-o-matic. I find this hilarious!

Leaving the Belfort, we grabbed lunch before strolling through the town. We walked through one of the old entrances to Bruges from the days of its life as a walled city.

Like many European cities, Bruges was once enclosed by a wall. This was one of the entrances.

Exiting the “gates,” we found a park along the canal. We cheered on some marathon runners as a race passed by. Our kids also ended up rolling down the hillside (away from the runners). One of the women at the bottom of the hill yelled “Oh, my sweet Wesley!” as Isaac rolled down. Kudos to you if you catch the reference!

From there, we began a meandering stroll back to the hotel to collect our bags. We found a small park with plenty of opportunities for climbing. The kids’ favorite was the “hammock” in the middle. They climbed across a few times before this started.


I relish the architecture in Belgium. Bruges has some of the best. There are so many pockets of beauty and a bit of whimsy. This was our walk to the hotel before leaving town:

As we left the city, we passed a street fair. The kids enjoyed a ride before we caught the train back to Leuven. It was a terrific weekend!

Coming down the mountain!

Visitors and Visits

We were elated to host our first couple of visitors a few weeks ago. Jennifer was one of the first people to befriend me when I moved to Austin in 2001. Jennifer came to visit us and do a bit of touring Europe on her own. Ty is one of Todd’s coworkers. Ty was able to visit with us for a day before he had to leave for Germany. Both Ty and Jennifer arrived on the same Sunday, so we made a group outing to the Botanical Gardens in Leuven.

We took a small detour on our way to the gardens. We discovered a section of the wall that surrounded Leuven originally. I swear I could walk around the city every day and still never find all of these little surprises.

A detour along the old city walls…

Leuven’s botanical garden is the oldest one in Belgium. The university created the garden for its students of medicine in 1738.

The walkway was flanked by these incredible wisteria vines! I couldn’t help but remember a basket my mom made from wisteria vines when I was a teenager.
An overcast day made lovely with a stroll through the gardens.
A peek through the gate at the gardens beyond.

Although Ty had to say goodbye on Sunday evening, Jennifer stayed with us for a few days before leaving to explore more of Europe on her own. We had a great visit exploring some of Leuven together. The tour, of course, involved the flavors for which Belgium is most famous: waffles, fries, beer, and lots of chocolate!

Jennifer and I tried a couple of geuze beers (sours) and the kids got waters

We also braved Brussels -which was exciting as we took intercity trains to get there and public transportation to explore. I found Brussels absolutely fascinating. It’s almost like 2 cities meshed together; one old and the other modern. When we came up from the train station in “Bruxelles Central,” it was almost like winding our way back in time. We started at the Grand Place and were surrounded by the most amazing buildings, many of which are decorated with gold. I’d seen it at night, but it was incredible to see in daylight!

Hotel de Ville: also known as the Brussels Town Hall. And my favorite photo bomber…
That is gold on the front of those buildings!
A door within a door! At the base of the Hotel de Ville you can walk through the large open doors. Some of us wanted to sneak through the smaller ones, though.

We had a delicious lunch of mussels (partially for the fun of saying “mussels in Brussels”) and Jennifer was kind enough to share some of her mussels with Laine. Laine loved them! We walked through the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. You know it’s going to be a big church when it honors 2 saints. It is massive! After a brief tour of the cathedral, we walked through the Parc de Bruxelles to the palace where the king lives. The Belgian flag was raised on the palace roof, meaning the king was in the country that day. Laine wanted to meet him, but unfortunately he couldn’t fit us in for a meeting.

A quick rest by the fountain in the park.

From there, we caught the metro rail to another vital area of the city. The European Union offices are as architecturally different from central Brussels as it is possible to be. Lots of glass and steel…

The European Union

Once we finally located the door to Parlamentarium, we learned more about the history of Europe and how the EU came into existence. The kids were given a “treasure hunt” to try to find answers to various questions. There is a LOT of information there and I would love to tour it again. There’s an entire room dedicated to a history timeline of the 1900s through present day which I could have stayed in for hours.

Looking for answers at Parlamentarium. You can see some of the timeline on the wall behind us. So much history in one place!

We ended the day with a train ride back to Leuven and picking up dinner on the way. It was a fantastic (first) chance to explore “the capital of Europe” and I’m looking forward to going again soon.

We’ve gotten the “guest room” idea figured out, so let us know when you’d like to visit and we’ll be sure we have the room ready.

Leuven Weekends

We’re doing our best to make the most of our time in Belgium. Even though we have done a fair bit of traveling, we also really enjoy our weekends here in Leuven. There is frequently something exciting going on about town. This weekend there was a marathon, but if you’ve met me, you’ll know perfectly well that I didn’t participate in that.

April was “Beer Month” in Leuven. There were 3 distinctly different beer festivals 3 consecutive weekends in April. The last one was Zythos, with over 500 local brews available to try. We biked there through landscapes I can only describe as idyllic. It was actually funny to ride there because I could just picture the rolling farmlands as a set for a movie. I wish I’d had some wine and a picnic basket, but we had to make do with the beer at the festival.

I actually stopped to take a picture of the yard around this home as we biked to the festival. I didn’t document the equally amazing house to respect their privacy, but WOW! It was set in the middle of beautiful rolling hills of farmland.

At the festival, we met some really friendly Canadians at one of the long tables and they made a few tasting suggestions for the beers. We actually ended up buying one of their suggestions to take home because we liked it so much!

Sampling with our souvenir glasses

On weekends in Leuven, we generally go to a park in Heverlee (10 minutes by bike) when it isn’t rainy. The parks here have a ton of climbing structures and cool ways for kids to practice balancing and build core strength. There’s very little paint as almost everything is made from wood, so it’s a little easier on Mom’s eyeballs, as well. We have explored 2 parks here locally, but we know of at least a couple more that warrant checking out.

This “merry-go-round” is a favorite at the park in Heverlee.

There was a street fair a couple of weeks ago. The idea was to encourage people to shop locally. The *tiny* little challenge is that all of the retail shops here close at 6:00 p.m. on weeknights. Only the restaurants and the grocery stores are open later, and even those close by 8:00 p.m. The street fair was amazing, though. They blocked off the main street for at least a kilometer. It’s the main thoroughfare for the buses, so it was a stark difference. There was even an entire block that was covered in SAND so they could make it look like a beach!

This sand was at least 6 inches deep! They brought in potted palm trees to make it feel more like the beach. The weather wasn’t overly cooperative, but I managed to snap a pic before the rain started.

All of the shops stayed open until 8:00 on Friday evening and there were a ton of stalls set up in the street to sell food and drinks, demonstrate cars, provide music, etc. There were also musicians walking down the next street over (which is always a pedestrian-only zone) that were fun to see. Laine was pulled into a dance with one group. Another group was a drum corps of all ages, only about 8 people, who were dressed as Tarzan.

The funniest part of the street fair: it was set up on Friday, sand and all. It was all cleaned up by Sunday, sand and all! I was floored. We had friends coming to town Sunday and had anticipated walking through with them, but it was completely cleaned up by the time they arrived.

The next couple of posts I have planned are about some of our travels around Belgium. Stay tuned!

Daily Life & Homeschool

We have done quite a bit of traveling! Ever wonder what our life is like during the in-between times? It’s basically just like it is in Austin, but with a much smaller collection of friends. We are getting a lot more schoolwork finished now that we have fewer social engagements, though. I expect this will fluctuate more with visitors and camps during the summer.

Mornings start with (first) breakfast. In Belgium, the kids have Nutella-covered waffles for breakfast. Some mornings we have yogurt with fresh berries – the strawberries here are the best I’ve ever had. I usually have a sandwich on a croissant or pain au chocolat; which is a pastry with chocolate inside. Thank goodness we bike everywhere!

We homeschool nearly every day when we are in Leuven. This means math for both kids – Beast Academy for him and Singapore Math for her. Laine is still working her way through All About Reading Level 3, but she also reads about a book per day from our easy readers. I’m going to have to order new books if we can’t join the library soon! Isaac reads, as well, but he’s finished with his formal program, so he reads longer books. They each do at least a little writing every day. Then the rest is up to me.

The subjects above are what we consider “table subjects.” Those are the ones that generally involve pencils and paper (also known as Isaac’s least favorite). Science usually involves me reading to the kids on our couch. Occasionally there are also experiments, although definitely fewer than we do in the States. But we also watch a lot of videos if we’re studying a particular type of animal or “how that machine really works.” Then there are the amazing dinner conversations such as this gem from Tuesday night:

Picture us sitting at our dinner table enjoying our tacos. It is still light outside. We look out the living room window to see pigeons sitting on our porch ledge. The male pigeon hops on top of the female. Laine says “Oh, look, they’re mating!” Isaac says “I know what they’re doing. The male is putting his sperm inside of the female so he can fertilize her eggs!” Well… so there’s that. We’ll call that the science lesson for that day.

History is a bit of a mash-up for us just now because of where we are living. We use the BookShark curriculum. We’re wrapping up our study on Vikings and now we’re moving on to knights and castles. It is SO much more interesting when we can go see castles as part of our studies! In addition to this, we’re also using Beautiful Feet Books picture book curriculum to study a bit more about the culture of the countries around us. It’s been helpful to read about the places after we come back rather than before we go. In addition to all of that, we’re also receiving weekly stories from Around the World Stories. So far, we’ve heard 4 stories from Germany (which started right after we returned from Germany and Switzerland). Now we’re listening to stories set in the Netherlands. Perfect!!

The other thing we’re sure to do every day is our read-alouds. We are following BookShark for this, as well, but we’ve also just finished the first Harry Potter book. Independent of our curriculum, we’ve been steadily working our way through a series called The Land of Stories and it’s rekindled some of Laine’s love for fairy tales. (I cannot wait to take her to Efteling, the fairy tale theme park in the Netherlands, sometime soon)! We usually listen to an audiobook while we have breakfast and lunch as it keeps them seated long enough to fill their bellies a bit.

We do occasionally have some interesting diversions. One day there was an elevator truck parked in front of our apartment. Someone was moving in across the street, so we watched as their belongings were delivered up through the window. Another day we had to pause several times to go chase bubbles because a street fair was being set up downstairs. Most sunny Thursdays and Fridays also include a fair bit of music wafting in through the open windows from the street performers down near our corner. Today it was a saxophonist, but some weeks he plays flute instead. Other times we are serenaded by a trio that includes an accordion.

Once we get through our school work for the day, which is mixed in with swapping laundry and feeding them the first 5 meals of the day, we run errands. We walk to the grocery store almost daily and sometimes also stop at the chocolate shop. Leonidas (chocolate shop) is even more prevalent in Leuven than Starbucks is in New York.

Most afternoons include jiu jitsu classes for the kids. They are used to going 4 days per week in Austin, so we’re thankful to have found a good studio here, too. It also gives me a few minutes to catch up on my blog or, more recently, work on my annual continuing education requirements.

On Fridays, we have a bit more free time because there is no jiu jitsu. So Fridays may include a trip to the book shop up the street and a Belgian waffle, a doughnut, or an ice cream cone.

Evenings are more relaxed – unless I’m having an anxiety attack over the state of our apartment. Todd tries to get home about the same time we do. When he isn’t on conference calls, we hang out in the kitchen while the kids have their screen time. We share a family dinner before Todd and I start yelling at the kids to brush their teeth and get pajamas on. So, basically, the same thing you do. See, things aren’t so different here!

Homeschooling mom note: if you are among the homeschooler who read this, please note that this is what’s worked since we moved here in March. I expect all of it to change now that I’ve typed it up and said it’s working for us.