Sunday, December 31, 2006

Day Trip to Groningen

Happy new year to all you faithful briggleblog fans! As I write this I am listening to the melodic percussions of fireworks exploding around our little town. The Dutch are gek op (crazy for) vuurwerk (fireworks) at new years. It is not municipal firework displays, but random individuals running a mok all over town, and, as far as I can tell, even simply throwing lit fireworks from their windows.





Yesterday, we went to Groningen, the "metropolis of the north," a university town of about 185,000 ringed by a main canal and chock full of bars. Its golden age was during the 15th century, when it controlled the prosperous nearby province of Friesland. At that time the striking Martini tower was built, which at 127 meters was for a while the tallest building in Europe. It was also a member of the Hanseatic league, an alliance of cities that controlled trade across much of Northern Europe throughout the later Middle Ages.











We had a great time there. First, however, notice the new pepsi ad campaign all over the Dutch railway system - "Zonder suiker" means without sugar and I trust you can translate "met ballen."











We arrived at lunchtime and found a bustling market in the middle of town with a much more diverse fish market than we have in Hengelo. Amber and I got some fried fish and patats (Belgian style) and leaned up against the old Korenbeurs, a building where they used to trade grain but which currently houses an Albert Heijn grocery store.



















We then strolled about the city and snapped lots of photos of the Martini tower and another church-like building that now serves as part of the main university in town.



Next, we had some tea at the uniquely designed modern art museaum before viewing the exhibit, which consisted mainly of the works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), a Finnish painter who travelled over much of Europe and even spent some of his later years in Taos. His works were impressive for their diversity both in terms of style (from realism to symbolism to surrealism) and subject matter (from landscape to myth to portraits). Though I had never before heard of him, we learned that he pioneered many new approaches to art in the early modern period and exerted a strong influence over following generations of artists. We both enjoyed his work and admired his versatility.





We left the museum around 5 p.m. and headed for a wonderful pancake restaurant that is literally a boat anchored along the canal. Amber had the grand marnier raisin apple pancake and I had the banana and poeder suiker pancake. They were lekker lekker. Afterwards, Amber nearly dropped her Nalgene water bottle in the canal, but she made this cat-like yet desperate pouncing lunge to gather it in before it rolled into the canal. It was like she was recovering her own fumble in the super bowl. It cost her a scraped knee, but she recoverd the fumble.



We concluded the night with a bock beer at one of the local pubs along the canal, which had a quaint atmosphere enhanced by candles on all the tables. We then strolled to the station and caught the train home, which was about a two-hour trip during which we consulted our Hollad travel book and planned our next trip to undiscovered delights in this little "frog land," or kikkerlandtje. Stay tuned for our next travel update. Will it be Deventer, Zwolle, Nijmegen...you never know...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Computer-mediated Christmas

As Amber noted in her last post, we experienced a computer-mediated gift opening this year. My folks and my brother Matt were together in Colorado Springs and we communicated via our web cams with voice while we opened presents. It was particularly interesting for me, because my work involves philosophically reflecting on the new media, such as the Internet. Mostly what I do is try to think about how these technologies impact our lives, especially in what sense we could say they improve or diminish the quality of our lives and our relationships.

My first point is more historical than philosophic. Even a few years ago, we wouldn't have had the technology to pull this off. And only fifteen or twenty years ago, we would have only phone, and at that it would have been very expensive (certainly not the 1.5 cents/minute on yahoo). And before that...well letters, I guess. So, I am grateful for the experience and keep in mind the advantages of living in an age where space can be so easily overcome. The Internet definitely makes it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.

Then again, it also encourages people like us to leave our friends and family behind in the first place because we know it will be easier to stay in touch. It also makes me think about a point Thomas Friedman made in an article a while back. Information technologies can keep strong connections alive over long distances, but in so doing they can weaken the formation of ties within local communities. I don't think Amber and I have fallen in that trap, though, because we also visited a Dutch family on that day and had an excellent meal with them. This reminds me that technology leaves at least some room for user discretion.

But maybe the most interesting point is that it just wasn't the same as actually being there. I could see the faces of my family, see their Christmas tree, and even our cats. But the experience of Christmas is not primarily visual, at least not for me. It also includes the tastes and smells of our traditional meal (fondue) and the feel of petting the cats, napping on the couch by the tree, sitting in front of the fire, etc. But more so, what was missing was what I could call the whole "schema" of an embodied being-togetherness. To be with family, unmediated, is to be oriented around the same activities and in the same place. It is to share a common schedule and rhythym. We play cards, watch the football game, do the crossword puzzle together, go out to the mall, and go on a walk around our neighborhood, and go out to dinner and then drive slowly home, taking the long way to look at all the lights on the houses. It is the innumerable strands of a shared schema or orientation that make, for me, an unmediated Christmas superior to the mediated kind.

That said, I agree with Amber that it was good to be here this Chrismas and experience another culture's rhythms at the holiday time. Many thanks to my family for all the gifts and for our experiment in mediating the season. Though much was lost, much was also recovered and came through with bittersweet reassurance in your smiling faces and laughing voices.

history of holland

here's a really fascinating, and relatively brief, history of the netherlands:

http://home.zonnet.nl/van.duijvenbode/en/geschnl-o.htm


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

tweede kerstdag

to say "merry christmas" in dutch actually translates to "merry christmases," because they have christmas-day and day-after-christmas-day. a "second christmas", or tweede kerstdag. today is tweede kerstdag, and we're enjoying an extremely quiet morning in our jammies.

so, how was your holiday? did you spend it with your family? did you make it to church? was it a white christmas?

as much as we miss our families back home, i think we both feel that it was a good decision to experience a christmas in europe. we both loved all the gezellig decorations and festivities in hengelo, and it was fun to have such a quiet, simple christmas with just the two of us. i'd trade it all to have been able to spend it with my friends and family back in the US, but still... i think it was a good decision to stay here and try something different this year. it was good.

on christmas eve we made a traditionally american meal with turkey and all the fixins. we were lucky to have found a turkey, because it's something that they just don't eat that much of out here. we discovered a poultry stand at the market that had hele kalkoen, or "whole turkeys" for sale this past week, just special for the holidays! initially we thought that maybe we'd just get a turkey breast, because A) our oven is too small to bake an entire turkey, and B) our fridge is too small for all the leftovers. but then we actually saw the turkeys -- they were so tiny! the biggest one they had was about the size of a roasting chicken back home -- almost all of them were less than 5 lbs. (ours was 1.9 kilograms.) to cook it, we had to look up on the internet how to convert pounds and fahrenheit to kilos and celsius, and we covered it in my little dutch oven and put it into our little dutch oven.

after dinner we watched "a charlie brown christmas" on youtube.com (how fun!) and opened just a couple of presents. we were on our way to bed when we heard the church bells ringing. now, the church bells here ring all the time -- every quarter hour in fact, 24 hours a day -- but they also ring differently when it's time for mass. about 10 minutes before, the bells will ring all at once, as loudly as they can, for several minutes, announcing to everyone that mass is about to begin. we usually hear those bells once in the morning and once in the evening, but never at 11 pm. when all of a sudden we realized: it's midnight mass! we tried making excuses for ourselves as to why we should just go to bed: we're tired, we're not dressed up, my hair is a mess, etc. but then we decided it was an experience we just couldn't pass up: christmas mass in a catholic church is always beautiful, so it must be even MORE beautiful in europe! we threw on our coats and shoes and ran out the door. we got there just at the end of a lovely song that this AMAZING choir was singing. all the lights in the church were off, and the only light that you could see was the light from these elegant pillar candles casting light off of the white pillars of sint lambertus church. so beautiful.

we understood the gist of the homily, but not all of it because it was in dutch, and it was essentially about stripping down christmas to its original intention: christ. the choir sang a number of beautiful songs, but my favorite favorite favorite part was when we all sang "silent night." everyone was singing it in dutch, but i was singing it in english. and the young men behind me were singing it in a completely different language that i didn't know. and still, we were all singing silent night together, with one heart, with one voice, with one intention. it was incredibly moving. so beautiful.

christmas day we opened a few presents and opened our stocking stuffers. later that afternoon we took a train to ede-wageningen to have dinner with a family i know from my UU church in amsterdam. it was an incredible meal, again with turkey, 5 kinds of wine (i had my first glass of authentic french champagne!), and 2 different desserts! after dinner we gathered around the piano and sang christmas songs together until it was time to catch the train back home. we got back around 9:30 and had a computer-mediated christmas with bob and rae: we both turned on our webcams and sat by our computers as we opened presents together -- 4000 miles apart! my parents called me around 11:30, which was such a treat, and we finally both went to bed around 1:00 am.

so that was our christmas. full and lonely and wonderful and gezellig and simple and lovely. how was yours?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

our 2006 holiday letter -- long version

our apologies to those of you who will not receive a holiday card and letter from us this year. besides being mostly broke from this big international move, we also have the additional cost of international postage -- about $1 US per letter! so not everyone gets one this year, and we're sorry about that.

fortunately, we have our blog! so we're posting the original letter we wrote -- all two pages of it! -- plus the pictures we included in the letter, for your reading pleasure. the final letter we sent out was much, much revised, but not as interesting in our opinion.

read on, enjoy, and happy holidays!


Winter 2006

Groeten en Prettige Kerstdagen uit Nederland!

What a year! Just when you thought our lives couldn’t get any more interesting, just when you thought it was about time for us to settle down, make babies, get a mortgage, invest in the stock market, and just generally be grown ups, we pick up and move to Europe! But I’ll get to that later.


We spent New Year’s Eve 2005 friends who were condo-sitting up in Vail. Adam and I decided to head up there for a few nights and go snowboarding. That was laughable – you’d think that living in Colorado, we’d be natural snowboarders or skiers, but really, we’re pretty awful. I fell down the Winnie-the-Pooh hill (that’s what it was literally called, and the preschoolers were kicking my butt at it too!) and Adam didn’t do too much better on the Mickey Mouse run. We called it a day after just a few hours and decided to go back to the condo to soak in the hot tub instead! A few weeks later, we were able to go to both playoff games at Mile High stadium in Denver. We watched the Broncos beat the Patriots in what will go down in history books as the finest game ever played by the 12th man, but sadly witnessed them lose the AFC Championship game to the Steelers the next week. It was also during this month that we were blessed to have my cousin, Philip, and his fiancĂ© come and visit. Just one month earlier, Philip’s brother, Kyle, and his fiancĂ© came out for a brief visit on their way to go skiing in Aspen. It was so good to reconnect with family. I have the greatest cousins!


February brought the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, and so I took an opportunity to fly out to San Francisco to party with my girlfriends for the weekend. Two of my girls were already living there and one flew down from Portland to be with us too. It was chaos, and I loved it. Somehow growing up in North Dakota I got the idea in my head that I wanted to see the Chinese New Year parade someday, so it really was a dream come true that I saw it this year! It was just what I imagined: lots of fireworks, dragons, noise, etc. So fun! Also that month I was offered a job at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, one of the most prestigious massage schools in the world, in their Admissions Department. After I graduated from BCMT a few years ago, I just kept coming back over and over and over, and I think they just got sick of me and so gave me an office to keep me quiet. My role there was just perfect, though: it kept me working in the world of massage therapy, without having to actually do massage (which is a very labor-intensive job). And most wonderful of all, I was working with people that I love, in a place that I wanted to be, working towards a mission I actually believed in.

We both celebrated our birthdays in March, and for me that meant entering my “Saturn Returns” phase of my life. (Saturn Returns is a time in the astrological calendar of your life when Saturn returns to the same place it was in on the day you were born. It typically runs in 28 year cycles, and lasts about 3 years, and is a time of great change and new beginnings in your life. Adam is in the midst of his “Saturn Returns” too.) I was really scared, since everything in my life was just perfect as it was: my career and home life were just fine the way they were, and I didn’t want anything to change! I guess there’s a lesson in there about being “too attached” to something. My mantra this year has been where there is uncertainty, there is faith.

Shortly after our birthdays we spent a week in Louisiana to help out with legal work surrounding some Briggle family land. We spent a week in New Orleans, in the French Quarter, which 6 months post-Katrina was still recovering. Everywhere in the French Quarter was open, but everywhere also had “Help Wanted” signs up, since all the employees had to relocate after the storm. We did spend some time driving around the area to assess the damage ourselves, but it was just too depressing. The damage was incomprehensible: it’s amazing that a storm could not only destroy entire cities, but also blow their residents across the country as easily as if they were leaves on a tree. We learned a lot on that trip not only about the hurricanes, but also about the land near Opelousas, which has been in the family for four generations. After Louisiana, we flew to Houston to visit Adam’s Aunt Kim and Uncle Ed, whom neither of us had seen since our wedding 5 years ago. I also met Adam’s Grandma Susan, for the first time. Additionally, our old friend Emily, who we both know from that year that we spent volunteering on the organic farm, came to visit us in May!

It was around that time that Adam went to a conference in Washington, D.C., to do research for his doctoral dissertation. He met a lot of really important people, including the head of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Dr. Leon Kass. Adam has been reading Kass’ works for the past few years and has done a lot of research on the President’s Council under Dr. Kass, and so meeting him was really a tremendous experience and an important opportunity.

Throughout the year, Adam had been looking at possible job opportunities, since it appeared that he may not have funding for another year of grad school. Nothing felt right, or they were too far away from home for us to really feel like we’d be happy there. But soon after he came home from the D.C. conference, he spotted a job for a three-year post-doctoral fellowship in the Netherlands, starting in the fall. I remember clearly: I was doing the dishes when Adam came around the corner and said, “There’s a job opening in the Netherlands. Should I apply?” It was in that instant that I knew: we were moving to Europe. It’s like every event in our lives was leading us to this one moment, this one place. I just knew that he would get the job and we would move there. “Go for it, baby,” I said. “I think it’d be a good experience.”

In June we took off for a two-week road trip to see my cousin Philip get married in the mountains of Upper Michigan. Along the way we saw family from both sides: Adam’s mom’s cousins in Nebraska; his brother in Peoria; his Aunt Judy and Uncle Pete in Illinois; Adam’s cousin, Laurel, and her family (whom I had never met before); my parents and sisters and best friend up in Wisconsin; my cousins, Gramma, aunts, and uncles up in Michigan for the wedding; and finally a few days in Minneapolis to see my mom and youngest brother. It was during a lunch stop at a Dairy Queen in Bessemer, Michigan, that we got “the” phone call: Adam got the job! Out of a global pool of 100 applicants, and only 7 interviewees, he was offered the job with only one other academician, who was from Australia. We would move in August for a job that began on September 1. After all the work it took to get this road trip / vacation to happen, we were especially grateful that we did it because we didn’t know when we would see all of our friends and family again.

The rest of the summer was basically a whirlwind. Adam did a year’s worth of work on his dissertation in only 6 weeks, and defended at the end of July. He passed with no revisions, which is virtually unheard of in grad school. We were especially happy because my best girl, Teresa, came out from Oregon to visit for her birthday, and Adam’s parents were able to come up from Colorado Springs to watch him defend.

Then we spent the rest of our few short weeks left in Boulder saying good bye and packing up. It was during this time that I contracted a very bad case of West Nile Virus. Complete with the rash, the muscle tremors, the blurred vision, the fever, etc. It was downright scary, and had I not been in the best health of my life, I may not have recovered as easily. I still deal with a lot of fatigue, and I have a hard time finding my words sometimes, and occasionally I will feel a muscle tremor, but I was so blessed to not have any of the encephalitis or paralysis that can accompany a case of WNV that was as severe as mine. Take care of your body! It is the best health insurance you can have! So here I am, sick as a dog, grateful that I can still wiggle my fingers and toes and that I’m not comatose in a hospital somewhere, and we’re trying to pack up our lives into 8 small boxes and ship them over to Europe, while simultaneously trying to sell my business. It was exhausting!

Somewhere in there we found the time to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary by going to Cripple Creek for an afternoon, and then relaxing at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs with a few cocktails. There was a couple there who were also celebrating their wedding anniversary: their 60th wedding anniversary! They danced to the same song that we danced to on our wedding day and totally rocked that dance floor. Adam and I made a date that we would do the same thing in another 55 years.

We left the States in late August and moved to the eastern part of the Netherlands, right on the border with Germany. Adam has a job at the Universiteit Twente, which is one of the best engineering schools in the country. He has a post-doctoral fellowship in the Philosophy department, and is studying the new media. Essentially, what does it mean to be human in a technological age where none of us has to talk face-to-face with another person ever again? What does it mean to find love on the internet, or to have relationships over email and instant messaging, and does our emotional intelligence suffer when we play video games instead of interacting over a deck of cards, etc.? He really enjoys his job, and we both think it’s important philosophical stuff to be discussing right now – just look at any newspaper or magazine, and you will find more than one article devoted just to this topic. That is, if you still read the “old” media.

As for the rest of the logistics, we’re renting a huge house in the heart of Hengelo, a smallish town where not many people speak English – a good thing since we both want to learn as much Dutch as we can while we’re here. (PS there is more than enough room for you to visit us. In fact, you’d have the entire third floor all to yourself, if you can believe it!) I hope to start a massage business here if at all possible, and have shipped my table and supplies over. Our house is big enough that I will be able to practice from home, which was always my goal even back in Boulder. Our stuff just arrived at the end of November, about 3 months after we sent it off, so I haven’t had a chance yet to set up shop. But my intentions are clear and my goals are defined, and so I hope that soon these ambitions will manifest themselves.

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been very busy, not only with finding a place to live and learning a new language, but also with visitors and visiting. In October, Adam’s parents, Bob and Rae, came out to visit! They had already been planning a European vacation for about this time of year anyway, and when they found out we were moving they decided to make the Netherlands their destination. We got to show them around the area where we live, and also joined them for a weekend in a seaside town near Amsterdam. It was so wonderful to have them here, but we found that we also were more homesick with them here than if they never came at all. Is that strange, to miss someone more when they’re right there in front of you? Regardless, we were both extremely happy and relieved to see them: the world is not so big and scary if you have memories of familiar people in unfamiliar places. We’ve also done quite a bit of traveling on our own, too: The Hague (mostly for immigration stuff), Amsterdam (also immigration stuff, but my Unitarian Universalist church is out there too), Hamburg (a surprisingly romantic town), and Ghent (we went there over Thanksgiving weekend). We also plan to head off to Italy in January for a conference where Adam will be presenting.

Thanks for reading this longer-than-usual letter. There is just so much to tell this year! We have a blog that we invite you to check out if you have the time, to read about our crazy adventures and our fabulously dull lives out here:

www.thebriggleblog.blogspot.com

We’re terribly homesick and in love with this adventure all at once. Mail is always welcome, and so are visitors! Please call, write, and visit as often as you can! Prettige Kerstdagen and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

fijne feestdagen

the whole of hengelo is in the christmas spirit. it's so cute the way the town is dressed up and excited for the big holiday: there is an ice skating rink set up in the middle of the marktplein, and the market is now featuring cute little dutch girls dressed up in sequined santa skirts, handing out FREE cookies!








(the view from our bedroom window. to the left of this picture is the marktplein, where the market is on wednesdays and saturdays, and where the icerink is set up.)




last week's market was so much fun: we woke up to the sound of carolers outside our window. (the market takes place primarily on the marktplein -- market square -- which is about 50 meters away, but there's a little offshoot of it that goes quite literally down our street. we can hear them setting up outside our bedroom window, and the smell of fried fish and roasted cashews wakes us up every saturday morning.) when we looked out the window, we saw about a dozen or so carolers dressed up like they were charles dickens characters, standing beside a manger scene, complete with a couple of donkeys and even a llama! maybe the best part about it, though, were the shepherds who were handing out FREE cups of hot spiced wine. it was so much fun! we stood outside in the rain, drinking hot wine, and singing along with the christmas songs.


after we had enough of that, we walked down to the "oliebollengkonig", or the "oil bulb king." oliebollen are a traditional dutch treat that is eaten this time of year, and they're basically these deep-fried dough balls sprinkled with powdered sugar. but they're not like donut holes, because they're not cakey. they're more like indian fry-bread, because they're kind of spongy and crispy-ish on the outside. it's dangerous: that oliebollenkonig has been camped outside our window for over a month now, and each oliebol is only 70 eurocents! good thing we have to ride bikes everywhere or we'd be as fat as santa claus by now! (the oliebollen stand is in this picture. this street is enschedesestraat, which is around the corner from telgen, where we live. if you take a left at the oliebollen stand, you'd be on telgen and you could see our house.)


last weekend there were several bands set up all across the city: there was a high school band standing at the top of a building on the marktplein, playing "rudolph the red nosed reindeer" as loudly as they could, so that you could hear it from every corner of the city. there was also the salvation army band, an adorable junior high woodwind ensemble, and this jazz band standing outside a toystore.


something i totally love about the ice rink on the marktplein is the size of it compared with the warming house they have set up. in the US, we would still have a warming house, but in the US, it would probably just be a little shed with a bench where you can drink your scalding, cheaply made hot cocoa out of a styrofoam cup. This warming house is about a third the size of the rink, and has cozy tables where you can drink beer, wine, and of course, coffee (a dutch staple). because, of course, what is the point of having an ice skating rink if you can't sit down and have a cup of coffee for a few hours with your friends? that's soooo very dutch. i love it.









because we haven't had internet or a phone until now, and because we choose not to have a tv, our evenings are very cozy and quiet. we usually eat dinner around 7:00 and afterwards light a fire in the fireplace, read, talk, listen to music, or play guitars. don't ask me why adam is only wearing one slipper in this picture. he says has his reasons.


at last!

...we have internet!

for some reason we still can't figure out how to get our router to talk to our computers, but i went to the electronics store and bought a long cable, which we're using now to plug my computer into our box. and more importantly, WE HAVE A PHONE!

i've found calling cards on the internet that allow you to call the netherlands for less than 2 cents a minute. please look at them and give us a call sometime.

i hope to keep in better contact with you all from here on out.

Monday, December 18, 2006

the evolution of a tree

at first i didn't want a christmas tree, because i thought i would be too homesick. having a tree, my reasoning went, means that it's christmas. and if it's christmas, i should be home with my family. but i'm not. so now i'm homesick.

but i think NOT having a tree was actually making me homesick. i felt like everyone else was in the christmas spirit except for me, and i was missing out on something fun. so adam took me to the market on saturday and we picked out a christmas tree together. it's a small, potted tree, and when the christmas season is over, we'll put it on our patio and save it until next year!

here are the pictures we took last night of us decorating our cute little tree:

step one: buy a tree












step two: decorate said tree























step three: add a bird. (the dutch don't seem to have stars or angels for tree toppers. instead, they have these bulbous looking things with big spikes on the top of them. we didn't really like them, so we bought a gaudy-looking bird instead.)










step four: add presents










step five: activate self-timer on camera for picture for the parents













step six: chillax by the fire.












prettige feestdagen, iedereen!

Friday, December 08, 2006

ghent

i know, i know, it's been a while. but we STILL don't have internet. sigh. at least it is giving me a good opportunity to talk with adam in front of our fireplace, do crossword puzzles (has really helped me regain my vocabulary after i got west nile this summer), and write -- with pen and paper -- letters back home. so it's all good. and then, before i know it, we'll have internet again and i'll forget all about how "inconvenienced" i've been the past two months.


i wanted to share some pictures of ghent.


it's the prettiest town i've ever seen. ever. and i've been from beijing to san francisco to naples to d.c. to paris to london to moscow to... you get the point. ghent is the prettiest town i've ever been to.


adam had a conference there over thanksgiving weekend, and i was free, so we went together. we slept in an old, beautiful monastary:


















we ate waffles and drank beer:




adam is only wearing one shoe in this picture, because when he ordered his special beer, they ordered him to give them one of his shoes. i don't know if it's a house-tradition, or if it's to keep the tourists from walking off with the cool glasses.

the beer hall we went to had over 250 kinds of belgian beers. lekker!


we got a spontaneous walking tour of the city from a gentleman who grew up in ghent. he remembers being liberated from the germans at the age of 8, after wwII ended. he told us all about his city and walked to a store to show us a plaque that commemorated the signing of the treaty of ghent:






we went to a castle that dated back to the 11th century. one of the more-cool things that day was a neat kid about 12 years old or so who TOTALLY reminded me of my brother, victor. everytime that we saw him, he was explaining something to his parents, about the castle. he was all, "this is this and that is that and over there you will find whatever and over there is a something or another and around the corner is blank and they would use that for whatever when they needed to blah blah blah..." i wish i knew more dutch because i would have loved to have followed him around to get a tour of the place. it just reminded me of something that vic would do, because he's totally into medieval history too (ps, vic, if you know anything about "gravensteen" in ghent, post a comment on this blog and educate us stupid folk):














and just generally enjoyed the lovely architecture and quiet streets in this old town:











oh yeah, one more thing -- it was thanksgiving while we were there, so we went out to eat at a restaurant that served apple pie. there wasn't really a place to get mashed potatoes, and forget turkey and sweet potatoes because they are virtually impossible to find here. but we ate a lekker meal at a romantic little italian place and then polished it off with authentic belgian apple pie and cinnamon ice cream!: