we last saw bob and rae over the summer when we spent a couple of months at their beautiful home in colorado springs. before we left to come back here to hengelo, we had all discussed our next visit and agreed it would be fun to see them over here in april, when the tulips are blooming. we were sad that it was going to be nearly a year before we saw each other again, but we anticipated our next reunion and started daydreaming about the things we would do and the places we would go.
well, we had hardly been home a month when we got an email from rae, saying how much she missed us already, and how waiting until april seemed like an awfully long time to go before she could see her granddaughter again, and would it be okay if they possibly came out sometime around the holidays to see us? and OF COURSE we were like YES! well the very next day, we got an email from bob and rae with their travel itinerary! that didn't take long! they must have been thinking about it for a while and found their tickets already, but wanted to make sure we were okay with it before they bought them. ha! it was a great surprise, and we were really happy to know that they would be coming out again to see us all.
our thanksgiving guests left, adam flew to the USA for a job interview, and got back just one day before bob and rae landed in the netherlands. this was actually their third time to holland: they came once when we had just moved here from the states and hadn't even moved into this house yet (we were still living on campus in a dumpy apartment with a tiny fridge and a hotplate to cook on). then they came in march 2008 after gracie was born. and now this time, they totally knew their way around the country. their dutch was better, their confidence was better, and we all kinda knew what to expect from each other this time around. it was really nice.
so the big day finally arrived -- 5 december, which just happens to be st. nick's day here in holland. bob had mentioned more than once how he was really interested in meeting this sinterklaas fellow that he's heard so much about, so i dutifully researched on the internet how in the heck we could possibly see him that day. (because as of 6 december it's officially the christmas season, and sint goes back to spain where he lives the rest of the year, and there's no chance that we'd get a glimpse of him after that.) as it turns out, sinterklaas has a house in leiden, which is where we were planning on spending a couple of days anyway! what luck!
after gracie and i arrived in leiden (we met up with everyone later because their flight was so early that gracie and i were still in our jammies drinking juice), we met up with adam and walked back to our hotel. hugs and kisses all around, a quick diaper change and a little bite to eat, and then we were off to see this famous sinterklaas. we were armed with a map, a camera, and an address, and did our best to see what we could find.
after about a half hour of walking past windmills, canals, and a cute shopping district, we finally made it to the "huis van sint," which was housed in what i assume was the old "waag" building. (the waag is a place that was, as i understand it, used to weigh goods coming in off the docks. i've seen the waag in amsterdam and in gouda, and they're usually recognizable by the clearly-etched mural on the front of the building.) sint himself was there to greet us at the door, and welcomed us into his "home" in a very gentle manner. while santa claus is jolly and loud, sint is very peaceful and exudes this aura of holiness somehow -- probably because he's a saint, so he is just more gentle and quiet by nature.
sint's house in leiden is WAAAAY cool. sint has a house in every dutch town, because he has to meet all the boys and girls so that they can tell him what they'd like on pakjesavond (the night when gifts are exchanged here), so we saw his house here in hengelo, and also now in leiden. in hengelo, we all waited in a line and were entertained by numerous zwartepieten, who would dance and sing and give us all little cookies and pieces of candy to keep us happy. then we'd enter sint's house and one by one, the children would sit on his lap and tell him how good they've been, and what they'd like to receive on pakjesavond. but in leiden, the whole thing is much different: we entered this ginormous room with lots of activities set up all around. sint was walking around, mingling with his houseguests, and the zwartepieten were all playing with the kids and goofing off. there was this piece of paper that you could get from one of the zwartepieten which was like this diploma: if you went to all of the activity stations and completed everything, then you could give your diploma to zwartepiet and he would stamp it for you and then you would become an honorary zwartepiet yourself! how cool!
i think that was about our biggest activity in leiden; the rest of the time we just wandered around, peeking into shops, stopping for a drink in a cute pub, or eating pancakes at one of the many pannekoeken restaurants. our good friend, valerie, came over for a couple of hours one day, just to see rae and bob whom she had met before. that was cool to see her and for them to reconnect again.
we did spend a nice afternoon at the market in leiden. it was HUGE! i couldn't believe it! the market was spread along both sides of a canal right downtown, and went for blocks and blocks and blocks and BLOCKS. it just went forever. so i take it back, i think the market was our biggest activity. it was really well organized, with all the clothing/fabric stalls next to each other, then the random things like toner for your printer and spare bike parts and toothpaste and junk, then nuts/olives/tapas, then fruit and veggies, then fish, then cheese, then flowers, etc. i bought myself a couple of pairs of socks cuz my feet were cold, and bob and rae got some lekker stroopwafels, which are probably the most delicious cookie in the world.
we also opened up a few presents on pakjesavond which i think was more fun for us grown-ups than it was for gracie. but she got some much-needed pajamas, a fun santa hat, and of course a couple of books (that was her first word, after all). adam got a new toothbrush. i got a cool new bag. and bob and rae got a cheese slicer. nice.