A Travellerspoint blog

Getaway to Barcelona

We piggybacked on our friend Sydney and Jeff's trip to Barcelona. That was a good idea.

We almost didn't make it there because a snow storm rolled in and it was the biggest snow storm I have seen in Germany. Our drive to Frankfurt airport was almost double the normal time and we saw at least a dozen semis completely stopped in the middle of the autobahn because they could not get traction to make it up the hills. We were so happy that we made it to our flight on time and that it wasn't cancelled.

We arrived to Barcelona in the afternoon and were STARVING. After we checked into our apartment for the weekend we hit up a pulperia which is an octopus tapas bar. That kicked off something that we have never done before. We found a way to eat at that restaurant every one of the four days that we were in Barcelona.

After our bellies were filled we really wanted to see the ocean so we strolled down multiple pedestrian friendly streets to the oceanside. I haven't been to another city that was quite so pedestrian friendly. There was a little corner store where we picked up some wine and cups and enjoyed the sunset looking over the beach. We also happened to meet two guys traveling who were from England and Italy. We spent the evening bar/restaurant hopping with them and enjoying craft brew on the beach.

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This is how they collect trash in the district with all the walking streets.

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The next morning Quinn got in a run and Ethan and I slept in a bit. Our day started off with a visit to the Boqueria Market for breakfast.

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Along the way we strolled along the Ramblas and stopped off at the Barcelona Cathedral which had an incredible number of chapels. I have never seen quite so many in one church.

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Next up we strolled around the park near our house and passed an enormous fountain/monument with horses and a chariot perched at the top. The park was beautiful and bustling. Everyone was enjoying the sunshine.

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We kicked back for an afternoon chai tea inside of a swanky coffee house to await the arrival of our friends Jeff and Sidney. WOOT WOOT. We joined them for some wine and then set out for more adventuring and gawking at the architecture.

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Quinn and Jeff unknowingly dressed the same for our first night out and had quite a laugh over it. We eventually returned to the ocean for sunset, and repeated our night much the same with hopping from one tapas joint to another for most of the night.

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Somehow we ended up eating quite a variety of food in Barcelona. Not only do they have delicious tapas, but there was a ramen shop (Japanese), empanadas (Argentinian), and this delicious torte that the boys devoured late one night. I think we ate at 5 different places before we ended up back at the octopus bar for yet another treat. There are no pictures to capture what happened late into the night, but we may have made it to bed only narrowly missing sunrise.

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In a rare state of vulnerability, Jeff revealed his magic potion for his awesome manliness. The secret is Bvlgari Man in Black.

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We managed to get out and explore the city under another day of perfect sunshine, and devoted our time to seeing some of Gaudi's most famous buildings. The city was really alive with people, especially in the parks and esplanades. The promenade approaching the Arc de Triomf is filled with street performers and children chasing bubbles.

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La Sagrada Familia is a church still under construction after multiple generations. It has been built by multiple families and each architect puts their own spin on making it into a mishmash of styles and ideas.

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At La Sagrada Familia, Quinn was more preoccupied with taking pictures of people taking pictures than actually capturing the church itself, but sometimes people watching is the main attraction. Check out the guy in black with the steel tipped dress shoes. Notable was the women who was so captivated by a shop window that she stopped mid-run to take a photo and call a friend about it but continued to run in place the entire time.

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Every corner and street in Barcelona is a surprise, with flourishes of artwork and design at every turn.

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Beyond just eating and drinking, there is a hint of history as well. These steps near the Cathedral known as the Placa del Rei mark the place where Christopher Columbus was received after his discovery voyage to America.

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Of course our night wouldn't be complete without another trip to the Pulperia Tapas Bar.

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Though our night was only beginning. For the second night in a row, we visited the best gin bar in the city, and possibly the best we have ever been to. They have 90 infused gins, and dozens of other popular gins if you want something more standard. We decided to try a flight of gins, matched with tonic, and they ranged from interesting to downright disgusting. Nobody had any notion that Roquefort cheese would be good, but it was even worse than any of us were prepared for. Quinn also ended up doing shots with a study abroad student from Madison.

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Gin and tonic paired with Sidney and Jeff is a recipe for one hell of a good time, and these pictures are all you need to understand.

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Monday was our last day, and we hit up the Park Guell before we left town. You can read about it online, but it is another Gaudi hotspot and is known for El Drac, which is actually a statue of a salamander. Some of the shapes in the park are a mix of Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka's factory.

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Graffiti abounds in most cities, but it seems to be taken quite seriously in Barcelona. True artists work to create murals on many of the shop rollup doors and alleyways.

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We couldn't have asked for better food, weather, or travel partners on this trip. It was an incredible time!

Posted by trackers 12:08 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Christmas, New Year, Birthday and Winter Fun

We hosted a Christmas Eve dinner for our friends who decided to stay local for the holiday. It was a fun affair with about 10 people. I may have gone overboard with the number of courses but almost all of the food got eaten so I will call it a success.

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We went over to our neighbor's house the day after Christmas for luncheon. Unfortunately, I was sick so I only participated in the last hour of the event. Our neighbors have been such good friends to us and have welcomed us and guided us through all of the pitfalls and questions of living in a foreign country. We will be forever grateful to them and will definitely miss them when we move. All 3 of their sons were home for Christmas and Quinn was invited out with Marvin for his annual barhopping event with his buddies. Marvin is the middle son and is 23 years old. They went to 8 bars all around town and the evening ended at our place with this many guys still standing. As their "midnight snack" they cooked up some fondue and special mashed potatoes! Sure beats the Taco Bell that is the typical food at bar time in the States.

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It was a fun Christmas season even though I was under the weather for Christmas day. Quinn got a break because I couldn't speak for about 36 hours. Turns out I am an excellent communicator by facial expression, gestures, and a series of whistles.

We took another jaunt to Colmar to celebrate the new year with our friends Kyle, Julie (plus kiddos), Linda, and Jerry.
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It was predicted to be a sun filled weekend but instead a fog descended upon us and turned the whole area into a frozen wonderland. It was beautiful to see all of the frost covered trees and icy spiderwebs. This area really knows how to do the Christmas decorations and Christmas market. Everywhere you turn there is another square jammed with little stalls selling holiday trinkets, rides for kiddos, spiced wine vendors, and there is even a skating rink.

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On new year's eve we trekked out to a neighboring town of Turckheim to do some wine tasting with Linda and Jerry. Turns out it is pretty much an all you can drink "taste" affair and there were so many to sample. I believe the final count was somewhere around 12, plus a whiskey.

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We whipped up a fancy feast for New Year's eve including Salmon, cheese/meat tray, and a million little snacks. We welcomed the year in with Champagne and a little French/German New year fest on TV. It was quite entertaining.

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The day we drove back to Germany the sun finally decided to show its face. Everything was still covered in frost. We went to another neighboring little town, Riquewihr, and hiked up into the vineyard and along the hillside. The photos don't really do it justice. The whole area for a 3 hour drive was covered in frost.

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We were treated to another little surprise when we returned. Our friends from Yokota, Jenn and Matt and their son Mason hopped over to Germany. They came and stayed with us a for a few fun filled nights and we were able to catch up with them and enjoy making some new memories. One of those memories will be one which I am sure Jenn will want to forget, as she fell down the stairs and broke two of her ribs! OUCH. Fuzzy socks and wooden stairs are a bad combination. This actually happened to me a couple of months back but luckily I only ended up with some scrapes and bruises. Poor Jenn was not so lucky. Jenn and I also share the same birthday so we had a little birthday celebration together which was super fun. Quinn treated us all to his famous mussel dish followed by an ice cream birthday cake. I used my candles that my friend Melinda gave me years ago and it is fun to think of her every year on my birthday. Thanks Melinda. It was really great to have old friends to celebrate another milestone. Thanks for including us on your European tour.

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On my birthday we took a little day trip to Dusseldorf. This town has the distinction of having the largest population of Japanese people living outside of Japan in one city. There were a few Japanese companies that opened their doors here and it has just grown and grown. So we went there to check out the city and enjoy some Japanese food for my birthday. We timed it so we could eat both lunch and dinner. We enjoyed sushi and udon for lunch and Ramen and Gyoza for dinner. I miss Japan. The downtown of Dusseldorf has a cute walking area and a really nicely developed pedestrian riverfront. Of course, being that it is winter it is not quite as scenic but it was still pretty. We went for a short walk but the icy wind kept us from staying too long. Also, I still had not kicked my cold at this point.

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On one of the coldest days in January so far, we went to Eifel park. We convinced Elliot and Lissett to join us and I think they thought we were absolutely nuts. It might have snowed on us a bit. Eifel park is a wildlife nature park as well as an adventure park for children. They have some rides and playgrounds for kids. It is a huge place with quite a lot to do. However, in winter, the only part that is open is the nature park. They have a variety of animals and it is about a 2 mile walk to make the full loop of the animal part. We were just in time for the wolf feeding at 2:00. Since we were the only ones there the zookeepers chatted us up a bit and then offered to show us them feeding the lynx. They have a family of 5 lynx at this park which is highly unusual because lynx are typically solitary. Watching them throw the meat in and have the HUGE cats catch it in midair was super cool. The craziest part is that Ethan was allowed in the park so he was just a few feet away from some pretty mighty predators. Next up, they fed the bears. We got to go so close to the area where they were feeding them. I could see the plaque on their teeth! The bears were not fed enough over the summer (the zookeeper has since been let go) so they did not go into hibernation like they were supposed to. So now the zookeepers will have to feed them all winter. This is a bummer because taking care of the bears is about a 2 hour a day task. Bears need about 22,000 calories per day! Isn't that amazing? If they don't put on enough weight then their brains do not secrete the hormone necessary to go into hibernation. So we got to see their little nests and watch them chow down on sandwiches, grapes (which they ate one by one and spit out the seeds) corn (each kernel is taken off the cob) and raw pork. They took the food so gently from the zookeepers hand. It was incredible. Somehow the bears know when winter is coming and one year, one of the bears built himself a little den in the wooded enclosure and went to sleep super early. He didn't come out until almost April. The zookeepers thought he was maybe dead because he went into hibernation for 6 months. They went out there with the truck and sure enough, he popped his head out of his den after his long slumber. We really enjoyed chatting with the zookeeper and hearing all of his tales. Not often you get a private feeding tour. The rest of the pics are from our time walking through the wild enclosures where you are with the animals. Ethan was a little too interested in the ibex, donkeys, and rabbits.

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Posted by trackers 10:39 Archived in France Comments (0)

More Christmas Markets

We are trying to hit up as many European Christmas markets as we can as this will likely be our last winter in Europe for the foreseeable future. So far we have been to Lyon, France; Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany; Johannisberg Kreuz (market in the forest), Germany; Bernkastel-Kues, Germany; Trier, Germany; our local Christmas market; Nancy, France; and Metz, France. In the upcoming weeks we hope to also attend Colmar, France for their Christmas markets.

First our town. The market is tiny but is has everything you need. Gluwein (spiced hot wine), potato pancakes, sausages and lentil soup. We enjoyed a nice evening with friends there this year and also a little daytime stroll through where we took these pictures. Also included is the main square with one of our town Christmas trees and a picture of a horse we saw on a walk.

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I don't think I have ever shared pictures of Ethan's best friend, Sherlock. He is our neighbor's dog and they love to play together. As you can see in the picture, Ethan will even share his bed with him.

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In this entry I will include pictures from our last two trips. The first was to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This town is known for its medieval wall and intact buildings. It truly is the quintessential German experience. We took the long way to Rothenburg through various little towns also decorated for Christmas including advent calendars.

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Just when we thought it couldn't look any more like a story book, we arrived in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

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Notice the wall says 1770. You can walk along the top of the wall almost all the way around the village. It has a covered walkway with holes to see out where the guards stood watch over the town. I believe it had 5 or seven different gates and they were all unique in their construction and design.

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We also took a stroll along the Tauber river to the neighboring town which also had many historic buildings and walls.

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On the way back we stopped in the Kaiserslautern area to meet up with Kyle and Julie and their little ones. We all went to the Christmas market in the forest the next day and ran into these crazy fools (Kate and TW + their newest addition) from back in our Japan days. It is so fun to have all of these Japan reunions. Love it.

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We might have bought matching hats

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I will leave it at that.

Next on the docket was a trip to Nancy and Metz. This ended up being primarily an eating trip intermixed with Christmas markets and walking. We have been to both of these cities before but wanted to see them at holiday time and we wanted to join our friends Kyle and Julie on a little adventure. Here are some pics from around Nancy with its beautiful ornate gates. We also enjoyed a date with Kyle and a date with Julie while the other stayed at home with the kiddos. We all love French food.

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While driving home from Nancy, we went to an ice sculpture event in Metz. The theme was Brothers Grimm fairy tales and the second half of the tent was Disney princesses dancing in a ballroom with their respective princes. It was COLD inside. Ethan was appreciative of being in a bag. We only got one group shot during this trip.

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It was a fun little weekend adventure and this is how we all felt once we got home and warm.

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Merry Christmas!

Posted by trackers 12:13 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Thanksgiving in Lyon, France

Quinn has been planning all of our recent trips and they all seem to be to France. Suspicious. Lyon is about a 6 hour drive from where we live and costs about 30 Euro in tolls. Lyon is divided by two major rivers and is situated partly on a giant hill with part of the old town being on top and part on the bottom. We were at the top which means going into town is an easy downhill walk but coming back home at night required some strenuous exercise fueled by butter heavy French dinners.

We enjoyed this particular trip over the Thanksgiving holiday with our friends Elliot and Lisette, pictured below.

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Almost every day of our trip we walked by this building. It had such beautiful colors and looked different in every light. I loved the gritty unpolished facade. Here are a couple pics of it.

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We spent one day wandering around the city on foot and hiking up and down the big hill to get different views.

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Two amphitheaters in one spot. I guess it is just easier to build a new one next door, than demo the old one.

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Photo shoot along the way

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Raised map

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Wouldn't be a European city without a magnificent church.

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One of the oldest Roman aqueducts in the area.

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This is a statue representing someone carrying the weight of themselves and symbolizes taking responsibilty of oneself. It is across the road from the city court office, which I jokingly referred to as the post office.

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Lyon even has its own free city zoo right inside the city limits.

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One unique feature of Lyon is that it has the confluence of two rivers at one end of the city. They have really capitalized on the double river front property by adding nice walking and biking paths along both rivers. They have a city bikeshare program so we spent about 5 hours riding bikes up and down the river through the parks, and down to the confluence.

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This is the amazing building at the confluence. It is a natural history museum.

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Of course, they even had a Christmas market and I really enjoyed this one because it had a lot of hand made items. I bought a pretty shell shaped necklace. I will try and feature it another time. Here are some night shots from our night on the town. Quinn led us in a bar crawl along the city that included a beer hall and also a cocktail bar with some very welcoming bartenders. When we walked into the cocktail bar we were the only ones inside. The bartenders in the back waved at us enthusiastically before we had the chance to get away and treated us to French hand crafted cocktails (one actually used his finger to stir the drink) and entertained us with jokes and cocktail knowledge.

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We even found time to make a Thanksgiving dinner on this trip and enjoy home made breakfasts every morning. Luckily we are all into cooking delicious food so we split up the meal duties and enjoyed yummy treats with only half the work.

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It was a really fun and laid back trip minus the hill climbing, biking for 10+ miles, and walking for hours around the city! No wonder our families are always calling our trips "boot camp." Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving and had time for family and friends. This year the family part was accomplished through Skype but maybe next year it will be in person?

Posted by trackers 12:45 Archived in France Comments (1)

Later fall activities including a trip to Lille

Quinn planned a quick weekend away for us on Columbus day weekend to Lille, France. It was a last minute decision but he organized a perfect trip. We stayed in a really cute little studio inside of a historic building. The innkeeper is also a carpenter and he built a secret dry sauna behind what looked like a closet door off the bedroom. It was so fantastic to have warm sauna time at the end of the day to relax. I don't think I have ever slept so deeply in my life. I am a sauna convert.

Lille is a really cute historic town with a beautiful nature park just outside the historic center. We started our trip with a visit to the park and a picnic. I didn't bring a heavy enough coat for the picnic so I used a blanket. Ethan also decided it was a wonderful idea to jump into the lake to chase a bird, no matter that he had his coat on. This park was full of all different bird species. It was beautiful.

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The downtown area of Lille was full of historic buildings with an ornate main square.

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A very skinny house

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On Sunday morning we went to an antique market in Tournai, Belgium. It had some really great finds as well as an amazing historic center. I knew it would have fantastic bargains because most of the shoppers were older folks who seemed like they knew about a good bargain.

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We enjoyed a lunch on the square and I tried to soak in all of the surroundings and the sun. It was a lunch I wanted to keep in my memory. Its not often that one gets to dine in such an historic atmosphere.

More pics from around Lille. One is of the train station. Another is of people riding bikes to power their phones. The bottom two are of Deliveroo which is a bicycle food delivery service. They were EVERYWHERE. We had a fun time predicting and taking guesses about how many Deliveroos we might see on our walks.

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We made one final stop in Roubaix and it turned out not to be a cute town. This building was one pearl among the rest.

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The next weekend we went to Kyle and Julie's house and they surprised Quinn with a birds of prey show at a local wild animal park. There are many animal parks all around Germany and they each have a surprising number of animals. This one was full of magnificent birds.

The birds were sitting on little perches before the show began and we could get surprisingly close. There were no cages in between us and the birds.

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The show began with condors flying back and forth behind the audience. They are so enormous it is a wonder they can even fly.

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During the show the announcer threw up little dead chicks into the air and the birds caught them with their feet. They must have gone through about 200 chicks. It was incredible to see them catch these birds in midair. Many times they dove in from quite a ways away to catch the chicks. They called the American Bald Eagle, Obama.

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I was really stoked to pet the owls.

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Our friend Linda was feeding the horses. She swore that she grew up around horses but she seemed a bit jumpy to me! Just teasing Linda.

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The view from the animal park was beautiful and they even had a little carved bench with the name of the park, Potzberg. Unfortunately, we didn't get a group picture. The birds were the star of this show. Thanks Kyle and Julie for a fun day out.

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Last weekend our friends from Belgium, Liesbeth and Pieter came for a visit. This time we took them on a little hike through our village vineyards and enjoyed happy hour with a view. We also had a bonfire in the backyard and stayed up chatting past our bedtime. Shout out and thanks to Andrea and Kevin for this Norwegian fire log. It was super cool. If you don't know about these, do a google search.

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Liesbeth and Pieter also brought me a fun Sinterklaas gift. This holiday has a very interesting history which you can google and read about some of the controversy with Santa's helpers.

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We took them to Luxembourg and it seemed like the whole city changed. We walked around the town in the bottom of the ravine and the different angle made it seem like an entirely new place. It was a nice sunny day and the company was so great. It is always fun to spend a weekend hanging around with these guys.

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It is always nice to have guests and we are already planning our next trip to Ghent to hang around with these guys and meet the newest member of their family. Thanks again.

Posted by trackers 05:25 Comments (0)

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