Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Dutch Market, a Belgian Park and a German Cathedral

Thursday was another outing with my sister-in-law and the kids in the afternoon. In the morning, however,  she and I snuck out alone to the Thursday market day in Sittard, NL. Thank you to Eric for watching the kids! My brother lives right near the border of the Netherlands, so this was a 10-minute drive. The weather was blustery, with rain and wind, but we braved it anyway with our umbrellas and shopping bags. We were rewarded, as you can imagine, with fresh produce, wonderful pastries, breads and cheeses and an array of other stalls selling everything one needs, from underwear and socks to fabric and notions to shoes and bike panniers.

The afternoon weather cleared up beautifully and we went about 45 minutes away to Gent, BE to Bokrijklaan. (Pronounced, as near I can explain, as Bo-krake-lan. It is a large, tree-filled park with a REALLY excellent playground (they still have all the fun playground stuff here, like slick metal slides, push merry-go-rounds , see-saws and all that), a restaurant, paths for walking, and a fantastic open-air living history museum all about ancient Flemish life. Windmills, pigs, goats, blacksmith demonstration, bread baking, etc.; it was all there.

Friday, A and the niece and nephews decided to have a regular day at home, so we all piled into their generously-loaned car and took off for Aachen, DE, about 45 minutes driving time. We started off in a Lindt factory store that was as big as a medium-sized grocery store except that it sold only one thing: Chocolate. Yep. Lindt chocolate. Flavors and varieties were on those shelves that I've never even dreamed about. And then there were the big packs of seconds or odd lots that were inexpensive and filled with a kilo of chocolate surprises. Fantastic.

After that we went to the city center to explore the Cathedral complex, so another big European must-do is done. This was a good choice in cathedrals for our family. Gorgeous and medieval/gothic/renaissance all at once, easy to find, interesting, ancient, and a witness to the entire panorama of European history. Aachen was a seat of Charlemagne, and he lies buried here.  His story is told all over the cathedral complex. It was also a major site for Christian pilgrimage due to the relics that reside there (a cloak belonging to Mary, Christ's loincloth, his swaddling clothes from his birth and the cloak worn by John the Baptist at his beheading). We did not see the relics because they only come out for display every 7 years, but that's okay. It was enough to ponder the wonder of the construction of such a place such a long time ago.  Along with all that, this was the first city in western Germany to be taken by the Allies during the ending scenes of WW2. Aachen was heavily damaged in the war, and we saw evidence of that. Now though, Aachen is a peaceful yet vibrant place that speaks of both history and modernity. Such rebirth and reclaiming of the ordinary in Europe such a relatively short time since the war is a constant source of inspiration and awe for me. The destruction is nearly unimaginable, even after you see the photos of the demolished city center in the museum, yet now there is beauty and quiet.

Bear with me. I'm powerfully affected by WW2 history, and walking among it is meaningful to me.

So far, one principal dream of this trip is coming true. Because my brother is fortunate to live in a very small town, we have chosen to go to places that are not on the A-list guidebook itineraries and that are not too far from his home. They haven't been crowded (other than with the people who live there), the pace has been relaxed, and most things haven't been translated into English. I'm learning to handle my Euros without taking 10 minutes per transaction, and I feel comfortable. Everyone we've met has been happy to speak English if I need it, but for some transactions, it's not necessary, and I get a tiny thrill when I dream that I haven't stuck out like a sore thumb as a foreigner because a shopgirl simply tells me the price in German or Dutch, I look at the cash register to make sure, hand over the money and she says Danke and I say Bitte, and we go on our way.

It has been a serendipitous thing for me that we're visiting people who actually live here rather than coming on our own, so lots of things are unfolding naturally within the framework of my Sister-in-law's regular goings-on, such as shopping, errands, a trip to a park with kids etc.. Frankly, this is exactly what I wanted-to mix in the sightseeing and exploration with finding out about day-to-day life. It has been absolutely perfect.

So here are the photos of the last couple of days. Now we are off to France to see the D-day beaches and just bask in the fact that we're in FRANCE for pete's sakes. It's actually Bastille day this weekend, so we may find some fireworks, which would be grand, don't you think? I have no idea about internet in our rented farmhouse for the next 5 days, so it might be till next week that I post but never fear, je reviens!

No one is ever really too old for a good playground. 

The niece and nephew loving the plank
We did not find out the story of this building in the park,
but it sure is pretty. 
An actual, old windmill. I never knew that the entire top
part of the structure, the house part, gets rotated to catch
the wind. At least this style does.  Amazing. 
As you know, gardening is an art form in Europe, and has
been for a long time, as this view of the gardens here shows.
Every bed had a border of flowers and boxwood to set off
the vegetables. Amazing. 

Looking down from the windmill. That large beam in the
lower right is the lever for turning the entire thing on its
base to find the wind.
Gorgeous boxwood arbor in the middle
of the garden. 
The glorious hydrangeas are everywhere. 
O pets a pig. He was a good pig. So friendly. 
Baby LOVES the goat and the goat loves baby (or at least
the goldfish crumbs all over his stroller)

Old church on the grounds of the park. 

Aachen Cathedral

Under the steeple

An entire wall of stained glass. Miraculously,
this survived the war. 

The complex was built piecemeal, over centuries, so it is a
mix of styles and structures. 

Inside the Town Hall, circa about the 14th century, I think. 

Scary face and amazing vaulted hall. 

Fountain and square in front of the town hall in Aachen. 

The kids taking it all in. They have been good traveling
The kids at the feet of Charlemagne.  
We were exploring the Treasury of the Cathedral and
suddenly found ourselves in this lovely, deserted courtyard.
If I lived here, I would want to sit here every day and have my lunch. It was so peaceful. 


  1. What a wonderful trip! You are getting the true essence of things, not a country a day tour. I have found it amazing how cities have rebuilt after the war. Warsaw was like Aachen, demolished and regenerated into a beautiful place. Thank you for your tales, very much enjoyed.

  2. I am hanging on your words, friend. Incredible.

  3. glorious!!!!! absolutely glorious.

  4. Love love LOVE!! I think i recognize that skirt fabric that S is wearing.... :)

    Can't wait to read about France !!


Thank you for sharing your insights!