We hosted family over the last few weeks and it was a blast! We love playing tour guide, experiencing something new, sharing meals and chatting about our favorite topic — the differences between Europe and America. I’m going to boil down the last three weeks into some daily highlights.
6 – 8 April
Els & Frans (cousins) came for a weekend visit. On Saturday, we had a nice walk on one of our favorite trails in Valkenburg and took a relaxing break at a gezellig café along the way. We showed them around Valkenburg a bit and had lunch at one of the many restaurants there. It was the first warm sunny day of spring! It was nice to be able to sit in our garden at home that evening. We attended the Kom en Zie church in Schinnen Sunday morning. The people there are super friendly and the place was full. The worship was mostly in Dutch, but the songs were familiar to me so I tried to sing the Dutch words (projected on the wall). The speaker was enthusiastic and kept my attention even though I didn’t understand most of what he was saying. Els helped by giving me some translation. It was another pleasant weather day, so we had a barbecue lunch in the garden and enjoyed the sun. It was such a nice visit!
14 – 18 April
Kathryn arrived on 14 April to spend her spring break with us. On Sunday, we dragged her out of bed to go to a surprise destination in Belgium. We arrived at Pairi Daiza around 11:30. Pairi Daiza is an amazing zoo and we absolutely loved it! We stayed until closing because there was so much to see and do there. Kathryn and I ooooed and awwwed over the pandas and kualas. The pandas weren’t allowed outside because of mating season, but we saw them through glass. Dick got a kick out of the gorillas and all of the monkeys were very entertaining. The baby orangutan was super cute. There were a lot of exotic birds and unusual animals that we’ve never seen up close before — like ant eaters and hyenas. The entire landscape of this zoo seemed very natural and balanced.
Dick took Kathryn to Eindhoven University of Technology for her very first college visit. They did a campus tour with a current chemical engineering student and learned a lot about the program there. Kathryn is excited about the possibility of studying abroad, though it will likely be limited to a semester away from an American university. Lots to consider on that front! We’re happy that she loves it here. Dick and Kathryn also did a day trip to Bonn to see Drachenburg, cherry trees in bloom and Beethoven’s birthplace.
19 April – Sunny Day #1
Jared and Michelle arrived after spending a few days in London. We picked them up in Eindhoven and then headed to Gouda. I was so happy to see them and hug them! We haven’t been together since New Year 2017. We caught the end of the Gouda Cheese Market and picked up a few things at the green market. Our picnic lunch spot was along a canal. After a little shopping and browsing, we drove out to Kinderdijk where we saw the windmills backdropped by blue skies (first time we’ve been there in fair weather). I think Jared & Michelle brought some Florida weather with them!
We spent two nights at an Airbnb along the Reeuwijksche Plassen, which is a beautiful area of lakes and dikes. The cottage was just built this past year and was really nice and comfy. It was such a nice spot to hang out!
20 April – Sunny Day #2
Some old bikes were provided at the bnb so we took a scenic ride in the Plassen. The bikes were a bit clunky, but we had fun. We saw nesting swans and baby geese along the way. We made our way to the Keukenhof later in the morning. The flower gardens were jaw dropping again this year and we enjoyed sharing this wonderful place with Jared, Michelle and Kathryn. Jared took over 200 pics! After we were satisfied that we had seen everything, we drove to Zandvoort. We enjoyed some seafood at a restaurant on the beach with a nice view of the North Sea. Some of us dipped toes into the water, but Kathryn didn’t want to get sand in her shoes and I’m good with remembering past experiences. 😉
21 April – Sunny Day #3
We were ready to leave the Airbnb by 9:00 to drive to a station to catch the train into Amsterdam. This was Kathryn’s departure day, but she really wanted to see Amsterdam before she left. By the time we got into the city, however, she and Dick had to turn right around to head back to the train station and get to the airport. 😑 Jared, Michelle and I did the canal tour, had a coffee break at the Rijksmuseum garden and then walked to the Albert Cuyp Market. We had our lunch snacks there and bought a few items. Dick met up with us later and we went to the Flower Market. In the meantime, I received a message from the airbnb host that Dick had left a pair of shoes behind. We eventually decided to stay in Amsterdam a bit longer than planned so we could pick up the shoes in Utrecht on the way home. I gave the host a very good review! We had planned to go to the top of the A’DAM and do the swings, but decided the cost wasn’t worth it. We went to the top of the library instead. Jared wanted to try pizza for dinner, even though we warned him that Dutch pizza is not that great. 😌 He found a decently rated pizzeria and it was pretty good. We took the ferry across the IJ and watched the sunset behind the iamsterdam sign before catching a train back to our car. Back to Oirsbeek!
22 April – Sunny Day #4
Sunday was a more relaxed day. We slept in, scrounged up some breakfast and hung out. In the afternoon, we took a long drive into Maastricht via Belgium because of road works detours. We started our tour at the park, walking along the old wall. I wanted to see the D’Artagnan monument in a park we haven’t seen before, but the park was all dug up and fenced off. We found some yummy gelato along the way, so all was good. We ticked off some of our favorite places on the tour and we decided to have a barbecue dinner back at home.
23 April – Sunny Day #5
It was a little cooler on Monday, but still sunny! Dick had some work to do, so Michelle, Jared and I drove to Antwerp. We hit some traffic going in, but had just enough time to make it to the 11:30 free walking tour. I took a wrong turn on our walk in and we happened upon a neighborhood of Hasidic Jews — which happened to be very close to the long row of diamond jewelry shops. The tour guide provided us with some interesting stories about the history of Antwerp, though her sense of humor kinda fell flat due to her awkward English. We went searching for frites and waffles after the tour and a visit to the cathedral (I wanted to see the Ruben altarpieces). A swing by the gorgeous train station completed our trip and we got out of town before the worst of rush hour traffic hit.
24 April – partially sunny day
Today was Germany day. We drove to Monshau first because I wanted our guests to see one of the many quaint German towns full of half-timber houses. They were also interested in seeing the glass shop there. We watched some glass making and Dick volunteered to do some glass blowing. Yay! We strolled through town and had lunch on the square even though it was a little chilly for the Floridians. Michelle and I bought some bags at a really reasonable hand bag store. From there, we travelled on to Cologne. Our first stop was the Lindt Chocolate Museum, which is a lot of fun. Since we weren’t going to make it for the walking tour, Dick and I pointed out some of the sights we knew. The Dom is the highlight and never ceases to amaze. Michelle was in awe. After we spent some time there, we backtracked to a restaurant we selected on the way in and enjoyed some authentic German food and Kölsch. Yum!
Alas, the weather was more like normal with a bit of rain and cooler temps. Let’s be thankful for that streak of summer weather! We had another relaxed morning and Dick made crepes for our late breakfast. He had to run to a meeting, so the rest of us did a bit of shopping at Jumbo and a bike ride around Oirsbeek. In the afternoon, we went to Hoensbroek Castle. Since I’ve been through the castle multiple times, I let Jared & Michelle do the tour while I did some reading in the courtyard. The English guide was unfortunately sold out, so they had to make do with French. 😬 I was kicking myself for not bringing the English guide that we had at home. 😝 I gave them the ‘what you can see from here’ tour of JFCBS and then we circled back home. Our dinner was barbecue spare ribs and raclette. Yes, we mixed American and Swiss cuisine and it was delicious! We tried a raclette melter for the first time and it works really well. Wonder if we can get the nicely sized slices Swiss cheese in the states? Dick insisted that we have vlaai for dessert, but we had also promised to go to our local gelato place . . . so we had both!
Early morning goodbye at the airport. 😢 We loved our time with son and daughter-in-law! It was a bit easier to say goodbye to them and Kathryn because we plan to see them all soon. It’s bittersweet for us, though. It’s all going by so fast and I just want to slow down these last weeks!