Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Aurevoir Europe 2010

18th August 2010

The week of hosts!

Mathias and Tanja - Our previous hosts in Brussels

To be so spoilt by people you have never met is such an honour. We have been privileged to share our lives with three families over the past week. We have experienced the personalities, culture and lifestyles of people from three different countries.

Several friends and family members have questioned our choice to join homelink and exchange our home or host/be hosted by people with have never met. Questions such as, “Aren’t you worried about what they might do to your home?” or “What if you don’t like the people?” are often asked.

The week has proved how fabulous being hosted can be. First Nunspeet – west of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Marco and Linda - Nunspeet
Linda and Marco are 27 & 30 years old and bought their gorgeous home a few years ago. They both work about ½ hour from Nunspeet. Both took time off work to host us and as I said in my last blog took us for the wonderful 40km bike ride. Yes we had been to the gay pride festival in Amsterdam but that had nothing to do with our very sore butts! Thanks Marco for trying to kill us, you almost succeeded! It was his way of ensuring we could not come down the stairs during the night and kill them! We taught Marco and Linda rummy – Kat’s version! I think Glen may have won. After two wonderful days we headed south to Antwerp.
Herman & Annemie - Antwerp

Antwerp is in Belgium. Again it is a gorgeous city that we should have spent more time in. Our hosts Herman & Annemie are retired teachers. We arrived to coffee, chatted and made ourselves at home in their beautiful home with a quaint garden and wooded area behind their home. We headed into Antwerp and wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets towards the town square. An absolutely stunning town with fabulous designer dress shops and plenty of cafes. We bought some presents and then headed back to Herman & Annemie’s for dinner. Herman makes guitars and Annemie, along with many family members, paints. The house is filled with paintings and to Glen’s delight guitars! We went for a 5km evening brisk walk! It was a quick stopover in Antwerp as the next day we were heading to Luxembourg.
Stefan & Toni - Luxembourg

Luxembourg here we come. Stefan, Toni and daughter Anna were just fabulous. We arrived in time for dinner – traditional Moussaka, vine leave wrapped rice. Yes the family originated in Bulgaria. Again a family speaking 4+ languages, how inadequate we feel! We headed to Germany about 20 mins away, the next day for dinner – a small village with a fortress which have the most divine family owned restaurant. Our German is non-existant but we did tell the chef that it was the best meal we had eaten out. The ambience watching the sunset over the vineyards, candles, great company and superb food was wonderful. Stefan and Toni asked us to stay another day! In our schedule we had a spare day before having to be in Paris so agreed. We slept in a bit Saturday but after another wonderful breakfast we headed again to Germany to Their. We headed up to a high viewpoint to see the city and have lunch. The hostess was somewhat stressed and really didn’t want to serve more people so after a quick drink, we decided to eat in town. What a cute town – quite touristy but lunch was relaxed and enjoyable. Back home for dinner – Vanessa’s turn to cook – Onion soup and then salmon! Lots of wine, beer,cognac and snaps! Another very late night after an evening of chatter.

Sunday we thought we should see Luxembourg! It rained well according to Glen it was mizzle! Now I have never heard of mizzle but even word’s dictionary believes it’s a word. So I’ve learnt a new one! We went through the casements – pretty incredible. 17kms of underground tunnels remain today. Luxembourg back in the 1800’s was known as the Gibraltar of the north. During world war 2 - 35000 people could be protected in the casements! We had lunch in the city – again we foiled them and were able to pay for the meal without them suspecting! We always tried to pay for meals out with out hosts – sometimes this was difficult. As Marco, (from the Netherlands), would agree we were good at doing this! We then did the tour through the palace. The rain did not stop all day so we headed home for champagne and dinner! Stefan cooked prawns in garlic and constantly filled our glasses with alcohol. Late in the night or should I say early the next morning Glen disappeared – bed had called! After champagne, rose wine, champagne again, cognac and snaps the head was suffering! Monday - time to head to Paris.

Our week had been fabulous and we couldn’t thank our hosts enough. On the trip we had 5 families host us and all provided unique memorable experiences but beyond this new friends who we will keep in touch with.

The first to come to Australia will be Mathias and Tanja from Brussels and we can’t wait to spoil them and show them our area! I would recommend this style of travelling to anyone.
Notre Dame

Hotel de Ville
So now we are back in Paris – in the first hotel after 6 weeks. Yes we spent three nights in a B&B. This hotel overlooks the Seine & Notre Dame in the Latin Quarter. Fabulous position! Today we are tired though and hope our 3 days in KL revitalize us ready for work, we shall see! We left a bag in Paris at Karine’s and she left it for us at our favourite café, “Cristal”. It felt good to walk back into the café and have the owner hug us and say, “Bonjour Glen et Vanessa – le sac?” We ate lunch and also drank the best coffee in Paris again. Paris definitely has it’s own spell that takes hold and doesn’t not seem to lift. We found ourselves again, looking at apartments for sale in Paris!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Kat, Vanessa, Glen and Ben at the Somme

31st July Belgium

Currently Glen is driving our little brand new Citroen C3 on the right hand side of the road. He has successfully stayed on the “right” side of the road most of the time. On a couple of country lanes on the Somme, Ben had to quickly remind Glen, “Dad the other side.” We are actually just leaving Belgium heading towards Middelburg in the Netherlands which is only a 40 minute drive.

We have fallen in love with Belgium and especially Ghent. We only spent 3 hours in Ghent but want to come back. It is such a beautiful town. One I can’t describe correctly so tonight I will download the photos and learn to upload them onto the blog. Ghent is only 30 minutes from Brussels. It is a charming university town built in the 13th century.

11:44 pm Australian time on Saturday but only 3:44pm here and we just crossed the borders into the Netherlands. Only a tiny sign marked the change of country.

Now back to Ghent. The town centre displays buildings of classical gothic architecture, the Town Hall and St Baafs and St Nicholas’ Cathedrals. The medieval castle in the town centre dates back to 1100AD is still is pristine condition and known as the Castle of the Counts. As we left the castle a bride and groom arrived with their photographer – What an amazing location for wedding photos. The canals, which you can go on boat trips along, pass rows of step-gabled guild houses. The canals are lined with cobblestone walkways filled with cafes and restaurants. Pots of brightly coloured petunias also hang in baskets and line the handrails. It is a festival of colour and delightful architecture. The market place is filled with people – drinking beer or coffee. The town has such a relaxed pace.

Cathedral Ghent

We are now driving 6 kms under a river in a tunnel – not Glen’s favourite thing to do. I think he held his breathe the entire way and was saved by Muse playing loudly on the ipod.

I have digressed from a linear description of our trip – let’s go back to leaving Paris. Our home swap in Paris was indeed an absolute delight. We loved the position, the local café and patisserie and even the tailor. It was sad to leave.

Ben, Kat, Glen and I picked up our car and headed to the Somme for a 2 day tour of the World War 1 battlefields. Never have I felt so in awe of a generation of men who fought probably knowing there was little chance they would survive. To stand in a grave yard of 12000 buried soldiers with 75000 names of soldiers whose bodies were not found leaves you in silent respect, especially when this is only one of hundreds of graveyards. My understanding of the Great War was developed by both Vic and Diane as they told stories of individual men, explained strategies of the generals, told of successes and failures of battles and I have gained a reverent respect for the soldiers. We stayed with our British guides in their Bed and Breakfast.

Thursday we took Ben and Kat to Calais to pick up their camper van. We left them in Calais and headed to Bruges. We wandered through the centre of Bruges but decided it was way too touristy. We headed towards Brussels to meet Tanja and Mathias, our hosts from homelink.

Days have passed by. We really enjoyed Brussels and wished we had more time there – loved the town square and of course our hosts. We happened upon a Salvador Dali exhibition – it was fabulous. We get the privilege of spoiling Mathias, Tanja and the children, our hosts, when they visit us later in the year.

It is now a week later – one week in Amsterdam. What a crazy city. We have been through the Heineken factory, been to a comedy theatre production, traveled around the canals by canal bus, watched the gay pride parade, wandered the red light district, sat in a coffee shop and watched an intriguing world wander by and right now are enjoying relaxing back at the house we have swapped!

Ghent our favourite city
Tomorrow morning we head East to Nunspreet.