Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lovely Lanes of The Netherlands

Yes, there are windmills everywhere...
I spent a few days in the Netherlands last week while Mr. Life on the Lane was in meetings in a little town called Leiden, which literally means, 'pass through' which is all you'd ever want to do in Leiden...so each day, we were in The Netherlands, I dropped Mr. Lane at his office and headed in the direction of anything lovely and Dutch-like.  The first day, I went back to Den Haag, where I'd been a couple times before.  Americans like to call this town, The Hague, which does not sound as nice, if you ask me.  Nor does Florence instead of Firenze, or Antwerp instead of Antwerpen, or Brussels instead of Bruxelles, although, the Dutch say Brussels and the French say Bruxelles, but I side with the French on this one.  At any rate, I spent the better part of the day in Den Haag Centre (prettier spelling again) which to me, is the lovelier part of town.  You've got the medieval castle where it all began, when William II, Count of Holland, built his fortress during the 1500's or there abouts (don't quote me on the dates here, since I'm just guessing), and thus, began the most powerful family in the region.  Den Haag is the political capitol (Amsterdam is the capitol-capitol) for the country and lies in the principality of Zuid (South) - Holland (no, Holland is not a country, it's a region in The Netherlands...a common mistake).  There is also wonderful shopping and government high-rises, as well as, subtle, architecturally modest homes along the canals.  There is a feeling of old money in Den Haag and the suburbs are filled with gorgeous mini-estates with good-sized gardens and privacy gates. Important things go on in Den Haag as the city is often mentioned on the nightly news when diplomatic meetings are in session, so this town has an international vibe and people look sophisticated. I did not stop to eat anywhere on this particular day, but the restaurants are known to be good and there are plenty of bars and nightclubs.  It's an elegant, modern city with an old world feel here and there.  The North Sea borders the city and there is a Coney-Island-type area along the seashore.  I spotted several large tulip growers along the route from Leiden to Den Haag, with huge greenhouse facilities where they grow and ship the famous bulbs all over the world.  I missed the blooming season last year and hope to catch the show this coming year.  I always enjoyed tulip-peeping drives when we lived in the Seattle area, so I'm curious to see if The Netherlands can show me a better time flower-wise next spring. On my second day in the area, I went to Amsterdam, where I've also visited a few times and I was determined to see the city in a different light than I have in the past.  Seems as though where we came in each time on other trips, we'd end up walking near or through the red-light district before hitting the more pleasant parts of town.  Don't get me wrong, I get a kick out that area, but it can be a bit much, think Vegas on crack.  We did some great touring in the past, like the Anne Frank House where Anne and her family hid in the attic during WWII.  But, this time, I took a different route and drove directly to the Van Gogh Museum, which is in a lovely part of town with sidewalk cafes, parks and great shopping.  I was lucky and found a great parking spot on a sidestreet and hit the cobblestones for a wonderful day.  The Van Gogh was fabulous.  A complete history of Van Gogh's life and short career as an artist (only ten years) and of course his tragic self-inflicted death.  I felt like a study-abroad student since that's who all seemed to be touring the museum with me.  It was fun.  I bought lunch for a college student from Colorado when I noticed he was the only one not eating in his group.  His friend told me he was short on cash, so I asked Mr. Colorado if his mom knew he wasn't eating and he thought I was funny making him go get a tray of food while I waited at the register.  I told him to pay it forward for some other starving student someday...he liked that idea and shook my hand before rejoining his group.  I then dipped into the modern art museum, since I almost went there by mistake when I first arrived (it's right next door) and the guy at the counter told me to come back after Van Gogh, if I had time, and he'd sneak me in for a quick run-through.  He was still there, and in his sweet Dutch accent, told his guard friend to let me in without paying...karma for being nice to that kid?  I like to think so.  After a quick look at floors one and two, I exited to take in some shopping and bought a pair of fabulous boots by an Amsterdam designer.  Super comfy and already wearing down the tred on the streets of Antwerpen.  That night, Mr. Lane and I had a wonderful Indonesian dinner with one of his associates and their spouse.  A lovely evening and the food was great.  Because of the shipping industry, ship's cooks have been bringing back recipes to the region from Indonesia for hundreds of years, so you can get a great Asian dinner in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) Region.  You could say, I'm eating my way through Europe, but since I'm walking everywhere, I'm not noticing any extra pounds (yet) thank goodness.  On my last day in the Netherlands, I went to Delft on the recommendation of our dinner companions -- a great suggestion.  Besides Delftware (handpainted blue patterned tablewear), the town was like a mini-Amsterdam or even a little like Brugge, with canals and ancient, medieval buildings and cathedrals.  I walked through an Abbey constructed in the 600's.  Amazing.  I viewed more art...there are so many great artists from this region...Gerard Ter Borch, Rembrandt, Carel Fabritius, Van Gogh, Peter Paul Rubens (Ruben's House is in Antwerp), Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, Paulus Potter, Frans Hals...just to name a few.  I had lunch in the main square of Delft and you'll laugh at me, there were so many quaint Dutch restaurants in between shops with wooden shoes and Delftware, but the restaurant that caught my attention was called--Subway...ahhhh, a little bit of America!  I had a loaded Subway special, toasted, with lite mayo and black pepper, the same way I order it in the states, and it tasted exactly the same!  I was in heaven.  Of course I was the only one sitting outside the Subway sandwich shop, but seriously, it tasted so good and the view of the main square was more delightful with each bite (and yes, I got a combo with BBQ Lays and a Diet Coke, perfection). I then hit the shops for a few more touristy buys and then headed back to my car, which of course, with everything in military time in Europe, I had miscalculated how long I'd be gone and didn't pay for enough hours, and yes, I received a parking ticket for my time in Delft.  You can add that to my speeding ticket in Leiden for rushing to pick up Mr. Lane...so much for the 'slow down' of my driving that I began back in the states after my tickets in New York.  Whatever.  I'm still learning the roads and I seem to think everything is the Autobahn!  But, really, driving in Europe is a trick-and-a-half...between the traffic, narrow lanes, cobblestone streets, bikes, pedestrians, trains, buses, scooters, motorcycles and trollies...well, I'm just trying not to hit anyone!  I'm hoping those are my only two tickets...time will tell.  My life on the lane is filled with art and the Dutch and cobblestones and ancient buildings and canals, and in a weird way, it's starting to feel totally normal (as a opposed to how I felt a few weeks ago...freaky deaky)...and kind of like home.   P.S.  Please excuse any spelling errors, can't get my spellcheck to work here in Belgium, since I have to translate from Dutch to English and that seems to overwhelm my laptop and it just stares back at me when I click spellcheck...so I'm my own spellcheck which is not a good thing....I'm a writer, not a speller.  Goedenacht!

The garden next to an ancient Abbey in Delft

Ancient Abbey in Delft

A 'Delftware' bench in Delft
This might be my favorite picture of all
time.  Kind of self-explanatory...
ancient technology -- modernized.
Love it.
Gorgeous Cathedral in Delft
near the
Subway Sandwich Shop :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Northwest Region of France

This structure was part of a
farmhouse outside a village
in Northwest, France
...I'm sure there
is historical significance...everywhere
in France, you see wonderful ancient
architecture with great stories.
Last Friday, we took off for France from our flat in Antwerp, heading in the direction of Normandy to visit the American Cemetery and Memorial above Omaha Beach in the Northwest Region of France.  It was a gorgeous drive through rolling hills with cathedrals peaking up above villages scattered along the countryside.  We saw farmlands and ancient abbeys, gothic architecture, and lovely little villages.  We took the scenic route and tried to stay off the main highways as much as possible.  We're lucky that the company my husband works for has supplied us with a fabulous BMW touring car...so believe me, it's a comfy ride wherever we travel these days!  They don't call it a 'driving machine' for nothing.  The Northwest region includes Brittany, Normandy and Loire.  Our focus was on Normandy in hopes of getting as far as the cathedral, Mont St. Michel.  We didn't make it all the way, or we did, but it was just too dark to get any good pictures by the time we came upon -- what to me -- was one of the most incredible sights, a magnificant castle on top of a mountain right out on the water, as if suspended in the sky.  I hope to go back one day and take the full tour.  Always good to have a reason to return.  We spent most of Saturday winding along the coast and stopping to see each of'the battle sites from the Normandy Invasion during WWII.  This is the kind of roadtrip that husbands love.  But, I have to tell you, I was totally caught off guard by how emotional I felt the whole day.  Especially when we visited the American Cemetery and Memorial.  It was hard to believe that such a peacful place had seen such a horrible battle and that so many soldiers died on that beach that day.  There are 9,387 American soldiers buried at the cemetery and 307 unknown soldiers.  We walked the grounds and visited the memorial buildings which have wonderful tribute films and heroic stories about soldiers who faught valiently for freedom that day...freedom for our country and for France and for those who were being oppressed and murdered by an insane leader in Germany.  The thing that struck me, was how young the soldiers were and how scared they must have been coming in on those boats, with no way of knowing what they were in for...and their commanding officers having to move forward knowing full-well what was in store, to begin the march to Germany...to put an end to the evil that had gone on too long.

So many died right here

Pathway down to Omaha Beach

One of the headstones for
an Unknown Soldier

Hard to believe such a peaceful place
witnessed such horrors during

We stayed in a lovely little town called Caen in an ancient smallish chateau that had been renovated and decorated with modern, hip sensibilities.  It was a place I knew my daughter the interior designer and her architect husband would absolutely adore.  We felt pretty cool, and even a little hip.  The restaurant's chef has cooked for heads of state from around the world.  To say the least, we had the dinner of our lives....unbelievable.  I wish I could remember the name of the champagne we had with our dinner, it was almost peach in color and so smooth and dry, I thought I'd died and gone to French heaven.  The hotel was called Ivan Vautier Hotel (yes, the chef was Ivan and yes, he was very French and sexy).  It was a lovely time and a wonderful trip, emotional, moving and worth every mile.  This week...The Netherlands...to be continued.  My life on the lane is all winding and exploring and learning and experiencing these days, and I'm just enjoying the ride.  Au Revoir!

I think I took this photo in the village of
Colleville-sur-Mer, not far from

Every cathedral is a beautiful
architectural tribute to the
heavens above

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Empty-nested on the Lane...

When I arrived at our flat in
Antwerp, I found this mother
bird nesting on her eggs
on our back fire-escape. 
She's a lucky bird,
being a mom is the
best job ever.
This summer was a rush of activity.  Kicking it off, was my older son's college graduation from Washington State University.  Three days of celebration for the culmination of four years of studies.  A few weeks later, our younger son graduated from high school in Connecticut and began preparing for college in Boston, with orientation the next week.  Just after dropping our daughter back at JFK to head home to the west coast, the moving van arrived to pack and load our older son's belongings for his new job in the Southwest.  My kids do everything big, so it made perfect sense to throw in a wedding this summer...my daughter and her husband were married in August, cliffside -- above the Pacific Ocean.  Between all the planning, and zig-zag trips, for the wedding and graduations, and orientations, and college move-outs and move-ins, birthdays (both my husband and I turned 50 this summer)...I was also packing for myself to join my husband full-time in Antwerp where he's been working for the past 18 months.  Once our youngest son was settled at his dorm in Boston, I had less than a week to finish packing whatever I absolutely couldn't live without for the next few months.  And get this...I also prepped and polished and perfected our home in Connecticut to go on the market the day after flying to Belgium.  So, let's review.  Daughter, married.  Middle son, graduated, employed.  Youngest son, graduated, enrolled in college.  House on the market, move to Belgium.  This is all great news.  Oui?  Oui.  But, it also means that my nest is empty, we are downsizing and I live in another country.  I'm not sure if this is how it's supposed to be done.  When birds fly away from the nest, are mother birds supposed to fly the other way?  Well, that's exactly what I've done.  I live on a different continent than all my birds.  I didn't have that first lovely, melancholy week after my youngest left the nest -- of walking into his room to just look around, wistful and teary-eyed.  I was too busy cleaning out his room and turning it into a model home version of itself (it seriously looks great).  I did however, come across old pictures and art projects and term papers that I helped him edit.  I also cleaned out the attic and boxed up what I thought my two eldest might want someday when they have kids.  The rest -- all of it -- in more than 15 trips to the Goodwill, was donated or tossed.  Each room of our home at the end of the lane, is absolutely spotless and arranged like a model home.  I would buy that house in a minute if I was still raising a family and needed lots of space to fill.  There are four levels of finished rooms.  I will miss them all.  My office still sits on the third level (too much hassle with customs to send my desktop, so I write on a laptop here in Europe) with an extra bedroom and even a sitting room.  The second level has four ensuite bedrooms and the main level is where we lived.  Holidays, birthdays, big meals, a rented movie...a good book by the fireplace.  The basement is a teenager's and husband's dream...TV screening room, pool table, air hockey, fitness room, poker table...full bath.  The yard is gorgeous and there's even a carriage house with an extra two car garage and an unfinished studio space.  It's a short walk to town where you can get a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone right on Main Street.  This is the house where everyone wants to hang out, the house where the group prom pictures are taken, the house where the family reunions are held.  It's a great home and one we bought as our nest was beginning to empty.  I wonder now if we subconsciously were trying to hold on to our nest.  Maybe, but not now.  That gorgeous house needs a family, one that is still happily in the nest.  So maybe it's good that I'm in another country, so I don't have to witness fully the marketing of our home, with all the boxes of memories in the attic, memories from all the houses we lived in together as a family.  Our family moved a lot, eight different cities, all over the country, but each house, the laughter and celebrations, big and small moments, were all real and wonderful and will live on forever in my heart.  My nest might be empty now, and I may have even flown the opposite way from my birds...but we'll migrate back to each other for visits...and oh, the stories we'll have to tell.