FRIENDS!

So no one told you life was gonna be this wayyyy… clap clap clap clap

Sorry, got a little carried away there. This winter break, we stayed put again and let the wonderful people come to us! Last year, we enjoyed a wintery adventure to London & Paris with my parents. This year we were treated to visits by two sets of friends.

THE ALLENS

First, Kaitlyn and Scott joined us to celebrate Christmas. Kaitlyn and I have been friends since 8th grade and, even though I had a strong disdain for her when I first met her, we were absolutely thrilled they told us they booked a trip to see us. We gave Scott a proper introduction to Belgian beers (I think he drank somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 (and documented them on a piece of frite paper, nonetheless)) and showed them around our town to get them on Europe-time. After a few days here in Brussels, we headed of for the Koln Christmas Markets. It was a fun day (albeit a bit long) and we were able to stay (fairly) warm by eating lots of brats and drinking warm wine. The smell of melting raclette (stinky Swiss cheese) just took it to a whole other level, as well.  We were a little bit bummed about not being able to secure a curling rink but still made a good day of it.

After resting up in Brussels for a day, we took off for a whirlwind tour of Paris. (This may sound pretentious buttttt,) I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve each been to Paris, but I still love it every time. We had a fantastic Airbnb just around the corner from Shakespeare & Co and about a 3 minute walk over the river to Notre Dame. Scott had the sheer delight of hearing more church bells…The city was quiet but there were still plenty of people out and about. We started with a trip to the iconic Eiffel Tower. This was my first time to go up in the tower and I still cannot believe we got tickets! I have tried every time and always failed to secure a time. After we went up, we went to dinner at no-reservations Les Cocottes. All the courses are prepared and served in little cast-iron pots (J’adore!) and the food was mouth-wateringly good.

The next morning, we were able to walk right into the Musee d’Orsay. No waiting at all to get in! This was amazing compared to our experience with The Louvre last December! What a nightmare! We made the mistake of going through the prostitution exhibit (which we all thought would be a room or two) but we had a good laugh anyway (once we got outside). The Musee d’Orsay has a fairly impressive collection and it is a beautiful building. I especially loved the big clocks overlooking the river. We headed to the Galeries Lafayette and then up Montmartre to see Sacre Coeur. We ultimately ended up walking the length of the Champs Elysees, as well. No worries, Alex sang the song. We ended up having Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant just around the corner from our apartment in the Latin Quartier and headed to bed.

Christmas Day was cold and quiet so we took a quick walk around Jardin Luxembourg and grabbed breakfast nearby. We took the train back and had a relaxing afternoon at home before seeing the Christmas Light Show in Grand Place and eating chicken tortilla soup for dinner.

THE INTERIM

Mostly, this time was comprised of Alex writing his essays (due January 15th) and me in my yoga pants — watching Netflix, reading books, and playing with my new tablet. I showered once and we turned over the guest room for round 2. It was glorious.

THE GELDHOFS

Matt and Sara had quite the adventure getting here, thanks to military space available flights, but were able to eventually find us in Brussels. Matt and Alex were in Afghanistan for Alex’s 2nd deployment (2013) and we have been lucky to get to know them better since their safe return. Actually, the first time Sara and I met was while we were waiting in a hangar for the guys to return!

We tried our very best to show Matt and Sara our city but it was very difficult as most of the time they were here was NYE and NYD=everything is closed. We ended up showing them the TRUE Belgian way and spent quite a bit of time drinking Belgian beers in bars. Sorry not sorry? Events (fireworks, concerts, club parties) for NYE were canceled so we decided to have our own small get-together… that we were late for. Long story short, nothing was open and the one restaurant we were able to get to (after a very disrupted metro journey and a long walk) told us after we were seated and drinking that they were doing a 5-course prix fixe menu. Oy… we tried to eat fast but Alex ended up leaving after the 3rd course to let people waiting into our house. The restaurant was so kind to pack up his main plate as well as 4 desserts and Sara, Matt, and I raced home to join our party. We thought it would be fun to wear our hats, take our noise makers and champagne, and cause a ruckus at the Cinquantenaire Arches at midnight. We walked over and celebrated in the tram stop just before the park and then found out that the lights on the arches were turned off. Terrorism ruins everything, people. We still caused a little trouble in the dark and headed back to watch some college playoffs games at home.

The highlight of our visit with Matt and Sara was getting to rent a car and drive out to some of the WWI memorials in Flanders fields (and small towns). We stopped first at the Flanders Field American Cemetery and got a lot of interesting information from the guy in the visitor center. We drove to nearby Ypres and explored the Menin Gate and dipped our heads in a few museums in town. We learned that the Menin Gate has a ceremony every night at 20:00 so I am sure we will be returning in the future to be a part of that. Another short drive away is Sanctuary Wood where you can walk through the trenches and tunnels. It was raining and cold when we were there and I was miserable after about 15 minutes, so I can’t possibly imagine what these soldiers were feeling after spending years in the trenches. The other thing that was absolutely amazing to me was the number of cemeteries we drove by and, also, the number of “unknowns” in the cemetaries we visited. A really somber experience and we will definitely be making a trip back for more battlefields and memorials soon.

The other half of our day was spent in the ancestral hometown of the Geldhofs, Roeselare. Thanks to a very resourceful aunt, Matt found out that his father’s family emigrated to Detroit from Roeselare and asked if it was possible to visit. I think we were all under the impression that Roeselare would be a small, sleepy Belgian village so you can imagine our surprise when we hit traffic and spent 20 minutes looking for parking near the Grote Markt (main town square) and shopping street! We got a late lunch and then visited the main cathedral in town just at the end of a service. The most fun part was seeing the name Geldhof everywhere from hotels to hardware stores.

Overall, we had a fantastic visit with both sets of friends. Both very different trips but both very fun. It has been so awesome getting to catch up with family and friends in little bits and pieces as we spend our time here and we are always looking forward to new bookings! 🙂 Please come see us!