October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
Now that we are just days away from fall break, I find myself thinking back wistfully to the wonderful week we spent in France at the end of August. We rented a house with friends in the small town of Le Pouliguen, in the Loire-Atlantique department and just along the southern border of Brittany. It boasts (along with the town next door, the ritzier La Baule) some of the widest sandy beaches in France. But it also has la côte sauvage—the wild coast—consisting of rocky coves and tide pools and dramatic, windswept vistas. Add to this wonderful daily markets, charming towns, scenic bike rides (even if a little heart-stopping with the kids), and the most incredible chocolate cake on the planet, and we all wished we were staying for longer than a week (even if our clothes couldn’t expand enough to keep up). « Read the rest of this entry »
April 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
Rugged coast, cozy pubs, lots of sunshine. It may have taken an entire day to get there, but it was most definitely worth it. Our road trip to England began at 7:30 in the morning—that’s right, 7:30—as we pulled away from the house, stopped around the corner for croissants, and hit the open road. By evening, we had arrived at our cottage near Bude in the north of Cornwall that would be home base for the next five days. Dinner was waiting in the oven, and our lovely hosts said the kids could let the chickens out of their coop in the morning and collect fresh eggs for breakfast. There was also a playhouse in the woods, a trampoline, winding country roads for inspired runs, and beautiful views all around. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to tear yourself away from, but the delights of Cornwall awaited.
Emergency wellie purchase turned out to be one of the best of the trip. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 12, 2014 § 3 Comments
Though we seem to be the only people in Belgium—possibly western Europe—who didn’t go skiing for the Carnaval holiday, we did manage a quick trip to the coast. It was a particularly beautiful day of warm sun and blue sky, especially given it was only early March. De Haan is a pretty little town, more low-rise and seemingly low-key than the beach town we visited last summer, Knokke (though it’s hard to say when it is technically still winter). There is just something about the beach that makes everyone happy, isn’t there?
The center of De Haan seems like it was planned by a committee of six-to-nine-year-olds. There is a big playground, a carousel, a pavilion surrounded by dirt paths for riding bikes and pedal-powered dune buggy contraptions (actually kids were zooming all over town in these), and of course the requisite purveyors of treats. Many of the houses have names, which is usually a good indicator that a place is well-loved. I can’t wait to go back and soak up more sun, fly a kite, and explore the pretty dunes on the edge of town.
January 14, 2014 § 5 Comments
Hands down, one of the best things about where we live in Brussels is the proximity to the elegant Bois de la Cambre and the adjoining Fôret de Soignes, nearly 20 square miles of woodland that stretches from the Brussels capital region into both the French and Flemish regions. While we can walk to both in just a few minutes, yesterday we drove less than ten minutes to reach a different part of the forest and were rewarded with endless walking trails and sunlight streaming through grove after grove of beech trees. As we set out, everything was blanketed in thick frost but the sun was warm on our skin. A perfect day for a walk.
When heading out on my own, I tend to stick to the more manicured bois, as I fret at how easily one could get lost in the wilder fôret, but I hope to get a bit more adventurous on this front. Long ago the forest was a royal hunting ground and was even home to brown bear and wolves, but these days wildlife consists mainly of the more usual suspects: deer, many species of bats, squirrels (I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a red squirrel), and so on. Apparently wild boar have also made a comeback in the past few years. But you are much more likely to encounter multigenerational families walking all manner of dogs, runners, and septuagenarian ladies on bikes zooming down hills with the wind in their hair.
October 21, 2013 § 4 Comments
Apparently, it’s spider season.
I took this photo on our way to school, but honestly I could have taken it about every 3 feet starting from our front door to almost anywhere we might be walking. I think this one is called, simply, a European garden spider. I’m not sure you can tell, but this thing is pretty darn big. I don’t think I am imagining it that when you approach even a little to get a better look, they rear up their front legs into an attack position while their beady little eyes stare you down. One thing is certain: getting from point A to point B takes a lot longer when you are with two boys who need to stop and inspect each one they see.
I grew up in California, another haven for these eight-legged creatures. In general, they don’t really bother me so much. And of course I appreciate that they help keep down the populations of all those other bugs you don’t want around. I will also take this pest over ones more commonly associated with New York City any day. But there is one massive speciman we have encountered here that just might give those bigger, faster horrors a run for their money. Its body is on the smaller side, but it has long, substantial legs that are covered in hair. It may be called a giant house spider (it can grow to a leg span of 4 inches) or perhaps a wolf spider, I’m not really sure. I just know the kids still refer to it as the “Belgian tarantula.” Just for emphasis, this is no garden spider—this one lives inside. I had to take an image from the web, because there was no way I was grabbing the camera while this thing was crawling around our house.
It’s not just newcomers who are put off by this autumnal invasion. Our neighbor told us a story about a spider they found in their back shed. She used her thumbs and forefingers to make a circle the size of a typical hamburger. My eyes opened wide. I asked what they did—maybe vacuum it up? She shook her head and silently mouthed the words, “Too big.” I think the story ended with a brother-in-law arriving with a special contraption of some kind. I didn’t ask for any more details.