Sunday, October 16, 2011

September in Luxembourg - Part II

Anna driving through the Mosel region
See Part I here, and my Saturday trip to Heidelberg here.

Sunday afternoon was roadtrip time again! Anna and I had hot chocolate at this amazing place opposite the royal palace here, Kerli showed it too me and now I'm addicted, you get 'chocolate spoons' in all types of flavours (including Speculoos!) that you drop into a cup of hot milk, its soooo good. We met Steve and headed to the Mosel region.

wine tasting in Wormeldange
The Mosel region is in the Southeast of Luxembourg, with the Moselle river running down between Luxembourg and Germany, and then down into France. The region is really famous for wine in all three countries, with Luxembourg making mostly Rivaner, Auxerrois Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir. The sun was out and it was a great drive down the Luxembourgish side of the river past all of the vines and vineyards, with the hills in the German side covered in tiny villages.

We headed further south to Remich, which with a population of 3000 people is the biggest city in the southeastern Luxembourg!
Fritures de la Moselle
We watched the sun setting brillantly over the hills, and took a wrong turn that saw us cross a bridge into the German side - Anna noted how ugly German was compared to Luxembourg before we turned back! We did jump out and walk over the bridge again so I could take pictures, I love all of the signs that say you're going into a different country!

In Remich we had dinner on the terrace of a restaurant. I tried the main dish of the area, Friture de la Moselle, which is small fish from the Moselle River (which maybe isn't such a good idea to begin with when you think of the colour of the river!) that are deep fried whole, like the dish I talked about at the Schueberfouer. I can't say it was something I will order a second time!

Steve, Anna and I
We stopped in another village on the way back to Lux city, I forget where but we parked on the street outside a bar, got out and debated whether to go to that more traditional looking bar or the more modern one down the road, decided to stick with the traditional one, but before we moved a man came out of it and started yelling at us in Luxembourgish that we weren't allowed to park there and go to the other bar, and he was so rude that we changed out minds about going there and just moved the car. The other bar was great, the guy was really friendly and moved chairs around for us and brought us free snacks, and the place was packed even on a Sunday night.

The following week Rogier was away for work, so on Tuesday Jacquie and I loaded the kids into the car and headed to the Netherlands. We dropped Pepi off to spend a couple of nights at her parents place, I think they live in a village called Oosterbeek, and then went to Rogier's mother's apartment in Boxtel with Ollie. The weather was crazy this week, both in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, it was up between 25 and 30 degrees most of the time - it felt like we were finally getting the summer we missed out on!

Staying there with Ollie was fun, as it's full of all sorts of things that small children shouldn't be touching. Luckily he really got into the swing of pointing at something and making a questioning noise, and waiting for me to say 'nay' or nod before he picked it up. I babysat that night and Ollie was a mess when Jacquie left, he walked around the house picking up all of the photos that had her in them saying 'mama, mama', but once he had calmed down he went to sleep really easily. Wednesday we went back to Boxtel, and I spent the day there with Ollie, and then on Thursday all four of us returned home.

I'd spent all three days either in the car, or inside one of the two apartments, so I was going a bit crazy to get out of the house and went to have a drink with Steve, Monica and a couple of others at one of the bars down in Grund. Steve's new co-worker came, Jags. He's from London, but with Indian heritage, and has a great sense of humour, so decided to invite him along on our next roadtrip that weekend.

Anna and I
Friday was the last day of September, and one of Anna's last days in Luxembourg before she returned to Heidelberg. We'd planned on going out, as neither of us had yet had a really big night out clubbing here, and we were also (jokingly) on a mission to find Anna one of the many nice men in suits that inhabit Luxembourg. We had dinner with Steve first, I cooked some asian noodle stirfry thing that worked quite well considering how experimental it was, and then after downing a hefty amount of wine and donning out high heels, we tottered into town.

Rives de Clausen
We met my friend Kerli and some of her friends at Ikki, a bar in Clausen. Rives de Clausen is an old brewery that they converted into a nightspot filled with different bars and restaurants back in 2008. I guess its kind of like Sol Square in Christchurch, only bigger, with less going on in the open space outside, and without the bouncers at the main entrance that I used to sneak past when I was underage! Ikki is a bit too icky for me, the music is really mainstream and the people are a bit boring. One thing you quickly notice about clubbing in Luxembourg is that the girls are as scantily clad as they normally are in New Zealand! After ten months here in Europe I thought my eyeballs were going to fall out of my head looking at what everyone else was wearing, completely forgetting I used to wear the same or worse back in NZ!

Kerli (right) and her friend
We met some French and Italian bankers and stayed there with them until the place closed at 2am. Luxembourg is crawling with bankers and I guess they have a pretty bad rap, all the girls that I've ever talked to here claim they're really boring, so I think I spent most of the night giving the guys stick and telling them how awesome New Zealand was. We moved with them to Bypass in the city centre and Alex joined us for a little while before I really couldn't handle my high heels anymore and called it a night.

Photos from Luxembourg in September are here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Heidelberg with a Hangover - Germany

Back in September, I had crashed on the couch at Anna and Steve's after dinner and a few too many drinks. After far too little sleep, Anna woke me up at 7.30am and asked if I wanted to go to Heidelberg with her - she needed to go back to her university to return a library book and pick up a few others.

motorway out of Luxembourg
Of course I hate saying no to anything, and so I stumbled downstairs to the car. The German border is only 25km, or about 20 minutes drive, and that early in the morning the roads where clear and there was a beautiful view of the sun rising above the fog filled valleys. In typical German fashion, once we got over the border Anna accelerated from 130km p/h up to 170km - I checked the dashboard just out of curiosity, making her worried that I was scared at going so fast. Despite my best intentions to keep Anna company on the drive, tiredness and the remanents of alcohol in my system soon kicked in and I was out to it for most of the 240km journey, only waking up as we drove into the city.

Heidelberg castle above a square
Anna disappeared off to the library, and I went exploring. About 150 000 people live in Heidelberg, but it is pretty well known because of it's university, American army base, and as a tourist destination because of it's castle and old town. It has a ridiculously long main street, 2km long, with the river running parallel a couple of hundred metres away on one side, and tree-covered hills a couple of hundred metres away on the other side. A huge castle ruin dating back to the 1300s sits on the hills overlooking the town. The city is really quite pretty, there are a lot of beautiful old buildings, including the university - studying there would be awesome after Victoria's blah Kelburn Campus!

Heidelberg during the Heidelberger Herbst
I was really suffering from the effects of the preceeding night, so I spent a bit of time just wandering around finding decent coffee and a bretzel and trying to recover a little. I was a little bit of a mess wearing last night's makeup and a crumpled dress with fajita's spilt down the front, but I was determined to see a bit of the city so as a brilliant sun came out I set off down the main road, only to find that the Heidelberger Herbst, or Old Town Autumn Festival was on, so the street was full of stands selling crafts and produce and stages with performances going on.

Heidelberg during the Heidelberger Herbst
Like any good German festival, beer tents were littered about the place and both young and old people were already holding steins of beer at that early hour in the morning - just looking at them worsened my hangover! I spent a couple of hours wandering through doing some Christmas shopping, and passed two traditional bands heading down the street, complete with costumes, brass instruments, drummers and big flag wavers.

Medieval fair in Heidelberg
Eventually I ended up finding the Medieval Fair in the middle of the festival. I remember once at primary school we studied the medieval times, and we re-enacted a medieval feast, with all of us dressing up and eating a roasted pig, it's head displayed with an apple in its mouth. This was like watching that scene come to life! The stands were made in the wooden framework style or old-fashioned tents, everyone was wearing real medieval clothes, kids were playing medieval games and running around with wooden swords, and you could buy pig off the spit or tea in a handmade clay mug.

I finished my walk along the street, seeing several squares filled with people drinking to live bands playing traditional music, tourists eating 1/2m long bratwurst, and a huge church. I also discovered Schneeballen, balls made of pieces of dough that are deep fried. Traditionally they are just dusted with sugar, but you can also get them filled with, coated in and dipped in all sorts of things, like nougat, marzipan, caramel, pistachio and chocolate. I should have suggested the look into a speculoos filling! It took me forever to decide which one to try myself!

Pig on the spit, medieval fair
Finally, it was lunchtime, so I met Anna and we ate some Feuerwurst, spicy sausages in bread sitting in a square, and then we went to the local supermarket to load up on food (its much cheaper in Germany than Luxembourg) and then to another to get beer for Steve. Anna doesn't know much about beer, and I'm pretty useless and reading beer labels in German, so we made complete asses out of ourselves trying to work out what we were doing, but we ended up getting a huge crate full of different German beers for ridiculously cheap - another reason to love Germany! And then it was home time.

I quite liked Heidelberg, it would be good to go back with more time and check out the castle and take in the atmosphere when it's more relaxed, and when I'm not struggling to stay upright! Big thanks to Anna for taking me there!

More photos from Heidelberg are here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

September in Luxembourg, Part I

the Schueberfouer
The month of September has been absolutely crazy for me! After spending my first three weeks in Luxembourg mostly around the house and only popping out for the occasional drink or coffee to try and meet people, I came back to Lux after two weeks in the Netherlands and met so many cool people my first couple of weeks back that I've barely been home since, except to work of course.

Work has been good, things are much better now that Pepi doesn't hate me anymore, and getting into the routine of working Tuesday, Friday and a weekend day has meant I can plan what to do on other days. I've had coffee with Kerli quite a few times since we came back from the Netherlands, and I've also had drinks with Monica often, one of the first friends I made in Lux.

the Schueberfouer
We got back on Sunday, and on Monday night I joined some Couchsurfers for a Pub Quiz at one of the english bars here - we totally sucked, but it was a good night! That Wednesday I went to the Schueberfouer, the fun fair of Luxembourg City. It runs for 20 days, and has been held for the last 671 years - so it's older than New Zealand! The modern version is a mix of craft and food stalls, beer houses, and games and rides, with attractions and vendors coming from all around Europe.

Gebaakene Fesch
I went up the ferris wheel to get a bit of a look over Lux, and went on the bungy ball thing, something that I saw outside my office in Wellington everyday but never went on. I also seemed to eat non-stop there, trying Gromperkichelcher, a kind of potato fritter that is a traditional Luxembourgish dish, crispy Luxembourgish waffles with strawberries and cream piled on top, and chocolate dipped fruit kebabs, although I couldn't quite bring myself to try Gebaakene Fesch, a huge fish deepfried whole.

view from the ferris wheel at the Schueberfouer
On Thursday night I went to my second Internations meeting. Internations is a network targeted at expats who have moved cities for work. Because Luxembourg has a huge number of people coming here for work, often on contracts of anywhere between 3months and 4years, Internations is really big, they have a meeting every month attending by a couple of hundred people. I enjoyed this event more than the last one I went too, and near the end of the night I met Alex, a French IT engineer. We've been kind of casually seeing each other since, starting with drinks at a bar with live jazz and lunch in the park the following week.

Me and some couchsurfers, Steve, Anna and Seb
That week I organised a Couchsurfers meeting myself at a bar in the centre of the city. About 15 people turned up and we had a good time, just chilling and joking around. The night was notable because I met Steve, an Irish-born, Luxembourg-raised IT consultant who offered to solve my illegal resident status by marrying me! We seem to have pretty compatible senses of humour and get on well, and he had Anna, a German student spending September in Lux for an internship, staying at his place as well. I had met her previously and really liked her, so the three of us headed out for a roadtrip around Luxembourg on Sunday.

They were both a bit under the weather when they picked me up on Sunday afternoon, Steve still wearing last night's suit, and we messed around for a little while trying to find petrol, food and beer (EVERYTHING in Luxembourg is closed on a Sunday) before we headed out to Echternach, a huge man-made lake close to the German border. The weather was quite bad at this point, so we jumped back in the car and headed to Larochette, a small town of less than 1500 people that has a wee castle. It's a really pretty place amongst some hills, with several bars where bikers stop in during their weekend trips. We stopped there for a beer and a quick look around, and then drove through Diekirch, home of of one of Luxembourg's beers.

We then went to Vianden, another small town that has an even cooler castle, built between the 11th and 14th centuries by the Counts of Vianden. It turned into a ruin in the 17th and 18th centuries, was inhabited by Victor Hugo in 1871, and after the Duke of Luxembourg finally gave the castle to the state in 1977 they finally started restoring it. Its huge and really impressive, it really looks like something out of a fairytale. There's a chairlift up the hill to it from the village, but we were a bit late and it was already closed, so we just walked around the town a little bit, I think it's one of the most beautiful places I've been too in Europe and my photos don't do it justice!

We kept on heading north, aiming for the top of Luxembourg and stopped in the middle of nowhere somewhere so that we could walk across a bridge to Germany - there was only a couple dozen houses on each side of the river, and you'd barely notice that you were in a different country. Both Steve and Anna were laughing at my excitement over this, but I still can't get used to the idea of simply being able to walk across a bridge to another country! By this point it was starting to get dark and we decided to stop for dinner. We found a small restaurant attached to a camping ground, again in the middle of no where, and headed inside to find a really fancy interior!

Anna, Steve and I in the middle of no where in Luxembourg
We had the set menu of smoked trout in mustard soup, some kind of pork with Kartoffel knoedel (German potato balls), and dessert. The food and wine were amazing, it was really awesome to go to what looked like a pretty dodgy restaurant but have such an amazing meal. I quite like Luxembourgish food, it seems to be a good mix of the German style of decent potions and a substantial amount of good meat, with the French style of nice sauces and better accompaniments. So by this point it was quite late and we headed back for one last drink at a bar near Steve's place before they dropped me home. It really was an epic day, I love when you do something completely unplanned but it works out so well, and both Steve and Anna are so funny, we were laughing all day!

dinner at Steve and Anna's
That week Alex took me "salsa dancing" on Tuesday (i.e. we spent ages driving around lost only to eventually find the bar and discover we had the wrong day. We ended up listing to a random old not-quite-jazz-but-I-can't-remember-the-right-word band back in town) and then real salsa dancing on Thursday. The cuban bar in the suburbs that we went to on Thursday night was really cool, I enjoyed the chance to practice my spanish and laugh at my terrible attempts to dance salsa!

Then on Friday I had dinner with Anna and Steve at their place. Steve cooked fajitas, I made speculoos cheesecake, and Anna picked up some wine. Again, we just had such an awesome time drinking and joking around, until suddenly it was 2am and I ended up crashing at their place, which led to the events of the following day...

More photos are here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My weekend alone with the kids

A week after we got back from the Netherlands, I spent my first weekend alone with the kids...

7.40am - awake, and regretting going to bed at midnight. It's going to be a long day.

9.45am - Jacqueline and Rogier leave, Pepi sobs at the window for ten minutes. After some cuddles on the couch the two of them get distracted by the TV.

10am - I leave them watching TV and go to clean the baby bottles. Pepi comes in and declares that he will do it. "This is great" I think to myself. 15 minutes in and already he's doing chores for me. Five minutes later, the kitchen can only still be called 'clean' if covered-in-dishwashing-liquid-and-water counts!

11am - By now we've played 'going on holiday', pulled out every toy and dumped it on the floor, and lost Pepi's new pet snail 'Tren' somewhere in the living room. The place looks like a bomb went off and we've only been at it for an hour.

11.30am - The kids are obsessed with drinking my coffee, but hate the taste. Hot chocolate seems like a resonable solution, until a disagreement is caused by me wanting Ollie to drink from a spill-less sippy cup and him wanting to drink from a big-boy cup. Ollie wins, and ten minutes later he is wearing his third change of clothes for the day. I think about the ironing I'm causing for myself and contemplate letting them run around in underwear all day.

12.30am - Ollie asleep so I try to restore some order to the house. Pepi follows me around the room making a mess everywhere that I've just tidied. I quit trying and we watch some weird Australian mermaid soap opera instead.

2pm - We've been out on the trampoline and I'm beginning to fade, so we come in for some food. Pepi has already eaten lunch but sits on my lap and eats half of my pasta as well. 'One fork for me, then one fork for you'...who would have thought this was the kid that hated me for the whole 'corner incident' only a couple of weeks ago.

2.30pm - After a week of grey and rain, it's sunny and hot, like 26 degrees. I'm pooped from a game of "you be the dragon and chase me and I'll be the pow-pow" (??? said waiving a big stick around), so we fill the paddling pool with water. Ten minutes later the water is full of sand and Pepi is running around the backyard stark naked with a tennis racquet and ball. Nothing like nude tennis.

3.30pm - Ollie is awake, fed, and we head back out to the backyard where follows his brother's example and strips down. He doesn't seem to grasp the concept of playing inside the paddling pool rather than just with the water from it, and starts fulling up a small container and running around depositing it in different locations. This turns into a huge thing with the two of them and they spend ages pouring water down a pipe.

4pm - they begin an epic water battle - albeit a very one-sided one, poor Ollie doesn't know how to fight back and spends the whole time running backwards and forwards getting soaked by Pepi. I'm caught between my fear of Ollie drowning in the paddling pool and my terror of either of them slipping on the tiles and hitting their head, and pretty afraid of wasps on the grass too, so I run around like a headless chicken trying to be everywhere at once and still snap a few photographs of all the cuteness!

4.30pm - cuteness turns into Pepi getting more and more carried away and I can see someone is going to get hurt. He pees in the water, so I declare the fun over and carry them up for an early bath. The bathroom then gets covered in muddy footprints and grass clippings - is there any room in the house that will survive the weekend intact? I then cut my finger on the plug (who does that? Its a plug!) and its pouring blood all over a white towel while I run around with two naked and wet kids trying to find a plaster. When I go to dress Pepi he declares I've got it wrong, its time for bed so he should be in his pyjamas - I am really tempted to go along with that for a minute!

5pm - Pepi and Ollie are making drawings for their parents. Ollie decides the orange pencil looks tasty, so I rinse his mouth out with water while Pepi attacks me from behind for 'hurting' his brother. I calm him down, and go to change Ollie's clothes, but halfway through realise it's unnaturally quiet downstairs. I wrap Ollie in a towel and we go down to find Pepi missing. I completely freak out, I don't think I've ever been more scared in my life for the two minutes until I work out that all of the doors are closed and he must still be in the house. I find him hiding in the basement.

how is there lasagna on your forehead my dear?
5.30pm - Feeding time at the zoo over, and now it's 'witching hour', the horrible last part of the day when small people are tired and misbehaving and bursting into tears at the tiniest thing, and big people are tired and grumpy and yelling mono-syllabic commands as they count down the minutes until bedtime or their spouse comes home.

7pm - In the middle of me putting Ollie to bed, Pepi declares that Mama and Papa are never coming home and bursts into tears, waking up Ollie. Two screaming children.

7.30pm - I get Rogier to ring and say goodnight to Pepi. He cries down the phone for ages, but once they hang up he calms down and I manage to get first Ollie and them him to sleep easily this time.

10.30pm - Cleaning the house has taken literally hours, but finally it is pretty much back to normal. Hopefully the weather is fine tomorrow so I can keep the kids outside and the house tidy until Jacqueline gets home.

1am - Pepi comes and gets into bed with me. I can't say I've slept much anyway, the cat is driving me mad and I'm lying awake worrying because Ollie hasn't woken up yet!

3am - Ollie wakes. Bottle, clean diaper, back to bed again.

8am - Pepi wakes me up, and the three of us snuggle in bed watching TV for a little while. Then they're crazily full of energy again and we have to go downstairs. It takes about five minutes for the house to become messy again.

10am - Ollie asks for 'ei' or egg, so I cook us each an egg and we sit around the table. I get distracted by taking photos am not quick enough at cracking the eggs and Ollie tries to bite into his whole, opps.

10.30am - Ollie spills juice all over the formerly clean floor. I decide it's definitely time to get out of the house. We head to the local playground for a short while, but it really looks like rain is on the way. We get halfway home before the thunder and lightening strike, and get soaked by pouring rain.

2pm - Ollie's been asleep for a couple of hours and I've tried to clean up a little bit again. Pepi and I are just hanging out when I go to the bathroom and return to find him gone - my second heart attack for the weekend! But luckily Jacqueline is home and he's run downstairs, through the garage and out onto the road to meet her! So phew, my weekend alone with the kids is over with all three of us and the house intact! Success!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Netherlands - work in a different location!

I should have written about this weeks ago, sorry I've been a bit slack with the blog, I've been really busy but I will try to catch up this week, they will just be short accounts of what I've been doing though.

Noordwijk aan Zee
Back towards the end of August we loaded up both cars and headed off to Noordwijk, on the coast in the Netherlands. Travelling with these two kids was a lot different to travelling with Arin and Alice from Antwerp to London - Arin and Alice slept most of the way or just sat quietly looking out of the window.

Rogier and the kids in the Bungalow Park
Ollie and Pepi were a whole different ball game, and I was exhausted after the five-hour-because-we-spent-an-hour-stuck-in-traffic trip, and feeling kinda sick from turning around to retrieve dropped toys and pass food and break up fights. We stayed in a little house in a 'bungalow park', five minutes drive from the town of Noordwijkerhout, and ten minutes drive from Noordwijk aan Zee, another town on the beach. Jacqueline and Rogier's friends, Paulette and Remco, their kids Dante and Ava, and their au pair Kerli stayed in the bungalow next door. From the day we arrived, Pepi was different with me, it was like he finally accepted that I was there to stay and I could be fun too, and things between us improved drastically!

The restaurant in Noordwijk aan Zee
From day one, Kerli was counting down until we went home again, and I only laughed and said that being on holiday couldn't be that bad. The first couple of days were really sunny, so we spent them at the beach in Noordwijk aan Zee. This version of 'going to the beach' was a bit different to the NZ version, in that we really went to a restaurant next to the beach with a big outdoor lounge area where waiters brought wine for the adults and a playground for the kids.

Pepi and Ollie in the restaurant
Apart from a brief trip or two down to the water each day for the kids to paddle or kick a ball around, and my walks up and down the boulevard when Ollie needed a nap, we stayed there the whole time. I guess the advantage of being there was that the kids were normally pretty contained, like they stayed in the playground and played with the other kids and Kerli and I could watch them easily, whereas when we went down to the beach the could head in any direction and things got more tricky! But it did get a little boring after the first day or so, and it was really tiring, being constantly on the go and standing most of the day and chasing kids around a lot. It also meant that we spent a lot of time resolving issues between our kids and others, and that several friends of the adults who came to catch up brought their kids and didn't watch them properly, and Kerli and I ended up keeping an eye on them too.

on my walk around Noordwijk
I went for a run the day that we arrived, and then a couple of walks in the following days, but after that I couldn't go anything but sleep whenever I had the chance! I like the scenery in the Netherlands in that there is a lot of water around the place (although unlike NZ, its never fenced off and I can't help but wonder what the rates of children drowning are here) and its really really flat, so it just feels totally different to NZ. I love all of the canals, I would really like to spend some time kayaking up them, and close to where we stayed there were houses with their own boats tied up on the water boarding the garden. One morning I walked to the beach close to the bungalow, it was really cool to be there so early in the morning when there was hardly anyone around.

On Tuesday I headed off the Amsterdam, about 45 minutes away by bus and train. The weather was terrible, all grey and rainy, but I found my way to the Flying Pig hostel. This place was cool, with free breakfast and a bar, and a smoking room where people sat around smoking pot and jammin on drums all night. I went for a walk looking for food, in the centre of Amsterdam where there are narrow pedestrian streets full of shops peddling sex and pot. I wasn't really a huge fan of this area, it was packed with english tourists and just seemed kind of sad. I ended up eating a weird version of Pad Thai in Chinatown, and then took a boat tour around the canals.

This was quite cool. The canals go back as far as the 14th century, but most were built during the Golden Age of the 17th century, with the biggest ones fanning out in semi circles around the centre of the city, and smallers ones linking everything. I love how all of the canals have names! I also love the houseboats lining the canals, around 2500 in the city in total. We passed a lot of the main museums and tourist sites, and I really wish I'd had enough time to see more of the city. Amsterdam has 51 museums, conventional ones like the Anne Frank House, and the Von Gogh and Diamond museums, but also weird ones like the Tulip museum, the Fluorescent Art museum, the museum of Bags and Purses, the Torture Museum, and the Death Museum - I thought I was over visiting museums, but I reckon I could spend a week or so wandering around the huge variety in this city!

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the city and doing some shopping, and ended up back at the hostel in the early evening, where I made a snap decision to join a pub crawl as I really wanted to go out but didn't have anyone to go with. I probably enjoyed the pub crawl I did in Berlin better, as there were less people on it and everyone made friends, whereas in Amsterdam the group was so big we had to split into two lots and it was still hard to keep track of everyone. I spent most of the night hanging out with a Swiss architecture student and a group of Uruguayans, and had enough fun for me to feel quite miserable when I had to get up and leave the hostel the next morning. The hostel's free breakfast was a life-saver, and I spent the rest of the day doing my best to recover before I went back to Noordwijk. I did have a good time in Amsterdam, and I would like to go back, but I'm still not certain that I really like the city - the sex and pot is a little too in-your-face and tacky for me, and the place is so crowded with tourists that its annoying.

Dante, Pepi and Ollie in a 'pirate ship' inside on a rainy day
Back in Noordwijk, we had a week and a half's rain, and for me anyway it turned into a bit of a holiday from hell. Kerli and I were stuck in the bungalow park the whole time, trying to entertain four kids in grey or wet weather. Luckily the park had a playground and a couple of goats to feed in one corner, but we were both going pretty crazy. Rainy days were the worst, as there wasn't much room inside and nothing was baby proofed, so I spent a lot of time trying to get Ollie to stop touching the TV or turning the microwave on!

Ollie feeding the goats
I did a lot of babysitting as Rogier and Jacqueline went out catching up with friends. Normally babysitting isn't a problem, as Pepi sleeps pretty well and Ollie wakes occasionally but goes back to sleep pretty quickly too. In Noordwijk it was much trickier though, Ollie's cot was making him wake a lot more and because the place was smaller, Pepi would hear him crying and wake too, leaving me with two crying children wanting their parents and only one pair of hands! In the end I just chucked them both in their parents bed.

The Hague
On Monday I went to the Hague, again about 45 minutes away by bus and train. The Hague has always interested me, because it has the offices of about 150 International Organisations there, including some major UN ones, and its also the location of the Dutch Parliament, even though constitutionally Amsterdam is the capital city. But, as I was really tired and hadn't had much time to plan anything, the extent of my tourist activities was taking a photo of the Parliament while waiting for friends to meet me there. Instead, I spent the whole afternoon walking around the shops. I quite like the Hague, it is small, but it seems quite chilled out, and full of people from around the world working in areas that I am interested in.

Sarah, Hideki, me and Lillian
Later I met some friends for dinner, Lillian from Norway (who I caught up with back in Belgium) and fiancees Sarah from Canada and Hideki from Japan, all of whom I know from the Ship for World Youth. We were joined by another Japanese guy who participated on the Ship in a different year, and some friends of Sarah, and we went for a drink and then had dinner together.

Ollie rocking his brother's shorts and underwear!
By this point, the second week, both Kerli and I were felling really sick, I think from a combination of being tired and run down, and of being outside during bad weather. I had had those two and a half days off and the chance to sleep a bit more than her, like during Olli's naps, so I wasn't in as bad a shape as she was, and finally she had to spend some time in bed. This made things really interesting for me, as there were then four kids left around, and while Jacqueline and Rogier kept helping me out, the other adults didn't as much, and I really struggled with Dante's behaviour. By the end of the week both Kerli and I were counting down the days left to go, but the weather got sunny again and both families decided to stick around for another couple of days - Kerli was really not happy, and while I was eager to stop working so crazily and recover, and I did have plans for the weekend, it didn't worry me so much as having only been in Lux for a couple of weeks, I didn't have that much to miss back.

The beach at Noordwijk in the early morning
This decision to stay longer was a good example of the drawbacks of being an au pair though, for an entire year you're really dependent on other people to make decisions about what they want to go, and you just have to follow along regardless of whether you already had your own plans. Its not like a normal job where your boss has to ask really nicely to get you to do extra work and offer compensation for it.

There is a saying that when mothers go on holiday, they aren't really going on holiday but just working in a different location - the same goes for an au pair, except you end up working a hell of a lot more than you would normally do back home. So, while I'm glad I got a brief glimpse of Amsterdam and the Hague, and spent a couple of days in the sun, I was also really glad when we got back home!