Thursday, January 19, 2012

Joyeux Noël

Christmas break was a three part operation this year. It was a wonderful, beautiful, peace-filled time and celebrated just with the six (can't forget Ollie) of us. The kids had two weeks but asked that we be at home for Christmas Day, thus creating a lot of here and there. This documents parts one and two.

Switzerland was our first stop. La Tzoumaz is in the "Quatre Vallees" ski area, Verbier being the best known spot. We stayed in Jorrit's aunts place that is conveniently located across the street from the gondola. Expectations were low going into this trip because there was reportedly no snow anywhere in Europe. We went prepared to play a lot of games, swim and take hikes. (The last time we were here we had similar conditions and I just remember skiing on hay and falling on a very icy "piste.") We were pleasantly surprised and met with daily snow fall, sometimes all day, and one day of blue sky skiing. It was a winter wonderland and made for a very festive feeling. 

In addition to La Tzoumaz, we were able to make a quick stop both going and coming in Strasbourg, France. We also did "home to home" ski days with our new friends, The Chapmans. They found a dream-like chalet in the woods in a town called Vex, about a half-hour drive from La Tzoumaz. We skied/snowshoed/dined on their turf one day and they came our way the next. The best part about these places is how remote they feel. You drive up these incredibly winding, snow covered roads and just as you are convinced you have made a wrong turn, a charming mountain village tucked into the mountainside appears. It is romantic and dreamlike, especially as the snow is coming down with no end in sight. The only thing missing were the Saint Bernards and their brandy.

    Oliver awaits departure

    A stop for lunch and the amazing Strasbourg, a city not to be missed

    Strasbourg's Christmas Market

    Almost all storefront buildings were elaborately decorated

    For the window dressing fans out there and elephant-loving Ella

We made it to La Tzoumaz late Saturday night, unloaded the car and realized we were almost the only people in the village. Good for us! Finding dinner was harder than we thought but we lucked out and found fondue for five. A most appropriate welcome to Switzerland.

    Measuring the snow

    First day out

    Bear in the snow -- where's his brandy?

    My skiers

    Carmela and I in the sunshine

    Never to be forgotten or left behind

    Into Verbier on the gondola

    Top of the world

    Les châteaux de Verbier

    Nico in the lodge

    On our ski exchange day with Sea-Lux friends. I went snowshoeing and on our big walk we came 
    upon this old chapel.

We were back at home in the nick of time, with just enough energy left somehow to collect all the US delivered packages from Jorrit's office, wrap the gifts, sneak them inside, take inventory, go to the grocery store, do laundry and finally, prepare our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner. After a delicious meal of clams and linguini, trout with brown buttered almonds and green beans we somehow managed to find room for the Bûche de Noël. Better still, we made it to midnight Mass at the cathedral, said in four languages by candlelight -- quite beautiful and serene.

    The Christmas table adorned with mimosa




    Lastly, I can't forget our kid-requested Christmas dinner,
    duck confit with risotto

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More Visitors

Oma and Opa came to town quickly on their European tour. We saw them briefly, but in our short time together they saw the Christmas Market, helped us buy a tree, did a Luxembourg tour, saw a few of the important buildings here and Opa took the now famous 13 mile run/bike route with Jorrit. They will be back, we are sure, especially after seeing all the jewels of little Lux! Here are a few highlights.

    Nico picks the winning tree

    Carmela looks on

    Opa and Oliver putting up the tree

    Gabriel and Opa test the goodies at the Christmas Market

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Guess who, and it's not the Pope

We finally spent our first Sinterklaas (5 December) in The Netherlands! A big occasion for the Dutch, especially if you're under the age of about six or seven. Every year Sinterklaas sails in his boat from Spain with the help of his Piets to deliver gifts to good boys and girls. I am massively condensing the story of Sint but I think I have the general idea down. 

    Carmela & Sint

    Gabriel, Anke, Carmela & Imke

    Gabriel, Lars & Marinus

    Special tea time before Sint arrives with the whole crew

This was a big deal for our kids too since we have celebrated the 5th of December in our house, to a much lesser degree, since the kids were little. A boot or shoe is placed by the fireplace the night before with a plate of goodies in hopes that you get a visit from Sint. It is the real deal when Sint and his Piets come knocking on your door and sing songs, review your conduct for the year in front of the whole family and then reward you with gifts as he did this year at Anke and Don's  house. 

Marius, still in a state of shock


    Imke and Marius

Jorrit's cousin Anke and her family hosted us in Wassenaar, near The Hague. Anke and Don have three kids, 13, 10 and 7 or so? So there were plenty of gifts, great poems to accompany the gift giving, our favorite Dutch treats and meals by Don -- very impressive. We celebrated with Tante Imkje (Jorrit's aunt) as well and took a big walk at the beach the day after, which is always fun and has become somewhat of a tradition when we visit, summer or winter. That was our holiday kick-off and it just kept on going after that, Christmas markets, Advent calendars, and finally vacation. 

    Marius, Nico & Oliver

    Jorrit chatting up the Piets

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Time to play a bit of catch up. Since our autumn break a lot has happened. So to avoid missing any highlights I will be sure to record the events of the last few months, starting here with a visit from my parents in November. 

Two weeks of "seeing how we live" was as much a treat for us as it was for Bob & Carmela. They had just come off a big trip to New York and northeastern Canada and were game for just about anything. We dug up Italian stores, looked at lots of wine shops, went to Belgium (Ikea), and on our way to a drive along the Moselle River we stopped at the American War Cemetery just to take a quick look. A quick look turned into an hour tour, many interesting stories and a visit to General Patton grave site. It was quite a moving experience to see all those white crosses in commemoration of the many lives lost while Allied Forces fought in the Ardennes Offensive against the German troops in one of the most critical battles fought in WWII. 

We also enjoyed visits to France, both Metz to see the beautiful cathedral and Nancy, just south of Metz. In Nancy we spent time in the well known Place Stanislas. It is a gold-gated, overly decorated square bordered by shops and cafes. An easy trip from Luxembourg and a nice way to get a taste of France. This is a town I'd love to explore further. Maybe there is a good flea market here too?