A birthday weekend in Cologne, Germany.

Over the past few months living here in Belgium, I’ve come to love many things, one of them being the amount of national and public holidays Belgians observe. Belgians like their days off, something I can wholeheartedly get behind and support.

And last week, Michael and the kids had off from both school and work, which was super convenient timing because HELLO BIRTHDAY WEEKEND for Piper and me. No school, no work, another year in the books to be celebrated – yes a road trip was in order. This time, to Cologne Germany (just two and a half hours away from home). 

The really cool thing about living in Belgium is that it’s so incredibly centrally located to a ton of awesome places. Paris is only three hours away, Amsterdam is three hours away in the other direction, you can get to the North Sea in under two hours, and you can drive into Germany in less than one.

DAY ONE:

We left mid-morning on Saturday, stopped for lunch on the road at Burger King, (I know, but Michael had to get it out of his system) and headed into the heart of Cologne to do some sightseeing and window shopping.

One of my favorite things to try is street food that is specific to the region we’re visiting. I immediately spied people lining up at this cart to buy little paper cones filled with some sort of snack. I needed to know what was in the cone, and at only 2 euros a piece, I sent Piper shopping.

Maronen. Also know as Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Our little cone came with about eight or so chestnuts, perfect for everyone to have a taste.

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This little snack of chestnuts taught us a very valuable lesson:

1. know what you’re eating.

2. know how to eat it.

You guys, chestnuts do not taste very good if you just pop them in your mouth as-is. They need to be shelled like a proper nut (I know, whodathunk?). The first go-around, Piper and I did not shell ours – instead just popping the roasted little sucker right in our mouth. Also: gross. Also: any German watching us and our reaction probably got a pretty good laugh at our expense.

At this point the snack was lost on us, even after we figured out how to shell them properly. At least we tried and gave it a go, I guess.

Next up we walked around the beautiful Cologne Cathedral in all it’s Gothic glory. Having an interior design degree and given the amount of art history classes I took in college, it’s absolutely fascinating to finally be able to see what I had previously only read about in textbooks.

15785043791 9a57d88554 o A birthday weekend in Cologne, Germany.

After touring the cathedral, we walked across the famous Rhine river via a beautiful footbridge (no photos here folks, I was admittedly afraid of heights and fearful for my children’s well-being, even though they were perfectly safe) and did some shopping.

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The girls each picked out a small bottle of iconic 1411 cologne (because when in Cologne that’s what you do) and then we headed out to dinner. Dinner was at a super fun (and super huge, loud, inexpensive) beer hall called Frueh am Dom which serves their own house brew, Fruh Kolsch.  Again, me being always up for an adventure ordered something off the “chef specialty” list called Schlachtplatte.

I’ll spare you the plate photo (I’m no food blogger) but let me just mention that my dish was a combination platter of liver dumplings, pickled pork, boiled bacon and black pudding served on a bed of sour kraut and mashed potatoes. Basically a big ole’ pile of German. Also make note: I’m now adding “learn to read German” to my ever-growing assimilation to-do list.

After dinner we found the car and headed out of the city to our rental apartment (through Airbnb, which I highly recommend, it’s the only way our family of 6 travels affordability) where we tucked the kids in and got ready for day two.

DAY TWO:

Sunday we woke up (my 36th birthday, yes I had to do the math, secretly hoping I was turning only 35) and headed to an indoor water park called Aqualand. (exactly how a 36 year old female would want to spend her special day, right?).

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 Watersides, whirlpools and lazy rivers. I didn’t take any interior shots, and that’s ok. We spent eight hours tiring out the kids before heading back to the apartment for a quick pizza dinner and OMG bed.

DAY THREE:

On Monday (Piper’s 10th birthday), the plan was to pack up and head to Bonn, about 25 minutes south-ish to the Haribo Factory Store.

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Yes, THE GUMMY BEAR STORE.

We knew going in that they didn’t do tours of the actual factory given that it’s a food facility, but our research said the destination wasn’t to be missed regardless. Guys, I don’t even really like candy, but I have a soft (or shall I say sticky) spot for Haribo gummies.

I love them. Open a bag, finished it within the afternoon. Not sharing, hands of momma’s chewies.

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We spent around 45 minutes and 30 euros at the store, walking out with an epic assortment. And yes, there’s a nice sized kids area which includes some gummy bear history and memorabilia to look at and kill a few some time (aka where I sent the family while I finished up shopping).
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Clutching our bags of sweets, we headed back to Belgium by way of the autobahn (holy speed, batman!) to conclude the celebration weekend. Piper decided to forgo a traditional birthday cake and instead chose German “berliners” for her evening celebration.

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Kid, it’s been a good 10 years. We had a great weekend, and I hope you always remember your 10th birthday spent in beautiful Germany. Cheers to many more crazy adventures…

Three months later and all is well-ish.

I haven’t written in a really (really) long time. So long that I had to google how to get into the dashboard of the blog. And then I had to troubleshoot my very own password. And if I can be completely candid, the lack of updates isn’t because I’ve been busy.  I mean, I have been busy, certainly never a dull moment, but being busy has never stopped me from blogging in the past.

I just needed a break I guess. Time to process and reflect the move on my own terms.

But well, here we are in Belgium, which is really far away from Indiana I’m realizing. And I know you’re dying to find out how the past three months have been for our family, right?

Well, they’ve been great in a “this will make us stronger, we’ll look back at this and laugh someday, mama said there’d be days like this” sort of way.

We’re together, we’re healthy (although Gage is home from school sick with a mild fever today), and we’re doing our best each and every day to create a new normal – which is finally starting to happen slowly and surely. We’re finding our way doing normal everyday stuff like dentist appointments, soccer practices, pet sitting the neighbor’s dog and spending an inordinate amount of time translating food labels from French (or Dutch, or German) to English.

I want to share a thousand beautiful moments we’ve spent here already, and maybe tell of a few hard and challenging times as well. Good thing I have a blog and know (finally, again) how to use it.

Hopefully someday soon these stories will start to trickle out onto the blog, but for now here’s a few moments from the highlight reel (also known as my Instagram feed):

15539037800 8ebd3f6126 c Three months later and all is well ish.

First Row:

1. Taking the kids downtown Brussels to see the bi-annual Flower Carpet installed in the Grand Place. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, and I’m glad we caught it in all it’s botanical glory.

2. Finally starting school, which proved to be the first step to creating a much needed routine! Piper, Nola and even Gage started school at the end of August, and it was just what we all needed after the most hectic summer of our lives. One of the main selling points of the house we found was it’s proximity to campus. We’re walkers, which makes me very happy (except when it’s raining, which happens far too much) not to have to get in the car twice a day for pick-up and drop-off.

3. Our first visitor arrives! In somewhat of an awesome whim, my youngest sister Betsy decided to visit towards the end of August. We packed in a ton of sightseeing, beer drinking and chocolate eating into her stay, including weekend trips to Amsterdam and Paris.

Second Row:

1. Paris, oh Paris. Michael and I both said before we even moved here that our first stop would be to show the kids Paris and of course the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say when we finally made it, Paris did not disappoint.

2. Our second visitor arrives, Nana! Over the kids fall break, Michael’s mom braved her first ever transcontinental (and alone too!) flight to spend a few weeks hanging out with us. We stayed extremely busy, with quick trips to Ghent, Bruge, Knokke (all in Belgium), Paris and Amsterdam.

3. Finding that perfect breakfast coffee shop in town. Europeans LOVE their coffee and pastries, and while Nana was here we shopped around, trying out a few cafes.

Third Row:

1. The Sunday morning routine. Many friends and family have asked if we’ve found a church to attend here in Brussels. The short and uncomplicated answer? Nope, not yet. So while we sort through that situation, we’re enjoying a Sunday routine that includes visiting our town’s weekly farmers market and flea market.

2. Celebrating. A hard parts of moving here is knowing not all the holidays we celebrate back in the USA are celebrated here in Europe. Thankfully, even though Halloween isn’t a Belgian holiday, our neighborhood hosted a trick-or-treat night on October 23rd, the night before fall break started.

3. Opening up our home. It’s no secret that while I’m not the best in the kitchen, I absolutely love cooking for others and having a full table of friends and family brings me great joy. Admittedly, meeting people and making friends has been very slow going (speaking for my introverted self, the kids are doing great and very social). But last week we had our first ever guests over for dinner.

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Ok, so now that I’ve given a small update as to what we’ve been doing and got that awkward “oh hey I haven’t blogged in three months but made a major life change” post out of the way, I’m opening it up to you guys. Anything you’re dying to know about our life here?

Don’t make me follow this post up with an embarrassing story about me learning how to drive around here – I have too many (with varying degrees of public and private humiliation) to pick from. 

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