Sunday, March 17, 2013

European Adventure 2012: Belgium and the Netherlands

I look back on our last European Adventure trip with deep was one of my favorites.  This trip was packed full of amazing "bucket list" moments, incredible spiritual experiences, and oh-so-delicious food!  Additionally, I was about 11 weeks pregnant and just at the end of an overwhelming bout of 1st trimester morning sickness.  I was still a bit queasy, but the worst was over and I was thrilled to be functioning again! 
We took a "Space A" flight (a free flight on the extra seats on a military plane that "hops" from base to base) to Germany.  After a stressful rental car mix-up at the base in Germany (long, annoying story), we took a cab and rushed to an off-base car rental company that was just about to close.  We luckily grabbed an overpriced car and hopped in; grateful, tired, and hungry.  To our great happiness, we spotted a McDonald's down the road (McDonald's is so comforting during stressful foreign travel) and grabbed a late dinner to go.  (After two months of non-stop nausea and a diet of bagels and malt-o-meal, those french fries tasted pretty magical.)
Though it was late, our night was not done.  We drove through Germany and crossed into Belgium, where we encountered a crazy snowstorm.  We pushed through the storm and finally arrived at our adorable, cozy bed & breakfast a little before midnight. (Lesson learned: our b&b host was quite surprised to see us so late.  After all of our travel delays, we forgot to contact the b&b.  He was very forgiving!)  After a long day of travel, that Belgian b&b looked heavenly.  
After a restful night's sleep, we welcomed the new, chilly morning in Belgium with a delicious breakfast.  The B&B owners served an array of scrambled eggs, cheeses, meats, breads, yogurt, and fruit.  We feasted in their quaint little kitchen with two other guests, a student and a businessman. 
We drove down the road to Gheel, Belgium to visit the tomb of Saint Dymphna.  According to John J. Delaney's Dictionary of the Saints, St. Dymphna lived in the mid-600s A.D. and was the daughter of a pagan Celtic chieftain.  She fled from home on the death of her mother to escape her cruel father and went to Antwerp accompanied by her confessor, St. Gerebernus, and two companions.  They then built an oratory at Gheel where they lived as hermits.  Tracked down by Dymphna's father, the two companions and the priest were murdered by his men, and Dymphna was beheaded by her father when she refused to return with him  Her feast day is May 15th.  We were excited to visit the resting place of this courageous Saint!
It was a coooold February day with the kind of wind that just cuts right through you.  And yet, all throughout the adorable teeny European town of Gheel were elderly people riding their bikes seemingly oblivious to the arctic chill.  As we approached the magnificent church that held St. Dymphna's relics, we discovered that dozens of those bikes were parked right next to the church.  Their elderly riders, all dressed in black, were entering the church.  Then, a hearse pulled up.  A funeral was going on in the church...
So, unfortunately, we did not make it inside of the church to see St. Dymphna's tomb.  But we prayed on the church doorstep and felt that Saint Dymphna was smiling on her little pilgrims.  

After snapping some photos, we hopped back in the car to defrost our fingers and toes.  Next stop:  the Netherlands!  
Dan's Aunt Ettie and Uncle Jim live in Den Haag, the Netherlands, which made this colorful Dutch city the perfect next stop on our dash across Europe.  We dropped off the rental car at an airport in Den Haag and waited for Dan's uncle to pick us up.  The weather was even more extreme in Den Haag.  Icy  cold sideways rain slapped our faces as we trudged to the rental car station, stroller and luggage in tow.  We were absolutely thrilled to see Dan's uncle's warm smile.  We spent the afternoon and evening in their cozy, European downtown flat drinking tea and chatting as the rain poured outside.  Aunt Ettie served us a delicious dinner and a dessert of chocolate mousse.  After dinner, we were ready for a nice warm bed.  Peter and I slept in Jim and Ettie's daughter's old room, complete with enormous stuffed animals.  Peter loved it!  

We had a wonderful visit with Uncle Jim and Aunt Ettie!

The next morning, Uncle Jim drove us to the train station where we bought our tickets for the fast train to Paris!
Paris, here we come!

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