Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2 Castles and a Waffle please!

For my birthday everyone kept saying, "I hope you do something fun!" and "What are you doing today?" Well, my actual birthday was pretty uneventful, although really nice too. Joshua was in school and I met up with a good friend of mine, with Samuel, and we enjoyed the "Dyno Park" together (Otherwise known as the Kaiserslautern Gartenschau). This is a park in Kaiserslautern with indoor and outdoor garden exhibits, several playgrounds, a water play area, a small creek that runs through the park, a skate park, mini golf, and large dinosaurs throughout the pathway. Mike and I got a family season pass and it was totally worth it. For 35 Euro, a family of 4 can have a season pass to the place. I believe the regular price is around 15 Euro, so if we were to go 3-4 times we would more than make up for the cost. The season pass also gives families entry into the Japanese Garden. We haven't had a chance to check that one out. We've been told it's not very kid friendly, so we are waiting on a time where the kids are off doing something else. Right now, the Gartenschau has pumpkin exhibits portraying famous fairytales.

Mike got me something that had been on my wishlist for years... a stoneware breadbasket. It helps keep bread warm out of the oven. Also, a very very nice card. This Birthday weekend proved to be a blast.

It started off right at a neighborhood BBQ. Our house basically looks like apartment buildings on the outside. On the inside however, it's pretty impressive. The great thing about it looking like an apartment is that we are able to block off the driveways and enjoy a BBQ. The kids just brought out their favorite bike or scooter and had a great time until it just got too dark. Mike, being the wonderful husband that he is, made me a cake and had everyone sing happy birthday. He also had the admiration of every woman in the neighborhood.

We woke up and headed to a local castle in our area. Affectionately referred to in our household as "the Kusel Castle" but know by others as Burg Lichtenberg Castle. It's a beautiful castle that, for it's age, is still very well intact. There were about 4 weddings going on that day. At the Castle there is a restaurant, cafe, and museum. We didn't sample the food but we did enjoy the museum. The first floor was more interesting for the kids as it had a lot of taxidermy animals on display. The weather couldn't have been better and it was great to go out and enjoy it. We got home and had a lazy rest of our Saturday.

Sunday rolled around and it was proving to be a lazy one as well. I had just recently gotten a new publication of BlickwinKL. This magazine comes in our mail and is "the magazine for the American Community" or, at least that's what they say. It's an extremely helpful publication (albeit a little Christian leaning, but helpful nonetheless). The Blickwin usually has 5 articles and countless advertisements and calendars filled with events for the next 2 months. For anyone living in our region, I highly recommend going to their webpage and signing up for delivery if it isn't already being delivered. Near the back of the magazine was an article on the new Burg Nanstein Restaurant; Burschanke Nanstein. For readers who have been here a while, they will say there has always been a restaurant at the castle. However, just recently ownership was taken over by Paul Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt is a prominent guy in these parts and along with some bakeries also owns a lot of property in our neighborhood (including our building). He's trained as a German pastry chef. We walked down to the castle and enjoyed Chicken Stew with Spatzle. Joshua had Turkey Schnitzle and both boys enjoyed Pommes, or French Fries. The view is beautiful up there. They have ample outdoor and indoor seating as well. During the winter I can imagine enjoying a big beer by the fireside. The outdoor seating had the quintessential HUGE umbrellas that most German outdoor seating has. The restaurant also provides small blankets and bowls of water for a patron's favorite 4-legged canine friends. The kids got the wiggles but they were able to play in the surrounding area without bugging anyone. This gave Mike and me a chance to just enjoy the afternoon. The article in the Blickwin mentioned that many times there is wild game on the menu. I didn't see anything but I'm looking forward to going back and looking again for it. This place has special openings for big parties and also has a buffet for New Years. Since it's literally about a 5-10 minute walk from our house, this could be one of our haunts from now on.

On our way back home, I noticed that chestnuts were falling from the tree by the playground. I was pretty surprised since they shouldn't be ready for another month or so. It looked like just recently the tree had been cut/cleaned up. It made me wonder if it made the nuts go into hyper growth mode. At any rate, it got me pretty excited and I dragged Joshua out to gather chestnuts. I had never really done this before and for anyone who knows what a chestnut looks like, knows that the process can look daunting. The nut looks like a little porcupine. I wondered how one could safely gather them without poking their fingertips. However, after several Google searches, I could not find anything on it. There was a ton of information on how to roast them just not how to safely gather them. From what I gathered, most of them just fall out of their protective spikes. I did wear gloves and this protected me from the pokes. Most of them were already out of their spikes. We took home probably about 1000 grams (2 pounds) or so of nuts. My initial thought had been correct. The nuts had gone into hyper growth. It seems as though they were small and difficult to get out of their shell. I was able to roast about 200 grams and I also used another 200 grams to make Chestnut puree. Come to find out, this stuff can be very she she la la (another technical term would be fancy schmancy pants). Known to the French as Puree De Marrons, it can sell for 8 Euro a "tin" or as us Americans say a "can". It's used as a spread for bread or croissants, topper for ice cream, or ingredients in other recipes. I came across a cheesecake recipe that I'm very interested in trying.

Monday was Labor Day, an American holiday, so we took advantage of the day off by driving to Brussels, Belgium. Now, just about NOTHING is open on a Monday in Brussels. When I say nothing I mean all the museums and attractions. We made sure to check the schedules of places before we cemented out plans. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from where we live. We dragged ourselves out of the house at around 9:00, stopped at the ATM and for gas, and we were gone. Our first stop was the Grand Place - it was just as magnificent as the pictures. They were just cleaning up after a festival of some sort in the square, but to look at all the buildings was truly a treat. The detail of the sculptures with the gold paint accents was magnificent. The wind was strong that day and we were hungry for lunch. Joshua made a great suggestion for pizza and we stopped at one of the many restaurants near the square. Brussels apparently is famous for it's seafood options (Mussels and other shell fish). There were many many restaurants to choose from. I recommend doing a little research beforehand though; because of the variety and cost there is a high chance that one might experience a "dud" restaurant. We didn't do any research on eating, so we went with a safer option... pizza. Our dining experience was comfortable. As we ate we heard French, German and English being spoken. We sat outside for the view and ambiance. Unfortunately the clouds came out and the rain fallowed. The whole staff scrambled to get their patrons inside. Needless to say it was an adventure. Thankfully, the rain didn't last, like many of the rain storms here. When the sun peaked out again, we walked several blocks to Manneken Pis to get the quintessential photo. Next to the fountain, there are lots and lots of chocolate and waffle stores. I don't care who you are... if you're going to Belgium, you gotta get a waffle! Joshua and I went into a shop and ordered a Belgian waffle with whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate syrup on top. I mean, if I'm gonna have a waffle... I'm gonna have a waffle! A little funny side note, the vender, who was a teenage girl, almost burned the waffles and in a perfect French accent exclaimed "Sh*t!" I smiled and said, "I suppose that word is universal" the poor girl was so embarrassed and apologized over and over again. I had to repeatedly tell her, " it's OK". Joshua, Samuel and I shared this treat and it was very decadent to say the least. Belgian waffles seem to be sweeter than American breakfast waffles. I'd really love a recipe. Mike was able to stop in and get a sampler of 6 trappist beers that are available in Belgium. Since we were so close, we also went to see the Jeanneke Pis . Now, the link that I just inputted is to Wikipedia that doesn't even have a photo! Poor Jeanneke. I suppose that women's lib hasn't fully infiltrated wiki. I think it is a cute little tribute to the more famous Mannekin Pis.

After the enjoyment of waffles and a full visual display of children going potty, we headed to our car and on to our next destination; The Atomium. It was only about 5 kilometers from the Grand Place but because of the traffic, it took us about an hour to get there. Let's hear it for rush hour! Mike had a picture of himself at the Atomium. I thought it was kinda cool after I heard the story about it but I was unprepared for the actual size of it. It was huge! Next to the Atomium, there is also a park with miniatures of European sites. On warmer days, there is also a water park and a good sized playground. Today we were short on time so we took the elevator up the structure and enjoyed the view.

We got on the road around 6:30, expecting to have a 3.5 hour drive home. However we are rookies when it comes to the autobahn and historically we are magnets for traffic jams. This was a doosy of a STAU! I think it took us 2.5 hours to move 5-10 kilometers. The cause was a pile-up with a big rig involved. The stinker of traffic jams in foreign countries is that no traffic information is available to us on the radio (Because of our lack of Flemish, German, or French speaking or understanding skills). So, if we are stuck, we are stuck. Many times people turn off their cars and wait for hours. Our only hope of knowing what happened is if a fellow driver knows English and can tell us what happened and how long it will be. We didn't get home until after 11:00PM. As we drove by the pile up, we said a quick prayer for the people involved and throughout it all we said to ourselves that we weren't going to let this ruin our day. Which it didn't; it was still spectacular.

Our family did do the touristy stuff of Belgium. Nothing too phenomenal from a hardened travelers stand point. But, lets face it we are tourists!!!....and, we have a family so we are gonna do the touristy stuff and doggone it, it was really a blast!

*Most of the words or places have links. Click on the link for a better explanation. If there's something in here that may need a little more explaining or if there are questions about certain places... let us know! We can try and help. Plus, it will help other travelers with kids figure out the ins and outs of traveling in Europe with a family or, on their own. Like we did in our blog about Japan, we are providing our family & friends a window into our lives but also trying to help others in our position so, any other suggestions help us a lot!

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