European Adventuring / Vol. I / Issue 01
Three-hundred words or less? Who am I kidding? I’ve never been able to say anything in 300 words or less. Trying to wrap my head around all the sights, sounds and excitement of three weeks in Europe, three weeks chasing and cuddling my sweet nephew, and three weeks of finding ways to make my sister say, “You’re SO WEIRD!” is no easy task.
I’ve collected the best of the best here for you, but forgive me if I go a bit overboard; after all, I am a photographer – and an aunt. In order to save you from the endless scroll, I’m going to break this up into two to three posts. I am thrilled to finally be sharing this adventure!
Day 1: Brussels & Bruges, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium | Grand Place
Last time we flew across the pond, I couldn’t sleep at all, so I was a little nervous that we’d land in Brussels, and I’d be unable to function. But, I hoped that excitement over squeezing a certain little guy (and his mom and dad) might get me through the day – it did, until I found myself snuggled in the backseat on the way from Brussels to Bruges.
Before we made the trip between Brussels and Bruges, my sister and brother-in-law, Julia & Micah, showed us around a walking tour of Brussels. So much gold, so much chocolate, so many croissants, and so many giggles from the little guy. Even though I’ve been to Europe during our honeymoon, I still can’t get over the, “Holy-moly-I’m-standing-in-a-square-in-Europe-that’s-thousands-of-years-old” feeling. It gets me every. time.
As Belgium is renowned for their chocolate, our stroll through the Brussels streets was filled with frequent stops to these confectioners. Shopowners and workers were constantly handing the kid bits of chocolate, so he was never too delighted to depart their stores, and often had to be carried out. hahah.
From Brussels, we headed to Bruges where we would be spending the next couple nights at a cozy little AirBnB with a bright, happy, yellow door. I was a fan immediately (What’s not to love about Europe’s doors?! So much character and charm!) Our spot looked out onto one of the city’s many canals, close to the main square of Bruges.
Unfortunately, due to hopping the pond, and feeling like I was sleepwalking most of the day, my memory of Bruges is a little fuzzy. There was so much to see, to take in, and so many little moments to hug my nephew – I was a little ecstatic. If you’re an aunt or uncle, you understand the joy it is simply to sit in the same room as your niece or nephew and just watch them. Bonus points if you get to give them hugs here and there. It had been far too long since I got to sing and giggle with L, so this was a precious luxury to me.
Jet lag aside, my memory of strolling the cobblestones late at night while singing My Fair Lady‘s, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” is vivid in my mind. Yes, I am well aware that the masterpiece that is My Fair Lady was set in Britain, not Belgium, but the setting felt so perfect. So, I graced the pigeons with a rousingly quiet (It was past dark, after all.) rendition of the melody as we wandered along the canal outside the convent. Don’t worry, I was properly shushed by my big sister – it’s okay she loves me.
Day 2: Menin Gate & Tyne Cot Memorial
Menin Gate | Ypres, Belgium
The enormity of the Menin Gate was awe-inspiring, humbling, an apt reminder of the men who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. I felt quiet, gratitude, heartache for each brother, sister, father, mother and friend of the names we read. Their loss is something I can imagine all too well.
Most of all, I was grateful. They fought, they died, so I could freely attend school, worship, work, live. It is a gift for which I can never fully express my thanks.
Walking through the gate and looking at the surrounding village, it was hard to fathom what it was like to be in Ypres in the days following World War One. This place was destroyed and buried in five-feet of mud – that doesn’t even make sense to me, and may seem like a trivial piece to the story of the Great War, but it has stayed with me from the first time I heard it as a child. The grandeur and complexity of the memorial in which I was standing compared with what Ypres once was is an incredibly beautiful juxtaposition, and wholly humbling.
Tyne Cot Cemetery | Passendale, Belgium
To all who have fought for freedom, thank you.
Day 3: Gent, Belgium
From Bruges and battlefields, we moseyed through Gent on our way up to Amsterdam.
See the starry-eyed little guy above? Yea? Okay, look below. Now, see the same kiddo, but this time with a very concerned look? Watch out, the kid is hangry. Very hangry. As I snapped this shot, and ran to catch up with them, I realized grumpy gills was about to join us very soon. Thankfully, his mom realized this way before me. That’s why we were getting breakfast. That’s why she’s his mom.
Jules and L were gonna share something. Clearly, L disagreed. ?
Our mom has a deep passion for architecture, and her love for good architectural design rubbed off on all of us. Walking the streets of Europe was a fascinating lesson in the blending of new and old. Some areas did it better than others, and it was interesting to see where people had built new to look old, a combination of each, or thrown tradition to the wind. Before this trip, I thought I kinda liked minimalist architecture and design. Nope. Not a chance. It feels too clean, too sterile for me, almost like I’m out of place in this home specifically created for humans. Weird feeling. So, part of the reason I wanted this picture was to high-five Gent for their blending of new and old.
One thing Ryan really wanted to see on this trip to Europe was a castle (Isn’t that great? ?) – didn’t have to be big, didn’t have to be incredibly impressive – he just wanted to see a castle. Gent obliged with the Castle of the Count, which was apparently built to intimidate the townspeople into obeying said Count. What? Yea, okay. I’m sure that went over very well. Still, it was impressive, and it’s kinda fun to say I’ve been in a castle.
Day 4: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam was one of those places I had heard so much about, that I didn’t really know what to expect. Being there felt so surreal, but also like I’d been there a million times before, more like I had lived there for years (I went to college in a small Dutch town in Iowa that may or may not have gone too far to preserve their heritage – even the Taco Johns has Dutch architecture). It was the strangest feeling of dejavú I’ve ever experienced.
We spent most of our time taking ourselves on walking tours, searching for a spectacular paperie (Resident stationery addict here.), and stopped in for a visit to the Anne Frank Museum. It was sobering, very well curated, and thought provoking.
As we walked around Amsterdam, a lot of our time was spent gawking at the city’s leaning, tilting, sinking buildings. Note to all city developers: Building an entire city on moorings in water doesn’t tend to bode well in the long run. Jus’ sayin’. We stayed in the third and fourth floor of one of these dwellings, and kept saying we should look at the house we were staying in when we got back for the day to see if it was leaning. We never did. Somethings are better left unknown.
Day 5: Amsterdam & Kinderdijk, Netherlands
My family jokes that when I wake up, I’m a little bit…unpleasant. (I’m not. Really. Yea…) It just takes me a bit to get going, and I don’t drink coffee, so maybe don’t talk to me ’til noon…? Or, at least until I’ve eaten breakfast. I’m honestly not that bad anymore, but I’m also not sure my husband or anyone in my family will confirm that.
My sweet nephew seems to have inherited some of my morning struggles (if that’s even a thing), and his groggy, grumpiness is too cute for me. He comes out of it pretty quickly, but nobody but ‘Mah-mah’ or ‘Da-da’ better try to hold L in his morning state.
When you attend a small school in a Dutch town, there are several things toward which you come to feel a special kinship – windmills, tulips, stroopwaffles (think circular waffle cone like cookies with caramely-goodness in the middle), wooden shoes, poffertjies (see below) – basically all things Dutch without ever entering the Netherlands, or being Dutch yourself. Sounds kinda strange? It kinda is, but it’s also why this adopted Dutch heart was so enthralled with our time in Holland.
Kinderdijk (literally, the children’s windmills) was all kinds of wonderful. The sun came out for the first time in several days, so this Rocky Mountain-livin’ girl was already dancing for joy. Then, there were windmills. Lots of them. Some that people still called home, and one from the 12th century (What? My brain doesn’t get that. I’m from the United States. Two-hundred years is old here).
AND, there. were. poffertjes. POFFERTJES! Think little, fluffy pancakes of happiness dusted with powdered sugar. It was a heavenly day indeed. L thought so too, and tried to consume most of my poffertjes. This auntie heart was torn between stealing away the goodness for myself, and laughing at the site of his powder covered face. His powder covered face won.
Day 5: Monschau, Germany
A restful night back at the sister’s, breakfast at Bagels & Beans across the border in the Netherlands, and we were off to check out Monschau, Germany. As a language lover, I was pumped to finally be in Deustchland and give the German I’d been brushing up on since my sister moved a try. Oh goodness. It wasn’t pretty. I can manage Spanish, stumble through reading Russian (Don’t try to talk to me anymore, though. Unless you want me to incessantly ask you your name, where you’re from, or say that “I’m strong” or “I’m pretty.” I’ve got skills, Friends.), but German still needs some work. I’d say I’m at a pre-school level. Maybe. Probably not.
The little dude discovered a hula dancing owl bobble-head as we window shopped, and we spent a long time enjoying his impression of the owl’s dance standing outside the store (The L Suffle is all the rage). Seeing as I couldn’t be in Germany for L’s first birthday, and we just so happened to be present for his half-birthday, I thought it only right that we get said owl for him. I mean, I am his aunt, I can do these kinds of things (You’re welcome, Sister).
Ry grabbed my hand to pull me away from the store as we continued through the town, but we eventually ended up back at the shop to get a gift for his mom (Hi, Joyce!). I wasn’t gonna buy the owl for L, just gonna find out how much it cost, then I’d decide. Good plan, right? We soon found the sweet shopowner’s English was as broken as my German, and simply attempting to purchase my mother-in-law’s gift proved to be quite the task. So, no dancing owl for L. Sorry, Kid. Don’t worry though, like any good aunt, I ordered it on Amazon that night. My sister was thrilled when it arrived. ?
Remember how Ry wanted to see a castle? Well, Monschau delivered, and he got two castles. Boom. Two castles, and an incredible view of the Rur River Valley in which Monschau sits.
Our day in Monschau was Ryan’s last day in Europe – he had to hop the pond back to work and real life. But, I was hanging around Germany for a few more weeks to teach my nephew things like, “Oh, ya’ see that medieval gate down the street from your house? It’s old.” (I’m an excellent history teacher), and make sure L knew how to say Uncle Ry-Ry’s name by the time I left – I’ve since learned that that endeavor was a roaring success. High-five me.
Extra weeks in Europe with the sister means I have stories and pictures of our adventuring coming out my ears, so rather than overwhelm you with one unending blog, there will be another post coming soon!
Laura is a documentary lifestyle photographer aiming to curate moments, not poses. While based out of Denver, Colorado + Omaha, Nebraska, Laura is available for travel upon request. Her style is relaxed and real. She believes the small moments matter, and the mess that makes up life is truly worth remembering.