Thursday, 24 October 2013

Autumn in Denmark

The sun was shining this morning and it was the first morning all week that we had not awoke to the sound of rain.  To some, the rain might be a disappointment, but to us it meant a week of cozing in by the fire, reading books, making homemade soups and chili, and using the apples from the garden to make a piping hot, apple crisp dessert.  

Meg enjoying a book, with her feet up.
We had certainly enjoyed a quiet week after more than a month of travel and sight seeing.  We knew that a 'down' week every now and then, would be essential for us on our trip.  This was the second time we had afforded ourselves this luxury.  Travelling for an extended time is a little different than what we were used to experiencing on our holidays.  Although we didn't want to waste our time in Denmark, all of us were happy to sleep in, relax and not have a plan for the day. The girls got caught up on some school work and were able to connect on skype with their teachers and classes. 

Meg skype-ing with Mrs. Neibert and the Grade 7's

Ally's organic nature art.
 Mark continued to book accomodation and research the next few weeks of our trip. Very unlike him, he purchased a video game for iPad.  He and Ally enjoyed the challenge that 'The Room' provided, and it was neat seeing them work together on the puzzles.  Meg enjoyed time on the trampoline, and helping me in the kitchen. 

Gym class!

So much fun on the trampoline together!
And this morning... I enjoyed a morning run in the autumn sunshine. Actually, I dragged the girls out with me for part of it. Unfortunately my regular running partner is laid up. Mark is suffering some kind of injury, which his internet physician suspects is achilles tendonitis.  Any ideas on how to deal with this, other than rest and stretching would be appreciated!  The autumn colours were out and I couldn't resist taking my camera along to capture and share with you, what I had seen on my journey. 

Just a little ole country lane way.

The coastline, again so beautiful. 

The North Sea.

The farm animals running freely in the back yard.

I loved the thatched roofs.
We couldn't spend a week in Denmark without visiting Copenhagen, so we mustered up enough energy to venture into the city for a day.  We were glad we did, because again, we saw some beautiful sights and met some lovely people.  We were able to connect with my brother and his family this week on skype, and he shared his experience in Denmark, when travelling several years ago.  He remembered the kind people that went out of their way to help him in the middle of the night, during a train bombing threat.  They had allowed him to use the phone, gave him some local currency to make it through the night, and ensured he had accomodation at another hostel, when the one he had planned on staying at, was full.   He recommended we try a danish, which of course we did.  We left appreciating the people we met as well. 

I remember looking at his pictures when he returned from his trip; one in particular stuck out.  It was a row of beautifully coloured buildings along a canal. He had it blown up and framed and I'm pretty sure we captured almost the same shot.  One that I'm sure every visitor to Copenhagen captures. 
Quite a beautiful sight!
Tomorrow we will pack up and leave our cozy little cottage, as we head for Berlin.  We certainly enjoyed  Bitten and Soren's little piece of heaven in the country, and are so thankful that our exchange worked out so well. 

Thanks for checking in everyone, and we will chat again soon, a little further down the road.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

From Farm to Table in Holland

When I was about 8 years old, I remember visiting my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Allan’s dairy farm.  The farm was so different than what I was used to.  I remember seeing a calf all mucky after having just been born, the little dog Tracey (not a typical farm dog ), and the smell of Uncle Allan and his clothing when he came in from doing the chores.  He had to leave his smelly clothing outside on the porch so he did not stink up the kitchen.  My Uncle Jim drove the dairy truck and travelled around from farm to farm picking up the fresh milk.  Back then, you could see the dairy room and walk along behind the cattle as they were being milked, far different than life today on a dairy farm. I remember the big silver machines they attached to the udders and the big tank of milk.  The dairy room was immaculately clean, but the smell was that of warm milk, not sour, but different.  Breakfast was a treat as there was always farm fresh milk for cereal and warm baked goods.  I remember the cream sitting on top of the milk in the pitcher.  Aunt Joyce would skim it off to put on strawberries or to be used in her baking later on.  If I was not too busy outside playing with Louise and Ann, I might get to help with the baking, or at least lick the beaters.

The farmer's fields in Holland - no fences here.

We came across many piles like this on our way from France to Holland - we are still not quite sure what this veggie
is.  It was white inside similiar to a parsnip but more the shape of a turnip.  

This morning we awoke to the sounds of dishes in the breakfast room.  We stayed at a beautiful little bed and breakfast in Holland, just outside of Amsterdam, last night.  The patio doors from our bedroom open up to farmers fields, where sheep, cattle and horses are grazing.  There are no fences separating the animals here, just water motes and ditches.  Henk, our host, had laid out a breakfast feast.  Amongst the spread were farm fresh eggs, cheese and milk.  There were fresh pears from the fruit trees and freshly squeezed orange juice as well.   Henk showed us the farm where the milk had come from out the window.  It was creamy and delicious, just like I remember the milk at Aunt Joyce and Uncle Allan’s.  I suppose that was the first time I had enjoyed milk straight from the cow since then.  It is amazing how scents and tastes can take you right back to your childhood.  Ally and Meg had never tasted farm fresh milk before and they thought that was pretty neat.

Our breakfast feast - Henk is fetching the milk next door!
Yesterday we visited a cheese farm and learned about the process of making cheese and tasted many different varieties.  Holland is famous for its cheese and wooden clogs, of course.  It was amazing the different flavours of the cheese depending on the milk that had been used in the process.  We tried sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheese.  Mark was raised on a small farm and lived on goat’s milk, butter and cheese growing up.  He too had not enjoyed the farm fresh tastes in quite some time.  We left with a round of aged goat’s cheese and herbed cheese, which were both so delicious.  There is something about buying your food straight from the farm, everything tastes better and is just that much ‘more’ special.  
Our tour guide at Jacob's Cheese Farm
Look at that cheese in the window.
Look at all of those clogs.
When we arrived home, we switched on the television, something we have not done much of on this trip.  There was a program on about breatharianism.  Breatharians believe they can sustain life without eating.  They believe energy can be found from other sources such as sunlight, wind and vibrations.  I’m not quite sold on this latest trend, and I’m not sure I could even try it if I was - that would mean giving up food!  Sure, I could easily give up the processed products and much of what our diet consists of today, but the farm fresh dairy, fruits and vegetables - I would surely miss.  I love our organic veggie share and have certainly enjoyed the tastes on our tour so far.  What’s not to love about fresh baguette, tea biscuits and chocolate? There is nothing like eating straight from the farm.  Thank you Henk, for introducing our girls to this lifestyle and reminding Mark and I of our younger days on the farm!

The processed food that is easy to give up... a hot fast-food vending machine...crazy!

The processed food that we 'should' have given up but didn't - these fries are rated the best fries
in all of Holland, so of course we had to try them. 
Meg enjoying the animals.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Feeling Blue, Missing You.

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we said goodbye to Dan, it was great having a visitor from home and even more special when it was a close family member.  Having an extra body around can be somewhat challenging, but with Dan everything was easy.  He blended in with our routines and kept us laughing and giggling.  I probably shouldn’t write when I’m feeling kind of blue. But… the reality is, being away from home and travelling for a year is bound to have its ups and downs.  Today is a down day and I’m sure tomorrow will be another up day.  The important thing is to have more up days than down, and we have done that by far.  Grandma – don’t get any ideas, we are not heading home!  (We had to promise before we left, that if we were struggling and not having fun, that we would head home.) 

                                                           Do we look like we are not having any fun?

Having Dan here was wonderful for all of us.  Mark and he enjoyed visiting a brewery run by Monks, and ‘monk luck’ came to be.  If the boys wanted to change their luck, all they had to do was enjoy a Trappist beer and everything would be splendid!  They made the rain stop, the sun shine, and the lineups move quickly!  Perhaps it was the fact that some of that Trappist beer was 10% alcohol.  The girls absolutely loved having their uncle here too, and Mark and I realized what a special opportunity it was for them, to enjoy some time with their uncle, all on their own.

                                                                What were we thinking?

So, Mark and I headed out for a romantic dinner in Paris, while Dan and the girls enjoyed an evening together, without us.  They picked up pizza, potato chips, candy and orange Fanta – what could be better than that? They were in their glory eating dinner and watching Star Trek with their uncle, on his blackberry playbook.  It must have been quite the scene with the three of them tucked into the motorhome, crowded around the tiny screen.  When we arrived home, everyone was in bed.  We had visited Versailles during the day, and everyone was tuckered out.  Although Mark and I enjoyed our dinner out, we were quite torn wanting to spend more time with Dan before he headed home.

                                                                      Versailles, so beautiful!

We had covered lots of ground in the past few weeks, and the last four days were spent in Paris.  We visited the Louvre, which Dan teased the girls about – he visits the ‘loo’ everyday, what was so big about the ‘loo’ in Paris?  We checked out the Arc de Triomphe and Dan explained to the girls that the Arc de Triomphe meant three arches.  One was the big stone one and the other two, were the golden arches.  The McDonalds restaurant was close to the stone arch so they called it the Arc de Triomphe – Triomphe meaning three in French – of course!  We went to Notre-Dame and Dan couldn’t believe he was paying to go to church, he figured they should pay him for his ‘celebrity’ appearance!  You can just imagine the silliness that went on.  We forced Dan into our ‘selfie’ shots and pushed him up the steps of the Eiffel tower when he got winded.  We had loads of fun, and will certainly cherish our memories with Dan.

                          "That is not a picture of moon-ing Lisa, it doesn't even look like your mom, Meg"

                                                                                 Oh Dan....

                                                                         More silliness

As we dropped Dan off at the airport the only one of us not in tears, was Mark.  He was too busy trying to hold us Mitchell gals together.  We cried and talked about how we were going to miss Dan and how we were missing home.  We tried to put smiles on our faces as we changed the subject and counted the number of days before Grandma and Papa would arrive.  Once we got back to the motorhome we all got settled into schoolwork and other jobs to keep ourselves occupied.  It was very quiet.  The girls were productive with their schoolwork.  Thank goodness, as they hadn’t really done much since Dan's arrival.  Mark headed out for a run and I was… less efficient. 
I suppose I should have gone for a run too.  Instead, I checked in with Facebook and read about what was going on at home and decided to write to you.  Everyone was getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner at home and I thought about ours.  They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in France, and we had been so busy I hadn’t given it much thought either.  In an effort to cheer myself and the girls up, we started planning our dinner.  Boy it sure would be different.  Hmmm, no oven, so there won’t be turkey, maybe we could have ham.  If we have ham that means no gravy for the mashed potatoes, I suppose we could buy gravy – ewwww yuck, gravy out of a jar.  I could still make the stuffing - baguette would make good stuffing bread.  I saw squash at the market, we could cook that in the microwave, I suppose.  The girls started to cheer up and I did too.  Other than not being with our extended family, we might just pull off a Thanksgiving dinner.  After all, we had much to be thankful for. 

Dan would make it home in time for Thanksgiving and we were missing him already, not to mention the rest of our family.  But that is just one of those things you must accept when you choose to travel.  Some days it is easier than others.  I'm certainly not complaining and I wouldn't want to change a thing, because if we weren't travelling, we would not have experienced these last few weeks with Dan, and that was pretty special.  So… we will make Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow and hopefully connect on Skype, with the festivities at home.  And... we will be very thankful!  We send our love to you all, and we hope you have a wonderful holiday with your families!  And… in case you were wondering….we sure do miss you!
P.S. Thanks so much for reading and commenting on our posts.  It makes us feel like you are not all that far away. Hmmm, there you go, I'm feeling better already after writing to you!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

More than baguette and chocolate here

When I first thought of visiting France and Belgium, iconic images of the Eiffel tower, Belgian chocolate and men in berets filled my mind.  After spending a few weeks here, the images I take away are far different, as are the memories of many other thousands of Canadians that have been to this area, long before us.

Several years ago, Dan, Mark’s brother, learned that their Great Grandfather had fought and died in The Great War on Vimy Ridge.  Dan spent years researching his contributions to the war, gathered and read more than 250 letters he had sent home from the front lines, and spent countless hours reviewing war diaries.  After all of his years researching, Dan finally made his way to France in hopes of visiting memorials, battle sites, cemeteries and museums.  We were fortunate enough to join Dan in his journey through history, and experienced some of the most emotional and moving moments of our trip. I could never do justice to them in writing, but I will attempt to capture our experiences.

                                     This was a battle site near hill 62 where Great Grandfather fought. 

We started off on the beaches of Normandy and Dieppe Beach.  We learned about the Second World War and met an amazing artist David Sopha, who was painting in the Juno Beach Museum.  He shared his spectacular piece of work, ‘Portraits of Honour’ with us, and spent a great deal of time talking to us about his experiences.  His painting includes the portraits of the 158 men and woman that had given their lives in Afghanistan. The painting was beautiful and David had met some incredible people in his travels including Prince William and Kate, Harper, and many other dignitaries.  The most moving was his experiences with the families of the soldiers he painted.  As the boys were chatting with David, I went over to speak to his wife.  She shared with me a story of a widow that came to see the painting for the first time with her two young children.  One was just a baby in her arms and the other, small enough to need help up the stairs. When they reached the top, she leaned over to her child and said, “Now go find Daddy”.  Another of the women had written letters to each member of her family the night before she was killed in battle and laid them on her bed, somehow she had known she would not be returning.  These stories had an immediate impact on me and I walked back towards David and my family with an entirely different appreciation of his work.  The poppy petals in the background of the painting represent the number of soldiers, which had given their lives in battle (over 80 000).  He was keeping track of the numbers of petals he had painted, on his palette, and had approximately thirty thousand more to add.  As we watched he painted a petal to represent our Great Grandfather.

                                                        David adding a poppy for Great Grandfather.

                                                                    Checking out the bunkers.

The war cemeteries are another vivid image I take away with me.  Beautiful white crosses and headstones standing proudly, in immaculately maintained gardens.  We visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach, Essex Farm where Flanders Fields was written, and cemeteries where Hillfield’s fallen were laid to rest.  What struck me was the number of places marked ‘known unto God’.  I knelt down at one and removed a snail that was making its way up towards the Canadian maple leaf.  I wondered who this soldier was. Was he married? Did he leave behind children?  I thought about his mother who would never know where her son had found his final resting place.  A tear slid down my cheek as I looked at the headstones to the right and left.  Spreading out in both directions were graves marked, ‘known unto God’.
The cemetery where the poem Flander's Fields was written.

                                                                        Omaha Beach Cemetery

Then there is the Menin Gate in Belgium, which holds a service every evening where the last post is played.  The spectacular monument was created to honour the more than fifty thousand soldiers who went missing in action.  The names are etched in beautiful white stone, and crosses and poppies dot the expanse, where a visitor has left a token in tribute.  Many of these names belong to the headstones marked, ‘known unto God’.  It is here where crowds gather from far and wide to participate in a moving ceremony to recognize and remember those individuals lost at war.  On our second visit a young piper accompanied the bugles.
The view of Ieper through the Menin Gate

After almost two weeks with Dan, the day had come for our visit to Vimy Ridge and the cemetery where Great Grandfather Mitchell was laid to rest.  I could tell Dan was a little more excited this morning, as were the rest of us. We walked through the trenches where Dan figured Great Grandfather had walked, we imagined the distances he travelled for respite, and ventured to the villages in the area where Dan believed he had been and written some of his letters.  The Vimy Ridge memorial was something words cannot explain.  Its white limestone rose up to an enormous beauty against the blue sky.  We were lucky to be there on a day when there were very few visitors.  We enjoyed her magnificence all on our own and paid tribute to Great Grandfather and the many soldiers that had given their lives for us. We were in awe of the memorial and proud of the way that the Canadian contributions are portrayed in Vimy.

                                                                             Vimy Ridge Memorial

                                                           The boys honouring their Great Grandfather

From the Vimy memorial, Dan led us to La Chaudière Cemetery.  After years of research, interest, and re-tracing of battles, Dan was finally at the resting place of his Great Grandfather.  We waited at the gates as Dan entered and walked directly to Private William Mitchell’s headstone.  He knelt down and cleared the dried leaves away from his resting place, beneath a maple tree.  Dan had brought pictures to reunite his family.  One was of his four children which he never had the opportunity to see grow up and his beautiful wife, who he also left behind.  We then joined Dan, as Mark played the bagpipes to celebrate his Great Grandfather’s life.  He played the song Maple Leaf Forever, which seemed fitting as the autumn leaves softly drifted to the ground around us.  He also played Danny Boy, a tribute to Dan and his journey, as I silently wished the rest of our family were here to witness this moment. 

                                                                             Great Grandfather

                                                                       The Mitchell name lived on.

Tomorrow we head to Paris to visit those iconic places I was so looking forward to visiting in France.  Somehow I don’t think their impact will compare to our experiences here, with Dan…..Thank you.