Monday, September 15, 2008

People Are Alike All Over

Although we've been home for a couple of weeks now from our trip, it's still very much on my mind. I wouldn't call myself the most well-traveled person around, but I've definitely been to a number of places around the globe. There is one common occurrence just about everywhere I go, and that's the subject of this post.

As I've mentioned, on this trip to Belgium, we rented a car which gave us the opportunity to escape go places we wouldn't have the ability to get to otherwise. One place we visited was the caves of Han-sur-Lesse, a huge cave system by the River Lesse in the French-speaking part of the country.

The French-speaking area of Belgium, or Wallonia, has its own distinct building style and overall look, different from Flanders, or the Flemish part (both photos below are of Wallonia).

Walking through the caves is done with the help of guides, and the lines lead you to guides given in either French or Flemish (Dutch). RaggedyDad knows both, but preferred Flemish. In order for me to understand the tour, though, he tried to find out whether an English tour would be starting anytime soon.

We walked up to the head of the line and stood off to the side to wait, and that's when I heard it. "Eldar! Tered mehagader! Achshav U'Miad!" (Eldar! Get down from the fence! Immediately!) Yes, indeed. We had stumbled upon a large contingent of Israeli visitors to Han-sur-Lesse. On a Hebrew tour, of course. And they were more than glad to have us piggy-back along on their tour. So we got to listen to descriptions of stalagmites and stalagtites in Hebrew, interspersed with some Flemish courtesy of a neighboring group, and exchanged some small talk with Israelis along the way.

I smiled to myself for a while about the Israeli tour. It's probably because I just notice the familiar more, but I seem to find Israelis wherever I go. For this trip, Han-sur-Lesse seemed to be our Israeli interaction locale.

Until we got to the airport back in Cologne, that is. Once quick glance at my passport (place of birth: Tel Aviv) and the security check-in person assigned to our family gave me a once-over. The first words out of her mouth? "Efshar lehamshich itach b'ivrit?"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Belgium to the Fifth Power

This was my fifth time visiting Belgium. Here's a compendium:

Visit 1 (2001): We were engaged and I hadn't yet met anyone in RaggedyDad's family but his mother.

Complicating factor: Being not-yet-married, we were staying in different places. Cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now, so we spent a lot of time looking for each other at corners and checking our watches.

Nice factor: RaggedyDad's family drove us around to see some very interesting, off-the-beaten-path parts of the country. It was very fascinating and very new.

Visit 2(2002): We were married for a little under a year.

Complicating factor
: None!

Nice factor: No kids yet meant lots of freedom and very little luggage. We took a side-trip to Paris for a day.

Visit 3(2004): We went with Ann when she was a year old.

Complicating factor: Longish flight with a baby; more luggage than we were used to; baby Ann nearly fed ham-and-cheese baby food by well-meaning relatives

Nice factor: Ann and her cousin, five months older than she is, getting to know each other

Visit 4(2006): Ann was 3, Andy was nearly 1.

Complicating factor
: Hottest weather in Belgium in all the times I've been there. Nobody has air conditioning. Nobody has screens on their windows. Mosquito bites galore. In the news, Bush has just refused to sign Kyoto accord, so everyone seems to be blaming me for the heat!

Nice factor: RaggedyDad's sister moved into a house between this visit and the previous one, and her yard is enormous by our standards. Kids have a blast outdoors on grass, play equipment, and in kiddie pool.

Visit 5 (2008) Ann is 5, Andy is nearly 3, Little Rag is 1

Complicating factor: Ann is 5, Andy is nearly 3, Little Rag is 1. Complicated enough, no? The five of us share a bedroom for 2 weeks. The airports we are traveling to and from are kind of far.

Nice factor: The look on RaggedyDad's grandparents' faces as they saw the three kids, especially the baby, who looks just like RaggedyDad. Having a car for the first time while there gave us a much greater degree of freedom (as much as we can really achieve) and a sense of family exclusivity.

Next up . . . Tour the caves of Han-sur-Lesse with the Raggedies and a contingent of surprise guests!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How to Make Jetlag Work for You!

Belgium is 6 hours ahead of New York. While we were away, we stayed with RaggedyDad's sister and her family in their home. They've got 2 daughters, aged 5 and nearly 2.

Summer schedule in their household means that bedtime is on the late side. Here, I usually get everyone to sleep between 6:30 and 7 p.m., though Little Rag wakes up at least twice over the course of the night. Bedtime in Belgium, between the sun going down late and the kids being busy with extended family, ran more about 9:30 or 10 p.m. The kids woke up later, too.

Rather than make some kind of doomed-to-fail attempt to recreate their home schedule, we only encouraged the kids in their gleeful staying up late and the sometimes inevitable later morning sleeping that followed.

This all meant that when we came home, it was just a couple of days of making the effort for them to stay awake until 5:30 or 6 p.m., since that was just a couple of hours 'later' for them in Belgian time. The gist of it all is that we're back for 3 days and are doing fairly well with their sleep.

The one caveat is that by 5 a.m. or so, everyone's up. But when I consider that from the perspective of the mature adult I pretend to be on some days, I realize that this is actually beneficial. Ann's got a much earlier morning from now on due to the BGST ("Big-Girl-School" Transition), so early mornings will be busy and productive around here. Wish us luck! Yawn!!