February Happenings

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Although February was busy, we haven't done quite so many glamorous trips as at the end of February. At the beginning of the month Melanie had a 2 day meeting in Maastricht, in the southern tail of the Netherlands. Chris came along and spent one day visiting the Orval monastery in Belgium and the other day exploring Maastricht. The following two weekends our friend LeeAnn came to visit (she had a class here during the week) and mid-month we bought a boat!

Maastricht is an interesting city because it is in the tail of the Netherlands sandwiched between Germany and Belgium. It has been an important city since Roman times because it has always been at a natural N-S/E-W crossroads between major cities. It also sits along the river Maas, which made it an important shipping port. And, it had a bridge across the river, which made it an important city as well. In its history, the city has seen 21 wars. Today it is a modern international city yet with a small regional town feel.

Chris visited the Basilica of Saint Servatius and the Treasure-house Basilica of Our Lady. The Basilica of Saint Servatius was begun to house the grave of Saint Servatius who died in 384 AD.

Many Saints relics or pieces of Saints are kept in the Basilica. In this box from the 12 century are kept some of the relics.

Many Saints relics or pieces of Saints are kept in the Basilica.

Because of its location so close to so many borders, before the euro was introduced the Maastricht market would accept (minimally) Dutch, German, Belgian, and French currencies. It is a charming city with many medieval streets remaining (now pedestrian only) and much of it's old wall intact - now with houses built on one side. Chris found several watch and antique stores, so this may be a place to keep going back to.

Southern Netherlands has historically been Catholic, so during the days before Ash Wednesday that part of the country celebrates Carnival. It's a bit like Mardi Gras only less attention on alcohol and lots of attention on costumes and floats. It's a real family affair and whole groups get dressed up in matching outfits. We were there too early for Carnival, but they were already starting to put out the decorations. To see some great pictures of Carnival go to the Kantors Abroad March 7 travelpod.


As we may have noted in previous travelpods, there are only seven trappist beers in the world - meaning that they are brewed in a monastery under direct supervision of monks (and a few other qualifications). Orval is one of the largest of these (along with Chimay). The first day that we were in Maastricht there was a lot of rain so it was not nice to explore the town. So, Chris drove 2 hours south into Belgium to the Orval monastery. In addition to brewing the beer, the monastery also makes cheeses - some of which are only available within a close proximity to the monastery.

The Monastery itself was founded in 1070. It was destoyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt starting in 1926. The ruins of the original monastery can be viewed.

Our friend LeeAnn visited for two weekends. We were too busy having fun to take pictures, but let's just say that we really like it when people come visit, so if you're considering a visit but afraid you'll impose, please don't be afraid. Just come on over!

The Rijksmuseum is currently under renovation, and therefore mostly closed, but they do have one wing open with many of the masterpieces displayed -- including Rembrant's Nightwatch. It's really quite nice because it brings the museum to a manageable size and focuses on only the best, so we actually enjoyed it more! We also visited the Our Lord in the Attic church, located in the top floor of a canal house in the Red Light District. After that, we wandered through the red light district, making sure to show LeeAnn the penis fountain. She thought it was so funny that we spent the rest of the weekend in search of a penis fountain post card for one of her friends!

We also went to the Van Gogh Museum, the Singel flower market, the Noordermarket, shopped on the Haarlemeerstraat, and took a side trip to the town of Haarlem. In Haarlem we went to the Frans Hals Museum where, in addition to more Dutch Masters paintings, we saw an incredible doll house (also 2 at the Rijksmuseum), a set of hand-made incredibly intricate bedcurtains (really, they were amazing!), and Chris' mom's favorite painting - 74 Dutch proverbs in 1 painting. Haarlem also has great shopping including a really good kitchen utensil store and several house-stuff stores, so we powershopped as well. In all, a lot of activity in a short period of time!

And now, our big excitement of the month: We bought a boat! It's a 4.5 meter steel "working boat" with an 8 hp 2 stroke engine. It's perfect for the canals because 1) it's steel so it will not likely be damaged when other people run into it (or we run into the side of the canal trying to park), 2) Chris saw it out of the water so we know it is freshly painted and there's nothing nasty on the bottom, 3) 8 hp is plenty for the canals, where a wake is not permitted anyway and 4) it will comfortably hold about 6 people, but is small enough that 4 people won't feel too far away from each other.

We've had an incredibly mild winter - until we bought the boat - after which it suddenly got the coldest that it's been (actually below freezing!) and we had snow every day for the remainder of February. Now we're really ready for spring!

In mid-February we already noticed that flowers were coming up. The daffodils were already in bloom in the park where Chris runs! By the end of the month the crocuses were also up and, in many places, blooming. Chris planted about 300 bulbs (an exaggeration, but not by much) in pots on our terrace and many of them had shoots 3-7 inches high.

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