Monday, December 29, 2008

Week 30 - Belly Update

This is a pic from Christmas Eve, week 29.
Below are this week's belly pic. I have a hard time believing that we are all ready at week 30 and only have ~10 left. The first 3 months dragged by. We were so excited and yet didn't want to share the news as it was too early. Now the weeks are flying by.

I have been sleeping a lot on my Christmas break...about 12 hours a day. Yes, that means I am writing this at 10:30 pm and realize that I probably won't get up until 11 am. I really need to go to bed earlier so that half of the day is not wasted.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weekend in Milan

Friday we morning we caught a cheap Easyjet flight to Milan. Easyjet is a no frills, no fuss airline and makes even Southwest look luxiourios, but you can't argue with cheap fares! However, with a cheap airline there is always a catch....this one is that the flights usually use the smaller, more distant, airports. Our flight left from Schipol (AMS international and very handy) but landed at Milan Malpensa, about an hour from downtown Milan - by bus.

We like to use Rick Steves' Guide Books. His byline is "Experience the culture like a local - you'll spend less money and have more fun". The "less money" starts with the hotel. Kevin chose one of his cheap hotels. It was clean, functional, close to the metro and SMALL.

After checking in and freshening up a little we were off in search of food. My friend Andrea is from Milan and he gave me several recommendations, one of which was Luini's for panzerotti. It took a little effort to find but was well worth it! A panzerotti is a mini calzone that has been deep fried. I could eat 10 a day!

We then wandered past a statue of Leonardo de Vinci to the La Scalla opera house.
Leonardo de Vinci, he spent a major portion of his life working in Milan.

Me with La Scalla in the background.
We were able to get cheap tickets to Don Carlo, at La Scalla. So cheap that our original seats didn't have a view of the stage. If you stood up and leaned over the row in front of us you could see the heads of the opera singers on the right hand side of the stage. At the first intermission (about 20 minutes into the 4 hour opera) we moved down to the end where we could sit on the rail and see the actual stage, at least from center stage to stage right. We were directly above the orchestra (the trumpet section was a bunch of jokers), and so high that we could see in to the top of the chandelier. It is a beautiful opera house and was a very nice opera.

Fresco in the Galleria, in the evening.

To get the opera tickets we had to put our name on a list at 3pm and then return at 5pm to find out if we were high enough on the list. I was hungry, again (this is an ongoing theme for the weekend) so we found a restaurant in the Galleria and had risotto and pasta. Followed by coffee (espresso and a cappucino) and dessert (tirimisu and gelati). The Galleria is a covered shopping mall with frescos on the walls and a mosaic tile floor.

The duomo, lit up at 12:00am.
On our way back to the hotel (via the metro) we walked past the Duomo. It glows at night, very cool. On the metro, an older Italian woman offered me her seat - on every ride! This does not happen in the Netherlands. Come the afternoon or evening I gladly took the seat. In the morning I felt guilty, but they insisted...

View from hotel room.

Saturday morning, in search of breakfast on Via Dante.
Breakfast was included in our room, the only thing actually worth it was the cappucino/espresso we had. The "toast" and croissant came out of sealed packages...not really what you think of...
After showering we headed out in search of a cafe on Via Dante (another RS recommnedation). The town was quiet and the streets were pretty empty. We were on this same street later in the day and it was much busier. We found a cafe where we had more pastries, coffee, juice and a bathroom/toilet break. This weekend found me in need of a toilet every hour, if we weren't near a cafe I would go in to a maternity/baby store and open my coat and ask for their toilet. Who can deny a pregnant woman...

St. Bartholomew, carrying his skin.

After breakfast we toured the cathedral with Rick Steves. After touring the inside we took the elevator to the roof. Yes, you can also walk around on the roof. This cathedral is covered with statues and carvings. The roof is filled with them too.

Gargoyle drain spout on the roof of the cathedral.

Kevin imitating a gargoyle.

Flying buttresses, up close.

Me on the roof of the cathedral.
Front door to the cathedral.
After touring the cathedral it was time for lunch. We wanted to see the Sforza castle after lunch, so we made a quick stop at Luini's for another panzerotti to tide us over until we could find a pizzeria near the castle.
I loved the food here!
At lunch I needed to use the restroom, of course. I followed the signs in the pizzeria, which lef me into an alley and to the restroom. I opened the door and was suddenly reminded of my trip to Asia. The "toilet" was a porcelain hole in the ground. I am 7 months pregnant and squatting is not easy, getting back up is even harder. The "restroom" was not much wider then my shoulders and the "toilet" sat crossways. I was going to have to squat, with my face near the wall - at "pee" height for men. (Remember this is a shared bathroom). Picture a non-agile pregnant woman squatting on her heels and then having to get back up - all while trying not to touch the wall with her head, face (yes it was that close), or hands. There was no way I could hold it and wait for another opportunity...
The Sforza castle is all red brick and massive. This castle houses Michalangelo's last sculpture. It is unfinished as he died while carving it. It is a "pieta", which is a sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus. I am not into the religion behind the piece but was amazed at the detail. The legs of Jesus were almost polished where the back of Mary was nothing but rough chisel marks. It is really neat to see a "work in progress".

Kevin in front of Sforza Castle.

The moat.

The square inside the castle.

The tower.

Me outside the castle.

After seeing the castle we headed back to the hotel for a much needed nap. We had plans to meet Andrea and Francesca at 6:30 pm.

Andrea & Francesca picked us up at the hotel and we went for drinks before dinner. Dinner was at a traditional "Bolognese" restuarant. It was fantastic! Good food, good wine, good company and good conversation, what more can you ask for...

Sunday morning we had reservations to see the Last Supper at 9:30am. We grabbed a quick bite on the way there.

Church in which Leonardo's Last Supper is painted.

You are only allowed to spend 15 minutes in the room of the Last Supper, this is to control traffic and humidity, as it is deteroirating. It is painted on a wall of what used to be the dining room of the Convent.

Me outside the church.

After seeing the Last Supper we went in search of more food. After another quick bite we wandered back to the Duomo Piazza and wandered through the highend shopping streets. Along the way we stopped in the Peck Deli (very posh) to buy treats for Courtenay & Brian. We were shocked by the price of coffee beans in this place. 30 - 500 Euros for 1 kilo! The wine cellar was pretty spectacular too.

By this time we had seen most of what Rick Steves' recommended. I think a weekend is enough to see the city, maybe not eat all of its food but at least see the city. We tried to tour the Duomo Museum, however it looked to still be under construction. So we headed to the outskirts, via Metro, to see a replica of a bronze horse that Leonardo built.

Me in front of the "Horse". Leonardo's was used as target practice by French soliders. This one is a replica built by an American.

It was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the train station, to catch the bus to the airport.

We will definately be back to Italy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Meeting the Neighbors

Late last week we had a piece of mail mis-delivered to us. It was from the US IRS, so rather then immediately write "Return to Sender" on it and put it back in the mail Kevin looked the addressee up on Facebook, trying to find an email address to let them know we had their mail. The street was right, however the house number was completely illegible.

Turns out Courtenay (the addressee) is an American who works for Adidas and lives two doors down. Her next door neighbor is Andrea & Adam, Andrea also works for Adidas. They both have dogs so we took all 6 of our dogs to Beatrix park on Sunday. There were many jokes about our respective shoe companies and the little things about the Netherlands that are challenging.

  • Our joyous ABN Ambro experiences are not unique! Thank goodness it isn't just us.
  • No one picks up their dog shit. It is everywhere and I think we all get looked at like we are weird for picking up ours
  • You can be ticketed for not having your dog registered (and it is expensive to register them)!
  • You can also be ticketed for not having a poo bag on you while walking your dog, if you use the one you had and see an "enforcer" (which is likely at either Beatrix or Vondelpark) and do not have a spare you can be ticketed.
  • Dog food costs 67 euros for the same brand and size we would buy in the US for 28 dollars!
Courtney & Brian are going to watch Duke & Maggie this weekend, with their older golden retriever and Andrea's young chocolate lab. Bless their hearts as they are going to have a house full!

We are so glad that the letter was mis-delivered! Andrea & Courtenay also told us that our downstairs neighbors are German ex-pats with a little girl and a second on the way. Yay!! Possible baby friends, now we just have to meet them :)

We are headed to Milan on Friday. I don't know if I already posted that or not. Kevin was able to get us tickets to see the Last Supper too! Hopefully we will have some great pics of the city and not freeze. It has been somewhere between 4 & -2 Celsisus here for the last couple of days. Brr.

Sunday morning while Kevin was out for his long run (he is training for a half marathon and I am very proud of him!) I made cookies. We have an oven, but it isn't want you think of when you think of an oven. It is a little more then a glorified microwave. I think they are called "combi-oven", meaning you can broil, grill, bake and nuke food...It seems to be a Convection / Conventional / Microwave, all in one. One small problem is that it is small! About the size of an average microwave... Before I could start the cookies I had to figure out how to convert the grams that my butter comes in to the tablespoons the receipe calls for. I figured it out, but have now forgotten what the conversion is :) Something like 14.56 grams in a single tablespoon, of course the butter is marked in 50 gram increments... The cookies turned out quite tasty, particularly with a glass of halfevolle milk (I think this is equivalent to about 3%. It seems more creamy then 2% and is the next available step up from nonfat).

Sunday evening we went to dinner with a friend of Barry's (Kevin's oldest brother). He is in town for work, for the month, and Barry put us in contact with each other. We went to a "brown cafe". It was tasty, even if it was freezing outside!

A "brown cafe" is a cafe that has been around so long that the walls are actually brown from old cigarette smoke. You can't smoke cigarettes in any restaurant or bar in the European Union now, but you can smoke pot in "coffee shops" in the netherlands. One other note...if the sign reads "Coffee Shop" and not "cafe" or "Koffie.." then it is for smoking pot, not drinking coffee. You might be able to find coffee in a "Coffee Shop", however it is not the product of choice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Sinterklaas Story

You have to watch these on Youtube. There are 3 parts, part 2 & 3 repeat a few minutes of the previous one.

Yes, this really is the story of Sinterklaas!

"6-8 Black Men" by David Sedaris

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Week 27 - Belly Update

I am a little over 27 weeks. Over the last 3 weeks I have gained 1.5 inches in my waist and am up about 12 lbs from pre-pregnancy/post-knee surgery. I have started to "feel" pregnant more of the time. Rolling over in bed wakes me up, and the little guy is quite active!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Our Dutch Christmas Tree and a little reality check...

I worked from home on Monday, as our second Dutch (Nederlands) lesson was at 4 and it would kill my day if I went back and forth to Hilversum. I am really going to have to study this week as we learned enough new words that I will forget all of them without it.


Before our lesson Kevin had hooked up the bike trailer (which has proven to be very handy pre-baby) and went out to by a fake tree. I am allergic to Douglas Fir trees and we didn't want to risk a live one here while I couldn't take any good drugs.

A picture of Kevin putting the tree together.

When we got home from our lesson and after we had eaten, we listened to christmas music, drank hot chocolate and decorated the tree.

Of the many conversation topics we covered on Sunday, one of then was cheap tickets and where to find them. I had Kristen refresh my memory today and then started shopping, just to see what was out there… Wouldn’t you know I came across 2 tickets to Prague for 200 Euros, round trip! I quickly sent Kevin a text to confirm the dates and then booked the flights. We are headed to Milan on Dec 19 – Dec 21st (I was supposed to go to Bologna for work and Kevin was going to fly in and out of Milan to meet me there. My trip got canceled so we moved his flights and added one for me). We then go to Prague Jan 3 – Jan 6th. I am very excited. Now we just need to find someone to take care of the dogs for those days!


I have felt like crap all day, the best way to describe it is that I feel pregnant. I know, I am 6 months along ….but most days I don’t feel pregnant, today I did. Big, bloated, achy and gassy…I was going to try to leave work a little early but missed my train so I got home around 6. Kevin was at the grocery store with the dogs so I surfed the internet for a while, waiting for him to get home. While I was waiting, TNT Post (the mail) delivered a package from our insurance company (they have yet to get us our cards but can send us  box filled with something…). I waited for Kevin to get home to open it as I suspected what was in it. Home births are so common here that the insurance companies send you a box of most of the things that you need to have one. It was filled with all sorts of absorbent products that I think are meant for me… Now some of you already know, I am in denial about this whole thing. I am due on March 10th and I am denial about everything that will happen after March 9th, the labor, the delivery, not to mention the fact that we will have a new life for which we are responsible. The package from the insurance company made it a little more real. I think I will shove it all back in the box and hide it in the baby's room. 

A day trip to Cologne

Saturday we headed to Cologne with Kristen. We had heard that this is the Christmas market to go to (and it had occurred to me that I don't think I had ever been to a Christmas market), that and there was a Cathedral. 

We met Kristen at her apartment at 8:30 (it was all of a 5 minute walk from our place). We dialed in the route to Cologne and headed on our way. It was a 2.5 hour drive. 

We didn't go straight to the city center as we figured parking would be impossible, instead we parked several tram stops outside of the center and rode the tram in. We had a little bit of trouble interpreting the correct fare, and in the end paid less then we should have, but we made it after one transfer.

We walked out of the tram stop and looked up...yep that was a pretty amazing cathedral. For pics you can check out Kristen's blog (we pulled the typical "tastet" and hadn't charged our camera).

Kristen and I were starving so we decided to walk around to find a restaurant and have lunch. After a filling lunch (I thought I was getting a bratworst but actually ordered half of a chicken!), we were ready to attack the market. The first stop? Glugwein of course. None for me, but plenty for Kevin and Kristen. We then walked through the cute little stalls until it was time to meet the Meetin group (Meetin is a website that you can use to connect with others that are looking to do fun group stuff...think of it as insta-friend) for the private tour that Kevin had arranged. We followed a tiny little tour guide around the church, losing her every now and then.  We weren't able to walk around most of it (Kevin knows all of the technical terms) because confessions were being heard. 

Kevin and Kristen climbed the bell tower while I went looking for a cafe, as my back was killing me. They came back with some great pictures and a couple of shaking legs. We finished seeing the parts of the market we hadn't seen, purchased a couple of cute wooden toys for our son and then went looking for more food. By this time there were even more people in the market and there was a huge crush of people you had to make it through to leave. It didn't help that I was trying to eat a pretzel and fondue as we were walking out.

We headed to the tram stop and had to figure out how to buy tickets, again. We didn't have any change so we went to the window and stumbled through enough German to get the right tickets. Now to figure out which stop we needed...we missed our stop by about 3 stops and ended up walking back to the car. Thank goodness for the GPS....

All in all a good day.

Sunday we picked up the apartment a little, Kevin went for his long run (he is training for his first half marathon) and I went shopping for a food processor. I found a Cuisinart for 50% off, they told me at the store that most people here don't know the brand so it doesn't sell well. That is their loss and my gain!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ergo Baby Carrier

I just entered to win one of these...found the link on a friend of a friend's blog...If I don't win one we are going to buy one soon!

Win a Free Organic Embroidered Ergo Baby Carrier Hands Free System from Along for the Ride

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Turkey, Unpacking and more

It has been over a week since I posted. On the 24th our container arrived with all of our stuff. Prior to that I had tried to pick up the dining room and living room, knowing that those were the rooms that the boxes were going to be in...this meant I put the USB cable for the camera in a "safe place", so safe it took me a week to find it again.

The moving trucks... Yes it is all coming in the window.

Our container!

The cleanest our apartment has been in 1.5 weeks...the unpacking hadn't started yet.

Our apartment is now filled with boxes that are half unpacked, empty boxes and our own stuff!

We celebrated Thanksgiving by having turkey at Hard Rock Cafe. We were invited to an Adidas expat thanksgiving (a mutual friend of Bill & Bob's). I wasn't up to being social, particularly after having to work all day so we opted to risk Hard Rock. I am always suprised by just how bad their food is. I know, I know, I should have known it wasn't going to be good and would be filled with American tourists, but I was hopeful.

Friday evening we decided to make another, rather major, trip to Ikea. This time for a closet/wardrobe set up for our bedroom and more baby room stuff. Kevin is building a changing table/drawer/closet setup and we can never get all of the pieces we need at the same time. We had 2 of the "flat pack" carts filled, thank goodness they deliver and carry all of the boxes up the stairs. I am not much help when it comes to carrying things.

Saturday was spent assembling Ikea furniture.
On Sunday we broke down and bought our second Dyson. We had a Dyson in the US and loved it. We left it with Peggy & Joel as it wouldn't work here. Our friends Diane & Alexander have offered us their's, when they return to the US in June. We decided we couldn't wait that long for a vacuum and we didn't want to put up with anything less until then. We also rode our bikes to the a "Book Festival", which is basically a traveling book sale that is in a different town in either Belgium or the Netherlands each month. Wouldn't you know we came home with a box (it was small at least) of books. Just what we needed, more boxes.

Monday Dec 1 was our first Dutch lesson with Berlitz. Kevin and I are in a semi-private lesson with just the two of us. Now most people know we are both pretty competitive, especially with each this should be entertaining. It didn't take long before Kevin was showing off his advanced vocaulary and grammer while I was struggling with the basic introductions.

On Tuesday, Dec 2, I had to get up at 5:30...making a pregnant woman get up that early is just plain evil! I had to go to Laakdal for an all day meeting and I needed to catch the tram at 6:30 so I could be at Central Station to meet Tony at 7. Needless to say I slept for the first hour of the drive and went to bed as soon as I got home.

Today I came home to a quiet apartment. Kevin and the dogs were no where to be found, however there was suprise on the end table...a T-Mobile iPhone bag! It could mean only one thing...Kevin had gotten me an iPhone, bless his heart. He came home about 20 minutes later, with the dogs, later from the grocery store. He was in a pretty crappy mood as he had spent more time dealing with our favorite bank, ABN AMRO, and his sim card on his iPhone is locked...and he can't find the PIN. Which means he has to go back to the T-mobile store. It is actually a good thing he can't work yet as if we were both working we wouldn't be able to get any of this done.

Yes, 2 months later we still don't have internet banking. The latest dilemna is that you need this little nifty maching (called an e.dentifer) to log in to internet banking. We finally have one, however to use it you have to download the software. Here is the catch, to download the software you need to log in to the internet banking... Kevin has found one branch that actually provides some semblance of service, even with that it has taken weeks to make any progress. With all of the other branches you have to wait in line for an hour before they tell you to call the telephone bankning number, which charges you .10 a minute...even while on hold. ERRGH.

Kevin also met an American woman who is going to watch the dogs when we go away on the weekends (if we can ever get settled enough to get away). He met Denessa at Vondelpark with the dogs. He didn't want to walk (it is only 15 minutes) so he hooked the bike trailer up to his bike and then tied the dogs' leashes to the handle. I can only imagine the sight this was. Maggie lagging behind, not wanting to get too close to the wheels with her ears back (in her "I am not happy" posture), while Duke was trying to heel. Duke was heeling next to Kevin, while tied to the back of the trailer, which meant he was very happy yet choking himself. We have to figure out a better leash management system if Kevin is going to try this again! Once at the park a little boy came up to him and said something in dutch. Kevin told him he didn't speak dutch and asked if he spoke english (all in dutch). The boy answered in English "I speak dutch". He then asked if he could touch the dogs. Duke was pretty reserved at first, meaning he was only licking the boys arm...however Kevin saw what was about to happen next...yup, full tongue lick...from chin to forehead.

Saturday we are headed to Cologne with Kristen. We have been told Cologne has the Christmas market of all Christmas markets, and a cathedral that Kevin HAS to see.