May 30, 2009

Long weekend in the Ardennes

Spending a portion of this sunny holiday weekend to write about last sunny holiday weekend... Want some pretty pictures? Here they be.

M and I got invited along with a group going to the Ardennes for Hemelvaart weekend. Someone arranged an apartment rental near the town of La-Roche-en-Ardenne and our group of 7 headed down in 2 cars after work on Wednesday. The 3 1/2-4 hour drive, coupled with a break for dinner, meant that we didn't arrive in La Roche until just after 11 -- which was when the apartment owner closes up the restaurant just next to the apartment and goes home. The other car arrived ahead of the one I was in and they called us to let us know that they had arrived, but that the restaurant was locked and dark, and any calls to the phone number of the owner went to the answering machine. I was starting to envision a long night spent sleeping in the car. Fortunately it didn't come to that, the owner eventually answered the phone and came back to give us the key. We unloaded the cars into a cosy, but spacious enough, apartment which was really the lower level of a house, the larger upper part also being rented out. It was in a lovely setting; right next to us was a little area with some goats, a couple of sheep, and a donkey, we were along a lane lined with fields containing some horses, and on one side of the fields was a river. We were just enough outside of the town to have it be more peaceful and pretty, but close enough that we could easily walk from the house to town.

On Thursday, after a breakfast of scrambled eggs eaten on the patio in front of the apartment, we walked into town to check it out (we had arrived after dark, so we didn't really get to see what it was like). Most of the group went on a walk through the nearby forest areas, but M and I stay in La Roche and wandered around. We enjoyed some French-style pastries and then went up to the castle ruins that hang above the town. The views were beautiful from up there, all quaint village houses and green hills. We also checked out the old Citroens that had been bumbling around town; some had stopped cruising and were showing off their cars in one of the main parking lots in town. I took a video capturing the French feel of the gathering, though the group was mostly Dutch people. That evening was spent waiting for a shepherd's pie that just would not cook; I think we ended up eating some time after 10. Then we all nearly had a heart attack when M was pulling the pie out of the oven and the shelf fell, spilling some onto the oven door. I think by then there would have been a mob if dinner was ruined.

The next morning we were treated to a clear blue sky that had us all out on the patio basking in the sun. The day was absolutely gorgeous and in the afternoon we headed out on another walk through the surrounding forest. It was so nice to be out amongst pine trees, though often we were reminded that we were far from being in a wilderness: one time we crested a hill expecting to see a beautiful landscape before us, but instead we had met up with a road and cafe; another time we were having a break in the woods and realized we could hear some not-so-distant traffic. That evening we made use of the large barbeque grill at the apartment and had a wonderful feast of kebabs, sausages, potatoes, and salad. We went back into town to have some Belgian beers at one of the cafes. Walking back to the house, it was nice to take in all of the stars you could see out in the country and it made me regret that I've forgotten so many of my constellations.

Saturday morning again was bright and blue and we had breakfast outside (in fact, all weekend we only ate one meal inside the apartment). Most of the group went into town to check some of it out. M wanted to visit the local war museum that documented the Battle of the Bulge that took place throughout the Ardennes and had devastated La Roche. It wasn't really my thing, so I stayed behind and went on a short walk along the river with a girl from the group. In the afternoon, we jumped in the cars and headed to Luxembourg, which wasn't as close as it seemed it should have been, it still took an hour and a half to get there. We spent the late afternoon and evening in Luxembourg City, the capital, which is quite beautiful, situated on upper and lower levels of hills and divided up by a couple of rivers. Unbeknownst to us, there was a marathon on that evening, so the main roads in the city were beginning to be blocked off. It caused a bit of a headache when we left later on, but it made walking around really quiet and unique. Once I paused on a bridge to just take in the sound of distant church bells ringing, which probably would have been drowned by the noise of traffic. The group began to go off in different directions and I went on my own on a loop of an upper part of the city that surrounded a park that laid in a valley-like area below the upper part. I did eventually venture into the park as well, which was large and quite different with various levels of paths cutting along the slopes. The group reconvened for dinner, choosing to go to an Indian restaurant we had passed earlier. Despite being in Luxembourg, and the waitstaff looking more Vietnamese than Indian, the food was excellent and we all nearly had to roll back to the cars.

Sunday was unfortunately our last day, but we were in no rush because there was no one booked into the apartment after us, so we could leave whenever we wanted. The day heated up quite quickly and was up to 27 degrees by the time we left mid-afternoon. After a pancake breakfast, we went off to go kayaking down the river that ran near where we were staying (and which carried on to run through La Roche). M and I shared a kayak, which I later regretted a bit when I was caught in the crossfire of a splash-each-other-with-our-paddles fight. It was all really fun though, I had a great time, and got a bit toasted out in the bright sun. After that it was just a matter of packing up and cleaning the apartment. We had one last outdoor meal, having a varied lunch to try and use up what remaining food there was, so we had scrambled eggs, bread, veggies, and French fries. All very yummy though... We then grudgingly left, trying not to think of work the next day. I said bye to M there since one car was going straight back to The Hague (the car I went in) and the other detoured through Maastricht (which M wanted to see). It was a wonderful weekend though, the group was really good, we were so lucky to have stayed in the place we did, and it was refreshing to get out into nature. Monday was definitely a rough day.

May 10, 2009

Bird show

A girl who was at the Andrew Bird show on Thursday liked the photos I posted on Flickr, so she's used some of them in her review of the show. Check it out, as well as the links to some videos on Youtube.