Birthday in Bruges

I can’t believe it but it’s our last full day of our journey as we will spend the next two making our way home! It’s been an amazing run and we are so grateful to have this trip of a lifetime. The kids have been terrific, helpful and got to experience many new cultures, cuisines and explore the beauty of Europe.

The last five days of our trip had been unplanned and we decided to split it between Germany and Belgium. Yesterday was my birthday and I cant think of a better way to to have spent it– the French fry museum, walking around the canals, spending time near the exquisite swans, munching on mussels and fries and a sundae with glorious hot melted Belgian chocolate!

PS- Did you know that the french fry originated in Belgium around 1750? A river froze one winter, and the Belgian people were unable to catch and fry their favorite small fish, so they cut potatoes in the shape of these fish, fried them up and served them as a substitute. Originally named “frites,” they got their American name when during World War I some French-speaking Belgian soldiers shared their frites with American soldiers who nicknamed them french fries.

— Elizabeth

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More gorgeous photos by Elizabeth

My talented wife continues to shoot beautiful photos
— Joe

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Bettona, Italy

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Small farm near Bettona

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One of two major cathedrals in Assisi

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Botero sculpture in Assisi’s Centro

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Assisi steps

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Assisi bakery with best cannoli ever

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Assisi: everything from monk mugs…

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…to actual monks

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One last majestic Assisi shot

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Sunflowers planted at a vineyard in Umbria

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Umbrian farm

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Il Duomo, Florence

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Enjoying the view from our Florence hotel terrace

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Terrace flowers

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What a spectacular city we found Florence to be

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Riomaggiore by the sea in Italy’s Cinque Terre

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Riomaggiore

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Santa Margherita Ligure, a quiet gem on the Italian Riviera

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Lucy and Nolan had so much fun in Santa Margherita

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The Picasso Museum, Antibes, France

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Wild Lavender growing at high altitudes in France (note the mountain-top observatory in the background)

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The busy, fun beach in Antibes

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There are thousands of items for sale in St. Remy’s outdoor market

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One of our favorite items is the juicy Cavaillon melon

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Dad loves the crazy selection of sausages

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Nolan has gotten good at choosing fruit

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Provence’s noisy, ubiquitous cicada known as the cigale

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A lovely house in the center of Arles, France

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Outside the St. Paul Mausoleum in St. Remy where Van Gogh painted Starry Night and more

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Lucy points out where poor Vincent lost something

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We came across a field of Camargue bulls

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Dad and Lucy made some loud ‘mooing’ sounds and they started to pay us an unsettling amount of attention

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Nolan at a Camargue nature preserve

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Wild flamingoes in the Camargue

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Wild Camargue horses

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Enjoying the nearby Salin de Giraud beach

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What we eat, and what’s eating us

As we enjoy our second week in Provence, Nolan has become a highly experimental diner. Last night, after a great day at the Salin de Giraud beach, we went to a restaurant in Stes. Marie de la Mer where he chose the Taureau (bull steak). Then, tonight here in St. Remy, he eagerly chose grenouille pekingoise (Peking-style frog legs). Photo evidence:

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When asked if the frog indeed tastes like chicken, his verbatim reply was “yes, but better.”

Last week, on the other end of the food chain, Lucy and I couldn’t resist the lure of the St Remy ‘fish spa’ pedicure, which has to be experienced to be believed…

First the attendant washes your feet with care

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Then you plunge your bare feet into a special tank, full of a Turkish fish species called Garra Rufa

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These fish survive by eating dead human skin cells, and they nibble them off your body in real time while you sit and soak in the tank:

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The whole thing is a tiny bit creepy and a whole lot ticklish (here’s Lucy trying not to bust out laughing while the fish wriggle and graze across her feet)

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Ultimately you get some very exfoliated and fresh-feeling feet, and two very happy customers:

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— Joe

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The most surprising bull tale ever known to man

When our family was walking home, on a normal old night, my dad heard loud cheering noises and fun music. It sounded like a carnival, so we went to check it out. When we found where the noise was coming from, we realized that it was a bull fight. Bull fights in France are like football or baseball games. Unlike bull fights, though, these are where the professional bull fighters are not fighting the bull, but the accomplishment is to cut a piece of string that is tied between the bull’s horns or something harmless like that. This bull fight was in the middle of half time, where all the kids get to play in the ring and the pool until half time is over. Anyway, when we got there, we decided to sneak in and take a peek. Right as we got settled in our seats, we realized that this bull fight was a free-for-all. That means that any old person from the crowd can hop off the bleachers and try to accomplish what a bull fighter might have done, or just do daring things, like jump in front of the bull, touch its horns, and jump over the side of the ring at the last minute. Something interesting that we noticed was that there was an over-sized kiddie pool that was in the middle of the ring. When half time was over, the bull was revealed. I have seen bulls in a bull fight before, but never have I seen one this angry before. Boy was that one mad bull. I felt really bad for it because you could tell all it wanted to do was crawl back in its stable. A few seconds after the bull came out, a bunch of teenagers started to flood the arena. Then some men. The first time someone tripped just as they were about to jump out of the arena…was not pretty. As the teen curled up into a ball, the bull was mauling the poor guy. Finally, the bull lost interest in him, and everyone was on the edge of their seats watching to see if he was okay. Covered in dirt, the (mostly) unharmed teen clambered to his feet as everyone clapped for him, limping back to the audience. In fact, we all clapped so much that you would have thought he was regal. The 2 more people who got mauled (I am exaggerating a lot right know) went like this: one lady did something that no one had done before. Instead of being ready at her feet, she sat in the pool and banged on the sides of it, sitting in the middle of the ring in a pool. When the bull did not really peak interest, a man was luring the the bull into the pool. Both the woman and the man ended up in the pool with the bull close behind. The bull was stomping on them, but it must have just looked that way from a distance because they got up unharmed and wet. The last big thing that kept happening was that the bull would occasionally jump over the little red fence so that anyone who was watching from behind the red ring would have to do their best to get out of the way.
–Lucy.

Here is a video we took there: click here

Here are some pictures from the professional bull fight we had seen in Arles earlier that day.

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Nolan’s first cappuccino

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Change of plans in Italy

After a truly wonderful week in Umbria and a super spectacular night in Florence, we headed to the Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore) for our last few nights in Italy. Unfortunately we and Riomaggiore did not agree with one another. At all. Put frankly, we *hated* it there. Way too touristy, shabby, loud, smoky. Not our style x 100. So, I scrambled and found us a perfect alternate in one of our favorite places in Italy, the sweet little seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, which we discovered on the road to Shannon U and David G about two years ago. Bonus: Got to see Portofino today. A MUCH better way to say Arrivederci to Italy. Tomorrow we head to France for the second half of our trip. So many indescribably wonderful experiences so far, with hopefully more to come.

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A poem by Nolan

Poor boy didn’t feel well again today so he stayed in and composed this poem

My sissy
Writes like a fervid flame in a conflagration
Speaks like an angelic alienated creature
Farts like a dyspeptic dragon
Theorizes with intellectual fervor
Ruminates scrupulously and cunningly
And most of all will always be my adorable little sissy

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