Sunday, February 6, 2011

Back from a Blogging Sabbatical

That's right, folks, it's been seven months since I've updated this bad boy, and I'm not quite sure what the reason is other than simply getting out of the habit. The lack of motivation for posts is certainly not because we haven't had exciting happenings in our lives, as one might think  . Although we have indeed become a bit more domesticated with our house, massive backyards, and all the joys of upkeep that come with that, we still have a passion for traveling and embracing the culture of our host country and being on-the-go, and are looking forward to a Spring-o-Adventure ahead. Although I'm sure I'll miss some details of all that's been occurring over the past half-year, I will start with the present and work backwards to fill in the gaps.

Current Events

As of now, I'm writing this post from Texas where I've been for the past two weeks catching up with family and friends. I'll be here for two more weeks before heading back across the pond at the end of the month. Jon is having a splendid all expense paid 'desert vacation' in Qatar, which was supposed to be a trip to Camp Cupcake, although it is turning out to be a lot more work and stress than anticipated. The good thing is that he'll only have to be there two months before returning in early March. As always, life is a little more dull and mundane when Jon is away and after 5.5 weeks of being apart, I am ready to be surrounded by the chaos, laughter and constant elation that seems to accompany my one-of-a-kind husband.

Just yesterday I returned from a 3-day trip to Houston to catch up with three very dear childhood friends, Tanya, Allison and Kelly. Both Tanya and Allison were leaving for trips this weekend so our time was quite brief, but I was so glad I was able to catch up with them a bit and experience some of what their life is like. I stayed with Kelly and her fam for two nights and had so much fun doing a lot of nothing, which was perfect as it allowed for us to spend great quality time together. I treasure the times I can see my Stateside friends so much, as they are few and far between, and to be able to meet up on their turf, was quite special.

Christmas in the Netherlands

Markt Square in our town of Sittard

This year Jon and I experienced a beautiful white Christmas in the Netherlands. Although we were disappointed we were not able to join the rest of the Clough family in Africa, we had a great holiday season with friends in an idyllic Christmas setting. The snowfall began in early December and continued for the rest of the month providing beautiful powdery snow. Although it caused havoc for those traveling to and from Europe, I finally got the white Christmas I had been dreaming of. We spent Christmas Eve with a group of our close friends and a lazy Christmas Day together. That night we attended Christmas dinner in our neighborhood castle.

Posing in our Santa suits before the Maastricht 4K Santa Run

A few days later, Jon hopped on a plane to Qatar while I rung in the new year with my kind neighbors who invited me over. It was wild to see our sleepy little street turn into a war-zone with all the smoke and noise from the fireworks that every house had a stockpile of. Can't wait 'til next year when we'll be prepared with our own fireworks extravaganza.

Thanksgiving in NC/TX

Jon and I both were able to enjoy some stateside time in November with a trip to both VA/NC and Texas. Jon was asked to be a reader in his high school friend, Tim's, wedding in November. As it was the weekend before Thanksgiving, we decided to extend our time and make it a dual family trip. After the incredible wedding weekend in VA, we made our way down to North Carolina where we were welcomed by an elaborate early Thanksgiving meal and a mini-reunion with family. It was a perfect Sunday with gorgeous weather, delicious home-made cooking and the comfort one feels being surrounded by family. We spent a couple days at the farm visiting Mark, Karen and Sam, and Jon was even able to speak to Sam's first grade class for show and tell about the military. He did a great job and the kids comments were priceless!

The Catlin Clan at the Ranch

Soon after we were on a flight down to sunny, warm Texas where we spent our days at the ranch being outside as much as possible, eating plenty of Tex-Mex and hanging with the family. Jon was thrilled to be able to swim in the creek, chain-saw some trees, and ride horses. Although our trips always seem quite rushed to the U.S., there's nothing better than spending time with both sets of the family, especially when it involves a holiday.

A Baylor Reunion in Holland

Living in Europe the past few years, I've had the opportunity to visit with several of my exchange student friends from Baylor. I've had the opportunity to visit my Swedish friends in Sweden twice, and see my French friends in Paris a few times as well. We have talked about having a reunion where we could all come together, and I thought, now's as good a time as any. In early November, for two event-packed crazy nights, we hosted four Swedes, a French, and a Portuguese at our home. We had such an amazing time cooking Tex-Mex, embarking on a three-country pub crawl and re-living our many memories from four glorious months together in Waco, Texas. I'm so glad we were able to have this five-year reunion and I hope it can happen again before we leave Europe. We'll definitely be seeing them individually in their own countries, as there's nothing better than having a local guide! Sic 'em Bears!

Fall 2005 Baylor Exchange Students

Three Country Extravaganza with the Catlins

In mid-October, Lar and Charm came to the Netherlands to visit. Although this was Charm's third trip in 2010, it was Lar's first time to see our new home. We mainly hung around the local area, but luckily, the local area does include three countries. Living near the border of both Germany and Belgium, we spent our time visiting various towns in all three countries. We even visited the spot where the three countries come together.

The Dreilandenpunt - Where the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium Meet

In addition to spending lots of time in Sittard, we enjoyed taking day trips to other nearby cities, such as Aachen. Home to the throne of Charlemagne, we visited the Aachen Dom and other beautiful buildings in the historic old town.

In front of the Aachen Dom in Germany

Touring the mills in Maastricht, the Netherlands

During their last weekend, we went to Bruges and spent two-days sight-seeing in this adorable town. We took a canal cruise, visited the parks, churches, and town hall and made plenty of time for hot chocolate stops, exploring the many Belgian beers, and of course, tasting lots of Belgian chocolate.

At the boat dock before our canal cruise

Enjoying delicious hot chocolate

Exploring the many chocolate shops

The weather could not have been more beautiful and we experienced some of those perfect late-autumn days while touring around this famed city. As always, we had the most incredible visit with my parents and I'm so thankful they are able to come as often as they are to take part in our many European adventures.

Sunset in Bruges

Bruges by Night

Bruges by Night

Oktoberfeest and Air Force Ball

The night before my parents arrived, we attended the Sittard Oktoberfeest with a big group of friends. After attending the real Oktoberfest in Munich, I didn't know what to expect by our small town in the Netherlands interpretation of this event. We were surprised with how extensive this six-day event was with a huge carnival area, three entertainment tents, and various acrobatic attractions each night. Jon and I enjoyed being able to wear our lederhosen and dirndl get-up while jamming to some oompah music.

There was a group of about 20 of us at the festivities and in addition to hanging in two different tents, we also took part in the various carnival rides. This is one Sittard event we definitely hope to make a tradition!

The following night we attended the Air Force Ball in a nearby castle. This was my first military ball and although it wasn't Jon's favorite evening, I enjoyed being able to dress-up, have a formal dinner and dance in a castle. We were pretty exhausted from the activities of the night before, but still managed to have a blast. What a weekend!

Norway in a Nutshell

Jon spent the month of September at the Arctic Survival School in Norway. Needless to say, I think this was one of his favorite experiences in Europe yet, and I enjoyed meeting up with him at the end of his course to have a long weekend in Norway. We stayed in Oslo two nights and toured the infamous Town Hall where the Nobel Peace Prizes are given, the royal palace, and the Viking Museum.

Viking ship at the Viking Museum

Our second night in Oslo, we met up with Jon's Norwegian battle buddy from survival school, Koda, and his girlfriend. We had a great time hearing about their many adventures over the three weeks at a Spanish tapas restaurant.

Dinner in Oslo with Jon's Norwegian "battle buddy"
The following day, we boarded a train bright and early for a 24-hour tour between Oslo and Bergen called "Norway in a Nutshell." We crossed from the Western part of Norway to the Eastern coast train-ing through lush forests to  rocky and sparse high altitudes and even saw a glacier in the distance. We changed trains at this point and descended down through the mountains to the fjords.

Training through the Norwegian countryside
On this scenic train ride, we were given the opportunity to stop and view this breath-taking waterfall.

One of the many waterfalls along our scenic train ride

Once we reached the edge of the fjord, we boarded a boat and gained a new perspective from the water of viewing Norway's natural beauty.
Encountering a viking on the fjord cruise

I had heard of Norway's scenery, but nothing prepared me for the expansive views of the landscape of this sparse country. It is so rich in beautiful scenery and I was amazed at how much variety Norway offers, even in the small part of the country we saw. After my first trip to Europe, I believed that Switzerland was the most beautiful country due to the mountains, but after seeing Norway, which n ot only has mountains, but lakes and fjords and plains and much more, I'm convinced that this country of varying landscapes may be the most beautiful I've seen yet.

View of Norwegian Fjor
After departing the boat trip, we were greeted by a folk community who re-inact the Viking lifestyle. We then took a bus to the west coastal town of Bergen where we spent a couple hours before boarding a night train back to Oslo.

Two Vikings
We arrived back in Oslo at 7:00 a.m. and spent the morning in the beautiful Frogner Park. This 80 acre park features 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. Later that morning, we headed for the airport, amazed at how much we accomplished during our long weekend. We truly experienced Norway in a Nutshell!

Frogner sculpture park in Oslo