Author Archive: Vanessa

Backtrack to the Mediterranean

I didn’t get a chance to post anything here while we were in Sete.  So here we go.


We spent our first week in Europe ON VACATION.  My coworker and our friend, Chris, has a house in Sete, a beautiful fishing village near Montpellier in the South of France.  After twisting our arms, we agreed to bring our family of four, with 6 weeks’ worth of luggage, including our mobile office, and invade his quiet existence.  We even settled for inhabiting the entire 3 bedroom upstairs while Chris and his wife camped in the studio downstairs.  We were joined upstairs by another friend, Joelle, a retired teacher from Paris.  She was also on vacation at Chez Christophe.  I think we did well as B&B roomies, made meals together, and chatted in odd broken-Frenglish, mostly just finding different ways to convey our delight at the much needed and totally successful vacation.



I must say I’m very proud of the way the kids behaved in this very friendly but otherwise childless environment.





Seven days in Sete consisted of gradually adjusting to the 9 hour time difference, late morning coffee, early afternoon walks to the beach for ice cream and more coffee, petanque in the garden, dinner (more coffee), and a fair amount of movie and minecraft time as well.






Zumba on the beach.  Purely a spectator’s sport.







Sete is a small island connected by a couple roads to the mainland.  Chris’ house is about 1/3 of the way up the hill of the island, a nice 15 minute walk to the beach.  We enjoyed walking through the tiny sidewalkless streets to an from the beach, admiring the REAL Mediterranean architecture on the way.  Of course Brian’s favorites were a couple houses that could have been clipped from the cover of Dwell.  But hey, they’re Mediterranean now, because… they’re right here.












I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and connected facades in the main part of town.  It was there that we met some young boys who were excited to use a little English to introduce themselves and ask to be in a photo with the kids.  I think they wanted to get close to Josie, but she was having none of it.  They were asking me in French if she was my daughter, and saying she was beautiful.  They learn early, these 8 year old players.  They were happy to take this photo with Liam, after which they followed us for a couple blocks.  Josie was a bit spooked.  I told her I thought I could take ’em.

After seven relaxing days in Sete, Chris drove us back to the train station and sent us on our way to Brussels, and eventually back to work.

But here are a few more pictures of the kids hamming it up anyway….

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In Bruges



On several recommendations, we boarded a train today for Bruges.  No, we haven’t seen the movie yet, but we have it cued up for this evening.  After a lovely ride through the Belgian countryside, we arrived on the platform in Bruges.


We soon found the old town, with cobblestone streets and canals running through.




At lunch, Brian ordered mussels.  Liam and I each tried some and liked them.  Josie was okay to stick with her fries.  She’s not usually eager to try new culinary options.  However, I offered her $10 to try one, and $100 if she liked it and wanted more.  She ate FIVE!  I consider it $100 very well spent.











After lunch we walked around the town more.  Some very cool OLD stuff including a 13th century hospital/museum, and a boat tour…







Flying buttress!!





Naked woman searching for contact lens.



Houses painted with the blood of tourists. (The tour guide had an interesting sense of humor, and looked not unlike Bradley Cooper.)



Buildings that go right down into the water.  I’m easy to please.  When I finally make it to Venice one day – I will lose my mind.




And a rest in the park.


Followed by more treats…


Good spirits for the late ride home.


On our way home we had a couple interesting challenges.  The train back to Brussels seemed to just not show up.  I’m sure there was an announcement, but the stupid Americans didn’t have a clue.  In French I can pick up about 5-10% of the gist of overhead announcements.  Here in Flemish country I am completely lost.

We got on a slow train which was going to take about 2 hours to get back to Brussels.  No problem except that it was already 9:00pm, and Josie was getting a little worried.  It was a good chance to share with her an important point.  “I understand you are worried, that’s okay.  But this is why I am not worried: We are all 4 of us together, we have plenty of food and water, and money in our pocket.  Even if we just got on a train headed in the wrong direction, we will be fine.”

This worked.  And of course we were not headed in the wrong direction.  At Ghent, the ticket taker was kind enough to tell us that a faster train was coming on the next platform in 9 minutes.  So we transferred to a super crowded express train and got back to Brussels at 10:00 instead of 11:00.

One final weird thing happened in Brussels.  We got off the train platform, and somehow made it into a section of the station that was separate from everything else.  One long hallway with stairs to the various train platforms, but no ticket counters, no information, no signs or connections to the Metro or any other local buses.  I felt like we stepped into the Twilight Zone.  For a moment we thought the station had closed up at 10:00 or something.  We went outside onto the street and used the last of our phone battery to look for the nearest Metro station.  We’re pretty comfortable with the Metro system here now, so that’s all we needed to find in order to get within 1 block of home.  That is, as long as Brussels Metro system doesn’t magically turn into a pumpkin at 10:00pm.

Of course that was not the case.  We walked 50 yards to the next door back into the same train station, only this time it looked like the lively, bustling station we had left several hours earlier.  There were the Info booths, and the escalators both up and down, to the international trains as well as to the local Metro.  The Twilight Zone episode ended as quickly as it had begun.  Oddly, this is what I live for.  I love a good mystery.  I love a good Brian.  I love exploring new things with my family.  So getting hit with a weird mystery, with Brian, and solving it together with the family…. what else is there?

So we made our way down to the Metro, which of course looks a bit different at 10:00pm compared to all the midday trips we have made so far.  Still it’s a very friendly place, some excited young families, and late commuters, and one old guy with a harmonica and his hand out.  Just enough color to make it interesting.

Yesterday was a great day.  Today (Sunday) we slept in, cleaned the house, and are working our way through a day-long ping pong tournament.

Love to all.


Museum of Musical Instruments


Yesterday we made a most amazing find.  The Musical Instrument Museum next to the Royal Palace in Brussels.  This is becoming a habit for us.  In Almaty, Kazakhstan and even in Athens, Greece on our honeymoon, we stumbled upon tiny musical instrument museums with amazing old folk instruments.  Each time it has proven to be a highlight of our trip, and this time was no exception.

There are several reasons this is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.

1) I have visited very few museums

2) Music is awesome

3) Musical instruments have a unique ability to communicate cultural and historical context, just by their look and feel

4) This is an extremely extensive and rich collection, from ancient to less ancient, and from all over the world

5) The interaction design of the museum is f-ing genius!

We received a modified iPhone to carry around, which automatically plays the music of whatever instrument you are standing in front of.  So simple, and yet SO powerful.  We spent a few hours exploring, and all 4 of us were completely engaged that entire time.  Truly amazing.

I took way too many photos.  Here are a few, illustrating some of the extent of the collection:

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Enjoying the sounds.


An entire sheep’s body?

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I count 24 pegs….

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 I want me a hurdy gurdy more than I can say!

– – – – – INTERMISSION – – – – –



Lunch at the rooftop cafe:


We ventured up to the roof, lured by the smell of something good.  We found some good food and a beautiful sunny view.





“SAX200 is an exhibition in the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels about the life and works of Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, on the occasion of his bicentenary (Dinant, 1814 – Paris, 1894)”

After lunch we explored the remaining two rooms.  I must say I really don’t care much for the saxophone.  I love all sorts of music, but the sax just doesn’t really do it for me.  However, this exhibit is still entirely impressive.  Check out some of these instruments!



Some crazy originals….


What is this even for??

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Original Sax-cloche symphonique.  A symphonic clock bell?  I have no idea.


Sax-Mahler connection.


And a letter from the British patent office granting his patent on the saxophone.  Neat.

Sound Lab


The final room was on the basement level.  I thought it might be a kids’ area because it was called the Sound Lab.  I was initially disappointed that there weren’t any interactive exhibits (I still would argue that they could have made the theramin an interactive exhibit, since you don’t actually touch it to play it anyway).  But it was plenty awesome for what it was.

This is the room with all the music machines.  From music boxes to organs, magnetic tape recorders to synthesizers, and the aforementioned theramin.  Again, it is far less impactful without the soundtrack, but here is a taste of what we saw:

















Water Jousting


Saturday in Sete.  The water jousting semi finals.  These guys take turns standing at the back of the boat, and trying to knock the other guy off.  Awesome.  Each boat even has a little band with a drum and a piccolo(?), playing attack music.  The event lasted 3.5 hours!  Plenty of time to watch 20-30 rounds, then go have lunch, check out the town, and come back for another several rounds.  Beautiful day.