A Travellerspoint blog

An afternoon in Sluis and a long flight back

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The day before Carys and I flew back to America, we spent the afternoon with Aunty Susan and Uncle Vincent. Carys had not met either of them before this trip and I'm happy to report that they all had a great time together and Carys still asks after them :) We also spent time with Vincent's parents Frank and Solange (who were wonderful hosts to us throughout our stay in Bruges) and also our Mum and Uncle who had travelled from Australia. This trip was the first time our Mum had left Australia in over 30 years and by all accounts, she thoroughly enjoyed her time back in Europe.

After lunch, Aunty Susan entertained Carys with bubbles and fun in the back garden. We also tried to find the two fish in the pond and entertained our family with singing, dancing and 'jungle' adventures through the garden foliage before heading off to visit the nearby town of Sluis, a small town in the south-western part of the Netherlands.

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We parked the cars and started strolling. Sluis is a very pretty town with a large windmill and Belfort tower dominating the skyline. It is also home to one of the Netherlands' two Michelin three-star restaurants. Unfortunately, the restaurant will be closing for good in December 2013.

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The Belfort

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A touch of home?

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Obligatory clog photo. When in Holland...

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De Molen van Sluis... a brasserie and tea rooms

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Carys loved her ride on the Palomino Stallion!

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A warming drink and a fond farewell to Sluis and family old and new and we were back on the road to Bruges to pack for the long journey back to America. We had an early start the next morning to catch the train to Brussels and unlike the journey to Bruges, plenty of people offered to help me with my bags. Conveniently near the check in at the airport, there was a small play gym and Carys had a fun time before we headed through security. For the first time in a long time, I managed to watch two movies in a row whilst Carys had a long sleep on the plane. I wish she slept like that on the overnight flight to Brussels at the start of our trip!

Posted by dinige 17:54 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Beautiful Bruges

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In 2003, Nigel and I spent a beautiful, snowy New Years Eve in a small medieval town called Bruges in Belgium. We always wanted to go back but little did we know that nearly 10 years and 1 child later, we would return for the wedding of my little sister.

On the day of our departure, Carys cried for the whole 40 minute trip to the airport. I knew it was going to be a looooooong flight without Daddy to share the load. Armed with a large suitcase, a heavy child, and 2 carry on pieces we checked in and checked out the airport. This was the first time we actually looked around the airport as the last time we were there was the day we arrived in Jacksonville. It's actually a nice airport! Heading through security, we were able to bypass the whole body scanners because I was carrying Carys and Carys was made a 'Transportation Security Administration Junior Officer' for her good behaviour. Whilst waiting to board our first plane to Atlanta, Carys was allowed to choose 2 toys to take with her on the plane and she chose a Dora the Explorer ball and a small medical kit. She loves her stethoscope and pretends she is Doc McStuffins (a cartoon girl who is a Dr for stuffed toys).

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2 planes, 15 hours, a few time zone changes and 2 hours sleep later we arrived at our accommodation in beautiful Bruges! We settled in, had a sleep and set off on some exploring. The Spring weather was quite cold after coming from hot Florida but with plenty of walking and playing we were warm in no time. There was a park a short distance from our house and once we got there, we found there was a National Day concert happening. Behind the concert and partygoers was the playground we were after and although it was packed, Carys had a great time running around. We headed into the main square for an early dinner and we stopped at a very popular photo spot on the way. Somewhere among our stored possessions back home, there is a photo of Nigel and I in this same spot from 2003. I can't wait to find it when we get home! Note how much greenery is on the tree and compare it to a photo later in this entry. Two days after our arrival, Nigel joined us for the wedding weekend.

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Here is an awesome 360 degree view of the Market Square (Markt), and here are a few photos from our time in Bruges...

A traditional deli

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A wall of beer (each beer has its own unique glass)

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Antique bicycle

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Beautifully refurbished building

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Festive entrance

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Early morning

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Tourist free

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The Fish Restaurant

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A late afternoon view of the Old Civil Registry on the left and Town Hall (Stadhuis) on the right... A beautiful place for a Civil wedding!

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Speaking of a wedding or two, the wedding day arrived and it was a beautiful fresh morning. We entered the Stadhuis and were greeted by the fabulously ornate Gothic Hall. I don't have any decent pictures to show as we were all rushed in and out. You can see images of the Stadhuis by scrolling around the Bruges website at the start of this post. After the civil wedding and champagne reception there was enough time for more sightseeing and some lunch.

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Mid afternoon was the church wedding in a tiny church in the middle of town. We had walked past the back of this church a few times during our stay but didn't actually realise what it was! It was a long day for Carys but she performed her very first flowergirl duty very well. Here she is!

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The happy newlyweds!

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Two sisters

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So alike on our wedding days!!

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I don't have any photos of my sister and I at the formal reception and I don't have any of our little family but hopefully I can update this blog post when the official photos are released. Stay tuned! We had a fabulous and very late night at the reception but we were up early again the next day for a final day of sightseeing before Nigel went home. We toured the cobbled streets by horse and carriage and later toured the canals by boat.

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We bought chocolate at one of the numerous chocolate shops and drank beer at one of the many pubs. We walked around town some more and ate chocolate covered waffles. On our last day in Bruges, we waved a sad farewell to a little mate that we visited every day. Apparently, he sits in the windowsill all day, everyday watching the tourists and the canal boats go by!

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Remember the photo of Carys by the tree? Here we all are 4 days later on our final day in Bruges together!

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After a busy few days Carys and I had one final day in Bruges before we returned home but I'll leave those stories for another day...I'm pooped!

Posted by dinige 15:21 Archived in Belgium Comments (3)

A new toy, haircut and friend

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First off, I want to thank you all for your comments, I hope you are all enjoying this blog! For those that aren't aware, you can sign up as a subscriber so that everytime I publish a new entry, it will come straight to your inbox instead of waiting to see it on Facebook (you can do this at the menu bar on the side of each entry). For those friends or family that aren't on Facebook, I hope that you are aware of this blog because I am writing these entries for you all so that you can see what we are up to and so you can follow our adventures.

For Carys' 2nd birthday and Christmas last year, we asked for a monetary gift or small gifts in lieu of large presents. The reason for this was that we were not able to bring a large number of items with us when we moved to the USA. We have been slowly building a new toy collection with these gifts and the largest of these so far was a new trampoline! We bought a second hand tramp in very good condition (in case we can't bring it back with us) and I managed to hide it in the back yard for the duration of the build process. I don't know how Carys didn't see it but when the time came for the big reveal, Carys squealed with delight and couldn't get on it fast enough! "A new trampoliiiiiiiiinnnnnneeeee!!"

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The trampoline is such a wonderful gift for Carys because she loves to jump, run and fall on it as much as she wants and it is used almost everyday.

A few days before we flew to Bruges in Belgium for Aunty Susan and Uncle Vincent's wedding, we visited a special kids hairdresser around the corner from Daycare. As soon as we walked in we saw a number of special seats, among them a firetruck, a police car, a plane and a boat. Miss Rebecka let Carys choose her own seat (a firetruck), blew some bubbles, painted her nails, let Carys choose her own dvd to watch and trimmed her hair. With so much distraction, Carys hardly noticed her haircut until Miss Rebecka plaited her hair and sprinkled more glitter. I think Carys was a bit disappointed that she couldn't watch a whole episode of Dora the Explorer! This was only Carys' third haircut and hopefully we might fit another few in before we go home so she can try the different seats :)

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Next up was a trip to the Jacksonville Zoo. The zoo is a well spread out attraction that we only saw half of on the day we visited. After a kiss and a cuddle for another painted turtle, we headed through the gates and the first thing we did was decorate a new set of binoculars to better see the animals with.

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Carys had a great time looking at the animals with her new binos but her favorites were the alligators and the giraffes, which we even got to feed!

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After lunch, we headed down to the part of the park closest to the river to enjoy the cool afternoon breeze. This part of the park is home to a wildlife carousel where you get to ride a zoo animal instead of a traditional horse. After about 5 rides and 3 different animals later we found the lovely Butterfly Hollow which was also home to a few fairies. We had to look very carefully for the tiny fairy houses and we found a few but the fairies were nowhere to be seen.

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Hidden away in a back corner of the zoo was a sealed off construction zone area where mysterious eggs had been discovered. These were later found to be dinosaur eggs and the adult dinosaurs had claimed that part of the zoo as their own. We snuck in for a look and let's just say we were lucky to make it out with our lives! We escaped onto the zoo train to calm down and see the rest of the zoo so we could plan our return trip.

After a long day wandering around the zoo, it was time for a wine from the wine tree. Unfortunately and most unfairly, all of the bottles were empty. Not happy, Jan!

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Posted by dinige 12:27 Archived in USA Comments (4)

An Atlanta Weekend

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Uncle Aidan was having a birthday and we headed to Atlanta to help him celebrate :) We left home after work on Friday and after a long 6 hour drive and an interesting dinner stop we arrived at the home of Aidan's In-Laws-To-Be in Tyrone, Georgia just before midnight.

One thing that has been interesting for us is experiencing the food here and in our quest to get to know who does what, we stopped at a place called Western Sizzlin, which is a steak and buffet restaurant serving southern comfort food. The pictures made it look so good but the buffet was scary! There was a lot of deep fried things and things covered in strange sauce or gravy and in general the food was crappy and we are never going there again, lol! By the way, if you ask for a medium rare steak, it comes out rare here. Note to self, order medium or medium well!

Steve, Julie, Aidan and Meg welcomed us to their lovely home with some well deserved drinks. Carys had not slept at all in the car and finally decided to fall asleep on my legs around midnight and was conveniently awake early the next day. A few strong coffees and some nature watching later, we were off on our first adventure for the day, Stone Mountain.

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Our first stop was the cable car ride to the summit, 825 ft above ground to the top of the mountain. The wind was chilly but the view was amazing! We had a great view of the Atlanta skyline, the Appalachian Mountains and the puffed walkers who walked the whole way up the mountain. Some people were flying kites, others were taking a break and some stole my camera and took random photos (Uncle Aidan!)

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The main eye catcher at Stone Mountain is the huge Confederate Memorial Carving which is the highest relief sculpture in the world. To give you an idea of the size of the carving, the stone carvers could easily stand on a horse's ear or inside a horse's mouth to escape a sudden rain shower! There is a lasershow which I believe is held most weekends but we had other plans this time but we may see it next time we visit.

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Next up was a trip on the scenic railroad and there weren't many things to photograph other than the side of the mountain or the forest. We did say hello and thank you to the Engineer though and Carys enjoyed looking at 'Thomas' up close. After lunch and more wandering around, we were off to our next destination, Medieval Times for dinner and a show.

Because we were celebrating Uncle Aidan, we were seated in the front row. The food was plentiful, the drinks flowed and sand from the galloping horses was flicked in our faces but we loved it! We cheered for the Yellow Knight who eventually lost that nights tournament but the sparks from the sword fighting was just as exciting for Carys as her light up rose and yellow flag.

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With full bellies and cardboard crowns still in place, we headed off to meet Aunt Meg's brother and his family who were also in town. This was a great opportunity for us all to meet and also for Carys to meet Alden who is a year older than her. Alden and Carys will both be a part of Uncle Aidan and Aunt Meg's wedding in September. Carys and Alden had a great time playing, dancing and giggling with each other playing Kings and Queen's with their little cardboard crowns. It was so great to watch them together!

After another early morning wake up by Carys, we readied to depart the wonderful hospitality of Steve and Julie. We were off to the Georgia Aquarium before heading home again. Right opposite the Aquarium is the World of Coca-Cola and a lovely park, both of which we hope to explore another time.

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The first thing we did once we got inside was go to the Dolphin Tales show. The story was about the Starspinner who used to travel the world using the stars to guide him. One day the evil Sea Monster sunk his ship and the Starspinner was rescued by a pod of dolphins. Years later, that same pod of dolphins helped to raise the Starspinner's ship so he could defeat the evil Sea Monster once and for all. Job done. Because of the lasers, smoke and special effects used throughout the show, photography was banned but I took some (non flash) shots anyway. Conveniently, someone told us off just as the show ended!

One for our Autism Supporters :)
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There was so much to see at this Aquarium that is was well worth the visit. We were there a few hours longer than we had initially planned but it was worth it. Carys still talks about seeing Nemo (he seems to be everywhere here. From the local nail salon to the Aquariums and Alligator farms!), the great big Whale Sharks, the Beluga whales, Mr Ray and the penguins. One of the penguins was also introduced to Pink Dora!

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After lunch there was time for stories before heading off to see the BIG tank.

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Thanks for having us Steve, Julie, Aidan and Meg! We can't wait to see ya'll again real soon! Before I go though, I won't bore you with details of the looooong drive home, but I will leave you with a few autographs. Enjoy!

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and lastly, my friend...

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Posted by dinige 12:48 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Staying local

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I'll start this entry with a little nature lesson. During the week we were visited by two Florida locals which caused much excitement for our two youngest kidlets. Eddie was the first to find our first visitor and was barking like crazy at the fence when we arrived home for the day (If you know Eddie, you'll know he hardly ever barks!) After investigating the back yard, there was a big hole in the grass where Eddie was trying to get to our visitor, who by this stage had been scared away. Luckily for us, it returned and we welcomed a Florida Softshell Turtle to our yard! These turtles are one of the fastest turtles on land and in the water and although we hid Eddie away and left our gates open for the turtle to make it's own way to the pond, we didn't notice it come back. The blood you can see on the image was made from it trying to get under the fence into the yard, not from Eddie.

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Next up and now a frequent visitor, was (what we believe to be) an Eastern Spadefoot Toad. This little fella has been hanging around our outdoor area for a while and has even managed to get inside a few times. Luckily for him, Eddie just likes to chase him!

Another type of frequent visitor is the Anole lizard http://www.floridiannature.com/Anoles.htm. These things are everywhere and although we usually see the green ones out the back, we see plenty of brown or grey ones out the front. We always have at least three in the back lanai at all times.

Alrighty, enough Attenborough for now! Friday night we told Carys we were going to watch a man cook with fire. She was very excited by this and although she was a bit scared of the fire at the Teppanyaki restaurant (it is called Hibachi here), she really enjoyed the chef show. She also enjoyed some drawing and feeding the large koi in the pond out the front.

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We wandered around one of the large outlet malls in St Augustine and although I don't have much to actually tell you about that event, I can share a photo with you all. Carys loves driving and tries to drive our cars whenever she can. In a few instalments time, we actually return to this outlet mall so Carys can drive as many vehicles as she wants, but more info on that later. For this visit, it was all about taking Mickey for a drive :)

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Although the weather forecast was for crappy weather, we decided to try our luck by travelling to Amelia Island. We travelled there via the St Johns River Ferry which is located behind NS Mayport where Nigel is working from. The ferry ride itself was only about 5 minutes but there was enough time to get out of the car and look around.

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As the link about Amelia Island points out, there are several parks to visit including Big Talbot, Little Talbot and Fort Clinch State Parks. There is so much to do here that we will eventually come back and explore more but noting the weather on the day we visited, we chose to drive around and see what we could. One of the most striking images of Amelia Island in inclement weather is the oak trees over the roads.

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We decided to eat lunch before the rain hit and we chose Sliders Seaside Grill because it was right on the beach and had a playground for Carys. I think we made it with about 10 minutes to spare before the rain bucketed down :( Oh well, the thought was there! Carys was pretty sleepy after lunch and the weather wasn't getting any better so we headed home.

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Meanwhile, Carys is still loving Little Gym and she loves to display her new somersault skills around the house. Here she is with her teacher Miss Erin :)

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And lastly for this entry, Carys again at Little Gym. Her comment? "Look Mummy Moo, I made a hole!"

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Posted by dinige 08:55 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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