The Welsh have a special word for homesickness. Or I should say, a special word for a special kind of homesickness. Hiraeth can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists, or that never was. It is homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. I guess it’s a form of lost love, but more for a place than for a person. It’s a longing that by definition cannot be filled, because its object is in some way unattainable, whether it has been lost or never existed in the first place, or has yet to be created. It’s a sort of slippery, indistinct concept, but for people who have felt it, I think, unmistakable. And those who have moved from one country to another, for whatever reason, are particularly likely to be among that number.
We visited a couple more schools with Axa this week. By now we pretty much have the drill down (and she knows to keep her eyes out for where they have the cookies). I am starting to feel more confident about the process, and a bit less shell-shocked. After all, at the end of the day she just writes down all her choices and then we wait for the lottery. And none of my agonising or nit-picking about this or that advantage of this or that school will make much of a difference, if at all. I’ve also spent some more time researching exactly how the lottery works, which has been somewhat reassuring. For the truly nerdy (or desperately anxious) among us, here’s the link to a pdf of the analysis (in Dutch, sorry) of how the lottery went last year.
Maastricht is definitely one of our favourite places we’ve gone in the Netherlands so far. We took my parents there when they visited last October, and had a wonderful time. And since I never blogged about it, I thought I’d share some of our favourite Maastricht sights and activities.
We took the train down from Amsterdam, and it took about two hours and forty-five minutes. That’s a bit longer than by car, but we like riding the train, and it was nice not to have to worry about parking once we got there. Our hotel was just down the street from Maastricht’s lovely main square, a location which I would definitely recommend, since one of the delights of Maastricht is just wandering through its picturesque streets.
Several months ago, I found myself quite overwhelmed with my to-do list. Or should I say to-do list. I had them on post-its at my desk at work. I had them on post-its in various places at home. I wrote them on little pieces of paper. I had a great many in the “reminders” app on my phone. Tony had invited me to Wunderlist to keep track of the shopping, so I had some there too. To say nothing of the shared Google calendar without which most events in our life and our children’s lives would simply not happen. Some stuff I even tried to just keep in my head, which resulted in insomnia, as I would lie in bed running through my internal to-do list, worried I had left something off.
We’ve already visited our first few high schools in Amsterdam with Axa, and there is so much to love. You might remember last month’s post about choosing whether to stay at her current bilingual Dutch school for the next six years, transfer to an international school, or go Dutch. She’s leaning heavily towards the latter, which is exciting and overwhelming and nerve-wracking all at once. In fact, she’d like to go all out and do Gymnasium, which is a full-on classical college preparatory education complete with French, German, Greek, and Latin. As her languages-loving, nerdy mother I couldn’t be more happy for her (and I can assure you it is her own decision, although of course she knows I’m thrilled with it).
Yes, he did it. While we were in Malta. And it was the most romantic thing ever.
Because he did it on holiday, you might think that it was a spur of the moment (and possibly regrettable) decision. But he’s actually been planning and talking about this particular tattoo for years. So when he saw a snazzy looking tattoo shop just down the street from our AirBnB, he figured it was a sign. From the inside, the tattoo shop was even better. There’s so much of the weirdly wonderful going on here, from the guy sitting to the right–who is not a guy, but a ghost–to that piano/shrine/home bar with all the candles gloriously melted over it
It's called melata honey, and has the distinction of having passed through the bodily orifices of not one, but two different species of insects. Small insects up in the mountains eat the sap of trees, which passes through their digestive tracts and is deposited (see how palatable I made that sound) on the leaves of the trees, where the bees collect it and further process it into honey. How wild is that? You can't make these things up.
Our Malta trip was winding down, but we still had one item left on the sightseeing list: Għar Dalam Cave. I get the impression that this cave was probably always known to the inhabitants of Malta, but the first recorded mention of it was in 1647 in a text compiled by the historian of the Knights of St. John.
The place didn’t really get excavated until the 19th century, when paleontologists dug into the floor of the cave and discovered incredible numbers of fossils in it, of things like pygmy elephants, hippopotami, and deer, all of which have been extinct on the island for thousands of years. This cave and the fossils contained therein show that Malta was once attached to Europe via a land bridge to Sicily, since the animals found are European types. Thousands upon thousands of bones and teeth are neatly mounted in Victorian-style display cases, also giving a fascinating glimpse into what it was like to visit a museum a hundred odd years ago.
Malta abounds in natural beauty, and how better to see it than from a colourful Maltese fishing boat or the back of a horse?
When we first booked our tickets and started thinking about Malta, the two things the kids said they wanted to do were horseback riding and kayaking. Unfortunately, kayaking seems to be a summer activity in Malta, and we couldn’t find anyone who would take us during what to Maltese people is the dead of winter (yesterday it was a sunny 15 degrees outside, and we were listening to the radio weather person commiserating with her fellow Maltese about the bitterly cold temperatures, and exhorting them to bravery). So we settled for the next best thing: a boat tour to the Blue Grotto. The tours departed in these cute little boats from this tiny cove.
Mdina and Rabat (in Arabic, literally “the city” and “the suburbs”) are what used to be the happening spot in Malta before Valletta was built in the 16th century. We went to Rabat first. It’s a cute little town with pretty streets and a nice church. Also, what is rumored to be the finest sweet shop in Malta. We tried the Maltese version of cannoli (not quite as good as the Italian version, but still very tasty), some very traditional date-themed cookies (not a huge fan of dates in cookies), and some soft almond nougat, like turron in Spain (seriously delicious).