Two countries in one day

10 08 2010

The first year I lived in Brussels I would every now and then hear people talk about a city called Aix-la-Chapelle, which I (of course?) just assumed was a place in France until one day I realised that it was a German town! I had never heard of this Aix (on the contrary to Aix-en-Provence in France) and was quite confused but then somebody explained that it was Aachen in French! At about the same time I shocked a French colleague when I admitted to not knowing the difference between Charlemagne and Charleroi – the first one is the French king who I know by the Swedish name Karl den Store (Charles the Great) and the second is a Belgian town (which I nowadays know as the location for the RyanAir airport in Belgium). It isn’t always easy with names of places and persons which are translated differently in different languages.

Buildings at der Markt in Aachen – Germany has Starbucks, unlike Belgium (Burger King doesn’t exist in Belgium either)! I don’t actually miss Starbucks from Puerto Rico…

A few years ago O and I woke up on a Saturday in November and realising that it was a Belgian holiday (11th November is Armistice Day for WWI) we started discussing what to do as everything would be shut in Brussels. O suggested that we go to Maastricht to meet up with my Dutch friend I who lives close by. I thought that it was a perfect idea and called our Swedish friends M and A to ask if they wanted to come along to the Netherlands. When I spoke to M, who hadn’t lived that long in Brussels, she asked “Can you really go to Maastricht just for the day?” – Of course you can, it is less than 120 km away! We had a great day in Maastricht, especially as we discovered that the Dutch do not celebrate Armistice Day by closing shops and businesses, and we said that we should do it more often – that is to go abroad for the day…

A funny fountain in Aachen, the so-called “Puppen brunnen” – the figures and their limbs are moveable so you can change the way they look

And on Sunday we finally did it again, and this time we went to both Germany and the Netherlands! First we had brunch in Aachen with O’s blond brother and his German (as blond as himself) Swedish-speaking girlfriend who were on their way from München to Düsseldorf, and then we went for coffee in the small Dutch town of Heerlen (close to both Aachen and Maastricht) together with Dutch I and her boyfriend.

Aachener Dom (cathedral) in miniature, easier to take a photo of 😉

On our way to Germany via Liège, O asked me to remind him of the name of Liège in Dutch. You see, even if Belgium has more than one official language, the road signs are only bi-lingual in the Brussels area, but as soon as you enter Flanders they are only in Dutch (and in French in Wallonie). In other words, you need to know the names of places in both languages or you might get lost (the time O ended up in Genk instead of Ghent is a classic that we love telling people!!!). 

Beautiful mosaic ceiling in the Aachener dom (cathedral)

Liège is a French-speaking Belgian town in the corner of the country bordering Germany and The Netherlands, and it is called Luik in Dutch and Lüttisch in German, further more Aachen is also known, as I mentioned above as Aix-la-Chapelle in French and as Aken in Dutch (and Aquisgrán in Spanish as O’s brother had discovered when he couldn’t find an entry for Aachen in his [Spanish] guidebook for Germany). Phew, lots of names to remember!


It was great to meet up with O’s brother C and his girlfriend G in Germany. As G pointed out – we were finally meeting in her home country after having met in Belgium, Sweden, Puerto Rico and Spain. And she quoted O when she refused to let us pay for the brunch – apparently O had said in Puerto Rico that “you pay when we meet in your country”! Speaking of brunch, Germans really know how to do brunch – 10 EUR per person for a huge all-you-can-eat-brunch-buffet*! We definitely didn’t need to eat anything more before dinner. After the meal we walked around Aachen and visited the beautiful (but surprisingly small) cathedral, which is the burial place of the above-mentioned Charlemagne.


The Spanish-German couple had to continue to Düsseldorf and we, the Spanish-Swedish couple, headed towards the Netherlands… or so we thought. As the navigator, I shouldn’t blame it on our Europe map but let’s say that it obviously isn’t the most detailed map [as it covers the whole continent! We have a book with road maps for Europe which is more practical but it is somewhere in storage]. When we finally turned around, half-way to Cologne (Köln), I asked O if we shouldn’t get a GPS after all, and when he replied that it is more fun like this, I questioned if he was really having fun but didn’t get an answer. He is a very patient driver but when we later on got lost in the exact same spot** where we got lost on our way to Sweden in May and from Sweden in June, I didn’t reiterate my question…

Lucky it was a free buffet and not like in sushi / tapas restaurants where they count how many plates you have eaten!

We did finally find our last destination for the day and even though I managed to get linguistically confused as usual – in Germany I tried to order “Kaffee mit Melk” (Milch!) and in Dutch I said “Kaffee verkeerd” (should be Koffie), we had a lovely time with the Dutch couple who told us about their new house that they are currently renovating. They also tried to sell us their old houses (one each) but we would like something more central to Brussels 😉

Aachen is also famous for the cookies called “Aachener Printen”, a sort of Lebkuchen or gingerbread – we didn’t buy any though

*) I have also had great brunch buffets in Berlin and O always raves about the brunches he has eaten in Hamburg – unfortunately we haven’t found a good place for brunch in Brussels yet. Yes, Le Pain Quotidien does nice breakfasts, but we are looking for a buffet-style brunch (for 10 EUR if possible?)..
**) We always get lost at a fork in the motorway in the Netherlands where I can never remember if we should follow Eindhoven (NL) or Antwerpen (BE). It sounds quite straightforward, of course we should go towards Antwerpen but it isn’t actually the motorway that we are looking for. I just keep forgetting that there is a second split afterwards, for Brussels in one direction and Antwerpen in the other.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this! Röv means Ass in Swedish


Show & Tell / Friday theme: Morning

5 03 2010

A new month and a new Show & Tell-hostess, Saltis who has chosen the following themes for March:

5th March (today): Morning
12th March: Time
19th March: Longing
26th March: Change

I am not a morning person, but I am definitely a breakfast person. When I was working I used to have problems to get up early enough in the morning to have a proper breakfast, since I can’t eat immediately when getting out of bed. Nevertheless, if I have time to really wake up, I do enjoy a good breakfast and I actually “trained” myself a few years ago to eat porridge before going to work. On the weekends I usually potter about before preparing a big brunch with O – usually including pancakes or newly baked scones…

Weekend brunch with scones

Speaking of breakfast; this morning I have a breakfast date with my Peruvian friend M and French friend E at a local bakery called Kasalta. It will be interesting to see if our breakfast will be conducted in French or in Spanish*… M and I had a funny conversation yesterday about when and where to meet:

P (in French): – So we meet tomorrow at 9 o’clock at Kasalta.
M (in Spanish): – Yes, in that bakery (panadería), what is it called?
P (in French): – Yes, the bakery (boulangerie) Kasalta.
M (in French): – Oh, we are meeting in the Bakery (La Boulangerie)?
P (in French): – Yes, Kasalta.
M (in French and Spanish): – In the Bakery (La Boulangerie) or (la panadería) Kasalta?

… Opps, there is a French bakery called La Boulangerie (The Bakery) and then there’s the [Cuban?] bakery called Kasalta! Actually, it doesn’t matter what we are talking about, M and I always have confused conversations mixing French and Spanish but we usually end up understanding each other anyway, ha ha!

When I was learning French in school, we studied the following poem about a breakfast:

Déjeuner du matin by Jacquest Prévert (from the collection “Paroles”, 1946)

Il a mis le café (He poured his coffee)
Dans la tasse (in the cup)
Il a mis le lait (he poured the milk)
Dans la tasse de café (in the coffee cup)
Il a mis le sucre (he put the sugar)
Dans le café au lait (in the coffee with milk)
Avec la petite cuiller (With the small spoon)
Il a tourné (he stirred)
Il a bu le café au lait (He drank the coffee with milk)
Et il a reposé la tasse (and he put the cup back)
Sans me parler (Without speaking to me)

Croissants, Marigot, St Martin
A typical French breakfast contains at least one or two croissants, and coffee with milk (café au lait)

It is a very sad poem about a dysfunctional couple, at the end the man leaves without a word and the narrator breaks down in tears. But it is perfect for learning the French tense of “passé composé” (past) tense and I guess that’s why it is used in French language studies all over the world.

Eggy breakfast

The Swiss singer Stephan Eicher has sung about another couple having breakfast. The title of the song translates as “To have breakfast in peace”, and tells the story of a woman who asks her partner (the narrator) to not read the newspaper at breakfast and tell her the bad news from around the world. That is actually something I really miss from living in Sweden, where I always used to have a subscription to a morning paper.

Déjeuner en paix (French lyrics written by Philippe Dijan)
Je regarde sur la chaise le journal du matin (I look at the newspaper on the chair)
Les nouvelles sont mauvaises d’où qu’elles viennent (the news are bad wherever they come from)
” Crois-tu qu’il va neiger ? ” me demande-t-elle soudain (“Do you think it will snow? she asks me suddenly)
” Me feras-tu un bébé pour Noël ? ” (“Will you make me a baby for Christmas?”)

Et elle prend son café en riant (And she takes her coffee while she laughs)
Elle me regarde à peine (she hardly looks at me)
Plus rien ne la surprend sur la nature humaine (Nothing more surprises her of human nature)
C’est pourquoi elle voudrait enfin si je le permets (That’s why she would finally like, if I allow it)
Déjeuner en paix, déjeuner en paix (To have breakfast in peace, to have breakfast in peace)

(my rough translation)

And here’s the song for you to enjoy on a Friday morning:

My interpretation of today’s theme became a blog post about French breakfasts, I hope that’s ok, Saltis? 😉

Other participants in “Show and tell”, who have probably shown and told more about MORNINGS instead of breakfasts:
Anki, Anna, Anne, Anne-Marie, Annika, Bejla, Desiree, Erica, Helena, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Mais-oui, Musikanta, Nilla, Olgakatt, Petra H, Saltis, Simone, Sparkling, Strandmamman, Taina, and Under Ytan.

*) Especially as E is M’s former French teacher and we all know each other from the Alliance Francaise…

Wednesday recipe: PepparkaksCheeseCake & Etiquette poll: My or Our?

16 12 2009

Since it is that day of the week today, I am taking a break from the cruise stories to give you a Wednesday recipe and a new etiquette poll! I can’t believe that it is Christmas Eve in one week +1 day! We are heading to Spain in exactly one week, flying via Miami to Madrid.

I have been really excited about the cold weather in Spain at the moment (2-4 degrees and chances of snow) but the weather forecast looks depressing for next week – who wants to have THIRTEEN* degrees on Christmas Eve? Oh well, at least I won’t have to worry about bringing long johns to keep warm indoors…

Taxi in Dominica
Taxi in Dominica – God is my guide

So, one week to Christmas and I have finally succumb (how do you conjugate that verb?) and decided yesterday to bring out a few Christmas decorations after all. I was first thinking that it was pointless since we are going away for the holidays. However, we then decided to have a small Christmas dinner next Tuesday with Swedish B, her father and his girlfriend, and of course the home has to be a little Christmassy for that!

So I started looking for Christmas recipes and remembered a yummy cheesecake recipe I made in January with some left-over ginger snaps (pepparkakor). It was more popular than the store-bought cheesecake that some guests brought!!

PepparkaksCheeseCake with Lemon Sauce

~30 Swedish ginger snaps (I find the brand Annas in Walgreens all year around), smashed into pieces
100 g melted butter
Mix together the crushed ginger snaps with the melted butter (in a food processor if you prefer). Spread in a greased round springform cake tin, wrap some aluminium foil around the base since it might leak a little. Bake 5-10 min. in 200 C / 390 F.

First layer:
400 g Philadelphia cream cheese
3 eggs
1½ dl sugar
Stir into a smooth mixture and add on top of the base. Bake in 180 C / 350 F for 35 minutes. Let it cool.

Top layer:
4 dl crème fraiche / sour cream (not non-fat)
1 table spoon vanilla sugar
1 dl sieved icing / confectioner’s sugar
Mix the ingredients and spread on the cool cake. Bake in 180 C / 350 F for 6-7 minutes. Let the cake cool.

Lemon sauce:
freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1-2 lemons
3/4 dl water
1 egg yolk
1 table spoon Maizena
1½ dl sugar
Simmer while stirring. Add 1 table spoon cold butter and let the sauce cool.

Serve the cake with a few spoonfuls of the lemon sauce.

(inspired by a recipe in “Vinterns goda ting” by Anna & Fanny Bergenström)

I love my Island - St Martin
I love my island-poster in St Martin

The etiquette poll today refers to something that I have noticed people do in all languages and cultures – and regardless of what they refer to; kids or a house (or something else). They always say my kids and my house, even when they obviously share the “ownership” with a husband / wife / partner. Is it just me, or do you also get confused and wonder if they are talking about a child from a previous relationship when people talk about “my daughter” while their partner is next to them? And think that maybe only one of them owns the house they live in (which of course might be the case!)?

Antiguan beer
Our beer in Antigua

Maybe it’s a silly reflection, and I was told many years ago that I referred too much to “we” when I was doing activities with a boyfriend or friend, so maybe I should have written above that I am going to Spain next week? But wouldn’t some of you then wonder if I was going without O? Of course it might depend on the context – I am sure that I do say “my” or “I” in certain situations when I refer to something that belongs to both O and I, or something we will do together.

British Commonwealth poster
We are family – Commonwealth poster in Dominica

Anyway, it is mostly when both persons are present and one keep saying “my” about a child that I react. This happened to me recently when we had Christmas dinner with O’s colleagues and all the women were talking about “mis hijo(a)s” (my children) while the husbands were sitting next to them. Only once did one woman actually correct herself and changed to “nuestras hijas” (our daughters).**

It would be interesting to see how I would express myself if we ever have children!? Maybe not the same thing, but I always refer to the apartment as our home – it is not just mine… (that we don’t actually own it is another issue, ha ha)

And don’t worry, tomorrow I will continue telling you about the cruise!

*) I hope everybody understands that this is a European blog and therefore I ALWAYS talk about Celsius (if not mentioned otherwise) when it comes to temperature  😉
**) This is especially confusing in Puerto Rico where a lot of people actually have children from different relationships – divorce rates are higher than in most countries.

Disney designed maxi taxi
We are one! Taxi-van in St Thomas, driven by a proud scholar and army mom

How many languages do you speak?

19 11 2009

I get this question all the time here in Puerto Rico, and apparently O gets it as well – about me, his wife, not about himself (he speaks Spanish, English and more French than he thinks). He told me yesterday that he brags about his wife who speaks several languages and understands even more (Danish, Norwegian, understand written Dutch). However, personally I always feel a little embarrassed when I start listing the languages – Swedish, English, French… and nowadays I guess Spanish but not so much Italian anymore.

First of all, because it is not that many – not if you have lived in Brussels where almost everybody [in the European Commission / Parliament circles] speak at least three languages. And secondly, because I don’t write French very well, nor Spanish and my Italian is almost non-existent, so I don’t think that those languages count fully. Some people will find this statement false modesty, but really, I know a lot of people who speak these languages (and others) much better than I.*

A bi-lingual sign at the lift

When I lived in Italy 2000-2001 my Italian was passable – I communicated with my Italian friends in Italian and I could get by, but I haven’t spoken many words of Italian since 2005 when I visited an Italian friend in Valencia. Since then I have concentrated on learning Spanish and the languages are just too similar [for me]. I have an Italian ex-colleague who is married to a Spanish woman; they both speak each other’s languages + French (and English of course) and they now live in Portugal and are learning Portugese (only Romanian missing!) – I don’t know how they do it, but maybe it is different when your mother tongue is a Latin language?

How do you define knowing a language and what do you consider to be fluent? I do consider myself to be more or less fluent in French, even though my grammar could be much better… I read books in French, as well as in Spanish (and used to read also in Italian), which I think is a great way to improve your [at least passive] understanding of a language. It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand every single word, as long as I understand the context.

Just today I was asked the question again, and after the “oh’s” and “ah’s”, I felt once again the need to explain that as a Swede, living abroad, you need to speak other languages as nobody speaks Swedish… And remember, I have lived in three bi-, tri- or quadlingual countries; Puerto Rico (Spanish & English), Belgium (French, Dutch & German) and Switzerland (German, French, Italian & Romansch), so I am used to people speaking more than one or two languages around me.

A lot of my friends also speak at least 3 languages, and have lived in at least 3-4 countries – so I am not that special. Take the example of my three best friends from my hometown [in Sweden] who live in Oslo (also lived in Denmark, France, Switzerland, Tanzania); Copenhagen (previously lived in France, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland) and the south of France (as well as Spain). All of us have foreign partners and communicate in different languages every day – at home, at work and in our social lives. It is not something we think about too much, we just do it  😉

Recently I have read a very interesting book, The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, about the history of the French language and I will probably come back to this publication, but what is interesting with the Canadian authors is that they are a bi-lingual /bi-cultural couple who speak both English and French. Jean-Benoît is French-speaking from Quebec, and Julie is English-speaking from Ontario. Apparently they had a period when they swapped the language spoken at home every other week! A very interesting method to guarantee language equality and improve both persons’ linguistic knowledge. Maybe something O and I should attempt, but at the moment I am just looking forward to my B-I-L arriving tomorrow, which will force me / us to speak Spanish at home for a week!!

Read more about my own language history here.

*) And I was taught to compare myself to the ones that are better than I, not worse. I guess my father’s way to make sure that I excelled in school…