Last month, when work took him to Rwanda’s southwest corner, D was reminded of two things: how beautiful this country is and why we haven’t traveled much inside Rwanda during our second year here.
You’d think that after half a dozen major moves in as many years, we’d be pros at this, but this transition is shaping up to be the most chaotic of our Foreign Service tenure. We have been so focused on tying up a thousand and one loose ends that we have almost completely neglected planning for our home leave. We have our sights set on another road trip out West, but have done next to no research and have just now booked accommodations, with the trip only a week out at this point.
After a record-setting rainy season that wreaked havoc all over the country, Rwanda has settled into a sweet spot. Each day for the last couple of weeks has featured clear blue skies, ideal temperatures, and gorgeous sunsets. It is almost as if Kigali has decided to showcase its best side to make us rue our imminent departure. Last weekend, we took a brief break from packing, taking advantage of the beautiful weather to do our family photo shoot.
The mileposts keep flashing by. Thursday was Munchkin’s last day of school in Rwanda, and yesterday the school held a graduation ceremony, which featured a hilarious, if somewhat bizarre, theatrical production in which the kids wore “bedazzled” underwear and pretended to be aliens.
As we prepare to bid adieu to Rwanda, we have been making mental notes of the things we will miss (and others that we definitely won’t). One thing high on D’s list – not just for Rwanda, but rather for the entire continent – is the region’s incredible birdlife.
Roughly four centuries before bitcoin captivated the public’s imagination, a similarly unlikely commodity fueled the world’s first recorded speculative bubble. At the height of the Dutch Republic’s tulip mania, a single bulb of some tulip varieties sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. The bubble burst in 1637, but the Dutch obsession with tulips persists to a lesser extent to this day, as we learned during our brief stay in The Hague. We missed National Tulip Day, but even better — our visit coincided with the heart of the tulip season.
The Ardennes Forrest covers a sizable portion of southeastern Belgium, spills over into neighboring Luxembourg, and extends into parts of Germany and France. Castles and other medieval ruins dot the landscape, extensive networks of subterranean caverns lie hidden in the Ardennes mountains, and Trappist monks continue to follow centuries-old recipes to brew perfect beer and make sumptuous cheese in abbeys scattered throughout this rugged corner of Europe. In other words, we expected to find a little slice of heaven and, despite our unpleasant reception in Dinant, the Ardennes did not disappoint.
More than historic and charming Bruges and much more than gloomy Ghent, our fondest memories of Belgium were forged in the tiny riverside town of Dinant in the heart of the Ardennes, a forested region of ruggedly beautiful terrain that encompasses parts of four countries. And this is despite the fact that Dinant greeted us with the worst weather of our two-week European trip.
Our last night in Bruges we were joined by a good friend who had taken the train all the way from Cambridge to meet up with us. Unfortunately, we had committed to spending the following weekend with other friends in Luxembourg, so we only overlapped for one night. We had chosen the Grand Duchy as our rendezvous point simply because none of us had ever been there before and were pleasantly surprised to discover that Luxembourg has quite a lot to offer. The capital is pleasant and scenic, but does not really have enough attractions for a full weekend of sightseeing. The rest of the country, however, is simply magnificent and definitely merits a leisurely visit.