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Treats & Trivia

Each king in playing cards represents real kings in history. Who knew? Well apparently someone did, but I had no idea. The king of hearts is Charlemagne. The biblical figure of David is the king of spades. The king of diamonds is Julius Caesar. Finally, the king of clubs is Alexander the Great. We learned that on a tour in Lübeck, Germany. Our tour guide regaled us with all manner of interesting tidbits and trivia as we made our way through the city’s labyrinth of narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards, many of which dated back to the town’s founding in 1143. It was hard to fathom the history under every cobblestone. We entered their gorgeous town hall—built in early 1200s. Inside, the magnificent Audience Hall which used to house their Court is an intricately carved split height door. One side of the door is tall, and the other side is short. Our guide explained that all men are innocent until proven guilty. So one always enters the courtroom with their head held high and their hats on. If they are innocent, they will exit through the same door. If, however, they are guilty, they must leave through the short door, removing their head and bowing low in shame to go through the short doorway. We ended our day on a real sweet note—marzipan. An invention usually attributed to Lübeck, Germany. Legend has it that during a 15th century famine when flour for making bread became scarce, the senate of Lübeck ordered bakers to create a replacement. Using eggs, sugar, and stores of almonds, the clever bakers came up with marzipan. Although not everyone believes the origin, there is no disputing Germany’s prominence in it’s manufacturing. The next few days were spent in Belgium—home to the most delicious chocolate I have ever tasted. Which for me is saying a lot, considering I don’t like chocolate. Belgians take chocolate pretty seriously — there are even chocolate laws that constitute what can truly be called “Belgian” chocolate. It must contain 35% cacao; American chocolate contains just 10% on average. I suppose it’s a good thing Belgium is so far away from Oregon—I would eat too much chocolate! But as far away as it is, we had no need to feel homesick. Nearly every main road we turned on had tractors lining the sides, participating in the farmer protests. Driving down their version of the freeway we passed miles of Europeanstyle tractors pulled off alongside the edge of the road, along with semi trucks and other farm implements. Both of our kids had their noses pressed to the windows—not to see the ancient cathedrals and castles--but afraid to miss even one of the tractors. I have to admit, my husband and I also probably missed a lot of the architecture for the same reason. We all enjoyed Bruges so much. The little farms, the quaint cottages, the adorable bridges over all the canals—it’s easy to see why they call it ‘the Venice of the North.’ It was the picture perfect postcard—complete with swans in most of the canals. Although legend says the swans are not there for romance. In the 1400s after a hunting accident killed his wife, the Emperor Maximilian developed a hatred for the city of Bruges and prohibited all festivities and imposed heavy taxes. The people of Bruges revolted and captured Maximilian and beheaded his friend Long Neck, who had enforced the emperor’s rules. Legend says, the emperor eventually escaped and took his revenge on the local people by forcing them to keep 101 white swans (long necks) on the water of Bruges for all eternity. (In the Middle Ages, swans were eaten and caring for them without consuming them was a high cost.) If they failed to do so, Bruges would fall to ruin. Whether a work of fact or fiction, the townspeople and the city have honored this curse since it was laid down. We skipped a lot of “school” on our trip, but each evening as we talked about what the things we’d seen: the things we loved, the things we didn’t, the things that surprised us, and the things we found dull. I couldn’t help but think of Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

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