Friday, August 26, 2016

Dutch Letters -- Final Posting

In June it was finally time to say goodbye to Holland.  The six years spent there ended up being the second longest place that I've lived in my adult life.  Grant did half of his schooling in The Netherlands (but don't ask him to speak a word of Dutch).  And Graber lived there for 85% of his life so far (but don't expect him to have picked up any good European dog behaviors).  

My work colleagues and I went to the local skeet shooting range for a going away party.  I figured what better way to prepare for my return to America than to shoot guns (which is a very unusual thing to do in Holland).  Since I worked with a construction team most of the gifts involved alcohol, although Karin came through with the orange tulips.

The gifts from my going away party

Prior to returning to the US, Graber had to get his travel haircut.  We affectionately refer to the groomer/kennel owner as "The Man".  And for every holiday that you've read about on this blog, Graber has spent those days and nights with The Man.   To tell the truth, we've gone there for six years and I couldn't tell you his real name.  He was great with Graber and loved to see him every time.  

Goldie departed early for the US to live with Kate & Doug.  Although she wasn't at all happy to be in a cage for 18 hours during the flights, she was very happy to move to a home that did not include a dog.  As you can see she has adjusted very well and is quite happy in her new home.

What to do with the bicycles?  My town bike was great for getting groceries and riding to work, but I didn't see myself riding it in the US.  So I sold it. As you can imagine there is a huge market for second hand bikes, so I sold it quite easily.

I'm pretty attached to my road bike, so I watched a couple of youtube videos on shipping a bike by plane.  Some partial dismantling, lots of bubble wrap combined with a free bike box from the local shop and I was ready to ship it home as luggage.  When you show up at the Amsterdam airport with a bike box, no one looks at you funny at all.  They have a special desk to check your box and everything goes quite smoothly.   

As you can see below, I had a few other pieces of luggage as well.   It doesn't look like that much until the taxi company sends a car instead of the van that you ordered to get to the airport.  We made it work, but it was close.  

And so my European adventure and this blog come to an end.  I'd love to have something witty yet moving to write to close out this publication and preview the future, but I don't think I could produce anything better than Bill Watterson's final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

St. Petersburg -- Finally

Five months after visiting St. Petersburg I've finally gotten around to documenting the trip.  Not that there will be a lot of written documentation on this posting, but I thought it would be good to share some photos.  Four days in St. Petersburg can be divided into 1) walking tour 2) Hermitage Museum 3) Peter and Paul Fortress and 4) Catherine's Palace in the outlying city of Pushkin.

According to the guidebook St. Petersburg was built in the early 1700's by Peter the Great as a "window into Europe" with "it's back to Moscow".  It was designed in a European style, complete with canals.   It is filled with parks and palaces.  Unfortunately we were there in March/April; it would be a beautiful city in June and October.

Our walking tour began at St. Isaac's Cathedral, the world's third largest domed cathedral.  It was built to commemorate the victory over Napoleon.  The dome has 220 pounds of gold gilding.  Like other Orthodox Churches the interior is spectacular with paintings, gold, gems and incredible architecture.

The doors to St. Isaacs

After walking by numerous palaces and large buildings, we arrived at the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood which was built by Alexander III to commemorate his father, Alexander II, who was killed by a bomb on this site.  As you can see it is similar in style to St. Basils in Moscow.  The altar is constructed entirely of semi-precious gems. Very nice.

Rubbing the feet on this bronze plaque is supposed to bring good luck.  It certainly results in shiny feet.  

The main shopping street, Nevsky Prospekt, as seen from our hotel room.  

Day 2 was spent at the Hermitage Museum.  Formerly the winter palace it now houses one of the world's premier art museums.  It truly was incredible with famous paintings from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Van Meer, Matisse, Picasso, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, etc.  Plus a room dedicated to the work of Faberge'.  It is second only to The Louvre in French Art.  To give you an idea of how good it was, Grant and I spent five hours there and he didn't complain.  It was that good.   Our only disappointment was that the Peacock Clock Room was closed for renovations.  After six months of work, it was scheduled to re-open the next day.  

The State Palace sits opposite the Winter Palace.  

The Alexander Column celebrates the victory over Napoleon (sounds familiar).  It's 150' tall and is not anchored in place.  It stays in place simply by its weight.  

We walked across the bridge over the Neva River to the Peter and Paul Fortress.  Despite it being late March the river still contained a lot of ice.  In addition to being beautiful, The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul contains the crypts of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children.

Plaques commemorating the Romanov Family.  

Following our tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress we found an artillery museum.  Outside it had numerous displays of old and new equipment.  The inside included a room dedicated to Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47 and many other weapons.

The first AK-47

We spent the final day in the town of Pushkin visiting the Catherine Palace.  It was built for Catherine I, Peter the Great's second wife.  Similar in size to the Winter Palace (huge), it was beautiful inside.

All visitors put leather slippers on over their shoes.  

Every room had extensive gold gilding.  

The Amber Room is a story unto itself.  It was originally a gift from the Prussian King.  When the Nazi's invaded in WWII they shipped all the amber panels back to Germany.  At the end of the war no one could find the panels.  In 1980 the Russian Government decided to rebuild the room.  It took almost 25 years and $15 million.  It took 6 tons of amber to create what you see.

Delft style furnaces in each room of the Palace.  

This is the most beautiful roll top desk I have ever seen. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Margaret & Ellie's Visit

With the clock ticking down on our departure from Holland I got one last opportunity to play tour guide when my nieces, Ellie & Margaret, visited for three days in May.  I asked Margaret what she wanted to see and she sent me back a list that would have required three weeks.  She had done some good research and managed to find several places previously unknown to me.

First day was Amsterdam, which started with taking the train to Amsterdam Station.   From there we walked all over the city, ending the tour with a visit to the Anne Frank Home at 9:00 pm.  We walked so much that I got a blister on my foot.

Margaret discovered the Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder or Our Lord in the Attic Church.  This is a Church built by Catholics in the 1600's that allowed them to worship in secret following the Reformation.  They connected the attics in three canal homes to provide the space.  As you can see, it's a decent sized church.

The museum put flowers on antique chairs to signify "Don't Sit on This".  

The Our Lord in the Attic Church.  

This is not the church in the attic.  This is the Oude Kerk, just down the street.  

Another first for me was the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, one of three palaces in use by the Royal Family.  

The interior rooms were nicely decorated, but not opulent.  Typical Dutch.  

Walking along the canals

Tulip bulbs at the flower market. 

The library at the Rijksmuseum

In yet another first for me, this is the bench from the movie, Fault in our Stars.  
Day two was windmills and bicycling.  We visited the 19 windmills of the Kinderdijk.  In the afternoon we cycled to the North Sea Beach.  

Day three began with an early morning visit to the Flower Auction.  In the afternoon it was down to Den Haag.

Margaret making a simulation movie of driving the flower cart on the floor. 

Lunch on the beach in Wassenaar

The Escher Musuem
The Binnenhof

My first visit to the Grote Kerk in Den Haag.  No longer used as a church, but a very impressive building.