Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Graber

I have to interrupt the reporting of our trip to France to cover Graber's first birthday.  Now some of you may have noticed that the French Trip reporting had slowed significantly since our arrival home, so this isnt' really much of an interruption.  Sorry about that, but things like laundry, shopping, cooking have gotten in the way.  But birthday's can't wait, so we'll write a few lines about our Golden Retriever. 

Three Months Old

Father's Day 2010, Graber and Kate
 Yesterday was his first  birthday.  It's amazing how much they grow during the first year.  Hopefully, he's done growing -- he rings in at about 70 pounds now.  It's also amazing how much dog food costs in Europe.  A large bag of his food is about $100 US!  Too bad we didn't know that when we were selecting breeds last Christmas.  We might have gone for a dog that was a little less hungry.   It makes me wonder about the legend of William the Silent's dog starving himself to death after the death of his master.  Perhaps what really happened is that Mrs. Silent had to trim a few expenses following her husband's demise and Rover's dog chow was eliminated in the name of a balanced budget. 

Graber has adjusted well to being a European dog.  Some things are the same as New Jersey -- he's got a decent sized yard, food still arrives twice a day and he hates to wipe his paws when he comes inside.  Some things are different though.  There's a horse trail in front of our home.  It's non-stop barking whenever one goes by.  Sometimes in the evenings he'll discover a hedgehog.  These are great fun because they just roll up in a ball and sit there.  Graber then barks and runs around excitedly like he's some great hunter.  The biggest change is that our cats have decided to stand up to him rather than simply run away as they did in NJ.  Of course, he thinks it is play time so he loves to sneak upstairs and visit them. 

Captain and Commander

Despite having an official European Pet Passport, Graber has not fully integrated into European society yet.  We haven't dared to take him to a restaurant.  All those people with all that food would be way too much excitement for him.  Maybe that will happen on his second birthday.

Our guard dog; burglars beware

Showing off his intelligence

A boy and his dog

Sunday, October 24, 2010

William the Conqueror

We went back to the 11th century in Bayeux and Caen.  In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated his cousin Harold to win the crown of England.  The entire story is told on the Bayeux Tapestry, which is 225 ft long and in remarkable condition for being almost 1000 years old.   
The strip in the center of the picture is a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The real thing was about 3 feet tall.

Willaim had the Abbaye aux Hommes (Men's Abbey) built in Caen around that same time period.  It uses local stone -- the same type of stone was used to build Westminster Abbey and Tower of London.  The Abbey's exterior is beautiful.  Once again, we missed out on the interior views.  The next tour didn't start for an hour and we didn't want to wait that long.  We were able to see inside of the Cathedrale Notre Dame (seems to be a common name for Churches in France)  in Bayeux.

Men's Abbey in Caen

Catherdrale Notre Dame in Bayeux

Cathedrale Notre Dame

Thursday, October 21, 2010

France - Rouen, Entretat Honfleur

We arrived safely in France and stayed in Rouen - City of a Hundred Spires.  We stayed near the Cathedrale Notre-Dame which has the tallest spire in France at 490 ft.  It was a massive, yet beautiful church and unfortunately my pictures will not do it justice.  Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that it's closed on Monday mornings so we didn't get to go inside.   

In Rouen we had our first experience with a hotel that had "parking nearby".  They don't say where it is, just that it's nearby.  This was coupled with the GPS announcing the approach of our hotel with the statement " caution, restricted access street", which meant the street in front of our hotel did not allow cars.  After several laps around the old town, we found a garage that wasn't too much of a hike from the hotel.  

Rouen is better known as the town where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, tried and burned at the stake in 1431.  In the 1970's a modern church, Eglise Jeanne d'Arc, was built near the site.  Again, my photo is lacking but the church design is supposed to represent the flames at her feet.  I can't say much for the exterior architecture but the interior was very well done.    One piece of Joan of Arc trivia:  despite repeated attempts, her heart would not burn so finally the English just threw it and her ashes into the Seine to prevent any idolatry.  

Rouen also has a beautiful walking street, Re du Gros-Horloge, with half-timbered houses and a single-handed clock from the 1500's.  But best of all, it had stands on the street making delicious crepes with Nutella.  

The next day we drove to Entretat, a small village on the coast with beautiful white cliffs.  Finally, we ended up in Honfleur.  This small fishing village has transformed into an upscale shopping, B&B and restaurant town.  Honfleur's historical time in the sun was the 15th century when the first voyages to Canada were launched from here.   Grant & I had a great meal that night.  I had the most delicate oysters ever.  Grant learned that medium rare in France is really rare.  FYI, tonight's inn was also equipped with "parking nearby". 

One final note:  the fuel crisis in France is getting worse.  Lady Gaga cancelled her two concerts in Paris this weekend on fears that her trucks wouldn't be able to get there.  Our drive today was short, so no worries for us.  

Another set of spires, Abbey St-Ouen

The cliffs of Etretat

The view from on top at Etretat

Honfleur Harbor

Notre Dame with its  490 ft spire

Another side of the Cathedral

Half-timbered houses

Stained Glass in Eglise Jeanne d'Arc was removed from 16th century church that was bombed during WWII
Crepe Stand on the Street
The spot where Joan of Arc was burned.  Still looks a little charred doesn't it?

Eglise Jeanne d'Arc designed to look like flames

Gros Horloge walking street with clock in the background

Some humor around the abbey

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Break - Day 1

Grant is out of school this week on fall break.  Unfortunately, Lori is in the States for work so Grant & I unloaded Graber at the kennel and headed for France...Boys' week in Normandy for good food, beautiful scenery, WWII beaches and Mont St Michel.

It also turns out to be a week of French strikes which have closed 9 of their 10 oil refineries and are causing fuel shortages.  We were able to fill up on gasoline today, but there was no diesel (fuel of choice for many Europeans).  One station in the town of Caen had a line of cars two blocks long waiting for fuel.  We think we have enough gas to make it back to the Sechler home in Belgium.  If not, we'll call Carol and she can run a fuel sortie down to save us.

And, I'll also mention that this blog is being brought to you live, thanks to Grant's Mac Book and the free WiFi at Hotel L'Absinthe (which is French for "dark hallways").

But before France we stopped in Belgium to learn about the first war to end all wars.  We visited the town of Ieper, or Ypres as it was known during WWI.  I find both names equally difficult to pronounce.  Like many towns in this region, Ypres was literally leveled during heavy fighting in WWI.  The Germans and the Allied pushed back and forth over the same ground for four years destroying every building, tree and many of the people.  Afterwards, people returned to their villages and rebuilt from the rubble.  That was certainly the case in Ypres and as you can see in the pictures, they did a remarkable job.

Ypres was a successful textile town in the 13th century when the beautiful Cloth Hall was built.   Building this huge structure once was a tremendous task, but having to repeat this again after WWI is remarkable.  Legend has it that the town had a problem with mice getting into the cloth.  To combat this issue, they procured a large number of cats.  Mice problem solved; but now what to do with the cats?  This being about 600 years before PETA, the townsfolk arrived at the idea of throwing the cats out the belfry of the Cloth Hall.   The event is celebrated each May at the Festival of the Cats.  Luckily, they now use stuffed velvet cats.  (Authors note:  we did stay at the Old Tom Hotel in Ypres so perhaps there is something to this cat legend).

There are many WWI memorials and cemeteries in the region.  In town is the Menin Gate, a British War Memorial where the names of almost 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died but whose graves are unknown are inscribed on the walls.  By comparison, the Vietnam War Memorial includes all US soldiers who died or are missing in action....a little over 58,000.

At Essex Farm Cemetery we saw the bunker where John McCrae wrote his famous poem, In Flanders Field.  Out of respect for the Canadian and pseudo-Canadian readers of this blog I've included a picture of the Canadian Forces Memorial in Zonnebeke.

Tyne Cot Cemetery holds the graves of almost 12,000 Commonwealth soldiers (and four Germans).  It also has a Memorial with the names of 35,000 soldiers that were missing after August 16, 1917 (the cut-off date for the Menin Gate).  As Grant and I were walking along this memorial, we found the name of one S. Woodburn, a private from the King's Liverpool Regiment who was killed but has no known grave.  Several questions arise.. was his first name Samuel?  It would have been nice if the Graves Commission had included first names, but after experiencing the confusion on how to spell my father's middle name, maybe I can understand their strategy of "the fewer names to inscribe, the better".  Second, are we distantly related?  Tom, time to get back on the genealogy work.

Finally, we also visited the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof, or German Cemetery.  In contrast to the gleaming white British Cemeteries with large monuments, this one is also beautiful, but very subdued with many trees, markers flush in the ground and brown buildings.  Over 44,000 soldiers are buried here.  

I recognize that I've included many numbers here and I certainly don't mean to reduce people's deaths to numerics.  But I never really knew much about WWI.  My Riverdale history classes never seemed to make it to the 20th century before the school year ended.  And all the war movies and books were about WWII.  So the numbers helped put things into perspective, although a bleak one at that.  All in all, almost 10 million soldiers died in combat during WWI and over 7 million civilians.  All together that's about the same as the current population of The Netherlands.  What a waste.  

Menin Gate in Ypres

British Cemetery in Ypres.  Said to have the greenest lawn in Europe

When in Belgium eat waffles......

.....with knorks (knife - fork combination)

John McCrae's famous bunker

German Cemetery

Firing from the trenches

O Canada!

Who can resist rolling down a hill?

And at the bottom is says "Known unto God"

Tyne Cot Cemetery

S. Woodburn, Liverpool Regiment.  Pretty lucky to find this out of 35,000 names.  

Cloth Hall and Belfry in Ypres

Friday, October 15, 2010

Delft in August

This is the first of my "catch up" postings.  Kate visited us for a week in August before she headed back to begin her senior year at Vanderbilt.  On one of those days, she, Lori and I visited Delft, a picturesque town about 10 minutes train ride from Den Haag. 

Many people know Delft from the famous blue and white pottery.  This design was actually brought back to Delft from Asia-Pacific by the Dutch East India Company in the 1600's.  In an interesting reversal of today, the Dutch copied the Chinese designs and later exported into China, undercutting the local producers on price.  The Delftware is still manufactured by several local companies today.  Other notable, but not necessarily pleasant, Delft events include an early case of water the 1600's the canal water became tainted, forcing 180 of the 200 breweries to close.  In 1654, the "Thunderclap", an accidental gunpowder explosion leveled half of the town.  And William the Silent was killed at his home in Delft, but maybe we've already heard enough about him. 

William's death did provide somewhat of a benefit to Delft.  At the time of his death, Breda was the official capital and burial place for royalty.  However, it was in the hands of the Spanairds who were probably not going to agree to a cease fire in order to conduct a royal funeral for their bitter enemy.  So William is buried in the New Church in Delft as have most members of the House of Orange since that time, including Queen's Wilhelmenia and Juliana. 

Another famous resident was Johannes Vermeer painter of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "View of Delft".  Unfortunately, fame did not bring wealth and he died at age 42 from "economic woes" (I'm not quite sure what that diagnosis means).  We've seen both of those painting in the Den Haag and they are truly amazing.  The other amazing thing is that he painted in his home with 11 children!

Perhaps I'll add just one more thing about William the Silent.  His mausoleum is in the Nieuwe Kerk and includes an elaborate marble structure.  Part of the carvings include one of his faithful dog, who legend has it, starved himself to death after William's murder so that he could rejoin his master.  Based on his eating habits, I don't think we could expect the same from our dog, Graber. 

Scenic Canals

The Oude Kerk (Old Church) was startted in the 1200's and finished 200 years later.  Note the skull on the bottom of this carving on an inside column. 

Another item from the Oude Kerk.  Note the "friend" at the top.

Old Church Tower

Long sticks on the collection bags.  Larry could take collection from the pulpit at Fairfield. 

In the land of bicycles college students get creative. 

Still breathing heavy after climbing 400 steps to the top of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church)

No, it's not the camera man; the Oude Kerk tower leans 3 ft to the North. 

Tourists with Guide Book in hand.
Kate with the Oude Kerk in the background

Nieuwe Kerk

Town Hall as viewed from the Nieuwe Kerk Tower

I'm not giving up my dinner

Monday, October 4, 2010

Independence Day

The city of Leiden celebrates Independence Day on October 3rd.  Back in 1574 the Spanish Army surrounded the town and tried the starve the residents into submission.  The siege lasted for almost a year and a third of the town's residents perished.  But the people remained loyal to the House of Orange (i.e. Dutch Royalty) and refused to submit.  As a demonstration of his love for the people, the mayor purportedly offered to let the townspeople eat him.  I guess starvation looked to be the better option because the townsfolk didn't take him up on that offer. 

Anyway, William, Prince of Orange finally came to their rescue by breaking down the dikes and flooding out the Spanish Army.  The Spanish left in such a hurry that their dinner was still on the campfire.  It consisted of a pot of potatoes, onions, carrots and some fish or meat.  Of course the ravenous Leidener thought it delicious and they've been eating this meal ever since.  It's called Hutspot and it's essentially a pot roast.  However, you will never find a piece of beef in all of Holland that's big enough to be called pot roast so they use chunks of meat.  A traditional Hutspot also mashes the potatoes, onions and carrots together which the Dutch love to do for reasons that have yet to be explained to me. 

Besides tucking into a meal of Hutspot, the Leideners celebrate their independence with a fair.  You may wonder what a European fair is like?  Much like those in the US.  Carnival rides, all kinds of stands selling food that is unhealthy, all kinds of stands selling beer that is expensive and lots of people who look like they have visited too many of the stands.  But it was a beautiful day, we rode our bikes and it was fun. 

For those of you craving additional Dutch history, William, Prince of Orange, was also known as William the Silent.  The origin of this name is not fully known, but it is thought to have originated from his ability to extract information from other nobles without saying much himself.  Perhaps a lesson for current day diplomats? 

He was very well liked by the people and came to be known as Father of the Fatherland.  The Dutch national anthem is written in his honor.  He was assassinated several years later by a man named Gerard who was caught shortly after committing the crime.  Wikipedia describes his punishment:  Gérard was caught before he could flee Delft, and imprisoned. He was tortured before his trial on 13 July, where he was sentenced to be brutally — even by the standards of that time — killed. The magistrates sentenced that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off. 

And with that cheery note, I am off to begin preparing our family's hutspot. 

Grant and Lori were brave enough to ride the "Break Dance".  Lots of very fast spinning.  Mark stayed on the sidelines to take pictures

An interesting haunted house

People Everywhere

What Dutch picture is complete without a windmill?

As the "Break Dance" ride started up, this guy stood on the platform to rotate the cars.  He stayed on a lot longer than I would have