Sunday, June 5, 2011

Amsterdam in April

The weather was beautiful one Sunday in early April (yes, I recognize this is not exactly breaking news), so we rode our bikes to the train station in Voorschoten, hopped on the train and went to Amsterdam.  Although Amsterdam has world class museums the real beauty lies in its many rings of canals.  It's a great place to simply walk around, view the architecture and relax at a cafe.  On a warm spring day in a city like Amsterdam there will always be something interesting to see and our trip was no exception.

All aboard!  Actually, this is the inside of Amsterdam Central Train Station

The exterior of the train station is beautiful.  Unfortunately, these power lines ruin the photo.  The left hand tower has a weather vane disguised as a clock.   

As you can see, a few other people were enjoying the nice weather.

We got ourselves oriented by taking a boat tour.

One of Amsterdam's Canals

When you combine tourists on paddle boats and long canal cruisers, accidents happen.  Luckily this paddle boat pinch didn't cause any injuries. 

There are about 2500 houseboats moored in the canals of Amsterdam.  They are actually just floating houses; I don't think there is any boating involved. 

Examples of the decorated gables in the homes along a canal.

More gables.

Amsterdam was built on a swamp and is only 6 ft above sea level.  The homes are built on pilings, many of which shift or rot over time.  Consequently, not all the buildings line up. 
The name says it all.  These guys were having a great time pedaling this wagon while drinking a never-ending glass of beer.  The guy in the back was steering (and presumedly not drinking).  I'm sure these rides are available in other cities as well, but with its flat landscape and open culture, nowhere is it more appropriate than Amsterdam.  Maybe we'll book this for Grant's 16th birthday. 

You'll notice a number of folks in this photo with pink or purple ruffled shirts.  I wonder if this is a high-class tour group that kept together with fancy clothes as opposed to the normal ball cap or t-shirt. 

Amsterdamers got tired of people urinating into the canals.  So they installed these....outdoor urinals (sorry, men or very brave women only).   Best of all, they're free.   They probably still just drain into the nearby canal. 

Cafe 't Smalle, where Pieter Hoppe began his famous genever distillery in 1780.  Genever, or Dutch Gin, is so named because Juniper berries are added to the process to mask the flavor.  

Of more interest to me than gin is apple tart.  The guide book said that this cafe, Winkle, had the best in town.  It was outstanding. 

In case this posting has inspired you to take a boat tour of Amsterdam, there are plenty available. 


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don and Joan's Visit - Part II

Don and Joan weren't the only parents visiting Europe in April.  Mark Sechler's parents, Dale and Carol, were also spending time on the continent.  We were lucky enough to host the Sechler family on Good Friday after they visited the Dutch flower fields. 

Good thing we have a long table.  Sorry about cutting you off, Carol.

Every Tuesday, our town of Wassenaar holds their market where people sell fruits, vegetables, meat, breads, clothing, flowers and of course, cheese.  This market isn't like a farmers markets in the states where people sell their own produce.  Rather, these folks have large trailers that serve as mobil grocery stores.  They buy the products from a wholesaler or other supplier then travel to different town markets to sell them retail. 

It's tough to beat a warm stroopwafel. 

It's always busy at the cheese shop.

One of the fruit and vegetable stands

This is an automatic white asparagus peeler.  You put the asparagus stalk in the left, it travels past the knives and comes out on the right ready to cook.  I'm sure that you'll be seeing it in Williams Sonoma catalogs soon.  Known as Holland's White Gold, white asparagus is grown in the dark and has a very mild flavor. 

If you're a loyal follower of this blog (and who isn't), you've already heard plenty about Leiden.  It's a great Dutch town with lots of history.  Needless to say, when you come visit us, you're going to see Leiden and Don and Joan were no exception.  However, we did add a new twist...we took them on a tour by boat

Lori, Don and Joan by one of the old gates to the city of Leiden

View of the canals and bridges from the water

This home or warehouse used the lifting beam at the top to move furniture or materials to each floor. 

Don and Joan.  The windmill in the back is the design where the entire "house" rotates to catch the wind. 

Getting on our tour boat.  It is specially designed to fit under the bridges.

Another great historical town is Delft.  We happened to hit this town on their market day, so the town square was pretty chaotic.  We toured the Niewe Kerk and enjoyed a sunny lunch at a sidewalk cafe. 

Note all the market stalls in the town square.  It was packed.  The Niewe Kerk is in the background. 
Dordrecht, or Dordt as it is sometimes called, was Holland's first town, founded in 1220. It has a prime location for commerce as three rivers meet  -- the Oude Maas and two branches of the Rhine, the Merwede and the Norde -- before flowing into the North Sea.  The location has had its advantages.  In the early days,all wine from Germany and France had to be unloaded here and taxed prior to being shipped elsewhere in Holland.  There were downsides as well.  German paratroopers landed here in the 40's to secure the prime spot.  Due to its historical wealth there are a number of attractive canals and waterfront areas. 

Some of you may recognize the name Dordt; it's a College in Souix Center, Iowa affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church.  You may also recognize Dordt from the Canons of Dordt, one of the three major confessional statements of Reformed churches, that came from a synod in that town in 1618-9.  The Canons of Dordt were a response to statements made by the followers of Jacob Arminius, and emphasized the sovereignty of God through his electing grace.

One of our many lunches at outdoor cafes. This one was in Dordrecht.  Note the teenager in shorts & t-shirt compared to his colleagues. 

The Dordrecht harbor was filled with some very nice boats.

The Dordrecht Cathedral

On a lighter note, Dordrecht is the location of the Huis Bever-Schaep (Beaver Sheep House).  Supposedly, three brothers had a wager to see who could build the most beautiful home with the most controversial decorations.  The first brother's home was decorated with a mermaid.  The second brother decorated his home with a statue of a naked boy.  The third brother won the wager, but his decoration was so scandalous that it has not survived and no one knows what it was.  These fellows must not have read their Canons.

The Sheep and Beaver House.

Close up of the Sheep and Beaver

The Mermaid

This town is located near Arnhem and was one of the major sites in Operation Market Garden -- the largest airborne operation of WWII.  This was British Field Marshall Montgomery's plan to quickly end the war in late 1944.  Thousands of allied troops were dropped behind enemy lines to secure key bridges and allow British ground forces to advance quickly and then move into Germany.  Unfortunately, the Germans had significant forces in the area, the strategy failed and the war lasted another seven months.  The events were made into a movie, A Bridge Too Far. 

Put a tank in a park and kids will climb on it.  I guess they're not going to hurt it.

An artillery gun outside the museum

Louman Museum
This museum, located about three kilometers down the road from us, houses over 250 cars collected by the Louman family.  It opened last summer and is very well done.  Don, Grant and I spent an afternoon there while the girls went shopping, an arrangement that suited everyone well.

The museum has an amazing collection.  They begin with things like this old Dutch farm wagon. 

They move onto this Stanley Steamer automobile. 

And they go all the way to Formula I racing cars. 

A Cord from the 30's.  I had a Revel plastic model of this car when I was a kid.  It was too complicated for me to put it together so the parts were cannabalized into other home-made models. 

The Aston Martin used in James Bond's Goldfinger

The ad says it all

Don and Joan Visit The Fatherland, Part I

In April we hosted Lori's parents, Don and Joan, for their first visit to The Netherlands, home of their ancestors.  In honor of their arrival we were blessed with two weeks of spectactular weather, with temperatures in the 70's and 80's and no rain.  Now no one will believe us when we complain about the dreary, wet Dutch weather. 

I've already chronicled our visits to the Keukenhof and Flower Market, but there was lots more of Holland that we saw.

No trip to Holland is complete without a visit to a windmill or several visits as our case turned out to be.  We went to the Salamander, a restored windmill in the neighboring town of Leidschendam.  This wind power at this mill was used to cut wood.  Logs were floated down the canal, soaked for 1-3 years, dried and then cut for lumber.    The mill continues to cut wood today for people who want historically accurate lumber in their floors and furniture.

The Salamander Windmill.  In this style of mill, the top of the windmill rotates to catch the wind.  In earlier designs the entire windmill rotated. 

The storage area for the logs.  Most of the logs are beneath the surface and soak for up to three years.  The mill folks told us that they have a map showing which logs are stored where.  They also told us that they have to be careful where the logs come from.  Trees from areas that saw heavy fighting in WWII can contain shrapnel and bullets which ruin the saws. 

This mother duck and her flotilla of ducklings were enjoying a sunny day on the water. 
We also visited Kinderdijk, where 19 windmills stand.  Legend has it that the town's name originated following the flood of 1421 when a baby washed ashore here in a cradle.  (Kinder is Dutch for child).  The more likely origination is that the children of the town supplied the labor to build the dike. 

We took a boat tour down the canal to get a view of the windmills

People appeared to be living in many of the mills.  I'll be there are a lot of stairs. 

It was chilly on the water

The picture isn't the best, but these are the replacement windmills....large Cat engines with huge pumps. 
Zuiderzee Museum
Per the guidebook, the town of Enkhuizen was once a prosperous town of 40,000 people.  It rivaled Amsterdam in the 16th century.  But then several misfortunes struck...the harbor silted up and the plague struck its people.  The final blow came in the 1920's when the Zuiderzee -- a large inlet of the North Sea -- was damned, changing the water from North Sea salt water to a fresh water lake, effectively killing their fishing industry.  Seems like misfortune might be an understatement.

One of the town's responses was to create the Zuiderzee Museum, a recreation of a small, old time fishing village.  It is very similar to Colonial Williamsburg in the US; they've brought in old houses, created streets and canals, and have craftspeople demonstrating how things were done two or three centuries ago.  It's very well done and we hit it on a day with perfect weather.

The Zuiderzee Museum Village

Another view of the village

People in traditional Dutch Dress doing the traditional Dutch thing of drinking coffee.

Dutch Garden

The town rescue boat.  One of the displays told of a father and two sons who were ice fishing one evening.  The ice they were on broke away and they floated about the sea for two weeks before being rescued.  They had to throw most of their supplies overboard because the ice kept melting and they were losing buoyancy.  Two of them died following the rescue. 
Smoked eel.  They had herring too. 

Some of the "pureblood Dutch" of our group enjoying the smoked herring....a taste only a true Dutch peson could love.   Actually, it was quite good.   

The well water in this part of Holland contained dissolved natural gas, so the Dutch used these crude separation tanks to get usable form of the gas for cooking and lights.  Years later, not far from here, in Groningen, one of Europe's largest natural gas fields was discovered.   

One of the typical garden plants was Rhubarb. 

Chairs in the village church.  Note the names on the back.  Makes it pretty easy to see who's missing on Sunday. 

This modified leather "glove" was used by the village sailmaker to push the needle through the cloth sails.  Note the metal circle; it was located in the palm of the hand, allowing the sailmaker to apply a lot of pressure on the needle. 

One of the rows of shelves in the cheese house. 

This figure marked the entrance to the Apotheek, or pharmacy.  Inside they had about 20 more figures like this.....a bust with the mouth wide open.  Evidently this was the universal symbol for an apothecary. 

The author trying his hand (or feet in this case) at using stilts.  Lori had to take this photo quickly because I wasn't up for very long.   Notice that I'm only using the lower foothold on the stilts.  There was no use even trying the upper footholds.   

Now the Zuiderzee is a popular recreational sea for sailing.

Lori with her parents