Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Building up muscles in Brussels.

We booked our hotel through a travel company and then promptly forgot about the logistics of travel. What the hell was I thinking???!?!?!? I assumed we would arrive in Brussels and be in the thick of things and have no trouble finding our hotel. Instead, we arrived in a horribly busy central station, in a place where once again I didn’t know the language and could NOT suss out a direction to save my life! We wandered the streets for at least thirty minutes before stopping in at not one, but two, different hotels to ask directions. When we finally DID locate our hotel, we were very pleased. The Hotel Ibis St. Catherine’s was nice and the view from our room was beautiful. We were on the fifth floor, overlooking St. Catherine’s church. Spook, yet very beautiful in its gothic way.
St. Catherine's.
St. Catherine's Church.

We were also very close, an easy five minute walk, to the Grote Markt—the Grand Square. Which was truly grand, truly awe-inspiring and worth the entire cost of the trip to see it! It is this place that lingers in my head, the throngs of people embraced by elegant architecture that stood as testament to the resilience of the Belgians. In 1695, the French bombarded the city destroying much of the Grote Markt. But within four years, the guilds of Brussels rebuilt their square more resplendent than ever. That is what moves me the most—that such magnificence could rise so quickly because of the dedication of a city’s people. We kept wandering back to this place—it just keeps pulling you back. At night it is alive, vibrant, almost magical.


Grote Markt. Brussels

Moonrise on the Grote Markt. Brussels

Ton wanted to get up very early one morning and watch the city come to life. We got up at 5am and started wandering the streets. The main thoroughfares were already busy, but the back streets leading to the Grote Markt were silent. The Grote Markt was virtually deserted, except for the flower vendor setting up his wares and the sweepers tidying up. Slowly more store owners trickled in as the sky started to lighten. It felt like watching a play, seeing a scene that had been acted out day after day for centuries. It is a good memory and one Ton's best ideas, ever.

Grote Markt. Brussels

Grote Markt. Brussels

One of the first things I wanted to do in Brussels was see the world-famous fountain, Manneken Pis. The little boy peeing. There are a lot of legends about this little statue but no one knows the truth of his origins. But if I was in Brussels, I had to see him for myself. After all, there’s a whole museum dedicated to him and his international wardrobe. Since Brussels is a center of international banking and diplomacy as well as head of the European Union, dignitaries from all over the world come here and gift the city with outfits for the lil’ guy representing their culture. All I can say is, after a long walk up some decently steep hills, I would have walked right by this "attraction" if I hadn’t seen three or four people taking photos of something. Turns out that Manneken Pis is indeed a little guy. Tiny. In fact, not more than a foot tall or I’ll eat him whole (made out of chocolate, of course. Available in shops everywhere in Brussels). Talk about disappointing! Ton had tried to warn me that is was small but would I believe him????? Of course not. Still we had a good laugh, and headed on towards grander things.

Mannekin Pis.

Chocolate Manneken Pis. Larger than the original!

I also knew that if I was in Brussels, I wanted to see the newly opened Magritte Museum. As much as I love the art of Renee Magritte, I was disappointed in his museum. While they had a variety of his work, and it was laid out in my preferred chronological order, the museum seemed to miss a heart. It clearly did NOT have the best of Magritte’s work on display and the pieces they had, while very nice, were poorly displayed in pitch black rooms that were narrow enough that you could not escape the glare on the paintings. I’m not sorry I went, mind you, but I wanted to find the director and give him a stern talking to!
Magritte Museum.

One of the other key things we wanted to do while in Brussels was find the Victor Horta Museum and take a tour. (Ton and I had stumbled on Horta's work on display in the Drenthe Museum in Assen.) Well, let’s just say that didn’t go as expected either! We thought we knew where we were going. Turned out that we didn’t! We must have walked 12 km that afternoon, looking for that house and asking people for directions in Ton’s rather impressive sounding, if slightly broken, French. We did find a fantastic shawarma/falafel shop though, and had lunch. After abandoning all hope, we stumbled upon the right street! The Rue Americain! We were even early! Ton and I both adore Art Nouveau and Art Deco. This house was incredible and did not disappoint! Horta designed every facet of the place, down to the banisters, the doorknobs, the cabinet hinges…everything. It was worth the walk. We would get our fill of Art Deco architecture later, in Antwerp. The only other side note I can add to this excursion is that we were so tired by the time we were through touring the house we decided to take a tram back. The tram was so full that we had to stand. It’s not unusual to have to do this and you get your “tram legs” fairly quickly. Only this time, my tram legs had another lady’s legs wedged between them so that when she stumbled, I stumbled. Luckily, Ton caught me. Unluckily, not before I wrenched my knee so badly that I didn’t think I would make it back to the hotel. I did. But I popped enough Aleve in the next few days to kill a small horse. Or one very tiny Manneken Pis.

Writing this I realize that time has made Brussels more magical for me. While I was there, it was intimidating. It was large. It was dirty. At times, I felt threatened and not at all safe. The city had more than its share of Eastern European women carrying babies and begging for money with outstretched hands and large, dark eyes. But distance has diminished the dirt and danger. I remember now how beautiful it was, the gentle roll of old historic streets. We were only there four days but we saw so very much that it felt like much, much longer. After all, how could you not love a city where you get waffles covered in chocolate and whipped cream at any hour?

Belgian waffle with chocolate and whipped cream.

If you want to see the other photos of Brussels, and be warned there are quite a few! Click onward the Brussels (Bruxelles) Set on Flickr.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Edam. It brings out my cheesy nature.

After our day in Assen, we spent the night in Oosterwolde, a small town nearby. The Hotel Zon was a nice hotel and they had a very good restaurant on site, too! Great food, but the wine we ordered was only mediocre. You can’t win them all, I guess.

Oosterwolde photos

Sunday morning, October 25th, dawned bright and cheerful, and we headed to Leeuwarden on our way to Franeker and the Eise Eisinga Museum. Leeuwarden was quiet—not a lot of people out and about. It was here that I saw the most crooked church I’ve ever seen! It leans so far to the left that it rivals Pisa. In fact, it was leaning so far during the building of it, that they abandoned it. Then it was on to Het Princessehof Ceramic Museum. After coffee in the museum café, we headed on to Franeker.

Leeuwarden photos

In Franeker, we walked around this lovely town to the home of Eise Eisinga , a wool carder who built an accurate, working planetarium in his canalside home between 1774 and 1781. It was fascinating to see it—an elaborate and beautiful model of our solar system. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photos inside, so you’ll have to settle for my photos of the Franeker City Hall, and the surrounding streets.

Franeker photos

Leaving Franeker, we headed back to Amstelveen. This meant traveling across the Afsluitdijk. Something I both anticipated and dreaded! Anticipated because, hey, nothing is more dutch than this enormous dijk. Dreaded because, hey, it’s a DIJK. Holding back a lot of WATER. I get creeped out on bridges over tiny rivers! Luckily, it was nothing as bad as I feared. In fact, it was so beautiful, I forgot to worry about it at all. We even walked a bit along the Wadden Sea, where the wind blew away all worries and fears. It was gorgeous.

Afsluitdijk photos.

Leaving the dijk and the sea behind we arrived in Edam, just as the sun was setting. It was here I fell in love again. Friesland held no magic for me. Groningen had no heart. But here, in Edam, there was a pulse, an air of antiquity, a feeling of home. I would move to this place. I wanted to soak it all in and become part of its history. Why, yes, I do have a flair for melodrama. But after all this time and distance, I can still feel the way I felt on those streets. Perhaps it was the time of day, seeing the city in the gloaming , perhaps it was the stillness and peace of a Sunday evening. Whatever it was, for that one evening, Edam was magical.

Edam photos.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

October 24th, 2009. Assen. Or the Ass-end of nowhere.

Saturday, we left Bakkeveen to head into the heart of Friesland. Henk dropped us off at the hotel in Oosterwolde where we would meet up later with Ton's folks. But Saturday, we were on our own! So, we hopped a bus and headed into Assen. It felt a bit more like "Dutch" than Bakkeveen, Roden and some of the other places. And it was market day when we were there. That always adds to the atmosphere of a place.
Fish Market. Assen.
We opted to have lunch in the market and choose not to have the fish but instead ate lumpia with sambal sauce. Delish! There was also a man with his calliope in the town square. They are very prevalent in the Netherlands and always a joy to see.

Drents Museum
However, most of the day was spent at the Drents Musuem. It was open house day at the museum and admission was free! But best of all, there were people in costumes from all periods of Dutch history and there was a re-enactment group in the ballroom doing clog dances. Very fun! The specialty of the museum is the history of Drenthe and the Hunnebedden.
Tile detail, Drents Museum.
The museum building itself was incredibly gorgeous and housed a fantastic exhibit of Belgian Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. This exhibition would influence our trip to Brussels because of our new-found love of the work of Brussels architect and designer, Victor Horta.


Victor Horta Cabinet. Drents Museum.

Drents Museum

After the museum, it was time to head back to Oosterwolde and have dinner with Ton's parents. Tomorrow would be a day filled with new places: Leeuwarden, Franeker and the dreaded Afsluitdijk.

You can see the rest of my Assen photos on my Flickr page.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When last we saw our intrepid traveler...

I was in Bakkeveen promising an update with photos. Now I'm in America and a lot of water went under the bridge and I have to scramble to catch up! So, let's start again. First, the promised pictures!

Let's start with the elusive and famous "Merrypippins", aka Mergpipjes!
Mergpipjes. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

And follow with Dutch Heather...

And end with...Honey Buns! I mean hunnebedden (or hunebedden depending on which spelling you prefer. Some Dutch people seem to spell it with two n's, while others spell it with one.) These are large stones that were pushed into Holland from Scandinavia during the Ice Age. The early Dutch people in the area created a legend that giants brought the stones into Holland. The Funnel Beaker people (or was it the clock beaker people?) used the stones to make grave chambers. There are 54 hunnebedden in Holland in Drenthe and Groningen. If you're really interested you can read more about it here.

See the kids climbing on the rocks? I wanted to tell them that the ghosts of the dead would come back and grab them from their beds that night and pull them under the rocks if they didn't stop blowing their ear-splitting whistles and screaming like banshees. AARgh. I should be more patient with children but those whistles were LOUD. Ton and I can still hear that sound. *shudders*

If you want to see the rest of the set, including market day in Roden, a trip to Groningen, and a climb up an observation tour in Bakkeveen, head over to my Flickr page.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday. The beginning of the second week.

Edit to add: This post was written BEFORE the Belgium trip. I'm just catching up!

We're still in Bakkeveen. The morning started with a trip to the town of Roden to take our friend's car into the shop for maintenance. Nothing serious-- just an oil change! So we had time to visit the market. That's always fun! Lots of cheese, baked goods, cooked meat, deli meats, olives,flowers, even clothes and jewelry! It is interesting to see how similiar it is to our farmer's market-- yet so very different, too.

After that, we went into Groningen to see what we could find. We ended up going to the Noordland Scheepivart Museum. It gave a history of Groningen from medieval times and a look into Netherlands shipping history. The museum also had several rooms dedicated to tobacco in the Netherlands. Don't really see how the two are related, but it was interesting nonetheless.

As I said in an earlier post, lunch was on the run so we ate at Subway. *eyeroll*

Then it was back to Bakkeveen and a nature walk through the dune heather. I don't know how else to describe the very barren landscape. It looked like sand dunes covered in low-lying purplish juniper-type "heather". We also climbed their "viewing tower" to see the lay of the land. It was like climbing a fire tower on the Parkway. You were in the trees and could see nothing but tree tops and nature. It is fairly common for this area, but outside my realm of experience in Holland.

Saturday, we leave here and head to Oosterwolde and Assen, in Friesland. I have enjoyed being with Henk but I can't say that I will be sorry to leave North Holland. It feels so open and flat-- people live in real houses surrounded by land. Even though the area is older than Amsterdam, they don't feel old-- they seem to lack the charm of places that are a few hundred years younger. Everyone here drives a car, there seems to be very little public transportation. Doing anything involves driving. Living here would feel like living in America. I suppose this proves that places aren't that different, really.

Amazing. It's what's for dinner.

Chandelier. De Drie Provinciën.
De Drie Provinciën

Just had an amazing meal at De Drie Provincien! Fresh, hot bread with herbed shallot butter. Italian dry white wine. Halibut with shrimp in lemon sauce. It was served with small dishes of brussel sprouts, Belgian endive, roasted potatoes.

Angelo Grillo Italie. De Drie Provinciën

Halibut in Citroenboter with. Gamba.De Drie Provinciën


Ton had Cranberry Chicken. Chicken filet stuffed with brie and ham, topped with a plum, cranberry sauce. It was good but my fish was better!

Cranberrykip. De Drie Provinciën

Still life. De Drie Provinciën

Dessert was caramel ice cream coated in toffee-coated nuts, topped with whipped cream. OMG. SO GOOD. So good. I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.

The end of the Berends Smikkelbom. De Drie Provinciën

These two hour dinners really agree with me. But I think I need bigger pants.

Oh, my other dining experience today? Subway. They are EXACTLY the same as in America. And the Dutch apparently love them. WTF.

More later-- probably Sunday evening. I'm uploading photos now but don't know when they'll be available.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Quick Update....now from Bakkeveen!!

We've left Leiden and headed north, to Groningen with Ton's friend, Henk. He has bought a new house in Bakkeven. Things up here are more spacious-- very small towns with lots of open land. It's free-standing homes, rather American actually. We had a nice lunch on the way in and I had my first "farmer's omelet" which is a fairly typical lunch around these parts. It's really just an omelet with lots of veggies in it.

We spent the afternoon at Kasteel Nienoord. (http://www.kasteelnienoord.nl/fotos) It's very tiny but they make the most of what they have. We had a personal guided tour (no one else was there!). The house itself is beautiful inside but needs restoration. There's just a lack of funding to do it.




They have an amazing collection of carriages, coaches and sleighs. They store them and have restoration facilities as well.


For the more macabre people on my list...I included the funeral coach and requisite coffin!



After that, we went to see Henk's niece who owns her own farm. 11 horses, a goat, a pig, some chickens, a new kitten and a dog so sweet I wanted to bring her home! We followed that with dinner in Norg, a very small town with an amazing Italian restaurant, Monte Giove. (http://www.montegiove.nl/site/norg.php) I had Lasagna ai peperoni met gorgonzola-- lasagna with red and green bell peppers, tomato sauce and gorgonzola cheese. For dessert, Dame Blanche-- homemade gelato with whipped cream that you pour warm dark chocolate sauce over and devour while the chocolate forms into pieces of fudgy goodness. *sigh* I think I gained ten pounds today.

Tomorrow we're going into Groningen, probably to a museum or two, or maybe just to walk around the town. We'll see what happens. Saturday we are meeting Ton's parents in Oosterwolde to stay at Hotel Zon and go to the Eise Eisgina museum (http://www.planetarium-friesland.nl/engels.html). Then, back home Sunday evening (possibly traveling over the Afsluitdijk! EEP!)to wash clothes and pack for three nights in Brussels and one night in Antwerp. Whew. The time is flying by!

PS THere are more pictures but I don't have time to get them posted tonight. I'm tired and I want to go to bed! :-P

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Leiden, Katwijk and Panbos

Hoi! Arrived in Leiden yesterday. We're with Ton's oldest sister and her family. We spent the day wandering around Leiden and planning our next adventure. Monday I leave for Brussels! We tried to book something for Paris but it wasn't in the cards. It was possible to get a hotel but not possible to get a ticket for the Thalys (high speed train). Oh, well. Maybe next year. We tried London, but had the same train issues. We settled for Belgium. I'm going to the Magritte museum! Whee! I'm happy with the outcome.

Today, we went to the Panbos and had a little walk about. It's a lovely wooded park, with lots of trails that lead to a "tank wall" that was built by the Germans to stop the Allies from coming in from the North Sea. Ton and the boys kicked around a soccer ball. It was a gorgeous day and a leisurely walk. Nice!




After that, we went to Katwijk an Zee (http://tinyurl.com/yg2umju) to the beach! I love going to Katwijk-- it feels so different from our beaches. There was a lot of activity even though it was very cool with a lot of wind. A bit of cold doesn't keep the Dutch down for very long! There was even a man and his son who were shrimping with small box nets. They caught enough shrimp for their lunch and were proud to show off their catch.


IMG_1373 crop


I'm sipping tea now, waiting for Marianne and Peter to finish dinner. I'm being treated so well, I may not ever come home. It's a cozy and comfortable house and a wonderful family.

Tomorrow, it's off to the Hague and the Gemeente Museum (http://www.gemeentemuseum.nl/index.php?id=1&langId=en). Then back to Amstelveen tomorrow night. Thursday, it's off to Groningen.

As usual, you can see the rest of my photos from today on my Flickr page.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Had a family day with Ton's parents and his sister Marianne's family. We spent time walking in the Amsterdamse Bos--- a man-made forest built around the same time as the Blue Ridge Parkway. (http://www.amsterdamsebos.nl/algemene_onderdelen/english_site?popup=true) It also has a huge pond for rowing which was built, according to Ton's Mother for the Olympics in Summer of 1928. Walked something like 4km around the damned thing.




We did stop for pancakes at a little house in the park. We were greeted by a very thin cow holding a menu. The pancakes took forever to arrive!! But it was good, if a little too thin, eggy and Dutch for me. I have to apologize-- I forgot to take a picture of it!! Have a cow photo instead.


At the pancake house there was a rather weird "decoration" if you will. It was a girl doll that was dressed in prison stripes with a ball and chain hanging from her ankle. She was suspended from the gutter of the building! WTF. I still don't know. But everyone in Ton's family thought it amusing. I still don't get it.


Later, we went to see Ton's other sister, Evelien, to meet the latest and greatest family members, her twin boys-- one of which is Ton's namesake! Cute babies who didn't cry once and let me hold them without a whimper. In fact they grinned at me foolishly most of the time. I liked them. They don't speak Dutch. Yet.