Thursday, October 28, 2010

Egmond aan Zee. Day Three.

Wanna know what Dutch looked like as a baby?? Kinda like this.


Sunday morning, day three of our trip, started with another visit from the entire clan—including the twins! Wow. They're LOUD and rambunctious! But what do you expect from a Ton's namesake??

The family departed around noon and we were picked up by an old friend of Ton's, Michel, so that we could spend the afternoon with him, his wife, Denise and their little girl Is-A-Bella. That's how she said her name—totally adorable!!!

Went to their house in Purmerend, and headed out to one of their favorite spots, Egmond aan Zee, a little beach town a little over 50 km northwest of Amsterdam. It was a gorgeous afternoon so lots of people were out getting their last licks of summer. We had coffee at Het Wapen and enjoyed the sunshine. We also had the traditional dutch snack, bitterballen, meat so finely minced that it is almost a paste, mixed with spices, rolled in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Very good with wine and not bad with coffee, either! We also had kaas soufflés which isn't a soufflé at all, but puff pasty stuffed with cheese.

After that, we took a stroll on the beach so Is-A-Bella could play in the sand.


Beaches in Holland aren't like Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks. They're wide—VERY wide. Take the visible amount of beach and multiply it by ten. That comes close to how wide it is. Seriously WIDE. And even though there was a storm over the North Sea, it never seemed rough.


Egmond aan Zee also has a lighthouse! Which, once again, is nothing like our lighthouses, Dutch lighthouses always seem terribly short and stumpy. Maybe Hatteras has spoiled me. I don't know.


This light house was named for a great sea hero (all Dutch heroes are Sea heroes. And they're all GREAT. Never forgot that while in the Netherlands. And for Gods sake, Do NOT talk about the war!!)


Jan Carolus Josephus van Speijk is famous because he blew up his ship and killed his crew rather than be taken by the enemy. More specifically, he despised the Belgians and their fight to separate themselves from the Dutch. So when his ship was blown off course in a storm and he made port in Antwerp, he blew up his ship rather than give it up to the Belgians. His famous quote is "Dan liever de lucht in" (better to blow up). He is deemed as so loyal to his country that the king decreed that the royal navy would forever have a ship named in his honor. Dutch boy just says he was crazy—if he wanted to kill himself that's great but his crew??? I kind of agree with van Speijk. Better to die like a lion than live like a dog.


You can see the rest of the photos on on my Flickr account, Be warned it's mainly family photos and shots of people you don't know!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day two-- Haarlem.

Saturday dawned with odd weather. Sunshine, followed by brief spits of rain. But if you let a little rain stop you in the Netherlands, you’ll stay home. All. The. Time. SRSLY. It can rain for two minutes and the sun burst through. Or it can drizzle miserably for hours. Netherlanders forge ahead. Just beware of puddles. And bikes that swoosh through them. Trust me. I found out the hard way.
Ton and I had planned to return to Haarlem on this trip. I love Haarlem. It is very old, very small and very, very beautiful. I had been to the Frans Hals museum, and St. Bavokerk (though I was glad to see that they had given the steeple a renovation and shiny coat of gilding) but I had never been to the Teyler’s Museum. It’s a science museum but the building itself warrants a visit.
Grand architecture at it’s finest! From the domed ceiling of the foyer,
to the intricately wrought floor grates,
everything is an exercise in perfection.
The Teyler’s Museum is the oldest museum in the Netherlands, having opened in 1794. I was very disappointed to learn that the oldest part of the museum, the Oval Room, was closed for renovations. But there was so much to see that I wasn’t disappointed for long. The collections of the museum are arranged chronologically, forming a tour of science and discovery through the ages.


There's no interior lights in the majority of the museum. It was built before the electric lights and they want to preserve the original architecture as much as possible. Some evenings, they even do guided tours by torchlight! How cool would that be?!?

Almost as cool as running into someone you know while in a museum in another country! Which probably isn't all THAT cool when you hear it is Ton's sister, Marianne. But I was still very shocked when a woman waved at me (the Dutch aren't notoriously open and friendly with strangers) while I was walking down the aisle. It took a moment, and a double-take on my part for it to register. I was very happy she decided to spend her day off in the same museum. Serendipity, no??

Teyler's was having a special exhibition on the myth and mystique of an artist's studio but I was honestly so taken with the building, I could see very little else.
Especially this stairway to the second floor, which was closed for a private party. I was allowed to sneak up to the landing and take a few photos!




And the it was time to leave, via the grand entry way with its gorgeous carvings and dark wood.

After picking up our coats (yes we needed coats it was very cold and windy) we headed out into Haarlem, to wander around and just enjoy being in a city that feels so much like Antwerp but still decidedly practical and very, very Dutch.
The glory that is St. Bavokerk

See the blue sky in that photo? It is deceiving. It rained not twenty minutes after that photo was taken. I had to wear a hat. My poor hair stylist would be appalled by the state of my hair after THAT. We decided to forgo getting wetter and stop for dinner at an international fusion restaurant, Specktakel. Marianne recommended it and I have to say, she wasn't wrong to do so. The food was, well, spectacular.
It started off well enough-- a nice, warm loaf of crusty bread, fruity olive oil and a bowl of indian spice mix. Went very well with the wine!
Then the appetizers started arriving. And it got a little bit dicey. Looks harmless, no??
Mr. DeMille, he's ready for his close up:
Ton, not being much of a foodie, failed to read the complete description of his appetizer and was thus very surprised to see that his aged beef salad contained crispy crickets. I noticed it the minute they put his plate on the table but dismissed it as misshapen lumps of beef. Oh, no. They were crickets all right. He ate one before he realized it. The others were gently laid on the side of his plate. He said he was relieved when he found a second one. One cricket means the kitchen is dirty. Two crickets can't be a mistake!
My crab dim sum was much better.
As was Marianne's salmon tartar with caviar. Mmmmm. Caviar.
Ton's main course was much more sedate. Nothing had jumped on his plate that wasn't supposed to be there- just tandoori lamb, spiced potatoes and mango pickle!
Marianne had Miso cooked salmon that arrived in a beautiful bento box presentation.
I opted for Italian chicken saltimbocca. I was torn, though. I really thought about the Antelope sosaties. But after the cricket incident, I played it safe. Besides, it had Parmesan foam. Who could say no to that?!?! And aubergines, too. Mmm.
We all decided to have the chocolicious coffee—espresso, chocolate crème brulee, chocolate liquor and truffles.

After all that food, we headed back to the train station, taking the scenic route to walk off some calories. I present, Haarlem by night!
Teyler's Museum and Spaarne Straat.

Big, winged-foot statue!
(That's me walking down the street for a moody photo!)
We dropped Marianne off at the train station so that she could head home to Leiden. Then we hopped on the next bus to Amstelveen. It had been a great day—long and tiring but very good! And I leave you now with one last photo, complete with caption and jaunty hat!
Who watches the watchers??

(You can view the rest of the set, if you're so inclined, on my Flickr account.

Amstelveen. A look back at the trip that was...

Every year I head to Europe with the thought that I will update my blog as I go. And every year I fail miserably. It’s becoming so depressingly predictable as to be tradition. So here, once again, begins a retrospective of our trip.

On our first day in Amstelveen, we didn’t do much. I have to admit, I was busted from the flight. We came in, hugged and kissed everyone and went to BED. We got up around 14:00 and had a shower before venturing into the market in Amstelveen. Friday is market day, and it’s always a joy to spend time in European markets. Oh, and we ventured to Koolhaas for my first hazelnoot gebak of the trip. Koolhaas is truly a wonderful bakery—and the place that Ton’s family has always gone when they want a special treat. The quality is clear, the taste superior. But I was so busy eating the delicious hazelnut cream between layers of chewy meringue that I forgot to take a picture! In fact, I took no photos at all that day, other than the back garden at Mum and Pa’s.


And her gorgeous hydrangeas, still in full bloom!


The family came over that night and it was a gezellige evening with infant twin boys running wild and lots of laughter. And coffee. I didn’t sneak away once to escape. Not once! Even though Marianne had thoughtfully brought me a welcome present of mergpipjes and dropjes. Mmmmmmmmm.

It was probably the last quiet day we would have during the entire trip. The rest seems filled with friends, family, old favorites and new places to see!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leaving on a ....corn stalk????

Greetings from the Netherlands!

Flight out went well-- PTI (Greensboro) is so tiny that it is virtually impossible to have trouble there. The only issue that came up was that Delta pulled me out of line because apparently Ton and I were already showing onboard the plane that was boarding!! That was quickly straightened out though. Our connection was in Atlanta. And there I was greeted with a strange sight.


Flying corn???


More like flying porn!!

Nothing like flying phallic corn to set the mood of a layover. I was hoping that our Airbus 330 was more fuselage than stalk. I didn't want to arrive in the Netherlands like an obscene Dr. Strangelove riding an ear of corn-- though such an entrance would be rather fitting here.

Never fear. It was fine.

Delta did do me the honor of misplacing my luggage. They decided my bag needed to be stashed in the basement for safe keeping. It must be that my underwear is too precious to be put the belt alongside that of the riff-raff. I felt honored. Once I got over the annoyance.

Now, it's time for me to head out for the day. Don't know where I'm going, but that's half the fun.

Tot Ziens!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Antwerp Art Nouveau- a happy ending!

It was our last day in Antwerp and I knew I had to visit an area I read about in a travel guide. I didn’t know HOW to get there…or exactly what we would find but I knew I wanted to see the art nouveau architecture of Antwerp. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much. As usual, I was wrong. Completely WRONG.

But before we go there, lets talk about GETTING there. It wasn’t easy. We couldn’t figure out how to get a bus ticket and ended up wandering outside of Antwerp Centraal for a long time! Which isn’t bad, mind you. It’s a gorgeous area. See??

Koningin Astridplein. Antwerp.

The entrance to the zoo is there, too.
Antwerp Zoo entrance. Antwerp.

The Zoo may provide the explanation for WHY there is a man dressed in a banana suit and another person dressed in a bear suit standing outside Antwerp Centraal. But do we REALLY want to know the explanation for the Rent-o-Kil van??? (I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical DUTCH reason for this name. But I like Rent o kil better.)

Moving on. Outside Antwerp Centraal.

But none of this could deter me from my mission. Not banana man, not bear dude, not even the promise of a Zoo—I wanted art nouveau glamour! Ton, being ever so resourceful and speaking Dutch in a Dutch-speaking city, procured train tickets for us. Brilliant!! And we were off to Berchem station.

Zurenborg, the area in question, is one of the most visually stunning and architecturally impressive areas I’ve ever seen. There’s not one house that can be called plain and unadorned. Built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the houses, are mainly art nouveau in design, which is probably why Ton and I loved it so very much. There’s only so much one can say, words cannot accurately describe it. Instead, I’ll let the pictures, as inadequate as they are, show you.

Viktor Horta-inspired art nouveau….IMG_2480


Another simply gorgeous nouveau design…


Neo-Classical or Gothic Revival?

And perhaps the oddest thing we saw on the block…A house with what appeared to be wax heads in the window. Every window in a very large house had heads peering out!

Even the water towers were impressive.
Water Towers. Northwest Antwerp.
Worn out and weary from oohing and aahing, we headed back to Antwerp Centraal and our train back to Amstelveen. Train stations are curious places…everyone is in a hurry and never appears quite sure of themselves. There’s an unease there, an impending sense of, not exactly doom but definitely disquiet. While we were waiting, a man hurried by with his dog. He stopped, tied the dog to a pipe and went to the restroom. The look on the dog’s face mirrored the disquiet so perfectly…he was waiting, worried, clearly not at ease in his surroundings.


The story ends happily, though. Man and dog reunited with a pat on the head and a lick of the hand and they were off, out the door, leaving us to wait another hour for a train that didn’t want to come. It was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Ton played with the camera. I simply got irritated. He had better results that I did. Antwerp Centraal, after all, the most beautiful train station in the world!



And how can you go wrong with gorgeous models like this?!?


That story ends happily, too. We finally got on a train, albeit an overcrowded one that left Ton standing in the aisle for over an hour of the journey while I sat next to a slightly smelly Eastern European man. He greeted me in French, I apologetically told him I’m only conversant in English. He smiled and said that was okay, he could speak English, too. Turns out, he spoke English, French, and Russian. Most likely some other Slavic language, too. Yes, I felt stupid and inadequate. He didn’t speak Dutch, though, and was afraid he would miss his stop. I was glad I could help him with that at least. We tend to think we’re smarter than the people around us. We make value judgments based on appearances, and yes, smell. Luckily, the world occasionally brings us down a peg. That is the true merit in travel: it forces us to readjust our thinking. We see the world with fresh eyes, but we also see our place in that world a bit differently. The architecture of our world changes just a bit. And that makes it all worthwhile.

The whole set of photos, including A LOT of pretty house photos can be found in the set 10-30-2009 on FLICKR.

And more Antwerp Centraal photos here.