Friday, September 18, 2015

A week in the Netherlands. That's right, I'm back And I AM THE WALRUS.

...You could be the walrus, but it wouldn't change the fact that you aren't here with me right now.

Well, it's that time of year again. We flew out of Charlotte and into that wild and wonderful foreign world of the Netherlands. And into a week of RAIN. I'm so waterlogged I'm turning green with algae. I look like a bad fish tank. Okay, I exaggerate. We haven't had rain EVERY day I've been here. But we've had rain on a lot of those days. And it is a harder rain, with more wind than I've had on past visits. That makes it only right I should complain. And I am in the Netherlands. Dutch people LOVE to complain. It's the national pastime.

Anyway, flight was great, and heaven knows I'm happy to be here. The day after arrival, I had to do the most important thing a person has to do when they arrive in Amsterdam. Find bitterballen and drink beer.  I saw the bitterball and it was good.


Down to the last


With a belly full of bitterballen, we walked around the city and found one of our favorite residents like this little guy near the Hotel American.



And this guy, near the Jewish quarter. A memorial to the Dutch dock workers who rose up against the Nazi's to protest their treatment of the Jews by going on strike in 1941.

Saturday, we met up with Dutchboy's oldest sister and went to the town of Hattem. It's a quaint old town in the Netherlands and it's the images that Anton Pieck based a lot of his art work on. It was open monument day, so there were lots of special programs and people walking around in costume.



They also have an awesome bakery museum in Hattem! I really love it there, with great displays of old bakeware, candy making molds, speculaas molds, etc. And a special section on Droste Cocoa memorabilia.


And we love this little guy!


WE ended the evening with pancakes in Vierhouten, a nearby town where Dutchboy's sister has a caravan. I had a pancake with mushrooms and cheese. It sounds gross to all you Americans out there, but it was DELICIOUS! And huge. After all that carb loading, we took a walk on the heather.



HEre's a video so you can get a better idea of what a walk here looks like!

On Sunday, we made a trip into Amsterdam and spent the day with Dutchboy's younger sister and her twin boys at Artis. Artis is a gorgeous old zoo, right in the heart of the city. It's surrounded by trams and apartments. Some people are lucky enough to look down from their windows and watch the giraffes and zebras play. Dutchboy isn't overly fond of children or zoos. I was a bit worried the day wouldn't work out. But I shouldn't have given it a thought. They got along famously!

Ome Ton could clearly teach the boys a thing or two!

While they were having a lesson, I was enjoying the animals. Like this pelican, who smelled like an unwashed Dutch sailor, but posed so prettily.


And the lions who were lounging in the sun. Perhaps they had sampled a tourist who had a bit too much of the herbal sunshine Amsterdam offers? They look a bit stoned to me.

My favorite part of the zoo was the lemur “enclosure”. Which wasn't really an enclosure at all-- the lemurs were allowed to roam free. You could get very close to them, but were warned NOT to touch them, they bite. They do have wicked looking teeth! And they also LOVE to play. And by play, I mean steal iPhones from tourists and toys from children. But they are gorgeous creatures!!






It was a fantastic day-- the children were MOSTLY well-behaved, considering they are six-year-old twins who LOVE to set each other off before running in opposite directions so the adults have to run after them. And the next day promised to be just as exciting-- we were taking the twins and their teenage sister to the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk!

Dolfinarium is the largest marine animal park in Europe. I was a bit iffy on going to this. It was quite expensive and I didn't want to see animals made to jump through hoops and being shoved back into small pools after a show. What I found was a park awash with trainers and technicians, working with animals and doing animal rescue/medical care. The attention to the animals was constant, with multiple trainers working with the animals at all times. Simply put, it was worth every penny. And that is saying something, for someone who is married to a Dutch person who counts every penny (to the infinite power).



I was suitable impressed by this park! You can swim with the dolphins but it costs extra. Luckily for the dolphins, I can't swim. (But if the walrus trainer wanted to go for a swim he could have well enticed me to try. Sorry, Dutchboy. I was just teasing about "trading up".)


OF course it was drizzling rain. IT was the theme of the week. Rain and rain. And then it would clear up and...rain again. *sigh* Dutch weather is just SO WEIRD.


In spite of the rain, we attended several different “shows” and demonstrations, including a California sea lions. 

And my favorite, the walruses!!



I loved it, can you tell?


We spent a lot of time in the “under sea” restaurant/viewing area. You had a beautiful view of the dolphins and walruses swimming freely in their enclosures. 





They also had a huge pool where you could “pet” the rays and smaller sharks. 



WE took a short break and walked to the “Strand” which was really just a sandy patch of beach on the Ijsselmeer. But to the boys, it was the “sea”!


We ended the day watching a kids play about a Walrus, named Wally, who saved a mermaid along with his friends help. There was a very catchy song we all sang the rest of the afternoon. We couldn't stop “Swimming in the sea”!


We ended the day laughing, eating ice cream (I got it all over me, hence the "hands" photo) and the thing I do best, posing!!



Then there was Alkmaar. And ANOTHER day of RAIN. And then more RAIN. We escaped into the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar.
It's a great museum, and they had a fantastic exhibit of Bergense School artists collected by Piet Boendermaker. Lovely things. And also an exhibition on van der Heck that was quite ineresting. They also have a fantastic collection that tells the history of Alkmaar and some of their more famous residents. But the thing we had the most fun with? The cheesy photo booth. We laughed until we cried. Now the world can laugh at us, too. They're all available on Flickr, and now here. 







By the time we left Alkmaar, the rain had cleared and we had a beautiful view of the Waag.

And that's it for the first week in the Netherlands! Actually, there was another day in the city of Amsterdam, where we went to the Stedelijk museum, which is so horrible I won't even write about it. Honestly that museum has been RUINED by a giant white bathtub stuck on the outside of the old historic building. It's okay if you stick to their design collection and their art prior to 1950. But the modern stuff is just...UGH. Anyway, I cleansed my palate after that with a trip to the Rijksmuseum. But we didn't take one photo that day. Mainly because it was raining so hard, we left the camera at home rather than risk it. And it's darned good thing we did. We ended up with a total of 11.5 miles walked, inside the museum and through the city. More later, of course. Tomorrow we will be heading to visit friends in Purmerend and Sunday we're having high tea with the family. Tuesday, we're off to Prague. I've learned the only Czech I hope to need: Pivo, prosim. 

Until then, tot ziens!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cinque Terre-- hiking the hill towns

Our reason for going to the Cinque Terre was twofold.  First and foremost, I saw a program (thank you Rick Steves) on the Cinque Terre many, many years ago and knew immediately that it was one of my bucket list places.  It was the Italy I dreamed of—not Rome or Venice.  And secondly, after the terribly flooding in 2011, the Cinque Terre needed visitors to help them restore their economy.  We felt if we ever wanted to visit, now was the time.
When the sun rose on our second day, we got up early, went to the bakery  and  bought some delightful cornetti—Italian croissants filled with many different fillings. I had no idea what was in each one, so we bought several! And yes, they were ALL delicious. After we grabbed our pastry, we stopped in at Burgus for our morning coffee—cappuccino for me and an Americano for the Dutchboy.  We took our coffee to the harbor, with the promise to return the cups and had our picnic breakfast. This would be our ritual for the days we stayed there.  In hindsight, those quiet mornings at the harbor nursing espresso and croissants were some of my favorite memories of the trip.

Hindsight, indeed! Truth be told, that morning I was probably too excited to appreciate it the way I should.  We were going to hike the trails I had dreamed of! We would see this part of Italy for ourselves. So we set off to the train station, walking sticks in hand, to buy our park permits (you can’t hike the trails without paying a small fee and having a “pass”) and catch the train to the far end of the Cinque Terre and hike back to our home base of Vernazza.

Waiting for a train that would take us five minutes further down the line to Riomaggiore.

Like everything else in this area, Riomaggiore is built on a mountain. So it goes straight up! But going straight up, you pass along the main street with all the little shops and markets.
A glimpse into a focacceria—great for a quick breakfast or snack.
See? Straight up! Looking down Main street Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore from the Harbor
Looking towards Monterosso, the path we walk to Manarola is visible along the Cliffside.

The beach of Riomaggiore.  Lots of rocks, not sand. And people didn’t seem to mind that at all. The train tunnel is above, in the alcove.  I loved Riomaggiore—it’s small and quaint.  It’s quiet without being sleepy.  Next to Vernazza, it was my favorite city we saw in Italy! But there was more hiking to do. The next town awaited us!  This part of the trail is known as the Via dell’Amore (“Pathway of Love”). It’s a kilometer long, paved path that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. It’s an easy walk, and lovers lock padlocks to the fencing that holds back the rock.  No, we didn’t declare our undying devotion with a padlock, but we did hold hands while we strolled towards  Manarola, Town number two on the Cinque Terre circuit.

Well, held hands until we encountered this friendly native. Who was too friendly for my liking.
Lizards seem to find me on every trip. I’m cursed with some pheromone that summons lizards.  Ironic that it should happen on the Via Dell’amore, right?

By this time, I was getting a bit peckish, and the smell of focaccia beckoned. So we bought a nibble or two and walked again towards the water.
Lunch!! Foccacia—one with anchovies and one without!
This was our view during lunch.
Or we could look the other way and see this! Manarola, the lady herself.

After lunch, we started hiking the second leg of our trip, but were thwarted. The path was blocked by a gate—it was closed due to a landslide.  We could have taken a different path, but we didn’t realize it at the time. Instead we walked back through Manarola and took the train to Corniglia, where we could continue onward with our trek back to Vernazza.

The thing about Corniglia—it’s on top of the mountain. There’s no harbor access to it. The train station is at the BOTTOM. You have to walk up almost 400 (felt like 4,000) steps to get to the top. Of course, there’s a shuttle to take you up, but where’s the fun in that???

Corniglia—narrow quiet lanes.

And stairs. Always with the stairs. Everywhere  you look.

Looking back to Corniglia, hiking towards Vernazza.

This hike takes you past lovely mountainside vineyards.

A sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean.

The path ahead.

And the path that was behind us.  The road to another town is above the pathway.

This path seemed to wind on and on forever. But in an hour or so, the town of Vernazza came into view!
This photo is deceptive, though. Vernazza was still quite a bit down. Straight down some steep hills and equally steep stairs.  But the rewards were sweet. Great views, lovely memories, a sense of accomplishment and…

Gelato!! Really, really amazing gelato.

Followed later by a lovely dinner at Gambero Rosso. I had Tegame di Vernazza  (fresh anchovies baked with potatoes and tomatoes) and Dutch opted for Spaghetti al rag├╣ di carne alla Bolognese (pasta with a Bolognese sauce).

Dutchboy’s dinner.  The photo of my anchovy dish didn’t turn out. It was dark and we were dining al fresco, harborside.

The wine was excellent, too. Wine of the region is white, dry, and very very good.

After dinner, we strolled through town, enjoying the warm evening. Music spilled out of cafes, and people were out, taking in the scene. It was easy to be there.

We ended the night, once again at the harbor. The lights of Monterosso, the last town of the Cinque Terre, beckoned us. Tomorrow we would hike the last portion and see the magic behind those lights in the distance for ourselves.