My Tour Guide
Our trip has drawn to a close but, as usual, I can’t end without a final nod to my intrepid companion and chief motivator, the person who forces me off the couch and into the world.
Stay well my friends.
This year’s adventure flew by faster then a bullet train. I didn’t get even close to pointing out all the remarkable things we’ve seen in this outstanding country. Let’s finish with an assortment of the wacky, weird and wonderful.
I’d characterize almost every flea market and bazaar we’ve been to here as a Jumble Sale. I’ve never seen such an odd collection of used clothes, broken toys, rusty tools and assorted junky stuff.
The Rommelmarkt at Appelscha takes place in what appears to be an abandoned amusement park for kiddies. The only thing left are the creepy forlorn creatures that have been abandoned and left to fester like captives in an old Twilight Zone episode.
IJHallen, in North Amsterdam, is probably the longest running Rommelmarkt in Holland.
The Bazaar in Beverwijk is a whole other animal. It was billed as a long established mixed use affair. There are huge warehouse type buildings filled with most everything you can imagine. No collectibles or antiques but tons of cheap underwear, toys, tools, jewelry and Middle Eastern food. Kind of a free trip to Turkey.
Waanders In De Broeren
The Broerenkerk, Church of Brothers, was part of the Dominican monastery from 1465 until the monks were expelled in 1589 and the Protestants took over.
Now it houses Waanders in de Broeren, one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever seen. A joy to wander around or just have a snack.
A Few Loose Ends
We’ve been on a Museum Binge. We happened to buy a couple Museumkarts and have been drunk on art ever since. The Museumkart gives you access to most of the best museums in the Netherlands and is the deal of a lifetime. You don’t even have to wait in the ticket line. In an attempt to squeeze every last drop of goodness out of the card we have attacked this part of Holland with a vengeance and been to 14 museums so far. Here’s just a couple.
Dutch Art 101
In this neck of the woods you are going to see lots of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history generally spanning the 17th century that rang in the new Dutch Republic and helped make it the most prosperous nation in Europe. As you can imagine we have managed to see a whole lot of great paintings, but I won’t bore you with all that. Describing images to people is like telling them about your dreams, you really had to be there. I think most people are somewhat familiar with Dutch paintings anyway. If you’ve seen a cigar box, you can probably imagine a Rembrandt. I’ll just talk about two of the big dogs and try to keep it short.
“The Night Watch” is a 1642 oil painting by Rembrandt that hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
To better understand the significance of this Dutch Masterpiece in contemporary terms lets first discuss that iconic TV show “Law & Order”, the longest-running hour-long primetime TV series in history. Created by Dick Wolf, this show ran for 20 seasons and spawned an entire Law & Order franchise. One of the chief successes of the show was it’s distinctive look. This was, in part, achieved by a technique brand new for TV, the “Walk & Talk”. This is done by using a steady cam and backing through the set as the main characters walk down hallways and go room to room discussing their next move. This gets the actors out from behind those boring old desks, propels the story forward by making it look like talking is actually doing something and it keeps the viewer actively engaged. This is so much a part of the show that it’s even in the intro. I thought it was so original until I finally realized this is exactly what Rembrandt did in 1642. Until then these group portraits of prominent citizens and military leaders were pretty staid affairs with everyone lined up like bowling pins or sitting around a table trying to figure out what to do with their hands. In this enormous painting, 142.9″ × 172″ , Rembrandt got them up off their considerable duffs and turned them into giant men of action who just might step right out the painting and do what needs to be done.
In the process Rembrandt cemented his place in art and is generally considered the greatest painter in Dutch history.
“The Young Bull “ is a 1647 oil painting by Paulus Potter that hangs in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
At 92.7” x 133”, this huge painting approaches life-size, allowing space for very detailed realism, including flies, frogs and cow pies, a fact that was much criticized originally. But fortunes changed and by the 18th and 19th centuries the painting had gained much traction and was highly admired. Today it is considered one the Dutch Golden Age’s greatest paintings. Potter was only 22 when he completed this work and died of tuberculosis at the age of 28 having succeeded in producing about 100 paintings by working continuously.
Besides the staggering craftsmanship, what makes this painting so unusual is the sheer scale. Up until then extremely large paintings were reserved for the rich, the royal and the Gods. This is the first time that a farm animal has been afforded such reverence. The life size image forces us to look into the Bull’s penetrating gaze and it becomes almost difficult to perceive it as anything but a sentient being. This painting with its almost heroic treatment of an animal alters our perception of the Bull’s place in the universe and, by extension, our own. Whether he meant to or not Potter moved the art world in fundamental ways and by the 19th century this monumental treatment of virtually the entire animal kingdom would become somewhat commonplace.
Still I find the whole notion that a mere 22 year old, with some paint and a few brushes, has that kind of power utterly remarkable.
Interesting But Useless Facts #289 & #290:
As large as “the Nightwatch” is, 20% was cut off the left hand side in 1715 to make the painting fit its new position at the Amsterdam town hall.
“The Young Bull” was at least 20% smaller when first painted. Potter added extra strips of canvas on both sides and at the top of his original composition, which just included the bull itself.
The Dutch don’t just love their bikes, they have embraced them on a level that borders on obsession. Don’t get me wrong I love bikes and think it’s amazing that they have incorporated bicycles into the fabric of their lives and created an incredibly healthy lifestyle.
There are some interesting stats about Dutch bike riders. A higher percentage of Dutch ride bikes then any other country. As of 2012 there were estimated to be 18 million bicycles or 1.3 per citizen old enough to ride. In the 4 years since, bike popularity has continued to grow tremendously. Some say that now there are as many as 2.9 bikes per Dutch citizen. With the exception of competitive riders, nobody seems to wear a helmet and yet they have less head injuries then anyone else. By 12 years old most children have been trained in the rules of the road and must pass a traffic exam to receive their Verkeersdiploma (traffic certificate).
In cities 85% of all students commute to school on bikes and, for adults, over half of all journeys are made by bicycle. Now some towns have fietsstraats (bike streets) which are roads where bicycles are considered to be the primary and preferred form of transport and cars and other motorised vehicles are allowed “as guests”. There is even a growing trend towards a complete separation of bicycle routes from motor vehicle routes called the unravelling of modes. In 2012 the Hovenring, the first suspended bicycle roundabout in the world, was built over a large and busy road intersection, where before its construction cyclists had to cross busy roads.
So what have we learned? Well, they clearly love their bikes, are pretty good at operating them and are willing to invest in the infrastructure. But no, I’m afraid it goes way beyond that. This is a transportation revolution and in all revolutions there are winners and losers. The Dutch love of these two wheeled little devils coupled with their proficiency at using them has conspired to turn the Netherlands into a nation of Bike Hoarders. I know that sounds harsh, but the evidence is all around you. With 3 bikes per person and no storage, it’s like all that crap grandma has been hoarding for decades has moved out onto the sidewalk.
Bikes are everywhere. In the cities they lean against most walls and are attached to every available vertical structure. All the train stations have bike parks designed, I’m assuming, for cummuters. They have become impromptu bike storage yards filled with hundreds, if not thousands of bikes that never move. These mounds are starting to distort into strange shapes and juxtapositions as the once treasured objects, now discarded, become as intertwined and impenetrable as a bramble bush.
Not only do they dominate the landscape, these low-tech transporters have managed to move up the food chain and have eclipsed both cars and pedestrians for supremacy of the roadways. Motorists are far more concerned about hitting a bicyclist then the rider is about being hit. This has a lot to do with the insurance laws. Unless the bicyclist intentionally runs into you the motorist is always at fault. Pedestrians are just left to fend for themselves while trying to dodge everything that moves. My wife is certain they’re trying to kill us slow moving, old school walkers. Accidentally stepping off the sideway into the bike lane is tantamount to suicide.
Sure they look innocent enough with their shiny wheels and cute little saddle bags, but don’t be fooled. As this dominance has taken root the size, speed and diversity of the enemy has increased logarithmically. Now there are regular bikes, tantrum bikes, electric bikes, mopeds, motor scooters, bikes with load carrying trailers, large box delivery bikes, recumbents, velomobiles (enclosed bike cars), large tricycles, bikes with multiple panniers , bikes with two baby holders and, remarkably, bikes with three baby holders and room for a dog and all are vying for control of the asphalt.
Remember expressions like ” the pedestrian always has the right of way” or when crosswalks were safe passages through a busy hostile world? Not anymore, oh no! There was a war and the pedestrians lost. If these madcap pedal powered warriors just didn’t hate us mere walkers so badly. Surely there’s room for all of us? So be careful out there and look in every direction. They really might be out to get you.
Haarlem is a great city in the Province of North Holland. Being the center of the tulip bulb growing district for centuries, it is nicknamed ‘Bloemenstad’, or “flower city”. With a population around 160,000 and a compact inner city, it’s small enough to explore and enjoy. Granted city status in 1245 it has a long and rich history.
Traditionally one of the the most powerful trading cities in Holland, during the 18th century trade shifted to Amsterdam and Haarlem turned into a bedroom community and summer resort with many workers commuting to the larger capital. In the long run this shift has allowed the historic old city center to remain relatively in tact.
The Grote Markt is the center of town and abounds with cafes and shops of all kinds.
Frans Hals Museum
Frans Hals is probably the most celebrated Haarlem artist to emerge during the Dutch Golden Age and has his own museum to prove it.
Coorie Ten Boom Museum
The Ten Booms, a highly devote Christian family, were watchmakers during the second war world. They felt it their duty to help protect those in trouble and used their small house as a hiding place for Jews and Resistance fighters. These actions led to the death of the entire family, with the exception of the young Coorie, at the hands of the Nazi’s.
The Teyers Museum
This was my favorite museum in town. The Teyers is a fascinating mix of early technology, fossils, astronomical equipment,16th & 17th century prints and drawings and great Dutch Golden Age paintings.
The Dutch love their women and well they should. Most are statuesque, self assured and highly educated. Maternity and family leave are hugely important issues here. The country is very close to pay equality and although there still isn’t complete sexual parity in top executive positions, they are rapidly getting there. It seems that strong female role models have always been revered here. Among them is:
Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer
On December 11, 1572 the Spanish army began the siege of Haarlem. During the first two months of the siege, the situation was stable. The Spanish army was digging tunnels to reach the city walls while the defenders dug under them to destroy the Spaniards’ tunnels. By March 29, 1573 the situation worsened when the Spanish and Amsterdam Armies effectively cut off Haarlem from the outside world and began to starve them out. By July 13, 1573, after seven months of siege, the city reached an agreement with the Spaniards to open the city gates in exchange for amnesty and a ban on looting. After surrendering the Spanish reneged on the deal and began looting and slaughtered over 2000 of the city defenders.
Following the siege, the name of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer began to emerge. Diarists reported that the powerful widow helped defend the city and rebuild the defenses that had been destroyed by enemy cannon. One account mentions that Kenau and other women stood on the earthworks and threw burning tar wreaths onto the enemy who would leap into the river to douse the flames only to drown from the weight of their armor. Over time the legend of Kenau’s role has expanded to full-fledged soldier and commander of a small female army. She has been honored during every celebration of independence from Spain. But, separating fact from fiction in these matters is always difficult and her role in the siege has been the subject of much debate. Regardless, her personality must have been a fearsome thing. We do know for certain that after the war she resumed her trade as a wood merchant importing lumber from Norway. When her captain was taken hostage by pirates she travelled north to negotiate his release and died at the hands of the same pirates.
Definitely the stuff of legend.
Let’s start with a travel tip. I’m always a little leery of package schemes and deals aimed at visitors, but the Stockholm Card is the exception and a great deal. This is a real godsend, which, if you keep busy, offers significant savings. It is also hugely convenient to not have to dig for cash or use a credit card everywhere you go. Besides giving you free passage on all of Stockholm’s public transportation you also get free access to over 75 major museums and major historical sites.
Stockholm is a big and busy city, not big and busy in an otherworldly sense like Hong Kong, New York or London. There are no skyscrapers and the church spires are still the tallest structures in town. There are no giant cloverleaf overpasses like arteries in some huge beast, but Stockholm is spread out over 14 islands with a complex overlapping transport system that incorporates ferries, buses, trams, subways, bridges, walkways and roads that tie the whole thing together.
Gamla Stan, or “Old Town”, is our favorite part of the city. It is situated on the island of Stadsholmen and is one huge warren of narrow medieval streets and heritage sites. The Royal Palace, museums and 17th century churches are just steps from each other. The entire atmosphere is of a bygone era.
Stortorget was the site of the old Stock Exchange is now a lively square in the heart of the old town but in 1520 it was the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath when the Danish King tricked the Swedish Regent and beheaded more then 80 Swedish noblemen in this very square.
The Hotorget Flea Market
No trip would be complete without a flea market. The square at Hotorget is a flower and produce market all week but every Sunday it transforms to a great little second hand market. Just try to keep Wendi away. I dare you.
Sinking Expectations or The Very Short Voyage of the Vasa
When the Vasa was designed by two Dutch brothers in 1628 it was the largest and most heavily armed war ship in the world. With this vessel the Swedes hoped to strike fear in their enemies and control all trade on the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, there was no engineering, as we know it, at the time and all construction was essentially done by trial and error. The massive ship proved to be just a whisper too tall and slightly too narrow. It was a lovely sunny day on August 10th in 1628 when the Vasa set out on it’s maiden voyage. In a slight breeze it listed a little to starboard, took in water through the gun ports and sank to the bottom of Stockholm harbor where it lay until being rediscovered in 330 feet of water in 1956. After a complex salvage operation and a 17 year conservation project the Vasa now sits proudly in it’s own especially designed museum.
Budapest is a great big, busy and exciting city. It’s the capital and largest city in Hungary, and one of the largest cities in the European Union, with a metropolitan population of 3.3 million.
Budapest is a very beautiful place that is ranked as the most liveable Central and Eastern European city on EIU‘s quality of life index, “the world’s second best city” by Condé Nast Traveler, “Europe’s 7th most idyllic place to live” by Forbes, and the 9th most beautiful city in the world by UCityGuides.
We’ve rented a great little apartment, Liesel/Pierre, in a historic building at Szervita ter 5 in the center of downtown Budapest.
Come In To The Liesel/Pierre.
Now a walk around the neighborhood.
The Central Market is one of Budapest’s great institutions. It’s cavernous and bustling and filled with food, clothes, gifts, wine, a great lunch and all things Hungarian.
The Wacky Wendi Saga Continues.
Damn, I like that girl!
I was getting a little fearful that spring would never arrive so I decided to do a little experiment. The pictures on the left are from April 3rd and the right side is April 29th. As you can see, slowly but surely, spring is creeping up on us.
Fun with Asians
For fear that we may not be back to Holland again, we have set about getting to all the “must see” tourist destinations and, apparently, so did a lot of other folks.
Now I know a lot of you think that Asian tourists may be, shall we say, moving a little too fast. As a group they’re more fun then they get credit for.
We pulled into the Cheese Market in Alkmaar as 7 buses were unloading a sea of umbrella wielding little people. It looked like Bingo Night in Okinawa.
And Man, do they stick together. Groups moved through the Rijksmuseum like schools of jellyfish. If you become an obstacle to it’s progress, the school just flows around you and quickly regroups. If the group fixates on a painting it will form an impenetrable wall and you just have to wait your turn. The only saving grace is that they seem to have a schedule to keep.
Don’t take me wrong everyone was friendly and respectful and, mostly, were just busily chatting nonstop amongst themselves. One thing I did notice in Amsterdam was that there were very few Asian Tourists on the trams. That’s because they’re like JayZ or Willie Nelson. They bring their own Party Bus.
Whatever it is, they are happy to be here. Very happy.
With or without lots of tourist Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth the visit.
Down on the Farm
We were staying at a great little farm, De Appelgaard, in South Holland. I’m somewhat of a city boy and don’t do particularly well with farm animals. Cows and horses scare me a little and let’s face it, goats and sheep are pretty freaky looking.
All that been said, if you want a B&B, this is your place. We had a big room, great shower and terrific breakfast, which is included in the price of the room, making it the most important meal of the day. An hour before eating, the eggs were still in the chicken and the milk was still in the cow.
Fun with the Dutch
It started innocently enough. We thought we’d just pop into Gouda for a little supper. After the standard half hour search for parking we walked through the Market Square and heard Wilson Picket coming from an opened door.
We ended up in this place called TOF. During the day it’s a café with chairs and tables on the Square, but at night it transforms into a Disco and is packed.
I know this photo may look a whisper shady, but the people couldn’t have been nicer to us. They made us a special sample plate and gave us some free drinks. After we admired the beer glasses they gave us each one.
You’re probably wondering exactly what these two lunatics are doing and all I can tell you is that the special on the menu is “Spicy Balls”. When Wendi asked to see them mayhem quickly followed. The guy on the right is manager #2 and the guy on the left is manager #3. We didn’t really see him do a whole lot of managing.
After a couple rounds and soothing effect of Motown they decided we were OK and dragged us up the street to their other club, Swing, for a very private “Cigar Party”.
It’s a little odd as none of us would ever smoke a cigar. As it turns out smoking tobacco is far more narfarious behavior then pot smoking. Let me explain. There are shops where you can go indoors to smoke the dreaded reefer and neither you nor the management have to fear a fine or arrest. On the other hand smoking tobacco in outlawed indoors everywhere. Young people love to smoke tobacco so club owners routinely turned a blind eye. Now clubs get two warnings. On the third time it’s a 10,000 euro fine and the fourth time costs you 50,000 euros and your business license for 6 months.
This all made the party feel a little outside the rules.
This is manager #4, we have absolutely no idea what he manages.
These are dear friends Harvey, left, and Fran, right. That’s Wendi in the foreground and two guys in the middle are the big dogs. The guy on the left is manager #1 and when he talks the walls rumble. The guy on the right is his Dad, owner of these two businesses, and apparently some other more secretive business concerns that we couldn’t really go into. He never seemed to stop giggling.
On a final note I should tell you that these folks told us in no uncertain terms that they love, adore , long to return to their spiritual home. Their Nivana on earth, their muse and constant inspiration, Las Vegas, Neveda.