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.
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.
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.
In a previous posting I talked about my lifelong obsession with paths and county lanes. These old cities, with houses and businesses packed so close together, are filled with an abundance of narrow streets and alleys. Before the days of cars and trucks, these same lanes began as much traveled paths. They were small but bustling thoroughfares filled with people, animals and carts.
Today they have taken on a much different connotation, especially for tourists. We all get anxious when we feel displaced and on unfamiliar ground. A lot of people are very fearful of getting off the perscribed route. Some folks won’t travel at all for fear of finding themselves on unfamiliar territory. While alleys can be a welcome shortcut for locals they can also be a forbidding mystery for visitors. They can be a comfort for residents but filled with potential risk and danger for strangers who have very little idea where they lead or what potential danger may be lurking around the curve or at the far end. And yet I’m drawn to these dark passages, forever wondering how they fit into the immediate geography.
Now I’m not reckless or crazy, I don’t go trudging down alleys after dark. But, like most scary things around us, I find that if I try to overcome my natural reluctance and attempt a lane or two I usually learn a lot about the jigsaw puzzle around me.
I have only been able to find two references to the Rule of Two. In one instance it is a bidding guideline for Bridge and the other is in Star Wars where the Rule of Two states that there would be only two Sith at one time, a Master and an Apprentice. In Dutch culture, however, I can find nothing particular or overly significant about the number 2. but signs of the Two are everywhere. Never three, rarely one and fours are only pairs of two. I mentioned this to a Dutch friend and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I showed them numerous examples and the clear evidence that it is an almost constant design and decorating principle, but they were completely surprised as if they had never noticed before. But with the evidence so prevalent how can that be? Perhaps I’ve stumbled onto one of those secret code systems where people send messages to each other by moving objects in the window or leaving curtains half open.
Wendi says that I’m wrong. There is no conspiracy here they’re just neatniks, plain and simple. The only thing they are signaling from their front windows is “Look how tidy I am”.
We didn’t think that our Dutch Experience would be complete without a journey to the southern tip of Holland. We headed out for Maastricht, a very busy little city on the River Maas in the province of Limburg.
One of Holland’s oldest towns it’s surrounded on three sides by Germany and Belgium. Between the French, Germans, Romans, Spanish, Goths, Gauls, Papists and miscellaneous angry hordes it has changed hands many times over the centuries. To this day it still seems a little under siege, only now it’s tourists and probably not marauding mercenaries or religious zealots. The tourist promoters refer to it as the “Sunniest Town in Holland” and that may it true. Much like South Dakota may be a whisper more tropical than North Dakota. In fact, it’s the only time we’ve needed an umbrella. Damp but fun none the less.
We’re here primarily to see the Bonnefantenmuseum, an amazing structure designed by Italian architect Aldo Rossi. An interesting guy, he argued that a city must be studied and valued as something constructed over time and as such it holds our “collective memory”.
On to ‘s-Hertogenbosch
‘s-Hertogenbosch was the birthplace and home of one of the greatest (twisted) painters of the northern Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch, who’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights will still blow your mind 530 years later. And not in a good way.
While there some friends organized a great boat trip on the Binnen-Dieze, the city’s underground inner canal system. Apparently the canal had been an open sewer for centuries until in the 1960’s the city set out on a 25 year restoration project. Today fish swim in the water.
These are part of the Armada, a housing development designed by British architect Anthony McQuirk. From the air the eleven building project resembles a fleet of Spanish Warships moving across the water.