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.
Would any visit be complete without a quick look at Wendi’s escapades? I think not. Like countless invading armies before her, Wendi has stormed through this little corner of England mollifying the natives, confiscating booty and laying waste to every flea market in her path. There are many here in Suffolk that will long remember that fateful autumn when “Wendi the Fearless” extracted many a treasure and stole not a few hearts from these fair shores.
Fred said he worked directly for the Royal Family for over twenty years and had indeed met the Queen, but was sworn to secrecy and could not reveal any of the juicy bits Wendi longed to hear.
We met Terry for drinks at the Ivory Cafe. He is the largest producer of sausage casings in the world. Not just anyone can look at pig intestines and think “opportunity”.
Off to the Newmarket Horse Races
And Now For A Little Historic Culture
Time For A Little Shopping
Lancelot “Capability” Brown will forever be linked to these great mansions and is remembered as “the last of the great English 18th century artists to be accorded his due”, and “England’s greatest gardener”. Mr. Brown’s influence was so great that the contributions to the English garden made by his predecessors are often overlooked. During the height of his career It is estimated that Brown was responsible for over 170 gardens surrounding the finest country houses and estates in Britain. He completely dominated landscape design in the 18th century and during the 1760s averaged commissions of about £740,000 a year.
“In Brown’s hands the house, which before had dominated the estate, became an integral part of a carefully composed landscape intended to be seen through the eye of a painter, and its design could not be divorced from that of the garden”
He was nicknamed “Capability” because he would tell his clients that their property had the “capability” for improvement.
These estates were more then just big houses. They controlled the economy in villages, towns and even whole counties. Maintaining and operating these country cottages required hoards of housekeepers, legions of lawn men, battalions of butlers, cadres of cooks and a phalanx of farmers. But, after the World Wars, when the seemingly endless supply of underpaid workers dried up it became impossible to maintain this system any longer. I’m pretty sure this is where our whole notion of “trickle down economics” came from. Keep the rich folks happy and they will, in turn, provide low paid employment. Regardless of my cynicism, these homes are magnificent and thanks to the National Trust most have been saved for the nation and the world to enjoy. They represent the pinnacle of art and culture from a bygone era when civility, learning and social standing were paramount. Provided it wasn’t you that had to do the dusting.
Anglesey was built as a priory in 1100 but, like most Catholic Orders, the Augustinian Canons were expelled in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and all the good stuff was taken. Over the centuries it bounced around through a few owners until 1926 when Huddleston Broughton, having inherited a fortune from mining and railroads in America, bought the place. He started to renovate in earnest and began to amass a huge collection of beautiful furniture, artworks and statuary. Huddleston became the Baron Fairhaven in 1929. He never married and decided in the early 40’s that he would leave the Abbey and all it’s contents to the National Trust on his death. Which effectively meant that he spent his adult life collecting for the Trust.
We grew up with a family dog named “Bungey”. In all these years I’ve never seen or even heard of another one until I met the Baron’s.
This magnificent Jacobean mansion located in Norfolk and covers more than 4,000 acres. Before it’s last private owner Phillip Kerr died in 1940 he helped build the National Trust and save hundreds of grand homes for future generations to enjoy. But even with his accomplishments Kerr is far from Blickley’s most famous resident. It is believed that Anne Boleyn, the future beheaded Queen, was born here sometime between 1501 and 1505.
Not to be forgotten, Anne returns every May 9th, the anniversary of her decapitation, dressed all in white, carrying her severed and dripping head. She arrives in a coach driven by a headless horseman and four headless horses. She glides through the hall, rooms and countless corridors until sunrise.
Highclere Castle doesn’t have the turmultuous past of some of it’s counterparts and seems to be most famous as the filming location for the award-winning period drama Downton Abbey.
The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Domesday Book.
This neoclassical country house was the residence of the Marquess of Bristol before being sold to the National Trust in the late 20th century. The Marquesses of Bristol have laid claim to this estate since 1467.
In 1956, the house, park, and contents were given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. As part of the deal, a 99-year lease on the 60-room East Wing was given to the Marquess of Bristol. However, in 1998 the 7th Marquess of Bristol was a little strapped for cash and sold the remaining lease on the East Wing to the National Trust. He was succeeded by his half-brother Frederick Hervey, the 8th Marquess of Bristol. Freddy tried to buy back the remaining lease, but the Trust refused, thereby contravening the Letter of Wishes which states that the head of the family should always be offered whatever accommodation he chooses at Ickworth.
Melford Hall is an amazing estate in the village of Long Melford, Suffolk. The hall was mostly constructed in the 16th century, incorporating parts of a medieval building held by the abbots of Bury St Edmunds which had been in use since before 1065.
Milford Hall has had it’s share of trials and tribulations over the years. It was seized from the abbots during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Queen Mary gave it to Sir William Cordell who passed it via his sister to Thomas and Mary Savage. Both were serious Catholics at a time when the Civil War was getting momentum and people were choosing sides. The Savages backed King Charles 1 who would become the only British Monarch to be beheaded. Needless to say, it didn’t go well for the Savages. Thomas died in 1636 leaving Mary and their 13 children broke and considered traitors. Warrants were issued for Mary to answer for her family’s indebtedness. All her appeals were denied and she died in Debtor’s Prison. During the Stour Valley Riots of 1642 the house was attacked and the interiors were demolished by an anti-Catholic crowd.
In February 1942 soldiers that were billeted at the hall broke into the West End to have some card games and a bit of a dance. They managed to set the whole wing on fire. It was gutted out and rebuilt after war retaining the Tudor brickwork exterior.
In 1786 it was sold to Harry Parker, son of Admiral Hyde Parker and is considered ancestral seat of the Parker Baronets.
From the 1890’s Beatrix Potter was a cousin of the Parkers and was a frequent visitor to the hall.
Sandringham House and it’s 20,000 acres of land are in Norfolk, England. The site has been occupied since the Elizabethan era. In 1862, the hall was purchased by Queen Victoria at the request of the Prince of Wales. The house is privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II and is a Grade II listed country house: having particularly important buildings of more than special interest.
The house, begun in 1640, and is the largest house in Cambridgeshire. The 3,000 acres of parkland and farm were “naturalised” by Capability Brown in 1767.
In 1938, Capt. George Bambridge and his rich wife, Elsie, daughter of Rudyard Kipling, purchased it after having been tenants since 1932. They used the inheritance left to them by her father, and the royalties from his books, for the long-needed refurbishment of the house and grounds. When Elsie died in 1979 she left the property to the National Trust.
Useless But Interesting Fact #13
This seven drawer high boy dresser has a draw for intimates and small items for each day. Your fancy Sunday garments go in the uppermost draw. Hence the expression “Top Draw”.
Located in the coastal town of Southwold, this old school pier is a little like a step back to a more innocent time. Originally built in 1909 the pier has suffered many ups and down having been destroyed by storms in 1937, 1955 and again in 1979 reducing it to a length of 60 ft. After much renovation, today’s pier extends 620 ft into the North Sea.
The Under The Pier Show
While many classic English seaside piers have been in decline the Southwold Pier is enjoying renewed popularity, partly due to the “The Under The Pier Show” which features a range of automata, machines and games designed by Tim Hunkin, an English engineer, cartoonist, writer, and artist living in Suffolk. They are about the most peculiar arcade games I’ve ever seen.
These bright colored Beach Huts are small wooden boxes just above the high tide mark. Many were former fishermen’s huts and boat sheds that are now used as shelter from the sun or wind, changing into and out of swimming costumes and for the safe storing of some personal belongings most incorporate simple facilities for preparing food and hot drinks by either bottled gas or an occasional generator.
You cannot live in these and the length of stays is closely monitored. They were originally offered for hire at £12 10s per year, now they can sell for £40,000 or more.
The Walk of Mirrors
The legend of the Green Children of Woolpit recounts the tale of two very green children appearing in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England sometime during the 12th century.
One day at harvest time, the villagers discovered two children, dressed in very peculiar clothing, beside one of the wolf pits that gave the village its name. The brother and sister appeared relatively normal except their skin was green, very green. They spoke an unknown language and would only eat raw beans. The villagers taught them English and got them to eat other food. Eventually they lost their green color, but the boy got sickly and died soon after he and his sister were baptized. The girl adjusted to her new life, but she was considered to be loose and wanton in her behavior. After she learned to speak English, the girl explained that she and her brother had come from Saint Martin’s Land, a subterranean world where everything is green.
The Strange Tale of St Edmund – Mayhem, Murder and Martyrdom In East Anglia
In 869 the Viking’s Great Heathen Army descended on East Anglia and demolished everything in their path. Apparently King Edmund refused to renounce Christ. On the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his evil brother Abba, the King was whipped, shot with arrows, stabbed with spears and finally beheaded.
I say apparently because almost nothing is known about Edmund’s real life, the Viking Army having destroyed any contemporary evidence of his reign. Legend has it that after his decapitation, the head was taken into the forest by a wolf that kept strangers at bay until the Monks could retrieve the head and bury it with his body.
It is said that wolves have not been seen in East Anglia since that day.
Upon exhumation it was discovered that all the arrow wounds on his corpse had healed and his head was reattached and his skin was still soft and fresh as a daisy. A Saint for sure.
In later years writers realized the inherent PR value of having no factual record of Edmund’s reign and quickly began producing accounts of a life filled with miracles. But creating a Saint out of whole cloth is no easy task and just like a great rock band it requires outrageous tales and a lot of touring. The Benedictine Monks lugged the bejeweled box containing his remains all over Southern England, regaling tales of heroic deeds and miracles to anyone with a few coins. It is said that between 900 and 1000 AD, Edmund’s remains did far more traveling then he ever did during his lifetime. They understood very well that saints mean pilgrims and pilgrims mean money.
During the 11th century the shrine at Bury St Edmunds became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England. For centuries the shrine was visited by various kings, many of whom gave generously to the abbey. The town arose as the wealth and fame of the abbey grew.
But as we all know, fate can be cruel and in 1539, during the English Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, all the abbey’s property was seized by the Crown. On November 4,1539 the abbot and his monks were expelled and the abbey was dissolved, but before Cromwell’s troop could arrive the Monks dug up Edmund’s casket and reburied it in or near the abby grounds. For centuries historians have searched for the location of the venerated saint’s holy remains, but all their efforts have been in vain and the secret is still secure.
I’ve wandered through Scandinavia like a bit player in the Norse Sagas, those timeless myths filled with blood, battles and debauchery. Only my voyage consists of beer, buses and bargain basements. Maybe not as dangerous but just as exhausting. At this point in the trip I’m downright tuckered out. I have been trudging around after Wendi as she’s pillaged her way through Iceland, Norway and Sweden for weeks. I’m always a couple steps slow and a few beats behind like a bass player that can’t catch up to the rest of the band. It seems she is always looking back at me with that “will you hurry up” look on her face.
And hats! What’s with the hats? Every silly hat from Reykjavik to Stockholm has magically ended up on her head, coupled with a goofy grin. She doesn’t want to bring them home so, I suppose, that’s good.
Regardless of her proclivity for wacky chapeaus, Wendi’s enthusiasm is undeniable. She is clearly a woman on the move.
She does have quiet moments of self reflection, albeit few and far between and usually after extensive shopping or while jet lagged.
She did take time for a little work.
That’s all for now.