A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013

Dam Bikes!

BY ABBY

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Each bike needs two locks

Each bike needs two locks

Today our plan was to go to Amsterdam and spend time in the city, so that we wouldn't feel like we missed out on the actual city when we went to see some museums later in the week. Getting there was relatively easy, and the tram and metro were pretty uncomplicated. We went to rent bikes so that we could get around the city, but not have to worry about parking. Amsterdam streets are very busy, with both bikes and cars, but we were glad that there were bike lanes on almost every street. In Holland it is very common for people to use their bikes as a main mode of transportation, and we really saw this in Amsterdam. We decided to start off in Vondelpark, a very popular park for people to bike, and to bring their dogs and small children. The park itself was beautiful, and there are green trees everywhere. So far in Europe we have noticed that most parks and gardens aren't as well kept as we are used to back at home, but this one was definitely an exception. We stopped for a while in the park to have a picnic lunch, as it was really nice out. The sun hasn't been shining much this trip, if you don't count our month in Kas, so we are trying to take advantage of the nice days that we've got.

After we had gotten used to the bikes in the park, we decided to head out into the city. Our first stop was Museum Square, where we found the "I amsterdam" sign and a variety of museums. We locked up our bikes and walked around for a little, taking pictures in front of the sign and of the buildings nearby. After this quick stop we biked to Dam Square to see the Royal Palace, losing my mother on the way.

Biking in such a large, busy city was definitely an experience, and even though we had a couple of mishaps (two crashes, two people lost and many wrong turns) it was still fun in the end. You can tell who the locals are, just by seeing how they deal with the number of people in cars, bikes and on foot. We saw people texting and talking on the phone as they rode down the street, barely looking up as they went. But we aren't the only ones who see the busyness of it all, as I heard one English tourist exclaim, "Bikes.. everywhere!" as we passed.

It was about three o'clock when we returned our bikes, and walked back to Museum Square where we bought some juice and Magnum bars to enjoy in the sun. When we were finished we went to the Van Gogh Museum for a little change of pace.

Van Gogh: Self Portrait

Van Gogh: Self Portrait

I found the museum quite interesting, even if I didn't like all of the work that was displayed. Most of the dark pieces weren't to my liking, and some of the bright pieces, like "Sunflowers" weren't either. One whole floor was dedicated to colour, and how they were discovering how the paint had faded since the time they were painted. Another section was on how Van Gogh used his canvases, as x-rays show that he would reuse canvases he had already painted on, when he didn't need the picture anymore. It was common for him to use the front and backs of canvases, so there were some pictures showcasing both sides. Just a few days ago we bought a cartoon book about Van Gogh's time in Paris, so I'm excited to learn more about him. My favourite paintings of Van Gogh's are "Almond Blossom", "The Potato Eaters", and "Starry Night" (which, unfortunately, wasn't displayed here).

We did a quick grocery shop as we left the museum, but from here it was back to the car. We spent the evening watching a few West Wings (what did you expect?) and then were off to bed. We were all pretty tired from today, both from the exercise and the stress of it all, but after everything, I can still say it was a very full and enjoyable day.

Posted by KZFamily 04:21 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam netherlands holland sunny biking van_gogh Comments (3)

History, Scenery and Gezelligheid

by Ben

18 °C
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We ventured out today to see all things Dutch and in the end can say we have experienced it as well.

The Windmills of Zaanse Schans

The Windmills of Zaanse Schans

In the Netherlands, they like to make it easy for even the laziest tourist to view and experience many of the iconic Dutch structures, crafts, products, foods and scenes in just one location. I would not characterize ourselves as the impatient or lazy tourist sort, we are travelling for nine months after all and that takes more patience and work then you might imagine. We generally steer clear of “manufactured” tourist sites but the Zaanse Schans was recommended by a relative and when we did an image search on the Internet the windmill scene caught our fancy.
With traditional houses, windmills, warehouses and workshops, the Zaanse Schans offers a preserved glimpse of what it was like to live in the Zaan area of the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the time, the Zaan was an important industrial region and the hundreds of windmills there helped produce linseed oil, paint, snuff, mustard, paper and more. Most of the buildings have been re-located from other areas in the Zaanstreek in the 1960’s and 70’s as a result of urban development that threatened to demolish them. Many of the houses are now museums, shops or demonstration areas for traditional crafts, while others are still private residences.

Zaanse Schans is a popular destination as it is a short jaunt from Amsterdam. We have visited a number of open air or living museums in the past half year but this features a uniquely Dutch approach to heritage. The site buildings are in such immaculate shape it is hard to believe that many of them are over 300 years old. Every building has been scrubbed and painted to the level of perfection that we rarely see in new construction in North America, let alone in historical sites. Aside from the well groomed grounds and polished buildings, the site has all the amenities and comforts that any tourist could think of. The whole place offers countless photo opportunities and you can walk the grounds for free. It was a sunny day and we were more than game for the scenery. Although the site was busy by our measure (we have been travelling off season up to this point), the parking lot showed that twice as many people can be found here on other days.

Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans

After a couple of hours of walking and snapping photos, we did finally venture into a tiny shop. The woman who ran it, was a fourth generation pewter smith, and the wares in the shop were made by her family. She did some pewter casting right on the premises. Some of the brass casting moulds she used were over four hundred years old. She doesn’t cast very many of the larger pieces from the golden age of pewterware since tourist are more apt to balk at the price and cannot accommodate the size and heft in their luggage. She now makes more scaled down pieces. To achieve the sooty grey look of antique pewter she hastens along the oxidation process (it takes at least 30 years for it so set in naturally) by dipping the final product in an acid bath. We would have loved to get an antique piece of pewter but found some of the pieces in the shop quite attractive and relatively affordable so we ended up buying a two thirds scale “Rembrandt Can,” the kind of water pitcher you see featured in his paintings. The pitcher purchase is a significant breech of our small or no souvenir policy. Up to now we have restricted ourselves to collecting pins for our travel mascot (Moe the Moose), a fridge magnets for each country (yes, we know that’s pretty kitchy) and thousands of photographs and countless memories. We will see who ends up with the challenge of having to find a space for it in their pack.

After Zaanse Schans we dropped off the kids at home and Muriel and I went to picturesque Haarlem for the afternoon. As we approached the historic centre of town we drove past a university. We were astounded by the amount of parked bicycles. There were thousands, and many were either parked vertically or stacked on two levels to save space. At a glance, the front of one building looked like a tidal wave had swept thousands of bicycles upon its doorstep. In Haarlem, as with many other Dutch cities, the bicycle is the primary mode of transportation.

The Dutch bicycle is all practicality and functionality. There are no glitzy bikes for in town use, lest it be stolen. Bikes for families are common. There are a quite a few bikes that have a wheelbarrow type middle where a couple of youngsters can sit or bags of groceries be placed. Such bikes may also have an additional seat behind the cyclist where another youngster can sit.

Haarlem Canal Scene

Haarlem Canal Scene

Muriel and I spent a few hours wandering along the canals and through the historic Grotmarket. I enjoyed watching the boating traffic in the canals and the wide variety of swing and draw bridges that were constantly moving in and out of position like a well choreographed dance that allowed equal sway to both the boat and automobile. During our stroll we were also wafted with the fragrance of cannabis shops which may have contributed to the laid back atmosphere we experienced on the streets. With the sun shining so brilliantly, few people were in the shops, most were soaking up some sun at a sidewalk table sipping a glass of beer or wine. Those who weren’t lounging were cruising the canals, or biking leisurely, or contently sauntering along the walkways near the canals.

Inspired by our visit to Haarlem, when I got home I donned shorts and a t-shirt and sat on the bench in front of our house overlooking the canal to enjoy a cold glass of beer. The day ended scrumptiously, with Abby preparing a Dutch Indonesian dinner topped off with pastries we bought in the Saturday market in a square in Bodegraven. By the time evening rolled around, I felt I had achieved an even better understanding of the Dutch word Gezelligheid.

Posted by KZFamily 11:07 Archived in Netherlands Tagged netherlands haarlem zaanse_schans Comments (6)

Family in Mierlo

By Hannah

overcast 11 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We met some more of our Dutch relatives today: Marleen, my dad's cousin, her husband Arjan, and their sons, Floris Jan and Martijn. We only saw the last two briefly, as they were both off to play grass hockey. Marleen and Arjan were wonderfully friendly, and I loved getting to know them over coffee and lunch. They introduced us to Dutch sausage rolls and Tante Rina's pound cake, both of which were delicious.

After lunch, we were given a tour of Mierlo. We stopped at a white asparagus farm, and saw them being processed and packaged. There were all sorts of products for sale made from asparagus, including croquettes, jams, and wines. We encouraged Dad to buy a small bottle of asparagus liqueur, but he decided against it. Mom and Dad had never seen white asparagus before, and didn't even know it existed until today, so they filled a gap in their education they didn't even know they had.

Further into town was a small museum dedicated to Vincent van Gogh. We didn't actually end up going in to see any of the artwork --Arjan doesn't like museums much and we are going to see the much larger Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in the next few days.

We were reintroduced to the sport of grass hockey (field hockey in Canada), and watched Floris Jan and his team play for awhile. Though not quite as fast or as brutally rambunctious as the hurling we saw in Ireland, it was still impressive to watch.

Visiting Ben's Cousin Marlene and her husband Arjan

Visiting Ben's Cousin Marlene and her husband Arjan

Afterwards, we took a walk in the woods and went to a pond often skated on during the winter. We also learned a new Dutch word, kluning. Kluning is walking over land in ice skates, and is usually done during races to save time rather than taking the skates off and putting them back on again.

We ended our visit by taking photos and exchanging gifts. Marleen gave Abby and I very pretty bracelets, and we in turn gave them Canadian key chains and a little flag pin, hinting that we would love to see them in Canada sometime.

The drive home took a bit longer than expected, due to a closure on the highway and getting completely turned around as we tried to avoid it. Mom and Dad are getting pretty good at getting lost and then finding the way again, though, so Abby and I weren't too concerned.

Tomorrow we travel to the almost painfully idyllic Zaanse Schans.

Posted by KZFamily 11:06 Archived in Netherlands Tagged netherlands mierlo Comments (1)

Dutchies (and I don't mean the Tim Hortons donuts)

BY MURIEL

semi-overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ben and his Tante Rina

Ben and his Tante Rina

On Saturday, we made ourselves scarce with the promise of our host coming by to clean the place. It wasn’t too hard as we had made plans to initiate travel on the Dutch relative trail. The first stop was to visit Ben’s aunt, Tante Rina, his mom’s only surviving sister, the other four having all passed away. Now, I’ve often said, of all the Dutch speakers I’ve come across, Tante Rina was always the easiest to understand. She speaks so clearly and her Dutch sounds like English so I feel I should be able to understand her. However, I admit I really only understand every tenth word and that’s only because she does intersperse her conversation with some English too. That being the case, we were hoping a translator would be present. Fortunately, Ben’s cousin, Els, also appeared and helped immensely. Els greeted us with Dutch kitsch, adorning us each with Dutch-coloured lei to which a pair of little Delft shoes had been attached. I wore mine for the rest of the afternoon, as much to identify myself as a tourist (as if it was necessary) as to annoy my girls, who took theirs off within minutes.

The afternoon started with a chat and some strong Dutch coffee with stroopwaffels. Earlier that day, we had stumbled upon a store that had a stroopwaffel-making operation. The ‘chef’ had placed the small thin round waffles onto the grill, spread some syrup and topped them with their partners. Kids lined up to get them warm just as they would in Canada for cookies. Our kids’ appetites thus wetted, they were glad we didn’t have to wait long for Tante Rina to serve us some at her place.

Abby Pulls Rope to Stop Windmill

Abby Pulls Rope to Stop Windmill

Soon, Els informed us we had a ‘programme’ so off we went to follow our designated tour guide. Els had arranged for a visit for us to a nearby windmill. Four hundred years old, it is still operating today to drain the excess water from the neighbouring canals and divert it to the Rhine. This, together with other windmills and various newer contraptions, helps to prevent the flooding that always threatens the area. As we walked along a dyke towards the windmill, I started to feel VERY Dutch. I imagined at any moment that King Willem or blond girls bedecked in white caps and colourful skirts would pop out at any moment. They didn't but that did not dispel any of the feeling. As we approached the windmill, we had a better idea of just how fast its blades were going. The ‘whoosh, whoosh’ next to us was fairly intimidating and we moved back lest we get an inadvertent haircut. The volunteer from the historical society that maintains the windmill explained the various parts to us as he guided us through the small rooms housing the mechanisms. There is a large Archimedes screw operated by the turning blades and large, greased, interlocking wooden gears and this is what propels water upwards from the canal. The various greasing agents include beeswax and pig’s fat– I can’t think of any better use for the latter myself. He invited us up the rickety ladder to see the housing working up near the blades. If this was meant to agitate anyone with a fear of heights, it succeeded. Our fearless tour guide, Els, elected to stay below, forcing the host to practice his English. He succeeded admirably and we doubled our previous knowledge of windmills.

Nieuwerbrug: Historic Bridge

Nieuwerbrug: Historic Bridge

Next up was a drive through the towns of Bodegraven and Niewerbrug to old haunts of Ben’s parents from 60 years ago. It’s always interesting travelling down memory lane, even if it’s someone else’s memories. The views of their old homes, the town swimming hole, and the famous Niewerbrug bridge helped Hannah and Abby to better visualize their Oma and Opa’s growing up years.

Returning to Tante Rina’s home, we had a light lunch and more chat. I, with my limited Dutch but still eager to please tried to work the words ‘onderbrooke’ (underwear) and ‘doekie’ (dish cloth) into the conversation as often as possible. I don’t think my efforts were fully appreciated. Els and her partner Jaco performed a valiant job of translating between the roomful of monolinguists. Tante Rina topped off a great day with a wonderful meal of pannenkoeken (crepe-like pancakes). Just as the kids were intrigued with having pancakes for supper, Tante Rina seemed bemused that we would ONLY eat them for breaky. The Dutch serve both savory and sweet pancakes so we sampled those with bacon or cheese in between having others with ‘siroop’ (syrup), strawberries and sugar. The dessert, as if we needed any after that meal, was yoghurt and, again, we laughed at how we only have that at breakfast while they use it primarily for after a meal.

It was really good to be ensconced in Dutch culture again – it reminded us of family and friends back home! And it was good to meet some members of the family who were new to us: besides Jaco, we made the acquaintance of Igor, a beautiful chocolate lab, Els and Jaco’s canine child. Igor is a senior citizen so moves slowly and only with incentive. Nonetheless, he charmed us completely. Tomorrow, we see Ben’s cousin and her husband, both of whom share their birthday with Igor. And, yes, all three names occupy the same line on Tante Rina’s Dutch birthday calendar. It turns out Abby’s name was not on there so she got a bit of ribbing from us that Igor had more privileges than her.

We returned to our rented abode, not at all sure of the progress that we’d find but hopeful that there wouldn’t be any further issues to worry about. We were greeted by more space in both the cupboards and the fridge (assuming the contents didn't exit on their own accord). It seems that we will indeed have a reasonable place to inhabit after all.

Posted by KZFamily 10:59 Archived in Netherlands Tagged food windmill netherlands bodegraven Comments (4)

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