A Travellerspoint blog

Netherlands

Bewitched in Oudewater

BY ABBY

sunny 19 °C
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Ben's Aunt Rina, Cousin Els, Jaco and us

Ben's Aunt Rina, Cousin Els, Jaco and us

Today being our last full day in Holland, we decided to finish it the way we started, by a last visit to Tante Rina, Els, Jaco and Igor. We showed up just before lunch and were able to have some cake and drinks in the back garden, as summer was finally showing itself again. We talked about work, summer plans and the rest of our trip, as well as just regular catching up. After our little chat we were taken on another tour by our three hosts (Igor stayed behind), to the town of Oudewater. Our first stop was the Witches Weighhouse, which, as you probably guessed, is the place where people used to be weighed.

Els and Jaco

Els and Jaco

I learned a lot at the museum, as my previous knowledge on witches had consisted of only reading a short book a few years back about Salem. It was believed that witches weighed considerably less that humans (proportionate to their size), so this was a common practice for determining if the accused was really a witch or not. Back then, if you were a reasonable weight for your size you were given a certificate showing that you were unable to be accused, as you had been proven innocent. Another way that people were tried was by tying up their hands and feet and throwing them into the river. If the person floated, they were a witch, and were burned or executed in some other manner. If they sunk, they were retrieved (hopefully before they drowned), and were not charged with witchcraft.

Getting Weighed at the Witch Museum

Getting Weighed at the Witch Museum

Being accused of witchcraft was quite common, as people didn't need to base their rumor on much to get it started. Once one person believed it, it was very hard to get your name cleared. This is why many people came to Oudewater. Getting your certificate was the only way to have your name officially cleared, and to have a life back in your town again. These certificates would cost money, but people would pay whatever the price, or else they would be killed, or have to live the rest of their life as an outcast, having everything that went wrong in their town be blamed on them. Oudewater became famous for their scales, and certificates. But all of the people that were weighed here were proven innocent, as the people who ran the scales refused to take part in the beliefs that other people had. Oudewater then became the only place where you could get an official certificate, as it was seen to be the most honest weighhouse. The original scales were still here, and we were allowed to be weighed on them. I went first, and I was unaware that after they weighed you they would say your weight out for everyone in the room to hear, but I'll let you all guess away on your own. After this, my Dad and Jaco were the only ones who went. None of us were charged with witchcraft and were all awarded a certificate, free of charge.

Ben's Aunt Rina takes us out for Lunch

Ben's Aunt Rina takes us out for Lunch

After the museum we were treated to a cafe lunch in a large square in the sun, which was then followed up by some ice cream. This concluded our visit, however, as it was getting later into the afternoon and we were leaving the next day, we said our goodbyes and many kisses were exchanged. All four of us enjoyed our day immensely, and knowing that we have to leave Holland makes me more excited to come back.

Posted by KZFamily 12:33 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family netherlands holland witches oudewater Comments (4)

Gouda you like ta go to Gouda?

BY MURIEL

overcast 9 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

[Note that the title only makes sense if you pronounce Gouda in the Dutch way (Howda) instead of the Canadian way (Gooda). And even then, my kids say I'm really stretching it...]

Today was yet another opportunity to combine a visit with extended family together with sightseeing. In Victoria, we can overlook deserving local sites until guests come to town, proving to be just the impetus to get us out to the avoided tourist places. And so it was with Ben’s cousin, Jan, who works in Gouda but has never seen the tourist attractions there. We met Jan at his place in Alphen aan den Rijn (on the Rhine), receiving a boisterous hello from his golden retriever (Bob).

Just an aside here...if we’re allowing for canine descendents, then you will recognize Bob as Igor’s cousin. I was saddened to realize that Bob was not yet included on Tante Rina’s calendar but when I meant to remedy this quietly, my family members chastised me, indicating writing on someone else’s Dutch birthday calendar is crossing the line (I’d be interested in knowing from the Dutchies out there if they share this opinion on calendar etiquette, especially since Theo Kwantes surreptitiously added his name to my calendar a few years back. But, then, perhaps I shouldn’t be using Theo as my yardstick...)

Ben's Cousin Jan at his Work

Ben's Cousin Jan at his Work

But back to the tales of the day. Jan first drove us to his place of work, a large crane operation. The four brothers who own it have built it up over the years to now see their business encompassing fifty large cranes. Jan is the logistics expert there. We saw these massive cranes, each looking almost new they were so well taken care of and cleaned. That’s one thing we have noticed here, that company trucks and equipment for typically dirty jobs are still kept in very good repair and painted/cleaned regularly. Everything in Holland seems tidy and just so (except my girls’ bedrooms, of course). The personal tour at the business was followed by a visit to Gouda’s historical city hall. Replaced just two years ago by a more modern building, the fifteenth century Gothic stadhuis is still used for functions, and of course, marriage ceremonies, city halls being a favourite location for Dutch weddings. Jan then took us to the longest church in the Netherlands, Sint Janskerk, famous even as a tourist destination four centuries ago due to its amazing collection of stained glass windows. Even for a hardened sight seer like me, I was only able to review about two thirds of the over thirty that are there.

Old City Hall in Gouda: Stadhuis

Old City Hall in Gouda: Stadhuis

Gouda being the place it is, we expected to see quite a bit of cheese and we were not disappointed. Although the summer cheese markets have not yet started (where the farmers trade, weigh and sell their large yellow cheese rounds), we did duck into one of the many local cheese stores, happily tried the samples of various standard and unusual combinations and settled on a red pesto cheese. And since Gouda is known as having the best stroopwaffels, Jan bestowed a large supply of them on us. We’ll need to leave it to our two teenage stroopwaffel connoisseurs to tell us if Gouda’s outstrip those in the rest of the country. We happened across a games marketer and allowed ourselves to dawdle a bit while looking through his offereings. We were surprised to find our favourite game there (Settlers of Catan) and while I was tempted to buy the four-person travel version, sensibility prevailed; instead, we bought two very small sized games, both of which can fit in one hand. The compromises that come with limited baggage.

Fast Food Dutch Style with Cousin Jan

Fast Food Dutch Style with Cousin Jan

The weather was quite cold and we looked for a place to eat that was out of the wind. However, many had the same idea in the market area so a stand up place caught our eye. We had been advised by a relative to ensure we tried a ‘frikandel speciaal.’ We didn’t even know what exactly it was but seeing it listed on the snack bar’s sign board, we knew we should seize the moment. It is the most popular Dutch fast food snack, with frikandel eating contests and even societies promoting its particular graces. It even tops the croquette, which I can’t quite understand -- we love the croquettes here, having even succumbed and bought a few McKrokets when time or money didn’t allow us to search for the more authentic variety. The frikandel is a sausage-shaped minced meat snack, largely comprised of chicken and pork but, apparently, also potentially horse, depending on the maker. Combined with thickener, bread crumbs, herbs and spices, it’s no wonder it’s a winner. If you want to get really serious and add the ‘speciaal’ part, you need to have it served with raw onions, curry sauce and mayonnaise. We added frites to the mix, with me not being able to turn down a chance to try the fries with pinda sauce (peanut satay sauce). The frikandel is not to my taste but the fries and peanut sauce actually tastes good, believe it or not! While the whole heart attack special just about did me in, it provided much needed warmth and sustenance and put a smile on my face.

Jan offered to take us to the cheese museum but we elected to visit on our next trip, possibly another 21 years from now -- we'll all be seventy-ish then. We returned to Alphen, had a brief visit with Jan and Alma, Jan's girlfriend, and went on our way, stroopwafels tucked safely under our arms.

Posted by KZFamily 12:32 Archived in Netherlands Tagged food netherlands gouda Comments (3)

Museums in Amsterdam

By Hannah

sunny 15 °C
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Crowds at the Rijksmuseum

Crowds at the Rijksmuseum

We took a second stab at Amsterdam today, visiting the world renowned Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House. We decided against bikes this time, though.

Rijksmuseum is a huge and imposing place. During the two and a half hours we were there, we only saw one and a half floors. Whenever this sort of thing happens, we always say that it's something else to see when we come back. The first painting we saw was "Nightwatch", Rembrandt's most famous work. Even with the hordes of tourists swarming around the canvas, it was still impressive. Like the Mona Lisa, the people surrounding it sort of fade away as you take in the painting. From here, we moved through numerous seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works, pausing to admire them but not for too long, as we knew we had a lot to cover. I was constantly being tapped on the shoulder and told that it was time to move on to the next room, which I resented but accepted. It wasn't going to be like our Louvre visit, where we spent the better part of a day wandering through the galleries.

There were dozens of portraits and still lifes, as well as a number of everyday scenes, like women praying, reading letters, and picking lice out of their children's hair. Among the paintings were beautiful Delfts Blauw pieces and extraordinarily detailed furniture with inlaid wood designs. There was one room with a grand model ship in the centre, and another with delicate glass table pieces once belonging to the wealthiest families of the era.

Art sample from Rijksmuseum

Art sample from Rijksmuseum

We left the museum too early in my opinion, but I was outvoted three to one. Perhaps this was better, though, as we found ourselves waiting in line for nearly an hour in front of the Anne Frank House. We had expected this, however, and were willing to wait it out in order to see this incredible piece of history. Most of us had read her diary, and I, for one, had had a lot of trouble picturing the goings on of the Secret Annex. The tour gave us a clearer view of what the families' lives were like, and how the fear of being found behind the blackout paper, of the discovery of the secret staircase behind the bookshelf, would've enveloped them at all times. Every room had a quote or two from her diary written on the walls, and the room that Anne had stayed in was covered in pictures and magazine clippings that she had pasted there over seventy years ago.

At the end of the visit, we saw three of Anne's diaries out on display, including the red and white checked journal that she had first written in on her thirteenth birthday. There was also a section of the museum on Anne's life before she and her family had gone into hiding. Each year was marked with a photo of her, whether sitting in a classroom, posing for her passport or laughing with her family. A video of interviews played, the friends and classmates of Anne. They described her spunk, her bossiness, her charm and her zest for life. She had a boyfriend, a best friend, and many others that remembered her with a smile on their face accompanied with a knowing look in their eye. She was such an ordinary girl, and had all the potential in world. This idea, I think, is what really strikes home with people all around the world, reading her thoughts, anecdotes and perception of the world in more than 70 languages.

We entered into two very different realms of history today.

Posted by KZFamily 11:22 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam house netherlands frank anne rijksmuseum Comments (2)

Family and Emigration

by Ben

14 °C
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Ben's Grandparents

Ben's Grandparents

As I have alluded to in past blog posts, this is the second trip for me and Muriel to the Netherlands. The last visit was in 1992, almost half a lifetime ago. As a result, everything appears vaguely familiar, yet at the same time brand new. The passage of time has seen subtle physical changes in the landscape with the rise of new buildings while there have been much substantial changes on the human level.

In the late afternoon, we went to visit a cemetery in Bodegraven where all my grandparents are buried along with some aunts and uncles. The cemetery has expanded since our first visit so many years ago. We couldn’t remember where the graves were located so we spread out to search the entire grounds. We considered ourselves very fortunate to be able to locate all four grandparents’ graves and the headstone of my uncle after a fairly brief search among the numerous resting places. It is a bit surreal to see your family history chiselled in stone. I had met only two of my grandparents in my lifetime and each of them only once. The physical distance between my childhood home and my parent’s childhood homes looked immense from the perspective of this cemetery. Today travel is so much easier and so much less costly that it makes it hard for my kids to imagine that grandparents and grandchildren might never meet as the result of emigration. It underlines the impact emigration has on families. It reminded me of the huge obstacles that my parents had to overcome without the benefit of family and extended family close by. It also brought to mind that in a much, much smaller way my siblings and I have also lived the emigration experience through our separation from extended family.

Ben and his Uncle and Aunt

Ben and his Uncle and Aunt

When we were in the Netherlands the first time, Muriel and I had been married just three years, we were childless and all four of our parents were living. We return now with two teenagers and having witnessed the passing of one child and two parents. Equally momentous changes have occurred in the lives of my extended family in the Netherlands. Although, we have had contact and a few visits with these relatives when they have come to Canada over the past two decades, there still has been huge gaps between meetings. What is amazing is the atmosphere of familiarity that develops so quickly even after such lapses in time. The bonds that tie families together are neither uniform nor truly definable. What I have found astounding during my visits with relatives, is the ability of these bonds to perist, no matter how thinly stretched or worn by the passage of time. It seems that there is some sort of special grace or dispensation that allows for contact and conversation to so easily begin anew.

Ben's Father's Brother and His Family

Ben's Father's Brother and His Family

Today we visited my Uncle Floor and Aunt Ank and my cousin Mariette her husband Kok and daughter Sophie, my Cousin Frono and his wife Bep and three children and my Cousin Renata. Mariette and Kok generously hosted the gathering in their beautiful home situated right on the Rhine River in the home town of my Dad. It was amazing how quickly five hours of good conversation over great food (pickled herring, smoke salmon and Indonesian pork satay being just a few of delicacies served) passed. Hannah and Abby enjoyed a ride along the Rhine in a Zodiac with their second cousin Sophie and we were all impressed with their two and half year old second cousin David, who could speak words in English and French as well as Dutch. We were equally amazed to learn that my both my aunt and uncle who are in their late seventies continue to ski every winter in Switzerland. It was heartening know that we also have a share in these great family genes. We left this family gathering feeling a little more connected with my Dad’s roots and continuing to ponder the nature of family bonds in the light of emigration.

Posted by KZFamily 15:15 Archived in Netherlands Tagged family netherlands Comments (5)

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