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Entries about holland

Bewitched in Oudewater

BY ABBY

sunny 19 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

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)

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)

The Netherlands and the failure of the Stereotype

by Ben

all seasons in one day 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Windmill just outside of Baambrugge

Windmill just outside of Baambrugge

We will be staying for the next 11 days in the village of Baambrugge. It is a neat, compact and picturesque village of about a thousand people surrounded by a network of canals. It is about 18 kilometers south of Amsterdam and a little further west of Utretch. Since we have only been in the Netherlands for a day, I can’t say with any authority that Baambrugge is a quintessential Dutch village, but the white drawbridge over the canal, the church in the centre of town with a bell that rings the hours, the brick streets and brick houses with dark green shuttered windows and doors and tile or thatched roofs, and the abundance of cyclists all seem to put it in the running. The cows and sheep in the surrounding fields and the windmill just outside the village would seem to be the bow on top of the package that says, at the very least, this is the stereotype we have for the typical Dutch village.

The barn shaped three bedroom house we are renting is right on a canal and we can see the comings and goings over the village drawbridge from our living room. From the outside, our house looks to be cut from the same cloth as the rest of the village. From the pictures we had seen online, we already knew the inside of the house was going to be more of an Ikea meets Pier 1 Imports and 30 shades of white. When we entered, we still weren’t prepared for the level of enthusiasm the owners would have for candles, lamps and African wood carvings featuring prominent female busts. None of that really mattered except that it distracted us from the more serious shortcomings. As we were being shown around we learned in passing that the house is the principle residence of a doctor,her husband and their three children who are all under the age of five. This family may be auditioning for a place on the TV show called Hoarders having stuffed every available nook and cranny with belongings. Why they even thought of renting out a fully occupied home that is overflowing with all manner of infant and toddler apparati is beyond us. There isn’t even room for us to store our toothbrushes. Even the vast amount of stuff (aka junk) would not have been as hard to take if the adult owners weren’t cleaning disabled. The aforementioned decore does not mix well with dirty young kids running amock. The whole place has shattered my long held conception that every native Dutch person is born with a compulsive cleaning gene.

Our House in Baambrugge

Our House in Baambrugge

Unfortunately for us, these details were not evident in the online pictures. The true extent of the dirt and grime and overstuffed closets and cupboards did not come fully to light until after our doctor hostess had flown the coop. The oven will likely catch fire if we try to use it due to the grease inside and the fridge appears to be an experiment on how long you can go without cleaning such a device before the contents inside can open the door on their own. Yes, the fridge was still two thirds full of their old food. As I already stated, we were totally mystified why our medical doctor hostess had packed her entire family off to her in-laws at least six times this year to rent it to travellers. We have rented over 20 such places from the Airbnb website and have never come across such a poor interpretation of the basic requirements for house letting to travellers. We did have a nightmare in Barcelona and our bizarre digs in Kinvara, but even these places were largely empty of personal contents and rotting food in the expectation that guests would actually like to use the place.

One big risk with Airbnb rentals is the very hands-off dispute resolution mechanism it offers. Since we can’t find other self-catering accommodation in this area and neither can we afford forfeiting our 12 days of rent we need to stay. Fortunately, we have been able to make the place liveable for the moment and have negotiated a 25 percent rent reduction. Our hostess also offered to come in on Saturday to clean and empty some dressers for our use and hopefully fix the slow draining shower (we don’t expect she will get the toilet on the main floor working).

It all makes for a good story. I definitely would not recommend Airbnb to everyone. If you are travelling for a long period of time and are not staying in one place for overly long periods of time it is great way to save money and have more spacious and homey accommodation. If you are on a short vacation the risk that one bad rental experience could blow the doors off your whole vacation is perhaps a bit too high. You really need to be honest with your own abilities to roll with such developments. I will leave it up to our readers to decide for themselves whether or not I am deluding myself as to my ability to roll with the punches. Abby and Hannah are travel hardened in this respect and can settle in quickly no matter the circumstances. The fact that this happened to us in a picture postcard village in the Netherlands was a complete surprise to me. I had let my guard down partially because of the stereotypical assumptions I made about Dutch people in general.

Area around Baambrugge

Area around Baambrugge

I would like to think it was the distraction of the house, but my kids and wife think it is just old age, that caused to me for forget to take my wallet out of my pants before I put them in the washing machine this morning. I don’t advise anyone to engage in money laundering either figuratively or literally. But if you are curious, Euros wash quite nicely (although the next day the clerk at the grocery store did give me the look over when I bought groceries with some still slightly damp bills) as do credit cards and driver’s licenses, but a leather wallet?; not so much. I didn't know you could wash the grain right off the leather. My wallet looks like something one of the 1500 year old bog men we saw in a museum in Britain would have been have been carrying when the archaeologists dug them out of the swamp.

The weather today has been a mix of cloud, rain and sun, so I tried to time my neighbourhood walks between downpours. Fortunately, the sun came out for longer appearance late in the afternoon allowing me an opportunity to sit and drink coffee on a bench in front of our house overlooking the canal. It was great to watch all the coming and goings. I had two kids from the neighbourhood stop by to show off the young duck they had caught on the edge of the canal. They quickly lost interest in me when I used up all nearly all my Dutch in two sentences. I met the mailman who gave me a strange look for speaking English when I was clearly was a Frenchman. The bench was right next to my car which has unusual bright red French license plates. I was also asked directions by a lost cyclist. It was a short and unhelpful interchange that left the cyclist shaking her head as I had insufficient Dutch and knowledge of the area to be of any assistance. By the time I left my bench to go inside, I recommitted myself to encouraging my kids and students back home to keep up their language studies and tell them about the opportunities and rewards that are missed when one is unilingual.

Posted by KZFamily 01:26 Archived in Netherlands Tagged netherlands holland baambrugge Comments (7)

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