Thursday, June 23, 2016

Zuidlaren, NL, and It's Famous Statues

In conjunction with my happy birthday last week, Astrid and I drove on an overnight trip to Zuidlaren and Groningen over the weekend, 230 km north of us to the provinces of Drenthe and Groningen.  Actually, in the coming and going, we traveled through 6 of the 12 Dutch provinces (South Holland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Drenthe, Groningen and Utrecht)!  Gorinchem, where we live, is in South Holland province.

[Groningen is another post, where we went to see a Jan van Haasteren exhibit celebrating his 80th birthday.  He's the jigsaw puzzle man, remember?  We also had an unexpected stop on the way in Westerbork where 102,000 Jews were "assembled" for transport to Nazi concentration camps during WWII.  That, too, is another post.]

This happy post is about the village of Zuidlaren where we spent the night.  What a delightful, cozy, clean, charming village of ca. 10,000 people.  I fell in love with it.

But long before we got to Zuidlaren (at 4:30 p.m.), we stopped late morning for our koffie break.
It's the treat we give to ourselves when we make these road trips.
Latte macchiatos always seem to call out to us!

Now insert on your back burner at least 6 km of walking in the afternoon before reaching Zuidlaren.

As we drove into the village on its main street, we saw two of its famous statues.
This one was the first and is called the Berend Botje statue.
It's a nursery rhyme depiction of Berend Botje who sailed out with his boat from Zuidlaren...
and eventually went to America, supposedly, since he was never found again.
Astrid was repeating the nursery rhyme throughout the trip!  :)

The second statue, a block from our hotel, is this horse-market sculpture.
Every October in Zuidlaren is Europe's largest horse market with 350 market stalls 
extending 2.3 miles from the center of the village.
Horsetraders come from Germany and Belgium, as well as the Netherlands.
The statue depicts the time when buying-and-selling deals were "closed" with a simple handshake.

ADDENDUM:  I've added this YouTube after publishing this post.
At around 1.5 minutes, you can see the famous handshake!

It wasn't surprising, then, as we walked around town, to see many references to horses...
and that famous handshake!

But we were hungry...and had seen an Italian restaurant while driving into town!
Remember that 6 km walk on your back burner?
I guess carbs were what we needed because that's all we wanted,
accompanying our very nice Warsteiner German beer.
We both have a weak spot for spaghetti carbonara and lasagna, a rare chance to eat for us.

And then we walked some more, finding the village synagogue
where you can read the 15 names of residents sent to Nazi concentration camps.
After our earlier time in Westerbork (another post), this was additionally sobering.

Zuidlaren is also known for its many village greens, called brinken (middle-right),
with their stands of trees.

The next morning, Sunday, before driving to Groningen (another post),
we drove to Zuidlaren's only windmill, De Wachter (The Guard), from 1851, now a museum.
It's where the original Berend Botje resides, which we had arrived too late to see that Saturday.

And just outside the windmill, along the canal, is De Jonge Wachter (The Young Guard), 
a paddle steamboat built in 2000.  Both mill and steamer were at rest/closed that Sunday.

But we had seen enough to make us very happy campers,
along with the many weathervanes throughout the trip, several in Zuidlaren itself.
The turkey (middle-right) is the first we've seen, in the Westerbork area.

Happy Birthday to me, right?  It really doesn't get more fun than this.
Growing older and better, that is!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Dike Synagogue in Sliedrecht, NL

Sometimes we hear/read about something and decide to follow it up...just like you, I'm sure.  In this case, our new-found friend, Janny, told us about the monthly open house for De Dijksynagoge in Sliedrecht (of all places, where Astrid happens to work) this past Saturday and Sunday from 2-4 p.m., 18 km from home.

So, it was a no-brainer.  We put it on the calendar and went on Sunday.

It's the only synagogue in the world built on a dike.
In fact, Astrid heard it's the only synagogue outside of Jerusalem built on a mound.
It was built in 1845 but was dismantled and rebuilt in 2002 when the dike was reconstructed.
It was moved 80 meters west from it's original spot.  Leave it to the Dutch, as I always say!
(Pay attention to the horseshoe hedge in the back on the lower level.)

Can you see how bright the space is?
And how gezellig...the English word is "cozy" but it's more than just cozy.

You immediately notice the important things...even though I don't know what they're called.
For me, this would be the "altar."

And the "pulpit," plus the menorah (lampstand) and the "light."
Astrid found out the menorah was made by our woodcarver friend, Adrie Bezemer
from a 1000 yr-old piece of oak wood.

And yes, there is even a wee balcony from which you can get an overview.

From there I could better see the skullcaps all men were required to wear.
There was even a grab-bin in the lobby for visitors who didn't have their own.

Back out in the lobby we took the stairs past the Star of David down to the ground floor.
(That piece of broken plaster exposing the brick means it's "never finished"
until the temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt.)
Remember, this synagogue is on a dike, so the back floor is below the front entrance above.
That's where the  museum is.

I can imagine how proud the Dutch Jews are of these artifacts.

The backdoor off the museum takes you to the garden inside the horseshoe hedge.
Everything grown there is mentioned in the Bible, with names and verse locations.

Totally worth the experience and most educational.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

It so happens you can see the 1886 Sliedrecht water tower from the synagogue.

And there were plenty of weathervanes in the area to make me happy,
including the second cat vane I've seen within two weeks.

It was my 71st birthday the next day, Monday, so let's just say I was a very happy camper.
As you know, it doesn't take much!

Friday, June 10, 2016

MALTA: Mdina (aka Città Vecchia and Città Notabile)

Today we're going to Mdina, a fortified city in Malta which served as it's capital city from antiquity to the medieval period.

First, the map of Malta, to get our bearings.
We took a city bus from our hotel in Bugibba to Mdina, 8 km south.

It was founded as Maleth around the 8th century BC by Phoenician settlers,
was later named Melite by the Romans, and then Mdina during the Arab occupation,
from the Arabic word Medina.
In 1530 Valletta became the new capital city of Malta.

St. Paul's Cathedral is its main landmark, but pay attention to those wee red umbrellas (top-right).

The bus stop for Mdina is outside the city wall where the horse buggies congregate.

Astrid and I did not take a buggy tour throughout the city,
but we spent plenty of time enjoying the scene.

Social media comes with the territory!

Before you enter the ancient walls, you have plenty to see outside....

including flora and fauna.  
The photos on the right are of the carob tree, prominent throughout the Maltese Islands.

And then we entered another world.

It really is a walled city...of ca. 300 people.
You wonder what it'd look like if the sun weren't shining!

You don't see the homes unless you go on a tour.
It's only then that you see the inside courtyards and living spaces.
We only saw the walls in front of us everywhere we went.

And the horse-n-buggy tours, too, of course.

We even watched as one buggy backed up to let a car pass through!
I should have videoed it because the sound of the horse's hooves cannot be described.
I think I stood there with my mouth wide open for the several minutes it took.

Actually, one of the first stops we made was at the Mdina Glass shop near the entrance.
We even bought a small Christmas-tree ornament as a keepsake.

But our main destination was St. Paul's Square to see St. Paul's Cathedral from the 12th century.

Look at those gorgeous bell towers and "clocks."

Yes, of course we went inside!

It was hard not to look down at the floors, especially with their ornate "tombs."

Or up, at all the paintings on the ceilings.
Did you grow up in a church like this????  Me neither.

My guess is it's always under some kind of restoration?

That was enough to whet anyone's appetite.
So off we went to the Fontanella Tea Garden, one of Mdina's most famous tourist spots.
I think we had the date pie...with a hard cider (it was quite warm, after all).

So, remember those red umbrellas in the photo up above?
Fontanella offers fabulous views of the countryside outside it's walls.
No wonder everyone said we had to go there.

For so ancient a city with all its history,
it felt appropriate to see some "wabi-sabi artifacts" along the way.

I can't think of a better way to end such a tour of Malta's former capital city!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The 2016 Gorcum City Run

You know by now, of course, that Gorinchem, where we live in the Netherlands, is endearingly called Gorcum, right?  The 'g' is not a hard 'g' but a gutteral 'g' that ends up sounding more like "HOR-cum."

So, as another unexspected break from our Malta vacation, here's what happened in Gorcum this past Friday, 3 June:  the Gorcum City Run.  It was the first 5K and 10K City Run for our city.

It so happens that Astrid and her running buddy, Jeannette, had both registered for the 5K and were, supposedly, going to have me-time running it together.  Until at the last minute (like 15 minutes before the race start!) I found out that Jeannette's wife, Femke, was planning to watch as a supportive observer!  Did I also want to go?  Well, how could I say NO to that.

Because the race started and ended right across the street from our senior complex,
all I had to do was change from my pj's into presentable clothes.
The race started at 7:15 p.m.

There they are:  Jeannette and Astrid.
Ready and able to start the 5K race...which followed the Kids Run.

So, Femke and I found a seat on the terrace of a nearby café.
(If you squint, that's Femke in the middle-right image, just right of the tree.)

Astrid wore her GPS watch and mapped the route, which they ran twice to make the 5K.
See the citadel of Gorinchem's city center?  Yes, that's where we live.
And the 'X' is where we really live, so close to the start and finish of the race.

Astrid was the oldest woman of the 5K race (age 61) and crossed the line for her medal.
She said she could have done it again for how invigorated she was,
even though she looked exhausted to me.

But Jeannette, at the second time around, did a crazy sprint to get by another runner,
and just about lost it...needing some First Aid assistance till she cooled off.

Thankfully, cool off we all did!
(That's Femke, top-left.)

And then the Triumphants had social-media fun, posting a selfie on Facebook,
checking every 5 minutes to see who saw it.  Maybe more exciting than the medals they won?!

All in all, thumbs up to a fine evening I'm so glad I did NOT miss.
I think we're already getting ready for the SECOND Gorcum City Run, 2017.

We're so lucky to have this right at our fingertips!