Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dutch Masters and Such....

Today is my turn again at Vision & Verb, this time talking about the "dutch masters" from my series on Shutterchance last week. You'll have to go there (V&V) if you wonder what I'm talking about.

Most of you know by now that every weekend possible, Astrid and I take the Gran Towanda out for another spin to see everything possible here in this incredible country called The Netherlands. A week ago Saturday we took our longest trip thus far, driving 320 km roundtrip to visit Enkhuizen and Hoorn to the north and east of Amsterdam. Both are coastal cities, so I knew we'd see something different than rural Holland. But I'm not sure I was prepared for what I saw.

I am such a glutton for harbors and marinas, seeing all the sailboat masts piercing the sky. First in Enkhuizen and then in Hoorn, we saw enough majestic sailboats (of all sizes) to last us until August when we plan to see the Tall Ships in Amsterdam. Our appetites were definitely whetted.

The water surrounding Enkhuizen and Hoorn is the IJsselmeer (please don't ask me why the second letter is capitalized because Astrid doesn't know either..."it's just the way it is; it's an exception!"), 1100 km² (684 sq. miles) in size. It's huge. It's a fresh-water lake that flows into the North Sea, which is salt water. Yes, I'm getting my education.

On the 30 km coastal drive from Enkhuizen to Hoorn, we had the delight of seeing this young lady (below) doing practice laps in her sulky on the race track. Another educational experience. This is how The Netherlands does its horse sulky carts. And yes, they bet on their races just as they do in America.

We spent the bulk of our time in Hoorn, the city closer to Amsterdam and probably more well-known. I'm guessing it's one of Amsterdam's "playgrounds" for the bigger waters. Lots of wealth oozes from this city!

When we come home from these invigorating trips, we are two tired puppies. You can bet your bottom dollar on that! MAAR...BUT we totally eat up these times. We both continue to feel so lucky for all that is at our fingertips to see and experience.

Two weeks of Dutch classes are now under my belt and I'm loving the experience. I'm getting more and more confident on my bike, too. I finished my first chapter in the workbooks and computer halfway through the 3-week schedule, acing my test, so now I will 'graduate' to the learning center. They weren't ready for me last week but supposedly by tomorrow I'll be moved. As the chapters get harder and harder, I'm sure I will naturally slow down. There is too much to retain and I'm afraid I'll start losing things through the cracks.

On a more somber note, I found out over the weekend that dear grandson Nicholas (age 9) was attacked by 3 pitbulls on Friday. It's a long story but the short version is that he was miraculously able to fend them off without being pushed to the ground. Therefore his face and neck, plus torso, were saved. But his arms, legs and buttocks were severely bit. No stitches were needed because the dogs didn't lacerate his skin. But he's bandaged up and very sore. Tetanus shots, pain meds (though he refused them after the first day), and lots of TLC. The blanketing love of many is healing his emotional and mental wounds, I pray. His, his mom's and all the rest of us. The owners were cited but we don't yet know what that means. We pray the dogs will be put down so that no one else can ever be harmed by them.

God have mercy on us all!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Welcome to Newcomers

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor....

And that's exactly how last week Tuesday evening started...a beautiful day... when all of Gorinchem's newcomers from the past year were invited to a welcome by the Mayor, no less...wined and dined (well, cookies go with wine, right?) on a delightful river cruise to see our citadel city from a different perspective. And all for free.

Before the river cruise began, we all had a chance to walk around the different booths set up on the river bank to answer any questions we might have about our gemeente (= municipality) which is Gorinchem, population 35k. In attendance was the firemen's brigade, with trucks and ladders, giving free rides to children, 35 meters up, to see the city from on high. I stood on the ground and took pictures of one little fella in particular who, unbeknownst to me, was one of the firemen's grandson. I was immediately asked by G'pa if I'd be so kind to e-mail him the pictures (which I have since done, yes)...and from that, Astrid and I were then invited up the ladder. And this is is what we saw (before our cruise even started!):

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty....

You can imagine the thrill it was for us to see our 'neighborhood' in this way, high above the city. We couldn't stop saying Thank You. And guess what: the city photographer even got a picture of us (which was included in Gorinchem's online newsletter) while we were on board the fire-truck ladder. Are we famous or what!

Then the river cruise began...on a perfectly clear evening during what we photographers call the Golden Hour. The Merwede River borders one side of our city where thousands of freighters are coming and going from Rotterdam to the rest of Europe, all year 'round, 24/7. And that's the river from which you can see our city in all its glory.

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you....

Even with 150 of us, the mayor (and his right-hand man) got around and spent some time talking with us about this-n-that. 1) There's apparently one woman on the city council who is not in favor of same-sex marriage and who technically could be fired, since the country legally endorses our marriage. 2) If I pass my Dutch inburgerings examen (= integration exam) next year, we will be invited back for another river-cruise welcome, at which time I will be singled out by the mayor to come forward to receive the city book and have my photo taken with him. HA! But look here...I've already taken a picture of him with Astrid.

I love this city!

In this image you can see the 4 churches of the citadel AND one of our 2 windmills.

Our windmill on the Merwede River is De Hoop (= Hope), which I have shown before here.

In this image you can see the 2 windmills on opposite sides of the citadel. I was shocked by how close they appeared to each other from the river.

On the Gorinchem side of the river, we see the church and windmill of our neighbor city, Woudrichem, across the river from us. Here she's up close and personal (sans church or windmill).

Another up-close view of Woudrichem, our neighbor on the other side of the tracks river (with windmill but sans church).

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

Won't you please,
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?
(Mr. Roger's Neighborhood lyrics)

Speaking of integration, I have one week of Dutch classes under my belt and can't believe how much I've learned. Astrid can't believe it either. A year from now I expect to be totally shocked! :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Life is a Journey

Today I start my Dutch-learning class at Da Vinci College here in our city of Gorinchem, Holland.
Today is also my turn again at Vision & Verb where I spell out a bit more what this is all about.

Bottom line: we are never too old for this Journey called LIFE.
And don't let anyone tell you differently!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Just Like Riding a Bike

Some things you never forget. Or so they say.

Back in 1973 when daughter Amy wasn't even yet walking, I didn't think twice about transporting her all over my neighborhood in San Diego...on the back of my bike. I had riden a bike all my life. Nothing to it. Once you 'got' it, it became old hat.

When we moved to Atlanta in 1987, all those cities and states and years later, it was a different story. It wasn't the riding-of-bikes part. It was the city. All spread out, hilly, and without connecting side streets to get from here to there easily. Bottom line, it wasn't a bike-friendly city. Still isn't.

Which is why I haven't had or riden a bike in YEARS...until now, in Holland. My first 5 months here (can you believe I just celebrated that milestone!) I walked everywhere. Anything I needed I could walk to. Plenty of exercise and I loved it.

However, now I'm getting ready to start a year's worth of school (next post) and because time will be a commodity, having a bike is important.

Thanks to Astrid never getting rid of her old bike from 22 years ago, I now have a new companion with 3 gears. (Yes, I'll have to come up with a name for her. Wanna help me?) Astrid's newer, 10-year-old bike has 24 gears, everyone of which she uses. She initially insisted that I use her bike and she'd use this older one. But I won the argument. How in the world could I ever figure out 24 gears, let alone use them! Three are more than enough for my almost 65-year-old body. I convinced her.

By now I have had 3 dry runs to Da Vinci College 15 minutes away by bike. But here's the thing: it's NOT like just riding a bike! That part is, of course...the actual riding. But riding a bike in Holland is NOT like riding a bike in the States. Maybe in NYC? I don't know. Nor is it Amsterdam. But in a country that has more bikes per capita than any other country, it'll be pure craziness for me during rush-hour traffic...bikes and cars alike. The night before my second dry run, alone, without Astrid, I thought I'd have nightmares. The space in between the parked cars on the right and the cars passing on the left freaked me out.

I'm glad to say I've become a lot more relaxed about it all, though still alert, and picture putting my new friend back into her parking space (inside our senior-living complex, under cover) each day I come back from school. She's a bit of an old-fogey like me, but her gears work just fine and she seems to know what she's doing.

HA! Did I ever believe I'd go back to school again. I mean the kind of school that has exams! I start a week from today, Monday, and will go for a year. But as I said, that's my next post, when I'll be writing about the venture for my Vision & Verb turn.

Till then, wish me some more dry runs and lots of confidence...till it's all just like riding a bike!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

On What Grabs Our Attention

It's my turn again at Vision & Verb, where you can figure out what this is all about!

It's also the day I fly back to Holland, arriving tomorrow:
Atlanta to Chicago to London to Amsterdam.
It'll be a looooooog day!

But I am so ready to see my sweetheart again!