Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Way With Words

Once again it's my turn at Vision and Verb.
You'll get the title better if you go there first to see what this above collage is about.
I'll just say here that it is the Selexys bookstore in the 13th century Dominican church in Maastricht.

Besides what we did on my actual birthday, that Sunday, June 13 (last post), we spent the day on that prior Saturday wandering around one of Holland's most famous cities: Maastricht.

If you look at this map (click to enlarge) and find Amsterdam, up by the inlet area, and then move south/down to Utrecht, which is getting into our neck of the woods here in Gorinchem, you can then go all the way south/down to the tip of the country on the right hand side to find Maastricht...171 km from home...5 hours of driving. (This isn't Kansas, Folks!)

It was our longest trip to date with Granny Towanda and she did not disappoint. We knew we'd be in for a full day before heading north again to our B&B in Lottum (once again, last post).

As we entered Maastricht, after parking the car and then setting out on foot through the city's "protected area," we were in for a thrill.

I see something like this street-corner café and always think "How European!"
The bicyles, too..."How Dutch!"

In almost every European city center, I'm sure, there is a main plaza and a huge church. In Maastricht's center there are TWO huge churches that appear to have become one...until you find the one narrow street that separates them. Because one is Catholic and the other Protestant, they aren't one, but the tourists don't know it when they see them from afar.

Of the two churches, the St. Servaas (Servatius) Basilica (Catholic) is the largest and the one that is open to visitors. St. Servaas is the patron saint of Maastricht, dying there in 384 A.D. The 0ldest parts of the church date around 1000 A.D. but most of the present structure is from the 12th century.

Now look at this collage below and see what I mean about how the protestant St. Janskerk (John's Church) (in the painted red stone) appears to be meshed with St. Servaas. And see the street that separates them. Hopefully they don't throw stones at each other!

In the bottom row of the above collage are 3 other churches we saw in Maastricht. The two images on the right belong to the The Faculty of Law for the University of Maastrict, located at the former provincial government building, where a Lutheran church (1684) holds its services (according to a sign Astrid saw). The church on the other side of the Maas River is the St. Martinuskerk and the one on the left is the Nieuwenhof monastery where the University College Maastricht now is (15th century). [Don't quote me on any of this...because I did a lot of Googling and still am not sure of it all.]

Besides the churches (that still amaze me after all this time), we continue to see Roman ruins everywhere we go here in Holland, reminding us of Roman domination for 4 centuries. I see history like this and am mind-boggled. These ancient walls and ramparts were built in the 13th century.

There is a debate as to whether Maastricht or Nijmegen is Holland's oldest city. Maastricht never received Roman city rights but appears to have settlements older than Nijmegen's. Some of the paleolithic remains are from 8-25,000 years ago. And the Celts lived here 500 years before the Romans. That's good enough for me.

Tha Maas river is the main waterway, as seen above with the Maas bridge built during the reign of Augustus Ceasar. See what I mean about mind-boggling history! How fun to walk around and see present-day life interwoven midst the ancient structures as though no one ever blinks an eye.

This particular trip I noticed I had taken several pictures of Astrid, so here's a collage of partner in crime on these photo hunts!

Isn't she cute?! :)

I leave Maastricht with this last of those scenes that is soulful to me.
This is what it was like for me on my birthday weekend, doing and seeing what I love.

This coming week we are getting ready for our first week's vacation since my arrival almost 7 months ago. On Saturday we will start our drive to SW France to spend a few days with Dutch friends who now live there. By Wednesday we will start our return home via the west and north coasts of France...totally avoiding the Tour de France and Paris. We plan to visit Bordeaux and St. Michel, both of which will blow us away. But everything along the way, most of it off the main highways, will be a taste of something brand new for me. Can you believe it's at our fingertips?!

I plan to have finished Chapter 5 of my Dutch studies before we leave. That's 5 of 9 chapters in my first of 2 books. I feel like I'm flying. So far so good!

Don't forget my turn at Vision and Verb, for which this post is titled.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My 65th Celebration

Since I made such a big deal of it and took 379 pictures (pared down to 229)...and have spent a week working on them...indulge me while I re-celebrate my big day from Sunday the 13th.

First of all, we drove south of Gorinchem on Saturday, 171 km (106 mi.), to visit one of the top cities of Holland: Maastricht. That's another post (and another 231 pictures still waiting to be processed). But that night Astrid treated us to a delightful Bed & Breakfast outside of the city Arcen where we planned to spend the day on Sunday.

If you're ever in the area of the Arcen castle and gardens, we definitely recommend Het Logement in Lottum as your B&B. Everything about it was delightful. It's a tiny village but it has the prerequisite high-steepled church and the windmill. Oh, yes, and the sheep! And because it's known as a Rose Village, the entrance and exit greets you with a trellis of roses (when in bloom).

After a delightful breakfast at our B&B, we left for the Arcen castle and gardens just 2 km away. That was the plan for my see the next most famous gardens in the Netherlands after the Keukenhof, which we had visited in April.

As castles go, it's not the most idyllic or romantic you'll ever see, but it is indeed a castle nonetheless...and THAT'S romantic enough for me on any birthday.

We had arrived half an hour after the gate opened and were surprised that we were amongst only a handful of tourists already there. Arcen isn't as commercial as Keukenhof and not as well-known (have you ever heard of it??) but it's every bit as spectacular and BIG. We could have spent the entire day there and not seen every nook and cranny.

How do you pare down a couple hundred photos to a few collages? Not the easiest thing in the world but at least you get a taste. As the day went on, more and more visitors started arriving, but even then it wasn't hard to get most pictures without any people in them.

Whereas Keukenhof is most known for its tulips, Arcen is known for its roses...except that it has been so cold here in Holland this spring (yesterday we actually had to turn on our heat at home) the roses are not all in full bloom. Still, there was plenty to see and nothing to disappoint.

As we moseyed along from one section of the garden to another, we came upon a central green house/pavillion called the Rosarium where this delightful florist was putting on a Floral Theatre:

As you'd guess, he was a Queen par excellence and thoroughly enjoyed playing the part.
Next thing we knew, he had changed outfits and came into the audience to pick ME to go on stage with him. Instinctively I knew it should not be me (even though it was my birthday), since my Dutch is quite lacking, and was able to think fast enough on my feet to offer Astrid up as the sacrifice. Lucky for me, she was a real trooper (and probably didn't need to know a word of Dutch)!

And just like that, Astrid, who has an incredible Green Thumb anyway, created with Mr. Florist a floral masterpiece...and I got to get up close and document it all.
Queen for a Day. And Astrid didn't look bad either. :)

Now, are you ready? Here's the frosting on the birthday cake: a Rose Opera in the garden dedicated to Ginnie on her 65th birthday! Seriously.

It so happened that when we entered the gardens first thing in the morning, before many others were there, we got in on the rehearsal of these two ladies who would be performing at 6 different times throughout the day. The first concert was at 11 a.m., the one dedicated to me. How can you top that! It's not that the rest of the day went downhill from there but Man! They totally made my day.

Remember when I made a big thing about SENIOR DISCOUNTS starting at 65? That day I saved €2.50 off my entrance fee because of my new age! And a week later, this past Saturday, I saved another €2.30 on the Fast Ferry to Rotterdam (another post). So SEE. It pays to turn 65. Someone at my Shutterchance blog said I should start a tally to see how much I will save in a year. Because I've started the tally, I'll be sure to mention the total savings a year from now. Trust me. :)

In the meantime, happy summer solstice! We've been in the 50s for a couple weeks now, unusual even for Holland. But I'm not complaining. I love cooling off after all the celebrating.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Yesterday was my 65th birthday, a milestone I actually cherish, believe it or not.
Today is my turn at Vision & Verb where I talk about Seniority...and senior discounts. HA! Enjoy.
And by the way, my wife, Astrid, was the guest blogger there yesterday. I still beam when I say those words, "my wife." I am very proud of her!

In celebration of my birthday, Astrid and I spent the weekend driving south in The Netherlands to Maastricht, on Saturday, to visit the "protected area" of its city center. It'll take me time to work on all the pictures I took but I wanted you to know what we did. We spent the night at a B&B outside of Arcen, north of Maastricht on our way home, to visit the castle and gardens on Sunday. After our visit to the Keukenhof Gardens in April, someone told us to make sure we visited Arcen one day. So we did. You'll hear more about it, too, in time.

Now, something to give you a smile:

Back in early December when I first arrived in The Netherlands and started to find my way around to the grocery stores, etc., I discovered a certain spot near the Water Horse pond (where Old Sannie, the salmon fisherman sits) that is frequented by various ducks and geese. Thankfully, I had my camera with me and documented this "Right-of-Way" procession that happens every day on this busy road. Once the geese decide to cross the street (the pond is on the right out of the image), everyone simply has to stop and give them their right of passage.

It so happens this is the exact route I take to school on my bike 4 days each week. Last Thursday I didn't get the main migration but a couple of duck stragglers were in my bicycle lane. PAS OP! Pay attention, Ginnie. I have been intent each day on the cars and other cyclists...but never on the ducks/geese.
What's not to like about this incredible "little" country!

Speaking of school, I have now finished 4 weeks (of 41) and expect to take my third test today/tomorrow, the end of another chapter. There is SO MUCH I'm learning...sometimes TOO much. I think my head will explode. But then I find myself heading off each day in excitement, eager to learn that new word or two that will make it easier to keep speaking Dutch (vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary). Astrid is the Mother of all Teachers, being patient and long-suffering here at home. She is excited for me and keeps encouraging me by telling me how proud she is of me (flattery gets her everywhere). And when I bump into people here around where we live, I excite myself when I actually carry on a conversation of sorts.

65 years old, not too old, and loving every minute of it. Now give me some respect! :)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dordt in Stoom

...or in other words, Dordrecht in Steam = Dordrecht Steam Festival, the largest of its kind in Europe, just 13 miles from where we live here in Gorinchem, Netherlands. That's where we went by train on Saturday, May 30th. By train because, with the thousands of visitors expected (250,000), there'd be no place to park. It was a no-brainer.

We knew there'd be so much to see! Because we went by train and were already at the train station, we decided to first find the steam train and take our ride on it to the model train pavilion too far away for walking. It was part of the full-ticket 'Steam circuit Dordt' pass so we had to think ahead for how we'd schedule our day.

We were early and had to wait for the steam train to arrive at the station from its back-n-forth trip to the model train pavilion. The anticipation was intense because both Astrid and I wanted to get pictures of the train puffing its way in. We and everybody else! How fun when we finally saw it coming. After lots of pictures, we hopped on and took the 15-minute ride to the model train stop. (And if you guessed the bottom-left photo above is a model, you're right.)

There's something about model trains, and what's funny about that is both Astrid and I are mesmerized by them. So it made sense that our first order of business was to check out the pavilion. I have always loved things in miniature and think I must have made the buildings and scenery set-ups in a past life. Brother Nelson had his own model train set eons ago, which is still in my subconscious, I'm sure. (Did you notice the sulky race horses in the collage above...just like the real one from my last post!)

Before and after going into the model-train pavilion we strolled around all the vintage trucks parked for viewing. They don't run on steam, of course, but they were there just for the halibut and added nostalgia to the scene. They deserved to be there. And they led the way to the river bank where we then picked up our steam boat ride to the Dordrecht city center on the Merwede River...the same river that runs by our city Gorinchem.

Talk about all the stops and whistles. They really did it up big, bringing back the memories of a by-gone day. If I counted right, there were 23 steam ships from all over The Netherlands, all with their own names and all blowing off steam. And all were in working order, taking visitors up and down the river. The top-left contraption, by the way, is a lightvessel/lightship...a ship that is a lighthouse. We didn't take the time to tour it but at least I got a picture of it. (And did you find Astrid in the collage?)

When we got off the steam boat, we were at the harbor in the midst of the main crowd of the city-center hoopla. That's where all the steam tractors strutted their stuff, some like whirling dervishes spinning their gears. Most of them were miniature tractors, like the one Astrid is photographing above. This video shows you how cute they are when they work.

By then we were totally ready for a late lunch and started to walk through the city center away from the beaten path. We had a friend's apartment-warming party to attend that evening back at our senior-living complex and decided we had seen what we wanted to see at the festival. So after lunch, we wandered our way back through the streets towards the train station. Unbeknownst to us, we ended up on the main run of the old-timer buses driving visitors to the station. And since that was also part of our pass, we hopped on and enjoyed our ride back to the total vintage style.

Steam-powered trains, ships, and tractors. Vintage trucks. Old-timer buses. Model trains. It may not be everybody's thing but Astrid and I were like kids in a toy shop. It happens only every other year and only in Dordrecht, so we felt lucky that it happend this year and, as I already said, just 13 miles from home. How does life get any better than that!

Update on Nicholas: A week after his attack by the 3 pit bulls, he is like his normal self, according to Amy. He even still likes dogs, he says! Amy says the owner surrended all his dogs which were then put down. He was also cited in violation of the leash law and not being proactive with the rabies shots. We truly believe Nicholas' healing is due to the "collective consciousness" of all of you who cared and prayed. Thank you.