Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sail 2010 Amsterdam: Day 1

It's been a bit over a week and I'm dying to show you the fabulous Thursday and Friday we had in North Holland for Astrid's 56th birthday celebration at Sail 2010. The two key cities are IJmuiden on the west side of the country and Amsterdam on the east, with the North Sea Canal connecting the two. That was the route of the tall ships going to Amsterdam from the North Sea. [Click to enlarge.]

On Thursday we were in IJmuiden for the day and night, the first day of Sail 2010. There on the banks of the North Sea Canal, we sat for 5 hours (in canvas folding chairs we had purchased the day before!), watching the procession. We weren't bored for one minute and still can't believe it was F I V E hours. It was a four-hour sail-in for the boats from the North Sea at IJmuiden to Amsterdam, 24 km away.

We had left early from home (6 a.m.) to make sure we got a good spot. By 8 we were situated in our chairs with no one in front of us...a clear shot. Since the procession didn't start till 10, we had 2 hours to watch everything else going on, which was almost as fun as the ships. The dogs were still only for this photograph. The girls were here and there and everywhere, especially watching the police helicopters overhead....

....and walking down to the canal. We were sitting right next to these steps and watched kids especially walking up and down them with all the energy of a lifetime. This shows you what a high vantage point we had on the bank of this canal.

Then the show started. First just boats of all sizes and shapes and age...and wealth. A lot of money passed before our eyes that day, for sure:

And none of these were the tall ships!
But they were all waiting to accompany the tall ships once they started. The Stad Amsterdam, Holland's 3-mast clipper, was the "grand marshall" that set the tone for the procession.

Thar she blows, the bottom image of the above collage, followed by the Russian Mir (above).
Our only disappointment was that the ships weren't able to unfurl their sails, not because there wasn't enough wind (there was plenty!) but because the canal is too narrow for the maneauvering of such big ships with hundreds of smaller boats on their left and right. I would have LOVED to see them in full sail!

Incidentally, more than 100,000 ships traverse this canal every year. During Sail times, every 5 years, the number must surely double! The canal is 235 meters wide and 15 meters deep...not exactly the same environment in 1976 when my now deceased brother Bennett was at the New York City tall-ship extravaganza, taking pictures from a helicopter!

See how much fun everyone had! This is what Sail 2010 was all about. Whooping it up big time.

By 1 p.m. the place had thinned out and instead of going to Amsterdam then to meet the crowds on that end of the stick, Astrid and I decided to stay in IJmuiden to get situated in our Holiday Inn and go down to the North Sea to beachcomb before our dinner reservation at 6 p.m. I think I mentioned that I had found a package deal for Astrid's birthday that included the night's stay, a welcome drink, Captain's dinner, fast-ferry round-trip to Amsterdam and a full breakfast at an incredible price. We were happy campers.

It so happens this Holiday Inn is used a lot by companies for team building. See the climbing contraption? It was visible from our room overlooking the sand dunes. We saw it in use both days by different teams.

Off to the left of the climbing apparatus, a short walk away, were the bunkers facing the North Sea during WW II. They had been built by the Dutch but were taken over by the Germans early on in the war. They were so strongly fortified that nothing was able to destroy them during the war.

Here's a YouTube that even shows the Holiday Inn at different points:

Actually, it was after supper that we took another walk to see the above bunker and to wander off towards the inlet side of the North Sea into IJmuiden. We knew there were tankers and lighthouses and fun things to see! And see them we did.

These are the two lighthouse of IJmuiden (the left and middle images are of the "lower" lighthouse), facing the North Sea, commissioned in 1877 and made of cast iron. It's an interesting story which you can read here. But esesentially they were constructed when the canal was built to connect the North Sea to the IJssel Sea so that ships could get across The Netherlands.

While we were walking around the "lower" lighthouse at dusk, you can imagine our surprise to see these two half-tame foxes playing around in the grass. Some neighbor guys nearby told us they were introduced to the dunes to keep the rabbit population down. The rabbits were undermining the dune construction which was built to keep the country from being flooded.

Surely you've heard this before: God created the world but the Dutch created The Netherlands. Think about it the next time you realize that most of present-day Holland was formerly under the sea.

The North Sea. What else is there to say!

Speaking of the North Sea, if you look out from shore as far as you can see, what would you see if you could? That would be England, of course. So when we found this British phone booth just sitting there, we wondered how many Brits in Holland were pining for their own country! And now I also wonder how many of these relics can be found here on this side of that pond?

There you have it, the first day of Sail 2010...the IJmuiden side of it. Next week I plan to give you Day 2 on the Amsterdam side of the birthday celebration. More of the same (BOATS) but different. That's the fun of this memory.

But before I say "ciao for now," here are the two water towers of IJmuiden. Wouldn't miss them for anything. The one on the left is now an apartment building. The one on the right I almost didn't get while driving by in the car, and therefore not really in sharp focus. But you at least get the idea about why I love "collecting" them.

Day 2 next week. Ciao for now (old habits are hard to break). Tot ziens.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Oudenbosch Basilica of Agatha & Barbara

In almost every post these days I mention that we have driven to a new city here in The Netherlands and have visited a church, among other things. What I haven't been explicit about is that almost all the churches we've seen have been Dutch Reformed or Lutheran churches. That is, Protestant. Unlike parts of Belgium and France to the south, Holland is not Roman Catholic.

So when we had the chance recently to visit the Basilica in Oudenbosch, 27 miles SW of us, we had quite the surprise. Modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (construction began in 1865 and was completed in 1982, over 100 years later), it represented everything "Roman Catholic."

The thing is, Oudenbosch is a village of only 13,000 people. Can you imagine this imposing structure in a city of that size? It still blows my mind.

When you enter the front door of the church, your eyes are immediately drawn all the way to the altar at the opposite end:

In some of these images, the altar is seen from the dome above, after climbing up to the "whispering gallery."

Speaking of which, when not drawn to the altar, the dome beckons:

Interestingly, everything we saw from the whispering gallery surrounding the dome was painted. It looked like mosaic tile but it wasn't. We guessed it made sense for having the look without all the expense.
[In the above collage, the bottom center image is not from the dome but from the altar.]

For those of you who grew up with Roman Catholic culture, iconography and architecture, this is surely "old hat." For me it is astonishing. All of it:

Lucky for me, I was able to find a YouTube video of this church, with much better images: The Oudenbosch Basilica of the Saints Agatha and Barbara:

Now I will make a simple/simplistic observation which I hinted at in my last post: We have visited only a handful of Catholic churches here in The Netherlands but Astrid agrees with me that all of them have seemed so much darker and "colder" than the Protestant churches we've visited. Maybe one of you can enlighten us? Is it marble vs. wood? Statuary vs. open spaces? Fewer vs. more windows? What is it?

That same day-trip to Oudenbosch, we saw another delightful, artistic the form of this whimsical garden "statue:"

While we were photographing this car, the front door of the house opened and a gentleman came out to welcome us. Apparently this has become quite the tourist attraction (unbeknownst to us) and he asks people to send him their images once they get home. Yes, we were good and sent him ours. I bet he has quite a collection.

Also on this particular trip I was able to photograph 4 different water towers that we purposely went to find both coming and going to Oudenbosch. Astrid knows I'm "collecting" them to put together one day into a gigantic collage. But to whet your appetite, here's a peek:

Believe it or not, these are very plain compared to others I have "captured." They're almost as soulful as the windmills...though not quite.

And that brings me to one last thing (before I start tackling the Sail 2010 images!): it's my turn again today at Vision & Verb where I talk about Pleasing All the People All the Time, using the following image (from my last post):

Maybe you'll figure out what I'm gonna say before you get there?!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Out-n-About...and Rhenen, NL

Every once in awhile on a Sunday (after we've had a full Saturday), if the weather is spectacular, Astrid is chomping at the bit to go outside. I am learning this is a Dutch thing. Everyone wants to be outside when the weather is heerlijk = delightful. Duh. But of course!

So a week ago yesterday, when the weather was more spectacular than the Saturday before, we drove less than 10 km from home to look for a water tower for me to photograph. I "collect" them like windmills and one day will do an entire post on them because they're all over Holland in many different styles and architectures. Very soulful to me. Though this particular one is very plain in comparison to others we have seen, it did not disappoint. However, it ended up being the "after thought" of the excursion brecause of the other treasures we unexpectantly saw.

First, it was these Lakenvelder cows that totally astonished me. Have you ever seen such a thing?!

Dutch Belted dairy cows. Some of them produce over 9000 liters of milk per lactation!

Then, as though that weren't enough, within the same area we saw 4-horned sheep:

Again, have you seen such a thing?! It would be something to carry around either set of these horns...but both sets? Don't you wonder...WHY?! :)

Then we saw the windmill, "outstanding in its field" right in the middle of nowhere: the Oude Doornse Molen built in 1700:

Notice that the octogonal sides are made of thatch and not of wood. I was in heaven. This was the first such windmill style I had seen like this in The Netherlands, at least up close and personal. We were able to walk up that side road and stare.

As far as we could tell, no one was living there (though someone could have once upon a time), but there in the side yard was this family of goats:

See the water tower in the background? It was all together in one swell foop between the little villages of Uppel and Almkerk! The unusual animals, the water tower, the windmill, and these goats. We kept saying to each other that we couldn't believe it. So many things within a Sunday afternoon's joy ride just minutes from home!

[Click on collages to enlarge and then click again to enlarge further.]
That was Sunday! The Saturday before was overcast but we didn't care when we drove 25 miles east to Rhenen, a city of approx. 19K people. We wanted to see the Cunera Church from the other side of the Rhine River, as well as up close and personal.

Again, we were not disappointed! But after visiting the Tourist Information center (the VVV), we were told it would not be open because it was being prepared for a concert that evening. However, as we walked around the church to see all the nooks and crannies, lo and behold, the front door was open for another half hour and we were able to go inside after all.

As is the case with so many European churches, this started out Roman Catholic in the Middle Ages but became Protestant in 1580. Over time it has been damaged and restored many times and today appears more bright and cheery compared to many of the Roman Catholic churches we've seen.

See why we love going inside these churches! They're heaven for photographers.

After the church we went to see the windmill called De Binnenmolen, built in 1893 and within a few blocks from the church:

Notice the difference between this mill and the one at the beginning of the post near Almkerk. See why windmills are so soulful to me....

....and why walking around these cities, no matter how big or small, yields such great treasures.

It so happens that Rhenen impressed us so much we decided not to see anything else that trip except for it's WW II military cemetery just outside the city limits, at the Grebbe line, where the Dutch withstood the German army for 3 consecutive days in 1940. It is Holland's first official war cemetery:

[Click on collages to enlarge and then click again to enlarge further.]

This post is chock full of a lot a stuff that happened in one weekend, I know. Sometimes that's how our weekends are. Chock full. If I don't stay on top of them, they all float away into the proverbial Black Hole, so thanks for bearing with me.

This past weekend we pretty much stayed put within Gorinchem, preparing for our upcoming Thursday and Friday in Amsterdam for Sail 2010 and the Tall Ships bonanza. That's my birthday gift to Astrid...and another post altogether.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Breda, NL...and I'd Rather be Fishing

A couple of weekends ago Astrid and I were out-n-about in the countryside on our way home after a delightful drive to nearby Breda. We love driving the back roads coming and going whenever possible. It's such a different look than what you get from the freeway.

Lo and behold, while minding our own business but keeping our eyes open, there she was, fishing. Astrid hears something out of me...a grunt...body language...intuition--"Ginnie would like this"--and she stops. I get out of the car and snap the pictures.

Were they sisters? Actually, there was also a boy nearby at the bank of the canal and I wondered if they all belonged to each other. All doing what they love.

It's my turn at Vision and Verb again today, where you can read about what I'd rather be doing...and where this experience took me.

But speaking of Breda, since that was the day, take a peak with me at another fun city that's almost in our backyard, 19 miles away. It's Grote Kerk (Big/great church), or Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), was the main attraction for us, as almost always. Nor were we disappointed!

This is a gothic, protestant church that dates back to the 15th century. It's tower is 97 meters high. Sadly, very few services are held there anymore...except for baptisms, weddings and funerals, concerts, exhibitions, symposiums and fashion shows. But this is what's happening these days all over Europe.

When I see churches like this, visible from all over the city, I marvel. I still haven't gotten used to them. Surely the residents who have lived there all their lives are ho-hum about I'm almost becoming of the one just two blocks from our apartment. [Did I say that?]

Lucky for us, this church was open on a Saturday. Actually, the map we follow religiously has a different icon for city churches that are open to the public or not. So we know ahead of time if we'll be able to go inside.
If we can, we will!
This particular church pays tribute to to its members by hanging heraldry shields/emblems everywhere your eye can see. It even has a map where you can locate whatever shield you're looking for. This was a first for us.

But what astounded us more than anything was the pipe organ...the magnificent organ extending from almost top to bottom. This, too, was unique for us. It was worth the entire trip.
The organ of the Grote Kerk in Breda is one of the few complete mechanical 4-manual organs of the Netherlands. It has an interesting history which dates from before 1530. The organ has been restored in 1969 by Flentrop.

It so happens that this church in Breda is from Oranje-Nassaus (House of Orange-Nassau), the Dutch Royal Family, where 17 members are buried in the chapel. In this collage above, you can see some of the art work throughout the church that pays tribute to their religious and historical heritage.

By far, the above Grote Kerk is Breda's most important city landmark. But as a fortified city, it also holds strategic military/political significance, and is home to the Dutch Royal Military Academy, as seen below:

As Dutch cities go, this one is a beauty. Not too big and not too small. Just right. It has it all, as you see below...the architecture, history, canals, art, water tower and windmill.

What more could you ask for...except for maybe a RED HAIR FESTIVAL coming up in September. Can you believe it! Initiated in 2005, it attracts attendees from 30 countries. Will we go? You'll be the first to find out, trust me. I suspect not, since we're not fans of huge crowds. But just the thought of it sounds fun, doesn't it. That's Breda!

Back to the beginning of this post is the little girl fishing, who was the frosting on top of that day while out-n-about here in The Netherlands. Also, the reminder that today is my turn again at Vision & Verb. Did I ever tell you I LOVE LOVE LOVE my life here in this country!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Roze Maandag: Pink Monday

It was exactly two weeks ago today. For months we had already heard of the Tilburg Fair (Tilburgse Kermis) coming in July...Europe's largest movable fair. 2010 was its 201st anniversary.

Astrid and I talked about seeing it, just to say we did it, as a way to see another city in The Netherlands, shooting two birds with one stone. We had also hoped to meet up with another Vision & Verb collaborator who happens to live there (alas, she was on vacation so that didn't happen). Then one of Astrid's co-workers told her about Pink Monday, the "be gay for a day" day at the fair. WhoHoo. Supposedly it's the busiest day of the fair and has been a huge success since its 1990 inception. If we had had pink shirts, we would have worn them, but it was enough for us to walk the 3.5 km walk from beginning to end holding hands. We do that anyway here in The Netherlands, where being gay is legally "accepted." Besides, there was enough pink around to make up for our omission (click to enlarge and then click again):

We were there on the early-evening end of things, leaving home after Astrid's work and arriving by 5:45...only 50 km away. After eating supper there in a sit-down cafe, we had had enough and were ready to leave by 8:00 p.m., before things got started on the entertainment scene. We knew the drag queens would be in rare form, but that's not what we were there for. We just wanted to SEE it...and not necessarily experience the whole thing. Don't you love that the kids get to see this as though it is just another ho-hum fair! I wondered how many of them had two mommies or two daddies?

What immediately astonished me, to be honest, was my first impression after entering the fair--seeing the incongruity of the main church rising in the background as a backdrop:

Now that I think about it, it's like seeing the Church's blessing on what was happening that Pink Monday.

Astrid's co-worker who told her about Pink Monday grew up with a dad who made and repaired the steam-operated, old-timey rides. So that, too, was one of our reasons for attending the fair. We didn't ride a thing, mind you, but had fun seeing what was before our very eyes:

Are there fairs in the States that operate steam rides, I wonder?
And would Nicholas want to ride one now at age 10!

As fairs go, this was as faerie as it ever gets. If we can't take a joke, I always say! Notice that even Granny Towanda butted in on the scene (even though she's still very green behind the ears).

Speaking of Nicholas...when Astrid and I fly to Atlanta in October, we will arrive in time to take him to the fair he has attended every year since age 2. We wouldn't miss it for anything. Maybe this one (though perhaps a bit too pink for then!) was a good appetite whetter, getting us in the mood. But then, how can you ever get out of the mood, right?!