Monday, January 31, 2011

Our Rijswijk-Den Haag-Scheveningen Day

Make up any reason whatsoever for a photo hunt and we'll be there! Make it as important as picking up my new residence permit, this time for 5 years, and Astrid will even take off a day from work to make a celebration of it.

And that's exactly what we did a week ago Friday when we drove first to Rijswijk (past Delft) and then through Den Haag to the Scheveningen beach, where we spent the rest of our day (click on map to enlarge).

When I made the same trip to Rijswijk a year ago, to pick up my one-year permit, I took the train because we didn't yet have our car, Granny Towanda. You might remember that Delft was only 4 minutes away by train, so I made my own celebration by visiting that famous city, writing about it on my Vision & Verb post. When they give you a lemon, make lemonade!

This time, having Granny Towanda and Astrid with me made all the difference in the world.

First of all, we're having so much fun with the TomTom, our Christmas present to each other. How did we ever live without it! You wouldn't believe how much less stress there is in the car now. HA! Seriously, it has revolutionized the way we travel. It's so detailed it tells us what lane to be in and what the speed limit is, how fast we're driving, how many minutes it'll take us in the present driving conditions, etc., etc. Of course YOU already knew all about this. But did you know the TomTom was invented in 1991 by two Dutch guys named Peter? Seriously.

If you look at the map above, you can see that Rijswijk is a suburb to the east of Den Haag. So after our 30-min. stop to park the car, go get my new reseidence permit, take a potty break, and get back into the car again, we were on our way into the center of Den Haag (cityscape above).

One day we will photo-hunt Den Haag/The Hague but, that day, there was a planned demonstration with thousands of students protesting new college tuition hikes, so we said "No, thank you" and continued on to the coast, the playground of their rich and famous. What an irony.

That coast or beach is in Scheveningen where the Kurhaus Hotel is...part of Den Haag's playground. We hardly blink our eyes anymore when we "come as we are" into such places. What are they going to say: "We don't like your money!" Besides, it so happens we were the only ones there for our koffie en appletaart met slagroom, just before the lunch hour. By the way, I STILL think of this as eating dessert first, but for Astrid it is still only something lekkers (delicious) for koffie break. Besides, once a week will never kill us.

After our koffie break (priorities), we did a a quick run-through of the main restaurant of the Kurhaus Hotel, oohing and aahing. I'm guessing many rich-and-famous, heads of state, and dignitaries have eaten in that place. And no wonder....

...because following a nice meal, what to do but mosey on outside to the beachfront and look back on that architectural beauty....

...followed by a nice walk on the Scheveningen Pier nearby. Talk about a photo op!

As above, so below. Take your pick...two worlds apart. Most of the pier shops were closed because of so few tourists out-n-about. But we're not big shoppers, so no matter for us.
We just did our camera thing and were in heaven.

From the pier, looking south along the beach, we saw the Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland) 18 km away (top photo above)...the waterway that takes you to Rotterdam, Europe's largest port. The dark line in the foreground is the rock jetty of the harbor into Scheveningen, which was our goal for that early afternoon, eating up the calories of our koffie met appeltaart.

More than anything else, Astrid wanted to walk the beach. We both got what she wished for!
When we happened upon the sandy floral bouquet (above), Astrid said it was probably from a funeral at in the scattering of someone's ashes, like her father's. It was a tender moment.

And then, just before reaching the harbor entrance, we looked back and caught the sky doing a number on the pier. Did I mention this is one of the things I love about the Netherlands: its skies!

At that same moment, the same skies were doing a number also on the lighthouse there at the harbor. I had captured it just minutes before (bottom left image above) when things were 'normal.' This is one of the reasons why I never worry if the sun isn't shining when we photo-hunt.
Why would you ever need sun with skies like that!

Several steps, shells, and photos later, about 40-minutes' worth, we finally arrived at the harbor entrance. Lucky for us, a Dutch Kustwacht (coastguard boat) was just entering as we arrived
(bottom right-hand image to enlarge).

I'm such a glutton for these harbors, even if they're for fishing vessels instead of for recreation boats.
I'll take whatever I can get.

There at the harbor, by the way, stand these two monuments.
The one on the left is Lady Scheveningen, the patroness of the fisher-women, mourning for those who never returned from sea. The statue was created by artist Gerard Bakker in 1982.

The other monument a stone's throw away, with the pier in the background, commemorates God saving the Netherlands on 24 August 1865. But I can't for the life of me find what that's about. If you can, please let me know! It caught our eye because Astrid's birthday is 24 August!
[Addendum: check Dutchbaby's comment below for the answer!]

By then it was time to walk all the way back to where we had started at the Kurhaus Hotel, but not before Astrid celebrated the day by serving up a multi-fish lunch at a harbor café. See the white truck above? It sits at the long warehouse dock just meters away from the beach and harbor, loading or unloading the gazillion fish captured every day. And yes, haring is a specialty of this for which I've not yet acquired a taste.
Maybe one day.

One last little tidbit: if you could say the word SCHEVENINGEN with a believable Dutch accent during The War, you would have been saved from getting killed. That first syllable is the killer: sch is pronounced like the sch sound in Schiphol Airport (in Amsterdam). The closest approximation in English would be SKAYveningen or SKIphol. Just add a bit of gutturalness to it and you've got it down pat...sure to live another day.

Another day and another photo hunt!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pennsylvania Dutch Art: A Tribute

Helena Jacoba Therese Wijdekop van Leeuwen
1 Aug 1924 - 17 Jan 2004

I've never met her but she's everywhere around me. On bookshelves, cabinets, walls, floor and bed. And for over a year now, I have wanted to memorialize her. It has been 7 years this month since her passing, so now is when I pay tribute to her...Astrid's mom.

There are two quilts on our bed during the winter months, both on which the quilting was done by hand. As often happened 'back then,' nothing was wasted. If you squint (or click to enlarge), you can see her initials (HWL) embroidered on the left one, from 1981.
I see them every day when I make the bed...both the quilts and the intials.

On the headboard of the same bed sits the doll she knitted from scratch for Astrid when Astrid was around 2 years old. Astrid named him Beremans ( = Bear Man). Originally he was made from t-shirt fabric and had no clothes, but after Astrid loved him to death, literally, her mom re-stuffed him and then knitted skin and clothes for him from scrap yarn.
Astrid never played with dolls, she says (she always poked their eyes out).
This was her only stuffed animal, still standing the test of time.

Everything else sits around the apartment on ledges and shelves, the floor and the wall, as testament to her artistic flare. She was a Leo, a lover of beautiful things. After a year, I still do not take any of it for granted. She was a prolific painter and gave much of her handiwork away. The pieces we have are ones Astrid saved from going elsewhere.

This cozy little trinket box sits in the curio cabinet Astrid's mom gave Astrid for her September wedding back in 1983. Astrid's 29th birthday was on 24 August that same year. If you squint (click to enlarge), you can see the HWL initials in the top-left image (above)...and Astrid's wedding garter, of course, as a keepsake.

The handiwork of a Dutch artist!
And now I know where Astrid gets her own artistic knitting, drawing, creating, building, fixing, and...what have you! But that's another post, another day.

Today is my turn again at Vision and Verb, where I talk about tole painting (or hinderlooper schilderkunst), Pennsylvania Dutch art, and how crazy-making such terms can be!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Zaltbommel Joyride

Some Dutch words you just have to twist your tongue around and then go on from there. Zaltbommel, a town just 11 miles away, is one of them. We've passed it often on the freeway and every time, seeing the tall church tower, have said we would stop one day. That one day was yesterday.

We've had so many rainy days since the New Year, not conducive for photo hunts. Taking advantage of being at home is nice know us...we were getting antsy. When Sunday chose to be partly sunny on a windy, mid-40s day, we didn't have to ask twice. It was time to go. Because of all the rain, Astrid wanted to see how high the river was. The Merwede River borders one side of our town and is one of the freighter routes to Rotterdam. We had heard that the locals were going out to see how high it had risen, with unusual amounts of snow melting into the country from Germany, Austria and Belgium. Remember, God created the world but the Dutch created Holland! Holland is HERE because of the technology that keeps the water out. Think windmills...and the dijks.

Basically, a dike is a man-made raised stretch of ground, just wide enough to drive along, keeping the water from a river away from the 'dry' land on the other side. The Dutch have been reclaiming their land and building onto it for centuries. They don't talk about Dutch engineering for nothing!

So as we drove along the dike, from one small town to the next...on our way to Zaltbommel...we saw just how high the water had risen. Granny Towanda fell silent. She never once chided me for all the times I got in and out to take pictures. She knew this was important.

The narrow dike roads, as you see, are not just for cars! So whenever I get out, I have to always pay attention. Lucky for me, I caught this group of cyclists out of the corner of my eye and was prepared for them as they flew by. The top image above gives you a good vantage point for seeing the sea level on the right side of the dike. This is what they mean when they say much of Holland is below sea level: approximately 27%.

Life goes on as usual, of course, for those who don't have a clue....

...but trust me, those who do are diligent in their work to keep the system going.
These huge piles of willow branches are the subflooring of the dikes, giving them a solid foundation. They're also used for fences. It was comforting to see the supply...for the demand.

We're still trying to figure out what in the world this guy was thinking!
If you have a clue, please let us know. Is this his lookout point over the dike to make sure no looters come by sea to take away what rightfully belongs to him?

We're still on our way to Zaltbommel, remember, on this side of the river. Our side, that is. Just before it's time to cross the big bridge to reach Zaltbommel on the other side, we stop in Haaften to see what that ruin of a tower is all about, near the windmill (above collage). Once home, Astrid discovered it's the Goudenstein Castle, built, they think, at the beginning of the 14th century.

Then we see it: the big tower of the Zaltbommel church, across the river, and the bridge we will need to cross to get there. This is my first time, from this vantage point on the dike, to see there is also another tower. Once in town, I was able to get these close-ups (above) and then found out at home it's the Gasthuiskapel, the chapel from the hospital built in 1316. We didn't visit it this time...maybe the next time.

Our destination this time was the Sint Maartenskerk in Zaltbommel...St. Martin's Church, built in the 15th century. It's closed to the public in January and February, so we will have to go back, and will. We'll want to climb the tower as well, maybe during the springtime.

And so it was that we had our first Sunday joyride of 2011. Another windmill or two, a castle, a spire, a church clock and tower, some sheep, and even another weather vane and water tower. Noord, Zuid, Oost of West. North, south, east or matters not to us. A joyride is a joyride and it's much of what makes us tick here in this dynamite of a country.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2010: A Synopsis

My usual post these days is on Monday, so let's just say I'm sneaking this one in for Astrid and me...not really for you. Originally this was created as my holiday letter but I've decided it is something I'd like to do each year as a one-post review of the year. For posterity. And as I said, for Astrid and me.
(I have disabled comments.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Dancing Queen(s)

You've seen her before, this dancing queen, but today she highlights my post over at Vision & Verb where I talk about dancing queens.

What is it that we like about tomfoolery, monkey business, mischievious and silly behavior. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to break the monotony or serious drudgery of so much of our lives. Well, for most people, that is. If we didn't have someone breaking the ice, cracking the joke at the opportune time or just being happy-go-lucky, we'd all go crazy.

Why can't that someone be US!

Now I'll tell you something even I still can't believe. For all the music that surrounded me the last 20 years, I had never once heard of ABBA until I met Astrid. Actually, the same goes for Queen. Where was I????

So when I first saw the movie Mamma Mia back in 2008, I had no clue the music was ABBA music till Astrid told me. Actually, till she sang every song throughout the entire movie! Of all the songs, The Dancing Queen just grabbed me...and it still won't go away:

Supposedly in 2009 this song ranked #8 of all songs played in Great Britain for 75 years. That's saying something, of course. But do you wonder why? Is it the tune, the lyrics, the...what? The concept of anyone being a dancing queen, maybe?

I don't know about you but for this preacher kid who grew up not going to movies or dances, I would like to become a dancing queen for the rest of my life. Do you know that my second post on this blog, way back in January of 2005, was about Edgar Degas' 14-year-old dancer. That was back when I was finding my way...not only in the world of blogging but in my life, period.

Astrid and I dance after supper almost every night...sometimes only one song, but we dance.
Whether it's with her or all by myself, I would like to spend the rest of my days learning how to live with dancing abandon...and a bit of silliness.

Before the face of God.

It's a 'new-brand' year (as daughter Amy said when she was wee) and I have just started one of my goals for the year: to get involved with the Lindeborg activities here where we live. Every Friday afternoon the Rummikub group gets together to play. After Astrid taught me the game two nights in a row, I braved the group last Friday. The game itself is addicting. I love it. But to keep up to speed with these seniors and to do it all in Dutch was the challenge. I met it head-on. Not that I won points-wise but I did go out first (the goal) 4 out of 9 games with the two others at my table. Nothing competitive about me, of course!

Then, much to my surprise, after we played, from 1:30-3:30, they all invited me to join them for a drink. Not that we're all boozers, mind you, but it was such fun. The first round, I had an advocaat (a new thing for me since moving here) thanks to dear friend Gonny (top-right above). Then Arend (bottom-left above), whose 83rd birthday was the day before, did a second round for all 11 of us at the table: another advocaat. We were there till 5p, and since Astrid was working her late shift, till 7p, I had no care in the world.

This is what I want for 2011, in spite of the circumstances:

You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen.

Sometimes don't you just feel you've paid your dues!

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Jaarwisseling

At Kinderdijk, Netherlands, on Christmas day 2010.

My favorite Dutch word of this last week has been jaarwisseling (yar-VIS-sel-ing):
jaar = year; wisseling = changing...and thus, changing of the year.
Changing, rotating, turning...crossing over? Perhaps, like at this Kinderdijk bridge.

I pray all of you have had a great jaarwisseling!

While out-n-about the last days of 2010, I loved seeing Gorinchem, our city, in the snow. While we had a tad of snow the previous year, it wasn't anything like this:

For a country that has the highest population of bikes per capita, models are everywhere.
All of these were within a block from our apartment.

A year ago I took the top photo of this art sculpture on our nearby Melkstraat (Milk Street).
Look at how it has changed with a bit of snow a year later.
You know what you get when you mix milk and snow, right? I recall friends making ice cream in the old churn when I was a wee girl, adding in fresh snow. Memories that stick like snow wads on the wall.

Our city's Stadhuis (City Hall) is where I registered a year ago to become officially part of Gorinchem by getting my equivalent of a Dutch social security number (BSN). From there I was able to start my resident-permit application for staying in Holland. This is also where Astrid and I were married on 5 February last year. Everything is now coming back full circle...with snow added, as frosting on the cake.

Twice a month I walk back-n-forth to the bank where I take money out of my stateside account and deposit it into my Dutch account. I'm not always happy with the conversion rate (right now €1 = $1.34) but when I first came a year ago, it was horrendous, at €1 = $1.56. I just grit my teeth and bear it. I pass these willows every time and breath a bit deeper. In the total scheme of things, I have much for which to be thankful!

We did indeed bring in the New Year with our fellow senior neighbors here at our living complex. We were in bed by 1 a.m. because of getting up the next day to drive to Den Bosch for a day with The Girlfriends. As we went to get our car out of the garage, look what we saw: both self-service parking-ticket machines were boarded up. Astrid says they do that on New Year's Eve so no one will tape fireworks to them and blow them up. It so happens that New Year's Eve is the one day of the year here in Holland, during very specific hours, when both public AND private displays of fireworks can be set off. Mailbox openings are closed, anything into which a firecracker can be tossed...everything possible is secured.

What a mess! Now the clean-up begins.
As I recall from last year, it took several weeks before all the residue was gone.

Speaking of gone, after several days of above-freezing temps, all our snow is now gone. At least we had a White Christmas! But winter is not over yet. Astrid says the hardest winter days are typically the end of January and the beginning of February...even though we've seen many fresh molehills. Doesn't that mean spring will be early?

Don't you love how the whole year is now before us once again and the sky is the limit! The jaarwisseling is full of pomp and circumstance...full of promise. Let's all grab it by the tail and see where it takes us, one day at a time.

Good-Bye 2010. Hello 2011