Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Own Backyard

It's the last day of February and just like that, 1/6 of our new year has come and gone! And since our 5 February anniversary weekend (the last 3 posts!), we have not been out-n-about anywhere...except here in our own backyard.

So. Let's take a gander to see what exactly is here at our fingertips!

The sidewalk you see in 2 of these images above goes all around the citadel part of our city center, inside of which we live. There is water surrounding us, in rivers and canals...thus the boat harbors and the cannons, stalwart memories from days past...and our Grote Kerk and the sheer loveliness of towering trees.

I take these walks with my camera...45 minutes if only for a complete, brisk circuit.
Astrid runs the 4 km in 25 minutes and feels like a 'newbrand' person.

If I start off in one direction, I almost immediately pass the canal with its 'museum' of barges against one side of the city wall. This red-and-green beauty is the Hoop op Welzijn barge.
Hope for Well-Being.
I smile every time I see it, especially on a sunny day.

Then I pass Old Sannie who fishes off his own little island in the Paardwater (= horse water pond).
Usually I see him on the street side when I walk to my my semi-monthly grocery store, as seen here.
Sometimes it's good to get a different perspective on your friends, you know!

And then, just before I get to De Hoop (= Hope) windmill, there he stands, this handsome brute of a fella.
For all my love of water towers, I wonder if I have ever shown you ours, now converted into apartments.
It's one thing to live in a windmill. What about a water tower!
Hmmm, wonder if there's such a thing as a water-tower B&B???

In this post, I am showing you images only from these first 2 months of 2011. It's kinda like seeing our city again for the first time.

Twice a month when I walk to my bank, converting dollars from my American bank to euros for deposit here, I walk across one of our many drawbridges. This is the Korte Brug (= Short Bridge) and is up almost as often as it is down, for the many barges that pass through the canals.
I think of all the people I know who would be totally fascinated by the technology!

When I get to the geese and the art sculpture sitting in the pond (which you can see here from last year), I know I'm almost at the bank. These geese LIVE there. They let you know it belongs to them.
There's another place, inside the citadel, where the geese own the place and cars have to stop for them
here (quick scroll). They tickle me to death.

One morning as I walked back from the bank into the citadel, this gentleman was hanging a banner for a winter concert across the street. That's how close the buildings are.

Remember, these are images just from this year so far.
One day perhaps I'll combine them with impressions from last year. You know how it is when you see some things for the first time, even after you've been there for awhile.

One of my mottos as a photographer is "Always Look Up!" And this is why.
These 4 fellas grace the façade of the above building. Don't you wonder why!

These lions just a couple of façades away are not nearly as scary.
The crooked lines of the building scare me more and make my eyes dizzy!

Now, an update on my Rummikub Fridays here at our senior complex...even closer than our backyard:

I love this game and can't believe I had never heard of it before now. After all, it's been around since the 1930s, combining elements of rummy, dominoes, mah-jongg and chess, games I love.

There are 8-10 of us who are in the 'club,' for which we pay €2/month (for a party at the end of the year!).
Halfway during each Friday's 2-1/2 hours of play, with 5-6 games per table of 3-4 players,
we all get a coffee/tea break...or in my case, Spa Rood (mineral water).
after the games are over, between 4-5 p.m., we all sit around the tables and have a Happy Hour.
That's when most of the women have an advocaatje drink
(and the men a glass of wine, a beer, or a jenever...all €0,75
OMG! Why hadn't I ever heard of that either: advocaat!
I've highlighted Sophie (above) because her smile is to die for.

That's my glass on the right (above) after I'm done.
Invariably someone will tell me to use my finger...they won't care!
HA! How can you not love this kind of cammaraderie.

Did I ever tell you that I treat Astrid and me to a meal out every Saturday, whether we're home or on the road! It's a break for both of us. If we're here at home, we have our favorite 6 or so places to visit, 2 of which are farther away than a walk but still what I'd call in our backyard. This past Saturday we went to our favorite pannenkoekenhuis, 7 miles away through the back roads of the polders.

This restaurant is out in the middle of nowhere and yet has so much charm.
How's this for a welcome at the front door. Wooden shoe feel welcomed? :)

Did you wonder what pannekoeken were? Now you know.
Dutch pancakes but loaded with toppings like you'd have on pizza, something we sometimes crave.
We always swap halfway through and then lick our platters clean, trust me.

I'm such a glutton for the accoutrements wherever we go.

This house is clean enough to be healthy
and dirty enough to be happy.

And just to emphasize why our own backyard has its own treasures, just look at what we saw both coming and going:

Not counting all the ducks, geese and seagulls...we spied a pheasant, a stork (above right), a Great Cormorant...and an ever-faithful swan pair. We see swan couples all over the or two pairs per field. Astrid says they mate for life and stay put where they are, growing their young.
If one of them dies, the other dies soon thereafter of a broken heart.

Three more weathervanes!

And then one last thing to delight me to no end...

...these 5 fishermen fishing the canal while it rained!
Astrid says they often have a contest to see who will catch the most fish in 5 hours, for instance.
Most of the fish they catch are carp, rudd, perch or bream...which, no, they do not keep.
It's just the fun of fishing, even in the rain, with your buddies sitting nearby.

That's enough for anyone's backyard, don't you think? Enough to keep you home forever. Don't worry, we'll never stay home forever, if we can help it. But neither will we forget what's here at our fingertips!

Monday, February 21, 2011

First Wedding Anniversary: Part III

Even by now, before you begin reading Part III of our anniversary weekend over 5 February, you know we had the time of our lives, staying at this windmill B&B in the NE part of The Netherlands.

That's what my post is on at Vision and Verb today: the time of our lives.

In Part I a week ago, I told you about the windmill part of the trip, 125 miles from home. But we went the long way, through 6 of The Netherlands' 12 provinces, to get there. That 'getting there' part is what I end the series with in today's post.

In Part II this past Thursday, I ended the trip with what happened after breakfast that Saturday when we left the windmill for home. Again, we drove the long way home, going north to the coast before driving back south through 3 more provinces. In the end, we drove 390 miles through 9 provinces.

Here's the funny thing: for Astrid, who has lived in this small country (relative to America) all her life, driving through the 9 provinces was almost like my driving through 9 different states in America. The geography, architecture, and language change in much the same way. It's quite astonishing, to be honest. And this is when I realize how compact Europe is compared to my own growing-up experience.


You know how we get started on a trip and almost immediately think about where we're going to stop for koffie met appeltaart!

That would be in Lemmer, just across the border from Flevoland province as we entered Friesland. Talk about another world! But I'll get to that in a minute.

It so happens that Lemmer is a water-sports town of approximately 11K population. In the wintertime, if/when the canal freezes (the one here and right outside our café window!), they have the Pronk Schaatsen festival (literally 'flaunted skating') when the skaters skate as couples and in groups wearing their old-timey costumes, as seen in the following video:

Astrid and I have already committed to keeping tabs on this each winter so that we can go back when the canal freezes. This is so incredibly soulful to sleeping inside a windmill B&B!
If you pay attention, some of the boats in the video are the same as in my images. They're Lemmer boats made there. It's part of their industry, much of which is also about fishing.

As we left Lemmer, there were two things Astrid had Googled to see: the lighthouse (yup, that's what it is, above-left) and the Lemster sea lock with its 2 rounded towers at the entrance to the harbor from the IJsselmeer, dating from 1888 (bottom-right above).

Now. Look at this. It blows me away!

Only 8 miles north from Lemmer, we got out of the car in Woudsend/Wâldsein, a small town of about 1300 citizens on the Slotermeer (lake), still in Frieseland. Very nonchalantly, Astrid started to tell me about when she was 17, at university, and was teaching students how to sail in this very spot. They would dock here to eat lunch before heading out to meet the other boats from the sailing school.

BTW, in the Friesland province they speak a different language that isn't easily understood by the rest of the country. Notice the middle image above that has both the Fries and the Dutch name of the city. It reminds me of countries like Ireland that use both English and Gaelic in their signage.

The reason why Astrid was able to teach sailing was because her dad taught both her and Sander (her two-year-older brother) how to sail when she was 12 (left image above). By age 17 (right image) she was a pro, teaching students at sailing school.
You get a feeling for why this woman to whom I'm married amazes me!

While driving the backroads this entire trip, you can just see my eyes trying to take everything in. The farmhouses, for instance:

This still astounds me.
See how the roof tiles change in color or how there are clear sections to the entire farmstead.
The smaller part is the house where the family lives. The larger part is the barn where the animals live. The farmer only needs to open a door from his house to step inside his barn!
If you think of severe winters, it sure makes sense to me.

The two main cities Astrid wanted me to see before the windmill B&B were Lemmer and Sneek (pronounced 'snake'), 13 miles from each other.

Any city that has a water tower this handsome is a must, as you know by now.

But it is the waterpoort (gate) of Sneek, from 1613, that is its most famous landmark.
So famous, in fact, that an entire line of clothing, Gaastra, uses it as their logo for nautical gear.
See how close the water tower is (bottom-right image above)!

How could you resist such a model from every possible angle!

Inside or out, she's a beauty if there ever was one.
HA! The waterpoort isn't bad either! :)

Can you imagine living in this city of 33K people and seeing this every day. Ho-hum.
See how even Granny Towanda tries to take it all in!

Once we could tear ourselves away from the port, we took a walk around the city center, of course....

...first to the Martinikerk from 1498 with its carillon of 50 bells....
(no entrance possible that day)

...followed by the Stadhuis (city hall) from 1550, going through façade restoration....

...and various other city impressions which we take to heart, as you know.
Every province has it's own flag and this one (top center) belongs to Friesland, the province before you drive furthermost north into Groningen, where we found our B&B...on a very windy day.

Before leaving Sneek, Astrid had one last mission:

A Friesland bakery!
Known for its suikerbrood (a loaf of baked sugar bread with cinnamon added) and dúmkes (taking it's name from the shape of the thumb, a butter cookie with anise flavor and whole almonds), Astrid just had to buy both.
I don't need to tell you they're both long gone.

By this time we were ready and eager to find our windmill B&B 44 miles north of Sneek. We had already had a full day and were ready for some R&R at our B&B, which is Part I of this 3-part series.

In those two days, look at all the weathervanes we saw...

...along with our prerequisite water tower, lighthouse, and gevelstenen!

So when I say we had the time of our lives, how could you possibly not believe me! Remember, I talk more about this at Vision and Verb today.

Thank you for taking the time to see this trip through my eyes. It was totally worth a 'First Wedding Anniversary' celebration. We really did have the time of our lives.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Wedding Anniversary: Part II

Since the main event of our 2-day anniversary weekend was our stay at the windmill B&B on 4 February, that's where I started this past Monday with Part I (see the map there). Today we'll follow to the end of the trip...before I end the series next Monday with Limmer and Sneek from the beginning of the celebration.

So, we hopped in the car after our B&B breakfast and headed out of Onderdendam to one last destination north before heading back south towards home. But on the way north....

...and as we left Bedum, the municipality of Onderdendam, we were greeted by this 11th century
St. Walfridus Kerk whose tower is the most-leaning in all of Holland
and is supposedly in competition with the Leaning Tower of Pisa (around 12-13 feet, if I'm correct).

St. Walfridus was actually an unexpected surprise while Astrid was on a mission to show me something important....

...the beginning of the footpath in Holland on which you can walk all the way to Rome. Seriously.
When we got there, she discovered it's not the beginning (the one in Pieterburen to the west is the beginning) but one close to the beginning and similar. Both views are from opposite sides of the road and show the kind of systems for which Holland is known. Their bike paths, for instance, have full detailed maps and are a big deal in this country where biking is a science.
I can see biking to Rome, maybe. But walking (774 miles from our house)??

While still driving the backroads north to Delfzijl, our most northern destination, if anything jumped out at us, we stopped. Like this Solwerd Kerk in Appingedam from 1783.
It's open for rent every day of the week and can accommodate up to 80 people, used especially for weddings. Too bad it wasn't open for us to peek inside.

It was the bell tower that most attracted my attention.

Also in Appingedam we stopped at the city square to see the 1630 Stadhuis (City Hall) where on the façade Lady Justice (below) appears without her blindfold....

...and where the pelican motif, the city's coat of arms, is prominent.
The bottom right-hand image (above) is a gevelsteen (gable stone) on a nearby building.
Also on the square is the wood-carving similar to a totem pole.

Here's the pelican story: the pelican killed her chicks with one well-directed flap of her wings when they became too unruly. After three days she pecked herself in her breast, and with the blood flowing from it she sprinkled her chicks, who became alive again.
Hmmm. Definitely one way to discipline the kids?!

I don't often tell you about the drawbridges that are all over this country but when you drive through the countryside and even in some cities, like ours, you have to be prepared for such a boat crossing. If you're going to work, as happens for Astrid each weekday, you have to calculate in the possibility of a bridge delay.
For me it's still as fascinating as the first time I saw it.

THEN we arrived!
Our B&B hostess told us we'd enjoy this little café at the top of the Holland world in Delfzijl, where we could look across the Eems River and wave to Germany. Delfzijl is Holland's 5th largest seaport and is known for it's aluminum and chemical industries. The wind could have easily blown us across the river.
All 3 of us love the wind--even Granny Towanda.

It was the perfect place to stop and eat the Sandwich of the Month for lunch:
a Western Makreel Salade Broodje for €2.95 each...similar to a tuna sandwich.
It was just what the doctor ordered.

With our destination reached and our tummies full, it was now time to head home, taking as much or little time as we wanted for the remaining 135 miles.

You already know I'm a glutton for church/city towers and spires.
Sometimes all I need is for Astrid to stop the car so I can step out and snap the picture. By now she expects and anticipates it. If you squint real hard, you can even see the 1289 date on the tower to the right (above).
(or click to enlarge)

Some churches take more time, like this one in Slochteren. Maybe it's the name of the town that catches my eye as much as the church itself, distinctly separated from its tower. If you click to enlarge, you can see the square clock in the tower through the trees.

It so happens this area is the center of a gas field discovered in 1959, "ensuring the position of the Netherlands as a major energy exporting country. The estimated gas reserves in 2009 was 95,350 billion cubic feet."
I didn't know that; did you?

As we drove south through the Drenthe province, we happened upon the Magnuskerk in Anloo (225 inhabitants in 2001), believed to be the oldest from the province. The nave is from 1100 and the tower from 1200, with the stepped gable from the late 1800s. It was the stepped gable that caught my eye because it was the first of its kind I've ever seen...on a church tower.

Astrid says we will definitely go back to the province of Drenthe because the architecture of the houses alone is so different from what we're used to in our own neck of the woods (Zuid-Holland province).

It was about this time in the mid-afternoon that I could tell Astrid was looking for something. A surprise, she said. She stopped when she saw this sheep and asked for directions. HA! Just kidding. There was an information board nearby which she checked out. At this point we were in the vicinity of Rolde, a tiny town of less than 4,000 people...with a church and a windmill. Once she found the church, BINGO.

The Molen van Rolde is a smock mill built in 1873 for grinding corn and barley.
The St. James church has a long history that began in 900 but whose present brick building is from the early 15th century.

Before I get to Astrid's surprise, see the little contraption out in the field in the lower right-hand corner (above)? We actually got out of the car and walked up to it so Astrid could show me.

It's the watering hole for the horses and cows!
Where Astrid's hand is, the animal pushes with it's nose...and water comes out to fill the basin.
Maybe we have those in America but it was my first time to see one.
It doesn't take much to make me excited.

THIS was Astrid's last surprise of the trip: two ancient hunebed burial sites just a few meters away from the field where the animals drink from the water basin, with St. James watching in the background
...on a very windy day.
These megalithic tombs above ground are thought to be over 5,000 years old and built without mortar.
The deceased persons were placed inside the burial chambers which were then enclosed with earth and smaller stones. The whole place reminded me of the sacred burial sites of our Native Americans.
What an education!

As we left Rolde and hit the highway to get back home, saying enough was enough, this 'cloud of witnesses' to our weekend bid us Tot Ziens. We had just finished a wonderful celebration of our first wedding anniversary and had a good taste in our mouths....

[to be continued on Monday with a backtrack to the first part of the trip before the windmill B&B....]