Monday, June 27, 2011

A Stitch in Time

A stitch in time saves nine.

That's what my post at Vision and Verb is about today, just two days before I fly from Amsterdam to Atlanta. It's a long story but it's spontaneous and alone, without Astrid. The short version is that my kids became free for the July 4th holiday and decided to drive from Atlanta to our Michigan family cottage, just like we always did.
And I wanted to be with them.

The rest of the story you can read at V&V....

In the meantime, I'm finishing a Shutterfly photo book that I've worked on non-stop for a week. I received a gift certificate from TripAdvisor after writing a review for them but it expires tomorrow. No way do I want to lose it. I'm titling it "Holland: Through My Lens" (101 pages, the limit) unless one of you comes up with something a bit more exciting. Remember helping us name our Granny Towanda car?!

I return to Holland (and Astrid!) on Friday morning, 8 July, and plan to post again here the following Monday. Till then, enjoy your 4th of July holiday if you celebrate it!


Monday, June 20, 2011

BELGIUM: Dendermonde, Mechelen and Lier

Before I finish off the BBB (Belgium Birthday Bash), here's a bit of trivia:

The flag of The Netherlands is to France as the flag of Germany is to Belgium.
See how the colors are the same but the stripes are horizonital as opposed to vertical.
Actually, the order of the colors is also different for BEL and GER, but you catch my drift.

Anyway, after our wonderful B&B in Berlare (last post), we were ready to drive back home s-l-o-w-l-y. There were 3 main cities we wanted to hit: Dendermonde, Mechelen, and Lier.

1. Dendermonde (pop. 43K in 2006)

We almost always tell Granny Towanda to take us directly to city center.
That's usually where all the action is.

It was Saturday morning and, lucky for us, the city hall was open.
No weddings were happening but we saw some pretty cool stuff.

The St. Peter and Paul Basilica was also open, founded in 1901.
We didn't stay long. It wasn't a huge cathedral.

2. Mechelen (pop. 80K in 2006)

As soon as we entered this city, we knew we'd spend more time there.
Whenever you see a tourist boat on the river/canal, you know there's something to see.

This time there was a wedding at city hall.
With the 3 in Ghent, that made 4 weddings in 2 days!

But it was St. Rumbold's Cathedral we wanted to see across the square, started around 1200, with the tower added in the final phase between 1452-1520.

Astrid and I hardly ever go into museums. Maybe you've noticed?
We've decided that the churches and cathedrals of Europe are our museums. We go into them NOT as places of worship but as places full of art and architecture. We often say to each other that most do nothing for us spiritually. Many are cold and dark. Some are light and cozy but are the exception.
So for us, these are our museums!

One could spend a lifetime studying the stained-glass windows alone!

Or the pulpits!
This one was built by Michiel Vervoort in 1721-23.
See Astrid in the top-left image? Talk about scale!
The only sad thing was the film of dust over all of it.

Father Damien was a prominent sculpture in this church. We had seen him in one shape or form both days but here, he was cast in porcelain. He was a priest from Begium who worked with lepers in Hawaai and eventually contracted the disease himself and died from it in 1889.

3. Lier (pop. 33K in 2006)

It's weird to me that beyond a niche and the bread vending machine from last post,
there was nothing else I took pictures of in Lier except these architectural shots above...
and the church below...before heading home. We were ready.

The church, St. Gummarus Church from 1378, is in its 3rd phase of restoration at a cost of €1.8m.

Do all these churches start running together for you, I wonder, like sometimes they do for us?
But there's always something we find...some little treasure that feels unique.
In this case, seeing the IHS Christogram surrounded by the extension cord reminded me of Jesus' parable in Luke 5:37 about not putting new wine into old wineskins. The symbolism of this, as well as the dust everywhere, was not lost on me!

In this church, it was St. John of Nepomuk who was featured.
His is a most interesting story...drowned because he wouldn't divulge the secrets of the confessional, and thus a martyr of the faith.
He is since known as the Protector from Floods.

If I took pictures of all the statues we see in these churches, my posts would be 10 miles long!
Sometimes I take a few and discover later they are the "famous" ones.
But I also miss others altogether. It boggles the mind.

It was time to go home after a lovely two-day birthday celebration. We had caught several glimpses of steeples along the way...

...and would have loved to see the treasures in each.
All "museums" in their own right, I'm sure.

It was a total of 409 km (254 miles) in two days. To Astrid, that's a lot. To me, it's nothing, especially as I anticipate driving from Atlanta to the family cottage in Michigan in 2 week's time with the kids! But that's next week's post....

Happy loooong Birthday to me. And thanks to Astrid.
It was wonderful in every way!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Pentecost Birthday

How many times do you get to celebrate your birthday on a holiday, especially if it isn't Christmas, New Year's, or 4th of July! Lucky for me, today is one of 3 holidays in The Netherlands that is officially celebrated for 2 days each: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. So when you're talking about the holiday, you have to be specific about what day you mean. The 2nd Christmas day would be 26 December, for instance. Today is the 2nd Pentecost day, which is always Monday...not Sunday.

AND today is my birthday. #66 to be exact. Because it's a holiday, Astrid is off work, so it really IS a holiday birthday for me. And for her.

A Pentecost Birthday.
That's what my Vision & Verb post is about today.
[Image from the Hammerfest Church, Norway.]

Now you have a hint why we celebrated my birthday in Belgium two weeks ago instead of now. The Dutch go crazy on the highways over holidays. There was no way we would be part of that.

Last week I posted about the lovely Belgium city of Ghent. Next week I'll post about the next day driving home through Dendermonde, Mechelen, and Lier. Today I'll post about our B&B stay in Berlare, outside Ghent. But first, some birthday shenanigans....

TWO (count them!) tarts! First an appeltaart, eaten 3 days in a row (with Astrid's son Jeroen joining us today) and a spinach tart for Sunday (yesterday) and today, the two days of Pentecost. And both made by Astrid!

This part blows me away!
The Dutch don't use measuring cups for their recipes. They WEIGH their ingredients, like sugar and flour. A cup of sugar does not weigh the same as a cup of flour. So, as Astrid says, she gets very confused by my measuring cups. She knows that volume does not equal weight! I guess American recipes take all that into account.
These scales from Germany are over 50 years old, inherited from Astrid's mom. They operate on a counter weight, up to 10 kilos (22 lbs.). Modern scales, of course, are now digitalized.

The dough was supposed to be rolled out with a rolling pin but the butter was a different brand than Astrid was used to and ended up crumbing better than rolling. Did I care? She tossed the apples in cinnamon, added in a few raisins, and then more dough on top. Kinda like an appel crumble, but not really.

Then, into the oven for an hour at 180 C (356 F). This contraption that looks like a microwave IS, but it's also an oven, a broiler, and a convection oven...all wrapped into one. If you have a kitchen here without a built-in oven, this is usually what most people buy because of space. And believe it or not, I have learned to not only use it but to like it!

So, an hour later....

In case you can't tell, that's a springform pan. I love it!

Astrid used to make this appeltaart 5-6 times a year in her past life.
Am I lucky or what to have it for my birthday this year! A labor of my own house.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, yesterday, she made the spinach tart! Enough to last for two days:

The dough is croissant dough and comes in squares that Astrid fit into another springform pan.
The mixture is cooked spinach, corn (both drained), with cheese and beaten eggs. Halfway through a layer of sliced hard-boiled eggs is added, with the remaining mixture on top.
Then the entire top is covered with the remaining dough and baked for 45 minutes at 220 C (428 F).

And just like that, Voilà!
One quarter is a vegetarian meal for one person. To die for!



OK. Now, back to Belgium and the B&B in Berlare. THAT was the main birthday gift from Astrid, spending the night so we didn't have to do Belgium all in one day.

Berlare is a town of only 14K people. We've discovered you can sometimes get a better B&B price if you're willing to go outside the 'cig bity,' which we often do. We were delighted by this sweet little B&B Hagewinde. Our hostess, Monique, was perfect in every way.
We LOVE B&Bs and have never yet been disappointed.

After getting settled, and while it was still light and not too late, we went off to see two churches:

The first church was St. Martinuskerk near the city center, built in 1910.
And locked.

But the second, Bareldonk Chapel from 1302, stole our hearts.
On the property was a path that looped around 7 stations of the cross. In fact, as we were leaving, a group of parishioners was being led around the loop for Vespers recitation.

Midway through the 'stations' is this life-size monument of the sick and wounded coming to the Cross. I grew up being told the difference between Protestants and Catholics was whether or not the crucified Christ was still on the Cross. For Protestants, because we believed in a risen Christ, Jesus was no longer on the Cross.
Today I no longer split those hairs.

This chapel was open!
It's not a huge cathedral. It's not a protestant church.
But it's the kind of cozy church I would be drawn to for worship, truth be known.

Next week I'll take you to 3 more Belgium cities with BIG churches, all Roman Catholic. Till then, here are some more....


...gevelstenen (gable stones).
Well, the last one (sheep) may be a stretch.

Two more water towers, with a bridge thrown in for good measure.

Make that 3 more water towers.

Some more weathervanes (my first moose!)....

...and last but not least, a vending machine for loaves of fresh bread!
This is the first time I've seen this anywhere, period.

That's it for now and my Happy Birthday! More like my Happy BirthMONTH which continues next week. In the meantime, please don't forget my Vision & Verb for today on the sexy number 66!

Monday, June 06, 2011


So, a week ago we went to Belgium for my birthday which hasn't even come yet (a week from today)! I'll tell that story next Monday. But for now, it was the best gift I could have received from Astrid, with a B&B stay-over after our first day in Ghent (Dutch = Gent).

We didn't go to nearby and smaller Brugge because we've both been there twice in our past lives. We'll do that another time. This time it was Ghent, a new city for me. And clearly a Roman Catholic city in a country that is more Catholic than Protestant...the opposite of The Netherlands.

So immediately, as we drove into the city, I started seeing the religious niches everywhere:

To be honest, they startle me every time. I'm not used to them.
But then, Belgium is so close to France geographically, which also is Roman Catholic.

It took us only 1-1/2 hours to drive to Ghent from home in The Netherlands: 80 miles! That still blows me close we are to our neighbor countries.

But no matter how close or far, we're always ready for our koffie en appeltaart before starting out on our photo hunt. It helps us get the lay of the land. We always do our research ahead of time and knew we had three important architectural structures to see, if nothing else. And as it happens, all three were within a stone's throw from each other in the historic city center.

1. St. Nicholas' Church

I love starting with anything Nicholas because of my grandson in Atlanta!
St. Nicholas' Church is one of Ghent's oldest landmarks, built in the 13th century.

If you look carefully at these last two close-up collages of the pulpit and Madonna, you'll see a hazy film over them. That's dust! Astrid and I are often flabbergasted by all the beautiful art in these huge cathedrals that isn't kept clean. What happened to the Women's Guild! If I were a member there, I'd want to organize a cleaning committee to keep my church appealing to all the tourists, let alone congregants.

2. The Belfry of Ghent

Begun in 1313, the Belfry of Ghent is 91 meters high and is both a bell tower and a watch tower, overlooking this medieval city.

Once inside we knew we'd go all the way to the top but, along the way at the 6 different levels, we saw a veritable museum. The arias played by the bell tower are switched out and played on the huge music-box drum. Fascinating.

But as you'd guess, it was the top level we most wanted to reach for the 360-degree view of the city.
We spent a lot of time up there.
Look at all the other churches/steeples I found through my 300mm lens!
I was in heaven.

3. St. Bavo Cathedral

Saint Bavo's Cathedral is the seat of the diocese of Ghent, consecrated in 942.

This church was much darker than St. Nicholas and did not allow photos inside.
We still haven't figured that one out. What is the rhyme or reason?
If I can get away with it, I 'disobey' and decide God will be my judge.
However, not as many photos because, yes, I did feel guilty! :)

So, those were the 3 biggies...the 'musts' of our day. Everything else was frosting on the cake... the Ghent Clock Tower which was a former post office...

...and the Gravensteen castle from 1180.

This is one of the most exciting sundials I've ever seen, on all 4 sides of the chimney.
It's on Ghent's city hall. And you know what happens at European city halls!

This one was leaving as we got there.
We assume the bride and groom were inside?! Or the bride and bride??

And simultaneously, this one, getting ready to leave....

...followed by this one. Boom, boom, boom. Three in a row.
But then, it's a HUGE city hall!

To round out that first day (as if all that weren't enough!)....

...what I call the 'toppers' of Ghent....

...the paint jobs...

...some gevelstenen (gable stones)...

...and some weathervanes, of course.
I included the fuzzy one so you could get a hint of it (too far away).

Lots of miscellaneous impressions. Always.
In Ghent, if you are caught not cleaning up your dog's poop, you get fined €60!
You are forewarned right there on the sidewalk. No excuse.

It was time to leave Ghent for our B&B in nearby Belare, which starts next week's post...

...but not before stopping by the water tower of Gentbrugge, in one of Ghent's 25 districts!
It was built in 1937 and repainted in 1990 by Ghent artist Chris Demangel.

Happy, happy birthday to me, right?! :) And I still have one more week to go....