Monday, February 27, 2012

Ice Skating the Dutch Way

Before February's Winter flies off the map and gives way to the month of Spring, here's a post on Holland's ice skating as I know it...the first winter they've had it in three years.

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But first, some shameless advertising for my Vision and Verb post today:

What's in a Name?

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Okay, back to ice skating. By now you probably know we had a very small window of opportunity here in the Netherlands this winter season. Winter itself, with sub-freezing temps, lasted only two weeks. By the time the canals froze, you're talking about only 10 days of ice skating. Remember that as you picture Astrid's enthusiasm in the following images!

We first went to Kinderdijk (19 windmills, remember?) to try out the ice there on February 5 (the Sunday of our anniversary weekend). We always start with our favorite place if possible.

First, the skates get put on...DUH...
right there at the side of the canal with everyone else.
And no one takes your shoes, no matter where you do or do not hide them.

But after 5 minutes, the verdict was out: there was too much snow on the ice.
Astrid couldn't see the cracks and said it was too dangerous.
If you can't see the cracks, your blades can get stuck and flip you over!
But at least we saw the wonderful windmills, right?

And even had time to eat some erwtensoep (the Dutch pea soup I love).
While inside the café, I saw a photo on the wall of a burning windmill.
I sat there shocked...having never thought of such a horror.

But...on we went to see what skating we could find elsewhere....

...and found it in Bleskensgraaf, one of the villages on the way back home.
Talk about hitting the jackpot!
Not only the Hofwegensemolen windmill but a bridge for ambiance.

I love watching families sharing their past-times!

Memories for these kids!

Memories for Astrid and me!

And another chance to eat, there on the ice!
What's not to love about this way of life!
The Dutch live for this when winter comes
and are so disappointed if/when they don't have ice!

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The following weekend, after a week of work for Astrid, and with predictions the temps would rise above freezing, it was then or never for any last-minute skating. Almost on the spot, that Saturday the 11th of February, Astrid decided to skate the Molentocht (mill tour)...or at least part of it.

Instead of explaining what the Molentocht is, this YouTube of the very same day says it all.
It's not a race per se, but is a chance to get a medal for what you accomplish from between 25 - 75 km on a prescribed route, from village to village.

(I only processed and collaged them for her.)

Each participant starts out at a booth on the route and pays a fee: €7,50/adult.
At that point you get your Molentocht card (below) that has to be stamped at consecutive booths.
Without the stamps, you can't get your medal.

If you looked at even part of the above YouTube, you can see how Astrid saw the same thing!

She got enough stamps on her card (above left) to get her 25 km (15.5 miles) medal.

This is her second Molentocht medal of 25 km,
the last one being from 2 February 1985 (27 years ago!).
[click image to enlarge]

I mentioned last post that Astrid wrote about this on her guest Vision and Verb,
in case you missed it. It really was a big deal!
However, it's her last time, she says.
It's not worth the possibility of breaking bones while she still has to work for a living.
That day alone there were almost 100 hospitalizations.

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That was Saturday morning, when Astrid went off by herself to skate the Molentocht. Why didn't I go with her, you ask?
  1. I grew up on figure skates which are NOT the same as Dutch speed skates.
  2. I skated on smooth, "artificial" ice, not on canal (bumpy-with-cracks) ice.
  3. I would have slowed Astrid down, who was on a mission.
  4. I'm too old for this sh**.
But that afternoon, as we drove out through the polder to our favorite pannenkoeken restaurant, I got my fill again:

It's like every family has its own skating rink in front of their house!
And did you notice the chairs?
They're not only for changing skates/shoes but aiding kids in learning to skate.

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Now, one last thing for this ice-skating saga: sharpening the blades and putting them away for the next time (which may not necessarily be next year, you understand).

Astrid bought her skates 27 years ago for €150 ($200).
This Viking brand has made many Dutch[wo]man famous in races everywhere
(that's basically what the box is explaining, top left!).
BELANGRIJK (Important): you buy one size smaller than your shoe size
because you do NOT wear thick socks, if any at all. Many pros go barefoot in them!

Add to everything else Astrid can do: sharpening skates!
She bought the skate holders for a discounted €9 during one of her window-dressing jobs eons ago.

She sharpens the skates with a whet stone, using the rough and fine sides each.
Within a minute or so, it seemed, she could cut paper like a knife.

Then she did the greese job, to keep the blades from rusting.
Don't you love the leather blade guards?
The skates are now put away for...the next time.

Is it too much to hope for next year?

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Congratulations if you made it to the end of this. Congratulations, too, if you still remember it's my turn at Vision and Verb today: What's in a Name?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Other Part of Our Anniversary Weekend

In my last post, I gave you the main and most memorable part of our 2nd anniversary weekend: the glassblowing workshop with Mart Martorell the first weekend of February.

There were two other main parts, however, that were delightful, memorable, and right up our alley. The first was staying at the B&B in Barchem (ca. 1800 inhabitants), 10 km from Mart's workshop!

Astrid enjoys doing the research for our B&Bs when she has the time.
So far, she has been 100% on target, no matter when or where we go.
This B&B, the Kistemaker, is out in the boonies, away from traffic and city life.

After our glassblowing workshop, we took a walk before dinner.

How can you say NO to that!

Because of being in the boonies, our choices were limited for dinner.
We decided on an Italian restaurant in a house...where only 14 could eat in the dining room.
It was Friday night, so we made time to make the count.
We loved it. Cozy and good.

We awakened the next morning to a glorious the boonies....

...and to a breakfast to die for.
Did I tell you our hosts are two gay guys? Enough said!
They make their own bread, jams, and...eggs. HA! Chickens, yes.

And a show to distract us while eating....

...all seen from the dining-room table!

As you can imagine, it was very hard to leave. Our only consolation is that when we go back to see Mart again, we know where we can stay!

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We were then on our way to nearby Zutphen to visit our longtime friends, Wim and Irmgard...and their 3-yr-old son. It was our first time to meet Marius and, yes, play with him. The Legos we brought for him did the kind of trick any photographer loves. Those are the pictures I'll be working on this week...for my next post.

After that wonderful time of playing and catching up, we continued on to Bronkhorst, the unofficially smallest town of the Netherlands with ca. 150 inhabitants.

Half the fun was getting there over the back roads of the countryside.
The first snow of the season had just fallen the week before with more arriving
on Friday while we were at the glassblowing workshop.
It was a winter wonderland.

In fact, after we parked our car outside Bronkhorst,
I was totally taken up by all the wonder as we entered the town.

Talk about a charm!

With its own church!

It's own windmill, from 1844!
(Look how happy Granny Towanda is!)

And, believe it or not, it's own Charles Dickens Museum!

In paying attention to the details, you find out this is a Rijksmonument place/town.
All of it: the museum, the windmill, the houses, the town.
Similar to a UNESCO site, everything has to be maintained in its original style and format.

Mart, the glass blower, was the one who put us onto all of this.
Well worth every minute we were there.

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By the time we were done, at the end of our second day away, we were ready to return home from our grand celebration. As we entered Gorinchem, the sun was starting to set at 6:30 on the windmill 2 blocks from home....

Home Sweet Home.
Zo is het.
So is it.

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One last thing: Astrid is the guest blogger at Vision and Verb today, talking about ice skating on the lakes and canals of the Netherlands. I am so proud of her!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Glass Blowing Workshop with Mart Martorell

Of all the things we did over our anniversary weekend a week ago, the glass blowing workshop with Mart Martorell was the most important and memorable. It deserves a post all on its own.

You may recall how it all started, at the Düsseldorf Christmas market last December 2011. I did my post and from that Mart and I connected to do the swap: my pictures for his teaching Astrid how to blow glass. Talk about a win-win swap! I wrote about that at my Vision and Verb post last week.

This is what his studio looks like in Laren (Gelderland), Netherlands:

Huge. Spacious. Open. Bright. Cheery. Welcoming. Inviting.

Did I mention cozy? And this was on a cold, snowy day.

And talk about a host with the most. We felt like queens for the day,
treated to koffie hour and lunch and koffie hour again...

...three hours of relaxing, eating, and...workshopping, of course.

After our first koffie break (getting acquainted with each other), we had to get the lay of the land...

...up close and personal.

Remember that up to this point we had only seen Mart's Christmas ornaments.
Now we were understanding why he is a MASTER glass blower.
In fact, he's the youngest (at age 45) of the 7 remaining Dutch master glass blowers.

We were "short of eyes!"

Interestingly, one of his biggest sellers is the baby embryo inside a glass apple.
He'll even make it pink or blue, as you wish.
(click collage to enlarge)

Okay. It was time for the workshop and we were ready!

See how spacious and inviting the front stage is, raised about 2+ feet off the floor and perfect for classroom demonstrations. At the podium (where the fire burner is) is a flat-screen TV for watching a short history of glass blowing, with which we started out.
(In the back of the studio there is another workshop area with 2 burners,
which you can see in the bottom images above.)

The best way to show you what happened next is this YouTube of Astrid and Mart becoming one in their teacher-student demonstration:

It still blows my mind!

One part of the demonstration I did NOT add to my YouTube was at the end of the workshop when Mart "played around" with the part of glass art that is not blowing but...well, dabbing and molding . I'm sure there's a word for it....

First, he showed Astrid how to make mixed-drink stirrers.
Then he made different objects on top so we could tell whose was whose. HA!
Do you see what he made for mine (top right image)? The smallest camera I now own!
And for Astrid's, a Dutch olifant. He made half of it and she made the other half:
an ear, 2 legs and the trunk, which you can see much better here.

Some have asked if we were able to keep anything after all was said and done. Are you kidding? We came home with a big box full of everything Astrid and Mart worked on that day, all carefully and tenderly wrapped up by the master.

Look what I got out of it (besides my tiniest camera)!
You fill it up with water and stick the stem in a plant to keep it watered while you're gone!
We actually have 3 of these, by the time they were done. Utilitarian art!

Thus ends the first stage of this win-win swap. We'll go back for more "official" photos once the studio is ready for the grand opening in April. It's only just begun....

Monday, February 06, 2012

An Anniversary Gift: SNOW

Yesterday Astrid and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary here in the Netherlands! The lead-up all last week, since my last post, was snow...even if but a dusting!

As I said at my Shutterchance blog,
half a snow is better than no snow at all!

Through the macro lens (looking at moss between the bricks),
it looks like we had a blizzard with snowdrifts.

It's all about perspective.

It "dusted" enough to put everything into a snowy fog.
I was in heaven taking my walk around our citadel city last Monday afternoon.

I know what you're thinking.
Because this is Holland, snow should be ho-hum for us, right? Wrong!
Getting snow where we live in the middle of the country is like getting snow in Atlanta.
When it happens, everyone is super-crazy excited.
Even the dogs!

And the bikes, of course.
Even outdoor café tables are super happy and inviting.

It was our first week this winter with temps below freezing!

Even the Linge harbor had a thin sheet of ice.
And snow dust everywhere. Can you see it? HA!

A couple days later, the guys were out repairing a brick road.
"Take our picture!" they yelled out to me. So I did.
When I came back from my walk, they were on their koffie break.

BUT...ALL OF THAT WAS ONLY THE LEAD-UP to our anniversary weekend, which we started on Friday. THAT was the day Astrid got to blow glass with Mart Martorell. Remember? The barter. The win-win swap.

I took pictures for Mart's new shop and website;
and Mart taught Astrid how to blow glass!
We were together for 3 glorious hours, better than we expected....

and that's what my post is today at Vision and Verb: a bartering swap!

On our actual anniversary day yesterday, we drove along the canals to Kinderdijk and back, with Astrid getting out twice to skate, while I took pictures:

More Dutch you cannot get. How many times have I told you that!

My week is now cut out for me, working on all those all the others of more snow, our charming B&B out in the countryside, time with our blogger friend Wim in Zutphen with his lovely wife and 3-yr-old son, and the (unofficially) smallest town in the Netherlands, Bronkhorst, with 171 inhabitants.

As we speak, it's 18F. And as I've said a hundred times this past week, Het is Winter! Eindelijk (It's winter. Finally).

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We finished another Jan van Haasteren puzzle, 2000 pieces:
By Air, Land and Sea.