Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

On this very last day of 2012...let's say Good-Bye to this past year and Hello to 2013.

Lucky for us, we had a dusting of snow 3 weekends ago while we were out in the polder, driving to our favorite pannenkoeken restaurant.  All the images today are from that trip (no snow since!):

All the guys were out fishing or just being lazy.
That's what the sun does to you on a brisk, cold day!

The canal at the restaurant by the parking lot had a thin layer of ice.

I am a huge fan of the Dutch pollared willows.
And that day was perfect for snowflakes in the restaurant windows!

The drive home after we ate was bright and sunny.  Soulful and therapeutic.
Did I mention I love the Dutch polder!  So do the ducks and swans.

As the sun sets on 2012 and now rises on 2013,
may we all feel the warmth and wisdom of the Universe.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Köln Christmas Markets

As we all know, timing is everything!  So, this day before Christmas, here's the Frohe Weihnachten from the Köln, Germany, Christmas markets.  Well, 3 of their 6, that is:

Frohe Weihnachten = Merry Christmas in German.

But first, as we entered Germany from the Netherlands, we made a pit stop at this German windmill:

Surely by now you can tell the difference between a German and a Dutch windmill?
This Geismühle is 700 years old and is one of the oldest preserved windmills from the Lower Rhine region.

As we drove into Köln and parked at our hotel, then took the metro to city center, we started getting impressions:

As so often happens, everything centers around the big church and city hall.
But more on that later....

Snapshots.  Impressions.  Things to put on the back burner....

 ...while looking for a place to eat lunch!
We wanted German bratwurst and sauerkraut, the real thing.
We asked and were directed to the Früh restaurant.
More German you cannot get.

And with our tummies full...we started out for our first of 3 Christmas markets:  The Cathedral Market.
The Dom is Cologne's Cathedral, the backdrop for this first Christmas market.

Did I mention that Köln was the first city to start the Christmas market in Germany?
That's why we wanted to go there this year, to see what all the fuss is about!

And because we were there, we decided to visit inside the cathedral before moving on.

Before going in, these merry gentlemen made us believe in our youth again.

Construction began in 1248 and was completed in 1880.
As cathedrals go, it may be the darkest we've ever seen on the inside,
though you can't totally tell by these inages.

It's a magnificent structure and is visited by a museum.

The operative a museum.  We had no interest in lingering.  In fact, if anything, it was so dark, we needed to leave, and we did.  It's not something we always feel inside Roman Catholic churches, but this time we did.  (If I remember, I'll remind you of that when I show you the church we visited the next day in Nijmegen, NL.  But that's another day, another time.)

Once outside, we refreshed ourselves with hot chestnuts...and some German eggnog!

Time for Christmas market #2:  The Altstadt (Old City) Market.  You actually just walk from one to the other, separated by 2 or 3 or 4 blocks:

At first I was thinking...once you've seen one you've seen them all.  NO!
Each market has it own flavor and art and and theme and shops.

And of course, it was mid-afternoon by now.  It all started looking magical.
By the way, that's the old city hall in the bottom-right image.

Yes, they even had ice skating there!

We especially loved how all the merchants were in costume!

From there, we went to our 3rd market of the day:  The Angel Market:

Don't you just love having separate themes!

Interestingly, this was the one market where all the workers seemd like angels to me.
Seriously.  They looked at me and smiled.

Can you imagine working for 4 weeks at a Christmas market day in and day out 
with millions of visitors from around the world in your face?
You'd have to be an angel, I do believe!

It was a great way to end our day.  It felt like it was late evening but it was only 5:30p.  But we were tired and didn't need to see anything else.  Our appetite was fully whetted.  In fact, we decided we didn't need to return the next day.  Instead, we drove home via Nijmegen, NL.  But as I said, that's another day, another dollar story.

For now, it's time to say Merry Christmas to one and all!  Next week I'll say Happy New Year!

(from Web Images)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Before Christmas

Actually, this post was supposed to be about the Christmas markets in Köln, Germany, from when we were there a couple weeks ago, but...too much has happened since then.  Köln can wait...till next week.  HA!

Christmas starts in the Netherlands on Sinterklaasdag, 5 December, which by now you know, surely.  In fact, Astrid squirms if I have the Christmas tree up before the 5th because, well, you're just not supposed to do it.  The kids, you know.  Gotta pay attention to the kids and what they expect.

So, speaking of the kids....

...early morning on Wednesday the 5th, we heard a racket outside.
The elementary school across the street had visitors:  Sinterklaas and his Black Peters.
See how handy that 300mm lens is from the walkway out our front door!

On Sinterklaasdag this year I celebrated  my 3rd anniversary of arriving in the Netherlands.  That means this is my 4th Christmas here!  And every year I say the same thing:  I LOVE that the day of gifts, December 5, is a different day from December 25th, the birth of Baby Jesus!

So, though Astrid and I usually give each other "only" our Christmas meal out on the 25th in our nearby Greek restaurant, overlooking the big canal through town, this year we did in fact give each other gifts:

From Astrid to me, the 3 Van Dale dictionary books for kids!
And my New Year's resolution is to start studying them in earnest.
Small steps will help, you know.
2 of the 3 books Astrid bought on sale through the Dutch site, similar to 

From me to Astrid:  2 tickets to a Christmas concert at the St. Martinuskerk in Amersfoort (ca. 30 miles away) though the Dutch VakantieVeilingen auction site...where I got the tickets for €21+€5 fee=€26, a fraction of the real price.  The thing is, Christmas concerts are NOT free in Europe.  Tickets can cost between €45-75 each.  So this was a good deal!

And look at what we saw (too bad you can't also hear it):

 We got to the church an hour early and once the doors were opened, I had a chance to take pictures.
But before the concert started, a kind gentleman said to just not take pictures during the concert.
(Hold that thought!)

This was a concert with 2 well-known Dutch pianists:  Cor Bakker and Louis van Dijk.
AND a vocal group called CALL.  Yes, you got it.  The Vocal Group CALL.
It's led by Pieter Jan Leusink, who's in a couple images above.

Now, skip to the intermission (remember, no pictures during the concert).
Cor and Louis and some choir members went to the back of the church to sell their CDs.

I moved in as closely as I could get!

Cor is the tall one; Louis is the one with the red scarf.

And luckily I got some close-ups of some choir members.

All this while the rest of the concert-goers could enjoy refreshment.

And then it was time to go back to our which time Peter, the PR man for the concert series, 
came to me offering a trip to the organ loft in the back of the church to take pictures from on high.
Are you kidding me?  I was a kid in heaven!

 Look what I saw from up there!  And thank God again for the long lens.
(The bottom 2 right images are back down on earth!)

After all that, both Peter and Gerard (the church's PR man) asked me to send them my images.
I did.  And look what Gerard did on his church's website!
Click further and you see he included all my collages!

SO, how's that for really getting into the Christmas spirit!  WOWSER for me.

We even had some snow on 2 different days....

...enough for someone (???) to make a snowman in our courtyard.
Goed Gekeurd = Well Approved (the sign on the snowman).

 After Sinterklaasdag all the goodies go on sale and Ginnie stocks up.  I'm no dummy!
We LOVE speculaas "windmill" cookies with our evening koffie after supper.
At €,25/package, we have enough to sink a ship last awhile.
The ones I normally buy are the little ones (bottom middle).  Look at the size difference!
And did I mention with almonds???!!!

And finally, last but not least....

...guess who was the Rummicub Champion for the second year in a row!
Speaking of size difference, everything is looking up this year!
(click on any image to enlarge)

Now, barring something unforeseen, next week I hope to take you to the Christmas market in Köln, just before Christmas!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

All our hearts are broken over the shooting in Newtown, CT, last week.  I had just written the draft for my Vision and Verb post today and was stunned by how it all fit in....

 Please join me there for the conversation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

ANTWERP, Belgium: Part 2

After a good night's sleep in Antwerp, we headed out to see a different part of the city the next day, about a 30-minute walk from city center.  We knew we HAD to see the central train station, which is considered one of Europe's finest.

On a foggy Saturday morning, this is what we saw as we approached her.

In our peripheral vision, just off to the left of the station, is the Antwerp Zoo.
It's the oldest zoo in Belgium and one of the oldest in the world, from 1843.
Another day.  Another time.

 When we entered the train station.....W. O. W.

The station, finished in 1905, has 4 levels with 14 platforms.
And what wondeful light!

After touring the inside, we exited at the back (or another front?)
 and saw the Church of Our Lady, Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, from the day before.

At this side of the train station, were veered off to the left into the Jewish neighborhood....

...where all the Antwerp diamonds are!  HA!
Antwerp is one of the biggest centers of the world's diamond industry
and is home to the Hasidic Jewish community of ca. 15,000 people.

 Totally unplanned by us, we just happened to be walking through the neighborhood late morning...
just as worshippers were leaving their synagogues on the Sabbath!

OMG!  Talk about being "short of eyes."
I tried to be as discreet as possible, of course, while taking pictures.
At one point Astrid stopped one of the men with the big fur hats
and found out they are Polish Jews, wearing the hats of their grandfathers' grandfathers!

As we continued walking around, we started "collecting" Mezuzah doorpost blessings.
Notice the two spots where they've been removed!

Happy Chanukah!
And with Astrid's foot, she's pointing to a shoe scrapper in the outside wall.

At that point we walked back to the train station for a koffie break before continuing on.... Chinatown, on the other side of the train station, where we first entered earlier.
What a shock, to go from the Jewish section to the Chinese section of town!
Talk about two sides of the same track!

As I've worked on my images these past two weeks, I have many impressions, of course.

 Surely you know that Belgium is a country known for its beers!
I wonder if "99 bottles of beer on a wall" came from there?
Except, make it 300 or more.
There are 178 breweries in Belgium.  Count them.
Wouldn't it be fun to visit them all!

And just to say we did it, we entered Bier Central with 20 beers on tap
and another 300 in bottles.
No, we didn't sit down to try one because....

...we were on our way to Wagamama for our main meal of the day.
Great beer with edamame...and a main course I forgot to capture!
We LOVE Wagamama, wherever we can find it!

You know me and architecture....

...and gevelstenen (= gable stones) and weathervanes, of course.

Impressions.  Impressions.

And more impressions.

Antwerp in two days.  Now you know why at only an hour's drive away, we have promised each other to go back at least once a year...if nothing else for the mussels alone!  If you liked mussels as much as Astrid does, wouldn't you drive an hour away to eat some good ones?!

And now for next week, the Christmas market in Köln, Germany!  It IS that time of the year....