Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 'Tweener Week

Someone from my other blog asked me what 'tweener meant but I know you know:  this is the week between Christmas and New Year's.

 It's a hiding-place week, like where the soldiers hid in the Valkenburg caves during WWII.
Except minus a war, maybe we can whoop it up a bit till normalcy returns?

Actually, start with me 2 days before Christmas, when I took my walk around our citadel walls.
Our temps are still hovering around 40F here in the Netherlands...not too conducive to the holiday spirit.

At the inner harbor, he at least dressed for the season, don't you think?
I wanted to know if he had family with whom to celebrate?
Or had his wife died the year we often see here in our senior complex?

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar and Prettige Feestdagen were everywhere.
Happy New Year and Happy Holidays, snow or no snow..

My €10 fake tree, after my first 2009 Christmas here, is still going strong.
Year after year it reminds me of how quiet she is...the Christmas spirit.

We celebrated with Astrid's Jeroen, Eva and Jaap 2 weeks Jeroen's house.
Then we celebrated here with Femke and Jeannette the week before.

Quiet celebrations.

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Then on Christmas Day Astrid and I celebrated our 5th Christmas here, eating out at 4 p.m.
See that overhang on our Gorinchem canal, top-right?  That's our Greek restaurant.
We watched the day grow dark there, with festive lights all around...our gift to each other each year.
And then we took a see the lone man on his houseboat across from the restaurant...

Astrid set up her tripod all along the way to take time-lapsed pics...
while I checked out my new camera for hand-held night shots.

Christmas night in our inner city is so...quiet.

How many times have I said that I love our city!

 How can you get more festive...and quiet...than that!

  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

That was Wednesday.  A bit of rain fell after that and then...Voilà!  Yesterday, Saturday, surprised us with SUNSHINE.  It was a glorious day, and like all good Dutch, we went out-n-about to welcome the day.

We drove the backroads on the dijks nearby. 
THIS is for me like Christmas all year around, any day.

Even Astrid was surprised by the hunters.  Pheasants?  Deer?

But look at what I hunted...and found.  It was Christmas all over for me....
As Astrid and I often say, it doesn't take much to make us happy!

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

  And now, it comes...the Happy New Year!

Here's to 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Christmas Market in the Valkenburg Caves

How's this for timing, now that it's Christmas week!

At the end of November, almost a month ago, we drove to the Christmas market in the limestone caves of Valkenburg, at the southernmost part of the Netherlands.

It was 170 km (105 mi) from our home, 13 km east of Maastricht.  
Not bad for a nice drive...made into an overnight stay (the next day later!).

It so happens that Valkenburg aan de Geul (its full name) is a huge tourist attraction because of its limestone caves which have been transformed into two different Christmas markets at this time of the year.

We wasted no time and headed for the larger of the two, Fluweelengrot,
also known as the Velvet Cave.

From the minute you walk in, you know you're in for a treat.

It's such a cozy feeling because it's like night-time, even during the day.
And even Santa came across our path a few tmes, both real and fake not real!

In case you weren't already in the Christmas spirit... didn't take long to get there.

Ya, man!

All this while finding the cave murals everywhere!
(click any collage to enlarge)

[And that reminds me of my disclaimer:  My f-stop somehow changed to something I didn't want on my new camera and I couldn't figure out how to change it back till we got home...which accounts for some of the graininess and terrible lighting.  My new PowerShot camera really does better than that!]

They even have a café in the cave, where we ate erwtensoep for lunch, and drank glühwein!
That's what you do at this time of the year!

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

 Then we walked outside, down the street and around the corner to the Gemeentegrot,
the second and smaller Christmas market in a cave nearby.

It had the same old-world charm as the first market...

...making us short of eyes, of course.

Doesn't your inner Child want to come out and play?!


Not as many murals this time but all were worthy, nonetheless.

Somewhere in the mix of it all, we watched the stroopwafel man craft his wares.

Astrid and I shared half each of a large one...because they're so sweet.
Half a stroopwafel is better than no stroopwafel at all!

How can you say NO to that!
(My animal guide is the wolf, you may remember?)

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

On that note...we were caved-in-out and left to walk around town.

We remembered seeing a cemetery as we drove in and walked to it before dark.

What is it about cemeteries?  You learn so much about a people and culture.

And not too far from there, the Lourdesgrot from 1926...
from which we could see the ruins of the Valkenburg Castle from 1115.
As if you can't tell, this is the Roman Catholic area of the Netherlands, way down south.

 As the late afternoon gave way to evening, we walked into town to eat.

How about Pub Henry!  Have you noticed that after my trip to Dublin in early September,
I've been on a Guinness kick.  HA!

Festive, night-time Valkenburg!
I'm still in awe of the cafés that serve food outside even during the winter months.
We always eat inside but we love to look once we're back outside.
This is so European!

And as we walked back to our car, we bought a heart Christmas ornament,
made out of limestone from the caves, with the name Valkenburg inscribed on it:  €1.

Yes, he inscribed it specifically for us and it's now on our Christmas tree.

And on that note...

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all, however/wherever you celebrate it!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Footloose and Fancy Free

At this time of the year????

Yes, at this time of the year!
That's what my post is about at Vision & Verb today....

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Speaking of Vision & Verb, we've had a Holiday Gallery up of greeting cards
whose profit  helps fund KIVA businesses around the world.
In our 1.5 years of giving back like this, we've been able to give 52 loans of $25 each,
21 of which have been paid back in full.

Talk about sustainable!  The money paid back goes into another loan.
WOWSER!  Please allow me to be darn-tootin' proud of our little "enterprise."

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

These three images below are my gallery (5 x 7) greeting cards this year,
all taken last winter:

Did someone say snow???
Does anyone have some to spare???

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Bolsward Christmas Concert with Martin Mans

'Tis the season!  And we're in it full blast (except, alas, without snow...yet).

Two weekends ago we drove south (A) to the Christmas market in the limestone caves of Valkenburg (an upcoming post), but this past Saturday we drove northeast (B) into Friesland, to our Christmas concert of this season in Bolsward.

  As Astrid says, we drove the entire length of the Netherlands in two weekends, 328 km (204 miles).

But I want to start with the Christmas concert first while it's still fresh in my mind.  We won 2 tickets for the price of one on the Dutch VakantieVeilingen auction site for the Christmas concert with Martin Mans in Bolsward.  You might remember that we did this last year for the Christmas concert in Amersfoort with Pieter Jan Leusink.  We've decided we'll do this every year, as long as we can get tickets for half price!

Since we chose a 3 p.m. afternoon concert, we decided to leave early enough for a small photo hunt ahead of time...first to Workum, 12 km from Bolsward.  After all the wind and rain a couple days before, we wanted to be near the coast to check it out.

 But first things first, you know!
A potty break and a koffie break...or in this case, a hot-chocolate break with gevulde speculaas!
 It's a pie-shaped tart/spiced cookie filled with almond paste, a Christmas specialty.

And look at the quaint Pottebakkerhûs where we were served.
Sometimes you just have to be seeing the little mouse tile near the floor in the bathroom!

Directly outside our café window, across the street, is the St. Gertrude Church of 1480,
with its free-standing tower.  This for a town of 4,000 inhabitants!

 The old weigh house and town hall are in the market square next to the church.
Everything is right at your fingertips, I always say.

And with a weathervane and a good gable stone, what more could you ask for!
It doesn't take much to make us happy.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

But it was Bolsward we wanted to see before the concert.  So back into the car to drive those 12 km...

It's a city with a population of c. 10,000.  How charming.

The stand-out tower of the city center is its city hall from 1614.
The dark image is from after the concert around 5p.m.

 City halls in Europe really do take the cake...apart from the grand cathedrals.

Speaking of grand cathedrals, just a block away from city hall we found this shell.
What in the world!

This is the Broerenkerk (Brother Church) built in the 13th c. as a monastery for the Friars.
It burned out in 1980 and has since been made into a national monument.

It's hard to describe what it felt like to be inside there...
but I couldn't help but think of how you can't put new wine into old wineskins!

 On that note, we found a place to eat lunch.
Did I ever mention that we always share half-n-half of what we get when we eat out?
In this case it was a farmer's omelet and a tuna salad.

By this point we had seen plenty of gevelstenen = gable stones...

 ...and all those things I love to "collect" wherever we go.

Impressions.  Imnpressions.  Impressions.

Even the oliebollen vendor was out selling his Christmas goodies.

 While walking to our concert, we passed the St. Francis Church from 1932 (bottom left)...

...and then saw the Martinikerk nearby, the protestant Great Church from the 15th century.
This was the day's destination.

It was almost packed by the time we arrived at 2:30p, half an hour early.
This was when I'd have to trust the 1200mm range of my new camera, I told myself.
I'm not used to sitting in the back of a church, but sometimes it does have its advantage.

 And I had plenty of time to look around...

 ...especially at the organ, just behind us, built by Albertus Anthoni Hinsz in 1781.

 I even captured some of the Urker men in back before they filed down the aisle to sing.
Now look at the concert program below...

 How cool is that, using the provincial costume of the Urker men for its program!

Urk is a municipality and town in Flevoland, south of Friesland, whose economy is based on fishing.
Martin Mans is the director of these fishermen singers... well as the larger group of VOICE singers in black.
That's Martin Mans himself (bottom left), a man of many talents, including organ playing.

It was an incredible concert with acoustics to die for.
After the second piece of the program, God and God Alone, I was in heaven.
Tears in my eyes.  A song in my heart.  Joy in being alive.

And I knew we'll do this every year, somewhere, as long as we are able!