Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Year Bing-Bang

Because I didn't expect it, I must interrupt the program and give some ting tang, walla walla bing bang before the New Year tomorrow.  Are you ready??!

So, what happened last week, Wednesday, two days before Christmas, was an exhibition/clinic of old-timey Dutch zwieren and zwaaien (gliding and swaying) ice what they used to do on the canals (when there was still ice and snow!!!!!)...HERE in Gorinchem at our city center's Winterfestijn.

This image, from the Gorkums Nieuws, is of the Schoonrijders (Clean Riders) in costume,
when they came to Gorinchem on 12 December (but whom we totally missed).

The plan was that I would go and take photos of the whole thing, from 1-2:30p.  But guess what, it wasn't anything like what I expected because, well, it was a clinic and not really a show, like above.  They wanted to teach people how to do it.

I bet you know what's coming???!

But first, since I was there half an hour early, here's the rink that is set up around our city center's fountain every Christmas vacation:

The kids were having a blast (especially since it was 50-55 F outside).

Have you ever wondered how the Dutch teach their kids to skate?
Of course, it's usually on a canal somewhere, and with a chair for the prop.
But everyone helps each other.  It's a big deal.

Finally, I saw the professional skaters arriving...the ones who would demonstrate the zwieren and zwaaien.  I kept waiting for the officials to clear the ice, as did the professionals.  But it never happened.  Talk about a huge disappointment.  They had to do their thing in between all the kids skating in their way.  This was NOT how it was supposed to be (and Astrid, who was at work, later wrote to complain about it....), but they tried to make the most of it....

...while I attempted to get some snippets!
First there were two, then four, then six, followed by a wee demonstration with a newbie.
Notice the stokken (sticks) that are important for the "dance."

Okay, now here's what you're waiting for.  HA!  One of the very kind ladies, not at all pushy, kept asking me if I wanted to try it?  I had a hundred excuses, of new knee, Astrid wasn't there, etc., etc.  My last excuse was there was no safe place to put my camera and purse, to which she offered very kindly to hold for me...and to even take pics of me, if I wanted?

And yes, they just happened to have skates my size.  And two gentlemen to help me!

Within seconds, there I was zwieren and zwaaien,
and laughing my head off like a kid thinking it was Christmas.
The guys couldn't stop laughing either.  Once you get me started...Oh, my!

I think we circled the rink 4 or 5 times.
"Do not ever take your hands off the stick," they told me.  And thank god,
because I fell twice but not all the way, because the gentlemen held me up with the stick.

Ting tang walla walla bing bang!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

And since we're on the subject, Astrid and I once again drove to Kinderdijk before sunrise on Christmas day, just because.  It's become a soulful tradition for us that is a gift you cannot buy.  Since then I have used some of my manipulation tools to be a bit artistic...another soulful gift for ME, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

On that note, remember this...?
Ooh Eeh Ooh Ah Aah, Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Stolzenfels Castle in Koblenz, Germany

Right after visiting the Maria Laach Abbey (last post), the weekend after America's Thanksgiving, we drove the 32 km back to Koblenz to visit the Stolfenfels Castle on the left bank of the Rhine.

From our Wyndham Hotel on the other side of the river, we could see it almost directly
 across from us over the valley.  Once at the castle, we looked back to see our hotel.

And since we were looking back, we also saw other castles and churches.
That's the thing about Germany:  more castles than you can shake a stick at.

But this day, it was the Stolzenfels Castle ("Proud Cliff") we chose to see.
It was built in 1259 but was destroyed in 1689 by the French during the Nine Years' War.
Koblenz gave the ruin to the Prussian Crownprince in 1823, who rebuilt it as a palace.
Today it's a UNESCO World Heritage site.

From the base of the hill, near the Rhine river, we started our climb to the castle/palace.
We could have stopped at the arched roadway and gone no further for how beautiful it was.

But on we climbed and climbed and climbed till we reached the entrance,
all the while looking back and across the Rhine for the views.

As castles or palaces go, it did not disappoint... 
from one castle to another (bottom-right above)!

I bet you and I could both live there, yes??!  

The price of our ticket gave us the option of a tour to the upper floors,
but because it had been a long day, we opted to see only the ground floor views.
Besides, we had already seen the Marksburg Castle nearby across the river 
while on our Viking River Cruise back in 2013.  We didn't need to see more of the same...

...especially after seeing the inside chapel.  
What could have possibly topped that!

 We left the castle the back way through the gate house, following the service road...

...down, down, down the hill to the St. Menas parish church from 1833, near the arched roadway.

By now it was already late afternoon, with the sun lower in the sky.
The church wasn't open but we walked around and saw what we could,
looking back to a fine view of the castle.
St Sebastian, with arrows piercing his body, a former Roman soldier and martyr, 
now a venerated saint by the Roman Catholics, was displayed near the church entrance,
while Jesus hung on a cross nearby.

And because tomorrow many of us celebrate Christmas, I'm reminded that as a young girl
I often heard that Jesus was "Born to Die."

But he was also born to LIVE a life of love and mercy and peace to all.
In that spirit of the season, I wish us all a 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Maria Laach Abbey, Germany

When we visited the Basilica of St. Castor in Koblenz, Germany, that weekend following America's Thanksgiving (last post), I didn't think it could get any better...until the next day when we drove 32 km NW to see the Maria Laach Benedictine Abbey, situated on the shore of the Laacher See near Andernach.

As I said on Facebook, this is when I know for sure I was an architect in a past life...or maybe a monk???

I'll tell you from the outset that the outside is what is most impressive about this abbey.
Construction began in 1093 until 1220 when it became the home of the Benedictines.

Our DK travel book said the outside columns had interesting capitals,
so we started there, before entering the abbey.

The book also mentioned the lion fountain in the atrium, made in 1928,
and visible near the abbey entrance.
You could say we saw a lot before even entering!

 Once inside, we saw how "basic" this holy place is...
like a perfect place for monks?
The canopy above the high altar, from 1220-50, is probably the most impressive "work" of it all.

Mosaics.  Statues.  Icons.
All a reminder that this is a Roman Catholic monastic community.

 The one tomb visible to all is that of Heinrich II, who ordered the abbey to be built in 1093
and who died in 1095, just 2 years later, and is buried there.
He never saw the completed masterpiece.

It was the crypt beneath that felt like the holy of holies to us both.
I could worship there.
We had hoped to hear Gregorian chants, as the book mentioned we might,
but not that day or at that time.  Only in our hearts.

Once back outside, in the abbey's courtyard, we had closer views of this incredible structure.

One has the feeling a lot of supplication is raised to the heavens around that place.

And then we walked across the road to the wee cemetery.

We were there at the right time, when this monk unlocked the gate for the day.
We watched him give his blessing on who-knows-whom...his BFF?
I came up with my own stories that day.

I repeat...I know for sure I was an architect in a past life...or maybe a monk???

And that was just the first part of the day!
From there we drove back to Koblenz to see the Stolzenfels Castle.
But that's another post...not to be mixed in with this holy place.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Koblenz, Germany, Weekend

If I'm not careful, things are really gonna pile up on me any day now, all because we've just finished two wee get-away trips two weeks apart.  What a nice predicament, right?!

First, we took the Friday-to-Sunday weekend after Thanksgiving to go far enough away (300 km, 3 hours by car) to forget I wasn't home with my family for the holiday.  It's still the hardest time for me to be away...but taking a trip seems to help.

Our home base while gone was in Koblenz, Germany, where we spent the day on Friday seeing as much as possible, before venturing out on Saturday and Sunday.

We knew we'd end up at the Christmas Market in city center, so we started first near the Rhine River.
This 10-meter history column at the Gorres Place greeted us outside our parking spot.

A short walk to the Rhine River offered a delightful restaurant stop to begin our (main meal) midday. 

Inside we actually overlooked the river...and other goodies.

These were our views looking across the river right outside the restaurant after eating.
If the sky lift had been open that day, we would have taken the ride to see the view from it.

But it didn't matter, of course, because we can't always see/do everything.
In fact, right there at the sky lift we could see the Basilica of St. Castor, which was next on our list.

How can you not be awed by such architecture!

By now you already know that I first take pics of the nave,
first towards the altar and then behind to the organ in the back.

Then I go for the pulpit and the font....

...followed by the usually amazing ceilings....

...and then the closer-ups....

...and other details.
There's always enough to find.  Something for everyone.

Just outside the church, we headed to the statue of Emperor William I at the Deutsches Eck .

The Deutsches Eck is the "German Corner" where the rivers Mosel and Rhine converge.
This is the point we were dropped off at while on our Viking River Cruise in 2013,
before being bused to the Marksburg castle nearby.

So if the statue looks familiar, that's why!
It's HUGE, 14 meters high....

...and tall enough to climb up and inside, seeing the views from a different perspective.

Back down on the ground, we walked along the Mosel River towards city center,
just as the sun was setting by late afternoon.

Looking inland we saw the basilica again, followed by other architecture and many impressions,

before then turning into the Christmas markets...all 7 of them flowing together.

We LOVE the German Christmas markets.

So many goodies to eat.

So many things to admire and/or buy.

And because the market is at the main square, there was another church to see:
the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) Roman Catholic church.

The back-n-forth pics of the nave...

...followed by quick impressions.

As we went back outside, there was St. Nicholas waiting to welcome us.
In the Netherlands he's called Sinterklaas.

And that was it.  Not so short and sweet...but with lots of short-of-eyes impressions,
both coming and going.

That was just the first day...HA!
See what I mean about things piling up?!