Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Alkmaar Trip: From Callantsoog Down the North Sea Coast

As you recall, this was a seize-the-weather over-nighter to see Alkmaar (last post) and then spend the night in Callantsoog, before heading back south along the coast towards home the next day. 

Once again, here's the map of North Holland province to get your bearings.
As you see, Callantsoog is right on the North Sea, a tourist town.

After settling into our hotel, we went off to the beach before it got too dark.
It was very cold and windy, just like you'd expect Dutch weather to be on the coast in March.

Eline (PT) had told me to not walk in the sand because it'd wreak havoc on my knee.
So I was a good girl and watched Astrid do her shenanigans.

The next morning we drove to see the iconic Reformed church in the center of town...

...before heading out on our way south along the coast.

Lucky for us to see these Scottish Highlander beauties basking in the morning sun.

Ten miles later we arrived in Camperduin, where Astrid spent many camping days as a child.
It was almost 50 years ago when she was last there with her family, so a lot had changed.
The Kies Voor Water (Choose for Water) was a voting prop for recent Dutch elections.

Nearby the campground, we drove into the town of Schoorl to see the sand dune
where Astrid and her brother spent hours climbing up and rolling down.
Anything idyllic along the way, like this wee church, got captured.

 Did I mention that North Holland is tulip-bulb country?
At this time all the bulbs are still underground, getting ready to be harvested for sale.
Tulip bulbs are sold all over the world from these fields.  Maybe you have some in your own yard?!
Some of the fields will grow the bulbs to full bloom within a month from now.
Maybe we'll go back to see them.....

Our last destination of the trip was Egmond aan Zee to see the lighthouse.
As we walked through town, we had fun seeing all the boats...on dry land.
The housewife of the two windows said every time they travel,
they collect another boat for their window displays.

At the end of her street, there it was:  the J.C.J. van Speijk Lighthouse
We don't see many lighthouses in the Netherlands, so this was a treat not to be missed.

And then, just outside of Alkmaar, before we hit the fast track home...
we happened upon this system of WWII bunkers built by Hitler's men
to combat any British planes flying in from the North Sea during the war.
Don't get me started on these bunkers all over Europe, reminders of a grim time in history.

Instead, let's think about how when Life hands us some lemons,
we can choose to make lemonade!

And that sounds like a good note to end such a splendid trip, don't you think?
Carpe Diem!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Alkmaar Trip and Vicinity

So, after all those weathervanes and gable stones (last post), here's the first day of our overnighter a couple weekends ago when we Seized the Weather!

Just to refresh the geography, we drove from South Holland, where we live,
to North Holland, the province of Amsterdam, as you see.
Alkmaar is about 62 miles north of Gorinchem (our city).

But first, about 4 miles SW of Alkmaar, Astrid wanted to stop in Heiloo.
This is the chapel on the property where her dad died on 8 March 1981, 34 years ago.
Astrid had never been back since, so this was a bit like staring the tiger in the eye.
His last 10 years were spent here, sick and apart from his family, dying at age 61.
She faced the tiger and unleashed her pent-up tears.
And I got to see the place I had heard about for years.

From Heiloo we drove the short distance to Alkmaar, known for its cheese market.
(The tourist attraction itself is only on Fridays, in season, from 10-12:30, 
something I had seen years ago in my past life.)
Impressions, you know.

As we walked into city center, the icons and sights became familiar.

But as often happens, we were ready first for koffie break!
Remember, the weather was glorious, so we actually sat outside in the sun (50-60 F).
As I've said on Facebook, the apple pie with whipped cream is NOT dessert to the Dutch.

THEN we went to the very spot of the world-famous cheese market.
Can't you just imagine the hustle and bustle of those days of yore, right on the canal.
The building is the cheese-weighing house, with the cheese museum on the 2 upper floors.

Because it was Sunday, out of season, nothing was open.
But there was plenty to see as we stood on the bridge opposite the weigh house.
We weren't the only ones taking advantage of the good weather.

Not far from city center is the Molen van Piet from 1769,
one of the most picturesque Dutch windmills you'll ever see because of it's location on the canal.

 But a bit farther out from city center were other windmills, just as colorful....

...and turning (some of them).
I was especially entranced by the juxtaposition of the wind turbines in the background,
turning the opposite direction (Dutch windmills turn counter-clockwise).

Back in the car, we headed north from Alkmaar to Schagen
on our way to our hotel in Callantsoog, on the North Sea.
You know me, snapping pics all along the way, sometimes without a clue what I'm seeing,
like that lookout tower (?) in the middle of nowhere.

Then Astrid gave me my education about the stolp farmhouses we started seeing everywhere.
Stolp = cover/cap (like the cover over a butter dish).
As a farmhouse, the stolp refers to the roof and its square-based pyramid cover.

It so happens there is a bridge in Sint Maartensbrug, 5 miles from Schagen,
that is a skeleton of such a stolp farmhouse.

We had to see it, of course, and get inside it's inner structures.
How very clever for someone to think that up!

Sometimes you have to see to believe!

Once we made it to Schagen, it was time to eat our mid-day meal,
directly across from the Grote Kerk on the market square.

By now you know that we buy 2 different lunch items and split them,
accompanied by a really good beer...which happened to be from Texel, this time,
the island just north of there where Astrid spent many a year visiting.
(You may remember that we spent 3 days there in October, 2011.)

And because we like to do it, we treated ourselves to a scoop of ice cream afterwards,
to last until we reached our hotel in Callantsoog for the night, 7 miles to the coast from Schagen.

How's that for a spur-of-the-moment trip to capitalize on good weather!
Coming up is the next day, driving back home along the North Sea coast.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Carpe-Diem Overnighter to North Holland

Actually, it was more like a Seize-the-Weather trip that Astrid thought up!  Last week Wednesday she told me the weekend was going to be sunny and warmer (up to 60F) and maybe we'd like to use the Fletcher hotel voucher we had to visit the Alkmaar area north of us.

She didn't have to ask me twice, nor did it take long to plan our Sunday-Monday escapade!

But first, just for the halibut, here's a quick geography lesson that usually helps me get my bearings:

There are 12 provinces that make up the Netherlands.
Gorinchem, where we live, is in Zuid/South Holland, on the North Sea.
(That is, the province is on the North Sea, not Gorinchem.)

Noord/North Holland, just above Zuid Holland, is also on the North Sea, with lots of coastline.
The Germans east of us are known to drive across the Netherlands just to visit this Dutch coast.
It's known as the German Invasion during the warmer months of the year.  Seriously.

Amsterdam is in Noord Holland, as is Alkmaar, where we wanted to go.
Our hotel was a bit NW of Alkmaar, on the North Sea, in Callantsoog.
Going home on Monday, we drove along the coast south.

Okay, then.  Just enough to get our bearings for our wee trip from Gorinchem to Alkmaar (62 miles), then eventually to Callantsoog (another 15 miles).  In the American sense of distance, this is nothing, right?  But in the Dutch sense, and at the speed we drive over the back roads, stopping at every weathervane or point of interest along the way, it can take all day.

 So, speaking of weathervanes, let's get started!

These are the ones we saw along the entire trip, Sunday to Monday.

Even the ones on top of churches or city buildings are important to me,
though you can easily tell the difference between them and the domestic vanes.

You know the gable stones also grab my attention, of course,
so while we're at it, these are the ones we saw along the way.

Gable stones are always harder to process than weathervanes because...
well, because the corners are almost never square, or tilted properly.
(But you already knew I was Ms. Perfectionist, right?)

Alright.  Enough for now.
This was a teaser and easy to "get out of the way" before moving on with the rest of the trip.
Coming up is Heiloo, Alkmaar, Schagen, St. Maartensbrug, Callantsoog, Camperduin 
and Egmond aan Zee (with a lighthouse we don't usually get to see).

Do you know how good it feels to be back on the road again????

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

My 9-week post-knee-replacement-surgery celebration today:
For my first time, I WAS ABLE TO CYCLE FORWARDS, for 5 minutes.
I actually was afraid to stop, lest I couldn't do it again.
Color me Surprised by Joy!

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Weekend of Friendship

Or, when it rains it pours.

Astrid and I can probably count on one hand how many times we meet up with friends in a year's span, not counting our trips abroad or guests "tripping" here.

So when we have two days in a row on a weekend, hobnobbing with local friends, that's a big deal.

It happened last weekend.  First it was Saturday with dear friend Margreeth (from nearby Giessenburg), with whom we have had several happy memories.

First, we went to eat lunch at our nearby Metropole Restaurant  (now open for both lunch and dinner).

It's one of our favorite restaurants here in Gorinchem, a 10-min. walk away.

Since 2009, the restaurant has partnered with the Syndion group,
offering jobs to mentally-handicapped adults.
It so happens that Emiel (close to age 40 with the mental age of around 12-14)
has been a friend of Astrid's since he was 12.  We LOVE him.
And no one could be prouder of his job than he is!
He was delighted that I took his picture:  "Now I'll be famous!" he said.

Waiting is always worth it when you're with a friend.

And when the food comes, we're never disappointed.  N E V E R.
Margreeth had the burger (something we've not yet tried).
Astrid and I shared the carpaccio salad and the grilled salmon salad.

From lunch we walked another 10 minutes to our Grote Markt.
That's where the old city hall is, housing our city's Gorcums Museum.
It was Margreeth who convinced us a year ago to buy the annual museum pass, remember?

 We headed straight to the top floor to first see the exhibit of the Gorkum Martyrs.

I had no idea about this part of Gorinchem's history.
19 Dutch Catholic clerics and friars were hanged by the Calvinists in 1572.
These religious wars are enough to break your heart open.

Walking down the stairs to the next exhibit, I was lifted up a bit...

to prepare me for 100 years of the chair!
This exhibit of 90 chairs is compiled by French expert Leidelmeijer.

 You want to see chairs? 

 Can you imagine sitting in them?!

 Some of them, NO.  Some of them, YES. 

 At one point, I had to put my feet up (at 7 weeks post-knee-replacement!),
while the ladies continued on for one of the permanent displays I'd already seen.

Looking out back from the museum you can see the Grote Kerk.
Looking out front you can see the fountain and main square.
Pay special attention to the middle-left image with the wee little cart....

because that's where we ended our day, with our must-have treat.
Our Venezia Ijssalon opened that day for the rest of the year.
We wouldn't have missed it for anything.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

That was Saturday.
On Sunday, we walked to nearby Femke's and Jeannettes's for a delightful afternoon.

This was the second time to build our friendship around food.
And what we're discovering is that the bridges just grow and grow.

Femke is the gourmet cook.  Jeannette is following in her footsteps.

See what I mean?  And we didn't even start with this!
I didn't grab my camera soon enough for the fig and raspberry liqueur from France,
followed by a homemade cheesecake, thanks to Jeannette.
O.M.G.  Eat dessert first!  Always.  Whenever possible.
But don't forget to take a picture of it first!

As if that weren't enough, Femke comes out with a quiche.
I think we all could have died and gone to heaven,
in spite of the voodoo toothpick holder.

See how she/they display their cookbooks?  I love it.
J&F.  And as we left, the waxing moon smiled down on us.

Most weekends don't come packed with friends like this.
Are we lucky or what!