Friday, October 26, 2012

The Netherlands - 2012


Although Diane and I have been to Amsterdam on a number of trips, when you’re in a city with someone who lives there, you have an opportunity to see a place from a different perspective.

After Meredith picked us up at Schiphol, we went to her flat, just south of the city center. Her place is on the second floor, on a quiet street, across from a shuttered church and next to a small elementary school. Elliot was not home. He happened to be in Portland on business and wasn‘t getting home for a few days.

After we settled in we decided to immediately set off on bikes to see the sights around her neighborhood. After all, the weather was warm and sunny. There was no time to waste.

Meredith posing with her bike on one of the quintessential draw bridges. 

We rode through picturesque neighborhoods, passed charming canals lined with old Dutch river boats and finished up cycling through a beautiful park, Vondel Park. In the evening, for dinner we had Indonesian take-out from one of the neighborhood restaurants. Delicious! A superb finish to a full day.

Along one of the beautiful canals.

Saturday morning we weren’t as lucky with the weather. It looked wet and gloomy outside. But in spite of the rain, we headed for the outdoor market and buying flowers, wine and fresh salmon. Fortunately, the rain let up, so we ventured to the heart of the city for a little more shopping and a “broodje herring”. That’s fresh herring on a bun, with onions and pickles. Very yummy - but you’ve got to be a little Dutch to appreciate it. My other favorite sandwich is with smoked mackerel. Delicious!

Broodje Herring

Even though there is a lot of car traffic, the amount of bicycle traffic in Amsterdam is astounding. Women, men and children of all ages ride around - and not one cyclist wearing a helmet. Moms and dads have kids seated in front and behind them or are peddling the “fietsbak”, a bike with a wooden box over the front wheel where the kids fit (businesses also use them as a delivery vehicle).

Child getting a ride from mom in the "fietsbak".

Yep! None is wearing a helmet.

That same afternoon we got on the bus at the Central Station and worked our way north to Purmerend to visit our friend, Maarten. The weather had turned cooler and wetter. We had hoped to be Holland in time to say our good-byes to Maarten's wife and our friend, Maria. But her cancer had spread too aggressively, and she had not been able to hold on. She had passed away just shortly before our arrival. Instead we went to see her grave.

In the evening, we went to Maarten’s daughter’s home, just a few kilometers away where a family reunion was taking place. It was a somber period, but it also happened to be Hanne's birthday. Hanne and Rick hosted the event in their spacious home. Also present were Marteen's sons Ewoud and Geert with their wife and girlfriend. And there were lots of kids. The third son, Dieter, had already left to return to Panama after the funeral. In spite of the sad occasion, it was a heartwarming evening with lots of good conversation.

Dinner at Rick and Hanne's

One thing Amsterdam does not lack is tasty, ethnic take-out restaurants. We took advantage of them and had scrumptious more Indonesian and Turkish food. We found that a Heineken seemed to go well with either of the ethnic varieties.

Elliot arrived back from his trip to the U.S. Nike headquarters on Sunday. It had been a positive experience for him, he had learned a lot and he had had a chance to visit with his family. That afternoon, while Meredith and Diane went shopping, Elliot and I went for a bike ride around Amsterdam. We peddled through parks, along canals and ended up having a brew at one of the local pubs.

Elliot on his newly painted bike.

No caption really needed, but the beer did taste mighty fine.

By early evening we could tell that for us, the time change was affecting us. And for Elliot, the trip back also had been tiring. It made for an early evening for all of us.

Monday morning, Maarten picked us up and we headed to Amsterdam's newly renovated Maritime Museum. It’s situated right along the harbor in a beautifully restored building. Although overall, the museum itself was somewhat disappointing, there were several worthwhile displays of such things as navigational instruments, bow figure heads and a full size replica of one of the old square riggers. Afterwards, we drove to Maarten’s home in the north of Amsterdam, in the quaint village of Purmerend.

View of the square rigger from the museum.

One fine looking binnacle compass.

After having lunch, we visited Maria’s grave and had some pensive moments about the good times we shared traveling together here, in Panama and in the U.S. The following morning we visited Purmerend and walked around the open market that was being held in the village and the town's small yet comprehensive historical museum.

Later on we took a drive north to the historical town of Hoorn. It is an old and important port city dating back from the 1300's, that lies along the Ijsselmeer. We walked along its picturesque canals and waterfront area and then stopped in at the city museum, a truly noteworthy place to learn about the town's history. Later, we had lovely dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, a place where Maarten and Maria had eaten at before.

View of Hoorn's town square from the museum.

Hoorn's harbor.

Maarten, Diane and I at the harbor.

Another northern town we visited was Alkmaar, a place known for its cheese market (though it wasn't being held while we were there). Alkmaar is another historical town dating back to the 13th century. Maarten told us that its place in Dutch history lies in the fact that it was the first town to successfully fight off the Spaniards in the Eighty Year War in the 16th century.

We made plans on one of the days to meet with our friends Ton and Marleen. With the weather not being reliably dry, we decided to meet in Utrecht. We met in a quaint little restaurant along on of the canals and had a wonderful reunion discussing sailing, travel, Dutch life, and our friends in common (Roy and Tee). Afterwards, we walked to the Vrouwe Justitiaplein (women's justice square) where Marleen presides as a judge.

Ton, Marleen with the three of us at lunch.

At the Vrouwe Justitiaplein in front of the statue of blind justice.

After our meeting with Ton and Marleen, we took a brief stroll through town and then took the train to Hilversum, where Nike's European headquarters is located. Elliot greeted us, showed us around and then lead us to the company store. After a couple of hours of perusing and trying on things, Diane and I each settled on a pair of shoes.  

On one of the days at Meredith's, Maarten picked the three of us up for a walk in the woods near the village of Lage Vuursche. Indeed we did experience a wonderful walk among colorful trees that were just starting to turn colors. Afterwards, we lunched in the village and had Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken) filled with various ingredients such as cheese, ham, bacon, apples, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Maarten, Meredith and Diane strolling along one of the paths in the woods.

Meredith getting ready to dig in to her pannekoek.

Afterwards, a stop at one of the ubiquitous second-hand stores was in order. The stores, called Cringloop (meaning circle walk) are enticing if not addictive. They offer lots of inexpensive treasures in hand woven carpets, furniture, tools, appliances, toys and much more. We tried to restrain ourselves, but still came out with too much.

One of the more interesting things in Amsterdam is the custom that the people have of re-cycling their neighbors’ throw-aways. As a result, we always kept our eyes out for useful pieces of wood that were being discarded. Meredith and Elliot already had brought home some pallets that they were planning to make a bed out of. One day, with one of the larger pallets, we set out to build a base for a bed. Elliot, Meredith and I worked on it for the entire afternoon, nearly finishing it. It’s up to the two of them to devise a pair of legs for it and sand it.

Working on the bed.

On another occasion, Meredith and I worked on a simpler project, a wine glass rack. We finished and installed it before Elliot got back from work. I think he was impressed with our handy work.

On the weekend, Elliot had signed up to run in an 8k race around Amsterdam. He and Meredith left early in the morning and I was to join them as he completed the race. But as I ventured out to meet up with them, I found a huge stream of runners who I presumed were all heading for the same finish line that Elliot was running in. I was wrong. The group I began to follow were competing in the marathon. After cycling along with them for quite a while, I spotted a sign that marked the 15k mark!!! By then I was totally lost. Needless to say, I didn’t get a chance to see Elliot at the finish line. But it was a nice bike ride none-the-less and we met back up at home.

On our last adventure, Maarten, Meredith, Diane and I set off to visit the Kroller Muller Museum. Located in the center of the Hoge Veluwe National Park, it's an hour's drive east of Amsterdam. With the fall colors of the trees at its peak, it made for a photographer’s dream and a truly memorable adventure.

After parking the car and getting our tickets, we walked in to the park and grabbed one of the hundreds of free bikes that were parked.  We each picked out a bike and began the ride to the museum. The verdant bike path, packed with story-book fall colors on each side, was an incredible 3-D-like experience.

Bike parking area.

Riding along one of the beautiful bike paths in the park.

After an easy fifteen minute ride we arrived at the museum and parked our bikes. The grounds of the museum are very unusual, in that the sculpture pieces are spread out all over the grounds, at times nearly hidden from view or otherwise, part of the environment.  We spent a good two hours walking all around the grounds taking in the (sometimes unusual) displays.

Appreciating "Monsieur Jacques" by Oswald Wenckebach

Looking up through Ken Snelson's "Needle Tower II"

After a lunch break we went into the museum where we were treated to a fabulous array of paintings from the impressionists to the avant-garde. They were all part of the private collection of Kroller-Muller. One of the more prominent works displayed that stood out in my mind was Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night". But there were a number of other Van Gogh's as well as a Monet, a Renoir, a Pizzaro, a Gauguin, a Signac, several Picassos and many more. A truly superb private collection.

One of my favorites - Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night".

After the museum visit, we walked back to where we had parked out bicycles, picked out other ones and rode back to the park's entrance. On our ride back we spotted wonderful looking mushrooms that we just had to photograph.

Biking back through the park after museum tour.

Is this an incredible looking mushroom or what?

Once home, Meredith and I picked up Indonesian take-out for our last dinner in Amsterdam. Our two week stay adventure was all but over. The only thing left was a morning's ride to Schiphol and a long flight home.

At Schiphol - you just can't leave without having one last bite of apple tarte with a good cup of coffee.

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