I just finished creating a Shutterfly Photo Book of our 2011 Europe trip. In case you're interested to check it out, here's the URL.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
June 22 - To the Netherlands
It was a relatively quick drive from Gent, Belgium to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, a town in the south of the Netherlands. ‘s-Hertogenbosch lies in Braband, an area where my mom resided during part of WWII. The town has an old Gothic cathedral built in the 1500’s and a large and comfortable town square where we had lunch. Our hotel was just a little south, in the village of Oisterwijk, so after a brief visit we drove to our hotel and checked in.
|Hotel De Leijhof|
Hotel De Leijhof had stately setting with a lush green lawn, a beautiful fountain and rod iron gates - quite a majestic entrance. It turned out to be a very friendly, comfortable and convenient hotel. The village of Oisterwijk also was surprisingly nice, in that it a number of the shops and restaurants were by a park giving it a European “Mayberry“ affect.
But for us ‘s-Hertogenbosch area only served as a quick stop on our way north. So after a big breakfast, we headed north to Elst, to visit with Ton and Marleen. With Google directions we got pretty close to their house, but in the end we succumbed to getting a little help from them. But we were pretty darn close.
Ton was standing in front of their house when we arrived and directed us in. After a short visit at their house, we walked to a restaurant at a nearby park. The restaurant was in an old, classic house. We started out in the veranda, but it became cold and rainy. So we opted for the warmth of the inside dining room where we had an exquisite lunch accompanied with a Spanish Tempranillo.
|Lunch with Marleen and Ton|
We were soon on our way again - this time to meet up with Marteen and Maria. It was a greater challenge to find their house in Purmerand (just north of Amsterdam) because of all the irregular, narrow streets in their neighborhood. We knew we were within a stone’s throw from them, but we again had to resort to the phone to get the final directions. Maria ended up riding her bike to where we were - it was simpler than explaining it.
Though we had been to their new house, we had only seen it from the outside, after they had made an offer on it last year. We had an excellent reunion and that evening were treated to a delicious Indonesian dinner at their home.
|Village of Monnickendam|
|Marteen, Maria and Diane in Edam|
|Joyce (Small) and Sebastian (Large)|
|A van Gogh bridge?|
|A cart of Edam cheese|
|Nicely maintained wooden double ender|
The next day we had a busy day touring the villages of Monnickendam and Edam (near the more touristy village of Volendam), had croquets for lunch, stopped by a second-hand store called the Kringloopwwinkel, where we bought three small hand-made Iranian carpets for the paltry sum of seven Euros each. Diane and I were elated. We then dropped in to see Marteen and Maria’s newest grandson, Kick, at Hanne’s home.
|Diane holding Kick|
The following day was a busy one for Diane and I as we wanted to stop in Ede to check on my parent’s graves (which we did) before heading to Rotterdam to meet up with Meredith and Elliot. All went us planned.
The Dutch have an interesting way of dealing with graves - essentially, families rent a grave site in increments of ten years. If a plot is not renewed, the remains are dug up and placed in a common grave and the plot received a new “renter”. It makes a lot of sense when a space is at a premium. We paid the fees (about $1100) to keep mom, dad and oma where they are for another ten year period. Then Diane and I visited the grave, spruced it up a bit and took some photos.
June 24 - Rotterdam
We arrived at Meredith’s in the late afternoon. Their apartment is located in the heart of Rotterdam. As Elliot was still at school (he’s pursuing an MBA degree at Erasmus University), Meredith gave us a tour of the neighborhood. The central market, the St. Lawrence Cathedral, bars, restaurants, the historic harbor area, the Maas River, the architecturally interesting cube apartment complex and much more is all within walking distance from Meredith‘s place.
There were lots of bicyclists roaming the city streets. Here, however, bicyclists have their own dedicated paths that run adjacent to city streets. All these people on bikes and yet none wear helmets. Men in their suits riding to the office, mothers with toddlers in backseats and front seats (or sometimes on cargo bikes called a Bakfiets - check them out here http://bakfiets.nl/eng/
On one of the evenings, we went out to dinner at a small Italian restaurant where one of Meredith’s neighbors is a chef. We had not expected any special treatment. But it soon became evident as we were served the antipasto, that this was not going to be your average meal. We were served a huge plate of tasty, sun dried tomatoes, olives, slices of roasted eggplant, pickled onions, several cheeses and Italian meats. After seeing how much food it was, we immediately asked them to cut back on the main courses we had ordered (which they obliged). It turned out to be a splendid and delicious dinner and a wonderful evening. On the walk home, in spite of being pretty stuffed, we each managed to enjoy a scoop or two of ice cream at the local gelato hangout.
|This is just the antipasto|
|There's more to eat?|
We made some fun day trips while in Rotterdam. One was to the historical city of Delft, where the Delft blue porcelain originated and to the village of Kinderdijk. Although the weather was a bit wet, Delft was charming. With its canals, cathedrals, quaint bridges, a lively market and a picturesque town square, Delft is always a worthy visit. We sat in the town square, enjoying the scenery and had a cup of coffee - or was it a beer.
|Meredith and Diane enjoying a fresh stroopwafel|
|Delft city hall|
Kinderdijk is a short drive from Rotterdam. With its rows of quintessential Dutch windmills along canals, we strolled passed them and took in the lovely scenery. It’s a popular tourist attraction, so we weren’t the only ones with that idea - lots of others walked and bicycled along the trail to enjoy the sights of the windmills.
Meredith had made an appointment in Utrecht at a bridal store to try on some wedding gowns. So on one of the days, with her friend Anel, the four of us drove there. Utrecht turned out to be a very pleasant city. With a deep canal running through it, Utrecht has a comfortable feel to it with restaurants, museums, sidewalk cafes, bars and shops. The canals in Utrecht have a lower level right next to the water where there are bars and small, private weekend retreats right next to the water. It seemed pretty unique.
|Lower part of Utrecht canal|
|Birds eye view of Utrecht from the cathedral tower|
Being that it was a warm day, there were plenty of people making use of the canal by canoeing and kayaking on it. Others were taking canal cruises on larger boats that provided lunch while further on, some brave kids were jumping in the murky water from their inflatable rafts.
After lunching on crokets, dark bread and aged cheese, we took a tour of St. Martin’s cathedral. Started as a small chapel in the 7th century, the building that stands today is of Gothic-design. There is a tall tower, the transept and the choir. In between the tower and the choir there’s a gap in the cathedral where a hurricane blew building apart. The only part open to us was the tower, which we proceeded to climb - all 465 steps of it. Great view from the top, though.
After a couple of more enjoyable days in Rotterdam with Meredith and Elliot, it was time for Diane and I to go home. Our flight was from Brussels. Since Meredith wanted to peruse through the second-hand market in Brussels for old keys, she and Anel accompanied us back to Brussels.
Only about a two hour drive, we dropped off the car and took the train into the city. We were at the Place du Jeu de Balle market in no time and soon were bargaining with a vendor for his stash of old keys. We were surprised to fin out that he wanted far more for his keys than an antique shop owner wanted down the street on Rue Blaes. So we headed back to the huge store and proceeded to buy his entire supply of old keys. The store, Stephantiek is the largest antique store I have seen. Check out the store at their web site - http://www.stefantiek.com/
|Searching for the right keys|
The four of us had lunch at a sidewalk café, near the Grand Place. Afterwards, we walked around the famous square while Meredith provided us with a few of its historical nuances. It was then time for Meredith and Anel to go to the train station and catch the train back to Rotterdam. Like we had done so many times before, we hugged each other tightly, this time parting in the middle of the Grand Place square in Brussels.
|The Grand Place|
With flight delays and route re-scheduling, the trip back home was a long one. But we got home safe and sound after a 27 hour trip. Another adventure had come to a close.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
|View of Gent from St. Michel's Bridge|
June 19 - Gent, Belgium
After having a slight complication checking into the Gravensteen Hotel (they couldn’t find our reservation), we eventually got our room and settled in. Having endured our across-the-railroad-tracks hotel in Evreux, my intent had been to book us into a more comfortable three star hotel in the middle of the old city. Although the hotel was well situated, as it turned out our “suite” looked more like a thirty year old Hilton room with a view of the parking lot. So much for trying.
|The medieval castle near our hotel|
Luckily, Gent made up for our substandard hotel room in sheer beauty and history. Diane and I had been to Gent decades ago with my parents but we’d forgotten how lovely of a city it was. With the River Leie running through it, Gent is gem of a place. Steeped in history (literally dating back to the Stone Age), Gent offers many samples of old architecture. Starting right near our hotel, there is a medieval castle that looks like from the days of King Arthur.
|St. Bavo cathedral|
One of the cathedrals we visited, Saint Bavo, was originally build in 942 A.D. The original structure no longer exists, but parts of what we today was built around 1150 - Christopher Columbus’ adventures were yet over three centuries away!!!
We toured a number of the historical sights, including the harbor area (known as the Graslei), the main town square, St. Michael’s bridge, a huge, old cast iron cannon, a giant bell, the old fish market and more cathedrals. We found Gent to be very pedestrian friendly, with many intriguing views and cityscapes.
Since we were in Gent on Sunday afternoon and on a Monday, museums and markets were not an option - they were closed. That was unfortunate, since Gent some very interesting museums and has one of the biggest second hand markets in Europe.
In the late afternoon, we had a glass of wine near the Leie river, in Graslei and Korenlei area. It would have been better with sunshine, but still we marveled at Gent’s unique and beautiful architectural scenery. The old port area is one of the original ports in Europe that developed as a center of commerce and trade in the days of Charlemagne. It’s pretty easy to envision the old trading ships berthing along the quay and think of all the bee hive-like activity that would have been occurring each day.
|Views of Graslei and Korenlei|
Unfortunately, our stay was too short. Tuesday morning found us busily making our way through traffic out of Gent, heading for the Netherlands.
|16th century building with six dancing devils atop of it.|
|From the outside the Marriott Hotel looks old. But inside....|
|Drill made of Belgian chocolates|
|Yummy bakery with great breads|
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
|The lily pond|
June 19 - Evreux to Giverny and Gent (Belgium)
Okay, just one more post for the evening. I was behind in posting due to not having internet access, so now's the time to catch up.
Finding our way to Giverny was a bit more challenging, but, with Diane being the top-notched navigator she is, we methodically found our way to the near-mythical village where Claude Monet had painted so many of his garden and pond scenes.
|Towards the pond|
Giverny receives nearly one half million visitors per year - quite a lot for a postage-sized village. It felt like 300,000 of them were here with us today! A long line to get in to the museum. And once in, we found other hoards of people waiting to get in to his house, his gardens and the pond area. Luckily, everyone was respectful of each other and things worked out. Walking through Monet’s atelier and seeing all the paintings hanging on the walls from top to bottom was a powerful and emotional experience. I could only imagine what it would have been like in the early 1900‘s, when he was walking these paths and sitting down to paint a scene.
After finishing the tour of Monet’s house, we strolled through Giverny, had a light lunch with two cafes alonge (expressos with a bit of water added to them), and headed for Gent, Belgium.
|The water lilies|
|A Monet model|