A Travellerspoint blog

Home again, home again ... and an open letter

I left the hotel around 8:15 and made it to Leidseplein to catch the airport bus just as it was ready to leave. The driver saw me and kindly waited while I made a dash for it. For €4, I made it to Schiphol in about 30 minutes.

Dropped my bag and wandered around the duty-free shops for a bit, then hiked to my gate. There's a sign before heading to the gates that says, "Passengers Only. Kiss and Goodbye." Schiphol doesn't have a centralized security area. Instead, there are security checks before the various gates, which is nice because you don't have to wait as long in line.

My flight to London took off 40 minutes late but the captain made up some time in the air. Judy and Steve from the tour were also on that flight, and we kept running into each other at Heathrow. I set off the beeper at Heathrow (as usual) and the security woman gave me a pretty serious going-over. I was just starting to think that she was going to make me go into a little room when she finally cleared me. Not sure why I always set that machine off.

Bought chocolates in the duty-free to take to work, and some cocoa-dusted almonds at Harrods. Also surrendered to weakness and bought two books at WH Smith. Well, I needed something to read on the plane, didn't I?

As I was waiting to go through the gate check, I idly watched one of the stations where the agent seemed to be having a problem with a passenger's passport. When I looked away, the agents at the station right in front of me were kind of waving their arms at me. So I hurried over and apologized for being asleep. One of the agents jokingly accused me - in a beautiful Scottish accent - of being nosy; the other one said I was a busybody. I love it when airport workers have a sense of humor (or humour, in this case).

This flight took off an hour late, which meant that after an hour's flight time had gone by, all I could think of was that we should have been in the air for two hours by that time. With every hour that passed I would think the same thing. Fortunately, the cabin crew must have been fresh because they were cheerful and lively. There were three babies in my little cabin, at least one of which was crying at any one time. At least there was no scream-crying.

The guy sitting next to me, who I christened Elbows McGee after a while, was the oddest little man. He was wearing glasses but he held his magazine about two inches from his nose. He was just a very - almost stereotypically - nerdy Englishman. The guy sitting at the window had the worst cough I've ever heard. Seriously, I thought he might die at some point.

My bag arrived at SeaTac okay, and I didn't even have to speak to the Customs officer, and then John was there to meet me with my water bottle (bless him!). Chloe looked a little freaked out at my presence at first, but then she got over it and resumed her usual state of indifference. Practically the first thing I did was take a hot shower. Ah, water pressure!

So it was a good trip, but I think I wouldn't mind just lying on a beach in Hawaii for my next vacation. I'll end with an open letter to hotel-bathroom designers everywhere ('cause they're all totally reading this blog, right?):

Dear Hotel-Bathroom Designers:

Have you ever actually used one of your bathrooms, or is it all just theoretical as far as you're concerned? More often than not, your designs lack practicality. I humbly offer some guidelines for improvement.

1. Placement of toilet paper. Toilet paper should be placed between six and ten inches away from the toilet. And by "away from," I mean "in front of" or "to the side of" not "behind." I shouldn't have to lean so far out to reach the paper that I'm in serious danger of falling off the toilet, nor should I have to dislocate my shoulder in order to reach the paper, which you have brilliantly placed right smack next to and slightly behind the toilet. In fact, this placement is so brilliant that I have to sit sort of diagonally in order to avoid actually sitting on the toilet roll.

2. Number and placement of towel bars. Every hotel bathroom is going to have a minimum of two towels per person: a hand towel and a bath towel. This means there are at least four towels in all but the single rooms. So why so stingy with the towel bars? And why is the one lousy towel bar all the way across the room from the shower? Why? Put a towel bar by the sink for the hand towel(s), and put another one by the shower for the bath towels.

3. Shower curtains. Look. There should be a minimum of one shower curtain. And it should be weighted at the bottom so it doesn't try to hump my leg while I'm rinsing shampoo out of my hair.

4. Shower drain. If the bathroom space can only support a shower stall (as opposed to a tub), then please ensure that the drain is flush with the floor tiles so that I don't step into a hole every few seconds, thus scraping my heel or stubbing my toe.

5. Lighting. I do appreciate bright lighting in a bathroom, but why does it have to be so weirdly placed? If I get within ten inches of the mirror, suddenly I look like Lon Chaney in "The Phantom of the Opera." What's with all the shadows? I can't put on my eyeliner if I can't see my eyes. Talk to a lighting designer and knock it off with all the indirect lighting.

6. Hair dryers. I love not having to dig my travel hair dryer out from the bottom of my suitcase, so I usually appreciate it when there's a hair dryer in the bathroom. But seriously: Enough with the dryers that look like vacuum cleaner attachments. They heat up to 267 degrees and are impossible to hold in one spot for more than a nanosecond. And those hair dryers where one has to hold down a button during the entire hair-drying process, what bright spark invented those? They’re ridiculous, and I end up with thumb cramp by the time my hair is finally dry. Is a guest walking away and leaving the dryer on really a problem? And by the way, note that I said I appreciate it when there’s a hair dryer in the bathroom. If you’re going to put the dryer someplace else that’s 16 feet away from a mirror, then you might as well forget it.

7. Electrical outlets. So you’ve elected not to put in a hair dryer.I can live with that. Sure, it means some digging around in my bag and trying to locate the adapter, but that’s not really a problem. Once I’ve found my dryer, however, I expect to be able to plug it into an outlet that is situated no more than 12 inches from a mirror. I shouldn’t be forced to stand across the room peering at a vaguely me-shaped reflection in a poorly lit mirror, nor should I have to stretch the dryer’s cord to the breaking point and lean painfully to one side in order to see a small portion of my head.

See? Tiny, easy things that you can work on to make your bathrooms better!

Hugs 'n' kisses,

Teresa

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Maria who now?

Sometime during the night (just before 3:00, to be semi-precise) I woke up and wondered why someone was taking a shower at that ungodly hour. Turned out it was the wind making a tremendous racket. At 7:00, Schiphol had to alter the usual flight path for landing planes because of the winds, and that altered path was right over the hotel. Noisy? Yeah.

We started the morning by taking a tram to Dam Square and then another tram to near the Westerkerk and walked to the Anne Frank House. I've been twice before and thought about sitting this one out because I'm sneezing and blowing my nose every few minutes. In the end, I decided to go on in because I figured it'd at least be warmer inside. That wind was still whipping hard enough to make my eyes water, mostly because it was whipping my hair right into my eyes. It's times like this that I wish I had long hair that could be put in a ponytail.

The queue to get in was already a couple of blocks long but we, of course, had a reservation so were able to waltz right in. (As someone said afterwards, when the queue was even longer, "Rick Steves rocks!") We were given a little presentation by one of the docents first, which I've never had before. It helped to be reminded of Anne's story, and it was also startling (even to the docent) to realize that today, May 10, is the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Holland.

I can't imagine living in near silence and stillness for two years with seven other people, even if three of those people were your family. If it had been just the Frank family who had gone into hiding, the secret annex would have provided plenty of room, but the addition of three other adults and a teenager meant they were pretty crammed in and there wasn't much in the way of privacy.

I usually get near-hysterical when I see Anne's actual diary, which is on display in a special room, but I managed to hold it together this time. What got me was a short interview with Otto Frank, the only survivor. I'm sure I've seen it before but this may be the first time it actually seeped into my consciousness.

Afterward, we walked a little farther into the Jordaan neighborhood and went to a "coffee" house. The Dutch are usually so straightforward that I'm not sure where the sudden wink-wink coyness comes from. Why not "smoke shops"? At any rate, you can get coffee and maybe some snack-type food in a coffee house, but that's obviously not the point. We all trooped in and listened to the owner, Ludo, talk about marijuana (which sounds like Maria Wanna when the Dutch say it) and the uses of hemp, what he sells, what regulations he abides by, etc. Of course, there were some regulars in the coffee shop too, so the experience wasn't exactly smoke-free. I was fortunately sitting right next to the door, which Ludo propped open, so I was getting fresh air. Even so, the smoky atmosphere started to get to me. I can't smell a damned thing. A few of us walked out to the sidewalk after ten minutes or so, and poor Dawn even felt really lightheaded. She was sitting right up front and kind of hemmed in in a corner, so that probably explains it. All I can say is, it was interesting and not a place I ever would have gone into on my own.

Rolinka trammed us back a few stops and we walked through the Begijnhof (housing for single, Catholic ladies in distressed circumstances) and also into a few small courtyards that lie between the canal houses. We also walked through a public passageway that houses bits of art from the Amsterdam Museum, including a huge wooden figure of Goliath that apparently has moveable eyes. Rolinka freed us at Kalvertoren (small shopping center) and pointed out a few places for lunch. Jeff, Dawn and I went to La Place (which I remembered from 2010), one of those eateries that has several different stations - grill, pasta, sandwiches, salads, etc. - and then one cashier. We managed to find a table and took it in turns to go get our food. Three guesses as to what I got. Give up? Ham sandwich on amazing bread. No cheese, but no less tasty for that.

Dawn and Jeff went off to the Resistance Museum after lunch (I've been), so I wandered around the shops for a while. I was tempted by a book in an all-English-language bookstore, but I didn't buy it! Such amazing strength I have! I looked for a pack of Kleenex at Hema because I'm running low. Finally found some, but I had to buy an eight-pack. At least it was only one euro. Walked most of the way back to the hotel, but took the tram for one stop.

At 5:30 we met for our farewell dinner at Haesje Claes, a restaurant spread across several canal houses and that mostly has private dining rooms. I like it when the group gets its own room because then it doesn't seem like we're bothering the other diners with our noise level. We had pre-ordered our meals several days ago, but none of it rang a bell with me. When Heidi told me I had ordered goat cheese salad, I refused to believe her … until she told me the other choice was a Dutch fish plate. Anyway, big ol' slab of goat cheese with balsamic drizzled on top; it reminded me of Ireland. Then a very nice chicken filet with the mandatory plates of frites, and creme brûlée for dessert.

After dinner, Cathi stood up and made a little speech about how much we all appreciated our wonderful guides. Heidi had broken the elevator in Delft and, in fact, had been stuck between floors. When they finally got the doors open, people had to reach down to help Heidi out. Cathi said that if that happened again, we wouldn't be around to help her, and then she gave her a toy squeaky horn so she could call for help. And because Rolinka talked a few times about her farmhouse in the south of France that she and her husband are remodeling so they can open an agriturismo, Cathi gave her a very feminine tape measure. Best. Guide gifts. Ever. We had also all signed cards for Rolinka and Heidi.

Rolinka gave us all envelopes with messages from her and Heidi, along with prints of our buddy picture, the group picture on the beach, and another random shot of everyone (in which I am hidden behind everyone). And she talked about how a true souvenir -- a memory -- is better than any souvenir you can buy in a store, but that only reminded me that I forgot to buy a calendar for next year, so now I have a mission at the airport tomorrow.

The tram on the way back was very crowded. I was standing next to Heidi, and she was standing on the inside of the flappy barriers right next to the door. Two stops later, a man jumped on at the last minute and crowded Heidi back more toward me, so now he was right next to the door. Pretty soon, he took out a joint and stuck it in his mouth. Well, okay. I see people do that on the bus with their cigarettes so they can light up the second they get off the bus. But this guy then proceeded to light the joint. Heidi yelled at him, and he turned on her and asked if she was a policeman. "No, but I know you can't light that here." He wasn't a big guy but he was still kind of scary, and he said loudly, "I'm a policeman!" (Only he said it a lot more colorfully than that.) Heidi started to holler at him some more, so he swore and started punching the button to signal for the next stop. But when the doors opened, he didn't get off and just attempted to light his joint again. Heidi said in a voice that only a mother can manage, "Get off!" And then she pushed him off. He wheeled around and made a move at her, and for a split second I thought he might have a knife. But all he said (rather weakly, I might add) was, "Don't ever touch me again!" I snorted, "As if!" Doors closed and we were on our way again.

A young Dutch couple that was standing next to us and saw everything told Heidi that she did very well. I think they were pretty impressed. I know I was! The next stop was ours, and Heidi was all fired up. When we all convened on the sidewalk, Heidi was bouncing around like Rocky in the ring, and that silly horn in her bag kept squeaking. The whole thing was pretty awesome and definitely a fine souvenir.

The "coffee" house we visited

The "coffee" house we visited


Goliath

Goliath


In the Begijnhof courtyard

In the Begijnhof courtyard


Cat chasing mice

Cat chasing mice

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Art and English

Kinder Egg update: It was a walrus.

I forgot to mention how Rolinka managed to take over the trams we took last night. There is more than one door for getting on a tram, and there is also a ticket attendant seated in a booth mid-tram. Because there are so many of us, Rolinka encourages us to get on at different doors and spread out through the tram. She tells us which stop will be ours, but it's not always easy to understand the announcement over the loudspeaker. On our first tram, the mid-tram attendant let Rolinka take over his booth, so we heard Rolinka's voice, "This is our stop! Everyone traveling with Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door, please get off at this stop." Rolinka was pretty excited to get to use the microphone and sit in the booth.

On the next tram, the driver seemed very interested in us and chatted to Rolinka. When she told him that we all wanted to be sure to get off at the same stop, he told her he would handle it. So when we got to Dam Square, the announcement from the driver was, "All the crazy, wonderful Americans traveling with Rolinka, the next stop is yours!" He said something else but we were all laughing so much we didn't hear it. And then when we were getting off, he hollered (with a smile), "Get out!" The Dutch people were laughing too. On the last tram, the lady let Rolinka use the microphone again. I think Rolinka had just as much fun as we did!

Slept pretty well. Some sort of bird in the courtyard woke up at 4:45 and started squawking away. I managed to tune her out till around 6:30, and then I got up. The shower wasn't bad, and breakfast was all right and included cookies. I'm getting used to having a hard-boiled egg in the morning.

Rolinka told us all last night that we wouldn't be able to take big bags into the Rijksmuseum today and, of course, I'm carrying a big bag. Fortunately, I have a smallish bag from the Apple store with a drawstring, so I transferred the stuff I deemed necessary into that, and also put my wallet and camera in the inside pockets of my jacket. I didn't feel quite comfortable with that, but what else could I do?

We walked to the Rijksmuseum, as Museumplein (where the modern art museum, the Van Gogh museum, and the Rijks are) is very close to the hotel. It only reopened last month after 10 years of renovations. When I went in 2010, only a very small part of the museum was open, and only a very small part of the collection was on display. The building itself, inside and out, is beautiful. The guide we had referred to it as a "cathedral of art," and she's right: the interior is laid out like a cathedral, with a nave and side chapels.

Julianne, the guide, showed us some of the prizes of the collection, including "The Night Watch," other Rembrandts, a couple by Frans Hals (who I really like), and a few Vermeers. The beautiful blues that Vermeer used are so much more vibrant in the actual paintings than the reproductions we saw in Delft. Julianne finished with us after 90 minutes or so, and then we were free for the rest of the day. The Rijks was so crowded that I kind of wanted out of there, but the exit is difficult to find. Fortunately, this meant that I ended up looking at the Asiatic collection with its several peaceful Buddhas, and I also found a Fra Angelico Madonna and child.

When I finally found the main hall, I noticed Heidi and Rolinka sitting in the cafe on the first floor. Heidi had said yesterday that she wanted to go to the same photo exhibit that I wanted to go to, so I went up to the cafe just as they were leaving to see if Heidi was still up for it. She was, so we took a tram to Dam Square and walked to the Oude Kerk to see the World Press Photo Exhibit. I wanted to see it in 2010 but never got around to it. It's a competition organized by Sony and some other corporate sponsors for journalistic photography; the various winners were on display. It was roughly half-and-half current affairs photos (newsworthy items, wildlife, sport, etc.) and an exhibit of photos from Soviet photographers ranging from the late 50s to the early 90s. Some of them were really charming and you'd never guess that the subjects were under an oppressive regime. They looked like very normal, everyday activities or situations. The current events photos were mostly pretty grim, a large portion of them dealing with the conflict in Syria. But all of them were amazing works of art.

I walked back to Dam Square and wandered through De Bijenkorf department store for a bit (free and clean toilets!) and then took a tram back to Spui near the flower market and went to -- wait for it -- Starbucks. Yes, I'm weak. But I was hungry and I knew Starbucks would be simple. That's what I thought anyway. The smiling Indonesian boy asked what I wanted and I replied that I wanted a croque monsieur (that's French for toasted ham and cheese). What? Croque monsieur. The penny dropped, and he repeated "croque monsieur" with exactly the same pronunciation I had used. Then I ordered my decaf tall mocha. For here? Yes. Do you mind if I use a paper cup? Uh, sure. All the tables were taken and I was wondering how on earth I was going to eat my sandwich, seeing as he had given it to me on a plate. As I was waiting for my mocha a table opened up, so I sat down and cut my sandwich in two. Then the guy called from the counter asking if I wanted whip. Thumbs up. Figuring that meant my drink was ready, I got up and stood at the counter. A French family made a beeline for my table; fortunately, the daughter stopped in confusion when she saw my sandwich. I pointed to myself, and she got the picture. So they retreated. My mocha came up, and when I turned around I saw another S'bux worker clearing my table and scurrying off to the back with my plate! Back to the smiling Indonesian guy. "I got up to get my drink and the guy took my sandwich." He was horrified and ran off to the back hollering at the other guy. He got my sandwich back (it looked like I had left it) and my table was still available. But as I turned around, I realized that everyone was watching the drama. Oy. You'd think a Seattleite would know how to "work" a Starbucks! At any rate, the sandwich hit the spot and the mocha was fine.

As I was finishing, an older gentleman sat down next to me. At one point, he moved his sweater, which brushed against me, and he said in accented English, "Oh, excuse me. I forgot I had this there." "No problem," I said. He proceeded to chat about the weather and how it's changing in general, and it came out that he's from Sweden. Yet when he had wanted to speak to me, he spoke English. I am constantly fascinated by just how much English is used in Europe, both written and spoken. It makes sense, and heaven knows it's lucky for us native English speakers, but I still marvel at it. He said, "You're not from here, are you?" No, I'm from America. "Ah," he said, "but you speak English!" Erm, I do, indeed. "Most Americans speak 'American.'" He said "American" with the funniest American accent. He also pointed out that an American will often speak with a huge smile on her face, which I suppose lets the Europeans who may not be attuned to the different English-speaking accents know that the person is American and not English or Australian.

This reminds me of what Paul (the driver) said the other day when we were in Delft. We were having our kopje koffie in the Vermeer Center and we got to talking about how many languages he speaks. Living on the border between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, he necessarily speaks Dutch (dialect and regular Dutch), French and German. Because of his job as a coach driver, he also speaks Italian and some Spanish. And he learned English in school; it's mandatory. I asked him if he found learning English to be difficult. He said he did not, but that was also because many Dutch improve their school English by watching American or British TV shows and movies. They are rarely dubbed, so a Dutchman will hear English while reading his native language and absorbs the English. He said that it's different in Germany. There, John Wayne spoke German … and sounded stupid. :)

After I wished the Swedish man a pleasant day, I trooped off to the Tassen Museum, a museum devoted to the history and design of handbags and purses. It didn't cost anything with the Museumkaart that we were given as part of the tour. It was surprisingly interesting and showed the evolution of the purse over 500 years. They started as small bags worn around the waist, then became pockets that were tied around the waist and worn between petticoats and overskirt. Then someone invented integrated pockets and the purse evolved into a reticule, which is the first time a purse became recognizable as such. The museum had pretty beaded purses from the 18th century, work bags from the 19th century, and some gorgeous stuff from the 20s and 30s, decorated with marcasite, ivory and tortoiseshell. There was a bag that had belonged to Madonna and one that Elizabeth Taylor owned. I particularly liked the special exhibit of schoolbags. In the 18th century, there were no desks in schools. Each child had a schoolbox in which to keep his slate, pencils and chalk, and the box doubled as a desk. Eventually, children started carrying satchels, lunch boxes and backpacks. There was a plastic Snoopy lunchbox that made me happy. Eastpak, a US brand, is the most popular backpack brand in the Netherlands. I swear I've never even heard of Eastpak.

I walked back to Leidseplein and took a tram back to the hotel. Stopped at the Albert Heijn grocery store to see if I could get some toothpaste. My toothpaste is pretty much gone, which is really annoying seeing as I only have four more tooth-brushings left. AH didn't have any small sizes, so I ended up with a full-size tube. At least it was only 79 cents.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum


Decorated cabinet in the Rijksmuseum

Decorated cabinet in the Rijksmuseum


18th and 19th century school boxes

18th and 19th century school boxes


A quick and cheap dinner

A quick and cheap dinner

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Eden

It was a bit sad leaving Delft this morning because it would be our last day on the coach. The coach does actually become like a second home in a way, and you feel secure on it. And no one ever wants to see the driver go either.

This tour is supposed to leave Delft and go to an open-air museum and the Aalsmeer Flower Auction before arriving in Amsterdam. However, the first three or four tour groups of the year go to Keukenhof instead of the auction and the museum. And since we are the second group this year, we went to the garden instead.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll remember that the tour I took in 2010 went to Keukenhof. It's someplace I never thought I'd see again, so even though I was looking forward to the auction, I was thoroughly content to be returning to Keukenhof. It's only open eight weeks of the year, and it really is spectacular. People come from all over the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe to see the gorgeous flower displays and the row upon row of tulips. It's 80 acres, and we had four hours there. It's amazing how quickly four hours can fly! It was mostly very familiar to me, but it was certainly different enough that I didn't feel like, "Oh, this again."

Parts of the garden can only be described as lush. There's a winding path of grape hyacinths, which I remember from last time, that makes you want to wade through them or lie down in them just to see what it would feel like. And there's every color on display, from pure white to deep, dark red. In one of the hothouses, there are dozens of orchid varieties, and in another they were setting up for a special UK-themed exhibit. In fact, Keukenhof's theme this year is the UK, so there was a floral picture of Big Ben and Tower Bridge.

When we first arrived, I walked with Dawn and Jeff, and Dawn and I went into the little petting zoo. We were greeted by a friendly goat, and I petted a calf (turns out, they're really soft). The potbellied pigs were funny, snuffling around in the mown grass; if the peacock has decided to hang out with the bunnies, you can't go in the bunny pen. Boo.

Dawn and Jeff decided to take a boat ride, and since I will avoid boats when given the opportunity, I wandered off on my own. I decided to get an early lunch since I didn't have much of a breakfast, so I bought a "warm ham sandwich." This turned out to be a bun spread with curry mustard and then piled high with thinly sliced fried ham. It was so yummy, tasting like a cross between bacon and prosciutto. Later in the day I finally got a waffle, which was just okay.

We lucked out with the weather because it was sunny nearly the entire time we were there, and warm too. However, the forecast had predicted rain, so we knew we'd be in for it eventually.

We arrived in Amsterdam just before 3:00 but didn't get to our hotel till about ten past 4:00 because of traffic jams and road works. At one point, Paul even executed a U-turn, which impressed us all very much. He finally was able to drop us off a block from the Hotel Alexander, and we all waved while he drove away.

My room is a more-or-less typical single: very narrow but with a really high ceiling. There's actually a shower curtain in the bathroom! I have a view of the courtyard, so I'm hoping this'll be the quietest room I've had yet.

We quickly settled in and then set out to learn the tram system, have dinner, and take a walk. We took a tram to Dam Square, the main square of Amsterdam, and then took another tram toward the flower market. Our restaurant was in the flower market, and they were nice enough to seat us even though were a half hour early. We ate Indonesian rijsttafel; everything was tasty, particularly the water with orange slices in it!

After dinner is when it really started to rain, but we took our walking tour of the red light district anyway. We stopped in front of the Condomerie with its window display of … unusual condoms. There's a shop called "Rood" (red) where all the goods are red in honor of the red light district. It's owned by a former prostitute who was in the business for 15 years and then had earned enough money to get out of it and start a business. She also runs the Prostitution Information Center and helps other girls get out of the trade. Rolinka gave a little talk about the sex trade and then we walked down a few of the alleys. It's not as seedy as you think it will be, and the girls are well protected.

The girls are unofficially segregated, such that the Dutch girls tend to be down this street and the Surinamese girls tend to be down that street, etc. Ivery knocked on the door of one of the Surinamese girls: prices start at €30.

We also walked by the Amstelkring Museum (the Catholic church hidden behind an ordinary facade), and a heron standing on a boat giving us the eye. We eventually wound up at Central Station and then took a tram back to the hotel.

I've got a deep, raspy voice today, and now my nose has entered the non-stop drip stage. Hope I'm not up all night. Sigh ...

Big Ben

Big Ben


Feedin' time!

Feedin' time!


Yum!

Yum!


Tulips

Tulips


Piggy will bite

Piggy will bite


Piggies not biting

Piggies not biting


Me

Me


Orchids

Orchids


More flowers

More flowers

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

If it's Tuesday, this must be … Delft?

I really should have thought through the best dates to take this tour. I've always wanted to say, "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium." So not fair. ;)

I forgot to mention that when we were all walking to dinner last night, we came across a group of boys sitting out in front of their house on some chairs and a sofa eating pizza. Rolinka started to ask them questions. They are all students at the university here, and they all live in the student house. They seemed like really typical college boys - baseball caps, ratty t-shirts, pizza - but they were all studying things like water management, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and even aerospace. They all spoke excellent English (of course) and seemed happy enough to talk to us, though perhaps a bit bemused by a large group of curious Americans.

Our guide for this morning, Renee, is also a student here in Delft, and she is studying what she called Systems Management, which turns out to be infrastructure engineering. She was very enthusiastic, and this was her first time leading a walking tour for Rolinka. She did a pretty good job, I thought. She walked us around the canals, showed us the first iron bridge in Delft (which was originally erected in honor of a Mr. Fish, and during the bridge's first year, only Mr. Fish was allowed to cross it), competed with a very loud coot in the water below us, and took us into the Oude Kerk. The church was very chilly inside, and Rolinka pointed out the light fixtures that double as heat lamps. Each pew also has foot heaters. How very civilized! Vermeer and van Leuwenhoek are also buried in the church, though Vermeer's grave is marked by only a plain plaque in the floor.

We went to the Vermeer Center to use the restrooms and have a "kopje koffie" for 15 minutes. The Center itself doesn't have any Vermeers, but it does have a display of all his works in chronological order in the basement. I went later, and it was nice being able to get right up close, even though it wasn't original art on display. I'm convinced that his male model occasionally doubled as his female model.

Renee took us into the Nieuw Kerk after that to see the tomb of Willem I of Orange, the father of the Dutch royal family. His tomb is quite ornate and the only interesting thing in the church. Willem himself is depicted twice: once seated in his armor, and once lying down with his dog at his feet. He is surrounded by figures representing Justice, Liberty (who seems to be holding a gold cowboy hat), Religion and Strength, and he is backed by the Angel of Fame. Who knew there was an angel of fame? The crypt beneath him holds dozens of royals, but only royals and specially invited people are allowed to go down. When ex-Queen Beatrix (who abdicated just a few days ago in favor of her son, who is now King Willem IV (but he just wants to be called Willem)) dies, they will have to shuffle all the royal coffins around just to make room for her as the place is full up.

Our next stop was at De Candelaer, one of only three factories left in Delft that produces true Delftware. Steffan showed us how he goes from clay to finished product in his workroom, and we were also able to watch the painter working on a piece. I'm not going to say who, but a few people will be getting (very small) Christmas gifts from Delft!

We were free after that, and after I went back to the Vermeer Center I got some lunch at a panini place. I don't know why I rarely have ham and cheese sandwiches at home but in Europe they just taste great. Top it off with a Fanta, and you've got yourself a happy lunch.

I did a little shopping and then wandered back to the hotel to work on this blog and to rest up for a while. I've been entertained by the goings-on in the square outside my window. It's been another sunny and very warm day, but apparently it's supposed to start raining tomorrow. Bummer.

Walked back out to pick up some souvenirs (fridge magnet!) and ran into Dawn and Jeff who had just come back from Den Haag. We sat in a restaurant across the square for a little while and had Pepsi and beer (not combined, that would be gross). I had bought a three-pack of Kinder Eggs (Hi, Yvonne!) earlier, so I gave Dawn one because she likes quirky little things. I got an otter, and she got the Tasmanian Devil. I am jealous now. There's one more egg left, and I'm kind of hoping for a polar bear.

Rolinka and Heidi hosted a happy hour in the hotel lobby at 6:00. There were different kinds of jenever to try, as well as advocaat and a liqueur that tasted like cookies. There was also a small buffet of Dutch cheese, Amsterdam onions, liverwurst, salami, and these delicious fried meatballs with cheese in the middle.

Dawn, Jeff and I went to Albert Heijn (grocery store) and got picnic food for dinner, which we ate on the terrace in front of the hotel. The little unimpressed cat was suddenly very impressed with us, but she gave up eventually and elected to look picturesque on a plant-filled bench instead.

Am now going to put some quality time into trying to pack my suitcase without squashing or breaking anything. Good luck to me.

Heidi, Rolinka and Paul

Heidi, Rolinka and Paul


Cat commandeering a whole street

Cat commandeering a whole street


Delft Town Hall

Delft Town Hall


Willem I's dog

Willem I's dog


Delftware

Delftware


View from my room

View from my room

Posted by londonpenguin 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

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