Sunday, August 30, 2009

Anniversary Trip, Overview

Our trip within a trip, what I call our Anniversary Trip, covered three countries in four days, and was a pure delight. It couldn't have been better conceived (plans suggested by Benjamin) or have run more smoothly. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. John drove 169 on the autobahn. That's kilometers per hour, of course, but it's still fast. Let's see, now. How fast is that? I just went to calculate and learned that it's 105.01173148810943 MPH. Don't tell John. We lived, after all.

Brugges was a fabulous and bustling city to start.

It probably wasn't as busy as Amsterdam, since we didn't have to protect ourselves from bicyclists, but it was still very fast paced. I'm glad we started there, while our energy level was highest. Our photos reflect the luxurious history so evident in all the places we visited. Any history lover could easily overindulge, and I did.
The overall impression of the cities on our trip is that if Europe were a restaurant and we had ordered Ghent as an appetizer, I would seriously consider calling the waiter back to cancel my entree, or have it packaged to take home, and just enjoying another couple orders of Ghent. It was that wonderful.

One of the most marvelous things about the city is the people. When I do my in-depth on each of the cities we visited, I'll go more in depth on that. I've got pages of journal to go through, but I've just about hogged Ben's computer long enough... But I can't resist putting in a few more photos of Ghent:

Luxembourg was not what I had expected until the morning we left, when we finally found the beautiful ancient forests and castles I had read so much about. I'll save all of that for later, but for now, here's just a taste of Luxembourg City. The lead photo is also John and me on our anniversary in that city.

We saw two castles on the way to Cologne, Germany (which they spell Köln). The first was good, but the second was the stuff of dreams and legends. Cologne itself was a quick trip, with lots of walking and playing with the kids. Here are just a few shots of Cologne, Germany—the final memories of an awesome anniversary trip.

We didn't spend the night, but drove back on the autobahn (where John hit his infamous speed catching up with Ben after nearly losing him) and then into Holland and back to Ben and Ruth's home.

I'm told that one of the blessings on the trip was not being able to hear the girls screaming on this last leg of the journey. They were tired, and they were tired of being in the car. It was such a wonderful trip, though, and while I'm sure Ben and Ruth suffered through the melt-down in the car, eventually the real memories of how good the girls were the entire remainder of the time will rise to the top. That's what the photos will show, as well. They were as good as gold. This grandparent business gives us just the fun parts, I know. They're sure good parents. I wish all children had the patience, love and support these two little girls do. What a changed world we might have.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amsterdam Boat Tour

They call it the 100 Highlights Cruise, and it lives up to its name. John and I really enjoyed ourselves. We were warned that it always rains in Amsterdam, and I love the rain. Well, it's been hot and humid here, but no rain, so it was great being out on the water. It cooled us down. Even without that bonus, though, the sights were great. We had at least a hundred highlights.

I would have loved to have all the buildings identified (and be able to remember the names, of course) but that wasn't going to happen. The guide gave brief descriptions in about five languages, one of which was English. By the time we got to English I wasn't really listening carefully enough. I was just enjoying the sights enough that I didn't feel like I had to know it all.

So here I present to you some beautiful and mostly unidentified buildings as seen through the roof or side sliding window of the boat. They're snapshots at best, but give you an idea of what we saw from the canal boat. After we got off we walked around the city for about an hour, had lunch and walked about an hour more before taking a tram and a bus to get back to Ben and Ruth's home in Amstelveen.

I couldn't help but love the artwork at the top of some of the buildings. Some of it was big and obvious. Others were tucked away by the eaves or just at the ends of middle of a perfectly normal home. This, of course, was far grander than the usual building art.

The big building is expected, I guess, but the juxtaposition with the little tee-pee was great. That's why I took the photo. Also, even the large building has unusual aspects to it, if you really look at the top and bottom.

This is part of a boat that's been reconstructed from the days when Holland ruled the seas (yes, they did) and it's now open for visitors to tour. The sun was in an awful spot, so all my photos of the tall masts were too dark from being back-lit. Maybe next year?

Another gorgious building. They don't build like this anymore. This is probably 17th century, but I'm not sure.

It's hard to tell in a little photo, but from this spot on the canal you can look out and see through seven bridges.

This is the oldest Protestant church in Amsterdam, and the tallest spire in the city. It is called Westerkirk, which means New Church. It was built in 1638, and is the largest Protestant church in the Netherlands. Rembrandt is said to have been buried somewhere in the church in 1669.

This is not the sort of thing you'll ever see in the USA. It's a parking garage—for bicycles. Peer on into the photo. It's got three levels, plus space behind and to the sides that you can't see. It's packed full. I wouldn't want to be trying to find my bike in there...

This is a photo of the Central Station. It's for trains, buses and trams. It's a huge and beautiful building, but it's also interesting, built on pontoons and such. Go figure.

Tomorrow we head out for our four day Anniversary Trip.
We'll be reachable only through European Cell Phone, which means call Ben & Ruth before they leave to join us on Friday morning. Other than that, we'll be back at Ben's home late Saturday night and back on line by Sunday, tired but happy, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Travel Notes and a Slide Show

No matter how much I try to keep my thoughts organized, there are always things I think of later that I should have written down in my blog. I particularly wanted to note that when we went walking with Ruth and the girls the first time, Ashley looked at John very seriously and said, "Don't fall in the canal, Grandpa. Only Jesus can walk on the water."

Sometimes it's the little things that sweeten a trip so much. In two more weeks we'll be back home, and I'll be sorting out the 99% of my photos that didn't get put on the blog. I will probably do a slide show or two that will give an overview, something like I did last night. I still haven't figured out how to get it to link with the blog, though, so I'll have to wait for Ben to wake up for that, and hope he has time before work. I imagine it's a simple answer. Getting the music attached was—this morning. Last night it wasn't.

In the slide show you'll see a bike that's been padlocked to a fence and then overgrown with ivy or some kind of creeper plants. I asked Ben about it. With a straight face, he said it happens in a couple of hours. I've seen several bikes like that. I haven't gotten an answer about them yet. I suppose it'll remain a mystery.

When people live so far away, your primary contact is by telephone. From now on, whenever I talk to Ruth on the phone, I will probably be remembering the photos I took of her talking to her mom on the phone last night. The call went on and on, and I had time to go get my camera and take a series of shots of her—and the kids, of course. It's all in the slide show.

One thing I didn't get a picture of, but wish I did, was little one-year-old Kate with her fist full of my home made egg roll, munching away. That child will eat anything. She just loves food, whether it's a banana, a pancake, or an egg roll. She smiles with her whole face, too, and when she catches someone looking at her, she squeezes her eyes shut and shakes her whole body, then looks up at you and grins. I'm not sure what that's all about, but it's beyond adorable. Do it back to her and she'll repeat it. Being a grandmother is awesome.

Enjoy the slide show. John and I are going to ride the canal boat and do some sightseeing today in Amsterdam.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rembrandt, A Visual

Again today John and I braved the bus into Amsterdam, headed for the Rijksmuseum, home of many famous masterpieces, but especially some of Vermeer and Rembrandt. Today, unlike yesterday, we actually made it to the museum. We're early birds, so we arrived when no one was in line, as it had just opened. When we left the line snaked around the corner about five deep. I would estimate that in the two and a half hours we were inside, about two hundred people queued up for entrance. Inside, it was just getting crowded.

When I heard the words, "Check your camera in at the cloak room. No photos are allowed," I was very disappointed. After all, this would be my first viewing of the artwork of Rembrandt. I wanted to memorialize the occasion. When, two hours later, I had finally worked my way through some of the most amazing artwork I had seen in my life and stood face to face with the first Rembrandt I'd ever seen, there was no desire to grab a camera. I could not have done the canvas justice with a photograph.

How many photos have I seen of his work, anyway? Hundreds? Thousands? Probably. Not a single one has come close to capturing the life of the actual canvas. I was happy to be able to have this day at the museum. It seemed like a good thing to do, since I was in the area. If you're following me, you understand that I was not nearly as excited as I was when I left the museum.

Does anybody paint like that anymore? Use color and shadow to create a luminescence that glows as if the spirit of the subject breathed still? Skin daubed with a brush nearly four hundred years ago that still glows with health left me awe struck for the magnificence of talent showcased in the building. The silence was profound, but occasionally a whisper would be heard, someone saying, "Oh!" or "Ya!" in Dutch. Many languages came together, many people from all over the world congregating in one building, silently applauding greatness.

I didn't need my camera. A photo would do you no good. There's a great article with photos you can admire that are better than any I could have done. Besides, it's hard to take photos when your mouth is hanging open. I need to go again. He deserves it. (Why do I always discover these great artists and musicians after they're dead?)

Before looking for the bus home, which was an adventure in itself, Ben called and recommended a nice place for lunch. We sat down and ordered, and then in walked Benjamin with one of his friends from work. They ate with us, and we talked throughout the meal. His co-worker friend was Dutch and very charming. I enjoyed talking with him. His English was excellent, and he was very easy to understand. Then Ben paid for all the lunches. Sweet. What a great son. What a fine day. And it only took us about two hours to find the right street to get on a homeward bound bus.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Madurodam, Den Haag

It's billed as the smallest town in the Netherlands, everything exactly 25 times smaller than actual size. It's beyond cool. (My 60s are showing.) Ben was working again, as professional people tend to do on work days. Ruth graciously packed us into her car and drove us (about 45 minutes) to this wonderful site. They gave us a slick, colorful booklet that names the buildings, so I'll try to identify what you're seeing. Don't give me too much credit for a wonderful memory I don't have.

Here come the photos of Madurodam. I keep looking at the spelling, because I continue to give it an additional sylable when thinking or speeking of it, calling it Maduradderdam in my head. I'll figure some of this out eventually, won't I? Then we'll know it's time to ship me home, I guess.

As a child even I had heard the legend of the little boy who saved Holland by sticking his finger in the leaky dike. Here at Madurodam they have him immortalized.

Here's the world's best (or at least happiest) Grandpa. Ruth almost got to push the stroller once, and I actually did for awhile. Of course, when I got it, it was empty...

Um... well, this is one of the cathedrals, and is apparently so well known they didn't feel it necessary to include in the pamphlet. Bummer. Maybe Ben or Ruth knows where it is, because I'd love to get there is person--the big one, I mean.

Again, I suppose I didn't photograph the things in the booklet, but I loved the Roman architecture on the building in the back--whatever the building is.

Chinese architecture was shown in the columns on this building. It's not in the book either. I'm batting a thousand. I'm not going back to pick new photos. That's final.

I've seen many of these little Dutch buildings. They have a charm I've never seen in America, as much as I love my own country. Seeing things like the old architecture make me feel like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, being taken along for a ride and having somebody tell you that you're not in Kansas anymore.

Castle. I was so sure my favorite buildings would be everybody's favorites, and (therefore) in the guild book. Nope. I took photos of the churches and castles. I love the churches and castles. I'll be lucky if I can find anyone to ID them for me so I can go find these places and maybe get inside some of them before we leave. They're so amazing in scale, I can just barely imagine them full sized.

This castle even has its own moat. I'm not sure I'd need a moat. Not being too fond of mosquitoes, I think I'd rather have a moat of flowers. Then if things were really hairy with invaders, I'd have big guys with crossbows hidden in the towers. I didn't live with a rocket scientist for nothing. I'll be willing to protect my castle in order to live in peace. Come in peace and be welcome!

I know Ashley has been here before, but I loved how free and open she was with her excitement. She loved the little carnival, and at one point had to be lifted out of the bushes and brought back onto the path. There are times when I have to remind myself she just turned 2 1/2. Her speech patterns are well advanced from that, and it's hard to remember, when she occasionally acts like a two year old, that she is one. Ruth and Ben are models of patience. It's no wonder the girls are so good and so very happy.

I want to comment right now that Big John is a wonderful grandpa. He's the biggest of us all, taller by far and long legged, but still insists on squeezing that body of his into the back seat with the two granddaughters' car seats. He looks so cute back there. I need to get a photo of that, but haven't yet. It's pretty funny, but the door can't be opened from the inside--child safety door and all. He was to sit quietly and wait for one of us to remember to let him out. He's shown me a side I never suspected he had. I'm so proud of him I could bust my buttons, if I had any.

We took the train around Madurodam, and Ruth was going to stay to guard the stroller and camera bag, but Kate decided at the last minute that if Mama wasn't going, she wasn't either. We waved goodbye to each other and Ashley, Grandpa and Grandma chugged off together for a tour of the park. I wonder if we could see Disneyland together when they go to California in October. That would make it doubly worth a trip to California.

Ruth took a photo or three of us in front of one of the miniature windmills. It was one of the many happy memories from such a beautifully happy day.

Then I returned the favor by capturing her smile and Ashley's, several times. Kate by then was more interested in examining her toes. I think she's discovered that everyone has them, and is busy making sure she doesn't leave hers behind anywhere.

I've been at this a long time. It's a good thing I didn't try to finish last night. We're going to (watch the spelling here, it's probably wrong) Elsenhove today. That's a goat farm, I think. I'll find out. Whoopee! Another day to play with Ruth and the darlings.

Catching Up: The Photos

Kate's Birthday, August 15, 2009

She must be related to me, since she obviously loved the books so much she almost didn't want to open anything else.

My eyesight's gotten bad enough that I didn't realize I was photographing the card we picked out until I saw the photo. I really liked that card, too.

Every child needs at least one grandma who knits and crochets.

This was her first sugar overdose. She was fairly ladylike about the whole process.

I wanted to do photos for the first three days in order, so I started with Kate's birthday, the day we arrived, and just hit the high points. Actually, it was really hard to narrow it down, and it took me awhile to figure out how to get them all facing in the correct direction with the PC. I think I'm on a roll now, and will give you a taste of yesterday (Day 2) and today, Day 3 will actually get its own blog with photos, as should be (and hardly ever will while we're away from my laptop.)

Day 2, Zaanse Schans, August 16, 2009

I loved the tour through the windmill. I loved finding out my euro quarters and dimes were really dollars and twos, holding hands with my granddaughter and eating pancakes with strawberries and cream for lunch. (John had pancakes with salami and cheese. I tried them, and they were actually better than they sound.)

Here are some photos. Obviously I had to choose wisely, or you'd be here instead of at your home. I took way too many to put up even a good percentage of them.

Ashley was enjoying the welcome sign of the Dutch girl. I was enjoying Ashley and the sight of the windmills in the distance.

It was culture shock of the most pleasant kind, and a different walk in the park.

The girls are really happy, and so much fun to be around. I guess that's what happens when you're being raised with so much love.

The schooner was a relic I hadn't expected to see.

The windmill we went inside was a working wood mill, and I loved it. We're bringing home a DVD that Ben copied into a format for us that will work in US machines. I didn't realize when we bought it that it would only work in PAL machines, here in Europe. Oops.

The Netherlands are actually below sea level and bridges and locks manage the gates and bridges for sea going craft of all sizes.

Well, it's late here, so I'll do today's post news in a blog tomorrow morning. Hopefully I'll manage to get it up and running just before you all go to bed. For now, good night for me, good morning for you...