Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Remembering the Little Ones

          You know, I grew up in a home where my mother emphatically imposed her ideas on us that pets were a nuisance and were grand contributors to chaos and dirt in a home. Therefore, we had limited experience with pets. We had a little bird named Penny, a budgie that drank from our cereal bowls and pooped in our hair and on the sheers in the living room. Penny escaped one day and took her liberty beyond our back screen door. She didn't roam far and reappeared in the willow tree about a week later. She flew from the tree at my father's call and landed on his shoulder, but was never herself again. She came back starving, depleted and seemingly brain damaged. She could no longer judge distances and flew into walls and eventually drowned in the dishwater. A sad day for the pet deprived kids at our house. That, and a "dog for one day" fiasco are the only personal experiences I had with pets as a child. As an adult, I had a budgie for a short time when my son was little and it met its demise by flying into a wall heater. My son and I cried for days over "Mickie." I understand how attached one can be to an animal.

          Today, my good friends had to put their elderly cat to sleep. Sparing her of longsuffering from a number of ailments must have been no easy decision. That tiny little lady, Elfie, was over 16 years old. She showed up at their door when they lived on acreage in western Canada, seemingly out of nowhere and she became their constant companion. She was named after Mount Elphinstone, the mountain in the coastal range in the distant view from where they lived. Elfie was there to greet the birth of their baby son a year later and shortly after made the journey with the family to the Netherlands. She was a delicate, longhaired cat with unusual markings and a gentle way about her. She liked to curl up in a ball in the bowl on the table.

       My friends will long remember the joy Elfie brought into their family over all these years. There are no words for this particular brand of loss. It's just plain sad. She may have been a little one, but her family presence was great.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Delightful Tidbits

        In both Germany and Holland there were a few things beyond the expected that were purely liefsome. Just out of the are some in completely random order....

        Like this vendor selling fricadels on the Alexanderplatz in Berlin. There is actually a burning grill strapped around his shoulders. Fricadels are like fast food - a sausage-like thing made of ground pork and herbs.

And these walnuts were for sale....just on a little stand in front of a house in Geithoorn, where tourists walk along the canals.

All over Geithoorn, little boats were for rent for canal cruises. All colours and shapes, I was partial to these green ones.

The Lei linden Trees - The Dutch place poles between the trees
and weave them together.
And the hondentoilets - what a civilized way to deal with a doggy's doodoo.

There was a mourning dove roosting in our friend's Catalpa tree.

Finding we were on actual Canadian soil in the middle of a forest in Overijssel - at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery. Thirteen acres was set aside by the Dutch government as an official cemetery for those Canadians who lost their lives in the Netherlands.

At the gateway to the Markerwaarddijk, there is an 85 foot, 60 ton metal statue of a crouching man. Designed by Anthony Gormley, it is his commentary on the concern of the ever-changing environment. He says,

“One of the known environmental changes that is happening is the rising of the sea level through global warming,” explains Gormley. “It is critical to me that at the time of its making this work reacts with the viewer, the walking viewer, on the top of the polder and that the surface that the viewer stands on is the surface that the work stands on. The work cannot have a plinth. Over time, should the rising of the sea level mean that there has to be a rising of the dike, this means that there should be a progressive burying of the work.”

It would be sad to see this giant crouching man be slowly covered with water.

So there you have it....a few thoughts, random indeed, of things unexpected in the Netherlands and Germany.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

And There was Berlin

     When our Dutch friend Hans asked his friends and coworkers where he should take the Canadians for a few days, he heard a resounding, "Berlin."  Now this was not something I would have expected. What an experience. We took a six hour drive on the Autobahn due east. Not one to drive at breakneck speed, Hans kept it steady as Audis and Porches flew past going 180kmp. I had always heard about the Autobahn, its reputation for speed, but it really was something to see for myself. I have one heavy-footed, German friend here in Canada who has a penchant for acceleration and now I know why. She was raised on German roads.

The Ampelmannchen - Berlin's beloved symbols on crossing light

        As we came into Berlin, we were disappointed. It seemed dirty and run down, crowded. But when we turned a corner onto Charlottestrasse, things changed rapidly. Exquisite architecture - Corinthian columns on many buildings and many cathedrals and embassies lined the streets. After a quick check in at our hotel, we headed out for the Brandenburg Gate and to walk where the wall had come down. We walked till blistered and saw famous shops selling chocolate and cars and expensive jewelry. We ended our day at the "Old Berliner" restaurant to enjoy "Crispy Knuckle" - a pork delicacy. And we had to try the Raspberry Wheat beer...a Berlin specialty.

The Brandenburg Gate - the entryway to the boulevard of linden trees
Up the "Beanpole" a television tower with panoramic vistas of the city

      Last February, we were contacted by Hans with a quick request for our full names and birthdates. Hans said it was for a surprise. We couldn't figure that one out, but when presented with the opportunity to tour the Reichstag, the German parliament building, we were delighted. Entering the building was by appointment only; the reason we needed to be registered for the tour.  What a slick operation. After going through security and showing our passports and having our purses scanned, we entered an elevator, were given headsets and instructed to head into the beehive. What a fete of German engineering. We were given the history of Berlin and Germany in about a 45 minute tour. As we walked up the beehive, we were instructed where to stop and where to look - a quick way to pack in the information. The parliament actually sits in a room under the hive. The hive is open to the elements at the top where air is let in and adjusted to best benefit those inside. Truly amazing.
Inside the beehive... the parliament sits in the room below this glass floor.
The Beehive - Inside the old architecture sits this structure.
One angle of the Reichstag

 On both evenings after hours of walking and looking we pulled up chairs and parked ourselves in the Gendarmarket, a public square with the German cathedral on one side, the French on the other and the opera house in the middle. This wide expanse was the stuff of movies. To sit and sip good coffee in this place with dear friends was the perfect end to perfect days. I don't know who recommended Berlin as a place for us to see, but I am truly thankful they did. God bless our friends, Hans and Jo, who arranged the whole thing.

The Gendarmarket

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

These Are A Few of my Favourite Things....

     Favourite places, times and memories....

The little town of Schermerhorn near the farm. This photo was taken just before 10:00pm.

The bikes just about anywhere. This one was in Edam.

The town of Edam with its Great Church, canal and cheese market.

The Palace - Het Loo, once the residence of Dutch Royalty in Apeldoorn.

The river-front, the narrow streets and crooked church in Kampen.

The Afsluitdijk - the dijk that helped to create the polder-land.

The glass angel-man in Zwolle.

The Cheese Market in Alkmaar. 

Geithorn - a village with no roads, just canals.


      We spent such a short time in Amsterdam, that it is nearly impossible to make a judgement of any kind. When I say I was in Amsterdam, people ask about the negative aspects of this great city - the "coffee houses", the streetwalkers. We saw none of this. What we experienced was a beautiful city with great crowds of walkers and cyclers, tourists and locals all vying for places to stroll, ride, sit and drive. I realize we were visiting during the height of tourist season, but oh my, it was overwhelming to be there. Traffic was abominable. We cancelled plans to take a canal tour, as it was just too stressful to find our way to parking for the boats. Our afternoon in the big city was cut short and we ran for the solace of the farm.

"I amsterdam" in front of the Rijksmuseum
But I get ahead of myself. The early part of the day was the fulfillment of a dream for me. Having studied Art History all those years ago in university, visiting both the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in one day was a long-awaited joy.  The Rijksmuseum, a castle of a place, has been closed for over ten years for repair and renovation, but a number of wings are open to the public. There in those rooms, we got to see Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch." Standing there seeing it in person was surreal. I remember a visiting lecturer at school spending two hours explaining the details of the piece. Unfortunately, I forgot most of it, but the enormity of the painting did not disappoint. There were hundreds of pieces to fill the senses, but my favourites were the small Vermeers. For years, I'd pour over glossy reproductions, but here I was spellbound in front of oil panels that Jan Vermeer had actually touched. The light! And a wonderful aspect of the Rijksmuseum - they allow photo taking.

Vermeer's "Milk Maid"

Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch"
And then there was the Van Gogh museum. No photos allowed. My husband snuck a few pics from under his coat. No, we didn't use a flash, no harm was done. But to stand feet from "The Sunflowers" and many self portraits, having become so familiar with them from calendars and texts was other-worldly. We rented MP3's for running commentary as we walked through the gallery. And I really wanted to purchase something from the gift shop as a remembrance of the place; but when I saw Vincent's sunflowers on everything from scarves to pencil cases, to umbrellas and lunchboxes, I could not lay out a single Euro. The merchandise cheapened the experience for me, so I walked away with some postcard memories. But I was feet from Vincent's handiwork. Imagine he sold only one painting in his short lifetime and now everyone knows his name.

Holland Day Trips

Wee Jelly Fish Catching the Sunset's Rays
One way to cram in as much learning and sight-seeing as possible in a short European trip is to station one's self in a central location and head out by car daily to explore. De Anna Hoeve, the farm was the starting point. From there, we took jaunts to the North Sea just before sunset, the city of Amsterdam, and two of my most favourite places of all - Edam and Volendam.

The North Sea - We headed out in late afternoon to Egmond, a sea-side town on the North Sea, the gateway to the North Atlantic. As we crossed the countryside ocean wards, old, traditional windmills made way for a forest of wind turbines, many far out in the ocean. The beach was like most salt water beaches, with sunbathers in all manner of dress, (and I'm told "undress" at times). Nestled into the dunes were rows and rows of rental "huts."  These summer boxes could be rented for days or weeks at a time for storage of beach equipment of all sorts. How convenient for repeat seasonal visitors! And to my fascination, quarter-sized jellyfish were washed up on the sand and we were advised to watch where we walked.

Beach Storage at the Foot of the Dunes

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Holland - De Anna Hoeve

     The pastoral flavour of the town of Nijverdal is not limited by any means to the province of Overijssel. Every place we went in Holland, barring Rotterdam and Amsterdam, proved to be an idyllic mix of water management and creative land usage. In our second week in Holland our friends surprised us with a six day trip to the west where they had rented a house on a working farm near Schemerhorn. De Anna Hoeve was once a barn. Thatched peat ceilings, low windows and massive beams remain in a modernized home that sleeps eight people comfortably.

Once a a house.

De Anna Hoeve Farmhouse Kitchen....thatched ceilings and beams....

Surrounded by managed ditches, this was a place to fish! I was intrigued by the technique used to catch fish. The pole was not the six foot one with a spinning reel attached that I was used to. And the fish knew it. With that style of reel, not one fish was caught. Hans used a rod measuring six metres. It was equipped with a swinging line and a tiny hook. Little balls of bread were attached and as the bread hit the water, the fish hit the bread. Hans caught a number of small colourful fish, but I couldn't manage that rod...way too heavy. There was one elusive monster that we chased for days; we could see it make its rounds about once per hour. Right below the surface, it left a perceptible wake. But try as we might to cast right in front of it, it was having no part in our plan. We also tried to use a bait trap to catch eels, but to no avail. I was both relieved and disappointed when we retrieved the trap after it had been left in the ditch overnight.

My Ontario methods did not impress the fish!

Staying at De Anna Hoeve we watched the cows cross the ditch bridge daily and the horse graze right across from us. Huge rabbits and many ground birds shared the land. Miles from a city, the farm held it's own noise...braying, mooing, cooing....and of course the tractors that were cutting hay for feed. We spent much of our time on the deck watching and listening and breathing in the peace of this place.

This home proved to be a most restful place and a base for us as we struck out to surrounding towns and cities to take in all we could of Holland.