Welcome to Belgium

Welcome to Ghent!  There is so much to see and enjoy in this beautiful city! The architecture is fascinating, fabulous little eating areas, welcoming walking paths along the canals, two magnificent churches and artwork to rival that of all of Europe!

Ghent and Antwerp, our last stop on our trip, are situated in the northern part of Belgium.  The area is considered Flemish, and the language is different from the southern region, where French predominates.  Ghent is the largest city in the east, and its building are remarkably well preserved.

Two major churches dominate the city scape in the area St. Nicholas’ Church and the Cathedral of Sant Baafs, which houses the famous painting The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  It has been stolen 13 times, and recovered, and is now being restored.  We found a poor copy in one of the side altars, showing the lamb up on the altar..

Gravensteen Castle was already under construction in the 10th Century, and continued to expand and remained fortified for many centuries to come.

 

Have developed a bad cold, along with several other passengers, so am fading fast.  Not so fast that I could not down the chocolate mousse we had for dessert.  Tomorrow is our last day on the boat.  Antwerp coming up, then home through Brussels.

Great trip!!!

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Veere

Our ship was docked near the town of Bruinisse, so we loaded buses to go to the charming little town of Veere.  It has a small picturesque harbor which once gave direct access to the North Sea.

The town of Veere has a small picturesque harbor that once gave direct access to the North Sea.  Old fortifications existed along with the huge Church of Our Lady that once provided barrack space for Napoleaon’s troops.  The late-Gothic Town Hall is an imposing structure in the center of town.  A few special shops, along with a wonderful bakery, welcomed us during our visit.  Our tour guide, Rebecca, engaged an elderly woman who was biking along with her two dogs.  One perched on the seat in the back of her recumbent bike and posed proudly!!

We enjoyed our day there, and had a chance to view the Delta works project on the way back.  This is a massive project to hold back the North Sea.  Massive floods in 1953 devastated many areas and thousands of lives were lost.  Along with raising some of the dikes, the dams changed the topography of the area.

After a brief visit to Bruinisse, we headed back to the ship.  Bruinisse is known for its mussel farming and I found a big one near the entrance to town!!

Kinderdijk and Rotterdam

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Today we started out for a fun morning.  In spite of the threatening weather, we headed out for a short canal ride to the windmills!  Finally, we get to see what we thought we would see along the shoreline as we rode in our riverboat!

We learned that there are only 998 windmills left in the Netherlands today.  We were visiting Kinderdijk, the only place with 19 original mills built to manage the water levels.  The name Kinderdijk comes from the legend of a baby in a cradle saved by a cat!

I did not know that families lived in windmills!  We visited the earlier, boxy version, later replaced by the typical design we know.  Quarters were very cramped, but livable. Each contained a lovely vegetable garden and farm animals for their livelihood.  The canal beside it contained strange baskets set up  in the water for ducks to nest in.  Lots of wildlife around!

Back on the ship, we headed to Rotterdam, a very large and very modern city! In the center left is the “White House” of Rotterdam, built in1898 and once considered the tallest skyscraper in Europe.  It was one of the few buildings to survive the bombings by the Germans in WWII.

So much of Rotterdam was bombed during WWII that it created a new canvas for architectural endeavors.  The beautiful church remained but has been swallowed up by shopping developments right along its side. The entrance to the train station is a massive wheel-like structure, and the open market is a massive structure that contains apartments along its sides that look out onto the open market.  The walls and ceiling of the market are elaborately painted.  One image of days gone by was the lower right photo of a ship builder painstakingly sanding down a beautiful log which will become a mast on a ship!

And how about this apartment complex.  It was designed as cube houses in the 70’s to create a “forest of houses” shaped like a tree! The project never reached the status the architect had hoped for, but people are living there, with slanted walls and angled interiors.

Back at the ship we enjoyed another delightful dinner, great dessert and fun with karaoke in the lounge!

 

Arnhem and Nuenen

This large reclining statue of an aardvark is in one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, Arnhem.  This city played a significant role in the Allies’  Operation Market Garden, which we heard a talk about aboard ship before taking a walking tour.  Operation Market Garden was considered the largest airborne battle of WWII and was an unsuccessful attempt to gain control of the Rhine River from the Germans.  It was the inspiration for the movie, “A Bridge Too Far”.  The bridge in the movie is known as the John Frost Bridge.  Other bridges over the Rhine in this area are named for freedom fighters.  Our boat was near the Nelson Mandela Bridge.

It was fun to wander through the streets, stopping to sample some cheese, watching workmen laying bricks in a street, and smelling the wonderful aromas as we strolled by a bakery.  So many different types of breads and rolls!  April 27th is celebrated as King’s Day, honoring the birth of Willem-Alexander.  Everyone wears orange!  Notice the shop with all of the orange items prominently displayed.

In the afternoon, several of us took a tour to Nuenen, a little village where Vincent Van Gogh live for two years with his parents.  Along with a very nice museum and gift shop, we had our own guide to take us through the village and see the highlights, as related to Van Gogh.  The brick home labled Nune Ville was the home of Margot, Van Gogh’s love interest.  Margot lived next door to the Van Gogh’s with her three sisters.  Margot and Vincent fell in love, but it was not approved by the three sisters, nor the Van Goghs. Margot tried to commit suicide but Vincent forced her to vomit the strychnine she took.  She was sent away and the relationship ended.

We were allowed into Margot’s home and taken up to a third floor loft when a minister lived with his wife and family.  They also hid a Jewish boy who came to them at 18 and stayed for more than 2 years during the war.  Fascinating stories.

Van Gogh painted many landscapes and buildings throughout the town, including the church where his father preached.  A huge tree in the central square is in one of his paintings.  The tree was struck by lightning and found to have some disease.  It was cut down, but continues to grow with new branches.

A picture in the lower center shows two small windows in a carriage house Van Gogh used as a studio where he looked across to Margot’s house.

We stopped at the Opwetten Watermill, another subject of Van Gogh, for coffee and a delicious apple tart.  Then we headed back to the ship for an excellent dinner and had fun dancing to old time disco songs.

More to come…..

And More Flowers!

I had to get up before 5AM to join a small number of our total group for a trip to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the world’s largest auction house, and reportedly the best in quality.

Holland produces more than nine billion flower bulbs annually, and a large number of acres are devoted to greenhouse production.  Aalsmeer itself is a vast complex of more than 160 acres.  Buyers from all over the world come to purchase flowers at lightning speed from a selection of more than 19 million fresh flowers daily.  Once purchased, flowers are loaded onto trucks, taken to airports and transported to florist shops and distribution  centers the same day!

The buying process occurs on a clock that indicates the price, which lowers until a buyer clicks in, then the next lot is up for sale. Happens within seconds.

We rushed back to the ship so that we could join others of our group in a home-hosted visit.  This time it was late morning coffee in several homes in Enkhuizen with wonderfully entertaining homeowners.  I was part of a group that was thoroughly entertained by a women who was into the textile arts.  Her husband painted in water colors.  Their compact home had a surprisingly delightful garden area and  a very steep staircase to the second floor.  I was incredibly impressed by a piece of wall art in their entryway that had tree branches adorned with boiled wool birds.  What a labor of love!!!

Our afternoon was spent wandering around the village of Enkhuizen to enjoy this charming village.  The people here are so friendly and welcome our presence.  Notice the photo of the street sign.  The sign tells the name of the street.  The plack below is a picture of a red horse; thus Red Horse Steet!!  Interesting!

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the Zuiderzee Open Air Museum.  It was a delightful area to walk around, contained reinactors in some sports, and told the story of what the are was like prior to the closing of the North Sea inlet.  Enkhuizen actually became a city in 1355, and prospered because of its hurrying fishing industry.  Now it retains it’s charm but relies on tourists and pleasure boats to sustain itself.

Delightful dinner!!  More to come!

More Tulips!!

So, we board a bus in Amsterdam on a beautiful, sunny morning heading to Keukenhof Flower Park that boasts some of the most beautiful spring gardens in the world.  They have my vote!! I don’t know what I can show you that would describe fully all that we had a brief chance to see.

Keukenhof Flower Park boasts of more than 7 million tulips and a variety of other flowers in both indoor and outdoor exhibits.  There are lovely, tree-shaded grounds with ponds, winding paths, streams and fountains, and even a functioning windmill that you can climb up into to see the tulip fields and watch the throngs of people enjoying the park.  We certainly didn’t see it all, but enjoyed all the visual beauty the eye could behold!

Instead of returning back to Amsterdam, our buses brought up to the delightful town of Enkhuizen.  It is a striking, magnificently preserved town established somewhere between AD 1000 and 1200. Amazing to see homes with the year they were built etched in the stone facade-  some in the early 1600’s.  Was Plymouth Rock established yet??

Leaving the buses, we had a chance to view this charming city as we made our way to the ship.  After a lunch on board the ship, we had a guided tour of the quaint village.  It actually became a city in 1355, prospering as a herring fishing industry and trading with the West and East India companies.  One of our group was persuaded to sample fresh herring, served on a plate with pickles.  We also enjoyed the stories of a fisherman in his 70’s who entertained us with tales of the sea, showed us his Argentinian tango moves, and sang a few songs with his accordion.  What could be more pleasurable!

An interesting fact is that the port of Enkhuizen once sat on the edge of the Zuiderzee, an inlet of the North Sea.  It was enclosed in 1932, creating IJsselmeer lake, by the damming of the sea outlet.  This also resulted in adding a new province to the Netherlands, Flevoland, formed when the lake was created.


After a delicious dinner, we topped it off with an iced praline!!!

More again!  We’re off to Arnhem!

Hooray for Tulips

Our day started by four of us deciding that we wanted to split off by ourselves to explore an area of Amsterdam that has some interesting architecture and lots of neat shops.  We ventured onto the tram from the Central Station and had a delightful time for a couple of hours.

We explored the arty area of the Jordaan district of Amsterdam.  Our tour director had spoken about the different types of gables on the row houses throughout Amsterdam. I became fascinated with them.  See if you can see examples of the step, cornice, point spout, neck and cornice gables in the photos above—not clear examples, but fun to explore.  Another interesting thing is that some of the structures seem to  be leaning outward.  This is because furnishings need to be raised and lowered by a hook at the top of the building.  Having a building constructed on an angle that is not straight up and down allows furnishing not to be damaged when moved. Interesting!

After some shopping and exploring, even passing the Anne Frank House, which was not open, we made our way back to the ship!

After lunch our three groups on separate buses ventured to Hillegom to a cutting garden.  It was huge!  We learned how the tulips are planted and harvested, then had a chance to select 10 tulips each to bring back to our rooms to enjoy for the rest of our trips.  These tulips are grown and harvested strictly for cutting.  None of the bulbs survive a single season.  They are dug up, and new bulbs are planted each year.    The timing for the plantings allows for new beds to bloom within a short two month window.  The weather prior to our trip had been very inhospitable but recent warm weather allowed those beauties to show off for us!  We were so excited!! We diligently tried to select the best 10  beauties we could find.  They were wrapped and put into large buckets to absorb some water while we waited for a special surprise!

Yes, we were treated to a flower parade that passed through the little town of Hillegom that had the picking garden we were at.  We had to wait a bit for it to start, but were treated to spectacular floats, along with cars, trucks, buses, tractors and even a garbage truck adorned with beautiful flowers!  Such a treat!

We slowly wound our way back to our ship, had a late dinner and settled in for the night.

Tomorrow——You guessed it!  More tulips!