Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April 30, 2014 – Hoorn
We came to the Netherlands to see two things, Brugge and tulips.  Today we accomplished our purpose.
We were docked in Hoorn, North Holland, one of the two provinces which can rightfully called “Holland.”  It is a quaint town, full of sail boats and cafes, a mixture of old buildings and new, but we did not get to see the town until we drove out of it.
We were on the road at 9:00 this morning, heading for tulip country and a presentation on the farming and cultivating of tulips.  Each of the three color groups [yes, we are still Green] went to a different farm.  Our bus trip took over an hour although there were times that bus slowed down so we could gawk at fields of tulips.  The “snap” of cameras was almost overwhelming.
Once we arrived at the farm, we were invited to take coffee and cake [including stroopwafels], a Dutch social obligation.  Skip, Fran, MA and David all commented later that these refreshments were what we had expected at Anna’s yesterday [Barry and Nancy were highjacked to the Yellow group several days ago, but they agreed when we discussed it later].
Our presenter explained that the farm we were visiting was family-owned.  It had been started by her father in the 1970s, but he had worked in the industry as had his father; she was third generation at least.  The company is currently headed by her older brother and she, her mother and another sibling work the farm; they have only one other paid employee but hire seasonal workers – students or immigrants – as he need arises.
She began with a slide show presentation of the life cycle of the tulip farm.  Actually, they also grow two types of jonquils, lilies and other flowers which grow from bulbs.  There are two seasons to the farm, so rotating the crops is not a problem and there is some aspect of farming occurring every month all year around.  What we did not realize is that they are concerned with producing strong bulbs, not with producing flowers. 
In order to produce quality bulbs for sale to exporters [and eventually to consumers] is to chop of the blooms.  If this is done at the right time, neither too early nor too late, the energy which the plant would have put into the bloom is redirected to enlarging the bulb so that it will produce more flowers the following year.  When is the right time?  Only the farmer knows.  Many of the fields of brightly colored tulips we passed on the drive had obviously not been chopped, but there were many which had or which were half-and-half.
A field of "chopped" tulips
Holland and the rest of the Netherlands had a particularly mild winter this year, so the tulips started to appear two weeks earlier than usual.  Our farm had been chopped save for two fields which we suspect were save for our visit.  We are sure the blooms will be removed before we leave the ship on Saturday.
There are many factors which combine to make a good tulip.  The soil must be sandy and water must be available.  The soil at our farm had been inferior before the farmers improved on it.  It now has a clay base with light sandy soil on top.  Water is available, too, but it must pass government inspections to make sure it does not have too much salt or other chemicals in it.  Tulips, we were told, do best it their bottoms stay dry, but lilies like the water.  Tulips are dry bulbs but jonquils have a paper skin like a peanut to protect them from the moisture.  And these are only the bits and pieces we remember!
Much of the operation is automated now.  The equipment which is used to plant the bulbs looks like modified tractors but they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Someone asked how much one cost and the answer was “several houses.”  This family buys used equipment because it is more economical for them.  Some equipment is leased as it is needed rather than bought outright.
We were able to visit the two remaining fields of tulips.  The rows seemed to extend forever but were probably only several hundred meters.  They were absolutely straight because the tractors have GPS systems to keep them from straying by even an inch.  The rows are exactly one meter wide.
We noticed some odd-ball blooms in the fields.  They really stood out and emphasized the precision of the other plantings.  The guide/farmer told us that she had hired someone to remove the strays last year, but that he had done a poor job and was not hired a second time.
The stray flowers need to be removed lest they have a fungus or some other disease which could infect the entire field, so we can add disease to the list of factors in growing good bulbs.  Not only to the blooms have to be removed, the entire bulb must be dug up as well.
We were invited to pick as many tulips as we wanted since all of the flowers were going to be chopped soon, so the passengers jumped right in and helped themselves.  Of course, they can’t take them back to the US even if the flowers stayed fresh, and most will have wilted before Saturday’s departure.
Eventually we were herded back to the bus having spent about two hours at the tulip farm.  Our return trip was highlighted by the driver’s taking a circuitous route to show us even more fields of tulips.  Seen from the side, at a distance, the rows of flowers look like a solid ribbon of color as the blooms blend in with each other.  Seen end on, the precise division between the rows is obvious.
Although we had been the first bus to depart, ours was the last to return.  We had had a long morning in the fields.
After lunch, there was a 2-euro walking tour of Hoorn which we skipped.  MA read a very little and then took a nice long nap.  David took the unpredictable camera and walked through Hoorn for an hour or so, taking pictures without any idea of what he was looking at.  When he returned to the ship, it was almost time for the disembarkation talk, so he went to that and met up with the others in “the group.”
Once MA was up and dressed, we went to the lounge for sodas before dinner [vegetarian shepherd’s pie/steak].  We finished a bit earlier than usual and went directly to the lounge for the crew show.  It was amateurish but highly entertaining and we all laughed through the whole show.
Back in the room, it was time to update yesterday’s blog entry to explain why the Zuider Zee Museum was trying to preserve life around the Zee from the early 20th Century and to write about the tulips.  Tomorrow will be another busy day, but more about that tomorrow night.
Tomorrow -- Amsterdam, Day 1
Scenes from Hoorn


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 2014 – Enkhuizen

The days continue to be full from dawn to dark.  We began today’s activities with a presentation about Tulip Mania.  The speaker tried to tell the story of tulips from their beginning until today in 45 minutes, a difficult feat, but she covered a lot of territory.

Tulips were discovered by accident in Tajikistan and over the years spread to India and the area that today is Iran and Iraq.  They are perennials which do not need to be planted every year and grow from bulbs, not seeds.  The bulbs are not unlike garlic or onions.  Some of the bulbs found their way to the Netherlands, a leading trading nation in 1200s and beyond, but no one knew what to do with them.  Apparently some were thrown in a trash pile [recycling not being important 700 years ago] but drew attention when they later blossomed in the garbage. 

The Dutch learned to cultivate the tulips and over many years developed methods for making them bloom larger and stay healthy for years.  Techniques currently employed include cutting the flowers off the stems the first year they bloom so that the energy the plant might have expended on the bloom can be diverted to making the bulb stronger.  The tulip bulbs produce “children” in the same way that garlic has cloves which can be broken off.  Each tulip bulb produces cloves which become new bulbs and the cycle is repeated.

Tulip Mania developed when people started to offer inordinate amounts of money for bulbs in the hope that someone else would them buy it from them for even more money.  As long as people were willing to speculate on the tulips, the market for them rose; once people decided that prices were too high to invest further, the price, and the market, plummeted.  This kind of economic bubble has affected real estate and dot-com stocks in recent years.

That is all well and good, but not of importance to the rest of today.  After the lecture, we were divided into 3 groups – riders, short walkers and long walkers – for the afternoon activity.  Then we were dismissed to get our stuff for this morning’s tour.

Old sailing boats at Enkhuizen
Once again we were in the Green group, but there was no real difference in the groups today.  We walked from the ship to a ferry for a short ride to the Zuider Zee Museum, ironic since there is no longer a Zuider Zee.  This outdoor venue combines elements of Sturbridge Village and Plymouth Plantation, both in Massachusetts.  At Plymouth Plantation, the original Pilgrim community has been reconstructed to be as identical to the village as possible.  Actors in period clothing go about their daily routine as if they were living in 1620.  They maintain the gardens, repair the stockade fence, cook and clean and, in addition, assume the identities of specific, real colonists.

Two types of fishing nets dipslayed
at the Zuider Zee Museum
Sturbridge Village is a collection of original buildings from around the state formed into an imaginary village.  The houses and shops represent 200 years of Massachusetts history with obvious differences n architectural style.  In addition to assorted houses, there is a church, pharmacy and other stores.

The Zuider Zee no longer exists.  Following a disastrous flood in 1916 [or was it 1919?], the government began plans which ultimately resulted in a dam across the mouth of the Zuider Zee where it met the North Zee.  Until this time, the Zuider Zee had been a salt water tidal body of water.  The inhabitants of its coast line earned their livelihoods by fishing for cod and sardines [herring].  With the closing of the Zee, the fishing industry dried up and the residents had to adapt or move.
The Zuider Zee Museum has brought together houses and stores from the nearby area and formed them into a new village.  They represent typical buildings from the turn of the 20th Century, just over 100 years ago.  They are arranged in streets so that all of the buildings are from the same town.  As in Sturbridge, there are craft shops, retail shops and housing.  Like Plymouth, there are people repeating the tasks of 1900.  We were particularly taken by the broom maker who was making push brooms by hand.  He took the time to explain what materials he used for the bristles and why different bristles were used for different types of brooms.

A block of 1900s houses on display
Interior of one of the houses
We went through the Museum in our groups, listening through headsets to the guide’s narration.  We were doing fine until we finally got to the first building, a typical house.  The house was so small that only one half of the group could fit inside while the guide was explaining the design, floor plan and furnishings.  Another Museum worker, pretending to be a typical housewife preparing dinner, yelled at her that there were too many people in her house and told her to get some of them out.  Our guide took the hint and started out but stopped to answer questions and made no effort to hurry those inside outside.  Of course, we were toward the back so that the guide was outside before we got to see anything and the people finally coming out stopped to talk their friends or rudely pushed past us.

The broom maker at work
We decided to jump ship at this point.  There was no way to catch up with the tour, the guide having continued to something else before we could exit the first house.  We started wandering on our own, looking here and there until the rain started.  It was sprinkling, but the forecast had held out the possibility of more serious rain and MA had no rain gear [David had a hooded rain jacket]. 

Our solution was to walk in the direction of the ferry which had brought us. On the way, we saw the reconstructed shopping district, a windmill, sheep and a swan.  We also saw a period play area where the children were bowling, tossing and playing ring toss as if they were at a county fair.  We waited about 9 minutes before boarding the ferry and going home.  Others stayed in their groups for the duration, but some went off on their own before the official end of the tour.  Many stayed and wandered through the little town before back to the ship and some went shopping for waffles, ice cream or beer.

After lunch, we assembled in our new groups for what we thought was one of the highlights of the trip.  We were to spend time this afternoon with one of Enkhuizen’s residents.  The three groups noted earlier designated passengers who would ride to their hosts because of mobility issues; those who said they could walk for 10 minutes [short walkers]; and those, like us, who said we could walk 20 minutes [the long walkers]. 

Anna's backyard garden
Anna and part of Skip
We were lucky enough to be in the same group with our dinner companions and playmates, Skip & Fran and Barry and Nancy.  Once we realized that, we schemed to be sure we stayed together for the visit.  There were 18 in the original group and we were being delivered in packs of 6.  We hung back to become the last group to arrive at our host’s and we were glad we did.

The feast set out by Anna
Anna, who did not proffer her last name, was our age, 65.  We began our visit by going outside to admire her garden which was full of flowers and herbs.  When we returned to the house, she inundated us with snacks [marinated beef wrapped around egg, smoked salmon and eel, cheese, and herring [of course!].  To go with that, there was a variety of alcoholic beverages.  MA and the other 2 men had gineever, the precursor to vodka; its most famous brand is Ketel One which did not sell well in the US until it called itself vodka.  Later in the afternoon, Anna served an orange-flavored concoction which was thick, almost like pudding, on which she put whipped cream.  We were stuffed by the time we left and several in the group were very happy.

Tulips in Anna's backyard
We asked Anna lots of questions, mostly about herself.  She is well-educated and said that at one point she studied to be a geography teacher.  However, most of her working life was spent with her husband operating a freight barge in the rivers of Western Europe.  She told us about her husband’s mini-strokes and its effect on her family and his employment; spoke about her family both in the Netherlands [daughter] and in Canada [aunt and cousins].  There was a discussion of a trip she had taken to visit relatives in North America while she showed us on a new map she had bought for the occasion.

We decided as a group that we were her first visitors from the ship.  She told us this was the first year she had done it, but the map was brand new as was the book she asked us to sign.  On the map, we each circled where we lived and talked about where we were raised. 

And then it was 5 o’clock and we needed to return to the ship.  She insisted on walking with us even though we assured her we could find our way.  We made a beer stop for Barry and Nancy and arrived at the ship around 5:30.  The Captain’s Reception was to start at 6:00 but we knew that no one would notice or care if we were late, which we were.

The reception [vodka for her, Diet Coke for him]  was very low-key. We sat toward the back with Skip and Fran so we could get to the dining room quickly and snag a table, but Barry and Nancy left before the party was over and got there first.

Dinner tonight was the Captain’s Dinner.  Just as the drinks had been free at the reception, wine was “on the house” throughout dinner [red for her, white for him].  The entrée was veal and dessert was crème brulee.  Afterwards, the chef himself brought a plate of assorted bonbons to the table.  We had eaten so much today that even David passed on chocolate.

And suddenly it was 9:00 again, our regular dismissal time. 

Tomorrow -- Hoorn

Monday, April 28, 2014


April 28, 2014  -- Arnheim
While many of the stops on our river cruise have brought us to medieval towns with old buildings and lots of charm – think of Brugge – today’s stop in Arnheim is different.  This is not to say that Arnheim and its environs are insignificant; on the contrary, this area of the Netherlands played an important role in modern history.
In the mid-1940s, German troops were occupying every piece of Western Europe they could reach.  When they reached the Netherlands, they were met with little or no resistance because the Dutch armed forces were, practically speaking, non-existent.  Because the Netherlands had remained neutral in WWI, the people and government had no experience with war or modern armaments.  The soldiers rode on bicycles and carried single-shot bolt action rifles.  They were no match for automatic weapons and tanks.  The country capitulated quickly to the Nazis.  Nonetheless, the country held a pivotal position in Europe’s geography and became one of most important combat areas of WWII.
Our tour this morning was to the town of Groesbeek, home of the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945.  The museum was founded with the mission of preserving the memories of the war years in the area, especially the period leading up to the liberation of the country in 1945.  The museum honors not only the history of the place and period, but also the memory of the thousands of Allied soldiers who died to free Holland from German control.
Perhaps the most important battle, at least psychologically, was the battle for the Arnheim bridge over the Waal River. One of Britain’s military leaders, Montgomery, devised a plan to take control of the bridge in order to weaken the German military; Arnheim and Groesbeek are scant kilometers from the German border.  The other Allied commanders agreed to Montgomery’s plan which failed primarily because British forces did not get to their positions on schedule.  American and other troops were in place, but the plan failed and he bridge remained in German hands.  The story has been told, with more accuracy to be sure, in the movie A Bridge Too Far.
Over the course of almost a year, the Allies attempted to capture the bridge.  They were finally successful in April, 1945, when troops came from three directions to push German troops back into Germany.  Canadian forces were instrumental in liberating the area.  Today, the National Liberation Museum attempts to tell the story of WWII as seen through Dutch eyes with a special emphasis on Operation Market Garden, the assault by the Allies on Arnheim.
Recreation of jail cell used by
Germans to hold Dutch prisoners
Artifacts from the war years
The Museum houses artifacts from the period, including a baptismal gown made from a parachute and bread made from the same ingredients and instructions the Dutch received in airdrops.  There were recreations of prison cells and hidden closets where illegal radios were hidden.  Dioramas recreated some of the action around Arnheim and models of drones and their tow-planes gave an idea of how men and equipment were delivered.  In fact, the Museum sits across the road from a drone landing area.
Model of drone hanging from ceiling
Diorama -- Crossing the Waal
Our bus groups were each split into smaller groups to be more manageable in the cramped Museum.  We were passed from docent to docent [all of whom are volunteers], so we got more than one perspective on the history of Garden Market and its effects.  Several of the docents had been children when the “invasion” occurred and remembered it vividly.  They did not hide their feelings of gratitude to those responsible for their liberation.  Those who had lived through it spoke of the shortages which they experienced during the War.  Even after Liberation, there was rationing of some products until 1952 when the final rationing on tobacco was lifted.
At the end of our sojourn through the Museum, we assembled in our small groups to see a short film about Operation Market Garden.  The film had narration but no other sound containing, as it did, archival footage from the fighting itself. 
Looking up at the "parachute"
The "parachute" Memorial Hall
After the film, each group was led into an auditorium of sorts.  We had seen this building from the outside when we arrived and were told it was built to look like a parachute to symbolize all of the paratroopers who had landed, many of whom died in the fighting.  One of the docents gave a short talk on the significance of the building and of the lists of names of the those killed in action during the operation.  As one of the survivors of the era, she told of asking her mother, years later, what was the happiest time of her life.  She did not share what her expectations were but did tell us she was surprised when her mother answered, “August, 1945.”  Despite the privations of post-War living, she said, she was free once again and that was most important to her.
In an irony unknown by most of our fellow passengers, today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The thrusts of Yom Hashoah are “never forget” and “never again.”  The National Liberation Museum tells us the same thing. [For more information, visit]
We returned to the ship just before 1:00 and lunch.  Afterwards we read/blogged rather than join the walking tour of Arnheim.  Shame on us.
Tonight, Tessa gave a sales pitch for future cruises with Vantage.  We were not so interested in another cruise right now, but the drinks, such as they were, were free.  Tomorrow’s port talk was followed by dinner [cous cous casserole/roast beef] and then more reading and game-playing.
Tomorrow -- Enkuizen



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 6, April 27, 2014   Antwerp, Belgium

After a long day yesterday, it was nice to be able to relax today.  Although we were up at the usual time, there was no real pressure to “get out of the door.”  After breakfast, passengers were invited to attend a presentation in the lounge by a local chocolatier who talked about the differences in chocolate; the process for making chocolate; and some of the steps involved in making chocolate candy.  His assistant demonstrated how the liquid chocolate was molded.  There was also a film which demonstrated some of the techniques. 
According to the local expert, the ratio of cocoa to cocoa butter [both found in the cacao bean]determines both the darkness and flavor of chocolate.  The higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the taste.  Milk chocolate is sweeter because of the addition of powdered milk, and white chocolate contains no cocoa, just the natural cocoa butter; the absence of cocoa leaves the resulting mixture “white,” but not chocolate.  With milk chocolate at about 33% cocoa and dark chocolate at about 75% cocoa, he uses a mixture that is 54% cocoa to achieve a balanced flavor.  He proved his point by giving audience members samples of a dark chocolate candy filled with a milder ganache. 
Not surprisingly, he had brought product to sell even though his store was closed today.  Not surprisingly, we bought some along with many of the other addicts on board.  It should be mentioned that he was touted by Cruise Director Tessa as one of only four true chocolatiers left in Antwerp.  He and his staff of seven produce everything by hand and have just one retail location with no internet presence yet.  Because he uses no preservatives in his candy, the shelf life for freshness varies from two to four weeks depending on the type of chocolate used.
Because we were on our own lunch yesterday, our guides distributed euros for us to spend as we saw fit.   Some of the passengers bought lunch, some bought chocolate and some sampled Belgian beer.  Several times.  We did not have the time or need to buy lunch yesterday, thanks to Peter and Manu, so we pocketed the money and spent it instead on chocolate today.  Good choice on our part.
Having bought the candy on Vantage’s money, we returned to the cabin to gather our stuff for today’s expedition.  Our “stuff” includes our name cards on lanyards; radio receivers and earpieces to hear the tour guides;  jackets and David’s hat because it was only 55 degrees outside; and the camera and extra batteries [because the camera has been tempermental even with fresh batteries].
The castle that's not a castle
Once outside, the groups came together again and started walking; we were in the Green group once again with most of the same people from the past several days including the two couples with whom we have been eating dinner.
The Butchers' Guild Hall
Antwerp is not so much a tourist town, like Brugge, as it is a real city with old and interesting buildings scattered throughout the center of downtown.  We stopped first at what appeared to be a castle, based on its appearance, but discovered that it was originally a private residence and was, surprisingly, the oldest building in Antwerp.  Our guide shared some of the local folklore before we moved on.
Next was the Butchers’ Guild Hall, coincidentally the second oldest building in the city.  An imposing edifice, it was constructed of red brick with regular streaks of white.  The effect was not unlike a slab of bacon or the marbling of fat in meat.  We walked over the area where blood from the slaughtered animals ran down to the river [where our boat is moored].
Antwerp City Hall on marathon day
The Guild Halls at City Hall Plaza
We spent some time in the City Hall plaza where we heard explanations of some of the decorations on the City Hall but also of the surrounding buildings, many of which had been Guild Halls originally.  The Archers’ hall was pointed out specifically.  The large plaza was filled with tourists and marathon workers, Red Cross tents, ambulances and barriers to keep the path clear for the runners.  This was the finish line for the race and it was quite lively.
A full-color Madonna
over a door in Arnheim

Another story dealt with the legendary thriftiness of the residents of Antwerp.  Because the streets were dark many years ago, homeowners began placing lights over their doors so they could find their own houses, especially after a night at the pub.  The government thought this was a good idea because they began taxing the owners who did this.  In a parallel situation, the leaders of Bath, England, began taxing houses based on the number of windows they had so the owners bricked them up to avoid the taxes.  In Antwerp, one enterprising homeowner placed a statue Mother Mary under the light and claimed he was fulfilling a religious obligation; he was not taxed and thus began a tradition of placing statues above the doors of houses. 
The guide told the story of a local hero who taught the general population to read, a skill formerly mastered only by the rich.  His statue sits in front of the Stadbibliotecht, the city library.  Across the courtyard from the statue is a Catholic church but we did not enter because Sunday Mass was being celebrated and a group of camera-wielding tourists would not have been welcome.  More meandering through streets and alleys brought us to the Cathedral.
And here's the steeple
Here's the church...
This church is enormous.  The top of the spire is 123 meters above the surrounding plaza.  Interestingly, this is the same length as Sint Janskirk in Gouda – a massive 403.5 feet.  The tower tapered and was covered by small carvings and reminded us of the Sagrada Familia [the Gaudi Cathedral] in Barcelona because it had the appearance of a dripping candle.  Almost everywhere we went, we could see the spire which did not surprise us because the guide explained that local ordinances prohibit any building’s height from exceeding that of the Cathedral.  It literally towers over everything in Antwerp.
The tour ended around 11:30 and we were free – and required – to find our way back to the boat.  Six of us decided to sample authentic Belgian waffles and asked the guide for a good place to eat.  Following his directions, we eventually found what we hoped was his choice and went in.  We ordered waffles and strawberries with whipped cream and they were yummy.  One couple left us early to attend Mass but the remaining four people stayed and chatted for a while.  When we went to pay our bill, we were told that the first couple had paid for all of us.  We now have a week to find a way to reciprocate; we know she loves licorice and he loves Goetze’s candy, but only one of those may be available to us before we get home.
We parted ways after our early lunch and found our way back to ship after looking for tchotchkes in souvenir shops without luck; we also stopped in a chocolate shop and bought 2 pralines, the local term for filled candies.  Another major purchase on Vantage! 
With no plans until “happy hour” and tomorrow’s port talk, MA read and then took a nap while David wrote the blog and tried to upload photos to previous entries.  The process continued to annoyingly slow all afternoon but was working well after dinner, so pictures may have been added to previous entries by the time readers get this far; go back and check if you want to.

Tomorrow – Arnheim, Netherlands



Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014 – Brugge, Belgium

Although we were docked in Terneuzen, we did not visit the town today.  Instead, we broke into groups and were bused to Brugge, Belgium, a medieval town about an hour away.  Our guide gave us some background during the bus ride, but, as a Belgian, he seemed to take more time than he needed to explain jokingly why Belgians were superior to the Dutch.  There may have been some valid points, but it was an insistent theme in his remarks.

Once we were out of the buses, most of the group visited the rest rooms adjacent to the drop-off point.  The guide made a point of telling us that this first trip was free, courtesy of Vantage Cruises.  Any subsequent use of public toilets would cost one-half euro per person.

After everyone had reassembled, we traipsed rather haphazardly to the outer walls and then into the town itself.  To describe it as a madhouse would be a slight understatement, but it was as crowded as it could be.  In addition to the throngs of tourists, who had not been a factor when David visited in November, 1992, there were cyclists to dodge, cars going too fast for the crowded roadway and horse-drawn carriages.  The carriages posed the greatest threat because the horses are almost programmed to follow a specific route at a set speed.  Any thing or person who got in their path would certainly regret it.
The yellow house is one
of the original houses.
Brugge itself is a delightful gingerbread town. 
The Venice of the North

Many of the buildings date to the 16th Century or even earlier and others are more recent but done in the same architectural styles as the originals.  The buildings must be maintained to look as they did hundreds of years ago.  There is a mixture of styles but many feature step-gables or other roof lines associated with the Netherlands.  [Note to self – remember to call the country the Netherlands because only 2 of 12 provinces have Holland in their names.]

The various tour groups from our ship were joined by groups who had motored in for day trips plus individual tourists.  Our little group of 30 followed our guide through cobblestoned streets and alleys listening to the stories of the various houses and churches.  There was also a long story concerning a Holy Roman Emperor who decreed that the city must maintain a flock of swans which were prominent as one entered the city.
Burg Square

This face on the Tanner's
 Guild Hall says it all.
While the walk from the bus to the morning’s final stop was only a mile, it took us an hour-and-a-half to complete.  Blame the crowds or blame the old people who could not keep up on the uneven streets and sidewalks.  We passed through several squares both inside and outside the central section of the old city.  Among others, we saw Burg Square where the oldest government buildings were [as well as a church], Fisherman’s Square and Tanner’s Square. Fisherman’s Square and Tanner’s Square were outside the city walls so their stench would not disturb the residents; The smell of fish is obvious but it should be noted that the leather tanners used urine to soften the hides.  Imagine the 2 adjacent squares on a hot summer day.  Our final stop this morning was the Bell Tower and Carillon at Market Square. 

Market Square, surprisingly, held no market.  Like the plazas in old-town Prague and many other
The Brugge Bell Tower

European cities, it is a large square surrounded by restaurants and landmark buildings.  One side of the square had the Bell Tower; a second side contained government buildings and offices; and the other 2 sides had an abundance of cafes and restaurants.  The group dispersed here at 11:25 with instructions to return by 1:30 for the rest of the tour.

We found our way to the Huis Craenenburg, one of the many cafes on the square.  We expected to meet and have lunch with friends from our 2012 Amazon cruise.  Peter and Manu live in Brugge and we had arranged this meeting by email over the months leading up to the trip.  Peter is a retired restaurant owner who retired several years ago.  When we sat next to them for dinner in December 2012, Manu spoke almost no English so most of our conversations were with Peter who would then translate for his wife.  Eighteen months later, Manu's English is good as a result of lessons both she and Peter have been taking; today, there was no need for Peter to translate for her.
Market Square
When we approached the Huis Craenenburg, we found our friends sitting outside in the cold and overcast, he drinking a beer and she with bottled water.  We had expected to treat them to lunch at the café, but they had other ideas.  Peter had been cooking before coming to the café and they insisted we return to their house for lunch.  There was no saying, “No.”  They had ridden their bikes to the square but Manu walked to their home while Peter pedaled; he now has difficulty walking and uses an electric bike. 

We were at the house in 20 minutes, almost 12 noon on the dot.  We knew from our previous conversations that it was an old 1-bedroom house.  What we did not expect was the renovations which they had made.  The first floor was completely open – living room to dining room to kitchen table and a modern galley kitchen.  The rear of the first floor had a partial glass roof and glass walls making the area seem much bigger and brighter.  The area opened to a beautifully landscaped back yard.  It was enchanting.

After meeting their dog, a Spanish water dog, we sat down at the kitchen table – a converted ship’s wheel -- to asparagus soup which Pater had made from the skins or peelings of fresh white asparagus.  What followed next was the rest of the asparagus – six big fat stalks for each of us – served with hard- boiled egg and parsley.  We watched Manu to learn how to eat this; the egg and parsley were mashed together at the table, placed on top of the asparagus and then the whole was topped with melted butter. There was white wine accompanying the meal.

We talked and ate until we realized that it was time to go, almost 1:10.  Peter drove MA back to the center of town although he was not allowed to drive in the square itself.  Manu and David walked back to meet MA outside the Bell Tower.  Manu, MA and David all arrived at 1:30 by our watches.

And then MA discovered that the guide had left without us.  Luckily, 2 other groups had not started on the second part of the tour, so we hitched ourselves to the Blue Group for the rest of the day.  There wasn’t much to it, though.  We went as a group to a little boat slip where we boarded a motor boat for a 30 minute ride in the canals which are the other defining feature of Brugge  which is often called “the Venice of the North.”

Because the boat held only 25 people, we had to split into 2 groups.  Once the second group returned, we made preparations to walk back to the bus.  Some people opted to ride a city bus back to the meeting place, but the rest of us started to back-track the tour we had taken as part of the Green Group.  The guides had taken different routes to the Bell Tower, so we missed some things by having to switch groups and repeating the walk backwards.

After a stop at the public toilets, not free this time, we found our bus, had a few cross words with the guide and climbed on board.  We were back in Terneuzen around 4:30 for a 5 pm departure.  However, we found out that the Blue bus was missing 3 people and left late; the MIA’s had to take a taxi from Brugge to Terneuzen and we did not set out until after 5:30.

Tomorrow – Antwerp, Belgium  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014 – Schoonhaven and Kinderdijk

Today started out busy and ended the same way.  This was the first day in which we spent time in 2 different places, cruising between them while we ate lunch.  Additionally, we started and ended the day with lectures.

The morning lecture preceded our visit to Schoonhaven and was an overview of the Rhine River system as it impacts Holland.  The Rhine breaks into 3 branches when it crosses into the Netherlands and then these branches continue to branch out into smaller and smaller rivers.  The river system is dependent on the snowfall and rainfall in Switzerland, France and Germany which feed it before it enters the Netherlands.  Flooding from too much rain or snow-melt can be as much of a problem to shipping and river cruisers as drought from too little rain or snow. [One of our fellow passengers recounted a cruise last year where the river level was too high for any boats to navigate safely and the river cruise was accomplished on buses and in hotels.]

An even bigger problem for the Dutch is the incursion of the North Sea from the north and west.  Following a disastrous flood in 1952, in which 2000 people died, the government embarked on what became a 30-year project to make the country essentially waterproof.  The key part of the plan is called the Delta Works.  Large barriers have been built to effectively seal the coast line with a series of gates which fit securely not only with each other but also with the sea bottom; thus, the water cannot breach the coast.  Two unguarded areas were left, however.  The ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, Belgium, still have unimpeded access to the North Sea so they can continue their pre-eminence as commercial ports; Rotterdam is the second largest port in the world, only recently surpassed only by Shanghai.

The flooding the Delta Works now prevents had several disastrous results.  First, of course, was the loss of both human and animal life.  Second, and perhaps even more important, was the ruin of thousands of acres of farmland by the salt in the ocean water.  Flooding resulted in the loss of life and livelihoods.

A generation earlier, the Zuider Zee was turned from a large tidal lake which was fed by a Rhine tributary but opened directly into the North Sea into a strictly land-locked lake.  With time, the salt levels decreased, to the joy of farmers, but without access to the North Sea, the fishermen were out of work.

Keep the importance and danger of water in mind for later.

The wedding chariot
After the lecture about the river and canal system which is the lifeblood of the country, we walked off of the ship and directly into the town of Schoonhaven.  There were distractions, of course, the best of which was the arrival of newlyweds in an old Volvo strewn with flowers.  They stopped right at the old gate to the city, which dated to 1603[?], to have wedding photos taken.  We saw them later having more pictures taken.  Our group waved and applauded and the couple smiled and waved back at us.

The town of Schoonhaven sits above and behind the dike, and the gate we entered, the last one left, has its own barrier doors which can be closed to seal out encroaching water.  The town itself has quite small canals and locks which seem now to be more decorative than functional.  We saw floral displays floating on the in preparation for King’s Day which will be celebrated while we are in Belgium tomorrow. 

We wandered through the small downtown area but did not enter any of the buildings during the tour.  We saw the old, now disused, synagogue across the street but, again, did not go in.  Apparently, the building now houses a jewelry and silver museum but we were told that the mikvah [ritual bath] is still in place even though the Jewish population disappeared permanently in the 1940s.

A Random Act of Art
And another
We passed the old church but kept going.  We also paused at what had been ground zero for the Schoonhaven Witch Trials.  With a special cobbled circle and a metal plaque, the place was commemorated as the spot where witches were executed; our guide said they were either hanged or burned or both.  Since this may be Schoonhaven’s one real claim to fame, the witch motif was on display, at least in the areas where tourists might be.

Market Square was also being prepared for King’s Day and there were no stalls or vendors as there had been in Gouda yesterday.  We wandered a bit more and then the group disbanded. We wandered back toward the ship, stopping in a bakery to buy more stroopwafels and in a silversmith’s just to look.

Once everyone was back on board, the ship continued toward Kiderdijk, our next stop.  We sailed during the lunch hour so we were able to see traditional windmills as we went downstream.  These were just the precursors of what we would discover in Kinderdijk.

A field of windmills in Kinderdijk
Kinderdijk translates as “children’s dike.”  While there were several equally plausible explanations for the name, no one is sure of the real reason.  Kinderdijk is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Angkor Wat, which means that the exterior of the buildings cannot be changed.  The place is Windmill Central.

We traversed a bit of one of the canals which with the rivers, surround Kinderdijk on all four sides, and saw windmills upon windmills, perhaps 20 in close proximity with the assurance that there more we would not see.  We wondered why there were so many in this one spot and discovered that they had been built, along with two canals, to manage the water level of the area.

Much if not most of the Netherlands is below sea level.  This topographical oddity is another driving force in holding back the North Sea.  Since so much of the country was subject to the North Sea and its tides, the water level would rise and fall with the Sea.  The windmills were designed to pump water from the flooded land and dump it into the canals which carried it to the adjacent rivers and out to sea when the tide was low.  The guide compared this area to a bath tub with the land in the center being lower and wetter; the windmills, which have been replaced by electric pumps, kept the land dry and arable.  We were astonished because we had associated windmills with the grinding of grain and had no idea of their importance in the survival of the Netherlands.

Windmill with covered
vanes, ready to turn
Windmill with uncovered
vanes, not ready to spin
One of the windmills is still open to the public, so we had the opportunity to see the giant wooden gears and see the vanes up close.  David climbed the interior stairs but MA stayed outside.  The giant propeller was spinning at a leisurely pace, covered in canvas sails.  The sails are attached to the honey-combed vanes [or arms] to catch the wind.  If the miller did not want them to turn, the canvas was removed.  The “Windmill Authority” really controlled the operation of the windmills and told the operators, through a signal relay system, when to power up the windmills.  We were told that the entire Kinderdijk system could be operational in 15 minutes.  Since the direction of the wind could change [duh], there was a system of gears which allowed the miller to rotate the top of the windmill to change the direction the vanes faced.

The demonstration windmill
The millers never owned the windmills; the “Authority” did.  Even today, this holds true.  The remaining windmills are rented out to families who actually work elsewhere.  We could see people outside doing gardening; there were toys and bicycles in front of several; and some of the residents waved to us.  While the rent is low – about 200 euros a month – it must be difficult being on display all day for tourists.

One more fact about the windmills:  the original mills were made of stone but were so heavy that they began to sink in the soft soil [remember Sint Janskirk in Gouda?], so later ones were made of thatch which is much lighter but still sturdy enough.

Now it was nap time, so we left the group and walked back to the ship.  We had a meeting to hear about tomorrow’s trip to Brugge at 6:45, so we went early for a drink and munchies.  Dinner followed [Vegetarian risotto/turkey and stuffing].  We shared a table with folks we had eaten with before and had an enjoyable meal.  Barry, one of the other men grew up in Baltimore [a Poly grad!], so we talked about nostalgic Baltimore and favorite brands unique to the area.  Barry’s eyes lit up at the mention of Goetze’s Caramel Cremes, so David shared his stash when we went from dinner to the lounge for a presentation on Dutch phrases and pronunciation.

Tomorrow – Terneuzen, Brugge and friends