Thursday, April 24, 2014 – Rotterdam and Gouda
The good aspect of having a cabin right next to the dining room is that it is a short walk to and from meals. The bad aspect is that people gathered right outside our door beginning at 6:45 this morning and were happily chatting away, unconcerned with our sleep patterns. We had planned to rise at 7 anyway for today promised to be a busy one.
Among the less obvious differences between river and ocean cruising is that almost all of the shore excursions are included in the cost of a river cruise. There are choices to be had – today we got to choose between visits to Delft and Gouda – as well as several optional tours later which will carry an extra charge. When we visited Vienna in 2008, we paid the surcharge to attend a mostly-Mozart concert.
We opted for the tour of Gouda today since we will visit Delft with our friends Marcel and Jeanet who live there right before we fly home. We were to meet the bus at 9:00 in order to depart by 9:10, so we were up at 7 to get breakfast and get ready to tour. Breakfast is buffet-style which was no surprise. The tables were laden with cheese, fresh fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, sausage, assorted breads, potatoes and waffles; there was also an omelet station. All in all, it was “quite satisfactory.”
As a security measure, we had to turn in our room keycards before disembarking the Navigator. We were issued ID cards with phone numbers in case we got lost somewhere as well as colored cards which indicated our bus for today [We were yellow]. Even this system has loopholes as the blue bus left early before everyone boarded so we had a half-dozen refugees who stayed with us for the tour. Upon returning to the ship, we turned in the ID and bus cards and received our room keys and passports.
Of course, our bus was late arriving to pick us up but at least we didn’t have a 3-hour delay today and, in fact, left the ship only a few minutes behind schedule. We traveled through Rotterdam to Gouda, best known in the US as a type of cheese. We discovered a similarity between the Dutch and British when the pronunciation of the town was explained to us. Just as the British have areas where “H” is pronounced softly [“aitch”], there are others where it is hard and pronounced as “haitch.” It is a north/south division with “haitch” being the northern version. In the Netherlands, there is also a north/south difference with the letter “G” which is pronounced as an “H” for some reason. So Gouda can be pronounced as “How-da” with the soft G or with a guttural sound like the “ch” in Channukah. Nowhere is it pronounced with a “G.” Thus endeth the lesson.
We de-bussed near the center of the old town after having passed much of the newer construction. Many areas of Holland have been or are still being rebuilt to repair damage caused by the Germans in 1940 and later. [Almost all of Rotterdam was obliterated by fire after Luftwaffe attacks; the officials there decided to rebuild in a modern style rather than trying to replicate the older architecture as other cities did. The result is a large city which dates to 1945 – 1960] Gouda had not suffered such devastation but the natural influx to the city demanded new housing and commercial space.
Our first stop today was Sint Janskirk [St. John’s Church]. On the walk from the bus, we passed many old buildings including a convent hospital which used to specialize in treating incurables such as victims of leprosy. There was also a street named after Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish architect credited with saving many Jews from the Budapest ghetto and sure extermination by the Nazis. Around the corner was a memorial to the Jews who had died in Gouda at the hands of the Nazis. There may have been a mass grave at the site, but it was difficult to hear the guide.
It is no accident that Sint Janskirk is called The Long Church: it is 123 meters [403.5 feet] from end to end. That’s a homerun in any ball park in the US. The church is currently in the midst of renovations to save it from itself. Gouda is 2 meters below sea level and the soil is not so stable. In the past 20 years, the building has sunk 1 millimeter. By itself, that is not so much, but it portends a trend which could eventually see the collapse of the structure. Crews are working now to replace the wooden pilings supporting the choir end of the church with steel. The other end has already been reinforced, so Sint Janskirk should last another 400 years.
The construction has caused a shift in furniture to accommodate the large number of parishioners who attend Sunday services [1000 according to the church historian/sexton who acted as our guide in the church]. Undisturbed so far are the 70 large stained glass windows which are the real highlight of the edifice. Not only do they portray scenes from the New Testament, but many also served as editorials commenting, in effect, on the politics of the day. The Spanish and especially King Phillip came in for lots of illuminated criticism.
Many, perhaps all, of the windows actually had sponsors who, over the years, have paid for them and, perhaps, dictated their contents. The sponsors’ names are displayed in the bottom third of the windows [many of which are 20 feet tall]. The signature panel may also contain a likeness of the sponsor, a motto or some other scene with Scriptural references. The middle sections of the windows contain the editorial content as it were. In one [window 23], Phillip of Spain is pictured as a participant at the Last Supper where he is seen kneeling before the empty chair just vacated by Judas who is shown leaving the room; although only his shoulder is visible, the artist left no doubt as to his identity by placing the word “traitor” as graffiti on the wall next to him. Thus, Phillip is shown as being in league with Judas, the traitor, rather than with Jesus. Each of the windows has its own story and taken as a whole, the give a picture of the history of the Church [both Protestant and Catholic] in Holland.
Our docent had a wonderfully entertaining style to his presentation and we were disappointed when our time was up and we had to leave. He said it has taken him 30 years to decode some of the hidden messages in the stained glass windows, so our 45 minutes was way too short. One of the most fascinating aspects of the windows is that the original drawings – what he referred to as cartoons – still exist. He said this is true of no other church of the period. Having the drawings makes it much easier to repair any damage and many have been restored over the years.
When our visit was over, our guide led us to the Market Square a few blocks away. Today there was a real market in operation with vendors selling everything from ribbon to baked goods to hardware. Almost all of the customers were locals doing their shopping. The square was surrounded by shops and cafes. The cafes were busy with both locals and tourists including us; our last bit of business in Gouda was to purchase cappuccinos and drink them at an outdoor café.
Before that, however, we went in search of a “favorite” bakery of the guide to sample and purchase the local cookie called stroopwafel. These are sandwiches with 2 thin waffle wafers [like pizzelles] and a center of sugar and syrup, ideal for partnering with coffee or tea. We wandered through part of the market but didn’t see what we wanted at the bakery stall [although that might have been our fault] and then went a bit further into town. At the first cross-street we found a cheese shop, one not geared to tourists. We went in and talked to the young women behind the counter about the different cheeses and she graciously offered us samples of about a half-dozen different versions of “Gouda” cheese. They were all different in taste. We could see and taste the difference between the handmade cheese and the factory cheeses as well as young cheeses versus older cheeses. A 2-year-old cheese is sharper and shopkeeper about a nearby bakery and explained our mission. She had pre-packaged stroopwafels for sale for about 1.5 euros [$2.50] so we bought them out of self-inflicted guilt. We are sure they will not be as good as the samples the guide passed out on the trip back to the ship, but we will enjoy them regardless.
We stopped in a tourist cheese shop on the way back to the square. [See pictures above] It was crowded with gawkers who came to see the stacks of cheese wheels and to gobble up the cheese samples which were on the displays. We decided that the first shop must have a loyal following because it certainly did not have a good location. Conversely, it was probably a better store with a more knowledgeable clerk.
After the tourist cheese shop, we stopped at one of the many cafes surrounding the square and listened to a men’s chorus who were part of today’s Cheese Festival. There were young people dressed in traditional Dutch costumes, old milk trucks with metal jugs used to hold the raw milk and piles of cheese wheels around the square. These townspeople are the original Cheeseheads!
Back on the bus, we sampled stroopwafels as we rode back to Rotterdam. We took the indirect route because the driver and the guide saw traffic at a standstill but still got “home” on schedule. Our route through the center of town included the 2 major bridges, the Swan and the Red Bridges, and the Cube Houses and the Pencil next to it. The Cube houses and the Pencil have come to symbolize Rotterdam’s place as a city with new architecture and while they are visually arresting, the Cube houses are small and impractical [David visited them when in Rotterdam in 1992].
We arrived just as lunch was being served, so we dropped our cookies and camera in the cabin and went next door for lunch. Today it was a Dutch lunch and we had mustard soup and then meatballs and mashed potatoes. We caught up on games and email before MA took a nap and David wrote everything down before he forgot it [and there is no guarantee of accuracy even so].
Most of the 130 passengers assembled in the lounge at 6 pm for drinks and munchies. At 6:20, the captain began to introduce the ships staff. Each department was presented by the head of the department [housekeeping, hotel staff, dining room servers, food prep, etc.]. Most of the staff originates in Eastern Europe [read: former Communist countries] plus a few from places such as the Philippines, Gambia and Indonesia. Altogether, there may have been 25 crew scattered among the staff.
Following the crew introductions, Tessa, the Cruise Director, talked about tomorrow’s program and schedule. We will have 2 stops tomorrow, 2 tours and a lecture, but let’s not jump ahead.
We ate with new people tonight and had the most enjoyable conversation we have had since boarding. We can only hope our luck continues and that we don’t share a table with some of our previous companions. The food continues to be surprisingly good [MA, cauliflower au gratin; D, fish with olives and capers and curry rice]. Lunch and dinner have a set menu in which everyone gets the same appetizer and soup; the only choice comes with the entrée and dessert. Lunch also includes a salad bar and pasta station [at least today’s did], so no one is going home hungry. There is also an afternoon tea time with cookies, but we have not tried that yet.
After dinner tonight, a jazz group was scheduled to play in the lounge, but we returned to our room to read and type. There is nothing new under the sun
Tomorrow – Schoonhaven and Kinderdijk