Rotterdam

We venture today to my friend’s hometown, Rotterdam. Marianne immigrated to Canada many years previous though I’ve been interested in visiting her hometown.

Rotterdam has a sad history. On May 14, 1940 it was bombed, the fires devastated the town and after the war few buildings were standing. It has been recreated with fascinating architecture and interesting ideas. Resilience is strong in Rotterdam.

We take the train though we make this interesting by hopping between the two platforms trying to figure out which one is correct. Two tries later we are off. It is pouring rain today and through raindrops we look out the window at the scenery. The train ride will take one hour from where we are staying. This is nothing for us and we both wonder how great it would be if we could get around easily by train and metro.

The landscape quickly changes to rural and soon we see the familiar Dutch wooden windmills. We marvel at the work it would have taken to build these structures that are still in use today.

We arrive and need to change to station blaak as Marieke has told us. We twirl around march up the stairs so we can see a good view of the station and the lay of the land and figure out where we need to be. We get on the correct train and a few moments later we arrive.

I wonder how far to the cube houses as I walk out and look around. They are here with the market in front of us exactly as Marianne described.

The rain has stopped. We spend time looking at the cube houses and a curious sculpture. We marvel at the outside of the market, it beckons us inside.

The market is a busy, happening place with tons of shops and restaurants. It is curious as it’s inside of a courtyard or rather is the courtyard for a apartment building. The people in the building can look out their window at the hubbub of activity or choose to draw the drapes. It’s interesting, unusual and artistic.

It is difficult to choose a restaurant though we settle on poffertjes and strop waffle to start. The poffertjes are melt in the mouth goodness and calories do not count on holidays we remind ourselves

We walk outside and find retail shopping nearby. We browse though quickly abandon this pursuit as we are not in a buying mood. We instead decide on a ride on the Ferris wheel for another perspective.

We ride and snap pictures of the city. John spies the maritime museum and we decide to go there next. I notice an old church and wonder how it managed to survive the bombing. We are offered another perspective of the cube houses pencil building and bridge. The architecture is unique and beautiful though I can’t help but feel sad for what was lost.

John enjoys the maritime museum with its outside and inside options. The Harbor is protected and we muse that this would have been important for the Nazi’s during the war. How different today when there is a relative peace with water lapping the shore and workers carrying out their daily duties.

I find a bullseye that makes a sport of flicking butts into the receptacle. Only a few stray cigarette butts miss their mark so it appears to be working.

We find the statue representing the destruction of the heart of Rotterdam during WW II and marvel at the resilience that recreated the city from those ashes.

We venture back to the market in search of dinner. We are overwhelmed by choice though settle on a restaurant where we enjoy charcuterie and wine.

We wander a bit more to find coffee and dessert with a perch over the market providing yet another interesting perspective. We relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

It is late as we walk to the train station, only one misstep and soon we are zooming back to Amsterdam. We have learned much during our short visit about Rotterdam, and the resilience of its people.

Biking Texel

We wake early to help with clean up from the party. Family arrives and in no time the cleanup is complete. Els, Theo, Carla, Paul, John, Tinneke, Don, and myself make the many hands to create light work.

John’s cousin, Carla has brought a bike for me to enjoy while we are here. John’s Grandfather biked around this island well into his 90’s, though this practice is not unusual in the Netherlands. Still, I wanted to have this experience and today is the day. Paul, Karl, John and myself set off. The bikes are different, touring bikes as opposed to mountain bikes. It’s like biking as a child. I sit high on the bike though it’s comfortable and nice not to hunch over.

The paths are paved and mostly flat. We are not alone, there are many people biking young and old though considerably less volume than Amsterdam.

We work our way to the beach a short ride away. We arrive lock our bikes easily with a lock installed on the tires, the key remains in until used. How wonderful to not fuss with combinations and search for keys.

We walk the short distance to the beach and find the sand dunes John’s dad described. How amazing, so tall and majestic they flank the entrance. There is a restaurant, requisite supply store though my eyes are drawn to the water. I continue.

The water is cool though quickly I adjust and enjoy the soak. Children play on the sandbar, sea birds swoop playing with the wind. Seashells cover portions of the beach. There are beach houses that can be used for the season providing a more permanent structure to enjoy the summer at the beach.

We enjoy the space and begin to walk back. I just want to stay here. We opt for lunch at the restaurant to continue to enjoy the ambience. The food excellent, local beer cold, perfection.

We hop back on the bikes and continue. Paul shows us the Polder lands, new land reclaimed from the sea. When the industrious, clever Dutch run short of land, they just make more.

There is a lighthouse in the distance. Paul tells us about about an annual walk around the island.

We turn around though each time we get back on the bike it hurts a little more as our butts become accustomed to riding. Paul tells us he is getting us tough for our trek through Iceland so we don’t embarrass ourselves or the family name.

We arrive back and decide on dinner at a nearby beach restaurant. Tinneke, Don, Els, Theo will join Paul, John and myself. Paul explains if we bike he can enjoy a drink though if he takes the car he will be the designated driver. Reluctantly, we opt for the bike ride though our butts scream their protest.

The bike ride is beautiful, flanked on both sides by tall stands of trees. I discover second gear and marvel to Paul that I had no idea the bike had more than one. Paul casually smokes a cigarette while he rides, John and I focus on the task at hand.

We arrive and walk the short distance where we are greeted by the others’. The meal wonderful some have hake(fish), others’ have steak. The waiter errs our order despite its simplicity. The sunset beckons and demands its photo, I comply.

We enjoy each other’s company, the conversation switches between English and Dutch and John and I begin to follow the conversation using context and body language, coupled with a few words we have learned.

Too soon it’s time to leave, the sky dark. We figure out the lights on the bikes, the moon and stars light the sky and we begin the ride with Paul leading the way. How cool to ride a bike at night. Mentally, I decide to remember this moment, though my butt declares it will be sometime before I forget.

Texel, Netherlands

Today we travel to Texel for the family reunion. I’ve heard so much about this place, my expectation high. I attempt to curtail my enthusiasm to avoid disappointment.

The first time I met John’s parents they showed me pictures and a book about Texel. John’s dad spoke about the sheep market, dunes and the beauty of the beaches that he declared rivalled any beach in Hawaii. From that moment this was a place I needed to see and today was the day.

We travel a great distance to the ferry with Nelda and Marieke pointing out the sites. We pass small quaint towns even one whose name roughly translated means ditch, Slootdorp. Marieke and Nelda laugh stating some day when they retire they will live in this town. We pass a town where each house is decorated with flags as today is a celebration we don’t know what they are celebrating so speculate, perhaps it’s because we have arrived we joke.

Soon we arrive at the ferry. I learn the crossing will take 15 minutes, hardly enough time to collect our thoughts. Still we have a chance to come upstairs, look at the sites, peruse the souvenirs and take photos. I stand on the deck and the seabirds swoop and dip leading the way to Texel.

Too soon we arrive and begin the journey to John’s cousin, Pauls’ home, the scene of the family reunion. We first stop at the site of John’s Grandparents homestead, The home consisted of a house, a summer house and a carpentry shop. The summer house remains though the rest is gone making way for row homes. Still, I close my eyes and imagine them in their later years waiting for the bus to arrive and their children and grandchildren to visit.

We set off for Paul’s home and I prepare myself to meet the relations. A group is gathered, though we are given our space initially with a chance to take in their sheer volume before joining in the fray. John and I are touched as the reunion is every two years though they have added another this year because of our visit.

Gradually we meet them all, a lovely bunch, friendly and welcoming. They all speak English well, thankfully, as my Dutch is limited with only the ability to ask for salt and pepper and I have no need for either so it would be awkward.

We drink strong coffee and enjoy Gevulde Speculaas cookies. The almond taste is lovely, I enjoy two and a second cup of coffee.

We eat fried fish to remember John’s grandfather who would trade sausage for small flat fish. The fishermen would be tired of fish and happy for the sausage. The fish were small and not saleable. Win win all around. The fish is flash cooked in oil with no breading and is melt in the mouth goodness. I enjoy two and part of Johns’ too.

We look at the pictures that have been assembled, so much work. It depicts John’s grandparents followed by their 12 children and their children and grandchildren. I marvel at what is created because two people fell in love.

John’s remaining Uncles and Aunts chat with us. Ann, Jan, Nely, Emmy, Els and Tinneke. We hear stories about him, his youth and how difficult it was for him to be away from home when he arrived in Canada at the tender age of 18. We learn how his Mother would sit down once a week to write her eldest son. I think about how difficult it must have been for John’s grandparents to say goodbye to their oldest son when he journeyed to Canada. Travel so different then and the length between visits uncertain.

We continue visiting and meet everyone, learn about each other and enjoy the beautiful weather in Paul’s yard. John is reminded how he longed for a McDonalds during his last trip to the Netherlands. Chickens and a rooster weave in between creating a tranquil peace despite the crowd. Don plays piano and accordion and sings including a Canadian song for us. The song is not familiar in words though the music is east coast.

The family gathers for a picture, organized chaos ensues though like a well orchestrated system within minutes everyone assembles, the moment is forged. Day turns to night, Indonesian food arrives, we indulge.

At intervals family members leave to catch the ferry, some opt to not say goodbye as it’s likely to take too long to go through everyone and the ferry will be missed. There is a mad scramble to catch the last ferry, the frenzy ends.

The night quiets and all that remains are those who will stay the night on a Texel. A circle of chairs is assembled around a warm inviting fire and in a time honoured tradition we stare into the flames. Tineke strikes up the ukulele and Don harmonizes with the accordion. Together they sing. We listen to the conversations around us and pick up the gist.

The family disbands and soon we are three, John, Paul and me. We retreat to our room in his home, sink deep into bed and reminisce about the day. John states he can’t believe he’s related to all of them and marvels that not everyone is here. He wonders how different his life might have been had he been raised here. I think about my expectations that have been surpassed. We both agree we are very blessed.

Amsterdam

We arrive in Amsterdam after a long night and day of travel. We are greeted at the airport by John’s cousin, Nelda and Aunt, Emmy. Such a welcome pleasure and so very different from other trips where we arrive without knowing a soul.

We enjoy a coffee and beer at the airport and collect our thoughts before continuing our journey. We find the lighthouse marker where we find Nelda’s car and relax while she expertly navigates the car to her home. I reflect on other trips where we frantically search for the rental agency and then twirl our way out of the airport, brows furrowed as we find our accommodation sleep deprived. I decide I like this experience much more.

We arrive at our destination, a beautiful, spacious apartment with a view of the Amstel river. We set our bags down in our room and visit for a few moments before exhaustion settles in and our eyes’ blink rate slows. We crawl into bed for a nap with a planned wake up call a few hours later to break the jet lag.

The knock on the door arrives and we peel ourselves away from the comfortable bed to the dining room where we meet Marieke, Nelda and Emmy for coffee. Soon dinner arrives without our effort and we indulge.

Satiated we decide on a walk around the neighbourhood. The light dims, the river shimmers as we admire architecture, each building unique and beautiful, all favourites its too difficult to choose. Nelda points out important landmarks, the train station, trolley and bridges. We get our bearings.

We arrive back, drink wine and learn about each other. Soon we are talking and laughing, like we have always known each other, deep belly laughs and tears run down our faces to round out our first night in Amsterdam.

Lake Arenal Costa Rica

We venture to Lake Arenal. Google maps tells us it will take 2 hours for this 187 km journey. We laugh at both the optimism and naivety of the map app. We plan on a more realistic 4 hours to allow for the certain twists and turns.

The road is well paved, the twists and turns relentless. Our host has told us that the road will flatten out at the end. We look forward to the reprieve. There are steep drop offs with no shoulders or guard rails. We are doing this free form. All manner of vehicles pass us on blind crests, we focus on the task at hand. John is focused on keeping our vehicle shiny side up, my task more mundane announcing the meters until the next turn. At times I look at the beauty all around, waterfalls, rainbows and every colour of green is represented. The road improves, never flattening though less curves allow our necks a rest


We pass small towns, fruit stands and interesting sights. We forego the journey and focus on the destination. Despite our focus, we near the five hour mark. The road deteriorates quickly like a bad joke, we jerk along. Dirt bikes pass as we are forced up and over a mountain. This can’t be right I lament. John doesn’t engage in this fruitless conversation as there is no room to change direction.

We near our destination a few kilometres away, when the map app throws up her hands and has us twirling in circles as we listen intently to her directions. After a few turns, we realize we are on our own and engage our tired brains to figure out the puzzle.  We remember pictures of the resort with its view of the lake and move closer to the water. John spies a forgotten sign with a close approximation of the name of our resort and distance of 5km. We decide to give it a whirl. Tucked around a forgotten corner John spies an equally tucked resort sign. His voice shrill he asks if this is the name and logo. I check and excited announce that we have arrived. He shakes his head with the impossibility of finding this needle in a haystack. The entrance is very narrow at an acute angle seemingly too tight for the SUV. John expertly enters and we begin the steep, vertical climb to reception. John shoe horns the vehicle into the last remaining spot and we climb the remainder of the incline. A lovely zen couple and their children greet us, show us to our room with the view of the lake. We are still twitching from the drive.


We snap off a few pictures just as the light fades and commiserate about the trip as we wait for dinner. Our mouth waters as our Chef host tells us what we will enjoy for dinner. We have stopped for nothing, our last meal 15 hours past.


Our dinner fantastic, roasted pumpkin, potato, pork tenderloin, squash soup and cheesecake for dessert. We share a bottle of wine, relax and plan tomorrow’s adventure. We decide to stop, look and see as we learned in kindergarten. Our over arching plan to enjoy the journey, the destination will come soon enough.

Lake days

After a day spent working on the house, staining, painting, gardening and building, we are ready for some relaxation. There always seems to be so much to do and much work remains as we tally the must do’s, should do’s and have to do’s and place them on our virtual list.  We collectively sigh, It seems as though we have barely scratched the surface as we scan the yard. Still the summer is getting away from us and a break is needed.  We load the kayaks on the car, and salvage the day by traveling to the nearby lake.

John prepares the steaks while I leave in search of Saskatoon berries.  I walk a long way, my efforts unrewarded, the trees stripped of their fruit, by the weekend warriors.  I arrive back as my dinner is served, the taste intensified with outdoor cooking.  Satiated, we pack up our kitchen and unload the kayaks for our sunset paddle.

There are blood suckers at this beach and I ask John to launch my boat to decrease my exposure.  He complies and then spends several moments picking the suckers off his own skin.  Several times I feel compelled to share that the blood suckers seem to prefer him.  He quietly reminds me of my limited exposure in the water.

The light is at its prettiest, the beauty doubled.  In awe, we break the glass of the water with our paddles.  I snap pictures hoping that the camera catches some of the beauty, though just to remember it exactly as it is, I silently snap off a few pictures to store in my memory.   We share the lake with a few stray ducks on their last loop around the water before calling it a day.  The night creatures are stirring and soon their shift will begin.


We loop around the pond and I lazily lift my oar and watch the droplets as they land on the water, breaking the perfection.  The sun turns the water gold and the rays dance on the surface creating motion.  Instantly, I am transported back to my childhood days spent on lakes like this one, canoeing and mesmerized by the water.  It never gets old.

The light lessens and reluctantly we leave this beauty for now.  I’m hoping that we will be able to carve out more time this year for another paddle or five,  though fall is fast approaching and too soon the kayaks will be stored for another season.


We arrive back at the beach and John jumps out of his kayak to pull in my boat and lessen my blood sucker contact.  His chivalry is not rewarded and he is soon covered in blood suckers.  We sit on the picnic bench and John picks off the suckers from his body.  He separates his toes and finds the ones with the best hiding spots.   I remark that I have none.  I then search my memory banks and come up empty–I have never had a blood sucker on my body, its the idea of them that I abhor, how interesting!  I share this with John who looks at me wryly as he pulls a particularly attached sucker from his leg.

The light has faded and in near dark we load the kayaks.  The stars make their appearance on our short drive home and I think how fortunate we are to have this place so close to our home.  The house welcomes us home and the short time away has us seeing the work done with fresh eyes and we are satisfied.  The break allows us to appreciate the work done as opposed to the work that remains.

 

 

Stone Town Market

We continue our tour of Stone Town.   My heart and spirit lightens as we walk away from the slave market and towards the vibrant market.

There is a richness of colour with the many spices, clothing and foods for sale. People shop daily as there is inadequate refrigeration, likely due to the antiquated electricity. I think of our home with its over sized refrigerator and extra freezer both filled to capacity for two. The contents difficult to see, too much choice leads to too much waste.

In Stone Town the food is fresh and the people close to their food. It’s disconcerting to see fish, chicken and beef still attached to its source. The fresh meat smells assault. We are removed from this at home. The animals we consume are typically pumped full of hormones. Our markets bright, meat safely stowed in a foam container, cleanly covered in plastic wrap.  Our health suffers amidst the sterility.

There are so many flies here, munching on the fish and chicken flesh. I quickly decide if I lived here I would become a vegetarian. We round the corner and I see some grapes, though on closer inspection they are covered in flies. There are no fly zones here, a keep away fly stick does its best amidst the fruit.  The fruit and vegetables seem small and less than perfect, though closer to reality. The majority of what we see would not make its way into our large supermarkets, though it would go for twice the price in an organic market, the price out of reach for most.  In Stone town, everyone eats fresh, organic produce.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Zanzibar is the spice island. There are many vendors selling spices, the delicious smells of no interest to the flies. We linger and peruse the many options. The smells pungent, our mouths water with the possibilities. Prices are reasonable and we buy in bulk to share with friends and family at home.  We hold fresh cinnamon bark, the size of a tree limb, and learn how it grows. I think of my cinnamon dust at home, with its dear price, lack of aroma and glass jar.
We have learned so much today. We are fortunate to live where we do with our choice, clean water and reliable electricity. Still, in our want of convenience, variety and beauty I wonder what we are sacrificing in health.  There is much to ponder.