Tuesday, 23 August 2011

2011 Vacation in The Netherlands: Hoge Veluwe and Fryslân

So for our next visit we drove to the center of The Netherlands, to the little village of Otterlo to spend the day at one of our National Parks, the Hoge Veluwe. It was a bit of a hassle to get in, as more people apparently had decided to do the same thing. First thing on the agenda: the Kröller-Müller museum which is located in the park. A real must-see, with a superb collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Charlie Toorop and one of my personal highlights and discoveries: William Degouve de Nuncques. Before the regular collection we spend a lot of time with one of the most innovative, thought-provoking and sometimes downright disturbing exhibitions I've seen in a long time: Hortus/Corpus by Belgian artist Jan Fabre. He uses a wide variety of materials, including insects and his own bodily fluids to make incredibly bold statements regarding Life and Death, Human versus Nature and similar themes.

After all this art it was time for nature and we spent the rest of the day touring the various landscapes of the Veluwe: forests, moorlands with heather in bloom, sandy patches which reminds one of the deserts and we refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea at the St. Hubertus hunting lodge. A sunset walk along the Landscape Garden completed this beautiful day.

And then for a two day event: the exploration of our northern province of Fryslân (or Friesland in Dutch). Fryslân is almost a country within a country: it has its own language (Frisian), its own culture and its own history. We started with a self-guided walking tour of the provincial capital, Leeuwarden (or “Ljouwert” in Frisian). Leeuwarden is an interesting and very lively city with historical and modern buildings next to each other. One of the highlights is the climbing of the Oldenhove tower, a steeple which remained unfinished after starting to lean over while being built. Its summit offers unparallelled views over Leeuwarden and the Frisian landscape beyond. We also spent some time in the Grocery Museum "De Grutterswinkel" and the adjacent “Boomsma's Beerenburger” exhibit, which also offers a tasting of Fryslân's “national” cordial. Good thing we stayed overnight in the awesome Post Plaza hotel!

The next day we decided to take a driving tour of the province following the famous Eleven Cities route which in freezing winters forms a world famouse speed skating competion and tour on natural ice. We first went North to Dokkum with its St. Bonifatius church and then drove back to Leeuwarden along the Dokkummer Ee”, the actual route of the skating tour. From then on to Franeker, where a childhood dream of mine came true as we visited the planetarium of Eise Eisinga, which was built on the ceiling of this gentleman's living room. Next stop: Harlingen with its port where we enjoyed our lunch in what turned out to be the last bit of sunshine for that day. We drove through Bolsward as we wanted to visit a very special museum in the next stop: Workum.

It is there where Dutch folk artist and autodidact Jopie Huisman lived an worked and his museum is a must see if you're in this area. Workum itself is quite a picturesque place and we found ourselves spending more time than anywhere else. When we came out of the museum, it had started to rain. And that had deteriorated badly when we arrived at the next stop: Hindeloopen. We decided to skip taking a walk in this beautiful town and move on to Stavoren, where we paid a visit to the Lady of Stavoren who is still waiting at the port for her ships that never come back.

After that, it was quite late, it was bad weather and we were tired, so back home. So Sloten, Ijlst and Sneek (and Bolsward and Hindeloopen!), we'll be back for you in due time!

Next: Going south to Brussels!

Monday, 15 August 2011

2011 Vacation in the Netherlands: Delft and Volendam

For various reasons we have decided to spend our 2011 vacation here in our own home country. Most importantly: we just spent five whole weeks away from home and for some reason it is not that appealing to go away again. So, Holland it is and we start off by visiting two of the most touristy places: Delft and Volendam. Now Delft is our neighboring city and literally a short bike ride away. So what to do here? Something we haven't done before: visit the Nieuwe and Oude Kerk which are steeped in Dutch history. In a rain-drenched Delft this is a good thing to do, anyway!

The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) is important, as it is the final resting place for most of our kings and queens of old, whose line began with William of Orange who was buried here after being assassinated in 1584. His grave monument is an impressive piece of sculpture and contains some very interesting symbolism. The Old Church is very much the heart of Delft and rumour has it that already in the 11th century there was a church building here. Various famous historical people are buried here: our maritime heroes Maarten Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter and Piet Heyn, the father of microbiology Anthony van Leeuwenhoek also rests here as well as Delft's most famous son: painter Johannes Vermeer.

Volendam may be the Netherlands' second biggest tourist attraction, and to be honest, it has a certain 'tourist trap' quality to it. But get yourself a self-guided walking tour, some really nice weather and a pair of open eyes and you really have a great time here. Of course, the harbour area ("Fisherman's Wharf")  with all the souvenir shops and restaurants is a must see, but behind all that is a quaint, charming and quiet little village, with a great sense of identity which, incidentally, is well-known throughout the Netherlands. The walk takes you to some breathtaking scenic views of the Ijsselmeer, and also to one of my personal highlights, the well-maintained and beautiful little cemetary, with its very personal and touching memorials. There is also some very nice food available along the harbour with a view to die for. And to top it all off, at the end of the tour there is the Volendam museum with its collection of traditional dress, very attractively displayed in wonderfully atmospheric and nostalgic settings. Not to be missed is also the "Cigar Band house" contains a set of murals, entirely made from 7 million cigar bands. We really enjoyed our stay!

Next: National Park De Hoge Veluwe and then an exploration of our country within a country: Fryslân!