good evening blog
Monday, July 23, 2012
23 July 2012
We made it back safely and the return trip, although long, was uneventful. It's been a busy 10 days since we've been back, but I did want to have some final reflections on the trip or thoughts that didn't get included before I get immersed in work in California.
1. Education is very different in Europe. Homeschooling isn't an option in the Netherlands, for one. It was not very common in England. Uncle Nico has been in a 2 year process to open what we would call a charter school in his area. In England, it's called a "free" school. All education is "free" in cost, but this is an alternative to the main system. In England a "public" school is actually a "private" school in the US. In the Netherlands, you can start what we would call a public school that fits your beliefs and what you want to teach and the government will pay for it and provide a building, etc.
2. I've mentioned this before, but it is very comfortable for me to be in both the Netherlands and in England. They are both like "going home" with the great friends and relatives there. It was great to reconnect with aunts, uncles, and cousins and I really felt, for the most part, that I was going as an "adult" and not as the little kid that had been there before. When I took Dutch in college, one of my goals was to be able to have conversations with relatives. While there are limits to my vocabulary, I didn't feel as overwhelmed with the language as I have in the past. I'm glad I've spent the time on it that I have.
I also like the connecting with the cousins. I don't think we'll end up doing any sort of cousin's reunion, but it is always cool to see similarities and differences. Gestures, phrases, expressions, and humor can all be family traits. It's also interesting to see the various ideas and ways of life. It's good to connect with our history to have a clearer understanding of our future.
3. I'm feeling incredibly grateful and blessed to have been able to travel with my mother. She's a pretty amazing woman and I recognize some of my strengths from her, though I'm pretty sure she is a nice person, in general, than I am;-)
I'm constantly amazed at how "even-keeled" she is--very few things faze her or ruffle her feathers. She doesn't get frustated or upset when the plans change. She loves going out and meeting new people and she has an amazing memory for details. She can tell great stories with the best of them. She is gracious to others and kind. She is constantly thinking about others and always has a kind gesture for her friends and the people she cares about. I was amazed by her thinking about those back in MI and remembering to send postcards to people, just to let them know she was/is thinking about them. It was fun to go to church with her the past 2 Sundays and see how grateful people were that she had thought about them.
It was fun to hear stories as we went through towns about "When I was in high school..." or "When I was growing up..." or "When I was little we..." I'm also realizing how young she was when she left the Netherlands. She was 20 years old and then created a new life in a new country. She went to school, met my dad, got married, and shifted to a language she did not grow up with. There are now 50 more years of words and terminology that did not exsist when she left. How do you explain things that weren't there? Switching back and forth is probably the only way and Mom did a lot of that on this trip.
I'm hoping that Mom has many more trips back to the Netherlands and that other relatives come to visit here, but life is fragile and we can't count on things that haven't yet come to pass. I'm grateful for the opportunity to travel together and grateful that, for the most part, I acted like a grownup;-) It was fun to have a great travel companion that made the travel more fun. We do travel well together and I'm also grateful for that.
I'm also grateful to Aunt Alice who made 4 trips to Grand Rapids in the past 4 weeks, just to help with the transportation. It was wonderfully generous and very appreciated.
The past several trips I've been on have been an adventure in the way that Indiana Jones has adventures. This was an adventure that was part refreshment and connection and part preparing me with tools and energy for the journey ahead. The school and much work await, but I'm feeling recharged and ready for the tasks and adventures that are waiting back in Pasadena.
Monday, July 9, 2012
9 July 2012
Today was one of those amazing days. Two things crossed off my bucket list. To be honest, only one of them was on my list before it happened; the other was simply a once-in-a-lifetime event. The day included seeing the Olympic Torch relay, visiting Highclere Castle (where they film Downton Abby), experiencing Stonehenge, and enjoying Avebury.
THE OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY
Clare had mentioned that the Olympic Torch Relay would be happening right in front of the rental car agency and train station, so there would be no way to pick up the car on Monday. It turned out to be very handy to have it for the whole weekend anyway. We watched the weather, but it was a nice English day, with clouds and the possibility of rain, but also some sun rays. We drove to Bletchley (the town I still can't say...) and walked down to the route. The path of the Olympic Torch through England allows 95% of the country to be within a 10 mile drive of its path. It was a very festive atmosphere where we were. The children were told to come late to school and go see the torch. Where we were standing was a short walk from 2 elementary schools, so there were lots of children and young families. We got there around 9am and were standing on a curb on the side of the road, but after 20 minutes or so, they closed the street so we could stand right in the intersection. It was a lot like the anticipation of the Rose Parade and an equally enthusiastic crowd. The road to our left rose up a hill which meant we could see quite a ways down the road. One of the torch handoffs was on that rise, so we could see that also.
There was an older woman to our left who had an iPad that she was using as a camera. At first, she was holding the cover above it, so it blocked a huge amount of both our view and the view of those around us. Clare was close enough to ask her to turn it over so the cover was down, which helped a lot. The funny thing was that once the torch was coming, she had switched the camera and was recording herself and us (behind her), but a kind man walked over and showed her how to switch it. The screen was big enough that, if she was in my way, I was just going to record her screen;-)
Every time a car would go by, everyone would get very excited and then realize it was not it. There was someone standing near us whose sister was at the Bletchley Park (an old code-breaker center from WWII--think a "Beautiful Mind" because that man was from here) in the center of town and we knew from them texting that the torch hadn't left there yet. There were lots of busses from sponsors that came through: Samsung, Coca-cola, Lloyds. Eventually, it was time. The camera I have has a decent zoom lense, though it is hard to hold your arms straight up in the air and hold them steady. We could see the hand off, the runners dance a little jig together, and then it was off in our direction. Clare and mom got some great pictures and I got pretty good video tape. Each runner gets to keep their torch once the flame is passed on. It was a far more exciting moment that I thought it might be. Can't wait to see the torch get to the opening ceremony in London.
HIGHCLERE CASTLE (Downton Abby)
When I told my mom that I really wanted to see Stonehenge, she said that she wanted to see Downton Abby. She had been watching the series on PBS and had seen a show about the people who own the real castle. Clare is a super-slueth when it comes to internet research and planning an event, so I let her know and she had completely taken charge. She found out it was called Highclere Castle and that they do tour and on what days and times, etc. It was also fairly close to Stonehenge, so we put it on our itinerary for the day. On Sunday night, we looked it up again to see if we could buy tickets ahead of time and realized it now said "Sold Out" for the day we were planning on. We figured we would just go anyway and play ignorant. Worst case scenerio, we get a photo of the outside and move on.
I did a lot of the driving because Clare was navigating. There were many small roads and it took a fair amount of concentration on my part. Most of the day was spent on the country roads and there was no way to count all the roundabouts we went through!
When we got to Highclere Castle, there were several tour busses and cars. We parked and walked up to the entrance and asked for our tickets. I was the only adult all day...apparently any special rate is called "concession" here so Clare had a student concession and my had a senior concession and I was the only "adult." That was a nice feeling;-) Turns out they pre-sell a certain number on the internet and then have tickets for those who just show up. Fortunately, those were not sold out, so we got in. The first thing we did was go to the cafe to get some lunch. We had quiche and potatoes (the Brits are big on their potatoes) and a salad or veggie. We ate outside between the rain showers and then went into the castle. The tour is self-guided and, in certain rooms, there are small placards that say which DA character uses this as a bedroom or study, etc. There was no photography or cell phones allowed in the castle and it is stilled used by the family that owns it.
There were lots of family photos in the rooms and there were several pictures of Queen Elizabeth when she was younger because she would visit the father of the current Earl and stay at the castle.
I feel like I've made a pilgrimage on behalf of all PBS watchers...guess I better get caught up on Netflix.
This was on my bucket list. I've been to England many times before (not as many as the Netherlands, but at least 3 times) and I've always wanted to go to Stonehenge. When I was speaking about it with friends in states, one of them said it was great, but that I should also go to Avebury. We had rented the car for this day, so after the castle we headed off to find Stonehenge. Stonehenge dates from about 3500 BC. As we drove over the rise above it, Clare said, "There's Stonehenge." My initial surprise caused me to say, "That's a lot smaller than I thought it would be." (Yes, I had forgotten to take perspective and distance into account.)
It is now a National Trust Site in England. We parked across the street from the site and paid to enter. We were each given a headset with information about the site to listen to on the way around. Clare rightly pointed out that because everyone was listening to their own information about the site, there was not a lot of loud talking. It kept it feeling reverent and spiritual as we walked around the outside of the circle. There were several workers setting up around the monument. They were actually setting up for a festival that is starting tomorrow night. It's going to be a fire festival in conjunction with the Olympic Torch arriving there. I spent several minutes taking photos with the specifie goal of not having any people and/or things that were not originally there in the photo. A good zoom lens sure does make that more possible!
I was interested to find out the a full 1/3 of the upright stones are below the surface of the ground. It is also clear that the "why" of Stonehedge is still the unanswered question. It seems to be clear that it was a type of calendar and there is a clear connection with the summer solsticed. That day is a huge festival and pagan religious ceremony at the site. I enjoyed walking about and learning about the legends and background of the site. I'm glad we went, but I was feeling a bit overrun by people. This is one of the downsides of traveling both in summer and the summer when 1 million people are expected here for the Olympic Games. A truly impressive site, though!
It was getting on in the afternoon when we got to Avebury. We barely made it into the tea shop, but we did make it. We had a "proper English cream tea at a National Trust tea shop," according to Clare. An English cream tea has nothing to do with the tea. They serve scones with fresh clotted cream and jam. There is a bit of history here. I have never been impressed with scones. I don't find it coincidental that they are only one letter away from "stones." I've always been told I've just never had a "good one" and, until now, I would definitely say that is true. Clotted cream is the consistancy of butter. If you leave out fresh milk, the cream rises to the top and that is then left to harden. If you churn it, you get butter. I had a cheese scone with lots of the cream and raspberry jam...YUM! That tea time alone was worth the journey to Avebury.
After we had our tea, we headed out to walk among the stones. The friend who recommended this was right...there is a very different, and even more reverent, feel in this town. The stone rings surround the town and there a sheep grazing among them. We walked around the paths and through the tall grass with the sheep. The large circle is one where you could probably see from one side to the other, but the diameter is well over 200 yards. We followed the stones around and got to walk right up to them. When we crossed the street to the other part of the circle, there way a little boy running around one of the large stones. In the stone was a type of seat and it is called the "Devil's Seat." Tradition is that if you run around it 100 times the devil will appear. The boy was on number 10 or 11 when we approached. I climbed in the seat just for a photo option.
Mom headed back down to the car and Clare and I followed the circle around. The ground around there is all white chalk and, with the rain, was quite slippery. (In the fields around the area, there are several cutouts of horses from 100s of years ago. You can see the shape in the mountains as you drive by. We saw one of them as we left the town.) We headed around the circle and got back to the car where we were supposed to meet Mom. She wasn't there, so we left a note and went to find her. She was back in town and we all headed back to the car.
Overall, this was a truly amazing day. Great sites, spectacular events, and wonderful company. It was the highlight of the trip for me!
Sunday, July 8, 2012
8 July 2012
Today I drove our rental car for the first time. "Keep left, keep left, keep left..." is continually going through my mind.
We went with Clare to the local Quaker Meeting this morning. Very warm and welcoming folks (along with a very warm sanctuary). It was nice to participate in a different style of worship. They had a handout for those not familiar with the Quaker structure. It was a very nice summary of what to expect... and what NOT to expect. Afterwards, Mom and I had several nice conversations with people.
Clare took us for lunch to a new sandwich/dessert shop on the edge of the local cricket ground at the cricket pavillion. Clare had to "translate" the menu for us, which is ironic since last week we were in country where I didn't claim to be able to speak the language, but had an easier time knowing what I was reading on a menu.
From the lunch location, we decided I should drive home to get some practice in while Clare was along. The oddest thing to me today wasn't the driving on the left...though that was/is odd. The strangest thing to me was shifting with my left hand. I'd actually have my hand ON the shifter and, when I needed to shift, would take my left hand off the shifter, put it on the steering wheel, and then reach for the DOOR with my right hand. Upon finding nothing but the door, I would need to reverse that action and do this all before I missed a gear, turn, or other traffic related event...
It takes constant vigilance for me to drive and there was NO option of reading a map and/or directions at the same time, so when Clare went to her afternoon meeting and Mom and I headed off, it was up to her to navigate. We headed over to the town center to do some shopping since it was quite rainy. We found the parking lot, found the "purple" zone (which is 1/4 the price of the "red" zone, and walked over to the mall. There was a semi-permanent market outside of it and we looked through some stands. It was a real variety: clothes, food, electronics, household items, etc. When we headed into the mall we found a "TKMaxx" instead of a TJMaxx. We walked through and I found a whole section of Olympic gear. I've been looking for an olympic sweatshirt and I found one that was WAY cheaper than the one I saw in London last week and I liked it a lot better! It doesn't take much to make me a happy camper.
On our way out of the store, my mom said to me, "Do you think they have Dollar Stores in England?" I told her that Nico had told me that they did and, as we came around the corner, there one way. It's called the PoundShop instead, of course, because having a Dollar Store would be really difficult on the exchange rate:-) Mom was in her element and we both found things that would still fit in our overstuffed bags;-) Thrilled with our new purchases, we headed back to The Well to have some tea and get ready for tomorrow.
7 July 2012
We have had another long day of travel, but it was smoother than I anticipated. We did some re-arranging of things on the boat, so now Mom's backpack is lighter and easier to carry and the suitcases are more balanced, especially for having them "sit up" when we're trying to do something else.
We arrived in England again this morning and took the train into Liverpool St. Station in London. The great thing about this train was we actually sat in the "real" seats on this one, not just the jump seats between the doors. There was lots of room and they realized that most people had luggage from the boat, so it wasn't a problem to put it on the seat in front of us. We went through the area of London called Stratford and out our window was the Olympic Stadium. I had wanted to see it, but we didn't think we'd be able to and, then, there it was!
From there, we were going to take the Underground to the other station we needed, but (based on our experience last week) we decided to be adults and take a taxi. We had a nice 15-20 minute ride through the city to the Euston station. When we go there, we picked up the train to Bletchley, near Milton Keynes.
Every time I asked about the train to Bletchley, no one understands me. I can't actually pronounce this name...it sounds like I'm saying something and then coughing up a furrball. When I show it to Brits, they say something that sounds nothing like what I'm saying, but I can't seem to repeat it either. Consequently, when we needed to buy train tickets, I just said Milton Keynes. We got on the train that was getting ready to go, when I looked at the email from Clare with the times. The train we were on was NOT one of the ones that would stop at Bletchley where the car rental place was. We quickly got off and just needed to cross the platform for another train that would stop there. That was a bit close.
We went through some nice scenery and some funny named towns/stops. The one right before ours was Leighton Buzzard. There was another one with the name "Hemel" in it, which means "heaven" in Dutch. Clare met us at the railway station. We drove back to "The Well"at Wellen, which is the co-housing community in which she lives. Mom and I have our own guest rooms and a nice view of the rainy, England yards and gardens.
We settled in and had a nice pasta lunch with Clare in her apartment. We then had some down-time and I ended up taking a short nap (and not even feeling guilty about it;-) I was in need of some Airborne or Emergen-C, but they don't have it here, so we went to look around at Boots (a pharmacy like Walgreens). I found a daily-boost thing that I hope will help. I'm feeling quite tired with all the different travel and having a bit of a sore throat...mostly telling myself that it's in my head (figuratively, not just literally). On the way home, we stopped by the "famous" Milton Keyes cows. Apparently, an American sculpter felt that, if they were going to get rid of all the farm land to build the city, they should have a herd of sculpted cows. It was too wet and muddy to walk up to them across the field, but we got some good photos from the path on the road.
We came back to The Well and had some tea and then went for a walk. One thing you need to know is that I LOVE labyrinths. The Well has one mowed into their garden here. I want to figure out how they did it, because I would love that on our lawn. There are 2 humanmade lakes in Milton Keyes, creatively named North Lake and South Lake. We walked out the back garden and saw St. Mary Magdalene Church, from the 17th century, which is now used for interfaith services. There was then a nice bike/walking path that goes around North and South Lake. South Lake is for water sports, boating, etc., but North Lake, where we were walking, is more of a nature reserve. No boating, swimming, etc. There is an island in the middle of the lake that is run by goats...they are the only inhabitants.
Along the side of North Lake is Willen Park. In this park are great examples of interfaith work and appreciation. There is a medicine wheel stone circle that was created by a Navajo medicine man. In the center of the circle, there are often fires for significant religious or spiritual holidays/events. For example, the Christians might do one of Easter, but the Pagans might have one on the Spring Equinox. There is a Japanese Temple and Garden where there are several Buddhist services and one Buddhist Nun that lives in residence. Further along the path is the Peace Pagoda, a beautifully-constructed, magnificent structure on a rise in the landscape. Around the sides are reliefs of the story of Buddha. If you walk up the rise a bit further, you find yourself looking down at a giant labyrinth. There is a tree in the center and it is long enough that, if you walk the whole thing, it takes about 11/2 hours! I hope the weather is better to take time with that later.
After the long walk, we came back to The Well and then got ready to go to dinner. We went to find an English Pub for dinner. Mom had a chicken pie and I got some traditional fish and chips. Clare said they weren't quite traditional because the weren't wrapped in newspaper, nor dripping with grease, but I was still satisfied!
It's been a long day, but it is absolutely GREAT to be spending time with Clare and meeting her community.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
6 July 2012
Yesterday morning, John's friend Wim picked us up and kindly drove us near Uncle Ger and Aunt Gre's house where they picked us up. My mom spend the day with Uncle Jans and Aunt Henny in Westerbork, Orvelte, and at the largest hunebed in the Netherlands. A hunebed is like a mini Stonehenge and they are only in the northeast of the Netherlands. It's a large pile of large rocks that was a gravesite. My Uncle Ger has written many books on them.
I spent the day with my cousin Margreet. When I was in 4th grade, I had to choose someone to write a letter to. My mom suggested I write my cousin in the Netherlands. She is just over 2 years older than I am. We wrote letters back and forth that our parents translated for us for the next 4 years. When I was 13, I spent 4 weeks camping with her and her family in Switzerland on the border of Italy. It was a great experience as a kid. We were with other teens and I was the youngest of the bunch. There were 7 teenagers and 3 adults and we had a great time.
Margreet lives in Emmen. We spend the morning talking and catching up. It's much easier to do face-to-face than in letters. Her youngest child is 19, so they are mostly grown up. At noon, we were going to take the bus into town, but she had an extra bike, so we rode bikes. I love riding bikes, especially in the Netherlands. There is a completely separate "road" for the bikes that runs parallel to the regular road. You have your own set of traffic lights, etc. It just such a smart way to go. It makes it VERY bike-friendly! We biked into the city center and had lunch. I had a ciabatta sandwich with curry chicken salad. Of course, I had cassis to drink;-) After lunch we biked over to an Italian ice cream shop. When we were in Switzerland, we went every evening to the snack shop for gelato. That was the first time I had ever had it and I got pistachio every evening. Whenever I go to a gelato shop anywhere, I always order the pistachio. It's the flavor I compare all others to. Yesterday, I had both pistachio and white chocolate. Margreet had strawberry and milk chocolate.
When we got home, we took Margreet's dog for a walk. The dog's name is Monte, but the kids call him Max. There is a nice path and we went walking by the Oranjekanaal. It was really warm and Monte decided to just dive into the canal and chase some ducks. He was then a soggy doggy, but was almost smiling at his accomplishment.
At 5:30, Ger and Gre picked my up and we went to meet my mom and Jans and Henny at a Pancake house. It's in an old barn and the doorways are really low. There are lots of warning signs about not hitting your head. I'm short enough that I can/could just walk through without ducking...but just barely! We had Dutch pancakes, which are a lot like crepes. We each had one, but they were the size of the entire plate. You put a really thick syrup, called stroop, on them and then roll them up and eat. There are many different types of toppings, like apple, pineapple, ham, cheese, shwarma, bacon, raisins, etc. You can get either savory or sweet or a combination. I had apple and bacon ("spek')...second to the last thing on my "Things to eat in the Netherlands" List. It was absolutely delicious! I have been a very happy camper. I was also feeling great that I got in almost 10,000 steps yesterday--the pedometer read 9099 just after dinner...of course, later I realized it was upside down and was only 6606, but still better than nothing;-)
Today was our re-pack and travel back to England day. We had the opportunity to sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast and then completely re-pack our bags. We had to do some creative rearranging with the gifts we purchased and the gifts that were given to us, but we got it all done! Ger and Gre took us for a car ride to historic buildings and barns in the surrounding area. One of the buildings we went to was for the cow-hearder. Apparently in the Netherlands there are these small houses that the cowherd would live in while he herded the cows. (Think shepherd with cows...) He would live there all year and then travel home to his family on Christmas day. There used to be 100's of these buildings, but now only 2 still exist in the country.
For lunch, we went to the McDonald's in Emmen. I don't know if I've ever been in a McDonald's in the Netherlands, and it was quite humorous. My mother ordered a McCroquet. Apparently, that is only available in the Netherlands and has been a "classic" since 1999. They have McFlurries here, which was not unique, but they had one with Stroopwaffle in it (Yes, the same stroop from the pancakes...) so I had to try it! Very fun to have on my "I've had that" list. It was a nice treat, but stroopwaffels are not my favorite anyway (thus the reason it wasn't on my "things to eat" list.)
We went back to the house to pick up our luggage and headed to the train station. We had figured out that, if we took the 4pm train, we could go directly to Rotterdam and then catch the train to the boat. One of the things about the trains in the Netherlands is that they connect and disconnect. One engine will pull 2 halves and then at certain stations they split. You can be on the "right" train and end up on the "wrong" train. We knew the train coming was the "right" train, but when it pulled in, the 1/2 we needed was way down the track...add a bit a cardio with REALLY heavy luggage and we were on the right train. On all our train travel so far, we have been sitting in the folding seats by the doors. The luggage is not easy to pull down the aisles and the racks above aren't big enough for full suitcases. We ended up sitting next to a nice young lady who was also traveling to Rotterdam. As the train went along, there were times when that entire doorway was jammed with people, but mostly it was a very comfortable ride. Another thing about Dutch trains is that they have an engine at both ends. In one of the towns about 1/2 way, we pulled in riding backwards, but pulled out riding forwards. That was nice for the 2nd half of the ride.
We arrived in Rotterdam station and, learning from past mistakes, we went to find the elevator to go under the tracks rather than lugging all the luggage OVER the tracks. Unfortunately, the elevator for our track was under construction, which meant we had to take the suitcases down the stairs (yeah, for gravity)! However, there was no more lugging since we easily found the elevator back up to our other track. We had some time before we had to get to the boat, so I took the opportunity to cross the last food off my "Things to eat in the Netherlands" List. There was a snack bar in the station and I ordered a "frikandel speciaal" with Cassis. A frikandel is the equivalent of craving a White Castle hamburger...there is nothing special or great about it, but you crave it when you can't have it. I associate it with cheap college food, since that is where I ate them (when I was here in college). It's a specially seasoned sausage/hot dog thing and the "speciaal" part is that it is served with curry ketchup, Dutch mayonnaise and onions. Good stuff and my goals (food-wise) have been accomplished.
We got on the train to the city that we needed for boarding the boat. When we got there, I realized I hadn't mailed my postcards with Dutch stamps on them...that won't work in England! I went to the counter to ask the woman where there was a mailbox. She said there wasn't one, but that she would be willing to take them home and mail them! What a sweet thing to do. Sounded like she does it more often, but I very much appreciated it!
Heading into a rain storm in England tomorrow, but so far the boat has been very smooth. Looking forward to a good night's sleep.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Today we rode with Cousin John to Utrecht because he was heading into his new office for a meeting. Utrecht center is a very old town with a famous church tower called the Dom. We spent a couple hours walking around the canals, avoiding being hit by bikes, and having a morning coffee.
The canals serve as a transport and so one of the boats we saw was the delivery boat for all the beer, wine, and other drinks to the cafes along the river. It has a crane on it and hoists up the beverages to street level where they are delivered. This is apparently manditory so that there aren't any big trucks on the narrow streets.
I did have the best appel gebak I've had since I arrived and it was great fun to be back in an "old city" that had the canals and bikes.
After we met up with John to head back, we went to Spakenburg (another old, Dutch village) for lunch. Some of the people who live there still wear the traditional dress, so we saw the old harbor and then had lunch. I got to check off another thing from my food list: an uitsmijter. This is an open faced sandwich with egg and, today, it also had ham and cheese on it. We did see a couple women in the traditional dress, but I only managed to get a picture from the back as they biked by quickly.
The rest of the day was just a relaxing day at the house. Tomorrow we travel back to Uncle Gerrit and Aunt Gre.