Monday, July 23, 2012

Final Trip Reflections

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

The Ultimate Day

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.


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.


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

Sunday Driver

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.

We had dinner with Clare's community this evening. There was roast potatoes and chicken along with green vegetables, stuffing, gravy, and carrots. It was a very nice evening chatting some more with the folks that Clare shares community with. It's been nice to participate in their lives a bit.

Travel to Milton Keynes

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 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

Family, Food, and Farewell

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

Utrecht day trip

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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Zaanse Schans- Windmill village

I was trying to sleep in a bit, but the bright morning sun didn't help that happen. I awoke a bit crabby, but was mostly over it by the time we got in the car to head out for our day. Joke was off, so the 4 of us headed first to Zaandam. Aunt Alice has a friend there that she's now known for over 60 years. She had sent a package along with mom, so we stopped by to deliver it. We had some nice coffee/tea and another helping of appel gebak (apple cake/tart). I don't think I can get tired of that! Aunt Alice's friend, Corry, has a really neat apartment on the top floor of the building she lives in. There is a sun room that opens to a balcony and the view was really spectacular. There was a small river with bridges and ducks.

We then headed to de Zaanse Schans which is along west side of the Netherlands. When you see pictures from the Netherlands of a whole row of windmills this is the place they were taken. It's a beautiful, old style town and working windmills. We spend several hours walking around. The first thing I noticed was the tiled roofs with names on them of the businesses or types of businesses. The first building we walked up to was called "Vrede." For those of you who don't know, we have called our home "Vrede House" for the past 8 years. We walked along the strand and Joke and I climbed up one of the windmills. There were 5 narrow staircases (more like ladders) up to the top. We could look out and see the sails spinning closely by the upper windows. There was one sign that said, "You are visiting this windmill at your own risk." There were also several signs in multiple languages saying that you should go down the stairs backwards (like a ladder) rather than try to walk down them the "regular" way. There was a large balcony around the windmill where you could walk most of the way around it. They didn't let you walk on the side where the sails were coming by because if you didn't watch out you would be hit quite soundly by one of them!

We walked past several small shops and had a great time. For lunch, we stopped by a little restaurant. We've been eating almost every meal outside because the weather has been so good. I got another of my "Things to eat in the Netherlands" list accomplished at lunch. We had delicious croquettes with mustard. The area we were eating in is famous for its mustard. We thought this would be a nice accent to the croquettes. However, the restaurant served packets of French mustard that was manufactured in Germany! It was still a nice accent, but not as local as we could hope.

There was the original grocery story from the chain Albert Heijn, a local pewter shop, a small Dutch candy shop, a clock museum, and other cool things in the small strip of stores and houses. We did some shopping, but we did lots of photography. It was an absolutely beautiful weather day and we enjoyed being outside.

After stopping at a grocery story on the way home to stock up for gifts, etc., we came home to another great home cooked meal with chocolade vla for dessert.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Floriade in Limburg

Today was the day at the Floriade. This is a Horticultural World Expo that occurs every 10 years. It is in the Netherlands and is a Dutch event, but hosts countries from all over the world. Cousin John drove my mom and I to the event that covered several acres. Lots of cool sustainable architecture and many beautiful flowers. Many of the buildings and structures are "temporary" and will be moved to new locations. The gondola cars will be moved to Austria, one of the buildings will be reconstructed as an office building in the town, the natural wood footpath will be shredded and used as mulch in the forest.

There was a sound installation in the forest path called, "Soundscape." As you walked through the forest path, the sound "followed" you through with the whispers of a story and sounds, natural and musical, to guide you through. It was a surreal and yet welcoming experience. I think I could have walked that path all day and not gotten tired of it.

There were booths and pavilions from all over the world. There was a booth from DPR Korea. They had a bunch of postcards, including lots of propaganda cards. The woman in the booth didn't speak at all. The section of the building from the Russian Federation was really big, however, they had packed up and it looked like an abandoned warehouse! My cousin said it was an example of (un)reliability!

There were pavilions from Yemen, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakastan, Bangladesh, India, Israel, the Netherlands, and more. Each was an example of the architecture, fabrics, furniture, jewelry, etc. from the country and the pavilions were little sales booths. There were some lovely batik fabrics in the Indonesian one and the Yemen one was like and outdoor bazaar.

My mom wouldn't ride the London Eye (a huge ferris wheel) because she said she was scared of heights, but we had no problem riding the gondola over the park...that one felt far less safe (not unsafe, just less safe). She said she had ridden the cable car in Switzerland at Interlochen in 1962, so this was fine. The Floriade is in the middle of a national forest so we went over the trees and had a really lovely view. The pylons for the gondola had to be placed by military helicopters from Switzerland because the trucks and cranes weren't allowed in the forest. This is the first gondola in the Netherlands and the department of transportation had to approve it because it had never been done bureaucracy.

We came home in the evening and had a nice home-cooked meal. I got to cross another thing off my "things to eat in the Netherlands" List. We had chocolade vla for dessert. Vla is a cross between a really smooth/fresh custard and pudding. It's not hard like pudding, but is pourable out of a carton. They also have vanilla, which I like equally, but the chocolate feels particularly decidant on vacation. I had 2 bowls and finished off the carton. It was WONDERFUL!!!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The weekend-as relaxing as every vacation day

1 July 2012
Sunday afternoon. Yesterday was a relaxing day and then the evening was filled with family.
In the morning Mom and I went into Emmen with Uncle Gerrit to do some shopping. I went to a bicycle shop. I love going to bike shops in other countries! I did find a couple cool accessories and some fun gifts. We then went into a shopping center and had our morning "coffee." There is a department store called Vroom & Dressman (V&D) and they have a small eatery there. I love the "gebak" (cakes and pasteries) in the Netherlands. Mom had a cake with cream filling covered with fresh strawberries, raspberries, and "red" berries. I had a pecan, apple, lemon tart/cake! Yummy...could have had tea, but chose to wash it down with Chocomel.

The great thing about being in the Netherlands is the easy familiarity of it. This is the 8th time I've been here (8 1/2, if you count in utero;-), including living here for a 1/2 year in college. I have favorite foods and places. The language and the pace are familiar. There are lots of relatives. There is such a familiarity, that I sometimes forget which things only exist here and which exist in America.

We had my other aunt and uncle (the "bicycle theif") over last night along with my 3 cousins and their kids. I had never met 2 of my cousin's kids and it had been 20 years since I'd seen my one cousin's wife. It has been a good 7-8 years since I'd seen everyone else in the Netherlands.
As far as the food familiarity, I just keep finding things that I love. We had Borrelnootjes ("beer nuts", but not like US beer nuts) and Kroepoek (Indonesian chips). I'm keeping a list of things I still want to eat while here.

The plans for the week are shaping up. A good balance of family time, visiting time, and just hanging out time!

This morning we went with Uncle Gerrit and Aunt Gre to church. I really like organ music...must be in my blood. 3 of my uncles are very musical and 2 play the organ. I also have a couple cousins who play and at least one of my cousin's kids. The church service has all organ playing. It's a "heavy" organ sound, but I really like it. My uncle sometimes plays, but wasn't playing today. There is a very distinct style to the music. I also got to hear Uncle Ger play at the house this morning, but it wasn't exactly the same style.

After lunch we went to Uelsem, Germany where my family has a vacation home. We met up with my cousin John and his wife Joke (pronounced "yoke ah") and rode with them back to their home in Amersfoort. We will be with them for the next 3 days. One of the highlights of the day was the delicious quiche for dinner. Yum and yum! Tomorrow we are heading to the Floriade, an international horticultural expo that only happens every 10 years.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Why you should never listen if someone says "Trust Me"

29 June 2012

It was a big travel day today and I also found many new "truths" today. The first is that it's a much bigger day of travel when you're lugging luggage (see how aptly that is named)! Another obvious "fact" in travel is that, the more you have to carry, the more stairs you have to climb...and you will inevitably find the elevator right AFTER you do climb the stairs with all the luggage! The last thing I learned (again) is that the words, "Trust me" should be followed with healthy skepticism.

We landed in Hoek van Holland this morning and the disembarking began at 7:45am. They do a ship-wide wake-up call at 6:30am. I slept really well on the boat and was deeply asleep when the phone rang at 2:30am. Mom and I both thought it was the wake up call, but it was a prank call...apparently drunk youth are obnoxious in any country. (Actually, I'm going with the fact that it was a mis-dial and not malicious;-) When we went back to sleep, it was a peaceful night. The actual wake-up call was over the ship's loudspeaker...I can't get it out of my head...using Bobby McFaren's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I don't think I'll change my alarm to use it, but it is a "happy" tune to wake to:-)

When we disembarked, we took the train to Rotterdam. We've explored that town many years ago and today decided that we were just traveling on to Drenthe (a province in the Netherlands where my mom grew up). I read the train schedule and we realized we could get most of the way on one train. A big deal when lugging luggage. We found the elevator (yeah) and realized it didn't go up to the platform (boo), but then realized the stairs had an escalator (yeah!). We walked across the platform to the train track listed and realized there was no elevator/escalator down (boo!). With some gravity assistance, we got down to the platform. (This was not just a single flight, but about 3 floors worth to pass over the trains.) There we waited until the announcement came on that the train we wanted was leaving from a DIFFERENT that required climbing back up the stairs and down another set of stairs with the luggage (boo) within 4 minutes (serious BOOOO!).

We did decide that, since we weren't competing for a spot on the Amazing Race (and that, if we were, we would have taken less luggage and trained for it), it wasn't worth risking cardiac arrest to make it. When we got to the top of the stairs, I left Mom there with the luggage and went to check in the main building for the whole route to Hoogeveen.

Great news! There was a direct train with only one change! Oh, and by the way, there was also an elevator if you went UNDER the tracks and there was no need to carry all that luggage up and down those stairs...ooops...guess I got the cardiac training today. I went back up to Mom and I carried the luggage DOWN for one last time. Dutch people are very nice and 3 different people offer to help carry the luggage, but we had time and I didn't want to inconvenience anyone, so I did decline (OK, it may have been pride, but I'll move on...)

We got on the train and found an open car with jump seats designed for people with bikes, but it worked great for people with lots of luggage. There was a couple speaking English across from us. At our first stop, they got up and got off...and then jumped right back on. The train started moving and they were talking to us and immediately realized that WAS where they wanted to get off! Just as they were realizing it, the conductor came through. He asked them were they were going and they said,"Assen." This was just one stop past where we were going. The conductor said that they didn't need to switch trains. That the one they were on went there. When they questioned him about the other information they had received, he said, "Don't listen to those other people. Trust me!" [Yes, this is the part I shouldn't have trusted.]

We realized that we were going in the same direction, but to a smaller town, so the express train we were on wouldn't stop there. We told the couple, who by this time had moved up to the top floor, that we would tell them when to get off. It would be a long ride. We settled in, knowing we had quite a ride ahead, until we got to Zwolle. In the past, you had to be careful which end of the train you were in. One half went your way, one went another. We were hoping the conductor would come back through to confirm that we could stay on.

When we were in train station in Zwolle, I poked my head out of the door and the sign saying were the train was going, said the other way! I mentioned this to Mom, but we settled back in, but then she asked the man getting on our train if this one stopped at the town we needed. He promptly said, "No, it's the other half." We quickly jumped up, walked out the door, walked up to the other half, and, as the train we needed pulled away without us, stood on the platform and realized we forgot to tell our buddy couple that THEY needed to get off too!!! I felt AWFUL!!! Yep, never listen to the words "Trust Me."
When we got on our train between Zwolle and Assen, where my aunt and uncle were picking us up, Mom was in a chatty mood. She told me about her high school and "finishing school." That program (including chemistry) was not one that worked for her. She stayed there for one semester and then decided it wasn't worth going back. After that she took a nurse's aid course and had a job at a hospital.

My Aunt Gre and Uncle Ger met us at the train station in Assen. Mobile phones make coordinating much easier than in "the old days." They took us through Westerbork on the way home. Westerbork is the town that my mom grew up in. We stopped by my grandparents old house. They had had it build when they retired. It has changed a lot. They've added a "sun room" and changed the yard layout. I'm going to have to pull out my old pictures to see the differences. We headed into the town center and had lunch. I ordered the Nasi Goreng lunch at a restaurant that was located between the house my mom was born in and the house she grew up in. It was very cool!

We also drove past my mom's elementary school on our way home to Oosterhesselen. We moved our stuff into the room and have been spending the afternoon hanging out. I also got some homework done for my graduate program that starts when we get back to the states. Lovely day...tomorrow we have a major family reunion for Uncle Ger's birthday. Looking forward to seeing many of my cousins and their kids. I'll also see my other Aunt and Uncle.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bloody Americans...June 28,2012

Bloody American Tourists. Yep, that was us today. Fortunately, I don't think was particularly offended anyone, but we were the America Tourists today.

We left Downham Market on the train this morning, and found out once again the value of the round trip purchase. We were going to get a ticket to the train station in London and then deal with the return in 2 weeks, but it was just a bit more to get the return ticket and it will be good for a month! I love a good deal. We have a ticket for the trip to the Netherlands tonight that covered the train from London to Harwich, the boat over, a cabin, and the train to any station in the Netherlands. When I tell folks what it costs, everyone assumes that is per person, not for both of us. I love being able to shop on Internet before leaving.

When we got to London Liverpool Station, we checked our bags into a storage space. Handy, because did LOTS of walking today and the luggage would have been a pain. We went to information and asked about a city tour on a bus. We wanted to be able to hop on and off if we were near things we wanted to see. I had cheezy gift shopping on my mind and wanted to get lots of it done. We decided to have lunch and found a place called "A Bunch of Grapes" in the Leadenhall Market. I decided to go with a traditional English dish-spinach ravioli:-) I had a coke
served with lemon to drink and mom had a ham and cheese toastie with chips.

We wandered over to St. Paul's Cathedral to catch the tour bus. Three different bus tours start at that point and I felt like a piece of bloody bait walking into a shark tank. We were eventually snatched up by one of the sharks and found ourselves immediately on a double decker tour bus with an open top. It was such a beautiful day and the live tour guide was very friendly and funny...exactly what you want in an entertaining afternoon! We spent a lot of time stuck in traffic. There was a major dedication of a statue to the Royal Air Force from the Second WW. We actually just missed the queen mum and Charles and Camilla. We saw the dedication live on TV when we were eating lunch, but when we drove by with the tour, they had already gone back to Buckingham Palace.

We continued riding to Picadilly Circus (no animals were injured in this event) where we got off and did some light shopping. Apparently, the Picadill was the ruff collar from Shakespeare's day and they were shopped for on Picadilly Road. We decided to go to TGIFriday's, like the good American Tourists. Standard chain food...OK, but not very exciting.

We decided to take the Underground back to the Liverpool Station. It had been hot all day, but the Tube was UNBEARABLE! They are really going to need to work on that before the influx from the Olympics. We were both SO happy that we had left our luggage at the station. We actually got back to the station just before the early train left for Harwich. We caught it just on time and had a very relaxing ride over. When we got to the boat we checked in and boarded the boat. We have a cute little cabin, like a train car. There are bunk beds and I think I will definitely be sleeping on top tonight.

Mom and I are now hanging out in the lobby. We can hear the engines starting and are enjoying
croquettes, drinking cassis (my favorite Europe drink), and chatting about life. We'll be heading to bed soon, sleeping on the boat, and waking up in the Netherlands.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27, 2012

Lots of walking today...yippee! Almost 10,000 steps. Life is good.

Mom and I walked into Downham Market. We went to several Charity Shops today, which we call thrift shops. Some fun things, but nothing I couldn't live without. I did pick up a couple cards. We had a very nice day in town and, even though it's been overcast, it has not been cold. Shorts were the order of the day and we did actually see the sun at least twice! We were spent from the walk into town, but were saved from walking home by an appropriately timed text that allowed Ruth to pick us up on her way home.

I have decided that a simple lunch, bread, cheese, soup, is delicious when you are sharing it with loved ones. It has been really comfortable hanging out here and I really like the family time with Nico and Ruth. After lunch we headed into Ely. Ely has a cathedral that I saw many years ago, but it was undergoing rennovation. It was nice to see it without the scaffolding. The cost to enter felt a bit excessive, so we just walked around the lobby and the outside. There was a symbol created by and artist for over one of the entries. It is called, "The Road to Salvation" and I was completely enammored by the visual. It just captured my mind. I did get a photo of it along with a postcard. There were pieces of jewelry with the symbol and, while I found them stunning, I also know I won't wear them (they were mostly gold and I never change my earings). Maybe I can get the symbol on something that I would wear. In Ely is also Oliver Cromwell's house. It was closing time, so we didn't take the tour, but did see the house and take some photos. I never realized it was in the same town, but maybe I just didn't know who he was the last time I was there.

Ruth, Mom and I walked down to the river to get a cup of tea. While we were walking down, we saw a sign for a bike path. My mom was telling Ruth and I about these large (5 meter) bicycles in the Netherlands along a famous bike path. She had seen and photographed one of these bike sculptures when she was last in the Netherlands. Mom had recently heard the story on the Dutch news about someone stealing one of these bike sculptures and how the news said a few days later it had been returned. After a moment, Ruth asked what the rest of the story was.

Mom: "That's all I know. I don't know if they caught them."

Ruth: "You don't know who took it then?"

Mom:"No. They just took it at night and it got returned."

Ruth: "Your nephew Jans took it. There's a video. Your brother Jans was also on the video."

When we got home tonight we looked it up. There is a big 4 day bike ride in the province my mom grew up in and they took it for the event as a prank. They posted the video on YouTube ( and then invited the other mayor over. The video in town takes place on the street my mom grew up on. My uncle is in these videos and my cousin is in the first one. ( National News theft and my family was responsible.

We had a great dinner with Nico, Ruth, and Hannah. It was fun to try to explain the family to my 21 year old cousin. Last time I was here, she was 11, so it's fun to connect with her as an adult. My mom told lots of family stories and she was surprised by lots of the stories. It's good to connect.

June 26, 2012

Today was truly a vacation day for me...sleeping in late and hanging out with wonderful people.

We slept in and when we got up it was almost time for lunch. Ruth was already home from work and was working on lunch for us. Even a simple lunch is wonderful in a new location. We had bread rolls with "the best" chutney, meat, cheese, or a homemade spread create, prepared, and sold by Uncle Nico's students. Delicious enough, but for dessert we had fresh strawberries with double cream. Perfect.

After lunch we headed into Downham Market to exchange some money. The bank we went to had an ATM machine labeled "Hole in the Wall." Don't know if they are all called that, but I did find it funny. We actually ended up changing money at the local travel agency.

We headed out in the car for a drive and ended up at a place called Norfolk Lavender. This outdoor garden/lavender distillery had many products from the plant and lots of gardening items for sale. They were in the process of collecting every variety of lavender known. The small fields were beautiful and it smelled delicious. When we got there the police were there trying to catch a crook who was passing counterfeit bills and they were searching the place for his wallet, which they hadn't found yet. While we were there, they had to call an ambulance for a kid who was bit by a goat in the petting zoo was a dangerous day!

We stopped in Burnham Market for a spot of tea and had a nice chat. It was warmer weather than they had had here for several weeks, but it was also a bit rainy and so we sat under the table umbrellas at the restaurant. This is the "vacation home" place for the English jet-set. Johnny Depp has a home there, along with several other TV/movie stars. It's just like being in LA, only not as warm, sunny, or pretentious.

For our last stop we went to Wells-next-the-Sea. There is a Dutch tall ship that got "stuck" there about 10 years ago. It was a beautiful ship that reminded me of the tall ships I used to sail on to Catalina with the kids. Because it was a Dutch ship, they served Dutch food, so in addition to a British hard cider, we had pannekoeken (Dutch crepe-like pancakes)! Mom went with cinnamon and apple, but I had spinach, cheese, and boiled egg! Life is good on the food front!

This evening, Mom gave Nico and Ruth a quilt she had made out of tea towels. Several of them were from England, but many were also from other countries they had visited, like Australia.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Travel: Past and Present meet

2012 is supposed to be the "end of the world" by the Myan calendar, so it is time to get some traveling in before the end. My mom is turning 70 this year and, at her request, she and I are traveling back to "the old country."

It's a return trip, so to speak: with my mom back to the Netherlands and England to see her brothers. She still has 2 brothers in NL and one in England. We are currently over the Atlantic on the way. There's also a rundown of numbers coming across that probably have some significance, if I went for that sort of thing, but are at least interesting:
70-the age my mom will be this year
60- the age my uncle Nico is turning this year
50-the number of years my Uncle Gerrit and Aunt Gre are married
30-the number of years Uncle Nico and Ruth are married

On January 1 of 2013, it will have been 50 years since my mom emigrated from the Netherlands. She traveled on New Year's Day because that was a day that her parent's store was closed. She landed in Detroit Airport and was picked up by Ben and Jerry (really), but they refused to stop for ice cream (not really). She had come through New York first. On that initial flight to New York, she was sitting next to a man from South Africa who spoke Afrikaans. He helped her fill out the paper work in English because he could translate from the Dutch. He then proposed to her saying that they really needed women in South Africa. She decided to take the plane to Detroit because her brother and brother-in-law were waiting for her. Good thing cell phones weren't an option for
changing plans;-)

Yesterday was a long travel day. I left LA and went through Minneapolis to Grand Rapids, MI. I was picked up by my mom and her sister, Alice. We passed through Kalamazoo to do some luggage exchange and then mom and I headed to Detroit for our flight. We got to our hotel at 1:45am and got a couple short hours of sleep before we took off this morning. This flight was via Chicago and we'll land in London Heathrow tonight to head to Uncle Nico's house.

We're now in Downham Market and planning on sleeping until we're done!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's been a while...

It's been over a year since I've blogged or had a "proper" vacation.  It is time to remedy both.  School is almost out and then I am off on an adventure.  For those of you aware of my last 2 international trips, I'm hoping it's not THAT kind of adventure.

My mom and I are traveling back to the Netherlands to see her two of her brothers' families. We will also be going to England to see her youngest brother's family.  My mom will be 70 this year and it is a good time for us to travel together and celebrate her life and her-story.  I'm hoping for lovely and uneventful trip and that I come back looking better than my current passport picture!

I will also be in Michigan with my family and starting a one-year graduate fellowship program.  Traveling, learning, and meeting new may be the PERFECT summer!