30 April 2013

Koninginnedag to Koningsdag: Painting the Town Oranje

The 30th of April is a big deal here in the Netherlands: We celebrate Koninginnedag (Queen's Day), a day of partying and festivities honoring Queen Beatrix; but this year there is the added excitement of the Queen's abdication and the coronation of Prince Willem-Alexander.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and one of the few countries that has an active and public monarch. It seems that especially in the last few years the Queen's role has become largely symbolic, with the last official political function of appointing the leader of the opposition party being removed last year, but the monarchy continues to play a part in Dutch politics.

The family line of the House of Oranje-Nassau is long, but the Netherlands has only had a monarchy since 1815 when Prince Willem VI proclaimed himself King Willem I. (Once we look back further than 1900, European history often seems confusing to Americans because of all the complex alliances, changing boundaries, intermarriage of royal lines, wars, etc. This is one of those cases for me - I can't accurately describe why there was a Dutch prince but no monarchy in the Netherlands or why the country would switch from a republic to a monarchy at this point in time - but they did, so stick with me...) King Willem III (the grandson of Willem I) was an unpopular king, and in an attempt to drum up more public support the government created the  Prinsessedag (Princess's Day) celebrating the king's five year old daughter and heir, Princess Wilhelmina, on her birthday. When Wilhelmina officially ascended the throne in 1898, the day became known as Koninginnedag. Queen Wilhelmina abdicated the throne in 1948, her daughter Juliana becoming queen. Koninginnedag was moved to 30 April, Queen Juliana's birthday. When Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980, Queen Beatrix kept the tradition on 30 April as a way to continue honoring her own mother. This year, Koninginnedag is an especially big deal because Queen Beatrix is abdicating the throne and her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, will become the first king in the Netherlands since 1890 - next year, the celebration will be known as Koningsdag (King's Day) and celebrated on 27 April, King Willem-Alexander's birthday.*

Between a love of celebrating Queen's Day and the extra excitement of the change in the monarchy, a lot of places are going all out. The color orange (oranje) is everywhere, lots of little girls are dressed up in princess costumes, and there's plenty of commemorative kitsch for purchase (just like when Prince William and Princess Kate were married in the UK). We picked up a couple of things (why not, right?) as little reminders of when we have gotten to witness while living here. Little Man's favorite kitsch is the Albert Heijn grocery chain's Koningswup - the little orange pompoms with crowns and feet. I think mine is the commemorative cookie tin and commemorative hagel (breakfast sprinkles) tin. Or the wine... yeah, my favorite is probably the wine.

Commemorative kitsch!

Our neighborhood is also celebrating with a small fair - complete with a few carnival rides. Little Man was VERY excited when we took him to ride on a few rides - and for the first time ever, he got to go on some rides by himself.

Merry-go-round. Despite the apparent look of concern,
he's actually enjoying himself. This is just poor camera timing.

"Flying" Ride.

Train roller coaster.

For the evening, we're celebrating like everyone else. We've got our own decorations up and oranje to wear. It's still not a system or celebration we're used to having, but so far it's pretty fun, and we'll take advantage of it.

*If you've noticed the gap between 1890 (the year King Willem III died) and 1898 (the year Queen Wilhelmina officially took the throne) - well done! This isn't a typo - Queen Wilhelmina was 10 years old when her father died, and het mother, Queen Emma, acted as regent until Wilhelmina came of age (18) in 1898. 

28 April 2013

Visitors and Highjinks (Part II)

And now for the second installment of our recap of the visit with Ace's family:

Wednesday 17 April we got up early and took the train toward Delft, a city close to Den Haag (the Hague). Delft it known for many things: It is home to the Royal Delft Porcelain, the famous blue and white Dutch china; it is the traditional final resting place for the House of Oranje-Nassau (the ancestoral line of the Dutch royal family), and home of the painter Johannes Vermeer (Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Milkmaid, and plenty of other works). We started with a morning snack at the Bagels & Beans Cafe at the Delft Grote Markt - a place that I wrote about when a shop first opened in Tilburg but that I have since discovered is a chain with an least one cafe in every major city. Mark now refers to Bagels & Beans as my "favorite chain."

Bellies full, we toured the Nieuwkerk, the old church that holds the royal family's mausoleum and has acted as the final resting place for many members of the royal family since the internment of Prince Willem I in 1584. (Fun Fact: The family typically used Breda as their burial spot, but the city was under the control of the Spanish and inaccessible to the Oranje-Nassaus at the time of Willem I's death.) We also climbed the church's tower, the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands - and it was quite the condensed, winding hike, but worth it for the view from the top.

Nieuwkerk, Delft - and views from the top of the bell tower

After the Nieuwkerk, Ace and Mormor made their way to the Royal Delft museum and factory while the boys went to the Prinsenhof for some history about Prince Willem I (though that also turned out to have more Royal Delft China than they would have cared for) and made their way to Den Haag (just a 10 minute train ride) for a bit exploring - where they even found an American bookstore and even Baruch Spinoza's house.

Spinoza's house, Den Haag (not Spinoza's car)

At the Royal Delft museum and factory, Ace and Mormor got to learn about the history and process for the china and even got to try our hands at creating our own Delft plates. Meeting back up with the guys in Delft city center, we all tried some delicious uitsmijters before heading back home.

The life cycle of Royal Delft china - molding, post-first firing, paint, and final product

Mormor working on her own Delftware

We claimed Thursday as another easy-going day in between heavy travel days; but as we hadn't toured the neighborhood besides the walk to/from the train station and since there was a small, weekly neighborhood market at one of shopping plazas it was a good day to walk around and show off our more local aspects of Tilburg. Plus, the stroopwafel guy was at the market, and you should always see your stroopwafel guy.

Friday was our trip to the La Trappe abbey and brewery for a tour of their facilities. I wrote a quick post last Friday when Blogger and I had a disagreement and my first Visitors and Highjinks post fell into some kind of internet black hole... but here's a bit more detail. You have to reserve in advance for the tour - you can't show up on a whim because as a functioning abbey the monks need to stick to their daily schedules. The tour starts in a room of their nice new Tasting Building with information from the tour guide and a brief film about the history of the Trappist monks, the La Trappe abbey and brewery, and the particular brewing process. More importantly, they give you a free drink before the film starts to... uh... make you appreciate the experience all the more. Afterwards, you walk the brewery, bottling facility, and some of the grounds with the tour guide as the guide provides more detailed history and information about the brewing. Most of the people on the tour spoke Dutch, and our tour guide explained everything in English and Dutch - and was fortunately a fantastic story teller in both languages. After the tour, you can return to the Tasting Building for a little more "appreciation" of the product, look around some of the public grounds, or visit the abbey shop. In order to stay self-sustaining, the monks of the abbey make a lot more products than just beer, so there's something for just about everyone. Once we returned home, we treated Mormore, Bumpa and Uncle E to a session of our "Family Movie Night" and home-fried Dutch goodies - including frites, bitteballen, and kipnuggets.

La Trappe Trappist Brewery

Saturday was our World War II history day. Like much of Europe, the Netherlands was deeply effected by the war and many major events occurred within the borders. We decided to explore Nijmegen and Eindhoven, two towns liberated by Allied forces during Operation Market Garden - an Allied operation to capture several bridges in a stretch from Eindhoven to Arnhem (popularized by the book and movie A Bridge Too Far). While the Allies started first in Eindhoven and made their way north, we decided to start in Nijmegen to make sure we had plenty of time to go through the Nationaal Bevrijdingsmuseum (The National Liberation Museum), a museum commemorating the liberation of the Netherlands and providing a picture of the post-war reconstruction, located in nearby Groesbeek (one of the landing sites for the paratroopers of Operation Market Garden). After the museum, we headed back toward the Grote Markt in Nijmegen city center for lunch at the Saturday market and we walked to the park overlooking the river and location of two of the bridges the Allies attempted to take from the Nazis. The bridges we taken, but several days later Nazi swimmers attempted to blow up the bridge, but a Dutch resistance fighter is credited with foiling the plot. Ultimately, Market Garden was not a complete success due to a variety of factors - the Allies were forced to rescue the forces in Arnhem, though several hundred were forced to surrender.

View from Nijmegen

After Nijmegen, we jumped on a train headed to Eindhoven. The city was hit especially hard during the war, so most of the buildings are post-war construction. We went looking for a war memorial dedicated to the paratroopers of Operation Market Garden, but we found the memorial dedicated to the residents of Eindhoven killed during the war and also commemorates the liberation. Accidentally along the way, we discovered the Sint Catharinakerk (Saint Catherine's Church) which has clever display windows into the ground to allow visitors to look at bones of those buried at the church during the 1200s. (A church has been located at that spot since the medieval era, but the building was replaced by an entirely new building in the 1860s. The bones were discovered during a dig fairly recently - I think just within the last 10 years). We grabbed some dinner at a restaurant in Eindhoven before heading home for the evening.*

Sunday morning, Little Man and Ace accompanied Mormor, Bumpa, and Uncle E back to Schipol International Airport. We got them through their luggage check before walking them to the security line and saying goodbye, snatching some extra hugs and kisses before they went through the scanners. We waited until we couldn't see, then grabbed some hotdogs from the HEMA stall in the train station before heading home. "Mama," said Little Man in a quiet little voice, "we just have to go back to my house." Sure thing, kid.

We enjoyed having our visitors, and we hope they enjoyed seeing the sights with us. If you'd like us to show you around - let us know! We're happy to have guests and look forward to those coming soon!

*You may have realized that there are far fewer pictures this time around - and there's a reason (though not a good one) for that. I get really, amazingly lazy about taking pictures when other people with cameras are around... and I didn't have the pictures when it came time to write this post. So, there you have it.

27 April 2013

Visitors and Highjinks (Part I)

I'm trying this again after Blogger decided to mess with me yesterday and forced me to make another post. We've been absent from the blog the last couple of weeks since we had a visit from Ace's family (known to the Little Man as Mormor, Bumpa, and Uncle E). They visited with us for a week and a half and we traveled around the Netherlands and saw some different places and new things; and we also shared some of our favorite parts about living in Europe and the Netherlands. Since we did so much together, I'm breaking a recap of the visit into two parts, and if Blogger is willing (yes, I'm still bitter) we'll get Part II up in short order.

We met Mormor, Bumpa, and Uncle E at Schipol International Airport on Thursday 11 April. After hugs and hellos and a quick explanation of the OV-Chipkaart (similar to the ChicagoCard available through the CTA), we were off to Zandvoort, a pretty coastal town that is a huge tourist area during the summer. We decided before our visitors arrived that we should make use of staying in another area of the country to better see the sights, and Zandvoort is a short train ride from Amsterdam and Haarlem while being a nice area to stay. Off-season it was easy to find a place to stay and eat in the restaurants, but in the middle of the season we're sure this place would be near impossible to stay for a reasonable price. After checking into our hotel (with studio-apartment style rooms), we found dinner at Cafe Neuf, a local restaurant with good beer, delicious food, and an interesting history: the building was once a small village church and the inside has and amazing art-deco interior. Well watered and fed, everyone called it a night to rest up for the adventures of the next day.

Art-deco ceiling lighting at Cafe Neuf, Zandvoort

On Friday 12 April we took the 30 minute train ride to Amsterdam for a day of exploration in the city. True to the Dutch experience, it was pouring rain the entire time we were in the city (though it cleared up nicely after we had boarded the train back to Zandvoort). We took a canal tour which was nice for a different perspective of the city. We also attempted to use the hop-on-hop-off bus tour system through Tours and Tickets Amsterdam, but this was a MAJOR bust. For a brief moment, I'll digress for a moment just to convince you not to use their services:
  1. Tours and Tickets has several satellite offices around the city center through which you can purchase your tickets, but you have to go to their main office to trade in your receipt for the physical ticket that will get you onto the bus. This leads to a lot of walking back and forth just to get onto the bus (or canal boat) that you just paid for - not recommended if you are in a time crunch.
  2. Tours and Tickets sells tickets for two different hop-on-hop-off bus operators and keeps the route information for both bus lines on the same stupid tourist map with little detail. This wouldn't have been so problematic if the first employee hadn't told us the wrong operator for the tickets we had purchased.
  3. There are no signs for the bus stops. If you're thinking to yourself, "Gee that seems problematic for a company catering to tourists (i.e. people that aren't familiar  with the streets on the poorly detailed map," then you would be correct. We spent almost an hour walking around in heavy rain looking for the stupid things.
  4. When we did finally come to a bus, the Tours and Tickets employee wouldn't allow us to get on and then proceeded to tell me that she didn't know where the other bus stops we located but that we should go to another one to get on a different bus.
  5. Fed up, we went back to the main office to request a refund. The guy at the counter wasn't going to budge on a refund, but after insisting that I'd talk to the manager and witnessing 2 or 3 other groups of American and German tourists with the same complaints, we at least got our refund.
Unfortunately, we didn't see as much of Amsterdam as we would have liked (though we took several nice photos of Station Amsterdam Centraal while looking for the foolish bus stop); but we did get to see some noted parts of the city. We saw the inside of the Sint-Nicolaasbasiliek (St. Nicholas Basilica), a gorgeous Roman Catholic basilica initially built in 1887 - it's not exactly "old" as far as European churches go, but the inside was beautifully restored in 1999 and worth visiting the interior. We didn't visit the museum, but we did view the Anne Frank house from the exterior and found a great English bookstore. We took the train back to Zandvoort and ate at another local restaurant, Grandcafe Sjans - which had fantastic staff and probably the most delicious and well-presented food we've ever eaten.

Interior of the Sint-Nicolaasbasiliek

For the Saturday, the weather forecast predicted heavy fog in the morning that would clear up by midday and be warm and sunny the rest of the day. We initially planned to rent bicycles and take the coastal path to the Keukenhof, a beautiful garden open only during the tulip season. We used a Zandvoort bike rental company with reasonable day rental prices and made our way to the trail. We weren't prepared for the amount of wind we encountered (which in retrospect makes sense when you're on the ocean) or the fact that the path was all along the sand dunes and very hilly - unlike most of the country which is flat. We didn't make it to the Keukenhof that day, but we did manage to cross the border into the province of Zuid-Holland (South Holland).

Bumpa and Mormor riding along the coast

After calling the trip as good as it was going to be, we headed back to the hotel for some lunch before heading down to the beach to look at the Noord Zee (North Sea). The fog had mostly cleared from the morning, but in a matter of 15 minutes on the beach we watched it all roll back in. Before we abandoned the beach for a warmer place, the Little Man got in some shell hunting and designated Bumpa as the collection-holder.

Little Man and Bumpa at the North Sea

From the beach we decided to head to Haarlem to explore a bit of the city. We spotted the Molen De Adriaan (the De Adriaan windmill) and made our way over. The mill is "still" in operation - but it's important to note that while the mill was originally built in 1778 it burned down in 1932 (the cause of the fire is unknown, but the Little Man is pretty adamant that dragon-fire is to blame) and wasn't rebuilt until 2002. There is now, however, a museum with tours of the entire windmill and history of mills in Holland and a miller on duty regularly operating the mill. From the  mill, we walked toward the city center and explored the Grote Markt for the Saturday market and got beer and snacks at a local cafe before heading back to Zandvoort and enjoying local doner kebabs for dinner.

Molen De Adriaan, Haarlem

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the Keukenhof (complete with all our luggage). We took the train to Leiden and then a special express bus directly to the Keukenhof. When you arrive early enough, you can access lockers that are big enough for large suitcases and we took full advantage of that before heading into the park. The Keukenhof combines everything "typical Dutch," so visitors can see tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, and women posted around the park in traditional dress - bonnets included. Usually by mid-April the park is a cacophony of color with all the tulips in bloom at once; but this year's unusually long and cold winter delayed the tulips' arrival. Most of the park was full of crocuses or tulip buds, but the pavilion buildings were full of flowering tulips of more varieties than I would have thought possible. The Keukenhof also keeps a petting zoo, which was equal parts delightful and terrifying for the Little Man as he got up close (and then backed away quickly) to some of his favorite kinds of animals. We spent a good portion of the day seeing just about the whole garden before heading back to our home in Tilburg by train. Once we did get home, everyone was able to settle in and relax while the cats skittered around the house, confused as to where we had been the last few days and why we brought back extra people with us.

The Keukenhof

Most shops (except for grocery stores) don't open until 10:00 or 11:00 on Monday mornings, so we decided to take our time in the morning so everyone could catch up on sleep, have a lazy morning, and get some grocery shopping done. In the afternoon, Ace took Mormor, Bumpa, and Uncle E to Tilburg city center for a look-around while Mark stayed with Little Man to ensure he got a much-needed nap. Monday was a welcomed low-key day after much traveling around the northwest of the country.

But we were right back in the action on Tuesday! Ace, Mormor, and Little Man went to the Safaripark Beekse Bergen (the same place we took Little Man for his birthday) shortly after opening time and stayed until late afternoon - and despite the whole day, 2 bus tours, and 1 boat tour, we still didn't see everything! Meanwhile, Bumpa and Uncle E borrowed some bicycles and took a trip across the border to Belgium. While there were no signs or any other obvious markers to signal the change of nation soil, they did spot the Belgian flag flying and took some pictures of themselves at arrival. More importantly, they made it back on the bikes the same day! That evening, Mark and Uncle E went out to a concert while the rest of us relaxed and planned for the next day's adventure.

Little Man and Mormor on the Safaripark bus

So... you've made it through Part I of our visitor recap. Part II to follow... hopefully sooner rather than later. Stay tuned!

26 April 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #10 - Good Beer

This wasn't my ideal return post after our absence  but after Blogger banished an hour and a half's worth of writing about our recent visitors and travels into the nethersphere, this is the best I could do (though I plan to be bitter about this the rest of the afternoon).

So, back to blogging...

I Heart Holland, Reason #10:

We are conveniently located just a 30 minute trip away from the La Trappe Trappist brewery.

Admittedly, this is not true for most of the Netherlands, but it works for Tilburg. From our place, we can be there by 2 short bus rides or a bike ride that I'll estimate to be about an hour long.

La Trappe is one of 7 Trappist breweries in the world - the other 6 are located in Belgium. To be considered truly Trappist, an order of monks must either complete or oversee the completion of the entire beer process. And they do a good job of it.

La Trappe is available in some places of the States - I highly recommend their Isid'or brew (named in honor of their first master brewer, Brother Isidorus) if you can find some, but all their choices are excellent. Watch out, though - these are Belgian beers, so the alcohol content is higher than most other brews.

Proost! (Cheers!)

10 April 2013

You may have noticed...

That we haven't been updating very much in the last week. Mostly, we went to Groningen (a city in the North) at the end of last week when Mark gave a talk at the university there and this week we are preparing for a visit from Ace's family. All is very exciting! That being said, we'll be on a bit of a hiatus for the next two weeks. If I plan it right, I can write up and schedule some IKEA Vrijdag reviews, but I make no promises. And in case that doesn't happen, I'll give a brief recap of Groningen below.

Mark gave a talk at the university in Groningen last Thursday, so we went up as a family so we could all see the area. We arrived at Groningen's main station, which is conveniently located across the street from the Groninger Museum. They had some interesting pieces on display, particularly from Russian female artists' during the Russian revolutionary period and from Nordic artists during the 1880s. But the only picture we have to show for our visit to the museum is the cool tiling on the stairwell down into the exhibition area.

Stairwell at the Groninger Museum.

After the museum, we checked into our hotel and Mark went off to the university, leaving Little Man and I to explore the town. We tried visiting 3 different large churches, but by dumb luck, all three were closed (it's not tourist season yet).

Matinikerk Tower, Groningen

We did have the chance to walk around and see the architecture and even found a children's bookshop where we picked up Eric Carle's Wat Eten We Vandaag? (In English it's known as Today is Monday) - a book that we can actually read in Dutch with the Little Man.

We also stopped in the University Museum, where a 100 year old whale skeleton was on display. Little Man spent nearly half an hour looking at the skeleton, and we really didn't see much else before their closing time...

Whale skull at the University Museum, Groningen

Before heading back on Friday, we stopped in the Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum. Like a significant portion of the Netherlands, Groningen relied heavily on canals, and there was a large shipbuilding industry in the city. This museum has all sorts of old ship parts, flags, maps, and other maritime related items. They even give out a fun Eye-Spy type game for kids with pictures of artifacts in the museum.

We headed back home on the train and got back in the early afternoon, and we've been getting ready for our visitors since then.

You'll notice, this post is short and jumps around quite a bit - it was written in haste, due to my poor time management while cleaning needs to be done. And for lack of a better closing, I'm going to go do some more cleaning. Wish me luck.

02 April 2013

Paasdag, Tweeste Paasdag, and Springing Forward

Over the weekend, we celebrated Pasen (Easter) and simultaneously griped at the switch to Daylight Savings Time.

Many of the Easter traditions we know in the States are also part of the Dutch traditions for Pasen. On Saturday, Little Man very excitedly colored eieren (eggs) for eating later. While buying an egg dye packet, I made the realization that Paas, a company name seen all over egg dying kits in the States, is potentially a Dutch company (Paas is singular for Easter, Pasen is plural - there's a plural because many Europeans celebrate Easter Monday/Second Easter Day, or Tweeste Paasdag). I didn't have Paas brand coloring, but I thought it was an interesting connection to make.

Anywho, with a small group of eggs, Little Man was quite happy to do some coloring. He's not really at the developmental stage for understanding how/having the patience to do two-tone or multi-colored eggs, but the fact that he has the attention span to let an egg sit in the dye long enough to take the color is a huge difference over last year.

Little Man and the Easter eggs

On Sunday, we got up early - though this is mostly due to the fact that Daylight Savings Time happened over night. Once everyone was awake and dressed, we had our now-traditional cinnamon rolls (or cinnamon narwhals as Little Man calls them) for breakfast. I started making them Saturday night, and since the Little Man was in bed, Zappa helped - thankfully, not so much that we could still eat the cinnamon rolls. I've now made these delicious pastries 3 years in a row now, so I'm officially calling it an Easter morning tradition, though we won't limit the possibility to just Easter morning.

"Help with the butter? Sure!"

After breakfast we made our way via bus/train/bus to Eindhoven, the next big city to the east for Easter morning service at the Anglican church in the area. We decided to do an English-speaking service to feel familiar with what was going on. After the service we headed back home for Little Man's nap and get ready for Easter dinner.

While Little Man was napping, the Paashaas (Easter Bunny) left some goodies in his basket and hid some eggs. A friend also arrived during naptime, and from talking with Little Man it's unclear whether he thinks our friend is the Paashaas or just a delivery assistant to the Paashaas.

On Tweeste Paasdag, we stayed home and relaxed. Most stores and other places are closed or have shortened opening times. The university was closed for Goede Vrijdag (Good Friday) and Tweeste Paasdag, so Mark was able to relax at home with us, which was especially nice since we were adjusting to the time change and we have a lot of things coming up shortly - but more to come on that.

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