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.

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