31 May 2015

Colors of the Keukenhof

If you want to see an explosion of color (and the epitome of tourism in the Netherlands), visit the Keukenhof during tulip season. From March to May every year, this extensive garden opens its gates to 800,000 people from around the world. Approximately 7 million bulbs are planted for each season, and since tulips are synonymous with Holland, the Netherlands, and the Dutch - these bulbs attract plenty of people curious to see something "typical Dutch."

We made a visit to the Keukenhof once before. That year the winter had been longer and colder than usual and only the crocuses were thinking about showing themselves and crates of tulips were on display inside the pavilions to make up for the hectares of green outside. And there was an awful lot of green while the tulips were waiting for some sun.

This year, we waited until the park's last weekend to make a visit to guarantee seeing a bit of color in the park and we were not disappointed. While some of the tulips had already been "headed" there were plenty of beautiful tulips still at the peak or not quite ready to give up. And for someone like me that loves ALL THE COLORS, the trip was exactly the rainbow explosion I was hoping for.

Even before moving to the Netherlands tulips were one of my favorite flowers. I've always been fascinated by the variations in the petal shapes and the ways the colors can develop into flames, veins, or borders. It's mind boggling to think that some of these genetic mutations "just happen" and manage to produce something so bold and beautiful in something so delicate.

If you've ever wanted to know a bit more about tulips (and I promise it's much more interesting than you would first think), check out my recommendation for Anna Pavord's The Tulip. Much of my understanding of tulips came from this book, which also goes into details about the flower's strange history.

Have you ever made a visit to the Keukenhof or Holland's tulips fields? What did you think?

24 May 2015

Mariamaand at Hasseltse Kapel

The Hasseltse Kapel holds the distinction of being Tilburg's oldest religious monument (you can read more about it's history and my first visit here), but during the month of May, also known as Mariamaand (Maria Month), the chapel takes on an additional importance.

But first, a quick history lesson (that I've just picked up via the Roman Catholic Church's Dutch website): Early in the Roman Catholic Church's history, the church often took advantage of existing pagan celebrations in order to relate to those they were trying to convert. Mariamaand came about while connecting celebrations to pagan goddesses' fertility and the breaking of the cold weather into warm, usually around May 1, to Mary's fertility as the mother of Christ. Sometime in the 13th century, the entire month of May was dedicated to Mary. As time when on, pilgrimages to specific places of worship were made by believers to honor Mary.

The Hasseltse Kapel is one of these sites. A Baroque style statue of the Madonna and Christ Child installed in the late 18th century is the focal point of the chapel. Every day during the month of May, people come to the chapel to light candles and say a few prayers or sit in reflection. It's amazing to see how many people will come just to this a small, tucked-away chapel during May.

After you visit the chapel, you can make your way over to the snoepkramen (candy carts) set up outside the chapel park. I'm not entirely sure when this tradition started, but to add to the festival atmosphere at some point, the snoepkramen were added along with a few small concerts and other activities. As you might imagine, the snoepkramen are quite the hit with the kids, but there are plenty of adults picking out candy for themselves, too.

If you can, make your own pilgrimage to the Hasseltse Kapel in Tilburg during May, or any other time of the year. The Hasseltse Kapel (Hasseltplein 40, 5042 AC Tilburg) is open daily from 09:00 to 19:00, unless otherwise scheduled. Visit the website for additional information.

19 May 2015


Here we are - this is officially the 300th post at Ace the Adventure. This is a big deal in terms of blog-life (especially because I missed the more "rounded" 250th post) - it's a bit like watching the odometer in your car tick past 100,000 miles, but while reading and writing and without threat of crashing while taking a picture on the highway.

This little blog started back in July 2012 with the intention of keeping friends and family informed of our whereabouts while we made the BIG transition from the US to the Netherlands. I won't lie - most of those posts in the beginning were pretty boring as they were written during bouts of stress, jet lag (for a time), and a stubbornness in avoiding admitting just how stressful and confusing everything was in the beginning. I'd like to think things have become more interesting and readable over the course of these 300 posts (and if not, don't tell me. I like this little fantasy I've created for myself). During the time it's taken to get to 300, we've learned a lot about and adapted to our new home in the Netherlands, learned a great deal of the Dutch language, traveled - and the adventure is hardly over yet.

So, keep reading along with me as we move forward. There's no telling what lies ahead!

17 May 2015

The Beauty of Lisbon's Azulejo Tiling

Anyone that knows me well knows how much I love having bright colors around. If it were possible to declare my favorite color "rainbow" I probably would. So when visiting Lisbon, like my earlier trip to Fes, Morocco, I was amazed by the colors that radiate from every corner of the city.

The first thing that we noticed about Lisbon was that the stucco of the buildings was typically painted lovely pastels or covered with colorful tiles (called azulejos) that are produced in the region. Whether on a main strip, or a small winding side street, I found myself just enjoying walking around to look at the patterns of the tiles.

Historically, the tiles' purpose was both functional and decorative. Particularly in the hot summer months, interior tiling cools the indoor space while exterior tiling reflects the sun's heat away from the building. Most of the pictures I took of the tiling were just on the outside of buildings we walked past, but tiling can be found inside buildings, from regular homes to businesses and important government buildings, and even palaces.

Tiles everywhere: on average homes...

...and palaces like Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal.

Most azulejos feature geometric shapes or organic-looking patterns of flowers and at first you may think that while beautiful, the tiling is simple in design. But getting up close reveals just how intricate many of the "simple" designs are. And while the geometric designs are very popular, you can easily find portraits, scenes of importance to Portuguese history or to the Catholic faith, or landscape designs.

Plain tile neighbors intricate tile

Tiling surrounding a reflecting pond at the Botanical Garden, Lisbon

The azulejos are inseparable from Portuguese culture, and are beautiful to look at. When visiting Portugal, take time to look around and view the tile - you may be surprised by its intricacy.

Have you been to Portugal? Did you observe the azulejos?

04 May 2015

The Things I'd Only Ever Dreamed Of

It's moments like now that I can't help but look back and feel blessed.

We just got back from Lisbon, and it's yet another trip that makes me realize that just a few years ago, trips and experiences like these are things that I could only have dreamed of. The US is a big country, and while there's plenty of cultural differences between regions, you can't even begin to compare it to the cultural differences that exist between countries.

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

European vacations from the US are expensive, which limits the opportunities Americans have to travel outside their own culture. Living in Europe has allowed me to make my dream trips to Dublin and Paris and create a "travel wish list" that seems realistic without an "if I ever win the lottery" caveat. I've been able to stand surrounded by other languages and hear how they're truly spoken, even if I can't understand a word. I've walked along ancient streets that I'd read about but never imagined touching. It's humbling to think about.

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

A photo posted by Ace Callahan (@arcbcrafts) on

Portugal is a gorgeous country and the city of Lisbon is full of history, color, and plenty to do. I'm going to work on some posts about it, but at the moment, I'm content to think about the opportunities I've had so far and how grateful I am for them.
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