I have always wanted to visit the Netherlands. This last spring US Airways offered discount fares to promote their new routes to Amsterdam. So, I figured that I would take them up on the offer.
The flight left Pittsburgh in the evening. Plane change in Philadelphia. The transatlantic hop took about 7 1/2 hours. Arrived mid-morning at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.
Getting around the Netherlands is easy with their excellent train system. After abandoning a futile attempt to figure out how to use the automated ticket vending machines, I purchased a ticket to Delft. As instructed, I changed trains in Leiden. No problem. In Leiden I got on the train to Rotterdam because it goes through Delft. It did. Travelling through Delft Central Station at 50 mph I got to see a fleeting glimpse of my hotel. OK, I'm gunna see Rotterdam.
There are three kinds of trains in the Netherlands. The intercity trains that stop only at the major cities, the sneltrains that stop only at certain other cities, and the stoptrains that stop at every stop. It is useful to know what kind of train you are getting on.
I arrived at my hotel checked in, unpacked, rested up, and went out walking in Delft.
I finally got to meet my tobacconist, Mr. van Renssen, and to see his wonderful store. After a pleasant discussion about the Netherlands, the United States, and cigars, I purchased a good selection of Dutch cigars, and a few Cubans (since I could). I set out exploring the beautiful city of Delft. The way to figure your way around a Dutch city is to learn the canal system. I visited the Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church, built from 1384-1430) and the Oude Kerk (the Old Church, built in 1240). I went shopping for contemporary Delft tile. Bought some nice pieces for myself and for gifts.
In the evening, I hung around the train station across from the hotel, watching people and enjoying a fine Romeo y Julietta.
|Polychrome Delft Tile
Delft to Utrecht, Thursday,
On Friday, Hans and I drove to the northern province of Friesland where he had a meeting at a baronial estate house, the restoration of which he is working on. It was a great opportunity to see the Dutch countryside. The excitement for the day was when were were stopped by the Dutch army when returning to the south. They checked the trunk of the car to make certain that we weren't bringing any hoof-and-mouth infected animals back with us.
On the way home we stopped in Kampen to visit the Olifant cigar factory where among my favorite cigars are made. They were most hospitable. Because we arrived unannounced we were unsure whether we could arrange a tour of the facilities. However, they graciously allowed us to join an assemblage of Dutch gentlemen from some group like the Rotarians. It was most enjoyable smoking cigars and drinking tea with them. The factory was wonderful. Much of the machines date from the 1890s and the 1920s. It is a very small operation that is as much a labor of love as it is a commercial endeavour.
In the evening, I had the great pleasure of meeting Hans' girlfriend Gilda. She had a terrific idea - the following day we will visit Zeeland - the Dutch southwest coast.
After a good breakfast we headed southwest. More of the Dutch countryside. Lots of windmills everywhere. Although you frequently see the classic old windmills dotting the landscape, they are usually immobile. Nevertheless, I did see one or two that were operating. But what was most memorable was the ubiquity of modern windmills for the generation of electricity. The larger of which can generate 1 MegaWatt peak power. It is the intention of the Netherlanders that 10% of their electricity come from wind power by the year 2010. The country is flat with a constant wind. It is a perfect location for it.
We stopped at the Haringsvliet Dam one of the great waterworks of the region that would be the theme for the day.
Then we arrived at the storm surge barrier in the Eastern Scheldt. They have a nice visitor's center with informative displays that describes the massive project.Here are Gilda and Hans with the barrier behind them. Notice the windmills on the left.
|After touring the inside of the massive concrete barrier and playing with the displays at the visitor's center we continued on towards Veere and then Middleburg. We had lunch and we toured the city. Pictured here is a classic example of a Dutch bascule bridge, typical for use over the many canals.|
On the way home we stopped at Rotterdam, where we had dinner at the Hotel New York. This is a beautiful arts-and-crafts style building that is the former home of the
Holland America Line. After the dinner on the way out of the hotel I picked up a box of Hotel New York Rotterdam brand-labeled cigars manufactured by van der Donk, makers of among the finest Dutch cigars. The box is a real keeper (and the cigars are good too!)
A landmark of Rotterdam is The Erasmus Bridge
(Photo by Frank van Wensveen)
|Before leaving Utrecht, I had to climb the Dom tower. The over 600 year old structure is a classic of Gothic architecture. It was quite a hike up to the top gallery 312'(95 metres) above ground level. (The tower itself is 350' high). A marvelous feature of the tower is the bells. The tower has a total of 64 of 'em. The largest of the 14 "ringing bells" weights over 18,000 lb and requires 4 people to ring it. In addition to the ringing bells is the 50 bell carillon that is operated by the Utrecht Bellringers Guild.|
In the afternoon I bid farewell to my friends and set off by train to Amsterdam. I spent the evening wandering the streets of Amsterdam.
I could not leave Amsterdam without seeing the Rijksmuseum.
|Rembrandt's Night Watch. Painted in 1642. Impressive size. It is a grouping of life-sized portraits. The little girl appears out of place.|
|Vermeer's Milkmaid. What an incredible picture. Note the Delft tiles where the wall meets the floor behind her.|
|I never knew the work of Willem van de Velde (the Elder). I was awed by his powerful images. Look at the pen-and-ink The Battle of Terheide, 1657. Wow! (You can click on this image to get a large version of the image) The artist was at this battle. He can be seen drawing on board one of the ships in the foreground towards the left.|