Thursday, June 5, 2008

Trip Blog 16

Letter No. 16

Hello everyone,

No photos with this letter. Just some musings.

We are now entering the penultimate week of our European tours (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a sentence – and I don’t even care if I used it correctly. Adelle). That’s quite a frightening thought for two people who have become so used to long trips in Europe!

But we realize that we can’t properly take care of a vehicle 3,000 miles from home – and we’re not even sure if we’ll be physically able to continue traveling this way in future years. We can see the difference in our attitudes. When we are trying to think about a “new” place to visit, we frequently find that we can’t think of where else to go. We’ve been to an awful lot of places – and although we certainly have missed entire countries (i.e. Austria, Spain, Portugal and all the eastern European lands), we aren’t sure that we have the correct vehicle for those visits. Perhaps we’ll have to ship our car next time. In any case, we are ready to say a very fond goodbye to our European home away from home.

We came back to The Netherlands to show it to several possible buyers and we aren’t anxious to go far afield before we leave for home. So we are back in Amsterdam. On Thursday we are going to visit Leiden but we are going by train. We’re hoping that Maartje and Cees will be here on Saturday and we will certainly go to the GIGANTIC OUTDOOR FLEAMARKET advertised on billboards around the city (in Dutch of course). On Monday and Tuesday, June 2 and 3 we will be cleaning out the RV, getting it ready for eventual possible sale by the owners of the greenhouses where we store it. And on Wednesday, we leave for Boston.

In the meantime, we are getting ourselves emotionally ready. Today we did our usual Amsterdam “thing” – we visited our favorite street market. Want to know how differently Ron and I look at the shopping? Today at the market we bought a quart of strawberries, two pounds of grapes, three mangos and a pound of cherries to add to the apples and oranges we have on hand. Ron was upset that we didn’t buy more grapes because they are delicious and were very inexpensive. I’m worried about eating all this!

We hadn’t been at this particular campground this year, and we suddenly realized that when we first began our adventures, the walk from the campground to the metro seemed very long indeed. That was in the days before we began to walk even when we are in America, just to keep in shape. Now it seems so short—just a cake walk. And we are six years older than the first time we walked that route!

The high cost of food and fuel is causing a lot of unrest in Europe. The bus drivers in The Netherlands have been out on some kind of strike (we see them at rush hours!). Last week, there was a strike in Belgium and there is an ongoing battle in France. So far we’ve been lucky and haven’t been kept from doing what we wanted to do because of these strikes.

The strikes going on this week here reminds us that when we were in France a couple of weeks ago, the French train workers were on strike. Why? Because the government wanted them to work one extra year and retire at age 51 instead of 50!!!!!!! That would help the bottom line. But they say they can’t do that because they work odd hours, sometimes at night, and that takes so great a toll on their ( unspecified) well-being that they need to retire at 50. And if they give in at age 51, in a few years the government will ask for another extension to 52 and so on and so forth. It matters not at all to them that the Swiss train drivers, right next door, have 65 as their retirement age. And, of course, they work at night also. Please understand, we are not knocking this. Indeed we admire it. The French way of life is lovely. It certainly is not anything like what Americans of two-weeks-a-year-vacation are used to! And their economy is better than ours is right now. How do they do it? How long can they keep it up?

We hope that over the next week we’ll still see some things that might be interesting to everyone. But this letter – or the next – will be it for 2008. We’re ready to return to chores, real cooking, gardens (even those with four legged predators called “deer”), etc.

Our best to all.

Adelle & Ron

Trip Blog 15

Letter No. 15

A Day in The Hague

Hello All,

First thing we have to comment on is the weather. Adelle remembers that on our first trip to The Netherlands she wrote home that “you needn’t bring sun screen to a country that has stores that sell only umbrellas”. In fact, we think we put it into our book as one of the laws of traveling!

Our day in The Hague is a good example of why. It didn’t just rain, it poured. For hours. In great volume. But Adelle cleaned out the closet and found our umbrellas and we persevered. A walk to the main street, a bus ride to the tram to the central station and then a short ride on a different tram to the Mauritshuis Museum, also known as the Royal Portrait Collection because the original collector was a prince. The beautiful building itself was originally designed and built by a Count of Nassau whose family name was Maurits. We want to point that out especially to our friends in Nassau County on Long Island, who may never have realized that Nassau is a Dutch name.

The collection includes samples of all the most famous Flemish and Dutch painters – and a lot of work done by not so well known but seemingly (to untrained eyes like ours) equally talented others. There can be none among you who hasn’t seen a picture of the Vermeer painting called “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”…but that’s just one of the gems in this museum. There were pictures by Hals, Rembrandt, Memling, van Dyck, Rubens, Breugal and everyone else. A special exhibit showed the work of a painter named Coorte who painted only fruits and vegetables on tiny, exquisite canvasses. It was wonderful.

At the door of the museum were two huge racks full of umbrellas, and when we arrived, we added ours, but by the time we finally left about one thirty or so, we didn’t need it because it was no longer raining. Just a sky totally covered with clouds threatening to pour any minute. But we walked around a bit. We walked through the Netherlands Parliament building complex and were duly impressed. Then we stopped at the tourist office, learned that there was an old part of town nearby, and The Hague’s largest church, and decided to go there. But the “old city” was not very impressive. Some old buildings but mostly very commercial new retail stores like there are in any downtown. And the church had a sign that reported it was open only for public occasions! Religion is not big here. So we called a halt to the walking around, and, as agreed, we called our friend Dick to tell him that we were about to get onto the tram going into the eastern part of the city—a direction further away from the campground. The plan was for him to meet us at the tram stop, and he did. Just as we got off the tram, he appeared across the street.

We enjoyed our afternoon with Dick, his friend and her 14 week old miniature Doberman puppy. Talk about cute! Ron was able to post blog 13 from Dick’s computer, we drank coffee and caught up on the news. We decided on an earlier than usual dinner so that we could make the long journey back to the campground before it got dark, and Dick made and served dinner at six. Delicious, of course. It is one of our core beliefs that all the van den Berg “boys” of a certain generation are wonderful cooks.

In fact, the main ingredient in both dinner at Maartje’s and dinner at Dick’s was something very special….white asparagus served with chopped hard boiled eggs, ham and smoked salmon. No green taste at all to these asperges, just slightly sweet and delicious. There is an “asperge” season and we were lucky enough to be here for it! Actually, it’s been new herring, white asparagus and strawberry season, and we have taken advantage of it all. We’d need more time to do it justice though. Two people just can’t try everything…we can’t eat as fast as we can buy!

We were surprised and pleased to find that Dick lived on the same tram line that we needed to take to get back to the campground. So, after dinner, we walked back to the tram and began the journey back to the beach. Got back to a very different scene. It was Sunday, and most of the campers had gone back to work. There was no rain that night, but the wind was very strong. It howled all night – and in the morning we were back to cold pouring rain! We moved the thirty miles or so back to Amsterdam, because we have another person coming to look at the RV. We’ll see what this brings.

Stay tuned. Till then, bye.

Adelle & Ron


Letter No. 14

Monster, The Netherlands

Hello again.

Intriguing place name isn’t it? When we heard it spoken, we pictured all kinds of exotic spelling, but we were wrong. It is spelled as it sounds – and it has a campground right behind the dunes of the beach on the North Sea, just west of The Hague. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a campground that put campers so close together, but we’ve never been in a campground that is a beach resort. There are people everywhere – in vehicles like ours, in caravans (trailers) that are pretty stationary, in various kinds of rentals (trekkerhuts, regular trailers, mobile homes, and who knows what). There are tents and motor homes and people everywhere. The number of dogs is staggering – from mutts to Westies and our current favorite, a Swiss White Shepherd – much larger than a German Shepherd, with long white hair. This one is young – and he’s already the biggest shepherd we’ve ever seen.

We’ve had several out-of-the-ordinary days. Maartje, our friend in Tilburg, put our RV on the local internet marketplace, and got several bids. So, when we left Aachen, we headed for Tilburg so we could show the bidders our rig. We returned on Thursday to the campground near her home that we had used in the beginning of the trip, and called Maartje to see what arrangements she had made. Of course, we couldn’t use the cell phone to call (although there was still 2euros more credit and the company advertises .20 euros a minute in The Netherlands). We are not too pleased with the service we got – and they will hear from us when we get home. But the lady who runs the campground was kind enough to let us call – and we arranged to meet Maartje the next afternoon. Then we did the one thing we rarely used to do….we became campers! We hung around and read, listening to the birds calling and resting our weary bones!

On Friday, we drove to meet Maartje, and the first man who had expressed an interest viewed the RV. After that, the three of us went through some second-hand stores and a supermarket. We drove home, and Maartje had started making dinner when the doorbell rang with the second caller. Frankly, neither of them was very enthusiastic. But there are still a few more interested parties and we’ll see what happens. We had a lovely dinner, laughed a lot and then headed back to the campground. We drove back very proud of ourselves that we hadn’t gotten lost! Shows you how confident we are!

After dinner, we had arranged to visit another friend in The Hague – and he recommended one campground whose name he knew and one town we might try. We headed for the campground he had recommended but before we got there, found Monster and the Molenslag campground. We were really pleased to find it because the other facilities in the area cost nearly double! The staff turned out to be very nice and helpful. The street, the campground and many of the other streets in the area all have the name Molen (Mill) in them, because of the beautiful old windmill just down the hill. Just watching the arms turn in the winds is fun!

This campground had very clean sanitary facilities, i.e., toilets and showers and dish washing area, close to where we were parked. And it was convenient to everything we needed—three supermarkets and a small downtown area. The walks to these places were longish but went by an ice-cream store and a visshandel ( a street stall that sells fresh and fresh fried, pickled and smoked fish), one of the great attractions of being in the Netherlands for Ron. The bus stop for a bus and tram to The Hague was pretty close. As far as we are concerned, this campsite was about as good as they get.

Ron noticed that young woman in the office had a Polish accent. Then we read the sign that said that there are Polish products in the store. Kind of odd.

After due consideration, we asked our friend if we could postpone our dinner engagement from Saturday until Sunday, when we’ll already be in the city. He agreed, and we had enough time to walk to a nearby market and stock up (maybe a mile between going and coming). Then we came back, put everything away and walked another mile or so, past some very nice home front gardens, to the center of town where we could buy more pre-paid time for the recalcitrant cell phone. When we got back, Adelle tried, unsuccessfully, to add the 20 euros we had just purchased to the cell phone pre-paid chip. It was the same old problem. You can get the menu that gives you instructions to do this in English – only the computer voice tells you how to change to English in Dutch, which Adelle doesn’t understand. So she went into the office and asked the young lady if she would add the money to the phone. She spoke Dutch, so she understood the message and successfully added the money. But this brought up the subject of language. The upshot was that Adelle was told that there are a lot of German and a lot of Polish campers, but they are on separate sides of the camp, and the office staff swore that the Germans seemed to be a little afraid of the Poles. Seems unlikely to us, but who knows?

Another period of “rest” and we were off to visit the really beautiful, sandy beach behind the dunes. We had to wait a while because there are about 50 steps up to the top of the dunes…and some of us were kind of tired. Only because this is The Netherlands, we did ask about the dunes and the sandy beach, and according to our sources, this is a natural beach. We are always aware of the Dutch saying that we quoted in our book: God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.

So, we sit in our RV behind the dunes and the North Sea writing a letter to keep you up to date.

Tomorrow we plan to visit The Hague and one of the best art museums anywhere, the Mauritshuis, which has several Vermeers, , including “The Lady with the Pearl Earing”, Rembrandts, Hals, Jordaans, Ter Borch’s, Van Dycks among other Dutch and Flemish artist’s works. That should be a treat.

On that note, we’ll leave this letter. More soon.

Adelle & Ron