The Parlamentarium is the visitors center for the Parliament of the European Union. It’s fresh, interesting and a must see when you visit Europe if you want to gain a better understanding of Europe and it’s place in the world.
The Parliamentarium is located on a large plaza surrounded by tall, glass buildings in the new part of Brussels. I always think of Brussels as old stone buildings and gilt so I was surprised to see soaring blue glass office buildings in the downtown. Once I realized that the old town is more for tourists and shopping in Brussels and the new town is for government and business, I began to discover this split in cities throughout Europe. Of course Europe is new and vibrant. It just had never registered with my view of the old country.
I absolutely loved the Parliamentarium. Because of my visit, I better understand the roots of the European Union. The EU is so much more than open borders and common currency.
I took subways across town from the Grand Place. As I walked uphill from the subway stop for Parliament, I passed numerous offices for the members of Parliament and the member countries. For example, here’s the front door to Hungary’s offices. These offices remind me of the embassies in Washington, DC. It makes sense that each country would need their own offices; I just had not considered that before.
As you continue your uphill walk, tall buildings break away to reveal a large plaza and the Parliamentarium. It’s a big, modern building made of glass that glows blue in the mid-day sun. A large digital screen tells you that you have arrived at the Parliamentarium.
Inspiration begins in the plaza with a shiny black monument on the ground just outside the front doors of the Parliamentarium. The plaque quotes the words of Father Joseph Wresinski, a priest who worked with the very poorest people of France beginning in 1956. He, himself, had grown up in poverty and social exclusion and he wanted better for his parishioners. Father Wresinski founded ATD Fourth World to layer evidence on top of soup kitchens and clothing distribution centers to provide research into extreme poverty. “Father Joseph’s firm purpose was to unite all sections of society around the very poorest (http://www.joseph-wresinski.org/Father-Joseph-Wresinski.html). The plaque in Belgium displays the same words as a plaque in the Trocadero Human Rights Plaza in Paris:
“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”
An unusual information/monument stood just outside the doors of the Parliamentarium, honoring Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, Soviet dissident and human rights activist. “The father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, was awarded the Peace Prize in 1975 for his opposition to the abuse of power and his work for human rights” (Nobelprize.org). The words under the letter “S” say:
Shortly after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Sakharov said, “International confidence, mutual understanding, disarmament and international security are inconceivable without freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, the right to travel and the right to choose the country in which one wishes to live. Like Andrei Sakharov, the European Parliament strives to ensure that every citizen should have the right to form an opinion and live in a democracy.” The Sakharov Prize, which is awarded annually by the European Parliament for people and organizations dedicated to human rights and freedoms, is named in his honour (Wikipedia).
To enter the free Parliamentarium, I had to go through a body scan and bag check, typical of public buildings in Europe. Also typical, was a large locker area where I could stow my backpack and freshen up in sparkling clean restrooms.
Once inside, the teaching continued as I walked down a very long hallway hung with large posters that framed questions currently under consideration by the European Parliament: immigration, food, the seas.
Light-up models showed where the official buildings of the European Union are located in Europe with buildings in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. The Parliamentarium website says, “Dynamic, interactive multimedia displays guide our visitors through the journey of European integration and the impact this has on our everyday lives. The Centre caters to all 24 official languages of the European Union and admission is free. The facilities have been designed to make them fully accessible to those with special needs.”
Signage within the Parliamentarium explain how the European Union was conceived and how it operates today.
When I visited the Nobel Peace Museum in Oslo two years ago, I learned that the European Union was not about a common currency and open borders – those were just artifacts of the European Union. The EU is about peace. The people of Europe were already talking about the importance of a union in the early 1900’s. The two plaques above quoted the dreams of two of Europe’s leaders.
A moving exhibit of WWII showed the horrors of war, including measuring faces to see if they met Arian standards.
That exhibit of ugliness was countermanded by an exhibit of the liberation of Europe.
I got to see photos on exhibit that I had never seen before and it was joyous to see the liberation through the eyes of Europeans.
The educational spaces of the Parliamentarium were state of the art with high tech lighting and electronic displays. In one rather odd display you ducked into a lamp-shade-like structure and read about people and ideas particular to the EU.
This is a display of the delegates to the European Parliament. Members come from 28 member states. Together they work out compromises and enact laws for the whole EU. I could read about the EU in six different printed languages but was happy to stick with English.
I sat in a replica of the parliamentary chamber and listened to debate about an issue important to the EU – then I got to vote on it as if I were a delegate. What a learning opportunity!
This was a really cool life size game. Players took control of a podium and read instructions on a case scenario. Then the players moved their podiums around the room to confront or compromise with other member countries. It was like an individualized Model UN.
An American? Who knows? I often could not tell the Americans from the Europeans.
You can virtually visit the Parliamentarium. The website includes virtual visits and deeper explanations of their purpose. This was one of my very favorite stops in Europe – equal to visiting the US Capitol Building. Don’t miss it.
The Grand Place (The Grote Markt) is the centerpiece of Brussels. Tourists twirl around the center of the square, snapping photos and shooting video. Gold gilt trims the fairy-tale scene. Graceful statues hunch into the facades of heavy, curleycued buildings. Look up! Winged sculptures balance on the rooftops. You can’t go wrong taking pictures here – every angle in every direction is photogenic. Now add to all this beauty the gentle waft of sugar: waffles and chocolate tickle your nose as you walk through the square. This is like cuddling with sugar plum fairies on Christmas eve.
There’s another side to Brussels equally enchanting. It’s the European Union Parliament located on the other side of Brussels. I mean, really? Gold, chocolate AND power? It’s enough to make a girl swoon.
Let’s start with my main reason for visiting Brussels: the European Parliament. Then I’ll move on to fantasy, shopping and dessert. My daughter Megan has taught me how to spell dessert – as opposed to desert – there are more s’s in dessert because you always want more. Maybe that’s why Brussel has two s’s – I want more!
European Union Parliament
The Parlamentarium is located two transfers by subway from the central train station. It’s the visitors center for the Parliament of the European Union. A friendly gentleman on the train helped me switch trains and then got off at the last stop to walk me towards the Parliamentarium.
The Parliamentarium is located on a large plaza surrounded by tall, glass buildings in the new part of Brussels. I always think of Brussels as old stone buildings and gilt so I was surprised to see soaring blue glass office buildings in the downtown. Once I realized that the old town is more for tourists and shopping and the new town is for business, I began to discover this split in cities throughout Europe. Of course Europe is new and vibrant. It just had never registered with my view of the old country.
I absolutely loved the Parliamentarium. Because of my visit, I better understand the roots of the European Union. The EU is so much more than open borders and common currency. It’s about peace. Because I report on the Parliamentarium extensively, I’ve created a separate blog. If you wish to read more, please visit Parliamentarium.
Security was visible throughout the city and I always felt safe everywhere I walked, even when I was alone at night.
Streets of Brussels
You can buy anything in Brussels as long as it is beautiful or it’s chocolate. There are more small shops than big made-in-China stores. The shops are intriguing with winding interiors and rich appointments. Each shop tries to be more inviting than its neighbors, drawing customers in with a mix of luxury, whimsy and quality.
This is a view from high up a hill overlooking the city. I am standing in the plaza of the Mont des Arts, an area heavily laden with museums and galleries. No time for a visit this time around but I will be back! You can see the spire of the Brussels Town Hall right in the center of the photo.
We met two American women traveling together who were absolutely charmed by Brussels. They gave us tips on shopping and sightseeing and pointed the way down long flights of stone stairs and twisting streets to reach the chocolate center of Brussels. They were smitten by the city and wished us well.
Right next to where I was standing in the photo above is this building in Brussels featuring the clock mont de arts. Characters were built into the wall around the clock, a bell on the roof rang the hour, and a man with a cane stands next to the bell but I have no idea why. He is called the Jaquemart. A series of bells ring the hour and at 12:00 the figures used to come out of their niches. They don’t do that any more but it is still a beautiful clock.
Right across from where I am standing at the city overlook, this plaque was mounted on the wall. It recognized the Jews of Belgium who were persecuted during the Nazi occupation.
Just to the left of the plaque slept a homeless person bundled in a pink blanket. His dog slept nearby on the plaza. (He could have been a tourist without reservations but he looked liked he was pretty settled in and no one bothered him as he slept in the early morning sunshine.)
As I descended the plaza, I got to walk under this canopy of trees in the long park that leads to the Grote Markt. People were setting up long tables covered with cloths under the trees. I got the feeling they were setting up for a wedding feast but perhaps it was just an outdoor cafe setting up for the day. Chocolate called so we did not stick around to see.
The Grote Markt is the central square of Brussels. The Grote Markt is Brussels’ Grand Place. EVERY building is gorgeous and coated in flourishes and gilt. You can turn in a full circle from the center of the Market and see nothing but beautiful gold and stone. You would think it could not get better than that, but as you turn, your nose picks up the scent of chocolate wafting from every corner of the square. This is, indeed, a grand place!
Comic strips and street signs
These images are a sample of the many signs posted high above eye level throughout Brussels.
The image above is for the Strip Feest – a celebration of comic strips. Belgium is known for its love of comic strips (some call it the comic capital of the world) and the Smurfs are huge hits here. You can buy a map at the train station that shows you where to find comics and comic graffiti; it costs about 50 cents. I prefer the chocolate tour.
Buildings of Brussels
So much time, so little to do. Wait. Scratch that. (Willy Wonka.) Thank goodness it was Sunday and these buildings were closed. There just was not enough time to see everything in less than a day. Still, we admired the architecture as we quickly walked by.
One smart thing we did was to start at the top of Brussels and walk downhill through the city. It was hot and humid on this last day of August and at least we had gravity on our side.
The subway is fast, safe and clean. The Jump ticket is just 7 Euros for all-day transportation.
The cars are open one to another so when riding on the subway, you can look forward and back and see every part of the train…..except when the train goes around corners. Then it’s pretty strange to lose sight of the front or the back of the carriage and have to wait for it to “catch up” with the rest of the train.
See that little red box in the photo above? You have to punch that button to open the doors of the train. Some of the older cars had handles but most had the push button feature.
Musée Royaux des Beaux Arts
We were traveling fast but did not want to miss the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. It was an easy trip across town on tram 38 using my JUMP pass. The grounds were burned out from the heat of the summer but people still lounged on the crisp lawn and visited with one another.
I always map out the paintings I want to see so I can move quickly through the museums I visit and not regret missing something important during my rush. In addition to ancient 14th-18th art, I scheduled myself to see a Jacques-Louis David painting:
This painting is housed in Belgium because the artist David took it with him when he was exiled from Paris after the fall of Napoleon. David, the master painter of the rich and powerful in Paris, supported Marat, a radical journalist and a leader of the French Revolution. Marat had more than 200,000 of his political enemies executed on the guillotine before 24-year-old Charlotte Corday snuck into his bath and stabbed him to death to stop the killings. Corday was guillotined the day after Marat’s funeral. David gave this painting to the Republicans but when they turned their backs on Marat two years later, they returned the painting to David. David then became a Napoleon supporter but was ousted to Belgium when Napoleon fell. (thanks to 149 Paintings you really need to see in Europe).
This is why I love old art so much. You can admire the painterly olive green blanket contrasting the deathly palor of Marat’s skin but there’s also a story behind the painting. It’s what the artist does with the story that I find so fascinating. In life Marat had a terrible skin disease and withered arms but David painted a flawless, robust body to honor the man because Marat’s supporters “want to see again the features of their faithful friend” (Jacques-Louis David).
“Manneken Pis is a landmark small bronze sculpture in Brussels, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619” (Wikipedia).
We had to walk a long way to find this little statue of a pissing boy. There did not seem to be a direct route from the beautiful Grot Markt to the statue. The streets turned along curved rows of buildings or seemed to be located around graceful squares. That meant there was no sight-line to see a clear path to where we wanted to go. This is what it looked like as we searched for a small pissing boy in a courtyard nook:
This is a pretty typical street view with cobbled walkways. Those cobblestones are tough on the feet and ankles! But the streets and walkways are immaculate. Scaffolding such as that seen on the building above is everywhere in Brussels. I think they must be rebuilding the whole city.
When we found Mannekin Pis, he was dressed in a Spanish costume. Remember how it used to be the rage to dress geese back in the 80’s? Apparently little boy Pis is dressed for special occassions and you never know exactly what he’ll be wearing on any given day. Manneken Pis is so popular that he’s even made out of chocolate and china and sold as a souvenir. Having raised two boys and having cleaned a fair share of bathroom floors where the boys missed sinking the cheerios in the toilet bowl, I’m left wondering, what’s the attraction?
Along the way we saw lots of souvenirs for Mannekin Pis. I took photos but made no purchases.
We started out our day by shopping the Sablon antique market, the oldest antique market in Europe. The market is held in the shadow of Notre Dame au Sablon. This market featured about 100 booths with exquisite merchandise matched with somewhat high prices. Alas, no room in our luggage.
Notre Dame au Sablon (The Churck of Our Lady of Sablon)
You didn’t think I’d visit a city and not visit at least one church, did you? Here you see Notre Dame au Sablon, the church of Our Lady of Sablon. Built in the 15th century, this church was once used by the wealthy and the noblemen of Brussels.
I approached the church early on a Sunday morning and thought it was closed until I noticed a person walking out a funny side door set at a 90 degree angle to the ornate huge entrance doors, which were locked. I pushed on the little side door, stumbled into the church, and discovered a cavernous space heavily decorated with ornate church items: chairs, statues, and a massive organ.
I’ve heard that the Renaissance churches where built to inspire people to believe in God through Gospel stories often told in stained glass (most people could not read and books were costly). The organ was large and loud, meant to remind you of the voice of God. I like to imagine a young priest telling the story of, say, Daniel in the lion’s den, as he points from one image to the next to illustrate his story. When his story is finished, the organ comes alive, inspiring believers to understand the glorious rewards that await them in heaven.
Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries
The Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries reminded me very much of Cleveland’s downtown galleries, built about the same time in the USA. Both galleries have small shops on the lower floors and housing on the higher floors.
An informational sign at the Galleries said:
“Designed as a connection between two commercial poles, this monumental covered gallery was one of the first of this size built in Europe. Inaugurated in 1847, the Galleries were designed in 1838 by J. P. Cluysenaar. Both street and monument, the Galleries fulfilled commercial as well as housing functions and also had a social and cultural dimension, notably housing two theaters. Built in Italian Renaissance style, they also bear witness to the prowess and the innovations of steel and glass architecture.”
The best part of the galleries was lots of little chocolate shops.
Chocolate and Waffles
Were you reading through all my Brussels report just to get to the chocolate? I wish I could wrap up a piece of this deep chocolate treasure and hand it to you right through the internet. Instead, you’ll just have to see my photos and imagine fresh, sweet creamy fillings dipped into pure chocolate that is barely firm at room temperature. It truly was as good as it looks plus each little packet of chocolate was exquisitely packaged, making a doubly delightful gift.
We created our own chocolate crawl which was super easy to do because chocolate was sold everywhere! You can watch people making chocolate but most store clerks seemed to busy to stop to answer questions. Here are some of the shops we stopped by: Godiva, at #22, Neuhaus, at #27, Gallery at Rue au Beurre #44 (just off the marketsquare), Leonidas at Rue au Beurre #34.
Woman cannot live on chocolate alone, and so waffles were invented. Light, sweet, and totally yummy. They’re also a real bargain at about 1 Euro each.
Government in important in Brussels and huge, concrete buildings house government for both Belgium and the EU.
High-rise housing is under construction throughout Europe including this complex in Brussels.
Motorcycles and small cars are popular for moving quickly through the cities. Since we visited on a Sunday, the streets were not crowded with commercial traffic but we did get to see a contemporary enclosed motorcycle.
If you want to mail cards and letters, look for a little postbox like this one.
So here I am in this gorgeous country with civil residents who graciously share their tidy city. Not only is it home to chocolate and extravagant buildings…. Belgium is also the place where five people choose to die each day with medical assistance.
In 2013, 1,800 people chose euthanasia; in 2014, the chance for euthanasia was extended to terminally ill children. I have a difficult time squaring euthanasia with the gentle charm of Belgium. It’s hard to know I may be biting into the most extraordinarily delicious piece of chocolate and as it melts in my mouth, a human being is choosing to die just down the road. I’m not saying you should live for chocolate; I’m saying I just don’t understand. I need to think about this some more.
Brussels is a destination for high end shopping and we stopped in many, many stores as we explored the city. These are a few of the shops we tucked into during our day in Brussels.
Train station – we’re going to France!
Brussels was actually just a stop over on our way to a week in France. Since we only scheduled a day here and I loved every moment, Brussels is at the top of my list for a re-visit in summer 2016.
We traveled the high speed trains from Rotterdam to Brussels (1 1/4 hours) and on to Paris (1 1/2 hours). The trains are sleek, comfortable, and fast. Really good Tourist Information (TI) stands are located in convenient locations like the train station. The attendants are courteous and well informed, making it easy to figure out our best options for tickets.
It is super easy to navigate the huge train station with information signs in English and video monitor signs in multiple languages. This sign, for example, tells passengers how to find their train car so they can quickly board once the train arrives.
You examine your ticket and then look at the sign to find where to stand on the platform.
When the train rushes into the station, you are standing at the ready with your luggage and just hop onto your car. Easy peasy.
If you want to work off a little energy while charging your cell phone before boarding your train, you might want to try one of these bicycle-rechargers.
Or if you need snacks for your train ride, there’s a well-stocked convenience store with lots of selection including fresh foods.
Make sure to visit my blog on the Parliamentarium – it’s one of my very favorite memories of Brussels.
We got off to a late start from Wassenaar, putting us way behind our plans when we arrived in Antwerp. This meant we had to skip some of the long-anticipated highlights of Antwerp. But it also means I’ll just have to return some day. And I most certainly will because Antwerp is beautiful, energetic, easy to get around and who can complain about a city where diamonds sparkle from window fronts all along the main streets of town?
The Netherlands highways are flat, smooth and easy to navigate – so I’m thrilled I’ll be returning next summer for a month! I’m swapping my home with a family from Utrecht. So, yes, while I am a total twirp for missing most of Antwerp, I’ll definitely get to re-visit in Summer 2016 and I’ll be just 90 minutes away. Here’s a look at my view from the passenger seat as we approached Antwerp – note the wind turbine. You are much more likely to see a wind turbine than a windmill when visiting the Netherlands.
It’s easy to get around on public transportation in most European cities. Signs such as this streetcar map dot the streetscape. When you see one of these, you know transport is nearby. Look down! Often you take stairs down to the trains and street cars.
We parked near the train station because the train station was a must see attraction. The “temple to the industrial age” was built in 1900 and still stuns.
We were hoping to see Paul Ruben’s home and we did. We saw it but had no time to stay. This is what we should have seen: “Wander through the rich kunstkamer (art room), where Rubens indulged his passion for collecting, the studio where he changed the direction of art, and the garden in which he strolled with important visitors. But there is also the parlour, the kitchen, bedroom and linen room. They are furnished with everything a family would need. After all, an artist’s house is also a home” (www.rubenshuis.be). So, again, next summer!
We also missed the Cathedral of Our Lady and the RubensDescent from the Cross. However, we had contradictory information and the painting may not have been at the church when we were there and it was already returned to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts Antwerp. Either way, you can bet I’ll track that painting down next summer. This kind of hunt for paintings happened often during our travels due to loans (there’s a marvelous exhibit of Dutch painters at the Boston Museum of Art which explains the spaces on the walls of museums we visited) and remodeling (in one German city all the paintings we wanted to see were in one room of the museum while the top floor was remodeled). And, once in a great while, a painting has been repatriated to its proper owner (the gorgeous Klimt Adele Bloch-Bauer that once hung in the Vienna Belvedere and now can be seen at the NYC Neue Galerie). I watched the movie Woman in Gold on our Norwegian flight to Europe and then again on the Disney Cruise ship home – you must see this movie! Meanwhile, here’s the Cathedral of Our Lady:
So when you think Antwerp, do you think diamonds? It’s hard not to have sparkle on your mind as you walk from the train station down the fabulous shopping street de Kyserlei. In the top image, that’s my reflection in the middle of the photo with a gorgeous diamond necklace on my shoulder. I truly believe it belongs around my neck.
Many of the diamond sellers are Hasidic Jews, a branch of Orthodox Judaism. My friend Rachel told me Jewish people often deal in portable goods. Here’s one man, I presume a diamond seller, texting on the street outside a diamond store.
Here are some of the beautiful stores I want to visit next summer. That marvelous turretted building? Armani Jeans. The next fabulous building? H&M. And next, you can see the shopping strollers in front of Zara Home. Last, just the entry over the door to a store. OMG! No time this trip but there definitely will be time next summer.
The stores look graffitti-free but the public statues are another matter. Here’s Antoon Van Dyck with graffitti flourishes. I wonder if this 17th century portrait genius would appreciate the modern art?
The graffitti artists don’t seem as interested in David Teniers, painter of peasants from the 17th century.
I remember a time when visiting Europe where eating meant stopping at a restaurant and spending hours over a leisurely meal. Not so much today. Food carts and quick food stands are everywhere making “dine and dash” possible. I miss the old days but see a lot more now with food on the run. Here’s a cart selling yummies at the train station. Imagine bicycling your cart to work each day.
This is Belgium so there must be waffles, no? Yes!
And, of course, Asian fusion food is huge, even in Antwerp. Here’s a restaurant getting ready for the day.
Would you expect to find a Mexican restaurant in Antwerp? I was surprised!
And when you are all done, remember to recycle. Recyling is big throughout Europe and passersby will give you the stink-eye if you fail to recycle. However, I do believe most of those folks giving us the eye were also tourists.
Then there is the clean up. Folks clean the underground stations with these mini-Zamboni-like machines. The floors gleam.
I’m a twirp with a plan – see you, Antwerp, next summer!
FloraHolland is the largest trading market for flowers in the world. It’s located just outside of Amsterdam in Aalsmeer, is open to the public from 7 -11:00 am, and costs about $6 to enter. The massive warehouse, shipping yard and trading center must be one kilometer long and a few hundred yards wide. Wear your walking shoes and prepare for an unusual adventure into the world of trade in The Netherlands. You’ll be rewarded with a new respect for business and the astounding sight of beautiful flowers packed for trade.
Even though the just-cut flowers are gorgeous, the story here is about sales, not beauty. More than 4,000 people work at FloraHolland, participating in the trade of millions of dollars of flowers from all over the world. It is a bustling work place of more than 1 million square yards. The flowers move from field to auction to your home in less than 48 hours.
Even though you walk along the raised platform for at least 10 minutes to get to the center of the action, you can see over the rails to the action in the warehouse below and there are explanatory signs posted in several languages all along the walkway. One sign explained, “Floraholland membership consists of thousands of growers representing approximately 60 countries…they hail from countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Columbia, Equador, Belgium, Italy and the UK.”
We climbed to the second floor of the warehouse and then walked a loooooong platform high above the action to learn how flowers are packed in boxes according to type of flower or plant or decorative vegetable or grass, then rushed to this trading center (the largest of several flower auctions in the Netherlands), sold off in a Dutch auction, then quickly moved to the brokers for redistribution back out across Germany, england, Belgium, France and other points across mostly Europe.
Growers list all the lot information on a form that accompanies the just-picked flowers to FloraHolland. The flowers arrive after the auction closes at 11 am and are placed on trolleys. Flowers that need cold are moved to cold storage and plants that need warm are moved to warm storage. Auctions begin at 6 am but this is a 24-hour business.
The flowers are brought into the center on long “trains” so the flatbeds pass by loaded with, for example, pink roses. They are inspected by buyers who call up to the auction floor and report on the quality of the plants. About 120 buyers have seats on the auction floor and sit in a tiered semi-circle staring at two huge round calculators on a screen. Buyers can also participate remotely by internet.
Here’s an example of how the auction works. A photo of pink roses appears with a suggested price of, say 29 cents a stem, and a box on the clock screen tells how many cases of roses are available, say 120 cases. Within seconds, buyers bid at the 29 cent price and also input how many cases they want. As the flowers are sold off, if buyers really want pink roses, the price starts to climb as the quantity starts to drop (think supply and demand). If no one wants pink roses today, the price may start to drop and late buyers may get the remaining pink flowers for 18 cents a stem (or lower) until all the roses are solde. If everyone wants pink roses today, the price quickly rises and late buyers may pay 35 cents or more per stem.
All 120 cases of roses can sell off in about 10 seconds but I saw no auction last longer than 30 seconds. The flowers need to move fast so they can stay as fresh as possible. In a few minutes time, you might see 12 auctions for a dozen different colors of roses followed by 10 auctions for six different colors of irises. The highest priced flower I saw was an almost black iris; it went for 95 cents per stem.
Here is another explanation of the auction process taken right from the information signs: “Circles, lamps and numbers – The auctioning is led by an auctioneer. The auction clock is a circle numbered from 1 to 100 around which a red lamp moves. These numbers correspond with the prices offered. The system used is known as a Dutch Auction, which means going from a high price to a low price. The auctioneer will start the lamp at a high number (i.e., a high price) and then let it go down. If a buyer wants to bid on a lot, he presses a button. If he is the first one to do so, the lamp stops and the number at which it has stopped is the price.”
The grasses and decorative vegetables are all part of the flower sales. In addition, some flowers arrive already packed in individual boxes so there might be a “train” load of long stemmed flowers in long whiteboxes with gold lettering and a ribbon around the box. More than 2,500 flowers trains move through the facility each hour.
Once the flowers are sold, they are packed into containers for the appropriate buyers and shipped out immediately to points around the world. In this photo you can see where carts are being loaded with the purchases of individual buyers within 90 minutes of their sale. Once the buyer is done for the day – well before noon — the cart is transported to a truck and immediately shipped out to the buyer’s designated destination.
We got up extra early for this experience because FloraHolland opened at 7:00 am, giving us time to tour before heading on to Amsterdam from Wassenaar. We drove by car and did not see any public transportation as FloraHolland is located on the outskirts of town in a rural/industrial area. The parking lot is on the roof of the warehouses and is so large that it is confusing to figure out where to park and then it is confusing to figure out how to get out of the parking lot when you leave. If you decide to visit, make sure to make note of where you leave your car and how to get to the exit. There is no clear line of sight to see where the ramp that leads you off the building’s rooftop is located. You’ll eventually figure it out but pay attention when you drive up to the roof.
This is a must-see attraction and I’ll be back to visit again. It’s definitely a marriage of beauty and business.
Our first stop in Amsterdam was the extraordinary Rijksmuseum, the Museum of the Netherlands. We made our reservations months ahead of time and were rewarded by a comfortable, early-morning visit with controlled crowds. What a treasure!
First off, the building itself is beautiful with a colorful brick exterior decorated with intricate designs of inlaid bricks. There is a feeling of graviats as you enter the building yet as you look up, the huge space fills with light and welcomes you to enter.
Secondly, the story of Dutch exploration and accumulated wealth is reflected in massive paintings of men at work and families at play, all richly dress and sporting elaborate jewelry. The Dutch lavishly support the arts so the museum has a bountiful display of great art as well as significant artifacts like furniture and boxes for storage of precious items. The entire museum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history.
You will see lots and lots of these kind of Dutch paintings across Europe. With no photography, back in the day, it was common for guilds and families to pose for portraits.
In this photo you can see how the painting looks on the wall at the Rijksmuseum. The painting on the left is the Drapers’ Guild; the painting on the right is The Jewish Bride.
This painting filled a long wall at the museum where it’s been a mighty crowd pleaser since 1885 and it was difficult to get close – so I borrowed this image from Wikipedia which says this is the best known painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. My source says, “The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.”
Each district of Amsterdam had a guard unit made up of about 120 men. This, most likely, was a guard unit who kept watch on their area of the city. “There were some 120 men in Frans Banning Cocq’s company, but only 19 of them are shown in the painting…Depending on where they were positioned, (the subjects) paid up to 100 guilders each to be included, and the captain and lieutenant no doubt paid more than that,” according to Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 2.” This wasn’t a fighting unit – Amsterdam largely used mercenaries to fight their wars – it was really more of a guild of city leaders.
The next painting is one of my favorites. My little “bible” of art, Julian Porter’s “149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe” says, “When he saw this painting in 1885, Van Gogh said, ‘What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting. Believe me, and I mean this sincerely, I would have given 10 years of my life if I could sit for a fortnight before this painting with just a dry crust of bread to eat.‘” Yes, it’s that good.
In the book Rembrandt, Christopher White wrote, The Jewish Bride “is one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.” No one is sure of who the people are in the portrait but some people think they were a couple posing as a biblical couple for this portrait.
The people of Amsterdam sometimes posed for portraits that depicted scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible. The Netherlands were a fairly new country when it became rich through trade in the 1650’s, so if painters wanted to paint history, some chose to paint bible history. This was a bit problematic because the country was heavily Calvinistic at this time and the religion placed restrictions on artistic subjects (paintings were even forbidden in Calvinist churches). Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen discuss this in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 3”, writing, “Calvin did not want paintings to be worshipped, his teachings thus forbad works of art depicting God, Jews, Mary or the martyrs of the Catholic Church.” That pretty much left the Old Testament. The Netherlands “certainly had no heroes who could hope to compare with the famous figures of the Old Testament.”
The Rijksmuseum has curated their collection in such a way that it is easy to understand not just the item but the context of the item. The picture above is a tiny self portrait by Rembrandt. The curation notes, in both Dutch and English, take up more wall space than the painting. This is terrific! I can easily see the text and the image, making my visit easy and interesting.
Here’s a typical sign that appeared next to the Drapers’ Guild painting. See how easy it is to understand both the history and the art?
Isn’t this swan just magnificent? It fills a wall at the museum. This painting was so lifelike, I expected the swan to hiss at me.
This isn’t one of the “greats” but I love it because it kind of reminds me of Christmas at our house when the kids were growing up. Note the child who got coal from St. Nicholas. Not good.
The Rijksmuseum is where I finally fell in love with Vermeer. I used to volunteer to teach art appreciation to students at my kids’ elementary school as part of a team of school docents. We introduced students to Vermeer but concentrated on his technique rather than content. Imagine my astonishment when I saw what the man could do beyond technique! The Milkmaid transforms the very space where it hangs with a rich butter-yellow tone that engulfs the room. Julian Porter writes, “The jumping blue of the balloon skirt against the flaxen yellow of the cloth blouse set under a gold pot against an ivory spotted wall flooded in light is a drawing room bravura act.” I already miss this painting.
Here is more great stuff at the Rijksmuseum showing the wealth made through trade.
There was an interesting exhibit of 21 Joan Miro sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, but we just ran out of time and didn’t visit. It was kind of funny that when we traveled to Barcelona to the Miro Museum, one of his sculptures was missing – it was back in Amsterdam and we had missed it there, too.
I did get to enjoy Miro’s Personnage 1975 as it was displayed in the Rijksmuseum lobby. I couldn’t find a sign telling me what I was seeing but people stopped and photographed the sculpture because it simply dominated the space.
So that’s the Rijksmuseum for this visit. I’ll be back again next summer 2016 and you can count on me adding to this page.
We traveled to the Netherlands for a week in August 2015. We landed in Amsterdam via a Viking Rhine River tour, stayed with a friend in Wassenaar, drove through the country and also visited Belgium, and left by high speed train to Paris. The weather was rainy and warm, the people were friendly, we were surprised at every turn by the tradition-laced modernity of the country, and we were charmed by the tolerance for all lifestyles.
We were excited to get to Amsterdam to see the city but the real draw was meeting with Maureen’s daughter Melody who lives in Wassenaar, about 1 hour from Amsterdam and next door to the Hague. Once our Viking boat docked, we stayed at Melody’s comfortable home for 7 nights and explored The Netherlands and Belgium using her house as a base and her car for transportation. Melody went way, way out of her way to make us comfortable – just a great hostess. Here’s Maureen with her daughter Melody in Wassernaur.
As our boat docked, we realized we didn’t have our Amsterdam Museum passes – they were at Melody’s house. So we rushed through the Captain’s good-bye dinner (delicious!) and grabbed public transportation to meet Melody at the Amsterdam airport. Kisses, hugs, introductions…. then back to the ship to spend the night.
In the morning, we packed up our suitcases, I enjoyed one last yummy breakfast aboard the Viking ship Hlin: scrambled eggs and sausage and a sweet roll with home-made jelly and sweet, sweet yogurt and Diet Coke. Then we rolled our suitcases about a block away to the train station where we stored them in the luggage lockers. Best of all, we met back up with Rachel who had come in from Bruges where she had spent the week while we Viking cruised. The 3 P-Nuts are back together again!
We stopped at the Tourist Information building directly across from Amsterdam’s Central Train Station (Bahnhof), picked up maps, and purchased a day card for public transportation (7.50 Eur). Then we were ready to explore Amsterdam.
I think video games were invented after a game designer made a trip to Amsterdam. Crossing the street is a major challenge as you dodge pedestrians, cars, baby buggies, taxis, buses, skate boards and bicycles. The bicyclists follow no rules and come at your from all sides out of nowhere, shouting as they pass within a breath of you. They ride their bikes across plazas, sidewalks, streets…anywhere you are.
The trams travel atop grass because it deadens the sound of the trains on the city streets plus adds some green to the cityscape.
On the other hand, one charming mode of transportation is these baby buggies. The first is driven by a bicyclist with baby seated in the bucket-like front seat – complete with plastic weather gear. The second is a day care wagon for 8 kids powered by what looks like a Segway. Sometimes babies are in car seats but most often, they’re just kind of hanging on. The third bike can be used for carting kids or groceries or anything else that will fit.
The people are gorgeous! Tall and big, they dominate the space with loud laughter and goodwill. Then again, maybe they were tourists.
Food is a problem in Amsterdam because everything is delicious and it’s hard to decide where to spend your appetite. We read great reviews for the teeny-tiny Upstairs Pancake House on Trip Advisor so we secured reservations at the Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs and took ourselves up a very, very steep staircase to the second floor to a little restaurant that perched like a nest in a tree. To reach the toilet, you needed to cross the two story staircase that was more like a ladder. We wedged into one of the four tables in the place and anticipated a great treat. Because we wanted to taste everything on the menu, we ordered three pancakes and split them among ourselves: Ham and tomato, pineapple and bacon, and strawberries and cream. All, spectacular. I want to do it all over again.
We continued to eat our way across Amsterdam at the Albert Cuyp Market. Getting there was an adventure as we knew we were near but couldn’t seem to find the huge market street because we always seemed to be on the wrong side of a canal or behind a canyon of buildings that blocked our view. So I asked myself, is it about the journey or the destination? then settled down and enjoyed the adventure. That’s when I discovered the quirks of Amsterdam.
First, a gorgeous doorway – I wanted to step inside just to look around then realized this was one of many, many doorways and I’d never get to see the other sides. Still, wouldn’t you just love to see what’s behind the door?
Some folks displayed their treasures in their picture windows. I wonder if this collector is sharing her wedding-toppers or if she’s the merry widow?
Can I just say I love the houseboats of Amsterdam? How romantic to live on a canal and bicycle to work.
It’s always a treat to spy my favorite brewery and the delivery truck just down the street.
A hotdog seems just the right thing to go with a cold beer on a very, very hot day in Amsterdam. What’s with the winter coat?
Albert Cuyp Market
We finally found the long, winding street just off the canals that is the Albert Cuyp Market. It’s lined with small shops and temporary stands selling baked goods, vegetables, blue jeans, Chinese kitchenware, scented candles, shoes, fruits, honey, scarves: you name it, it’s there.
We were advised to try the poffertjes. The little pancakes sprinkled with butter and powdered sugar were melt-in-your-mouth sweet bits of heaven.
We were also advised to try stroopwafels, which we did. But the little waffles glued together with a sweet paste were so sweet they made your teeth squeek. So I ate a couple bites and found a trash can for the rest. More pofferjes, please.
The good news about food is that you get to eat it all through the day. The bad news: I seem to have taken all photos of sweets. Here are a few of our other temptations.
Van Gogh Museum
It probably sounds churlish to say I expected more. Maybe I was just hot. Maybe I was just tired. After all, the Van Gogh Museum has the largest collection of his works in the world. The Cleveland Museum of Art has outstanding Van Gogh paintings, and so does the Louvre. But this museum was created by Van Gogh’s sister-in-law and nephew and provides a loving description of his life with examples of many of Van Gogh’s 900 paintings (not always the originals). Vincent only lived to be 37 but he created a hell of a lot of art in that time: 1,000 drawings, 150 water colors, 10 graphic works, 9 lithographs.
A visit to the Van Gogh Museum was more about spending some time with Vincent in a beautiful museum than it was about seeing a good restrospective of his art. I saw an extraordinary retrospective exhibit of his art at the Toledo Museum of Art 30 years ago – I really liked seeing Van Gogh’s progress as an artist and also it was interesting to see his descent into mental illness. The Van Gogh Museum of art is, instead, curated to share the happier parts of Van Gogh’s life. As Van Gogh wrote, “To do good work, one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”
Here are a few of the paintings I loved seeing in person at the Van Gogh Museum. In the entryway, was a whole collection of VanGogh’s self portraits. It was interesting to see how he painted himself as he aged.
The intense colors and angry brush strokes create a pastoral scene of violence. Sumptuous to look at, but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there when he was painting this. What was happening in that field 125 years ago?
I do absolutely love this painting which Vincent gave to his brother as a gift; it hung over his brother and sister-in-law’s bed. This photo does not do justice as the actual painting is horizontal, not square, and very large. But the blue is dreamily gorgeous and the sensuously twining branches are extraordinary.
I love seeing how the painter lived in this portrait of his bedroom. One of the things I love best about art is that not only do you witness technique, but you also get to see the artist’s interpretation of the world. Everyone knows what a bedroom looks like, but Vincent made this room his own, complete with quirky persepctive.
The museum, itself, is worth visiting even if you aren’t a fan of Van Gogh. It is light and airy and fun to move around. From time to time the navigation was confusing but friendly guards were happy to help out. However, you know how you might visit a new friend and their house is gorgeous but not at all what you expected because it’s nothing like their personality? That’s the feeling I got with this building. The paintings seemed like they (the paintings) were just visiting.
Dutch Resistance Museum
The Dutch Resistance Museum has been named the best historical museum in the Netherlands. I was impressed with the resilience and the quiet fight conducted by the Dutch during WWII. In thousands of ways – from compromising bridges to hiding Jews, the Dutch people resisted during their five year occupation by the Nazis. This museum focuses not just on the thousands of people murdered by the Nazis but also on the hardships endured by the people of the Netherlands from hunger to cold to the conscription of citizens to feed the Nazi war machine. The museum also looks at what freedom meant when the “Allies came calling” (their words, not mine).
Dutch Resistance Museum – Amsterdam
The Dutch Resistance Museum took on current political prisoners and steps that need to be taken to support those who are incarcerated for their beliefs or their heritage. In a special education area, the Museum posted: “Even today, 70 years after World War Two, people are still imprisoned because of their opinions or because they oppose the powers that be. Frequently, this also serves to intimidate the rest of the population.” Dutch students wrote biographies of three such prisoners from Saudi Arabia, China and Eritrea. The following photo is a picture of a box stuffed with wishes for these political prisoners.
Anne Frank House
It was fascinating to visit the Anne Frank house – I was inspired by her book when I first read it as a young teen and I continue to count it among my most interesting reads. Every single page brings to mind, “this is a life,” and people matter. This little statue stands near the Anne Frank house, as does the headstone.
The Westerkerk is very near to Anne Frank’s house – she writes in her diary that hearing the churchbells helped her to keep track of time.
On August 10, 1943, Anne wrote: We’ve all been a little confused this past week because our dearly beloved Westertoren bells have been carted off to be melted down for the war, so we have no idea of the exact time, either night or day. I still have hopes that they’ll come up with a substitute, made of tin or copper or some such thing, to remind the neighborhood of the clock. (Source: Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida)
I was surprised at the size of the Anne Frank house – I always imagined a tiny area the size of my own attic. It was actually quite large with several rooms, running water, and a beautiful Delft bathroom. I was also surprised to learn that the Frank family did get to roam around the very large building after hours. However, this does not begin to pardon those who stole their freedom and their lives. And it also does not acknowledge the incredible sacrifice of those who hid the family and friends. The tour was emotional and humanized the story of the holocaust.
No photos (or bags or backpacks) were allowed in the house so I freely borrowed some from the internet. Thank you to the Anne Frank organization and to IaminAmsterdam.com for the photos.
We left our luggage at a drop off place (Dutch: bagagekluizen) . We paid a few euro and left the luggage for several hours. It was a bit random — we had to look for the attendant when we returned for our luggage — but it only took a few moments to find him running from down the street to meet us.
The Hermitage Amsterdam
The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam is branch of the more famous museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. For more than 300 years, this building was used to house the elderly as the Amstelhof but it was thoroughly modernized as an art museum in 2007. There is an excellent permanent exhibit of the Golden Age of the Netherlands but we had already seen nearly the same thing at the Rijksmuseum.
Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam
The real reason for our visit the Hermitage was to view a visiting exhibit of Napoleon. Photography was forbidden which was disappointing because many of the artifacts were beautiful. More interesting, the Hermitage had recreated whole rooms filled with the treasures of the Napoleonic era for the temporary exhibit.
The following is an image of the exhibit borrowed from the New York Times. The New York Times website also includes an excellent story about the exhibit with additional photographs.
This history of the museum building as a nursing home is really interesting. You can read the whole story at Amstelhof. “Old age” for women in Amsterdam in 1681 started at 50.
Before the Holocaust, if you stumbled on a cobble stone, people would say, “There must be a Jew buried here.” Today nearly 50,000 small memorials have replaced cobblestones throughout Europe to represent the places where Jewish families lived before they disappeared. The artist Stolpersteine inspired this emotional tribute of stumblestones. Later on in our journeys, I also discovered stumblestones in other cities once occupied by Nazis. As I discover my photos, I will post them in my blog. Meanwhile, from the blog posted by the HollandHockman’s, this photo illustrates my point:
I don’t drink coffee and I don’t smoke pot. So I didn’t see the need to visit a coffeeshop while in Amsterdam. That’s why the answer to my question is, “No, I did not.” Coffeeshops can only have about one pound of hash on hand at any one time and there are rules against export. But Amsterdam seems to turn their eyes away when it comes to weed. I’ve never smelled so much pot on the street except at a rock concert. Maybe that’s why the atmosphere is so chill.
The Rijksmuseum has the best collection anywhere of the Dutch Masters — Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Steen — in a spectacular setting. We didn’t have time to examine hundreds of items at every museum and art gallery we visited, so I made lists of what I really wanted to see, visited the stand-outs, and enjoyed the items I came across on the way to my destination. You can read about my experience in my Rijksmuseum blog.
Here’s what I didn’t want to miss at the Rijksmuseum:
Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride
Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild
Hals, The Meagre Company
Vermeer, A Street in Delft
Rembrandt, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
Vermeer, The Milkmaid
Rembrandt, The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch (Nightwatch)
Random images of Amsterdam
Here’s a preview of an upcoming blog on The Hague:
Went to the very cool Escher Museum today and I was blown away by the …. chandeliers made by the Rotterdam artist Hans van Bentem. Every room sparkled and shined.
You know when you don’t expect to fall in love, and, yet, you do? That was Rotterdam for me. I was expecting a big port city with container ships in the harbor and heavy trucks transporting goods over crumbling streets. Boy, was I wrong. We skipped our planned harbor boat tour because it was pouring rain and chilly. But in a pouring rain, from the enclosure of a small automobile, I slowly fell in love with the whimsy and wonder of Rotterdam.
By the way, it wasn’t raining just a little bit – I mean, I’m not a total wimp. It was raining A LOT.
The destruction of Rotterdam
On May 14, 1940, the German Luftwaffe carpet bombed central Rotterdam, killing 900 people. More than 1,000 bombs nearly leveled the city, destroying 24,978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools (Roep & Loerakker 1999, p. 42 Square 2.) When the Germans threatened to flatten Utrecht the next day (where I will stay this summer), the Dutch surrendered. This was done in spite of peace treaties and a cease fire. The Germans attacked because they needed the Netherlands as a base to attack England.
Now, 75 years later, the Dutch people have built an extraordinary masterpiece of a city. As we toured Rotterdam, we were slowly drawn in by the imaginative architecture. It’s like the worst had already happened and architects could now take risks to create a vibrant living space for city dwellers and workers. When I returned home, I discovered a wonderful website, Architecture in Rotterdam, that informs part of this blog. The reason I know the names of the buildings — and the history of the buildings — is because of this website. The links I provide below each link up to a page that gives a more detailed description of the buildings.
In his book Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas describes a Manhattan Grid, a city within a city, that springs from the imagination of man and has nothing to do with nature (so take that, Gaudi). This area of Rotterdam houses homes, a hotel, offices — more than 7,500 rooms – and is called, I believe, de Rotterdam. There’s a much better image at Architecture in Rotterdam.
The White House, built about 1900, survived the central city bombing and today is still used as a luxury hotel. You can read more about the White House at Architecture in Rotterdam.
“Since the presentation of the first plan the Peperklip was controversial. Architecture critics described the building as inhospitable, cold and merciless. Others praised the timeless, rational architecture, and saw the building as a liberation from the disastrous small scale. During the first year the building was often in the news, especially because of the many social problems among the residents: (Architecture in Rotterdam).
The hugely popular Cube Houses.
“The Blaak forest contains 38 cubic houses, several shops and three large cubes situated on a pedestrian bridge over the Blaak. It was one of the attempts to enliven the downtown area and to shift the focus from office buildings and traffic flow to housing and recreation. The Cube Houses and buildings around the Oude Haven (Old Port) were designed by the Amsterdam architect Piet Blom (1934-1999), who had previously designed similar experimental housing” (Architecture in Rotterdam).
OK – is this building just too cool for school? We approached the building from many angles but never got close to it as it was always across a river or open water. I think this is the Unilever Best Foods office building.
“The new headquarters of Unilever Bestfoods was built on the site of the Blue Band factory on the northern tip of the district Feyenoord. Because the building was built as a bridge over the existing complex, the nearby site of the former brewery Oranjeboom was kept empty. The Merchant City district (Koopmanstadwijk), planned here, will contain about three hundred houses designed by architects JHK and West 8…Besides a smart idea to save space, the bridge building is a spectacular example of prefabrication. To not to disturb the production of the plant the building was erected 200 meters away on the Oranjeboom grounds” (Architecture in Rotterdam).
If anything is missing in Rotterdam, perhaps it’s open land for city play. It could be there and I never discovered it. But open land should be readily apparent for residents and tourists, alike.
Market Hall’s parking garage and mini-museum
The Market Hall was at the very top of my list of places to see in Rotterdam. I read about the new building in nearly every magazine I picked up last year and I was determined to visit this place. I was not disappointed. Let’s start with the parking garage.
I was surprised to discover a mini-museum of the site in the bowels of the parking garage! Apparently the Market Hall was built upon the ruins of a medieval housing project dating from 1350-1550. Bits of pottery, housing and artifacts were included in the well-documented museum area. Here’s what the sign said:
You are situated in the medieval city of Rotterdam. The city came into existance in approximately AD 1270 when the dam in the river Rotte was constructed in the spot where we now find the Hoogstraat. In the year 1340 Rotterdam was granted city privileges and in 1358 the city further expanded and was surrounded by fortifications. To the south, two polders were added to the city. They ran up to the city rampart at the present day Blook. These are the two medieval housing projects Oostnieuwland and Westnieuwland.
Note: if you say Dutch words out loud, they make sense. For example, say Oostnieuwland out loud and you can hear “East New Land.” Say Westnieuwland out loud and you can hear “West New Land.”
The Markthall is located in the eastern part of the district Westnieuwland. A dike ran around the district with the residences of craftsmen and fishermen constructed on top of the embankment. The archeologists of the municipality of Rotterdam excavated approximately 30 houses that were located on the dike. The houses were made of wood and had thatched roofs. Houses built of stone only appeared in the course of the 15th century.
I love that Rotterdam has their own archeologists. I love that city planning existed in 1340 and cities had to get permission to expand. I thought that cities grew organically but I was wrong: the requirements of daily living necessitated planning and permissions in order to grow and protect a society even 700 years ago. This rocked my head and I had to seriously consider these personal discoveries. My conclusion? WOW. Way to go, ancestors.
The Markthall (try that little trick I wrote about earlier – say it out loud and it makes perfect sense) looks like an impressively dull, concrete bean from the outside. But we entered from the parking garage below the building.
As we rode the elevators upward from the parking garage, we discovered the history of Rotterdam written on timelines inscribed on the sides of the escalators. It was easy to get around thanks to maps posted throughout the site.
Then we burst upon the main floor and our jaws dropped as we gaped at the massive space topped with a cascade of organic visuals. See all those little squares dotting the ceiling/painting? Those are the windows of people’s apartments – residents look down into the the hub-bub of the market hall.
This view is from just above the hall looking out onto a series of individual terraces populated by a variety of restaurants. Each terrace is accessed by an individual stairway. When you dine on one of the terraces, you kind of get the feeling like you are floating in space with a bunch of boats tethered together. I wanted to wave to the other diners like a boat passing at sea.
And here is the heart of the Marketplace: the individual food sellers and restaurants.
We chose to eat at a Tapas Bar – great choice! A bit spicy but Maureen was happy with her oysters and I got to eat everything too spicy for Maureen and Rachel. Lucky me.
Technical Problems in the Parking Garage
I tried to use my new chip card in the parking garage and the machine ate it. Remember when I said to read the words out loud and they would make sense? It was pretty easy to understand that “Afgebroken Pas Uitnemen” meant – “you broke the machine, idiot.” So I pressed the little speaker button and said in my very best Dutch. “Helpen! Do you speak English, please?” I didn’t say please in Dutch because it’s alsjeblieft – try saying that out loud. It sounds like, “I just killed your bleating sheep.”
A lovely woman showed up about 5 minutes later, opened up the guts of the machine, tapped a few key commands, and returned my chip card to me along with a paid receipt. I always wondered what the insides of these machines look like – and now you know too. And I said dankjewel.
I will return to Rotterdam this summer. I want to take the harbor tour and I want to walk through the city on a sunny day. So look for a new Rotterdam blog next summer.
Lucerne seemed more like a large, gray city than a quaint, pretty town like the brochures hyped it to be. It was probably the drenching, dismal drizzle that colored our perspective.
Lucerne is a busy city center with tourists tucked around lots of street activity.
We waited our turn to take photos of each other in front of the lake. Here are Tracy and Rachel in Lucerne, Switzerland
Where do I start? More important, where do I stop? The chocolate in Switzerland is perfect: Rich, creamy, delicately flavored. One shop after another displays pretty little confections worthy of gifting but begging to be tasted. So we tasted. My favorite is a dark chocolate filled with a raspberry filling.
Kapellbrucke Lucerne, Switzerland
We agreed to skip the boat ride into the harbor and settled for a stroll through the extraordinary covered bridge with 17th century paintings still intact even though exposed to the elements for nearly 500 years. Part of the bridge burned in a 1993 fire but it was quickly restored and is extraordinary.
The oldest truss bridge in the world, the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) is a covered wooden foot bridge built in 1333 as part of the city’s fortifications. It’s 560 feet long and crosses the Reuss River at an angle in the center of Lucerne.
The Kapellbrucke is named for St. Peter’s chapel which is located near one end of the bridge. In the 1600’s, artists added 110 paintings to the inside support beams of the bridge. Lucerne’s city councilmen paid for the paintings that illustrate scenes of Swiss and local history, including the biographies of the city’s patron saints, St. Leodegar and St. Maurice. The councilmen got to include their coats of arms in the paintings they sponsored. Blogger Michele writes, “The depictions of St. Leodegar and Swiss history were meant to call the citizens of Lucerne to recall that a pious way of life and service would lead to happiness as well as a strong city.”
After visiting the Kapellbrucke, I found interesting information about the fire: “85 of the 110 pictures under the roof, dating back to 1611, were destroyed by the 1993 fire, only 25 could be saved or restored. The others have been replaced by pictures from the second part of the bridge that had been safely stored since 1834. A few burnt panels are still shown to remind of the fire. During the carnival season, the ancient pictures are replaced by modern ones showing carnival motives. This provides a platform for the creativity of today’s population and besides the original pictures can be saved from thoughtless ‘attacks’ with all sorts of fun materials like paint and glibber bombs used during carnival these days. So if you’re interested in the old paintings don’t choose the carnival season for your visit to Lucerne” (http://lucerne.all-about-switzerland.info/lucerne-chapelbridge-watertower.html).
Lucerne is all about the river and the lake. These geographic features first brough people to Lucerne. These are the same waters we saw upriver in Interlaken.
We saw many painted buildings in Switzerland. They are beautiful but require constant maintenance. I kept bumping into people because I was so busy looking up to the stories above the street.
Shopping in Lucerne
Good-bye, but not forever! The main reason we stopped in Basel– in addition of the bonus of sharing days with Stephan and his family – is that we launch from Basel on our week-long Viking river boat cruise. Much more of that in the next blog entry as we bid good-bye to Rachel and Tracy.
Since we were in the neighborhood (only one or two mountains away), we chose to visit Interlaken on our way home from Abelboden and Our Chalet. Interlaken is a beautiful, graceful city with the clearest water imaginable. Stephan said it was the color of melted snow. We could see the bottom of the Aare river even when it was more than 20 feet deep.
The dam keeper decides how much water to let out at any time – on the day we visited it was gushing out of four sluices and into the rivers that feed all the cities — including Lucerne — below. It was August and this was snow melt.
A sign near the river gave us a bit more information:
Since the Middle Ages, the bridges over the various arms of the River Aare provided the only options for getting from Neuhaus on Lake Thun via Unterseen to Aarmuhle, Interlaken, and on to the valleys of the Jungfrau Region.
The River Aare has formed a boundary since the land between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz was settled. Relations between the city of Unterseen to the north and Interlaken Monastery to the south was hostile. Unterseen belonged to the diocese of Constance, while the monastery followed the orders of the diocese of Lausanne, a fact often used to the advantage of the people of Unterseen. Fishing rights, control of the market, and bridge tolls caused endless disputes.
An emerging tourist resort under the name of Interlaken emerged after 1891. Interlaken, meaning “between the lakes” was renamed to attract hordes of 19th century English-speaking tourists.
It was interesting to me that an informational sign would air the region’s dirty laundry. I was impressed that the area recognized disputes of the past as significant history to share with others.
The way to a girl’s heart
Lunch in Interlaken
We enjoyed a fresh, tasty lunch along with a handful of tourists. Maybe it was the mountain air or maybe it was because we are always ready to eat, but we were hungry and this more than satisfied.
Doorways of Interlaken
The doorways of Interlaken are painted to look especially inviting.
As a tourist, I sometimes forget that I am visiting a little town of 5,500 people that has a real life beyond tourism. When I lived in Chagrin Falls, we used to smile at the “cone lickers” who would day visit to enjoy the charm of our little town, including the ice cream. The tables turned for me on this adventure as I was the cone licker in Interlaken.
Scenes from Interlaken
Hotel, Interlaken, Switzerland
Scenes on the road between Interlaken and Lucerne
If you are considering a visit to Interlaken, Rick Steves says to pick up a free town map, timetable and hiking guide at the main TI at the Interlaken Ost train station (Rick Steves Best of Europe 2015). He also offers a self-guided 45-minute walk of Interlaken complete with maps. I hope you enjoyed my little visual tour as much as I enjoyed visiting Interlaken.
Basel, Switzerland is a little jewel in the Alsace. (Say it like this: Bah-sel and Alls-ace.) One night we parked in France and walked across a footbridge to Germany for a Chinese dinner while visiting with friends from Switzerland. It was done with about as much fanfare as parking in South Russel to have dinner in Chagrin Falls with friends from the west side of Cleveland. No big deal to the locals but awesome to me.
We traveled to Basel for two reasons – first to meet with Maureen’s Mardi Gras friend, Stephan. He grew up in Basel so showed us around town, plus drove us to Interlaken, Lucerne, and Girl Scout’s Our Chalet. What we thought would be a pleasant break in our travels turned out to be great fun thanks to Stephan’s energy.
The second reason for our stay over in Basel was that we launched from Basel on our riverboat tour via Viking up the Rhine River to Amsterdam. Basel marked a turning point in our tour as Maureen and I took the river boat, Rachel traveled to Bruges to visit friends for the week and Tracy returned home to the US. We thought of Basel as the Viking launching pad but it turned out that Basel was a grand adventure in itself!
We booked most of our reservations through Airbnb.com with outstanding results. We rented real people’s homes in real neighborhoods. The homes were roomy, convenient, and reasonably priced. For about $150 a night, three or four of us stayed in homes that were clean and comfortable, included a refrigerator, and often included a washer and dryer. Our three criteria were that we did not want stairs (we were carrying our own luggage), we needed wifi, and we wanted to be the only lodgers. This was our lodging in the Alsace:
We each had our own sleeping areas (three bedrooms plus two bathrooms) and a full yard. Our hosts even left us breakfast food in the fridge. Absolutely perfect.
The Rhine River drew settlers to this important transportation hub well before the birth of Christ. Today it remains a key stop on the Rhine.
Doorways of Basel
I was fascinated by the doorways of Basel. The doors are old, really, old. Like before Columbus-set-foot-in-America old. It’s a simple matter of telling just how old a home is – it’s written right on the front of the house.
Basel’s Town Hall (Rathaus Basel)
Basel’s 500-year-old town hall is locally referred to as the Roothuus, a play on words that means councilhouse but sounds like red house in the Basel dialect. This cute play of words is so appropriate because the town hall is RED.
Paintings around the exterior of the Basel Rathaus extoll the virtues of citizenship:
Basels signs date from a time when all people could not read. So when you hung your sign, you made sure it included a symbol of what service was offered by you. Can you tell what these two establishments offer?
Basel’s Munster (Cathedral)
Basel’s red sandstone cathedral was built by the Catholics but is now a reformed protestant church. Many of the artworks of the cathedral were destroyed during the reformation when Huldrych Zwingli condemned idolatry and the church was stormed by townspeople. The colorful roof tiles can be seen from all over Basel, making a good landmark for touring.
Stephan invited us to his home for authentic cheese fondue with his parents. Ladies, this man is available and he’s a catch! Not only is he a humorous host, he’s also a great cook.
We were so lucky to visit Stephan’s family home and meet his charming parents. These dishes are part of his mother’s collection.
We got to see Switzerland through Stephan’s eyes as his home rather than a destination. He said when he was born, his family was living in France (or was it Germany?) but when it came time to give birth, his parents made sure Stephan was born across the river in Switzerland so he would have Swiss citizenship like his parents. Stephan thinks nothing of traveling between France, Germany and Switzerland but it was a huge treat for me.
We parked our car in France and crossed the Rhine River via a footbridge to Germany for a Chinese food feast with Stephan and his parents. The food was prepared with a light hand and just delicious. Stephan waived off the doggy bags and told us people don’t carry away left over food like we do in America.
Stephan’s very proud of his heritage and he should be. Switzerland’s legacy of independence has been hard-won and is protected with vigilance. For example, fortified caves strengthened during WWII still line the mountains and until the very recent past, every home and building was required to have a bomb shelter.
Driving in Switzerland
Stephan drove us swiftly through crowded city streets, breath-taking mountain passes, and flawless freeways punctuating the ride with lots of “asshole!” and “shitty drivers!” He pointed out special spots with colorful remarks and skipped most of the touristy stuff that was beginning to jade us. Of course, every time something didn’t go our way during the rest of our trip, we’d look at each other and say, “assholes!”
Basel street scenes
This quirky water feature included several steam-punk-like water fountains that were interesting to look at, yet strange. I think I lacked context to understand what was going on – yet, I watched fascinated.
Basel is the best!
It was hard saying good-bye to Stephan and his family. They were caring hosts with a twinkle in their eyes that said happy times were close by.
I looked for information on Basel and tourism and found almost nothing on the internet or in tour books. But Basel is lively, happy, livable, and worth time to visit. I found it in many ways to be more approachable and more interesting than Lucerne and definitely a better destination than Zurich. So let’s keep this between us so it doesn’t get over-run with tourists: Basel is a worthy destination in Switzerland.