Saturday, October 11, 2014


From Willem and Els's garden 
Rather than going in strictly chronological order, I've decided that, at least for the Netherlands portion of the trip, I'll group my comments and pictures by city or theme. Since Utrecht was our home base, I'll start there.

We landed on a foggy morning. As a photographer, I actually really like fog; it softens things and adds mystery.

However, it does have its challenges. As Willem drove us from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (pronounced SKRIPF-hol) to Utrecht, I glanced at the broad, flat fields on either side of the road, and asked aloud what I was looking at . . . turkeys? Vultures? Some kind of large bird.

No. They were cows. In the thick fog, I'd only been able to see the splotches on the cows sides. Kind of a Rorschach test. But it became a running joke throughout the trip, especially as we saw many, many cows in both Holland and Switzerland.

But the most remarkable thing on that first morning was the narrowness of the roads.

Near Willem and Els's house
That, dear friends, is a two-way street on which parking and bicycles are permitted. This was not an anomaly. The drivers there all took it in stride, but I would likely have been frozen in a giant grid-lock if I'd been driving.

After a strong coffee and typically Dutch breakfast of bread, cheese, and deli meats, Winkie and I took a nap. When Els came home from work, we all visited the University of Utrecht botanische tuinen (botanical gardens). I had mentioned by e-mail that I loved gardens, and Els had remembered this garden, which she had heard of but never visited. We were not disappointed.

Eventually, these rock-encrusted spheres will be covered with living things.
The gardens were not large, but they were plenty of challenge for our tired selves. I also discovered that my 75-year-old auntie had considerably more stamina than I did. That woman could walk!

She also shared with me one of her secrets: Arnica. It is a homeopathic treatment for inflammation, pain and bruising. She gave me a vial of sub-lingual arnica, and it made a huge difference, almost overnight. My chronically aching joints and mysterious bruising subsided dramatically over the two weeks we were away, and arnica has now become a standard item in my purse. (Sub-lingual is great when you're on-the-go.)

But back to the gardens.

Although most of The Netherlands is incredibly flat, this garden had a hill. More a hummock, really, but when you have sore hips, this counts as a hill. (Note: you will see several similar photographs of flights of stairs or switchbacking paths throughout this travelogue.)

Actually, it was the hips and lower back that hurt after climbing; the knees were what hurt after the coming down.

I just adore willow trees.
Our hosts kept apologizing for the lack of flowers this late in the season. Hah!

These were called Cardinals' Caps.

I think this was gorse, which we had seen from afar in Ireland (with its cheery yellow flowers). What a daunting plant that is!

The weather was refreshingly mild, and the sun was out, so we had a pleasant time.

These don't look at all poisonous.

After our lovely afternoon, we came home to Prosecco and beer on the back deck.

What a fine welcome!
On our last day in Holland, we also spent a morning in Utrecht, wandering through the oldest parts of the city.

One of the things I hadn't appreciated about Europe (despite how often it is shown in movies) is that fresh flowers are a household staple. Seriously. Willem made a special trip out on Saturday morning to get flowers, even though we were leaving that day for Brussels.

In Utrecht, as in other cities on our travels, I fell in love with the narrow, cobble-stoned lanes with skinny houses crammed right up against the sidewalks.

Behind those houses are courtyards that Willem showed us (I would never have found them myself),
but I will write more about those in a future post.
And, of course, you can't visit Europe without seeing one or one hundred churches.

In a city founded circa 50 CE, "new" and "old" are extremely relative terms. If you are restoring an old church, how far back do you go?  And you have to keep your eyes open to see surprises like this.

Look closer:
Rope "hands" holding the tracery together.
A stonemason's little joke that has lasted centuries.

But, as with many European cities, there is also a drive to meld ancient and modern. The results, in my mind, are not always as beautiful as either might be.

If you did a word-association test about Holland, I can almost guarantee a few words would come up: canals, bicycles, and windmills. So here are a few words and pictures about each.


In warmer months, I'm sure this cafe would be full of people.
Canals, of course, are an integral part of The Netherlands as they've used ingenious engineering to remove water from their fertile lands. As well as serving agricultural purposes, the canals are used for transportation, as they are in Venice.

Bicycle parking is actually a problem.
Bicycles are almost omnipresent, except on limited-access highways. On our way in to Utrecht, I glimpsed a beautiful young woman, blond hair flying behind her, wearing a pink sweater, and perched upright on her bicycle, riding along merrily in the bicycle lane beside our car. There is no way I could have had my camera ready for that, but the image is stuck in my mind.

But if you look at the bikes, they are not the many-speed, athletic bicycles that we use here in North America. They are workaday bicycles. They have sturdy baskets and racks, fenders to keep the mud off, and the kind of handlebars I grew up with. They are meant to be ridden at a casual pace, not in a race.

(We saw several school groups bicycling on their field trips, rather than taking a school bus. Wouldn't that be an interesting municipal effort to curb youth obesity: make bicycle travel part of the curriculum.)


The old-fashioned four-bladed windmill is no longer the main means of diverting water from arable land. Nowadays, they use diesel engines and the windmills are more for scenic value, but I did love seeing them and, eventually, Willem made a detour so I could get a pretty picture of one, outside of Utrecht.

Next stop: Amsterdam!

1 comment:

  1. the gardens are beautiful!! And I love all the windmills - I could go crazy taking pictures.


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...