|From Willem and Els's garden|
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|
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.|
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.|
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!|
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.
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.
|Rope "hands" holding the tracery together.|
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.|
|Bicycle parking is actually a problem.|
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!