A Weekend in the Netherlands


Friday, October 21, 2016

Did I say we were lucky to be here? Well, three of the reasons why are our friends Deborah, Thijs, and Tika. And, a fourth reason was our time spent with them at the beginning of the weekend. Only a 20-minute walk through the center of town landed us on their doorstep just in time for koffie and morning nibbles.

We met the new household residents, Emma and Tommy, and got a tour of their enchanting home, totally renovated when they moved in some years ago.

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Having been fortified with coffee and good nibbles we headed for Deborah’s art studio out back. Standing at the end of a lovely wild garden, the robin-egg-blue cottage with its welcoming white interior appeared to me to be the perfect spot to sit and gaze back into the greenery, while sipping another cup of coffee.

But, that wasn’t why we were here. We had offered to help with prepping the studio for Deborah to paint it while Thijs would concentrate on doing the same on roof trim and come help us afterwards.

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In just a few hours and a wonderful lunch interlude, we finished the washing and lightly sanding of the cottage. Mission accomplished.

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Not only did our friends provide us with an easy and fun day but also the use of Deborah’s old bike, including its adornment of flowers. Thanking them for such a perfect loan for spending time in Hoorn, we stopped at a used bike shop on the way back to JUANONA to see if we could find a second one.

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In spite of the owner not speaking English and our not speaking Dutch, Max pantomimed his question and the owner pantomimed back; and, before we knew it a bike was purchased and prepped for sale,

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a bike sister Judy would appreciate since it’s painted in one of her favorite colors.

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Second mission accomplished. Then, the two of us toodled back to home, feeling we blended into the local town scene a wee bit more as we navigated the cobblestone streets on our two wheels.

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And, arrived home without mishap, which was even better.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

After a brief appointment in the morning we headed to two sites in Amsterdam, both located in Spui, a central square known as the cultural books neighborhood.

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One was Begijnhof or ‘beguine house’. Beguine refers to a Catholic lay group of single women who performed good deeds as nuns do but without being secluded in a convent and without the dictates of a religious mother-hen nun or big-papa Pope. Thus, the Beguines could live together in a compound (termed beguinage) or individually, didn’t take a vow of poverty, could own their own property, and even had the freedom to leave in order to marry or return to husbands who had gone off to war. By not belonging to any specific religious order, the Beguines made up their rules by which to practice their form of Christian spirituality. (FYI:  male counterparts were called Beghards.)

Originating in the aristocratic ranks of women in the late 12th century then embraced by the middle-class, this group supported themselves through nursing, lace- and cloth-making, farming, and other commercial activities; and, here in Amsterdam, they formed this elegant and tranquil beguinage.

Sadly, the Catholic Church with capital “Cs” felt threatened (oh, Quel surpris), and these independent-minded women were persecuted, with one even burned at the stake in Paris in the year 1310.

Although persecution by the Catholic authority forced many Beguines to become nuns and monks in France and Germany, the lowlands continued to protect them. Even when the country converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and no public praying by Catholics was allowed from 1578 to 1795, this enclave remained and carried on its traditions. Part of this protection derived from the Beguines owning their own homes and, technically, their homes weren’t part of a religious order.

The current buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries with one of the old wooden houses from the mid-15th century restored after the two horrific fires in Amsterdam in 1421 and 1452. in the midst of the courtyard is a Gothic Church (consecrated on October 7, 1419) and later given to the English in 1607.

In the church is a stained glass window over the altar. It documents the fact that Puritans worshipped in this church and depicts pilgrims boarding a ship. Evidently a sister window exists in Massachusetts showing the Pilgrims landing.

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Vincent Van Gogh worshipped here on Sundays when living in Amsterdam documented by his writing: “Tomorrow morning I am going to the English church; it lies there so peaceful in the evening in that silent Beghijnhof among the thorn hedges, and seems to say: In logo its dabo pacem: In this place I shall give peace, says the Lord. Amen, so be it.”

Here, in Amsterdam the last beguine died in 1971; yet, the tradition of single women living in this lovely oasis remains.

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And, while penning this I just read off the photograph of the sign I took that taking pictures in the courtyard was prohibited. Yikes, talk about an UAA (ugly american act). I’ll do some penance. I promise.

Just through another courtyard door we entered an alley leading to our second destination of the day:  Amsterdam Museum.

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Here we looked forward to gathering an overview of the city’s history, adding to the little knowledge we have of this city named for damming of the River Amstel.

Housed where the city’s orphanage operated for 400 years, the museum greets you with a large hallway dotted with portraits both old and new and paved with a diversity carpet created by artist Barbara Broekman. To celebrate the multi-ethnicity of this city she created 184 carpet squares, each one representing a specific identity associated with a particular country.

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Mesmerized, I stood and stared at the floor wanting to soak up the bright hues swirling at my feet, only to look down the hall and spot a huge statue dwarfing Max. This gigantic wooden statue of Goliath used to entertain 17th-centrury strollers in a pleasure garden.

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Uncannily, his eyes move (!) thanks to mechanical engineering.

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I made my way past familiar portraits from the 17th centuries, familiar only because we’d viewed lots of these civic paintings in other museums during our Netherlands explorations, this one featuring the governors of the Coopers and Wine Rackers Guild

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juxtaposed against startling modern ones, such as the 2001 “Amsterdam Civic Guards”, with the Maid of Amsterdam, holding a joint in one hand and carrying a tattoo of Rembrandt on her breast, surrounded by prominent historical figures, such as Anne Frank and Alfred Heineken. (FYI:  “Mokum” is a nickname for Amsterdam. Derived via Yiddish from the Hebrew ‘makom’ meaning ‘place’, the nickname was bestowed by the Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe in the 17th century.)

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These two paintings really sum up the country’s, as well as this city’s, history. Commerce has been the underlying force since the founding of the city with just a few hiccups along the way due to foreign rule:  Hapsburg’s Philip II of Spain, which led to the 80-year war of Independence (1568-1648); France’s Napoleon and bro Louis Bonaparte (1795-1813); and, the Nazis (1940-1945).

With no sovereign or religious head posing as an absolute authority, Amsterdam and the Netherlands focused their energy on trade. By doing so, they developed a more tolerant view of others since any and everyone could be a potential customer. And, as we walked through rooms describing the life and times of the city’s residents, we realized just how much this city was built on civic dreams.

The overwhelming sense of the importance of commerce is inherent in:

the portraits of wealthy merchants and their families versus none of any king or queen… the painting of the ‘new’ city hall, constructed during the country’s golden age (below) and capturing the moment when Louis Bonaparte is given the keys to the city in 1808…

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the accruements of daily living, such as a plate displaying the initials (VOC) of the Dutch East Indies Company…

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and a painting showing Amsterdam in 1600 with the surrounding countryside composed of polders (reclaimed land).

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As population grew, city inhabitants took over more and more land. Urban planning helped direct the expansion with one of the major developments being the ring of canals, construction of which began in 1613. The methodical layout makes for a wonderful stroll throughout this city. (Although, I have to say, everytime I see this photo, the colors remind me of rare roast beef. Not appealing when out of the context of sitting on a plate with roasted veggies and salad.)

We discovered some surprises in this city’s history, one being the Miracle of Amsterdam. I tell you, this is bizarre and pretty unbelievable to even think this a miracle but, for the sake of history, here’s the story, and I quote:  “In 1345, in a house on Kalverstraat… a priest had given a man the last rites. The patient was so ill that he coughed up the sacramental wafer. The nurse threw the vomit onto the fire, but – a miracle! – the wafer remained unscathed. After the Pope recognized the miracle, Amsterdam became a pilgrim city.”

Yes, really.

And, of course, where there’s a way to do a goofy pose, I’m there. As is my husband who, as I’ve said often, puts up with me.


Our visit was relatively short (just a few hours) but well-worth obtaining an overview of the city, one reminding us of how wonderfully liberal Amsterdam can be (the first gay marriage in the world occurred here on April 1, 2001) and just how steeped in civic leadership (history of the guilds and lack of a dominating ruler or religious head).

Back to Hoorn where, alas, no roast beast dinner awaited us. But, another wonderful weekend does!

Stay tuned… :)


6 thoughts on “A Weekend in the Netherlands

  1. Chris Fletcher

    Loved the account of pantomiming for a new bike, in addition to you both volunteering at the home of new friends – great way to give back and be true ambassadors!

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Allan Jarvis

    Amsterdam is our favorite city in Europe. Although touristy at times, try the “5 Flies” for a good meal in a unique Dutch surrounding. Also, a Hot Pot at Hasse Klass is good. We also like Blau and der Waal, if you don’t mind an evening sojourn into the red light district – the food is worth trip. Fine dining can be had at La Rive in the Hotel Amstel. If you do go to the 5 Flies (de veijf vleighen), then meander down the road a little to the right and grab a drink at the bar Hoppe. It’s the bar where Freddie Heineken got his start as a bartender; in fact, there’s a picture on the wall of Freddie drawing a beer for the owner. I’d say have fun; but in our experience there is no way that anyone can not have fun in Amsterdam. Have an Oulde Geneva (or two) for me…………! Allan & Marty

    1. margaretlynnie

      Great information! Dank je well! We’ll try those out. Better yet, why don’t you and Marty head over so you can show us in person :) A friend here told us about Mati Hari in the Red Light District, which we passed on the recommendation to friends from Maine who said it was delicious. So, we’ll add your recommendations to our ‘to sample’ list.

      We agree that Amsterdam is marvelous. We feel so very fortunate to be here! L&M

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