Monthly Archives: January 2017

Jeanne, Van, Otto, Romans and Wine

Domremy

Saturday to Sunday   January 7-8

In November we had planned a trip south to Provence but ended up back in Maine. So, we decided to rebook in January, and thanks to our kind airbnb hosts we were able to reserve the same apartment in Avignon. With our rental car we headed out of the Netherlands, through Belgium and ended up in Domremy, France, halfway to our destination.

With Max being a huge fan of Jeanne d’Arc we had opted to tour the little village where she spent the early years of her life, actually most of her young life until she upped and left after following the voice in her head to help the French Dauphin obtain his rightful throne in 1422 .

Arriving a bit later than we had hoped due to a wintery mix of snow and ice, we did manage to find the chapel where she worshiped on Saturdays. Located just 1 mile km from her home in Domremy, the Chapelle de Bermont is now private property. The owners do offer access to the chapel when it’s opened for a few hours on Saturday; but, we had missed it.

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Plus, this was our discovery of touring during January when most signs greeted us with ‘ferme’ or “closed”.

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However, just knowing she had climbed the hill to enter this place of worship made our rushed trek here worth the effort.

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As the afternoon morphed into evening we hightailed it back to Domremy where we had booked a room at one of the few B&Bs still offering rooms during this season. We also happened to find the one restaurant opened down the road where we met the husband-and-wife team as well as a local with pup enjoying his nightly glass of the local liqueur.

Waking up to wispy flakes sifting from the sky we enjoyed our breakfast in our room under the watchful eye of Victor Hugo who, our host said, use to stay in this inn on route from Paris to see his family in the countryside. And, no, I won’t say we slept in his room or he slept in ours…

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Our host also told us Napoleon III had given this house to his mistress where she converted it into a bordello/inn due to being perfectly located right where the coach stopped to let out weary passengers.

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However, what was more interesting (I know, hard to beat knowing one slept where Hugo had) centered on our host’s vast research regarding Jeanne d’Arc.

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His alternative theories, such as she was the illegitimate child of the Queen Isabeau of Bavaria and Duke Louis of Orleans, intrigued us.

As a local historian he believes that the Domremy house below–not the one the tourist information promotes down the street–belonged to the d’Arcs, her family. It was located along the border stream between Champagne and the Germanic territory (hence d’Arc, or ‘bridge’). The story goes that her father was a wounded veteran and had been given the job of tax collector along the border.

Our host even escorted us to where the Arcs’ family home use to stand, another picture-worthy photo op.

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The stone slab was typical of a walking bridge over a small stream, with the two stone pillars marking the respective borders.

I had heard the idea of her being the illegitimate daughter of royalty but not anything else. If you’re as big of fan of this amazing young woman as Max is, check out our host’s website:    http://jeannedomremy.fr/indexhtm.

Needing to get on the road, we bade our host good-bye, scraped the car

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and drove the seven hours to Avignon.

PROVENCE

Orange

On the way we stopped at Orange where one of the best preserved theaters exists from the Roman days. It’s also where the Netherlands’ William I or William the Silent (1533-1584) became Prince of in 1544.

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Once again our timing was such that the little museum/gift shop was closing in 45 minutes, yet we had enough time to scramble up to the top of tier of stadium seats (yes, I was a bit wobbly on the ascent and descent).

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Gazing down onto the stage one can only imagine the thrill of attending a performance here, which they continue to do during summer months. The acoustics were excellent as was the viewing in spite of performers basically being ‘dots with limbs’ for those less wealthy patrons sitting in the higher tiers; and, for perspective, I’m the ‘dot’ standing next to the end of the stage.

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Avignon

Thirty minutes later we were greeted by our Airbnb hosts–Manuel waving at us from the rooftop and Pascal, his partner, knocking on our car window. For the next hour or so we were provided with all the information one needs to tour Avignon and the surrounding region while sharing a bottle of local wine. One couldn’t ask for more enthusiastic welcomers. And, they continued to send emails with excellent tips and ideas for traveling around Provence.

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Monday to Friday   January 9 – 13

Our days began with coffee followed by some road trips and ended back at our apartment to enjoy a bottle of wine and a simple dinner. As I’ve told several folk, we are probably the only people who toured Provence and didn’t go out for a single meal with the exception of our sandwiches at a boulangerie. At which my gallant husband turned the camera on me snapping a now familiar pose:  moi et ma cafe.

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Pont du Gard

One of the most impressive structures we saw was the Pont du Gard, approximately 40 minutes NW of Avignon, actually in Occitainie, the next province over. How the Romans constructed such a magnificent and exacting piece of infrastructure is mind-boggling to someone such as I who holds no knowledge of engineering except to admire a piece of art when I see one.

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Composed of three graduating arches with the tippy-top being the smallest, this Romans (well, their slaves) built this edifice around 20 B.C.E. You can see on some of the arched stones the numbering system used to ensure correct placement.

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We arrived just in time for the morning ‘walk’ across the top, which, thankfully was mainly through a covered ‘tunnel’, covered to keep the water pure as it flowed from the Eure spring near Uzes to the city of Nimes over a 50 km course.

Our guide indicated the water line etched into the stone near the top of the wall,

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and she pointed out the red substance that was the top layer of water-proofing under which the first layer, tiles, would be placed alongside the stone wall.

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Every five years or so they’d have to chop away at the heavy lime deposit caked on the interior channel, where it would take a drop of water 30 hours to travel the length of the aqueduct.

The aquaduct has been out of use since about the 6th ce.  Fortunately, renovations and maintenance (such as the guy who was removing any vegetation adhering to the stone)

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have resulted in a stunning historical monument where you can still imaging water flowing through this channel.

Palais des Papes

The main draw of Avignon for history buffs is the huge Palace of the popes, which was built in only 20 years between 1335 and 1355. Some say it is the largest Gothic palace in the world.

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Wondering how the supreme leader of the catholics left their Roman enclave and landed in southern France, I read that it began with the French King Philip IV’s (aka Philip the Fair)

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power struggle with Pope Boniface VIII.  When a Gascon-born pope, Clement V, decided to move the papacy out of Rome to a Avignon, this began the rule of the Avignonese popes, on that continued for the next 70+ years until 1377.

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You know how much I like connecting the dots, well I discovered Clement V and Philip IV had ties to Chinon, the place where Jeanne d’Arc first met the Dauphin in 1429. Subtract over 100 years and in Chinon key members of the Knights Templars, a Catholic military order, were accused of heresy, sexual misconduct, and blasphemy. They were arrested in 1307 and held in Chinon.

Enter the lovely Inquisition and seven years later five were burned at the stake on Paris’ Ile de la Cite (Island of the City) in the River Seine. The reason? Money. Philip IV owed a lot (the Templars also functioned as bankers); and, a way to rid himself of debt was to rid himself of the Templars. Clement V was forced to disband them but did absolve them of heresy. The trial of the Templars with Clement’s ruling is documented in the Chinon parchment, a record discovered in 2001 in the Vatican Secret Archives.

The above simplifies the complexities of how the king, the pope, and the templars became so entangled, and, it’s worth reading more for anyone interested in the details.

Back to the building whose immensity was difficult to capture as we looked back from the entrance steps to the plaza.

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It was old (notice the door)

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and cold and impressive.

In spite of the palace being bare it was easy to imagine the thrum of power that must have echoed around these cavernous rooms; and, audio guides provide the historical context as we wandered around.  At one point the palace became a prison and then barracks in 1810 with their reducing some of the huge, stone rooms to smaller ones with wooden floors and wall dividers. In the 1900s the palace was opened to the public and restored to its original interior architecture. Definitely worth a visit.

Las Baux

On Tuesday we decided to head south of Avignon where we found ourselves exploring the medieval hilltop village of Las Baux. The drive was one of the most beautiful during our entire trip as every few turns revealed our destination in the distance.

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Being a non-touristy month, the town was basically shuttered but didn’t preclude our strolling the narrow, cobblestone streets.

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Guide books as well as a Tourist Office we had visited on our way there suggested we park at the Carrieres de Lumieres, an innovative multimedia show using abandoned caves created by mining the limestone in  the 19th ce. Unfortunately this show had just closed with its 2017 opening slated for March; yet, it presented an empty parking lot and, more notably, a free one.

Yet, it also provided an opportunity for enterprising folk who were searching for treasures while we were walking through the village.

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The enterprising folk had spotted a backpack sitting in the back seat, which was empty by the way. Most likely the car alarm scared them off (I only knew it had an alarm when I made the mistake of trying to open the door.) Luckily nothing was stolen (unlike our time in Baden-Baden). We reported it to the local police (actually, it’s the National Guard in that area), arranged for a tourist-gouged-replacement window the next day in Arles, visited some olive oil mills (yum!),

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and, ended our day in another Provence village associated with the guy who hacked off part, or all, of one ear.

Saint Remy

One speaks of Provence, and Van Gogh’s life and art comes to mind; so, our destination was Saint Paul de Mausole, the monastery in Saint Remy. Here he voluntarily entered in May 1889 and subsequently produced a prodigious amount of art during his 12 months’ stay. A 1km walk from the Tourist Office to the monastery is lined with free-standing plaques matching one of of the artist’s works with excerpts from letters referring to that specific painting.

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Even though we couldn’t access Van Gogh’s recreated room, it was even more interesting to be in the surrounding grounds for you could stand in front of the painting then look out and actually see what Van Gogh saw (albeit the trees are now larger…).

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So, in spite of the broken window we managed to happily enjoy our day and see everything we had originally planned when we set out from Avignon that morning.

Camargue Natural Parc

Provence has a designated nature reserve along its southwest coast, part of which includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. With a vast amount of wetlands, this nature area has established an ornithological park where traveling birds as well as stay-at-home ones enjoy this habitat just north of Saintes Marie de la Mer.

After stopping in Arles for the window repair,

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we leisurely drove another 40 minutes where we were stunned by a marvelous site of flocking feathered creatures justifiably called the pink flamingos.

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And, what a hoot those are.

Although they’re majestic in their stance and stilted, elegant stalking,

I still can’t help but think of how they’d look on someone’s lawn, something my dad and some friends managed to do to an unsuspecting friend’s yard.

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Walking along the trails surrounding the marsh we thought of our friends Helen and Gus who would be able to explain this marvel of the fowl world to us. Since we didn’t have their expertise we had to put up with simply looking and taking photos and videos as these boa-feathered creatures entertained us.

With our eyes seeing pink spots and picnicked stomachs full we managed to make our way back to the car and returned to Avignon. Another beautiful January day in Provence.

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Luberon

Pascal and Manuel echoed the quaint beauty of the Luberon, the area east of Avignon dotted with medieval villages, so our destination began in a clockwise direction as we stopped to ooh and aah.

Our five-hour adventure encompassed a mist-skimming river…

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a trodden church aisle…

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gum- drop trees…

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colors of Provence…

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red-cliff bluffs…

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and, finally some French food at, what else, a boulangerie.

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Carpentras

Friday to Sunday  January 13-15

Our last morning was spent hunting truffles as we left Avignon for a truffle market on our way north. Our attempt to join an actual truffle hunt didn’t occur due to not enough tourists signing up to make it worth the hunters while. So, the next best thing was attending Carpentras’ Friday morning market.

Having read the market spread itself over several blocks with the truffle hound folk in front of the old Hotel Dieu, we made a beeline for there only to be directed across the street where a few lonely tables stood with their vendors and an overpowering odor of fungi.

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Yet, we felt something was up at our original spot, not only because it had banners announcing the selling of truffles

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but also because there were a bunch of guys hovering around one another with bumpy, suspicious-looking sacs. With Max posed as a decoy, I was able to grab a shot of what, Max aptly noted, appeared to be drug deals.

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This was where the professionals came to purchase this black gold, and we followed one guy across the street who animatedly but surreptitiously showed his cache to several others waiting in a cafe. And, no, I didn’t pose Max again…

 

ALSACE-LORRAINE

Kaysersberg

After six hours of heading north we landed at our original destination just south of Strasbourg, at a small village outside of Colmar, only to find our hotel reserved via HOTELS.COM shuttered. Fortunately, there are quite a few towns around in this Alsace Lorraine wine country,

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and we landed at another lovely, middle-age village complete with a stork-nest-topped chimney

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and the requisite half-timbered homes.

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Our hotel was practically empty so no problem securing a room for two nights and we happily settled in then found one of the few restaurants opened for dinner. Oh, and it advertised itself in quite a unique way.

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Colmar

The next morning we struck up conversation with a couple breakfasting next to us who told us of an exhibit in Colmar’s Unterlinden Museum. Since we hadn’t planned any sight-seeing other than to visit that city, we purchased tickets and found ourselves immersed in artifacts from the area’s early beginnings…

such as a gold bracelet from the burial site of Celtic princes during the 8th and 5th centuries…

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to the famous, multi-panel altar piece painted by Matthias Gruenwald and carved by Niclaus of Haguenau 1512-1516 for Isenheim’s Monastery of St. Anthony (a model showed how it folded and unfolded while the life-size pieces were displayed in groupings)….

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which influenced the German artist Otto Dix (1891-1969), a painter and printmaker who saw the altarpiece when a POW at a camp near Colmar.

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Having fought during WWI Dix knew firsthand the horrors of human wars. When Hitler’s regime began promoting the honor and heroism of fighting he responded with art depicting the opposite. Consequently his art was banned but his work today yells of the tragedies of war.

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In addition to his ant-war art he also painted stark and, what some call, brutal portraits, such as this one of journalist Sylvia van Harden in 1926.

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A website devoted to Dix provides a wonderful anecdote regarding this painting (http://www.ottodix.org/catalog-paintings/page/4/), one that gives you a slight peek inside his mind. As I told an artist friend, I wouldn’t necessarily hang his art on my walls but I definitely love his approach.

L’alchemille (alchemy)

Our last night out we spent as foodies in Kaysersberg. And, for anyone ever in this area, please, make a reservation at L’alchemille (www.lalchemille.fr). Owned and operated by a chef and his wife, they reminded us of our  friend Kyle, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America. This chef focuses on using only local, in-season ingredients, and, man, does he whip up magic.

We arrived at 8:00p and proceeded to be wowed. As our waiter patiently and smilingly presented each dish, when we looked puzzled, he rushed to his phone to translate the ingredient into English. I felt as if we were eating in an enchanted forest with the tastes of pine and other fragrant seasonings.

As we sampled and oohed and ahhed over seven courses and a bottle of wine, I actually ate items I’d never tasted before (venison and pate).

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As we were leaving they came out to say good-bye,

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and, as we left the restaurant (three-and-a-half hours later!) we turned to one another in the gently falling snow and said, what an amazing way to end our road trip to France.

Fini!

 

‘Tis the Season

HOORN

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tika had invited us to witness a traditional holiday event:  the Feast of Sint-Maarten (Saint Martin of Tours), who, legend has it, was a Roman Soldier-turned-monk known for his kindness towards strangers (and children and the poor), in short, an all-around-good guy.

On the eve of the fasting for Advent (November 12) a former harvest festival has become a popular children’s affair. What once was an occasion for poor children to beg for alms during a winter month has been transformed into an event similar to our Halloween. Children carry lit lanterns and a sack door-to-door. When the door opens the child sings a song and receives some sweets as a reward.

We’d been looking forward to this ever since Deborah told us Tika wanted to show us a typical Dutch celebration; so, we set off on our bikes for their home where we joined Deborah, Thijs, and Tika for a delicious dinner of home-made soups (it was Thijs’ night for cooking and we had a duet of hearty pea soup and squash soup along with a smorgasbord of tasty dips). With very satisfied tummies, Tika, Deborah, Max and I set off leaving Thijs in the role of door-opener-candy-giver.

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Photos and videos don’t really provide the true wonder of hearing the sweet singing of a young child as she serenades the greeter; but, as you can see from the photo below, opening the door to such a vision is truly a gift to behold.

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And, to hear.

While Tika joined her friends for more neighborhood singing for treats, we returned to the house where we enjoyed conversation and tea.

As we hopped on our faithful two-wheeled steeds and cycled back to JUANONA, we were anticipating the next day’s tradition:  SinterKlaas’ arrival. Yet, both of us felt it would be hard to beat the magical night we’d had hearing a young girl’s voice lilting through the night bringing warmth to those who were fortunate to bask in such a gentle air.

Saturday, November 12

The previous night’s lantern-lit singing was the prelude to the loud and cheerful day of SinterKlaas. This tradition evolved from the true personage of St. Nicolaus, the Bishop of Mira from Turkey, who loved children. Somehow he popped up in Spain and then made his way to the Netherlands by boat. His assistants are called Zwarte Pieten, ‘Black Petes’, something of a controversy due to their black-face make-up, a look associated with slavery as opposed to their historical reference:  Moroccan attendants.

To avoid any connotation of racism, the Zwarte Pietnen may evolve into multiple hues. After all, the point is SinterKlaas had helpers, similar to other countries’ morphing St. Nicholas into a rosy-cheeked, white-bearded jolly man with elves. By the way, I’ve read that Coca-Cola was the catalyst for St. Nick’s current portrayal. So much for tradition.

[To follow up on SinterKlaas, children place their shoes out in hopes of receiving a gift in the night. If good:  chocolate letters and marzipan; if bad, coal. Then on December 5th, the eve of the feast of Saint Nicolas, he drops off a burlap sack of gifts before returning to Spain. The custom is for the gifts to be home-made and to be accompanied by light-hearted poems.]

The morning of November 12th dawned crisp and chilly, perfect weather as a backdrop for a winter event. Searching for a good vantage point to witness SinterKlaas and his assistants’  landing, we ended up next to the tower gate close to the marina.

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As I said it was freezing,

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but that didn’t stop the crowd from hooting and hollering a welcome as various boats escorted the barge carrying this ‘royal’ entourage.

The hordes of people, the bright colors, and the festive air reminded me of our time in Fowey, England, during our coastal hopping from Falmouth to Ipswich. And, it was just as loud…

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We followed SinterKlaas as he rode through the streets on his white horse Amerigo with his helpers handing out candy and pfefferneusse (peppernuts, which are small gingerbread-type cookies).

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Being a bit old for receiving any treats, we opted for a hot snack, one, which always brings a smile to my husband’s face: kibbeling.

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In spite of the warmth from the fried fish nuggets we needed to keep moving, so we headed to the main square, Grote Maart, then merrily returned to JUANONA and prepared for the arrival of friends and family from home.

HOORN, HAARLEM, & AMSTERAM

Wednesday-Wednesday, December 20 – January 4, 2016

Our holidays post-SinterKlass entailed a reunion of Fletchers, Bruces and Sumners. In 2014 Max and I were joined by my sister Betsy and our friends Smokey, Traci, Michelle and Danielle Sumner. Then we shared a house in Amboise, France and created our own Christmas spirits with food, wine, charades and laughter. Realizing another opportunity had arisen due to Danielle being back in France for the year, we planned another time of merriment expanding to include Max’s son Chris, and Smokey’s brother, Jeff, with his wife Lisa and daughter Nicole (son Matthew was braving frigid temps in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, juggling waiting tables and skiing slopes).

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Traci, Smokey and Danielle (since graduating from college she’d taken a job teaching English in France while studying for her LSATs) travelled down from Haarlem for the day,

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and we had a wonderful reunion aboard JUANONA with, what else, kibbeling for lunch.

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On the 23rd Deborah, Thijs and Tika joined us for dinner and provided some Christmas carols with Tika and Deborah accompanying us on the recorder while the three Americans shamefully substituted a lot of ‘tra la las’ for words. We also received some lovely, home-made gifts, including a second Dutch book created by Tika to help Max and I learn the language.

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Our guests noticed some oddly shaped items drooped over our electric radiator, and we explained they were ‘Max’s rice socks’ or, as my cousin Lynnie L. labeled them, Buddy Sox. We used them back home to warm up our bed and tried them aboard (although we have now graduated to small hot water bottles which worked a heck of a lot better). As you can see below more than beds can be warmed.IMG 0460

The next day we took the train to Haarlem where Chris, Max’s son, met us. Originally we had planned to use JUANONA as a B&B for the boys while Betsy and I shared an airbnb apartment, but the plan changed to renting two apartments due to logistics of getting JUANONA down and back within a reasonable time.

Betsy quickly spotted some holiday flowers, as we trundled our luggage around Haarlem looking for our apartment. FYI: neither of us can resist the abundance of beautiful and inexpensive flowers decorating the stalls and shops around the Netherlands. We later discovered Traci had also fallen under the spell of these botanical beauties.

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With everyone together on the 24th, Max, Betsy, Chris, Smokey, Traci, Danielle, Michelle,  Jeff, Lisa, and Nicole landed at a restaurant featuring Euro-Asian meals and lots of excellent gin and wine. After five hours we realized we’d missed the Christmas Eve service at historic St. Bavo’s churchbut could still catch the al fresco singing in the Grote Markt, where we joined our voices to the hundreds singing along.

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As Christmas week continued we enjoyed wandering around Haarlem and various day trips, including a night-time river canal trip in Amsterdam to experience the Light Festival with Deborah, Thijs and Tika.

One of the nights we managed to meet up with our brother-in-law’s niece, Katie Stover, who works for New Earth Films as a production manager. She joined us for a meal with the Sumners, which Betsy and I hosted and Max cooked (good combo!),

Another day Betsy and I toured the Frans Hals Museum. The museum was featuring a special exhibit of Dutch Masters from the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum located in Budapest, Hungary, and currently undergoing a renovation.

No matter how often I see paintings by these 17th-century artists I’m still in awe of just how they managed to create such works of beauty. The pictures below were snapped with an iPhone so not the best, but you get the idea. Just look at how the gold braid actually glitters,

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the translucent sleeve reveals the young woman’s arm,

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the metal shines as it reflects the polished light,

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and, the green goblet captures pure water. Unbelievable (to me).

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With everyone having different travel arrangements (Belgium, Ireland, and the USA) the four of us celebrated a rather subdued New Year’s Eve with sparklers spelling out “2 0 1 7” while standing in a deserted Grote Maart. Surprisingly most Netherlanders celebrate new year’s eve by staying home. Katie, Craig’s neice who lives in Amsterdam, said it’s primarily due to it being the only day of the year when the Dutch can purchase and set off firecrackers. This results in a night punctuated by loud bangs and others taking sanctuary away from potential explosive injuries.

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Our last few days were spent in Amsterdam where Max, Chris, Betsy and I rented another airbnb right on a main canal street, Prinsengracht. Betsy and I took another canal boat trip, this time during the day; and, like what happens on JUANONA, we were boarded by the police. When I asked the captain afterwards he said it was expected as the company had been given notice a month earlier by the police and the owners were still working on complying with the regulations. All of that aside, this Classical Canal Boat tour was a relaxing way to see parts of the city while hearing bits of its history.

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One of our last festive events was a post-New Year’s dinner thanks to brother Cam and Carmen; and, thanks to Betsy, we had a wonderful restaurant in which to celebrate due to her having stayed at the hotel earlier with friends.

Dinner compliments of CandC JAN2 2017

After two weeks of family-and-friend festivities we found ourselves alone and back aboard JUANONA. A rather quiet re-entry into January after such a jovial holiday.

Yet, there’s always the possibility of another two-year reunion in 2018… :)

End of Our November MDTs…

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GHENT (Gent)

Saturday – Monday (November 5-7, 2016)

We were finalizing our MDTs (Max Disaster Tours) with a non-diaster, at least not an apparent one, just the typical Middle Age bloodshed.  We were headed to Ghent, the largest city in Flanders (Belgium) during the Middle Ages thanks to cloth, where we landed for two nights and one full day.

Our hotel, which included a tiny kitchenette, sat conveniently within the historic center one block from Vrijdagsmarkt Square or “Friday Market Square”, so-called from, you guessed it, hosting Friday markets beginning in 1199. Amidst the shops and cafes a pointing statue dominated the square, which turned out to be the city’s famous citizen, Jacob van Artevelde (1290-1345).

Ghent’s ‘hero’ wasn’t a military leader, a royal personage, or religious figure but a businessman. I’ll abbreviate his place in history here because trying to explain who’s who to get to why this, why that is too convoluted for my taste…

You know this area of the world during the Middle Ages was raking in the dough from cloth. So much cash was being generated that Ghent, along with Bruges and Ypres, were floating in wealth. Those making this possible were the Guilds, specifically the Cloth Guilds. They’d import English wool, weave it, and sell it back as finished cloth. A wonderful and tidy circle of funds created a wonderful and productive income for all, well, at least for the owners and higher-ups.

But, inevitably all good things come to a close… and, it begins in 1332 with the Count of Flanders, Louis I, leaving Flanders after choosing sides in a power struggle between two kings , King Philip VI of France

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and King Edward III of England.

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Louis left a power vacuum, and in steps Jacob, a wealthy man, who now becomes a prominent business leader in the city.

But, back to the power struggle… Why the King of England would claim ownership to a French throne is due to an unclear line of succession.  The French King Charles IV died in 1328 without a male heir. There happened to be a widow, but, no surprise, her title didn’t count. Philip, a cousin of Charles IV, however, became regent and was then crowned king when the widow-queen begat a daughter, not a son.

But, whoa, here comes England’s Edward III, King of England as well as a vassal of France (ever since the Norman Conquest in 1066 by William, the kings of England are also dukes of Normandy, which further adds spice to this French-English monarchy stew.) Seeing an opportunity to expand his realm, Edward states his claim to the French throne via his mom who happened to be the daughter of Philip IV, a previous French King.

Well, Philip VI and Edward III ended up sniping at one another resulting in Edward III boycotting Flemish cloth. Well, as we know, money Trumps all. Jacob, the one immortalized in the Friday Market Square statue, convinced the Federation of Guilds to back Edward III. After all, that’s where the all mighty dollar lay (and why this 19th century statue is pointing towards England).

FYI:  Historians say this is the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a war of constant back-and-forth with England and France fighting over who’s going to sit their royal hinny on the French throne.

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Returning to our rebellious Jacob, he didn’t do so well in the end. He became unpopular among all the Cloth Guilds and ended up being hacked to death by the head of the Weavers Guild in 1345. But, hey, he still has an imposing monument in one of Ghent’s beautiful squares.

Leaving Jacob behind we continued our self-guided walking tour. Ghent is a lovely city but definitely a city with an modern, urban feel if you step foot outside the historic district. Yet, within the confines of the medieval cobblestone streets and squares magnificent buildings abound.

As we wandered around the city we passed by buildings, some easily identified, such as the 17th-century gateway to the fish house featuring Neptune with his trident…

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and some not so easily id’ed such as these frolicking figures danced their way across a roofline (it turned out to be the Mason’s Guild Hall).

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One of the most noticeable buildings is the Cloth Hall and its Belfy. In 1313 the people of Ghent decided to build a tower as a symbol of independence, and the Belfry was constructed. Approximately 600 years later the flying dragon was added to its peak. Remarkably, the civic privileges from 1180 still reside here under heavy guard.

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Another symbol of town pride is the huge brass drum in the belfry belting out tunes.

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We took a stroll around the balcony circling the tower obtaining some city views. Let me rephrase that:  Max took a stroll. I, on the other hand, stuck to the stone wall with my back never leaving it until I scurried from one portico to the next all the time thinking ‘this, too, will pass’.

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A ‘you-HAVE-to-see-this’ piece of art awaited us at the Cathedral of St. Bavo; and, it was definitely worth seeing. “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” (the neck-bleeding lamb symbolizes crucified Jesus dying for mankind’s sins) was painted by two brothers, Jan and Hubert van Eyck (1420s-32).


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Jan, whose patron happened to be Philip, Duke of Burgundy, is credited with being the father of oil painting; and, if you’re like me wondering what did they paint with if not oil, it was the ‘tempera method’, pigments bound together with various liquids, the most popular one being egg (to which they would sometimes add myrrh to offset any offending odors…).

To view this momentous work we were ushered into a tiny room, which quickly filled up as more and more visitors filed into an ever-increasingly small space. But, we could still see it, and with an audio guide learned something about this piece of art composed of twelve panels painted front and back. The NEW YORK TIMES recently covered the ongoing restorations, so it was fascinating to see it in person.

With our one, must-see destination completed, we began our walk home taking a back street

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to where we spotted a small courtyard enticing my husband to perform his obligatory peep, this time into a medieval well.

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In another plaza we mingled with tourists and locals alike as the afternoon morphed into twilight.

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And, one of my favorite Belgian works of art tempted us as we slowly walked home…

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The second and last morning we had our first meal out in Ghent (all others being picnic-style in our room). Consisting of dual cups of excellent coffee and freshly baked items, our breakfast not only provided nourishment but also an opportunity for Max to snap me at my best.

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Or, worst, as the case may be. And, just so you know, I haven’t looked this bad on a passage…

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After feasting on freshly brewed java and aromatic croissants we drove back into the Netherlands with a planned stop at an engineering marvel, the Maeslantkering, a moveable storm surge barrier. As one of the 13 components comprising the North Sea Protection Works, this surge barrier is the largest in the world.

A display featured an explanatory exhibit (all in Dutch so we basically gazed at the models while scratching our heads) demonstrating why it was constructed (the devastating 1953 flood and the  potential for more) and how (for engineering brains).

Since I will never do this justice, check out this link that describes the project and this water baby in concise and non-engineering terms:  http://www.amusingplanet.com/2014/04/the-netherlands-impressive-storm-surge.html

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After the indoor explanations, we headed outside to get an overview of the site and the immense floating arms.

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all while a cold wind buffeted us, hence the shoulders clenched to the sides and hands stuffed into coat pockets.

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Back in the car we commented on how cool it’d be to actually witness the annual-test closing of the gates. Hmmm… another road trip!

Next: ’tis the season in Netherlands!