Netherlands in Winter

I just wanted to mention a few wonderful events in our Dutch life. This post will be brief (don’t worry, not an overload of  history or art lessons) but some touchstones that make our life pretty wonderful..

A Warm Hoorn Welcome

November 12, 2017

….the first being a surprise welcome package we found nestled in our cockpit upon our return from the States. Left by our Dutch family that morning  it certainly brightened our arrival to a cold boat:


And, the next day we received an extra treat:  Tika’s homemade cupcakes!

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A lovely way to be back on JUANONA!


Touch of Maine in Amsterdam

November 13, 2017

Now and then we hear of friends being on this side of the pond; and, that’s how we met up with Paul and Kym to wander the canal-ribboned streets of Amsterdam.


Seeing familiar places through the eyes of new visitors spices up life, and Paul and Kym’s exuberance and interest in exploring new sites reinforced how lucky we are to be living here. And, how great it was to be with them :)

Sinterklaas is coming to town…

December 9, 2017

Our friends, Deborah, Thijs, and Tika ensure we experience typical Dutch events; and, a few days after the official date of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) eve (December 5th) we shared a fun-filled evening. The Dutch celebrate this day with a wonderful tradition of what we’d call Secret Santas. Only they manage to add a fun twist to it by the giver having to make the gift, create an elaborately wrapped package relating to that gift, and leave it as a present from Sinter Klaas along with a poem that kindly teases the recipient while hinting at what’s in the package.

Fortunately they simplified it for us (we could buy a gift of 10 euros or less and not worry about the wrapping); yet, to give you an idea of how the real Dutch do this, check out these Secret Santa creations exchanged on the actual Dutch SinterKlaas day:  Tika’s (who drew Thij’s name)


and Thijs’ (who drew Deborah’s name).


They greeted us with our velvet tams (Pete, Sinterklaas’ assistant from Spain, wears one) and exchanged gifts with Sinter Klaas’ help,


sang some carols, and spent the night being Dutch celebrants. We loved it, especially since Max was able to take home the specially made present from his secret Sinterklaas (Tika)




Training it to Utrecht

December 14-15, 2017

Our to-see list of historic Dutch sites included one of the country’s oldest cities, located about an hour southeast of Amsterdam. So, we planned a two-day excursion and trained down and over to Utrecht. Unfortunately, our last minute planning meant we couldn’t see our friends Pascal and Sylvia of s/v Wateraap whom we met cruising the Danish islands this past summer. Hopefully, another time will work out.

As promised I won’t go into a lot of descriptions of the sites we saw but will mention the highlights:

The city’s medieval cobble-stone streets offer a step back in time as we strolled down the Oudegracht  (11th-century ‘old’ canal) one way and up the Nieuwegracht (14th-century ‘new’ canal) during our stay. The impressive Domkirk (cathedral) and Domtoren (its 14th-century tower) drew us to what was once the Netherlands biggest church.


Here, the cathedral used to cover most of this area until a catastrophic windstorm in the late 1600s collapsed the nave.

Reading about a fascinating tour under the church to see the former Roman settlement, we signed up and killed time by enjoying a bite for lunch. Can you tell how happy Max is? The Art University cafeteria offered one of the least expensive meals here :)  (Max always appreciates a good value)


We explored the Roman ruins with an audio guide automated by pointing a light beam at a sensor.


Although the area was small, we got a sense of history such as peering at this Roman ammunition.


At the Museum Catherijneconvent an amazing exhibit on Martin Luther showcased his writings, including scribbles in his personal copy of the Bible. 


What I didn’t realize was just how much of a PR guy he was. Using the power of the printed word (in German vs. Latin), he and his pal, the artist Lucas Granach, created a brand to spread his thoughts. Ever the promoter, Luther pushed his printer to improve the quality of Luther’s pamphlets. Five hundred years later we’re still talking about this man. No wonder he has churches named after him. And, you know you’ve made it when LEGOS recreates your image in plastic bricks.


Down the street a bit we entered the Centraal Museum, Here we viewed another special exhibit, this time on one of Utrecht’s famous sons, the artist Pyke Koch (1901-1991). His early work didn’t attract me…

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But, as I followed a chronological path through his paintings, I did like his later ones.

Pyke’s work sharply details images with perfection, but with a polish alerting you that it’s not real.  His self-portrait from 1937 exemplifies this ability. This painting also represents his membership in a Dutch fascist party.


However, when the party merged with Nazism, Koch dropped his membership. Briefly banned from exhibting after WWII, he continued his art.  His later portaits, such as the 1948 portrait of Baroness van Boetzelaer,


reflects his admiration of the 15th-century Italian painter Piero della Francesa.


Some of Koch’s work mesmerized me such as his Seasons paintings (1948-51)…


and his 1959 “Football Players V”.


After walking though the special exhibit we spot-checked some other items, one in particularly being this 17th-century dollhouse.

I’ve seen some of these creations collected by adults but never one with a garden. Pretty amazing.


Whoops! I’m renegning on my promise! Okay, on to our next site.

We’d read that Museum Speelklok offered a fascinating education on ‘self-playing instruments’. At first we’d pooh-poohed it but, having extra time on our hands before another museum opened, we decided to stop in. Were we glad we did! An enthusiastic young guide led us to the museum’s star attractions.

There was a player piano, one of fewer than 100 in the world still operating, that uses three violins (!) along with the usual instruments to make music:



Among the street and dance hall organs we saw the largest in the museum, and, yes, it was huge.


We also saw her favorite one, which became ours as well. I’m including two videos of this Parisian clock from 1870 created by Blaise Bonems (1814-1881) who loved birds.


Be sure to check out the second one to see just how involved his creation is.


After two days we were ready to head home hoping to revisit this city again.


Ushering in 2018

December 31, 2017

Another wonderful afternoon and evening with Deborah, Thijs and Tika beginning with ice skating, something neither Max nor I had done for a long time.


As Thijs and Tika could skate rings around us, Deborah kindly kept me company while Max ‘sped’ off on his own


but not before I snapped a photo of him with Tika :)


Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to join Tika for a lap (when she slowed down :).


We ended the day playing games, one being Catan, an strategy game created in Germany about 20 years ago (and one Tika typically wins!)


and another, a  centuries-old Dutch shuffleboard game called sjoelbak .


Thijs, who’s played this since a child, shared his techniques, although we all would need quite a bit more practice to beat him.

Back aboard we witnessed the glorious display of fireworks popping over the harbor across the way.

A great way to ring in the New Year – with friends and fireworks!



Revisiting Leiden and The Hague in 2018 

January 2-3, 2018

With Max wanting to collect more research on his ancestors in Leiden, I decided to visit the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden with its special exhibit on Assyria. I found myself amidst a cacophony of families on holiday. Although crowded, the exhibit itself gave an excellent insight into this Mesopotamian kingdom


focusing on the reign of Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.E.) and his capital, Nineveh.


Some believe Nineveh could have been the location of the ‘Hanging Gardens’ attributed to the earlier Bablonian Empire. Now this ancient plot of land is surrounded by the city of Mosul in Iraq. Unfortunately what few ruins remained were targeted by ISIS who proceeded to bulldoze one of the gates and some of the reconstructed walls in 2016.

After an hour or so of playing peek-a-boo with other visitors peering into the glass display cases, I opted to meet Max and head for our hotel in The Hague. We were both pleasantly surprised to find our $64/night room to be clean, quiet, and well-equipped with CNN and a Nespresso machine!


The Student Hotel is a combination dorm and hotel with facilities serving both students and tourists (I wish I had brought my laundry after seeing the line-up of machines). Begun in 2004 by an enterprising young man, he has opened similar hotels in other European cities. Definitely worth checking out his other locations for future stays.

The next morning we first visited The Humanity House, providing the visitor a feel for a refugee’s life. There are stateless people in the world, such as Palestinian refugees, who can’t get a passport (or much else in the way of affirmative ID) because their place of birth isn’t recognized by the world community. With a permanent exhibit of seven displaced persons telling their stories, including a Palestinian, we left this building realizing just how fortunate we are simply to have a passport.

Our main destination was Vredespaleis, the Peace Palace. The only United Nations building not in NYC, this beautiful structure was erected specifically for fostering peace. Surprisingly to me, the Russian Tsar Nicolas II (1868-1918) began this process.  He asked his cousin, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962), to host an international peace conference in 1899. This led to 26 countries gathering to discuss disarmament and international jurisdiction, which resulted in the establishment of a Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

A decision was made to construct a building specifically to host this international body. Queen Wilhelmina donated royal property and Andrew Carnegie gave $1.5 million with the stipulation a library be part of the design. A second peace conference was held in 1907, this time with 44 countries attending. The building was (ironically) completed in 1913 on the eve of WWI. The League of Nations’ Permanent Court of International Justice soon moved into the building, later becoming the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of the United Nations. The Hague Academy of International Law also resides here.

They don’t allow any photographs, so I grabbed this off the Internet. But, you can get more of a glimpse by clicking here.


To see the building you have to sign up for a tour, which only operates when the courts aren’t in session. Max had done so online and on Wednesday morning we joined about fifteen others as a young guide led us through the fabulous interior to the two court rooms. In each one he explained a relatively recent case:

In the PCA the guide related the case of Philip Morris vs. Australia over whether the tobacco company had to follow the plain packaging rules (use health warnings with no company logos allowed). Philip Morris tried to circumvent this rule by opening an office in Hong Kong where a bilateral trade agreement between Hong Kong and Australia would allow Philip Morris to continue using their own brand packaging. In 2015 the court ruled against the tobacco company, having seen its opening of a Hong Kong office as a way to avoid following Australia’s law.

In the ICJ we heard about Australia vs. Japan and the latter’s whaling. Japan said they had the right to whale for scientific research; yet, Australia disputed that claim by pointing out that the number of whales Japan was killing far exceeded what could reasonably be used for research purposes. In 2014 the ICJ ruled in favor of Australia; however, a year later Japan rejected the ruling (not something often done) and is still whaling.

We highly recommend going on one of these tours. The building itself is magnificent, with many countries having donated building materials and furnishings resulting in an eclectic but beautifully blended decor. And, just to be in the actual court rooms where momentous decisions are made resulted in my sitting up a bit straighter.

The very last tour was a stop a the Museum of Gevangenpoort or the Prison Gate for an MDT (Max Disaster Tour). This site we wouldn’t recommend, but we did see a horrific torture item: the breaking bench (essentially a place where every major bone was broken).


This item became more real to me when I read about it’s use in the biography of Peter the Great. Lovely.

But, we did shake off some of the gruesomeness by visiting the Gallery of Prince William V (1748-1806) upstairs. There a collection of 17th-century paintings, primarily by Dutch artists, William had acquired. A small room led to a larger gallery and there we let peace and beauty overtake the horrors from the prison. A much better way to end our two-day tour!



January, 6, 2018

Our last Saturday in the Netherlands we enjoyed a wonderful lunch aboard with our niece Katie and her partner Yorgos, who both live in Amsterdam.


The discussion wandered to lifestyles and Yorgos’ working on a blog about saving money. He mentioned the website, and we told him of how we first heard about this site from our friends Melanie and Anthony. When Yorgos’ site is up, I’ll include it in another post.

All impressive young folk, and we’re lucky to know them.



January, 7, 2018

And, I can’t end this post without my next day’s excursion:  Tassenmuseum (Bags and Purses Museum).


Deborah and I had a wonderful girly afternoon peering at an historical array of these items dating from the 16th century. Men (such as my husband) should appreciate our obsession with handbags.  Upon the invention of pockets, men stopped carrying purses while women’s bags just got heavier… Go figure.

And, with that I’ll close. :)


May you all have a wonderful new year!
















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