Category Archives: 2016 10 NETHERLANDS

A weekend stretched into a week

AMSTERDAM

Friday, October 28

A wonderful surprise came by email in October. Some friends from Maine were heading to our neck of the world and would be visiting Amsterdam beginning October 28. Not only were we going to be in the Netherlands but also in Amsterdam for an appointment on that very day.

Arranging to meet at a cafe in the Rijksmuseum we managed to find one another quickly and hugs abound.

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Marcia and Steve are inveterate travelers and generally rent apartments while immersing themselves in the culture and everyday-doings of the local inhabitants. We’ve corresponded with them on several trips, exchanging information on various destinations. Since they had just hopped off the plane and checked into their airbnb accommodations mid-morning, we all decided to stretch our legs while locating a place for lunch. Which we did find while walking and talking and dodging the ubiquitous cyclists.

After lunch we strolled back towards the train station, taking them through the Beguinhof, the oasis we had visited the prior weekend. During our walk Marcia exclaimed that some bags hanging outside a shop were designed by a company from Massachusetts, one with which she was very familiar considering she owned at least three of their designs.

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And, a backdrop providing a perfect opportunity for a photo-snap.

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With some trial and error on our part (still get lost in this city) we located the Red Light District. This neighborhood surprises one because the surroundings appear like many other parts of the city until you notice what the shops are selling, and some narrow alleys that boast plate glass windows with semi-clad females posing. (Two days later they enjoyed a fabulous meal thanks to the suggestion of Deborah who used to live in Amsterdam.)

Since they’d basically been awake for 24 hours we all decided to head to our respective berths, and we parted company as they meandered their way back to their apartment and we, to the train station and Hoorn. Hoping our paths would cross again during their visit, we invited them to Hoorn; yet, with only two more days in Amsterdam (and plenty to see there) before visiting Belgium sites then ending in a favorite haunt of theirs (Paris), we at least knew we could communicate in the same time zone via email.

We bade them good-bye but not before Max took a photo documenting this reunion of Mainers.

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Seeing friends from home when we’re on JUANONA is such a gift to us. With all of their traveling we hope to see Marcia and Steve again in the not-too-distant future. It’s hard to say good-bye when we just said hello.

HOORN

Saturday-Monday, October 29-31

The Belgians are here! The Belgians are here! We obviously didn’t cry out loud with this news but we eagerly awaited a visit from our Belgian Family.  In May they had come up for a visit when our nephew Rudy was aboard, so they were familiar with Hoorn.

This family of five are quite easy to have aboard being content to while away the days with talking, laughing and just catching up on everyone’s news. Max had made a delicious chili for dinner. Actually he had made two batches, the first being too spicy due to following the recipe exactly, which called for a quarter-cup (!) of chili powder. Even when cutting the hot spices more than half, it still was on the verge of scalding one’s taste buds.  But, maybe the chili gave us the impetus to play charades, a first on JUANONA.

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With an empty aft berth we had asked if one of the kids would like to sleep aboard. Frieke opted to try it, and she adapted to our slow-morning tempo of waking, making coffee, then heading back to the berth for online newspaper perusing (a behavior our friends Ellen and Carter know well from when we’ve stayed with them).

After 48 hours they needed to head back to Belgium on Monday. We took a photograph before we let them go…

(From the left:  Koen, Frieke, Max, Seppe, Wannes, Ta)

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but, this time we knew our good-byes would quickly be followed by hellos due to our heading to Belgium the very next day.

MDT 1:  BASTOGNE

Wednesday, November 2

As I mentioned above, we took a road trip starting Tuesday. Knowing we needed to complete another step in our application for temporary residency, we decided to combine it with, what my sister has aptly termed, “Max’s Disaster Tours” (MDTs). This tour would entail visiting three battle sites, beginning with Bastogne, a key location in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge, followed by the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, and ending with Ypres (Ieper), a site of WWI trench warfare and decimation.

Fortunately, we offset the sobering realities of horrific wars with the comfort of being with our Belgian Family in the town of Bolderberg, situated between Bastogne to the east and Waterloo and Ypres to the west.

The next morning five of us bundled into Ta and Koen’s car to head to the Bastogne War Museum, opened in March of 2014. This modern museum provided a full afternoon of immersion into one of the bloodiest and most desperate battles during WWII.

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To begin your tour you’re greeted by four people who actually lived and/or fought in Bastogne:  a young boy of 13, a young woman in her early 20s, an American soldier, and a German soldier. Each subsequent event was narrated by one of the four, providing a real-life glimpse into the brutality and tragedy associated with this battle.

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A multi-media experience awaited us with videos, narrations, photographs and text capturing our attention as we slowly toured this museum with our audio guides.

For background, Belgium was invaded by the Germans in May, 1940 with the Belgian King Leopold III (1901-1983) surrendering. He is placed under house arrest and the country begins its five years of occupation by the enemy. (FYI:  Leopold’s surrender cost him his kingship and, in 1951 he abdicated, passing the throne onto his son, Baudouin (1930-1993.)

Bastogne is located in the Ardennes forest, and on December 16, 1944 this area on the western front became the site of Germany’s last major offensive. The Germans wanted to push the American front line to northwestern Belgium and, in so doing, created a bulge, hence the name “Battle of the Bulge” (aka “Battle of the Ardennes” and “Operation Mist”).

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They mounted a surprise attack but were halted by the American sector in this particular area. During three weeks of intense fighting in the fierce cold and with fewer and fewer resources, the allies defended Bastogne but not without paying a heavy price in terms of casualties (approximately 75,000). At one point Bastogne was entirely surrounded by the Germans. Which led to a famous exchange between the Germans and U.S. General McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division. When asked by the Germans if he would surrender, his delivered, typed reply was:  “To the German Commander:  Nuts!  The American Commander”. Evidently there was a lot of head scratching on the German side when trying to decipher just exactly what “Nuts!” meant…

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Fortunately, a change in the weather allowing air reinforcements and General Patton’s arrival from the south meant the 101st Airborne would hold onto Bastogne. By January 1945 the Americans had regained all of the ground they had previously lost in the fight.

With the pressure of waning supplies and manpower, this battle is actually the site of USA’s first, desegregated fighting troops as all soldiers were used to fight the Germans. Shamefully, it still took four more years for the military to formally end segregation. Even the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s county didn’t crack the ugliness of America’s racism.

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Bastogne was only one of the many towns decimated by the fighting in this area.

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Residents of other Ardennes towns (Malady, Houffalize, La Roche-en-Ardenne and Saint Vith) were also caught in the crossfire of the savage and destructive warfare.

The Battle of the Bulge was instrumental in crippling Germany’s ability to continue the war. Hitler’s orders were to push through the Allies’ line in just a few days in order to reach the deep-water port of Antwerp. To do so required moving many of Germany’s soldiers and equipment from the eastern to the western front (the weakened eastern front made it easier for the Soviets to take Berlin in April 1945). Several German commanders tried to argue against such an unreasonable plan but to no avail. Subsequently, they never really recovered from the losses of troops and gear while the Americans were able to draw on more resources.

In one of the exhibits a copy of a newspaper some of you may recognize was displayed, with a map showing the bulge:img_0220

My recollection of military battles is not the best, but anyone who’s watched HBO’s excellent “Band of Brothers” series knows how this particular military engagement played out. If you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s well worth the time, and, I’ve been told, an excellent re-enactment of the actual battle. Max and I saw it a few years ago and plan on doing so again having been in one of the key sites. Frankly, it’d be worth watching again just to hear General McAuliffe’s famous exclamation :)

We actually know a veteran of this battle, Dr. Philip Sumner. I believe he has visited this area where he fought; and, it would be interesting to hear what he would say if he returned to the Ardennes.

Leaving this museum you take with you the horrors of war but also the unimaginable bravery and sacrifices individuals made, all in the hopes of making the world a safer place.

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Although many died, we discovered at the end of our tour our four narrators survived.

Exiting the museum we first visited the impressive memorial, shaped in a star with the names of all 50 of the USA states carved on its pillars and walls.

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Climbing a spiral staircase to the top provides a 360º panoramic view. At several points of the star, maps indicate sites where the Battle of the Bulge took place over seventy years ago.

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The somberness of the war was lightened due to seeing the bronze statue created by American artist Seward Johnson. One of the four he sculpted depicting the famous victory kiss published in LIFE Magazine

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was on temporary exhibit at the Bastogne War Museum. This statue illustrates perfectly the exuberance we all must feel when a war ends.

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If only it had been the last one ever fought.

MDT 2 and 3 coming soon…

 

 

A Weekend in the Netherlands

HOORN

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.

AMSTERDAM

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.

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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… :)

 

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

BROEKE OP LANGEDIJK

Sunday, October 16

Well, punt is more like it, which is how farmers in Broeke op Dijk tended their fields (actually islands) using boats to navigate the manmade waterways to their manmade islands ; Prior to the 17th century residents lived next to a boggy marsh and raised cattle. However, the land for grazing was constantly under the threat of flooding, which, combined with a cattle plague, created an unpredictable return on their investment. Somehow, someone or two thought to dredge the marsh to build islands for growing crops. In a relatively short time over 15,000 of these islands appeared and a more stable livelihood evolved thanks to the raising and selling of potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage. LOTS and lots of cabbage. I mean TONS:  at one point over six million heads of cabbage were harvested and sold here.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First let me explain how we even got to Broeke op Langedijk. To quickly retrace our steps:  on October 10 we flew from Maine back to Enkhuizen, Netherlands where JUANONA had been patiently awaiting our arrival since we left August 7. Two days later we did our final sail to Hoorn

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espying the 1532 tower, which we first saw back in May with our nephew Rudy, and which now welcomed us back. Or, at least, it didn’t shudder and collapse at seeing two Mainiacs turning into its harbor.

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Tieing up to one of the guest pontoons we felt we had reached home, one we hoped would be our place of residence for awhile.

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The following Saturday, October 15, our friends Thijs, Deborah, their daughter Tika, and Thijs’ father Jan joined us for lunch, which included kibbeling, a delicious meal of delicately fried cod.

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We had last seen them late July when the five of us met up in Hindeloopen on the east side of the IJselmeer, the manmade lake created by the building of the Zuiderzee Dyke.

And, just a quick mention of one of our favorite Netherlanders who is Tika :)  She has taken on the thankless task of trying to help me learn some Dutch. Being an excellent teacher she had created a beautifully illustrated book presented to us when coming aboard. I now can practice the various sounds while, no doubt, making very unusual facial contortions. And, yes, she’s a dear one!

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Okay, back to Broek op Langedijk, which we visited the next day (Sunday) via train to Alkmaar and then bus to the waterways with a short walk to the Museum Broeker Veiling.

Looking around the area as we strolled the half-mile to the museum from the bus stop, Broek op Langedijk seemed pretty nondescript. I wondered just how interesting it would be to tour. But, hey, it was a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the blue sky and sun while stretching our legs.

Yet, like many of the destinations we’ve explored in the Netherlands, this country has the knack of expanding the history of a place into a fascinating tale of living, the Museum Broeker Veiling being no exception. Comprised of several buildings (a new one, housing an overview via an 8-minute film and some artifact, and the original 1887 auction house and storage sheds), an outdoor display of how farming families lived, and a boat tour of the waterways through the remaining islands.

With audio guides we began our tour learning how these ingenious folk had turned a lemon (boggy land) and converted it into lemonade (productive, arable acreage). Not only was the land fertile but also generally protected from freezing with the surrounding water (one to two degrees warmer than the land) providing some insulation from night frosts. This set-up allowed farmers two crops a year leading to a competition on who could harvest the first potatoes (called ‘the Langedijker first’). During radio days the winner even received recognition over the airwaves.

With the dredging of the marsh, the landscape evolved into what is called “The Realm of a Thousand Islands” with over 15,000 islands (each island and canal named by the various owners) separated by numerous waterways or canals. Approximately 75 of these islands were inhabited with steep, short bridges tall enough to allow water traffic through. We walked one of those bridges in the open area display next to the museum (followed by two chickens!).

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The farming families lived on the Langedijk (Long Dyke). As the population grew, residences were built on the opposite side of the dam. With so many houses clustered around this watery community one can only imagine the quality of the water. With one source (the canals) used for drinking, washing dishes, laundering clothes, making bread, and sewage outlet, I’m sure there was a distinct flavor added to the water.

Although it’s rare to see today, farmers punted to and from their crops in wooden flatboats. These were engine-less until the 1920s and were all wood until the 1930s.

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Another common form of transportation was the tjalk, a sailing barge used to by the farmer to take his produce to the market.

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However, by marketing their produce themselves, farmers typically sold their harvest in bits and pieces versus in one lump, which meant one wouldn’t necessarily sell all of his crops and/or at decent prices. This form of commerce created a lot of uncertainty regarding the amount of income each farmer would derive from his produce. In 1887 this changed when a local trader came up with the idea of an auction. With an auctioneer setting an initial, agreed-upon price then offering it to bidders, the farmer was able to not only get a fair price but also sell all of his produce in one fell swoop.

Unlike auctions where the bidding starts low then increases as buyers vie for the item, the Dutch auction system starts at a set price named by the auctioneer then decreases until a buyer bites. In other words, instead of going from low to high, the bidding goes from high to low.

In 1903 a clock numbered 99 to 1 was used as part of the process with the auctioneer naming the initial price and setting the clock on that price. As the clock ticked clockwise and the auctioneer yelled out the decreasing price a bidder would press a button at his chair that would stop the clock on the price he was willing to pay. A number in front of the buyer would light up indicating clearly who was the buyer and what price (by kilo or piece) he was paying. The farmer, therefore, could offload all of his produce at once versus in straggling lumps.

The original mooring halls housing the produce

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and the auction house

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still stand and are incorporated into the museum, which the then monarch, Queen Beatrix, helped preserve in 1979.

Auction day would begin at 6:00 a.m. with merchants inspecting the individual harvests by walking through the mooring halls. At 8:00 a.m. the excitement would start and for 2-1/2 hours two to three hundred lots were auctioned off.

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A unique feature of this auction house was how the auctioned items were conveyed:  the auction house featured a small canal right through its center. The boats were steered  between the buyers while the bidding on that lot took place.

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Sold merchandise was loaded onto barges, later via trains and trucks, for transporting to various destinations.

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The MS Westfries, seen below, was used for over 50 years as part of this conveyance of sold produce to greengrocers.

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What makes this tour really interesting is visitors participate in a live auction held in the same building where this occurred until the auction relocated in 1973.

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Of course we had to bid on some of the items being offered up by the auctioneer, and my husband, endowed with a generous competitive spirit, managed to win a bag of local apples for 1.30 euros :)

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A 30-minute boat ride took us through this watery world of canals and one of the two small dels or lakes (initially formed when low parts of the landscape were flooded by the sea). Nowadays many of the canals have been filled in creating larger plots of land. The area is in conservation under the control of a government agency; yet, roughly 80% of the islands are still being farmed, primarily as a hobby with two being professionally managed by market gardeners.

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One rule applies, though:  cultivation must be purely biological, i.e., organic. Thanks to this requirement medicinal herbs are grown here by the manufacturer VSM and waterfowl enjoy a wonderful habitat for breeding.

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And, remember when I said cabbage was a bounteous crop?

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Well, evidently it created a rather odiferous aura due to rotting, outer cabbage leaves, which found their way into the canals. Of course, I would think eating lots and lots of cabbage would also contribute its own unique smell to the air…

To maintain the water level (3.3to 4 feet in the canals and 5 to 6.6 feet in the dels) the locals built 14 windmills.  Two remain, which we spotted in the distance on our boat tour. (You can just make out the spear of one of the blades in the top right corner of the photo below).

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Disembarking, we finished wandering through the various buildings and outdoor exhibits listening to our audio guides explain how the occupants of this Realm of a Thousand Islands creatively found a way to create a healthy, sustainable community.

Retracing our route we landed back in Hoorn and enjoyed some of the local cheese (no, we didn’t eat all of this at once, nor did we eat any cabbage)

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and, once again, looked at one another and said how fortunate we are to be doing what we’re doing.

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