Chris' Mom and Dad visit

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  ,
Tuesday, July 8, 2003

For the past two weeks, Chris' parents, Jim and Martha, visited us. They have been having a leisurely time going to museums, the flower market, restaurants, walking around and generally enjoying Amsterdam.

They enjoyed shopping at the Singel flower market, the Magna Plaza, and the many outdoor markets and small shops. Jim loves to find new and interesting jams, preserves, and honeys, and Amsterdam did not disappoint in this regard although there were heavy bags to take back.

They both developed a liking for the Dutch pancakes. As mentioned in a previous travelogue, Dutch pancakes are large, about 15 inches in diameter, and about twice as thick as a crepe. They are available with sweet or savory toppings; Jim likes them with strawberries and cream and enjoyed them several times during his visit. Fresh squeezed orange juice, commonly available here, was also one of Jim's favorites.

At the recommendation of one of Jim's Baltimore friends, we had a very special dinner at a lovely French restaurant, Christophe's. The service was wonderful - very special for Amsterdam where service is typically mediocre at best. The atmosphere was beautiful and the food was delicious.

In addition to the Anne Frank house and other well-known museums, they visited the Dutch Resistance Museum, which explains the history of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands (initially much more peaceful than generally assumed), and the growth and fate of the Dutch resistance as the true nature of the Nazi occupation was understood.

Martha, Melanie and Chris got up early one morning to go to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. The auction starts at 6:30 a.m. Monday - Friday and is mostly over by 9 or 9:30 each day. It is the largest flower auction in the world with 5 auction rooms each of which has 2-5 simultaneous auctions taking place. The complex covers 14 football fields and it is amazing to watch the carts full of flowers being efficiently moved through the auction floors in racks on conveyors and from there to the buyer's preparation area for repackaging and shipment. Many of the flowers are in stores in Europe and North America the next day!

While Melanie was in Chicago, Chris and his parents went to Belgium and visited Ypers, the World War I battlefield. Ypres, a textile center of great importance during Medieval times, was completely destroyed during WWI.  500,000 soldiers were killed in its defense. For those who survived, it was a life of fear, battered by shells and surrounded by corpses. To add to the misery, their clothing was infected with lice, they floundered in mud and water and shared their trenches with huge rats. The deadlocked trench warfare created a barren landscape where not even a tree could survive. Everyday since the Menin Gate was dedicated in 1929, at 8PM, there is an extremely moving ceremony there.  The Menin Gate, one of the city gates that the soldiers marched through, is dedicated to all the British soldiers lost in WWI whose remains were never identified. The panels inside the 120 foot-long arch, the stairways and the upper loggias, bear the names of 40,000 British (who died before 16th August 1917), 7,000 Canadian, 6,000 Australian, nearly 600 South African, and 400 Indian soldiers who died in the war and have no known grave. The ceremony has occured daily since WWI (the Germans even allowed the British to conduct it during WWII).

While in the Flanders region of Belgium, they stopped at the Sint Sixtus monastery in Westvleteren where the monks brew beer in very small batches. It is only available for sale for personal consumption, not for further distribution. The beer is brewed when enough bottles have been returned and the monks feel like brewing, so the supply is quite variable. The beer actually ferments in the bottles. Many beer fanatics consider this to be some of the best beer in the world. It was a long drive home from Belgium- through northern France - arriving in Amsterdam at 1:00 a.m.

Another outing consisted of a road trip to Koln (Cologne), Germany to see the grand Cathedral there. Chris' mom had seen the cathedral when she was 7 years old, before World War II, when it was surrounded by a medieval city. Much of Cologne was destroyed in WWII, so the cathedral is now surrounded by typically 1950s quickly built architecture. On the way home they stopped in Belgium for a nice visit with one of Jim's friends who is also a Korean War Veteran.

On Jim and Martha's last day in town, we visited a large Willet-Holthuysen Museum. It is the only fully furnished patrician house on Amsterdam's canals open daily to the public. Its last residents were Abraham Willet (1825-1888) and his wife Louisa Holthuysen (1824-1895). The latter left the house with its contents and her husband's sizeable art collection to the city in 1895 on condition the house became a museum. The museum was renovated in 1996. While we were there, we saw an interesting temporary exhibit that covered Silver items made in Amsterdam from the 16th-20th Centuries.

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