Flowers, friends, a castle, and lots of Orange

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

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Friday, April 30, 2004


April was a busy month for us. It started with Chris' friend Rick visiting, along with
three of his friends, and continued with tours of the bulb fields, a bike ride to a castle in Muiden, a day trip to Gouda, and finally ended, on April 30, with Queen's Day. Because we're putting this up quite late, and there's so much to cover, we've tried to keep it very concise.

At the end of March, Chris' childhood friend, Rick, came to visit along with three of his friends. The "excuse" for the visit: one of their favorite bands, String Cheese Incident, was touring Europe. As always, it was great to have people from America here. We think that they had a good time experiencing Amsterdam and surrounding areas. For the concerts they took the train to Den Haag to see the band one night, all of us went to see them at a very small venue in Amsterdam the next (Melkweg), and the following night Chris drove everybody to Cologne (Koln, Germany) for a third show. They were pretty amazed at the size of the venues (small) and the intimacy afforded by that. We enjoyed showing off the town and getting to walk around and see everything with some dear old and new friends.

Rick and Chris also went to Belgium and picked up more Westvleteren beer from the Abbey of St. Sixtus. This is the special beer that is only available at the monastery itself and only during certain hours and only when the monks have felt like brewing and therefore have beer available. While in Belgium they also visited Antwerp.

In April, the bulb fields begin to bloom. On Chris' birthday we took a drive (with Rick) to see the bulb fields south of Amsterdam. It's truly amazing to see fields of colorful flowers. We were a bit early (April 3) for the big splash of tulip color, but there were lots of daffodils, jonquils, and hyacinths blooming. The hyacinth fields smelled amazing! See the pictures to get an idea. We also drove to the seaside town of Noordwijk where we had Dutch pancakes for lunch. It was a blustery rainy day, but the beach was still beautiful in a raw sort of way.

Our terrace was BEAUTIFUL this spring, thanks to Chris' mid-winter planting spree. We had gorgeous tulips blooming everywhere - it was amazing. After the long dark winters here the longer days of sun and the blooming of flowers is a welcome change. We spend a lot of time on the weekends just sitting on the deck enjoying the cool weather and the flowers.

In the middle of the month we took a day trip to Gouda with Stephen and Julie (Kantors_Abroad). Gouda is famous not only for its cheese, but also as the place where stroopwaffles were invented. For those who don't know about stroopwaffles, they're two thin waffles with caramel syrup in the middle. We got fresh ones "hot off the iron" that were the best we've had yet. YUM!

Gouda is a very old and interesting town located between Amsterdam and Den Haag. Stephan bought a booklet at the tourist information center that had a walking tour, which we (mostly) took. First stop was the townhall in the center of the square. This building serves as a government building, meeting hall, marriage place, as well as many other things. Next we walked to a small museum called the Catharina Gasthuis (Catharina Hospital). From 1665 to 1910 it was a hospice. It is now a small museum, which we toured. The big attraction of Gouda though (besides the stroopwaffles) is the Sint-Janskerk (church). The church is known for its many stained-glass windows, many of which date from between 1530 and 1603. They were donated by the wealthy of the time and the wealthier the donor, the more elaborate the window. There were also some newer windows, including a Liberation window which was donated in 1947 to honor the Allies that freed the Dutch. The window depicts many images of the war including burning houses, gallows, and concentration camp uniforms. The text of the window reads "Remembering those who when the people seemed beaten and powerless, held high the banner of freedom through all adversities and horrors." After the church, we continued the walking tour, which was VERY detailed. At a certain point in the late afternoon, when we were feeling that the tour had too much detail for such a small town, we happened into a little playground. We spent some time playing on the swings and a merry-go-round and called it a day.

Muiden is another small town, founded in 1050, very close to Amsterdam (30 minutes by bus). It is famous for its castle, where there are often cultural events such as plays and chamber music concerts. We had tried to visit the castle when Melanie's mom was here last August, but we got there too late and it was closed. One beautiful weekend day we decided to get outside and enjoy the great weather by riding our bikes there. We packed a picnic lunch, which we ate beside a river along the way. It was a really nice day trip and we felt great having gotten the exercise. The castle grounds were interesting too. There was a beautiful, but small, garden and also a collection of 4 birds of prey - two owls and two hawks. There was a falconer who explained about the birds and who gave demonstrations once a day. We missed the demonstration, though, because we were taking a tour of the castle. The tour was in Dutch, but still interesting to see the inside, and we even understood bits and pieces of it! We found out that the reason that beds from that era are so short is NOT that people were shorter then. The real reason is that people slept sitting up in bed, so the beds didn't need to be as long! If you visit Amsterdam for any length of time, a trip to this castle is definitely worth you while!

We went to see Robert Randolph at the small hall at the Paradiso - another concert venue in Amsterdam. We didn't know anything about Robert Randolph, but Stephen Kantor (one of the other Expats here) had recommended it as well as Rick and friends, so we went. This guy has opened stadium tours for Eric Clapton, so we were stunned when we walked into a hall that probably only holds 100 people MAX and there were only 20 people there. It was an amazing show full of energy and lots of fun. The venue was so small that everybody was within feet of the stage! We've decided we definitely should do more of these sorts of shows.

The weather for Queen's Day this year was fabulous! There was a short shower in the morning, but then it turned sunny and bright and was a perfect party day. In brief, Queen's Day is the national holiday to celebrate the birthday of the Queen's mother. It's a national garage sale and everybody dresses in orange and parties hard. In fact a lot of folks start the night before!

Last year's entry (Apr 30, 2003) provides more details on Queen's Day itself. This year was much the same only better due to good weather. Lots of people came into the streets and there was a genuine air of happiness and celebration in the air. Also, because Chris was here this year he got some great pics, so if you haven't done so already, check out the photo gallery. As you may have already guessed, Chris found some great bargains as well!

So, there's April in a nutshell! Hope all is well with you and yours.

Chris and Melanie

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