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(dear reader, it’s of no consequence but I realise I’ve mucked up the day(s) of our travel. Did some checking and I didn’t count them correctly at the beginning of the journey and today should be day 57 not 53…)
Had a great sleep and went down for our full English Breakfast (beans, mushrooms, bacon and egg) with juice, coffee and toast. We were back at the Paddington station just after nine and got a bit stressed till the district line tube train turned up (there had been heaps of station announcements that there were delays due to obstructions on the tracks and that another train had also broken down). Anyway, we made the connection to Earl’s Court and were soon on the Piccadilly line heading for Heathrow.
Checked in easy enough (but Wendy and I had separate seats) and laboured our way through the security checks, taking our shoes off and me getting touched up by a huge security guard who wanted to see the lollies I had bought that were in my back pocket (I think I may have left them just to see what would happen?) and my wallet… The boys went onto the plane early and we tried to get them to seat us together and what do you know, we ended up next to each other in row 58 which is just behind the exit with all that legroom! Bonus! Well, sort of – people come and stand there and step on your feet and the gallery is a busy place when it feeding time but we were fairly comfortable and it was easy to get in and out of the seats. So, then it was up and away after an hours delay on the tarmac (hard to clear some debris) and on our way home. Fairly straight forward trip (we made up most of the time in the air) to Hong Kong and then the transit (where we were scanned by an thermal imaging thingy) back to the same plane (which had been cleaned) and on the final 9 hour leg. Watched Sunshine (not very good science fiction) and Ten Canoes (just OK), a couple of Top Gear episodes (had to laugh out loud) and a Tribute to Leonard Cohen (excellent) and listened to some classical music while trying to sleep. Arrived on time, bought some cheap liqueur/ liquor (some poor person dropped one of their bottles and it broke and leaked scotch liquid on the floor and smell in the air) got through passport and customs, had a coffee, caught the Gull bus home and brother Andy picked us up. It’s winter here and a lot colder than Europe, only 12 degrees inside had to put the heater on for an hour before going to bed and beginning our recovery from the jet lag.
What a trip! A very busy one but very enjoyable and we’ll never forget some of the experiences and things we’ve seen. I’m very thankful to all those who have been so generous and hospitable to us, particularly our respective families in Holland, Liz in Wales and Edith in Vienna. I also appreciate those who helped look after things at home – there was a huge pile of mail and newspapers to wade through. So, now I have to have a look through the thousands of photos, put in a couple of insurance claims, change some pounds into dollars, stock up the pantry, and get back to the normal routines of work etc. Thanks for your positive feedback on the blog and I’m glad you could come along for the ride (sort of). This will be the last post here unless I decide to let you know that I’ve uploaded some photos to a site like Flickr, but then you could also check my normal blog space to see if I do that…
Up early and a quick breakfast before saying goodbye to Ash and aunty Jane. Geerlof drove us to the airport and we said our farewells before he raced back and headed off to his brother’s 50th wedding anniversary bash 2 hours away from Leiden. It was great to able to stay with the Los’s and we appreciate their generosity in looking after a family of five who lobbed up and filled their home to capacity. Ash is staying for a few more days till he sorts out what he’ll do next.
We caught an Easyjet flight to Gatwick and then caught the bus to London’s Victoria station and then bought a day bus pass (₤3:50 and good till the next day at 4:00 pm) to get to Paddington and our accommodation. Checked in at the Belmont Hotel and dumped our bags and headed for Paddington station a block away.
Bought some lunch (bagels, cream cheese, ham, juice and some sushi) at Sainsbury’s and ate that in a nearby park before we split up to do our own thing. The boys headed off to Soho, Oxford St. and Portobello Rd. while we headed for the Victoria and Albert museum. A great museum and spent a few hours there enjoying an eclectic range of exhibitions (casts, photos, medieval, ancient, sculpture, modern and the rest) and a nice coffee in the rooms.
We’d negotiated to be back at the hotel at 7 but we were half an hour late because we’d caught the return bus on the wrong side of the street and headed the wrong way! We were too stingy to invest in a ₤3 map of the bus routes but really didn’t buy one out of protest, because there was no good tourist info anywhere except in the centre of London. Everyone we asked though, was very helpful. The boys were waiting for us and had had a very successful shopping expedition. We freshened up and went out for a pub meal around the corner at the Fountains Abbey and sat across from St Mary’s Hospital where Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. A plaque on the pub wall credits the spores from ‘this ale house’ floating across the road to activate the bacteria that led to the discovery. The meal and the drinks were a pleasant way to end the last day abroad and Matt found out what mushy peas were (I actually got asked if the boys were over 18!).
Had a slow morning sorting out the packing and getting ready to leave and then went into Leiden to see the volkenskunde (ethnographic) museum. I had stayed at home to write some blog and copy some photos onto dvd and had to race in on the bus to meet the others. It was a very nice collection which was laid out very well in a recently renovated building.
We met Keith and Emmy at the train station and had a nice lunch before walking back into town to check out some of the architecture with the boys. At the ‘Beesten mart (used to be the livestock market) we had a look at some of the second hand books. The guy had set up all his books in boxes and made a wall of them that you could walk along! Very impressive and I thought that he was lucky it wasn’t raining. Also saw an old guy walking home in a picture frame – he was holding it in such a way that he was the contents of the painting!
Stopped at another bookshop so Wendy could buy another tome that was by the guy who wrote Max Havelaar and reflected life in Holland through the life of a young boy using text and illustration. Back to a few places we had seen on our walk with J&G (to show the boys) and found a quaint cafe for a coffee and warm apple pie before heading back through some of the old parts of town towards the station. We said our goodbye’s and caught the bus back home by 6 for another nice meal with Jane and Geerlof (they make a good team!) and then packing up ready to head back to London before our flight home
Caught the train to Amsterdam (along with hundreds of other commuters) and the weather started looking ominous. Had to stand till we got to Schipol and managed to find a seat for the rest of the trip. We were fairly disappointed with the amount of tourist info at the railway station office so just bought a map out of a vending machine for 2 Euros and decide to walk down to the Dam (square) and then find a coffee before going to the Rijks Museum. Ended up walking past the bloemen (flower) market and seeing all the vareties of tulip bulbsetc. and then had to shelter from a downpour before queuing up to get into the museum.
They are doing renovations to the museum and they don’t seem to be set up for large numbers of people coming through – it was very slow and wet waiting to get through the security check. Once inside we could see a smaller collection that what is usually available and enjoyed some wonderful paintings by Rembrant and others, and yes we did see the Night Watch. Then it was across the road and a quick snack before visiting the Van Gough museum. While this was a great exhibition, well curated and worth visiting, I was disappointed by just how many people were filing past the paintings. It was like a slow shuffle/jostle following everyone else past the paintings. The text for each painting was small so you had to get up close to read it but mostly I cruised behind everyone and picked my targets of things I wanted to see more closely.
Walked back toward the city and found out the times for a canal cruise and then went and got some lunch before hopping on board. The cruise was for just over an hour and fun to do, along with lots of other companies vying for the tourist dollar. The captain spoke three languages and gave an interesting commentary with many asides (and additional info) in Dutch, so it was nice to be able to understand and translate for the boys. Sailed past some old building and the Anne Frank House (yes, a huge queue there too!) and out into the harbour a bit before coming back via the Nemo and the Heren Gracht (lords canal) where all the rich people used to live (well, some sill do). Lots of nice views of canal bridges and old (many leaning) buildings. The weather fined up during this so it was nice to see the sunshine but it did get fairly warm under the glass roof and with little breeze on the water.
Amsterdam doesn’t seem that Dutch anymore, lots of tourist here for the ‘soft’ drugs (’coffee shops’ selling cannabis and various other supplies) and the red light district. You’d probably have to live here for a while to get to ‘know’ the real Amsterdam but I reckon Schiedam, Leiden or Haarlem would do just fine. We decided to split up for a couple of hours and do our own thing (checking out the flea market, looking for the fashion stores and checking out the souvenirs) before catching the train back through a very heavy thunderstorm that apparently caused flash flooding and closed the airport! Ate some dinner on the train and were very glad that we’d boarded when we had – the water was streaming down the windows. Straight onto the bus in Leiden and back to J & G’s without getting too wet.
We had arranged to go out with Jan and Anneke and keith and Emmy to an outdoor museum tomorrow but decided that it would be too much to spend a whole day out again just before we had to leave (at 6:45 the next morning). So, I rang and cancelled and they were very understanding about us just feeling too tired and starting to feel overwhelmed. We did agree to met Keith and Emmy in Leiden for lunch though as we did want to see a bit more of the city and just take it easy.
Caught the train to Haarlem where cousin Albert lives, and met him and Margreit the two children at the railway station. An amazing old station with lots of woodwork and tiles.
Walked into the city centre with the kids on their bikes stopping at each road crossing waiting for us to catch up… On to the central square where it started raining so we ducked under the awning of a cafe and sat and ordered a coffee. There was thunder and lightning which frightened young Dewertje and then it really started to pour. It was that bad that so much water came between the gap in the awnings above us we had to go inside. Some brave souls stayed outside sitting with umbrellas up under the awning.
It cleared a little so we walked on and into the cathedral and saw how the floor was covered with grave stones of the rich who could afford a plot in the church building (from hundreds of years ago – 1600 to 1700’s). Apparently that’s where the phrase ‘stinking rich’ comes from. These people were buried in the floor of the church and their decomposing bodies gave off a rank smell, so people called them the stinking rich! There was some nice music playing on a fantastic looking organ and we saw a memorial for Fans Hals (the painter).
Then outside the church and stopped by a procession of horses pulling carts (bit like the tractors we saw in Groningen) and then walked through the town to Albert’s place. Had a nice lunch with them and the children enjoyed playing with the boys despite the language difficulties. Unfortunately all our visits have been short but they have been good and meaningful and it’s great that our Dutch family now know our boys and vice versa.
On the way back into the city we stopped at the Frans Hals museum which is housed in a converted single old mens hostel. Great architecture and some more excellent curating with a nice display of the paintings which tell the story f Dutch life and history. The interpretation was well written in English and worth an hour to read it all. We also saw some great paintings, huge dolls houses, room set up as they were in the 1600-1700s, furniture and other bits and pieces that made for a worthwhile visit. We also meandered our way around the city to find the Corrie ten Boom house (her family harboured Jews during the war) and then caught the train back to Leiden. Jane & Geerlof had organised another get together with all my mother’s siblings and their partners. Keith and Emmy were also there so it was fun to catch up with some of the adventures they’ve had since we saw them in Budapest. Great to talk a bit more with my uncles and aunties and again eating lots of nice food.
Drove with Jane and Geerlof down to Rotterdam to do a boat trip around the harbour (one of the biggest in the world) on the river Maas. Made it on time, parked the car and bought tickets for the Spiro which took us on a 75 minute tour.
It was cool and windy on the water but bearable. We sailed past some historic sites in the harbour as well as visiting the dry docks and the container terminals – amazing. Cranes and forklifts dealing with 40 foot containers like a 7 years old plays with Lego. Seeing these huge container ships being un/loaded close up was fun and some of the statistics were mind boggling.
Back up the river towards the big bridge and the terminal where my parents first set sail for Australia in 1956. We then walked into the old Rotterdam Harbour (which is really where the barges used to tie up) and enjoyed a nice lunch of pancakes and coffee. We were serenaded by a South American band playing on a barge moored loosely to the quay. Around was all this fascinating architecture that has been built since the city was bombed flat over 60 years ago.
The cube houses looked crazy and were difficult to understand how they were laid out inside. We also saw a spectacular sculpture designed the reflect a city that had had it’s heart ripped out. Los of other buildings that weren’t your standard square or rectangular shape which makes it all a feast for the eyes.
On the way back we passed by The Strand (the beach) which was a section of the bank of the Maas covered in beach sand and a few umbrellas and beach volley ball court. What a hoot, the beach next to the river – had to pay for the privilege though….
Then J & G drove us to Schiedam and we visited tante Ploon in her flat facing the Maas river. There was a festival in the park between her building and the river and it was kids afternoon so there was a break in the Rock & Roll music with something for the little ones. Lots of activities and food stalls. Had a nice cuppa and went for a walk to take in the view of the off-shore oil rig undergoing maintenance (before heading out to drill some more holes in the sea bed). We wandered round to sit on the river bank before heading back while the boys disappeared into the festival.
They wandered back across the grass and past the public urinal set up in the middle of the grass were the guys could stand and do their thing. At the appointed time we walked over to my cousin Marcel’s place and had a drink with Yolanda and their son Kevin. Then it was time to head over to cousin Rene’s (and Jeanette, Daniel, Milerna & Vera) place for a meal. They’d organised a chinese take away banquet which was very nice (and I’ve been eating far too much!). We went for a walk afterwards to get an icecream and unfortunately Ash threw the dog’s frisbee in one of the stinky canals so the frisbee got lost and the dog stank (she’s dived in after it but couldn’t find it). Not to worry – Rene threw a stick into another canal and Bera went in and washed herself.
After a very enjoyable afternoon and evening of meeting everyone and catching up the two cousins then kindly drove us back to Leiden.
An easy morning and then into Leiden city for a walking tour with Jane and Geerlof. The boys had decide to take the little boat that Geerlof has tied up next to the canal. They had to get the water out first (filled by the rain and then get a map (and a handheld GPS) and some instructions on boatsmanship. We arranged to rendezvous at a cafe on the water and the boys set off for a trip through Leiden on the canals.
We walked into the city past the old water tower and the Hooglandse church and the ‘Burcht’ (an old fortified mound from the Middle Ages) and then Jane and I made our way to the rendezvous point with while Geerlof and Wendy went to a bookshop looking for a second hand copy of the book ‘De eeuw van mijn vade’ (the age/time of my father) by Dutch writer Geert Mak. We walked down to the canal and saw the boys doing some circle work in the canal looking for us. They had made a wrong turn fairly early in there trip but had worked out the way they needed to go and we met down at the dock side where they tied up the boat and we found a table. G & W turned up soon after (with a copy of the book along with a recent 2007 publication by the same author!) and we enjoyed some coffee and a beer on the edge of the canal down on the water (along with a fair few of the local teenagers and a small plague of flying insects). The boys hopped back in the boat and we started for home.
On the way back we bought some coffee from a shop worth visiting just for the aroma (and would you believe it – the girl in the store new an Australian girl living in a house called Geelong in Leiden!) and then on past the old Pieterskerk (closed and having some restoration work done) and through the old part of town where Rembrant went to school. Stuck our noses into another ‘binnen hoff’ where there was accommodation for poor people surrounding a small courtyard. Very quaint and populated by people who are happy for visitors to walk around while respecting the privacy of the residents. We walked past lots of historical buildings including windmills, the street where my grandfather was born, the town hall, the Gravensteen and the quaint canals. All in all a decent walk that tired us all out, and the boys managed to navigate their way home safely. Somehow Jane managed to whip up a lovely meal that was much appreciated.
Had another good brekky and then packed our bags and left them in the luggage room as we’re heading back to Holland tonight and will come back for the bags before catching the train. We headed back to the Metro and Les Arts Decoratifs museum but it didn’t open till later so walked over the river to the Museum D’Orsay.
Spent a couple of hours there looking at a fine collection of pre-impressionist, impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. I especially liked the Art Nouveau section which had some really nice furniture in it. This is another museum with a range of artistic styles and forms to look at. You should really just pick one or two (at the most museums per day and take you time to read up on what’s there and then read the interpretation that comes with the art work. Not a lot of English in the older exhibitions but generally it’s done well. Lashed out for a coffee and cake in the cheap cafe (where it’s semi self-serve) before checking out the last bits worth looking at.
Back to the Les Arts Decoratifs and another eclectic sort of collection from the medieval/middle ages, to the renaissance, to the 17th-18th centuries, to modern furniture, art deco and toys! The museum card is very handy except we did pay a few €s to get Reubs in to see a special exhibition of the designer Joe Columbo. Another hour and a half spent hear and the hunger pangs had set in.
We walked into the gardens between this and the Louvre and had some lunch under the trees (sheltering from a passing shower) before heading via the Metro to the Hotel Invalides with all these bushes trimmed into cones and heaps of old cannon from far off lands.
Then across the road and around the corner to the Rodin museum and some more amazing art work. Fantastic to see the sculptures coming out of the raw material. Chunks of marble with perfect figures/hands etc. appearing from under the sculpture’s chisel. There was a good display on how the bronze casting is done and (while I still don’t understand it exactly) it looks like a lot of work – like too much work! Beautiful things to look at in the gardens and inside, with some marble carvings being so delicate you can see the light through them. Caught another metro to St. Germain and wandered around till we found the cafe Le Duex Magots which has been made famous by Hemingway, Satre and De Beauvoir and others. Due to its fame it’s charging €6 for a coffee which is $9 a bit steep for me when you’ll have to fork out even more for a bit of something to go with it. We checked out the cathedral across the road which had some very old stained glass and these amazing (holy?) water bowls made out of guilt edged clam shells.
Thought we’d wander the back alleys for a coffee shop/bar and found a beauty, just like Le Duex Magots would have been 50 years ago! A few locals sitting at the bar having a coffee and chatting to the lady behind the bar and an old fellow having what may have been his third glass of wine. A few other people around including a few guys playing chess at a small table in the window (with the stop clocks and all!). We found a nice corner spot and sat down only to hear a couple of girls carrying on in American. So, we spoke to each to drown them out… The lady made us four coffees and an expresso ad brought them over to our table in five cups and two jugs of hot/steamed milk. We could make our own lattes to tatste! Excellent coffee and only €2:30 ea! (the expresso is always cheaper on the account of no milk). A great experience and just what we needed to get a feel of authentic French cafe life. So much different to sitting on the street watching the traffic lights change.
Reuben then headed off to find some of the fashion houses back towards the Pompidou and we wandered around and bumped into the church St. Sulpice which was huge (but undergoing serious renovations) and then through the Jardin de Luxemurg. A very nice park with lots of chairs that you can move around, some art works to play with , fountains and some gendarmes keeping an eye on things. Also poked our noses into an exhibition that featured some art by a guy who uses old tea bags. They looked aesthetically pleasing from a distance but up close the magic is goes and they’re just old tea bags stuck to a canvas. But, there may be a message in that… Then we had to race off to Gare du Noord station to make sure we rendezvoused with Reuben. Reubs wasn’t there so Wendy stayed and Ash raced off to the supermarket while matt and I went and picked the bags up. Got back a bit hot and bothered and Reuben had turned up so we hopped on with 10 minutes to spare. Met three girls from Georgia on the train who had seen us on the train to Paris (but they’d only had one day in Paris and a day in Brussels). They remembered Reuben’s faux leopard skin jacket…
We got off the train at Rotterdam around 10 and caught the connection on to Leiden where Jane and Geerlof kindly picked us up around 11.
Headed downstairs at 8 for breakfast and enjoyed a good continental breakfast and filled up the backpack with some extra rolls and cheese for later. Down into the Metro and off to the Picasso museum. Just love the Metro, it’s easy and quick, with lots of trains and once you work out the directions of each line things go relatively smoothly.
The Picasso museum was great, a nice cross section of his development and output with lots of different types of art from this prolific artist (paintings, sketches, sculpture etc.). Walked back towards the Pompidou Centre and stopped at a pharmacy to find some Listerine. None on display but the guy found us some for €5:15 and we had some fun with the translation as the chemist said 50 in English, but meant 15 in French (‘quinze’). Then a (good) coffee on the street before heading indoors for some more art. Spent a couple of hours in the Pompidou as it now houses the Museum of Modern Art and has a couple of huge floors of excellent things to look at. It’s all very inspiring, well most of it – some things I just didn’t understand. But, we were in a hurry and you could easily spend a whole day here.
Sat next to the crazy fountain thing and filled up on bread and cheese for a snack. The Pompidou is built ‘inside out’ and has all the infrastructure on the outside; escalators, ducting, plumbing etc. and it makes quite a juxtaposition against the older Paris skyline. We’ve noted a fair bit of this in the old cities of Europe and would notice it again in Rotterdam which was bombed flat in WWII and was rebuilt with some architecturally different buildings.
On the way to our next stop I found a ‘Passion a la pain’ and bought a couple of baguettes while Wendy and Ash visited a supermarket (more, pate, cheese, yoghurt and juice) to eat for lunch across the road from the queues waiting to visit the Sainte Chapelle. This is one thing that has changed since our previous visit to Europe. Access to cheap and fast air travel has opened up other countries so that now the main ‘attractions’ tend to get visited (particularly in the summer) by large crowds. lots of school groups doing the excursion and families from all over seeing the sights. I don’t like the fact that you have to spend hours queueing and being ‘crowd controlled’ to visit something that many people just visit to ‘tick off’ the list. Anyway, that’s life it seems and if you want to minimise the waiting and queues, best to plan well and visit things early or later in the day. So, St. Capelle was crossed off the list (couldn’t afford the wait) and it was over the river to the ‘ile de la cite’ and the Notre Dame cathedral. More queues here, both to get in and have a look around inside, and also to climb the tower. We jumped the queue to get in and marveled again at this old church and the beautiful windows and chapels. Had to think of all the people who have come here for regular worship over so many hundreds of years. Someone was playing and the organ music was most suitable for such a place.
Outside it was still an hour wait for the tower and Wendy and Ash went off to check out the museum of the Moyne (olden) Age. I chatted to Swedish couple who had come to Paris for 5 days to check it out and get away from the miserable weather up there and found it disappointing that it was cool and wet in Paris too. Mucked up the communications a bit (my texts go via Australia so take a while) and all of a sudden we where off up the staircase before Ash got back! Halfway up we had to wait in a shop for 5 minutes (decided not to even look at the merchandise in protest) but were soon enjoying the view of Paris from amongst the old sandstone gargoyles. I can’t remember how many steps but it was in the mid hundreds!
We also visited the Crypt under the cathedral and saw the old Roman ruins they have discovered – amazing to think most of the large cities in Europe would have something like this under their streets! We raced off to the Pantheon but missed the last group to be allowed to enter so wandered through the Latin Quarter joining the crowds looking for something eat. Settled for a €10 set menu (at La Marathon) that had enough choices so that Reuben could find some gluten free. Made a mistake with the French onion soup though, it comes with bread and cheese! Good to eat out every now and then and it was good to sit down for a while – but then we had to keep moving to get to the Louvre (it stays open till 10 on Wednesdays…)
Spent a couple of hours running around this great museum/art gallery – ticked off Mona Lisa (too many people posing for photos in front of it despite the signs asking not to!) and the Venus de Milo and some fantastic other things like the huge paintings by David. Also bumped into the archeological section underneath showing the foundations (bit like the crypt under the Notra Dam). The whole place is amazing and people everywhere even at 9:30 in the evening. Ahh, Paris. Yes, the people, the Metro, the buildings, the bridges and the river, the cars and scooters, the cafes and the baguettes. It’s all good, and a couple of more days would be nice to sit and relax and watch the rest of the world go by but maybe next time…