Delft

I remember being inexplicably excited the night before my first-ever visit to Delft. I was 13 years old and we had been told we would be seeing beautifully stained-glass windows in two very old, very large churches — that may have been the reason — or it may have been the promise of an afternoon on the beach that would follow. (Delft is only 15 kilometres from the North Sea.) Whatever the reason, this small medieval town has stood out in my mind ever since as one of the prettiest I have ever seen.

When I made a return visit many years later, I was disappointed by the torrents of rain that spoiled my day. Wanting to redeem that rainy day ever since, I finally got the chance last week. The weather was spectacular, and Delft was as beautiful and charming as I remembered.

Here, take a look.

One curious sight I definitely did not see on either of my previous visits was the stairway where Willem the Silent, Prince of Orange and founder of the House of Orange-Nassau, was assassinated in 1584. It happened here, in the Prinsenhof (Prince’s Court) — originally a convent, then Willem’s home, and now a museum.

And here are the bullet holes on the wall beside where he was shot.

William of Orange was buried in this magnificent mausoleum in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), beneath which members of the Dutch Royal Family have been laid to rest ever since.

Besides its association with the Dutch Royal Family, another of Delft’s claim to fame is its Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue) pottery. Dutch potters adopted the blue patterns from the China porcelain brought back to the Netherlands by Dutch traders in the seventeenth century. Only one factory, the Royal Delft, remains from the many in existence during the peak of production, but it has been in continuous operation since 1653. You can tour the factory and, if you have money burning a hole in your wallet, the many shops that surround the Grote Markt (Great Market) will be happy to take it off your hands in return for some exquisite pottery.

And here’s a tip from me: if you only have time for one day trip outside of Amsterdam, make it Delft.

Through My Lens: Delft

The problem with spending a day in Delft is this: how do you choose which photos to post to your blog?

I mean, seriously.

Through My Lens: Oude Rijn

The reason my friend and I decided to go to Gouda last week was the result of a happy accident: we had been invited for dinner at the home of my friend’s cousin, who lives near Bodegraven. And Bodegraven, it turns out, is not far from Gouda.

But then, as I am quickly learning, most places in Holland are not far. (From anywhere.)

So, because we were going to be in the area, we decided to spend the afternoon in Gouda. Once we were finished our bit of sight-seeing and had taken all the photos we could possibly want to take, we hopped on a train to Bodegraven. And then we walked the three kilometres to the next village where my friend’s cousin lived. She advised us to stick to the right bank of the Oude Rijn — it was a much prettier walk, she said.

And that it most certainly was, as you can see from the above photo.

Gouda

In the house where I grew up, we had two kinds of cheese: Dutch cheese … and everything else. And by Dutch cheese, I of course mean Gouda cheese. (Which is pronounced GHOUW-da, with a guttural “g,” not GOO-da. If the “g” is too much for you, think HOW-da, and stress the “h.”)

But the town of Gouda, I learned last week, has a whole lot more to it than just its cheese.

For one, there’s a pretty impressive Stadhuis, or Town Hall, built way back in the middle of the fifteenth century in the Gothic style.

For another, there’s a pretty impressive church, known as the Grote Kerk (Great Church) or Sint Janskerk. At 123 metres, it is the longest church in the Netherlands.

Hugging the church’s perimeter are many tiny little streets filled with tiny old houses.

These streets are a delight to wander through.

Naturally, Gouda cheese does play a big role in Gouda’s tourism, and the city does a fine job of using it to promote itself.

During the summer months, there is a weekly cheese market (which we did not see) that takes place in front of the Waag or Weigh House.

But I did buy some cheese at the regular Saturday market that was going on in the Markt or market square.

People were first attracted to the area around Gouda by the peat that was plentiful in the nearby swampy marshland and which they harvested. This was back in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. By 1272, Gouda was granted city status. It is less than an hour from Amsterdam by train and well worth a visit.

Even if you’re not as crazy about cheese as I am.

Kinderdijk

There’s a saying in the Netherlands that I quite like: “God created the earth, but the Dutch made Holland.”

It refers of course to how much of the Netherlands is reclaimed land. Netherlands (or Nederland) means “Low Countries,” which it is. About half of the country lies barely a metre above sea level, and a quarter of the country is reclaimed land that would flood if not for the dykes. The larger areas of reclaimed land are called polders.

Reclaiming land from the sea involves an intricate drainage system of dykes, canals, and pumps. In days gone by, windmills were the pumps.

And that’s the lesson you learn when you visit Kinderdijk. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to 17 windmills that have been pumping water for almost three hundred years. They were supplemented by steam pumps during the nineteenth century, and then, in the last century, they were replaced by electrical pumps.

But now the windmills — the largest concentration of old mills in the Netherlands — remain as a living museum.

Kinderdijk means “children’s dyke” and there are a number of stories about how the name came to be. The one I like best is a simple one: the dyke that was lower than the surrounding dykes was smaller, like a child, and became known as the Kinderdijk.

The Kinderdijk windmills are called “ground sailers” because the sails almost reach the ground. I expect it was a risky business, living in a windmill, as one wrong step could easily end your life.

There are three kinds of windmills at Kinderdijk. The Nederwaard mills (at right in the photo below) were built in 1738 and are made of brick, except for their caps, which are thatched. This cap can be turned, which allows the miller to move the sails so they face the wind. The mills are staggered to make sure they do not steal the wind from the sails of the other mills. One of them has been turned into a museum, furnished as it was during the 1950s when the last miller lived there.

I learned there is nothing quite like the sound of being inside a windmill as its sails turn. Let’s just say there was a whole lot of creaking going on.

The Overwaard mills (at left in the photo above) were built in 1740. They are thatched mills and are not staggered because they are spaced further apart.

The last type of windmill is a wipmolen (hollow post mill), which is the oldest type of windmill in the Netherlands. There is just one of these at Kinderdijk and it too has been turned into a museum.

The wipmolen can also be rotated, which is exactly what this miller is doing.

 

If you want to see windmills in the Netherlands, Kinderdijk is where you need to be. It is easily accessible from Rotterdam by bus or waterbus and can done as a day trip from Amsterdam.

And if the wind is blowing, as it was when we were there, be assured you will see many of the mills in action.

Through My Lens: De Gooyer Windmill

Nothing says “Holland” quite like a windmill. De Gooyer Mill is located on the Nieuwe Vaart canal in the eastern part of Amsterdam. It used to be a flour mill and is the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam Canal Parade

I’ve seen a few Pride parades in my time, but will probably never see one quite like the Amsterdam Canal Parade. This year’s version took place yesterday along the Prinsengracht. The best way I can summarize it is to simply say that the Dutch sure know how to have fun.

If you don’t believe me, check out these photos.

A Month in Amsterdam

Earlier this week, as I watched the crazed Dutch cyclists zip past each other along the tiny streets of the Jordaan district next to where I am living, I wondered if a summer is long enough to figure out Amsterdam’s traffic rules. I’ll let you know, but at the moment, one month in, I’m still bewildered.

While I was pondering the mysteries of the Amsterdam traffic, I began to reflect on the stages of adjustment I always go through when I relocate to a new city, even when it’s just for a short while.

At first, everything you see and smell and taste is delightful. You can’t believe you are where you are and you notice and marvel at every little detail. On my shorter trips, I rarely move past this phase.

The second phase is when the differences you first marvelled at start to annoy you. Why do those cyclists have to go so fast? Why don’t Dutch store clerks ever smile? Why are there so few ticket machines in the Metro at Centraal Station?

The third phase is when you start to adjust to the differences. For me, an important step in reaching this phase is when I’m comfortable navigating the city without a map and stop noticing that I don’t understand the language.

The fourth and final phase is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you feel completely at home or you have become fluent in a new language. Rather, you understand and accept that you may never feel at home — and you’re OK with that. How long it takes you to reach this final phase is the big unknown. In Paris, it took me only a few months. In other cities, it took me years. (Toronto, I’m looking at you.)

I’ve been in Amsterdam for a month now, and I’m most definitely in the second phase, inching slowly towards the third.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Canada 150: Prince Edward County

As a follow-up to my previous post, heres a thought: one thing that makes living in Toronto so much more pleasant is having access to a cottage during the summer. The entire city (it seems) exits Toronto on Friday afternoons and doesn’t return until Sunday evening.

Many employers cater to this lifestyle by implementing summer hours, where you come in a half hour early every morning, but get to leave early on Fridays. It’s a great perk if you are lucky enough to work for such an employer.

I was.

And, as it happened, I also had access to a “cottage” — my parents’ home, who along with my much younger brother lived in Ontario for five years of the decade I lived in Toronto. Like the rest of the city, I would throw an overnight bag into my car on Friday mornings and leave the office at 1 p.m. sharp, heading east along the 401. It was always heavy traffic, but not as heavy as what you’d encounter at 5 p.m. (If for some reason I couldn’t get away early, I waited until 8 p.m. to start the trek.)

The minute I exited the 401, I literally felt the weight of the week lift from my shoulders. (I write “literally” quite deliberately as it was a profound feeling.) My turn-off was Highway 33, also known as the Loyalist Parkway. I would drive around the Bay of Quinte through villages with names like Carrying Place and Consecon and Wellington. If it was May, I’d roll down my window and breathe in the heady scent of lilacs in full bloom.

Finally, about three hours or so after leaving the office, I would pull into my parents’ driveway for a weekend of garage-saling and antiquing with my mother and afternoons on the beach with my little brother.

Loyalist Parkway is called that because it runs through the middle of the area where people loyal to the British Crown (the United Empire Loyalists) were encouraged to settle in the years following the American Revolution. The British gave the Loyalists land grants, and the peninsula that juts out into Lake Ontario was created a county in 1792 by the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. It was named Prince Edward County after one of George III’s sons, but those who live there call it, simply, “The County.”

In my mind, it’s one of the prettiest corners of Ontario.

I look this photo in the old Quaker Cemetery across the road from where my parents used to live. The cemetery epitomizes for me the history of the area. How could it not, with headstones that date back 200 years?

If only they could talk.

Canada 150: Toronto

I think it would be terribly irresponsible of me not to acknowledge in my Canada 150 series the city that Canadians love to hate.

And that would be because I gave ten years of my life to that city. They were a great ten years and I have a lot of affection for Canada’s largest city.

To celebrate Toronto, here is a photo of the Gooderham Building, also known as Toronto’s Flatiron Building, which is located in the St. Lawrence area of downtown Toronto. Completed in 1892, it was built for the distiller George Gooderham and served as the headquarters of the Gooderham and Worts distillery until 1952.