Canal-Biking in Utrecht

The Oudegracht

The Oudegracht

Michael and I have been trying to engage in some fun activities besides teaching, blogging, and simply “hanging” with friends, all of which are great fun, mind you. Recently we rented kayaks and paddled up a river away from the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera as I didn’t want to risk it suddenly taking a swim if I dropped it.

One recent, sunny day, we decided to rent a “canal bike,” or paddle boat. Two years ago we had taken a rather pleasant tourist boat tour through Utrecht’s canals, but the motorized boat went too fast to take all the detail pictures I wanted. So, on another sunny day, we rented a “canal bike” and off we paddled.

One aspect of living in a land riddled with water — canals, rivers, irrigation ditches, dikes — there are an awful lot of bridges, large and small, you cross over. What is interesting living in an old city like Utrecht is passing under the bridges and seeing their unique aspects. One of my favorites is “The Smiths’ Bridge,” or “Smee Brug,” as seen below. Even after centuries, you can see the sculpted relief of a blacksmith hammering on his forge. Most of the old bridges received their names because of what activity took place in the environs. There used to be a number of smiths living in the area.

The Smiths' Bridge

The Smiths’ Bridge

This is one of several bridges spanning the Oudegracht, or “Old Canal,” which runs through the center of the old city. In the northern sections the Oudegracht dates to 1000 C.E., and were connected to the old bed of the Rhine River; the “younger” sections date to about 1122. Along the waterways of the canal and rivers were a system of locks and sluices, still used today, to help control flooding and maintain a constant water level.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into cozy homes or restaurants.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into
cozy homes or restaurants.

The old city of Utrecht was once encircled by a moat-like artificial waterway called the Singel. Parts of it were filled in and covered over, but there are plans afoot to dig out and reopen the old Singel’s to its original path.

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The Singel, wider than the major canals, served as a moat around the old city.

So, if the Singel is like a water belt around the inner city of Utrecht, the Oudergracht runs, more or less, on a north-south direction down the middle, bisecting the Singel. A “new canal,” The Nieuvwegracht,” runs roughly parallel to the old canal to the east. It’s called the “new” canal as it was constructed in the late 1300s. It’s also been called by many people one of the prettiest canals in all of the Netherlands.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

On this paddle up the canal, we spotted an elderly man fishing. I knew who he was immediately because of the heron perched on his bow. I’d been told that this heron lives on the man’s boat, even when it’s moored in the Singel, and stays with him when he fishes, because the man will give him some of the fish he catches. I’d seen the boat, empty, with the heron perched on it, and, true to what I’d been told, here was the heron, accompanying the fisherman in the boat.

In Utrecht, a fisherman's best friend is a heron.

In Utrecht, a fisherman’s best friend is a heron.

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Our good friends Corinne and Martin, and Fred and Petra, all live on a lovely stretch of the Nieuvwegracht. When we first came to the Netherlands in 2011, we stayed several days in a hotel apartment right next to Corinne and Martin, which is how we came to be friends. We stayed there again this year for a week, waiting for our “permanent” apartment to be available.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin's wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin’s wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

One of the prettiest parts of the Nieuvwegracht is where it narrows considerably and begins to twist and turn through the old neighborhoods of Utrecht. Here the houses are much closer to the water, many flush against the canal walls, or there is only one small street alongside the canal.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.

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This section is called “Kromme Nieuvwegracht,” or “Crooked New Canal.” Most of the bridges here have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, while a few from the1500sstill remain.

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The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

This plaque in stone relief marks where the “Squat Tower” once stood. It was once part of the outer defense works of the old city. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1832 to make way for the growing city.

The old drainage system.

The old drainage system.

As you can see from the pipes jutting from both sides of the canal, these pipes were part of a drainage system funneling wastes and excess ground water into the canals. Fortunately, the canals have cleaned up considerably.

The Nieuvwegracht connects at its north end to the water-ring, the Singel, and then a left hand turn a couple hundred meters later put your canal-bike back on the Oudegracht (Old Canal).

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

We’ve spent many an evening dining along this stretch of the Oudergracht, which meanders through the heart of the old city.

And, back to the rental kiosk and the end of our canal-bike tour.  Dooie!

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

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Ghent Lights Up Belgium

Ghent at night.

Ghent at night.

The last two years I wrote two long blogs on the beautiful Belgium cities of Ghent and Bruges. This past week Michael’s brother David and his wife, Joyce, visited us in Utrecht (which they loved). However since they also wanted to see a bit of Belgium, we recommended Ghent and Bruges. And so, we returned to both over the course of several days. Rather than repeat all the history and information I’d written in the earlier blog on Ghent, I will comment a bit on some sights we didn’t see before (and maybe recap just a bit). Anyone interested can go back and look at the earlier blog for a more thorough coverage of the city’s history (https://ourdistantsojourns.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/bruges-move-over-ghents-on-the-muscle/)

First and foremost, I think both Ghent and Bruges are two of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world. What most people don’t realize, however, is how much more there is to see in Ghent than its sister city, just 30-40 minutes away. Moreover, Ghent is absolutely spectacular by night.  If the opening picture above didn’t knock your socks off, then you’re hopeless as a cynic or just unappreciative of the pure beauty of man’s ingenuity in architecture and light  forged with nature.

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One of my favorite sights St. Michael's cathedral.

One of my favorite sights St. Michael’s cathedral.

he "Big Three," the towers of (from front to back) St.  Nicholas, the Belfort, ad St. Bavos. The latter's tower is under construction so is not lit.

The “Big Three,” the towers of (from front to back) St. Nicholas, the Belfort, ad St. Bavos. The latter’s tower is under reconstruction so is not lit.

This remarkable lighting of  Ghent’s major buildings, canals and squares is no accident. Several years ago, the city contracted with internationally renowned lighting designer Roland Jéol to develop a plan to highlight the beautiful and varied architecture and monuments of Ghent. What I find interesting is the city specifically instructed Jéol that the resultant lighting should not cause ambient light pollution, and must be energy efficient. The results are stunning, and my pictures simply do not do sufficient justice.

It would seem a great number of people agree with this assessment. The lighting plan has won Ghent several international awards, including the International City People Light Award in 2004. Michelin has given the lights display a three star rating. Thousands of people have flocked to Ghent in the dead of winter for the Annual Ghent Light Festival, first held in January, 2011.  For this annual festival, additional artists and lighting designers contribute their expertise and have created some amazing light displays that go far beyond the relatively simple, year-round night lighting scheme of Jéol. While the design by Jéol is all in white lights illuminating only the exterior of buildings, the annual festival uses multi-colored lighting both inside and outside some structures, as well as multi-media (audio, animation, computer graphics) to create an amazing light show. The picture below gives you just a hint of the spectacular displays at the 2012 festival. If you have the time, go to the following links and look at the videos and pictures of the 2012 festival. The first link is to a (hand-held) video showing the rainbow of three dimensional lighting in St. Nicholas Cathedral is stunning. The second link is a different video of another, multi-media light show from 2012.  They are all well worth the time.

Go to the following links for additional pictures.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7w8w0G8GQY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piAvQI_UQnQ

http://www.google.com/search?q=ghent+annual+light+festival&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=7hnAUb_DMsvOswaKzYHYDg&ved=0CEwQsAQ&biw=850&bih=530

 A couple of other new things we learned in this trip to Ghent:

Manneken Pis of Ghent

On a boat trip through the rivers and canals of Ghent, the tour guide pointed out a small bronze statue mounted over the front door of a house, posed to urinate on the public below.

The Manneken Pis of Ghent

The Manneken Pis of Ghent

He explained that the“Mannekin Pis” in Brussels is world famous, but few know of the manneken pis of Ghent. He claimed that young boys were hired to pee on newly skinned hides because their urine helped cure the hides into leather. He claimed the “Mannekin Pis” was on this particular house because it had once been (or built on the site of) a tannery.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything on-line that supported that theory. However, another source, from a Ghent City tourist site, said that the  most likely explanation was that the little boy pissing was a symbol of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and that the house the small statue was mounted upon had been a wine merchant’s house. I leave it to all of you to decide which story you like better.

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In our last visit, we missed entering St. Nicholas Church, pictured above (also the multi-lit cathedral featured in the 2012 Festival). The nave is still being restored, but we were able to enter the upper nave apse, and chapels of the cathedral. Inside was a design/textile exhibit, entitled “Comme des Soeurs,” loosely translated as “Like the Sisters,” as in nuns. Apparently, several Belgian design students had traced the  history of Catholic religious orders’ dress, and produced a fashion line of perceptual creations based on traditional religious clothing. The accompanying plaque described the thought process as well as genesis of this “mode,” explaining the students found far more color, patterns and style in traditional nuns’ and fathers’ habits than had been heretofore thought. Of course, there is always artistic license used in any interpretation, and some of the fashions were quite imaginative as well as creative. We found the  different fashions the students designed entirely fascinating. The pictures that follow are pretty much the entire exhibit.

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The headphones are small prayer books.

The headphones are small prayer books.

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Detail of coat "clasp"

Detail of coat “clasp

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Pretty interesting collection, n’est-ce pas?

Next post: Bruges (mostly in pictures).

The Windmills of Kinderdijk

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Probably the most iconic Dutch symbol is the traditional windmill, or windmolen.  As one travels about the Netherlands, there’s usually one, possibly two, windmills scattered in the landscape, isolated in the fields, but seldom are the great sails moving, as many are no longer operational. Sadly, there are only about a thousand or so windmolen left in the entire country.  One source claims there about 1,150 windmills remaining, although the Dutch will only “count” a windmill if it is fully operational.  Thus, to see several majestic windmills, sails rotating in the wind, such as these above at Kinderdijk, is a sight to warm a tourist’s campy heart.

The Kinderdijk is a small town situated on a piece of land jutting out among the polders and at the confluence of the Lek and Noord, about 7 miles east of Rotterdam in South Holland province.  For those of you up on your Dutch, the name means (literally translated), “Children Dike” – more on the reason for this catchy moniker later.  This water-sodden stretch of fields and marshes  lying amidst the canals, dikes and rivers is called polders, or low-lying stretches of land (often below sea level), that are kept more or less usable by continual draining and controlling the amount of water entering the area. The polders themselves are of three types: marshes, reclaimed land (from both sea and river deltas) used for crops or grazing, and flood plains. The use of windmills to pump out excess groundwater, dikes, sluices, lockes and canals has been part of Dutch culture – and survival – for centuries. The nineteen remaining windmills of the Kinderdijk are actually still working windmills, although now modern technology does the lion’s share of pumping out water and land reclamation throughout the  modern Netherlands. However, for centuries, the windmills played an important role in pumping from the polders into the canals overloads of ground water, flood waters, and in area nearest the North Sea, high tide water.

The polders, marshes and fields both, lying among the canals large and small, and their containing dikes.

The polders, marshes and fields both, lying among the canals large and small, and their containing dikes.

The Dutch are famous for their centuries-long battle with the sea. There is a reason behind the adage: God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland.  I’ve heard estimates that as much as half of modern-day Netherlands was once below sea-level and has since been reclaimed, although most on-line sources seem to think the actual amount is somewhere between 25-30%.  However, a great deal of the “land” in Netherlands remains below sea-level, about 27%, kept dry and protected by a system of pumps sluices, canals and the thousands of dikes that contain and channel the water away from the workable, livable land.

This is, of course, a rather simplistic explanation of an intricate system and tug-of-war with the sea that the country has waged for hundreds of years. So far, the Netherlands seems to be winning, as it keeps adding reclaimed land bit by bit over the centuries. In 1986 a whole brand new, 12th province was proclaimed, Flevoland, from what had once been an inland sea. (More on this in a later blog.)

But back to the Kinderdijk. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction, these 19 windmills, sails a-turning, lining the canals, pumping out their share of groundwater. Yet as touristy as they are, the Kinderdijk is also a recreational area, drawing many hikers and bikers to the miles of paths topping the hundreds of dikes in this great polder.

Hiking and biking along the dikes between the canals and polders.

Hiking and biking along the dikes between the canals and polders.

Being ultimate tourists, we opted for a half-hour canal boat ride in order to gawk and snap pictures at a closer range. Accompanied by Michael’s brother David and his wife Joyce, who’ve been visiting us from Wisconsin, we all hopped on the next boat and cast off.

David & Joyce Rolnick

David & Joyce Rolnick

Michael and me.

Michael and me.

A few things I noticed immediately as we drew closer to the windmills was their shape – octagonal – whereas they’d seemed a roundish cone shape from a distance; that the majority of the sails (the four long arms that turn in the wind) didn’t have “sail cloth” in them; and, that the mills were thatched.

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All the windmills here dated from about 1740. This one has partial sails unfurled on its sails.

Another windmill with two sails unfurled. Notice the house and arbor next to it. Several of the windmills have people living in and/or next to them.

Another windmill with two sails unfurled. Notice the house and arbor next to it. Several of the windmills have people living in and/or next to them.

What I found out, in brief, is the following:

  • The traditional Dutch windmill is a “smock mill,” a later variation of mill that has developed over the years from “tower” mills, to “post” and “hollow-post” mills. Essentially, they’re upright vertical structures with the sails attached near the top face of the mill.
  • The “smock” mill is so-named because it usually has an octagonal structure, usually made of a wooden frame and “smocked” or covered with thatching, boards, canvas, or other materials.
  • The “sails” are actually the framework for the arms of the windmill that turn in the wind and generate power – in this case, to pump water out of the fields. Other functions of windmills have been to turn millstones to grind grain, to operate saws, etc.
  • All the Dutch windmills sails have cloth material or wooden slats that can be spread open or shut, depending on the strength of the wind as well as how much power is needed from the wind on a given day. This particular day was quite windy so most of the sails didn’t have their cloth or wooden slats spread out. Only a couple of windmills had the sails partly spread on them.
  • Spreading the cloth or slats still means you have to stop the mill, and manually spread the cloth or unfold the slats. However, I believe now a hydraulic ladder is used, somewhat like a “cherry picker,” to hoist the mill operator up to reach the higher portions of the sails. I spied one folded up next to a mill, but didn’t get a good picture.

As I said, a shortened edition of history.

I also found out that many of these mills are occupied. Michael asked the boatman, who said that it was possible to rent the windmills. Looking at  mills and at their detached houses showed an interesting mix of 18th and 21st centuries. And pictures always speak a thousand words:

A man tending a grape arbor and garden at his house, next to a windmill.

A man tending a grape arbor and garden at his house, next to a windmill.

This windmill owner or renter had goats in a walk-in shed structure.

This windmill owner or renter had goats in a walk-in shed structure.

This mill, older than the others, had been renovated in 1984.

This mill, older than the others, had been renovated in 1984.

Anyone spot the anachronistic intrusion  in this "typical" Dutch portrait? (Yup, that's a satellite dish mounted on the apex of the house's roof!)

Anyone spot the anachronistic intrusion in this “typical” Dutch portrait? (Yup, that’s a satellite dish mounted on the apex of the house’s roof!)

One last photo: "romantic landscape."

One last photo: “romantic landscape.” Actually, what Michael is saying is, “Carol, we have GOT to live in one of these windmills!” and I’m saying, “And YOU have GOT to be kidding!”

Couldn’t resist adding a bit of Dutch nationalism as a final picture.

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Utrecht is Open for Business (and Merriment)

What's a [arty without cheese?

What’s a party without cheese?

Sundays in Utrecht used to be rather quiet. Except for the “Koopzondag” (sale Sunday) when many stores would open just the first Sunday of each month, most shops — even grocery stores — closed down Sunday and half of Mondays. Most apoteks (pharmacies) closed on Saturday as well, although usually they would take turns staying open on the the weekends in case of medicinal emergencies. Then, last year, local businesses began a direct advertising campaign to allow the shops to stay open. I woke one Sunday to find every single bicycle seat in our area had been adorned with a gratis water-proof seat cover — with a message:

A plea for stores to stay open on Sundays in downtown Utrecht.

Loosely translated: “Utrecht wants to be open on Sundays.”

And so it now Utrecht is open for business on Sundays. Well, maybe not all the shops are open on every Sunday.  But I have noticed several shops around town have signs posted or painted in their windows, announcing their Sunday availability:

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So the streets of Utrecht are bustling nearly every day.

This  window is advertising gifts, Father's Day, and that it's open Sundays (lower right).

This window is advertising gifts, Father’s Day, and that it’s open Sundays (lower right).

And, of course, Utrecht has always gotten around the Dutch version of “blue laws” by having many weekend  events. It comes down to any excuse to have a party, and what better way to make money then having a party along with stoking your cash drawer?

This past weekend was a cultural weekend, I was told, so there were crowds, music venues and street fairs all over the binnestad, or inner city. The “main street” just steps from our front door was closed off and most of the local shopkeepers and other entrpreneurs had stalls displaying their wares.

Twijnstraat, just a few steps from our front door, is a major commercial leg in the historic part of Utrecht. For the fair, stalls lined the street with wares from both local businessmen and other entrepreneurs.

Twijnstraat, just a few steps from our front door, is a major commercial leg in the historic part of Utrecht. For the fair, stalls lined the street with wares from both local businessmen and other entrepreneurs.

Strawberries are in season and are delicious!

Strawberries are in season and are delicious.

Sausages for sale.

Sausages for sale.

The sign says "Fish and chips," but I saw no frites. Kind of an interesting way to consume fish -- whole -- scales, eyes and all.

The sign says “Fish and chips,” but I saw no frites. Kind of an interesting way to consume fish — whole and smoked, not fried — scales, eyes and all.

Who knew there were so many flavors of live oil?

Who knew there were so many flavors of live oil?

Sausage and meats.

Sausage and meats.

Jams and jellies for brood (bread) toppings. I've never seen people eat so much bread, not even the French.

Jams and jellies for brood (bread) toppings. I’ve never seen people eat so much bread, not even the French.

Dutch women wear tights a LOT, under tees, tunics and even dresses. Considering how much biking they do -- and how cold it can be on a bike in winter -- it's no wonder tights are popular.

Dutch women wear tights a LOT, under tees, tunics and even dresses. Considering how much biking they do — and how cold it can be on a bike in winter — it’s no wonder tights are popular.

Colorful displays are a norm in Utrecht markets and shopping areas.

Colorful displays are a norm in Utrecht markets and shopping areas.

Not sure I get the fashion sense with these ankle boots, but chaqu'un, son gout.

Not sure I get the fashion sense with these ankle boots, but chaqu’un, son gout.

Stroopwaffels are a national delicacy. They are round, flat, thin waffle-like cookies but both crisp and chewy. They are loaded with butter, sugar and cinammon and are totally addictive.

Stroopwaffels are a national delicacy. They are round, flat, thin waffle-like cookies but both crisp and chewy. They are loaded with butter, sugar and cinnamon and are totally addictive.

Michael is thinking of retiring. Part of his dilemma is, "What's next?" Corinne and I persuaded him to pose with a calliope busker, to demonstrate  his next possible job. These guys stand on the busiest streets, blaring there music (alas, no monkeys wearing bell-cap hats!), shaking brass dishes and "encouraging" passers-by to drop coins into them. Michael looks a natural, no?

Michael is thinking of retiring. Part of his dilemma is, “What’s next?” Corinne and I persuaded him to pose with a calliope busker, to demonstrate his next possible job. These guys stand on the busiest streets, blaring their music (alas, no monkeys wearing bell-cap hats!), shaking brass dishes and “encouraging” passers-by to drop coins into them. Michael looks a natural, no?

And, of course, when you’re tired of people-watching and food-sampling, there’s always a nearby cafe where you can indulge in whatever suits your fancy.

Michael and Corinne outside the "Beer Church," aka Cafe Olivier. (See the 2011 blog)

Michael and Corinne outside the “Beer Church,” aka Cafe Olivier. (See the 2011 blog)

Dooie!

Royals and Flowers in Utrecht

Brushing Shoulders with Dutch Royalty

As Americans, we generally are unimpressed by the concept of royalty and the fanfare that accompanies persons of hereditary stature. But I will confess it was a remarkable occurrence to find myself standing in a crowd, waiting for the King and Queen of the Netherlands to pass by. Michael had returned from work to find me with Corinne, drinking coffee (a very Dutch pastime) and said, excitement reverberating from every democratic gene: “Don’t you know the King and Queen are coming? They’re supposed to pass by just a block from here.”

Caffeinated as we were to the gills, Corinne and I decided to see for ourselves if Michael was hallucinating or whether we were hallucinating Michael. Nope, he was right.  The Dutch version of the Secret Service and the Utrecht police had blocked off about 2 blocks square of vehicular traffic to allow the newly-enthroned royal couple to pass among their subjects in their first “official” visit to Utrecht.  However, the hoi polloi (including us) were allowed to line the streets along which Willem-Alexander and Maxima would stroll, winding their way from one official ceremony to the next royal happening in Utrecht.

Queen Maxima

Queen Maxima

After experiencing almost military-style scanners and shake-downs at presidential inaugurations in recent years, I was quite surprised that here the common people were allowed so close to the king and queen. In fact, both royals walked the sides of the streets, smiling broadly, greeting people, shaking outstretched hands. The king repeatedly thanked people for coming. The queen bee-lined to the smallest children, but I didn’t see any babies being crowd-surfed for royal smackeroos.

King Willem Alexander

King Willem Alexander, as seen from behind, waving to his subjects

It was actually pretty remarkable, as I was about a meter from the king, and I’ve never been within a mile of any of our presidents. Unfortunately, the close-up shot Corinne took of the king was ruined by some guy sticking his bald head in front of the camera. (No, it was not Michael.)

Why the big fuss over this king and queen? Willem-Alexander is the first king of the Netherlands since 1890, his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother having ruled quite nicely as his predecessors for over a century. However – and also in the tradition of her own mother – (former) Queen Beatrix abdicated on April 30, officially to allow a new generation to take over the titular reins.

For years, Willem-Alexander has tried to outgrow his nickname as “Prins Pils,” the moniker he acquired as a hard-partying, beer-swilling, not-so-serious student at the University of Leiden. It is not an image he was fond of, apparently. Since then, he’s cleaned up his jet-set, party-boy image, and developed expertise (I use this loosely) in water management and infrastructure (whatever that means).

His marriage to Argentinian beauty Maxima in 2002 was highly controversial, as her father had been the Agricultural Minister there during that country’s internal “Dirty War” of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  However, Maxima apparently has won over all those stolid, resistant Dutch hearts in the intervening years, first by learning Dutch, then participating in many charity events. One of her most recent publicity stunts occurred this past September, when she donned wetsuit and goggles to swim in Amsterdam’s canals for a charity  fund-raiser for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Event organizers claimed the canal water was the cleanest it had been in years, but I’m not sure I would have swum 2 meters, much less 2 kilometers in that water as Maxima did. What would be worse, the canal in its natural state or after its chemical “treatment” in preparation of the royal bather? I’ll bet she headed right for the Royal Aesthetician for a facial and body scrub after that swill – I mean, “swim.”

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Photo credit: hellomagazine.com

The Flora Hof of Utrecht

I was strolling through central Utrecht the other day and spied a beautiful courtyard next to the Dom, the landmark cathedral tower which symbolizes Utrecht. On previous passes, the heavy iron gates had been closed, preventing even a glimpse of what was inside. Apparently, this beautiful little courtyard, or hof, in Dutch, is a small segment of quite a large nursery and gardens that have been here for a couple hundred years. This lovely little courtyard has been restored and is now opened to the public.

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Flora Hof

On the interior walls of the courtyard, however, are stone reliefs which are quite violent and in conflict with the peacefulness of the flowery oasis. Various reliefs depict a child being dismembered, a bishop’s hand being devoured, and a person about to be bludgeoned with a truncheon. I couldn’t find much information on line about these stone sculptures. Sketchy sources said they depicted scenes from the life of St. Martin, the patron saint of Utrecht, or of St. Willibrord, the first bishop of Utrecht.  And while St. Willibrord had been in northern Netherlands, as well as Utrecht, I couldn’t find any specific tales that correlated with these stone reliefs, although he and his merry band of disciples did have some violent run-ins with local pagans.

Child Mutilation

Child Mutilation

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Nonetheless, the little courtyard serves as a pleasant oasis and place to sit for a bit of respite outside the bustle of one of Utrecht’s busiest byways.

Another angle of the flower courtyard with the Dom toren looming in the background.

Another angle of the flower courtyard with the Dom toren looming in the background.

And, in final sign-off, a view of the Dom as it towers over the Oudegracht, or “Old Canal.”

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