Day 5: Baby You Can Drive My Car

This morning was yet another beautiful, clear morning in Delft, and sadly our last full day in the Netherlands. Today Ma and I decided to take one for the team and go with Pa to the Louwman Museum at The Hague. The museum is Europe’s oldest and one of the largest and most varied classic car (and automobile art) collections.

The Hague is not far from Delft at all, so we got a cab driver to drive us the whole whopping 15 minute drive there.

The museum itself is a work of art – modern, classy and spotlessly clean. We paid the entry fee and started at the very beginning – the oldest cars in the collection, dating as far back as around the 1890s.

The way the museum was set up was also very well done – period music and art to accompany the vehicles. It was also divided up into different sections – early cars, race and sport cars, French cars, Dutch cars, famous cars, etc.

The red Cadillac pictured here had the highest tail fins ever put on a car. To me this car screams “American Graffiti”, with some Del Shannon blasting from the speakers.

They had the actual Aston Martin used in one of the better and more famous James Bond movies, Goldfinger, still equipped with all its gadgets.

Another famous movie car was the Lincoln Continental used in The Godfather, most notably in the scene where Sonny Corleone is ambushed and shot about a billion times.

This next red Cadillac is Elvis Presley’s custom Caddy and it is fantastically ugly.

As many of you know, I drive a little mint coloured ’95 Toyota Corolla named Minty and she’s great. At the museum I got to see her grandmother, a 1978 Corolla. The museum also housed Dr. Toyoda’s desk from where he worked as well as one of the earliest surviving Toyota’s, an AA which was found on a farm in Vladivostok.

Probably my favourite car in the collection was this cool old Duesenberg, the same model owned by many old movie stars and celebrities.

This next one is just kind of cool – a police Porsche. I know a lot of my member friends would really enjoy going code to calls in this number!

The museum opened at 1000hrs, and we were there right at opening, so by 1300hrs we were hungry and thirsty, so we stopped at the museum’s cafe, done up like a turn of the century courtyard.

We devoured frites, mayo, beers and Apple cake and were back on the concourse, Pa like a kid in a candy shop explaining why some of the cars were so special and Ma and I like the patient parents, nodding and smiling.

By 1530 hours we had looked at all 200 something cars in the collection, made our way to the gift shop and cabbed back to Delft.

In Delft we sat in the old Market square and enjoyed the cool drinks, sunshine and beautiful surroundings until dinner time, and bed. All three of us really loved Delft and will be sad to leave it behind.

Day 4: Obviously You Don’t Know Much About Adventures

Another day, another delicious breakfast at our hotel.  Today we set out to two very different Dutch landmarks – the windmills at the Kinderdijk and the Port of Rotterdam.  We grabbed a cab to the Delft train station (our home away from home) and took the 10 minute train ride to the ultra modern port city of Rotterdam.  We had read that a fun way to get to the Kinderdijk was to take a water bus from Rotterdam to the windmills.  We grabbed what was probably the smelliest cab driver with the most dubious comb-over at the BEAUTIFUL Rotterdam Centraal station and headed towards the waterfront.  We waited for the water bus and chatted with a friendly couple from Hong Kong until the boat arrived.  There isn’t as much of a queue as there is a mass rush to board.  When I travel I sometimes forget that I need to drop my friendly Canadian sensibilities and be a little more aggressive.  But thus I digress.

The water bus zipped us under the Erasmus Bridge and up the waterway for 30 minutes, and we moored at a very bucolic Dutch scene – farm animals, fields, dykes and, of course, windmills.

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The Kinderdijk is a village of 18th century windmills, 19 in number.  The windmills were installed to keep water levels along the dyke even, and some are still in use, although there are a few diesel pumping stations to help out just in case.

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We crossed the street and were among the mills, but also a load of other tourist, travelers, and cycle tour groups (again, dodging cyclists).

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After walking along the path, taking many photos of the windmills and hitting up the gift shop for the obligatory fridge magnets and post cards, we headed back to the water bus stop.  There were plenty of other tourists waiting there as well, complete with their face masks and taking smart phone photos of any barge or boat that crossed our water path, jostling each other about.  It made me wonder how many smart phones end up in the water every year.

We hopped back on the water bus and ended up back at the port in Rotterdam.  Because, as you all know by now, I love a good boat tour, and what better way to see a world famous port than to do it by water?  Especially with beer being served.

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Rotterdam was completely flattened by the Germans in WWII, and rather than reconstruct what once was, the Dutch decided to modernize the city and Europe’s largest port, which  made for a very interesting architectural skyline.

One of the more interesting visuals of the port was the Erasmus Bridge, also known as the Swan.  I liked the way it looked in front of the glassy rectangle building and the moody sky.  It’s also the tallest structure in the Netherlands.

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The port mostly deals with containers and petro-chemicals.  It was really cool being able to watch the huge cranes move about and pick up and drop containers.

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One of the more interesting older buildings was the old Holland America building, now the Hotel New York.  The cool old Art Deco style building was nestled among the ultra modern architecture of the port.

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After the 75 minute tour we disembarked, waited around for a cab and headed back on the train towards Delft for an evening of Belgian beers and frites with mayonnaise.

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Day 3: The World Was Never Meant for One as Beautiful as You

Another day, another beautiful crisp morning in Delft.

This morning we got up early in order to hop on a train and maximize our time in the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam.  Getting up early was pretty easy as we’re still pretty jet lagged, so we were up, dressed, coiffed, breakfasted and at the train station by 0900hrs.  The Dutch train system is relatively user friendly (not as good as the German system.  That one is the best) so we bought our tickets and hopped on the train for our 1 hour trip due north west.

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We had decided that we wanted to buy tickets to the hop on hop off canal tour, as not only would it take us everywhere we needed to go, but we would learn about the city and it’s a good way to see the canals.  We embarked right outside of the main train station and headed out to the old harbour.

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Across the harbour houses Amsterdam’s tallest building.  It’s difficult to build up in Amsterdam as the ground is very soft, so pile driving is a big industry there.

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We wound through rows of canals lined with the beautiful old canal houses, donning gables and beams with hooks.  At first we thought the beams and hooks were remnants of the old days (Dutch staircases are very steep and very narrow), but they’re still used today to help people move in and out of the suites.

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We puttered past Anne Frank house with a long line up outside and learned more about the city (It’s about 1000 years old, it used to be a great naval and trading power, the canal houses were build to tilt forward to give the appearance that they are larger).

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We decided to disembark at the Rijksmuseum stop.  We had to decide early on if we wanted to go to the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum, as they are both expensive.  The Rijksmuseum primarily houses Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, and the Van Gogh Museum is pretty self explanitory.  I don’t love the style of the Dutch masters but I do love Van Gogh, and Ma and Pa felt the same way, so Van Gogh Museum was unanimous.  To get to the Van Gogh Museum, you have to walk through a tunnel in the Rijksmuseum and into a courtyard with more museums, a reflecting pool and the “iamsterdam” sign.  The tunnel was actually really cool and held a few buskers (violin, accordion and giant balalaika) playing the Largo from the Four Season by Vivaldi.  The tunnel also allowed you access to the gift shop and a cafe, so we went in to grab postcards, fridge magnets and some other trinkets.

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The courtyard also houses a Banksy Museum.

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We got to the Van Gogh Museum and to our chagrin, the next available tour was at 1800hrs, and it was currently 1100hrs.  None of us wanted to wait around that long and decided that since we all had seen some authentic Van Gogh works at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, it wouldn’t be too much of a tragedy if we didn’t go in.   It was nearing lunch time, so we found a little restaurant in the courtyard and dined on croquettes, croissants, frites with mayo and Heineken (on tap).  We ambled back towards the Rijksmuseum tunnel and decided to divert to a beautiful little garden for a beautiful little detour.

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Back into the tunnel and our buskers had changed  – a violinist, 3 accordions and a tuba plater.  I overheard an older American guy say ‘I know what this is.  This is Bach in G minor or some shit”, when it was famously Pachebel’s Canon in D.   They then launched into their own version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

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Back on the boat, we decided to get off at the next stop, City Hall.  In front of the city hall is a big white and tiled monstrosity, the Dutch Opera and Ballet.  It reminded me of the Opera Bastille in Paris.  We wondered around the neighbourhood, admiring the beautiful buildings and dodging the most aggressive cyclists I’ve ever seen.  I would jaywalk every day in Richmond before I would step off the curb without looking both ways in Amsterdam.

 

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We picked a cute little canal-side cafe and ordered some beers and chocolate milk and watched all the canalboat tours putter by.

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As it turns out, the neighbourhood used to be the Jewish quarter.  Our first clue was a similar sight to what we saw in Germany – little brass cobblestones in front of the buildings listing the the names of the former residents, the date they died and which concentration camp they died in.  Our canal boat guide stated that because so much of the Jewish population didn’t come back, their homes remained empty and fell into disrepair.  The city decided to demolish the houses and built city hall.

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We mozied along the Gentleman’s canal and ended up in a minor boat MVI – a smaller boat was not paying attention and lightly collided with our tour boat.  A lady in the smaller boat, champagne in hand literally clutched her pearls.  Our guide said this kind of thing happens all the time, but the greatest hazard in Amsterdam (as we had already glommed) were the cyclists.  In the Netherlands if you are driving a car and hit a cyclist, the car driver is always 100% at fault.

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Our tour sadly came to an end as we returned to the Amsterdam Central station, so we found our train and headed back to Delft for a casual dinner, hot shower and early night.

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Day 2: Golden Age

This morning we knew we would not need alarm clocks because the same jet-lagged sleep happens to us every year – in bed super early, awake super early.  This morning I was awake by 0430hrs and Ma and Pa were already awake.  We decided to get up and leisurely get ready for breakfast (served at 0700hrs) and the day exploring Delft. The breakfast served by our hotel was delightful and everything we would ever need – strong coffee, Dutch pancakes and fresh, buttery croissants.  We finished by about 0745hrs and hit the town.

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Because we were up and about so early, we had a lot of the old town to ourselves as well as beautiful early morning light.  It’s definitely autumn in Delft as there is a chill in the air, but the sun is still warm.

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Delft is such an adorable town.  Around every corner is another canal, another flowered storefront, another cafe.

As 0900hrs neared, the city started to come alive with bicycle traffic picking up, and people whipping through the streets on their velocipeds, taking kids to school, heading to school, or heading to work.

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The first thing that we wanted to see this morning was the Oude Kerk, or Old Church.  The Oude Kerk is a large, brick, pre-Reformation structure with construction beginning in 1239 and lasting 400 years.  One of the biggest draws of the church is it is the final resting place of Delft’s native son, Johannes Vermeer (remember, of Girl with the Pearl Earring fame).  Apparently Vermeer died very poor and left his wife with a lot of debt, but she still wanted to bury him in the Oude Kerk, so they originally buried him vertically.  Later, when Delft decided that Vermeer was in fact, a big deal, they dug him up and gave him a proper burial.

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I found the Oude Kerk to be less than impressive – sparse and underwhelming.

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The next thing we (mostly I) wanted to do was a canal boat tour.  I love boat tours because it’s a great way to see the city from a different perspective and you usually learn a bit from the tour guide.

The first boat tour left at 1100hrs and we had not spent a lot of time in the Oude Kerk, so we had more time to kill.  By this time we were gingerly dodging cyclists left and right.  The cyclist culture here is quite different from what I’m used to in the Lower Mainland (either super aggressive Vancouver cyclists, or scabby homeless people who you know damn well didn’t pay for that bike that they’re riding around that residential neighbourhood).

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In order to pass more time, we went to the market square and grabbed a delicious coffee at a cute little shop called Bagels and Beans.  We sipped our drinks and watched vendors set up their stalls for the day in the square.

 

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We finished up and settled up and slowly walked towards the boat moorage.  I just couldn’t get enough photos of canals, bikes on canals, tree-lined canals.

We got to the boat, paid our tickets and climbed aboard, a 45 minute jaunt through the canal system.  Our tour guide’s name was Ellen and she was graduating from the University of Delft in Engineering and Policy.  Delft is actually a university town as 1 out of 5 residents in the city are students.  We passed by beautiful buildings of brick facade, windows and shutters and learned that many of them were actually student housing.  It made me think fondly of some of my lodging when I attended the University of British Columbia – damp, partially-carpeted hovels barely legal suites boasting hot plates and 30 year old microwaves, deep in the heart of Point Grey.

Other fun facts we learned from Ellen:

• Many of the canals are lined with ropes.  Why?  Not to help people who have drunkenly fallen into the canals, but to assist cats that fall in.

• The residents of Delft used to be charged more taxes if you have more windows in your front facade.  Many wealthy people would install more windows to show off how rich they are.

• Students who graduate from Engineering often have their bicycles tossed into the canal by fellow students as a way of signifying that they will be making more money and can therefore afford a car.  The city fishes out 300-400 bikes every year and resells them to make money for the city.

After the tour was over and I had shot enough smouldering glares to the dumb old men who talked/laughed through the English part of the tour, we found we were a bit peckish.  Ma wanted to try and restaurant we had read about in Lonely Planet called Kek, which offers up fresh and healthy fare.  This place was everything that a hipster would love – lots of kitsch, lots of avocado on the menu, and lots of young people with questionable fashion.  I ended up having a BLTA and a delightful blood orange lemonade.

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Our afternoon plan was to head to the Royal Delft Factory and do the tour, followed by copious coin dropping at the gift shop.  The only problem is that we were losing steam so by the time we got a cab there, saw two huge tour busses in front, we decided to forego the tour and instead go straight to the gift shop.  The shop was an enormous 2-room operation, filled wall to wall and ceiling to floor with white and blue porcelain.  Ma and I both picked out a few items, paid, and the PAID for them to be shipped back home to Canada, as we didn’t want to haul around delicate porcelain items for the rest of our trip.

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We discovered that the factory had an adorable little cafe that served Delft Blue’s own beer called Delft Brew, so of course we had to try some (it was pretty good!).

We headed back to our hotel for a siesta as we were all pretty low on energy.  An hour later we headed literally across the canal from our hotel to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) to check it out as well.  This church was built in 1351, so not so much ‘new church’ as it is ‘newer than the Old Church’.

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The church again was underwhelming, but its claim to fame is that it is the final resting place of William of Orange, who is seen as the father of the nation.  The tomb is quite garish and ugly, but the people decide they couldn’t have a plain burial for the Founder of the Netherlands, unlike all the chumps buried in the floor.

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After we spent maybe 15 minutes in the church, we hit the square again to revisit the cheese shop we popped into yesterday.  The shop keep was so eager and flirtatious that I couldn’t even say no to all the goat cheese samples he was offering me, and I HATE goat cheese.  After learning that you can bring the cheese back to Canada and it can be unrefridgerated for a month, we bought a couple of wheels of Gouda and went and found a brasserie that has Grolsh on tap, where we ate, drank, and headed home to bed, in a valiant attempt to stay up past 2100hrs.

Day 1: Leaving on a Jet Plane

Welcome to the DeCaigny Abroad trip blog for 2018: Windmills, Wallonia, World Wars and Waffles!  This year is a very special trip for me because I get to visit the land where the DeCaigny’s come from – Normandy and Flanders – and we get to meet some relatives.

Our trip started off pretty easily – got the YVR with plenty of time, breezed through check in and security, had some late lunch and a coffee, then found our gate with a myriad of other silver haired folks (I joked with Ma and Pa that they must feel like they’re flying with their people).  At one point and woman approached me and asked ‘Are you Kelly?’  As it turns out, one of my girlfriends at work has a friend who was taking the flight, and told her to ‘look for the girl with the blue hair’.  We chatted with Anya for a bit and then it was time to board.  The flight was pretty uneventful and after 8 1/2 hours and 2 subpar meals for what we’re used to from KLM, we landed at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at noon.  We did the usual airport stuff – disembarked, went through customs (‘you’re here for a month?  You’re going to be here for your birthday!’) grabbed our luggage and bought our train tickets for our first home base – Delft.  When we started planning this trip, we quickly discovered that staying in Amsterdam would cost a small fortune, so we chose to stay in Delft – known as “Little Amsterdam” – it has all the charm and canals of the big city, just smaller, less busy and much less expensive.

The trains in the Netherlands are plentiful and efficient – like those in Germany.  Our jaunt to Delft took about 45 minutes and we even spied a beautiful old windmill!  We grabbed a taxi and told him the name of our hotel – De Emauspoort.  The first thing he said was ‘Perfect location!’  We drove past old brick houses and snaking canals and took a turn down an absolutely adorable street:

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This is the street our hotel is on and it was everything I was hoping and dreaming it would be = quaint, with bikes and flowers everywhere you looked.

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We checked in and found that we were staying in the ‘Vermeer Suite’.  One of the things that Delft is famous for is the birthplace (and famous resting place) of painter Johannes Vermeer, whose greatest hit is probably The Girl with the Pearl Earring.  The room is decorated in the old Dutch style, up a flight of very challenging stairs, and adorned with prints by the Dutch master himself.  We dropped our gear and hit the town in a attempt to stay vertical for as long as possible.

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The other thing that Delft is famous for is ‘Delft Blue’ or ‘Royal Delft’ – a style of pottery characterized by blue ink on white porcelain.  There were shops all around the main square (or Markt) filled to the brim with dishes, tiles and other trinkets depicting very Dutch scenes (windmills, row houses, clogs).

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We picked a little restaurant and Pa and decided to indulge in our first brews (of what will be many, many brews) on the square.

A note about Dutch people so far – I was nervous because I had read a BBC article about how the Dutch are known for being very direct, and I’m very sensitive, but so far the Dutch people we’ve met have been very friendly, eager to chat and interested in Canada.

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We finished our drinks and took a brief walk around the square.  Pa and I decided we wanted to check out a cheese shop, because we both really enjoy Gouda.  As it turns out, this cheese shop was the place to be, the Baskin Robbins of cheese as they had 31 different flavours of Gouda, all available to sample.

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After sampling some delicious Gouda (we’ll be back there) I bought some postcards from a Delft Blue shop and we tucked in for some dinner, which I could barely stay awake through.  After a 2 minute walk back to our hotel, I uploaded some photos to instagram between nodding off and hitting my head on the table.  I gave up on the idea of a blog post for that night, and apparently climbed into bed (which I don’t remember doing).

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