Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lovely Lanes of The Netherlands

Yes, there are windmills everywhere...
I spent a few days in the Netherlands last week while Mr. Life on the Lane was in meetings in a little town called Leiden, which literally means, 'pass through' which is all you'd ever want to do in Leiden...so each day, we were in The Netherlands, I dropped Mr. Lane at his office and headed in the direction of anything lovely and Dutch-like.  The first day, I went back to Den Haag, where I'd been a couple times before.  Americans like to call this town, The Hague, which does not sound as nice, if you ask me.  Nor does Florence instead of Firenze, or Antwerp instead of Antwerpen, or Brussels instead of Bruxelles, although, the Dutch say Brussels and the French say Bruxelles, but I side with the French on this one.  At any rate, I spent the better part of the day in Den Haag Centre (prettier spelling again) which to me, is the lovelier part of town.  You've got the medieval castle where it all began, when William II, Count of Holland, built his fortress during the 1500's or there abouts (don't quote me on the dates here, since I'm just guessing), and thus, began the most powerful family in the region.  Den Haag is the political capitol (Amsterdam is the capitol-capitol) for the country and lies in the principality of Zuid (South) - Holland (no, Holland is not a country, it's a region in The Netherlands...a common mistake).  There is also wonderful shopping and government high-rises, as well as, subtle, architecturally modest homes along the canals.  There is a feeling of old money in Den Haag and the suburbs are filled with gorgeous mini-estates with good-sized gardens and privacy gates. Important things go on in Den Haag as the city is often mentioned on the nightly news when diplomatic meetings are in session, so this town has an international vibe and people look sophisticated. I did not stop to eat anywhere on this particular day, but the restaurants are known to be good and there are plenty of bars and nightclubs.  It's an elegant, modern city with an old world feel here and there.  The North Sea borders the city and there is a Coney-Island-type area along the seashore.  I spotted several large tulip growers along the route from Leiden to Den Haag, with huge greenhouse facilities where they grow and ship the famous bulbs all over the world.  I missed the blooming season last year and hope to catch the show this coming year.  I always enjoyed tulip-peeping drives when we lived in the Seattle area, so I'm curious to see if The Netherlands can show me a better time flower-wise next spring. On my second day in the area, I went to Amsterdam, where I've also visited a few times and I was determined to see the city in a different light than I have in the past.  Seems as though where we came in each time on other trips, we'd end up walking near or through the red-light district before hitting the more pleasant parts of town.  Don't get me wrong, I get a kick out that area, but it can be a bit much, think Vegas on crack.  We did some great touring in the past, like the Anne Frank House where Anne and her family hid in the attic during WWII.  But, this time, I took a different route and drove directly to the Van Gogh Museum, which is in a lovely part of town with sidewalk cafes, parks and great shopping.  I was lucky and found a great parking spot on a sidestreet and hit the cobblestones for a wonderful day.  The Van Gogh was fabulous.  A complete history of Van Gogh's life and short career as an artist (only ten years) and of course his tragic self-inflicted death.  I felt like a study-abroad student since that's who all seemed to be touring the museum with me.  It was fun.  I bought lunch for a college student from Colorado when I noticed he was the only one not eating in his group.  His friend told me he was short on cash, so I asked Mr. Colorado if his mom knew he wasn't eating and he thought I was funny making him go get a tray of food while I waited at the register.  I told him to pay it forward for some other starving student someday...he liked that idea and shook my hand before rejoining his group.  I then dipped into the modern art museum, since I almost went there by mistake when I first arrived (it's right next door) and the guy at the counter told me to come back after Van Gogh, if I had time, and he'd sneak me in for a quick run-through.  He was still there, and in his sweet Dutch accent, told his guard friend to let me in without paying...karma for being nice to that kid?  I like to think so.  After a quick look at floors one and two, I exited to take in some shopping and bought a pair of fabulous boots by an Amsterdam designer.  Super comfy and already wearing down the tred on the streets of Antwerpen.  That night, Mr. Lane and I had a wonderful Indonesian dinner with one of his associates and their spouse.  A lovely evening and the food was great.  Because of the shipping industry, ship's cooks have been bringing back recipes to the region from Indonesia for hundreds of years, so you can get a great Asian dinner in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) Region.  You could say, I'm eating my way through Europe, but since I'm walking everywhere, I'm not noticing any extra pounds (yet) thank goodness.  On my last day in the Netherlands, I went to Delft on the recommendation of our dinner companions -- a great suggestion.  Besides Delftware (handpainted blue patterned tablewear), the town was like a mini-Amsterdam or even a little like Brugge, with canals and ancient, medieval buildings and cathedrals.  I walked through an Abbey constructed in the 600's.  Amazing.  I viewed more art...there are so many great artists from this region...Gerard Ter Borch, Rembrandt, Carel Fabritius, Van Gogh, Peter Paul Rubens (Ruben's House is in Antwerp), Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, Paulus Potter, Frans Hals...just to name a few.  I had lunch in the main square of Delft and you'll laugh at me, there were so many quaint Dutch restaurants in between shops with wooden shoes and Delftware, but the restaurant that caught my attention was called--Subway...ahhhh, a little bit of America!  I had a loaded Subway special, toasted, with lite mayo and black pepper, the same way I order it in the states, and it tasted exactly the same!  I was in heaven.  Of course I was the only one sitting outside the Subway sandwich shop, but seriously, it tasted so good and the view of the main square was more delightful with each bite (and yes, I got a combo with BBQ Lays and a Diet Coke, perfection). I then hit the shops for a few more touristy buys and then headed back to my car, which of course, with everything in military time in Europe, I had miscalculated how long I'd be gone and didn't pay for enough hours, and yes, I received a parking ticket for my time in Delft.  You can add that to my speeding ticket in Leiden for rushing to pick up Mr. Lane...so much for the 'slow down' of my driving that I began back in the states after my tickets in New York.  Whatever.  I'm still learning the roads and I seem to think everything is the Autobahn!  But, really, driving in Europe is a trick-and-a-half...between the traffic, narrow lanes, cobblestone streets, bikes, pedestrians, trains, buses, scooters, motorcycles and trollies...well, I'm just trying not to hit anyone!  I'm hoping those are my only two tickets...time will tell.  My life on the lane is filled with art and the Dutch and cobblestones and ancient buildings and canals, and in a weird way, it's starting to feel totally normal (as a opposed to how I felt a few weeks ago...freaky deaky)...and kind of like home.   P.S.  Please excuse any spelling errors, can't get my spellcheck to work here in Belgium, since I have to translate from Dutch to English and that seems to overwhelm my laptop and it just stares back at me when I click spellcheck...so I'm my own spellcheck which is not a good thing....I'm a writer, not a speller.  Goedenacht!

The garden next to an ancient Abbey in Delft

Ancient Abbey in Delft

A 'Delftware' bench in Delft
This might be my favorite picture of all
time.  Kind of self-explanatory...
ancient technology -- modernized.
Love it.
Gorgeous Cathedral in Delft
near the
Subway Sandwich Shop :)

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