Gouda (pronounced as in ‘howda’) is 45 minute bus and train trip from our mooring on the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine, part of the Rhine river system) in Alfan aan Den Rihn. Aside from being the home of the well known cheese, much more varied and flavorful than the bland version sold in the U.S., it has a superb city hall, Stadhuis, dating from the 14th century, the oldest such in the country.
Today is a market day, with loads of activity. A woman’s chorus sang in front of the Stadhuis, a couple played a calliope while passing the hat. It was excellent. We made a contribution.
Aside from the rounds of Gouda cheese, much of the merchandise is the same from market to market. We did see a wooden shoe maker selling his wares in Delft. It is not an item the Dutch use much these days, although they do wear leather clogs, so the wooden version are marketed mostly to tourists.
The cheese is sold in several varieties. Jong Gouda is young, that is, aged just four weeks. There are various states of aging up to over 12 months. They become increasingly hard and sharp. They are all encased in a plastic coating to keep them from drying out. Most are industrially produced, however there are several hundred producers using traditional methods using unpasteurized cow milk, called Boerenkaas. Boerenkaas, Noord-Hollandse Gouda, and Gouda Holland have Protected Geographical Indication status in the EU.
This is Willemstad, a neat small town with a brick clad windmill, as well as a lovely old houses. l. There was an army of large vessels on this beautiful day. Below you will see a traditional sailing barge, not particularly large but lovingly restored.
In the morning following our arrival we were looking for a place for our guests to try an uitsmijter, a hearty Dutch breakfast. Nothing was open, the only sign of life being those headed for work by bike, bus or car, and a man walking his dog. I asked him if there were any cafes open. “Nay,” he said. Realizing we were tourists, he explained that the town was a major naval port until the 1950’s. This explains the octagonal shape and the bunkers. They built the large bunkers in the middle of the 19th century, so my speculation that they were part of Hitler’s WWII defense system was wrong.
The brick clad windmill still works, grinding wheat, I think he said.
From Willemstad we back tracked about 5 km then headed north to Oud-Beijerland on the Spui River. It’s narrow entrance on the Spui River is a bit of a challenge as the current is about 3 km per hour, so the boat crabs towards the entrance. You have to straighten out at the last moment, once the river releases its grip. It was lunch time, so we found a lovely place on the harbor. On the menu: mustard soup. Sounds odd, I know, but the cream, onions, garlic and leeks make the mustard just a tangy addition. We all loved it! Salmon with various lettuces on dark bread, fries (the Dutch can’t have a meal without them), thin slices of smoked tuna. Not a English menu in sight, the waitress had limited English, so the chef came to the table to help where our restaurant Dutch was inadequate.
We were unable to stay the night to participate in the many activities, including loud music (playing reggeton, one of my least favorite), so we decided to try for Delft, the home of the famous ceramics. This took us through Rotterdam harbor, one of the busiest in the world. Huge ships and lots of them, so we dodged where we had to and otherwise stuck to the shore until we had to cross to go north. Our preferred route took us further to the west than the one we ended with. After entering the lock, the lock master told us a bridge was down along the way, so we had to back out of the lock. Boats do not do well going backwards, but we managed. Then we had to scoot across the waterway, head a few kilometers towards the center of Rotterdam, then make our way across yet again. The small lock’s bridge was just tall enough for us to pass beneath, otherwise we’d have had to wait for several hours for it to open, as it was rush hour. Once through we passed through one very low bridge, then found a nice marina on starboard side. And there we rest.
Passing through the remaining seven bridges of Edam is a bit of a challenge due to the narrowness of the canal and the ever present wind. At times our boat barely fit between the small bridges. The harbormaster of the day biked from bridge to bridge to open them as we arrived, which helped. Some of the bridges required him to pull down on a rope. The last one or two are machine operated, just requiring the push of a button.
Countryside followed the last bridge, with few boats and just one large barge that came around a curve on our side just past the ferry that was loading passengers. The barge glided past while the ferry waited as both Viking and the barge passed by. Along the way we saw several houses whose front doors were well below.
At Spijkerboor there is an intersection. We took the canal that takes you through or in the canal alongside Lake Alkmaardermeer. There’s an attractive marina with a restaurant in the canal. Dozens of boats were camped, passengers enjoying the sun.
We moored a few hours later in Alkmeer, our second visit by boat to this town. This time we moored for a day in the canal, made choppy with passing boats and frolicking teens spinning their small crafts to make the biggest waves they could manage. We were fortunate to get a spot as there is a medieval festival this weekend, attracting many locals and tourists from afar. The restaurants and bars were packed and the streets narrowed with by the people sitting at the sidewalk tables. Traditional sailing barges and other boats lined the downtown harbor, where we stayed last time.
The next day the crowds thickened. Dressed in medieval garb, with makeup mimicking injuries, burns and various diseases as well, men, women and teens marched through town. Many were in character, displaying mental disorders, and there were a few hunchbacks too. Along came the well to do in fine frocks and Sunday best. Vendors sold traditional foods along the route. I was taken by the apple-cherry pie, which did not last more than a few steps.
The harbormaster moved us off the main canal the next day. We stayed two nights right in front of a restaurant, along with a few other boats. The aromas and chatter lasted well into the night. Aboard it was sausage and sauerkraut for dinner, for lunch a lekkerbek, a deep fried super bland white fish, with a bit of salad and the ever present fries. A friendly Dutch woman explained the ‘beck’ is a word for mouth. I already knew what ‘leeker’ meant. So leekerbeck is ‘like mouth’ as in ‘tasty fish.’ I disagree.
In 1956 the Sicilian Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote a novel called Il Gattopardo, The Leopard. It was published in 1958, after his death. The book won the 1959 Strega Prize, Italy’s highest award for fiction. In 2012 the Observor named the book one of the best 10 historical novels. It’s the story of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, the author’s great-grandfather and his response to the Risorgamiento, the effort that unified Italy. Garibaldi and his 1000 soldiers in landed in Sicily in 1860 to bring the island into the fold. Corbera, the last in a line of minor princes, finds that he has to choose between upper class values and the changing times. To go along with the latter ironically meant more influence for the family. His nephew Tancredi, who joined Garibaldi, put it thus: “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” In the end Sicily’s ruling class joined the new Italy, setting aside centuries of Spanish rule.
In 2000 we met Gigi, Tomasi’s great-nephew. He was then in the process of writing a novel. He needed someone to help him write it in English. This was more than normal editing, as although he spoke English quite well, writing is another matter and often not easy to do even for native speakers. Peg took on the task. This led to stay in Sicily for 3 weeks.
We lodged in his family’s turn of the century residence outside Modica, a charming town whose houses line a steep gorge. His house was out in the flatter area however. His wife Marina was there with us as well. Marina was friendly and a very good cook as well. We had dinner with them most nights. I learned to make onions in bread crumbs with garlic, oregano and basil. She made pasta Palermitana, which here in Palermo they are calling pasta sarde, pasta with sardines, and which are very popular. She sauteed fresh sardines, then she added bread crumbs before mixing in the cooked pasta. Marina had a German Shepherd she’d rescued off the street. He had a wild-eyed look to him, like he was deciding if he would let you pass or attack, though he never even growled. She called him simply ‘Cane, ‘ ‘Dog.’ We had a whole apartment to ourselves, on the second floor, with its own kitchen, to give you an idea of the size of the place.
It was in the month of July. When Peg was not working we drove around in Gigi’s Renault 8. They have a dashboard mounted 4 speed manual transmission. It was old and the shifter clunky, but always ran. It was fun to drive such a French car. With it we went to a burial site dating to something like 4000 BCE, a Roman theater, stopped when we saw fig trees by the side of the road ripe with fruit, appearing to belong to no one. We ate fresh tuna in out-of-the-way places and well-known ones such as Noto. Tuna is plentiful that time of year when they run the straits between Sicily and Malta on their way to the cooler waters of the Atlantic. Siracusa is an ancient Greek city in an island with many, with churches built using Roman era marble columns. There is both a theater and an oracle, the oracle now just a cave, not far from town. I took the ferry to Malta, imaging the voyages of Ulysses and the Carthaginians along the way, just an hour and a half on the sea.
In one double take moment I saw a boy and a girl walking ahead of us. They looked just like my brother and the older of my sisters at that age. Unlike me, they are 100% Sicilian, not that all Sicilians look alike. Even in my own family there are vast differences. Zio Matteo, my mother’s half-brother, was blond and blue-eyed, although his hair was gray by the time of my earliest memories. He taught me to use a knife and fork, European style, right hand for the knife, left for the fork. In those days I think they did not allow for lefties. In fact the teachers, nuns I believe, forced her to write with her right hand. Lefties were somehow devils.
Gigi and Marina took us often to a bar in the mornings, one known for their coffee granitas topped with thick whipped cream. We went to a friend’s house one evening. They grilled veggies for the bruscheta (‘ch’ in Italian is a hard ‘k’ sound, so it is pronounced ‘brusKeta’) on great Italian bread. There was pasta and wine, and a secondi, either meat or fish. The food was endless, the conversation in Italian mostly, some of which we could follow with our combination of Spanish, French and a book called “Italian Made Simple.”
As far as we know, Gigi never published his book. Peg said he was rewriting her edits, which she then had to edit. She concluded he could finish it in English. Maybe he wrote it Italian. I read a short story he wrote. It was quite good. A yacht owner took his large boat into the Med with a group of friends. He let his regular captain take the day off. They all dove off the boat to enjoy the lovely waters. However they forgot to lower the ladder beforehand and found they could not get back on the boat. Everyone drowned.
We flew back to Rome from Catania, flying over the isle of Stromboli. It’s a volcano, cone is long gone, with signs of life rising from its depths.
Duomo Monreale , also referred to as the Cathedral of Monreale, sits at height over the valley in which Palermo resides. The views of the city, the large natural port, and the surrounding urban and rural zones are expansive. Here’s a video with some good shots of the valley, taking you then to the Duomo and the adjacent cloisters.
The cathedral was built under the Norman King Guillermo II, who along with his brother is buried here in a coffin aside a petition near the altar. Legend would have it that he fell asleep beneath a tree in the nearby forest. In a dream, Mary told him to build a church here. They found treasure in the tree’s roots. The gold financed the project, which began in 1172. The result today is a UNESCO Heritage Site, one of Italy’s finest churches. It is in the Arabo-Norman Style, 102 x 40 meters in size. The interior is wall to ceiling in what I would call ‘late’ Byzantine style mosaics. The underlying drawings are a bit more realistic than what you might find in Orthodox churches. There is not a bare centimeter anywhere in the buliding. The floors are exquisitely formed patterns in marble. The arches are Moorish in style as is the external decor.
Vernon is in Normandy on the Seine downstream from Paris. It’s castle, built in 1204, served to protect Paris. The mill ground flour, which could then be readily transported on the Seine. It is a very short distance to Giverny, where Monet established his studio and residence. There is also a museum of Impressionists.
The first mention of the town dates to Roman times. The town was referenced circa 750 by Pepin the Short. The name might be Latin or Celtic in origin. In French today ‘verne’ is a speckled elder tree. In English it is a proper name. (I add this as non-native English speakers read my blogs).
There is a small dock for pleasure crafts, as you can see in the photo. The mill sits on a bridge destroyed following the D-day invasion. A new bridge crosses the Seine to town center, a charming village.
Dating from the 11th century, Notre Dame is a good example of a Gothic church. The lead glass windows are impressive modern pieces, replaced also as a result of WWII bombing. The rose window is flamboyant thus of later Gothic origin. The stained-glass windows are contemporary. The originals were replaced after World War II bombing raids. The many half timber buildings are mostly from the 16th century.
We had lunch in a picturesque restaurant with some good examples of Normandy cuisine. Andouillette is tripe in a sausage casing. I stuck with steak pomme frites, however. I asked for it medium and they got part of it right. They grilled it a bit more but it turned tough. The frites are the best I have had anywhere ever! Peg ordered fish delightfully grilled, and a side of polenta with a bit of cheese.
This band played in our neighborhood last night. I would call their music Klezmer, although I do not know what they call it. Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe dating to the Renaissance. We do not possess musical notation of the earliest forms, however when Jewish musicians came to the US their music was influenced by jazz. To strictly define Klezmer is difficult but I like to say I know it when I hear it, although it is rather difficult at times. These days bands often consist of a clarinet, sax, fiddle, drum, accordion and a trombone. Last night there was a bass guitar and a flugelhorn. Hammer dulcimer and bass fiddle are traditional. I have never seen a horn mounted on a fiddle, but I have now!
The friendly crowd was enthusiastic, dancing, enjoying some of the excellent beer you find everywhere in Poland. A good time was had by all.
The train carried us for a bit over two hours in a full six person compartment, my 20 kilo suitcase perched precariously above our heads. We are going from Poznan to Wroclaw. Wroclaw has a complex history. It was born in Poland, later controlled by the kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia. and Nazi Germany. It was founded circa 950, like Poznan on an island in a river. Also like the other cities we’ve visited it was a member of the Hanseatic League (1387), which helped make it a wealthy city. Among its famous inhabitants are a director of the Clinic of Psychiatry, Alois Alzheimer. A professor named William Stern developed the concept of IQ in the same turn of the century era.
During the war there was no fighting until February, 1945. The Germans decided to hold the city and did so until after the fall of Berlin. About 50% of the city was destroyed, some by the Nazis who did so in their efforts to fortify the city and the rest by Russian carpet bombing, with 40,000 civilians killed. By that time refugees from Germany and elsewhere had increased the population to nearly one million, including some 50,000 slaves and 30,000–60,000 Poles relocated after the end of the Warsaw Uprising. After the war the German population of 190,000 was forced out. Poles ejected from its eastern territory, mostly around Lviv now in Ukraine but then in the Soviet Union, then moved in.
Wroclaw, called Breslau when it was in Germany, is jam-packed with notable architecture of various styles including the predominant Gothic, some significant examples of the Baroque, at least one Bauhaus (the bank building in the Rynek), Art Nouveau, and of course some Soviet era concrete block.
. The Rynek is spectacular, a large open space surrounded by fabulous buildings in various styles
The Brick Gothic Old Town Hall in the Rynek dates from the 13th c. You can visit the original council chambers, with period furniture.
Also in the Rynek is the Gothic style St. Elisabeth’s Church (Bazylika Św. Elżbiety). It has a 91 meter/300′ tower. St. Mary Magdalene Church (Kościół Św. Marii Magdaleny), dating from 13th c, is not far.
The city was founded on an island now called Ostrów (island) Tumski (Cathedral) in the Oder River. Wroclaw Cathedral dates from circa 950. There are several islands and altogether there are hundreds of bridges making it among the highest number in the world, just barely behind Venice.
We paid the extra to see the chapels, rewarded by the superb sculptures of the Giacome Schianzi chapel. I later learned that the St. Elizabeth is by Ercole Ferrata, a student of Bernini, and that the cardinal’s tomb is by another Bernnini student, Domenico Guidi. Bernini! No wonder I was so floored.
The unemployment rate is just 2.2%. People from around Europe come here looking for work as a result. This is inflating wages and prices generally, although it is quite inexpensive still compared to France, UK and even less than Spain. We have had lunches for two with a beer for from $10, in Valencia lunches start at $12 with wine, in Paris closer to $18 plus wine.
G’day from Gdansk, on the Baltic Sea in northern Poland. From here Lech Wałęsa led the dock workers union Solidarity on strikes and other actions that set in motion the downfall of the Soviet Union. It has been important in other eras, such as the 1700’s, when it too, like Krakow, was a member of the Hanseatic League — take a walk though the port area and you will think you are in Holland, with all the Dutch Golden Age architecture arising during that period.
We traveled via train from Lublin, the first leg on a 1970’s vintage Intercity, a little worn but clean, and with new seat fabrics. The compartments were sparsely populated for the 0800 run. We changed in Warsaw three hours later, averaging just 60 km/35mph for this part of the journey. The next leg was on a sleek modernity which averaged 100km/60 mph, not the 250km/h you can get in France and Spain, but smooth as well as lovely in all respects.
We spoke with the woman sitting with us. She was no more than 40, and spoke English very well. How is it that so many people speak English so well in Poland, Peg asked? She said everyone is taught. She was the first generation to switch from Russian to English, starting class at age 14. The first year was difficult for her but once she got the basics she could begin to talk, helping her learn with relative ease. English grammar, she said, is a lot easier than the Polish, although spelling is more difficult. In Polish the marks on letters tell you which sound the letter makes, something which would of great benefit in English. Nowadays children start learning English in kindergarten, using the immersion method— the English teacher speaks only in English. This is producing excellent results, judging by the amount of English we encounter.
This is our second time in Poland. The first came in July of 1998. You can check it out at Poland 1998. Our impression of Poland is Poles apart (sorry about that pun!) from our current. Cars abound along with the traffic jams, instead of much more crowded public transport from the Communist era. Restaurants were fewer and lower in quality and there were few foreign, which now abound, especially Italian. The people then seemed more glum, and there were far fewer tourists, both conditions which no longer apply. No one spoke English, but today English effective language instruction is universal. While not everyone speaks English, the ones who get practice speak and understand tourist level English very well, and in some cases their skills go far beyond. Buildings are clean, new construction is common, while public areas are spic and span still.