Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kasteel Amerongen

Mother's Day, Eric and Astrid's (kids Dorien and Jacco) and us got together for a lunch at their place and then took an afternoon trip 40 km south to the town of Amerongen to visit their Kasteel (castle). It was a really cool old house from the 17th century, and especially the way it was presented.

Kasteel Amerongen
They'll be featuring on many of our blogs, so some introductions are in order. I first met Eric and Astrid a few months before I met Debbie in 1996. They moved to spend a year for Eric to do research at York University during his Ph.D., and we were introduced via Hein Daanen, who was at DCIEM (where I did my Ph.D.) as a visiting scientist and who worked at TNO with Eric. One of Eric's very first tasks in Canada was to serve as pannekoeken (pancake) chef extraordinaire at a party at my place! Anyway, over many outings, movie nights (I think we went to about 100 movies together at the Bloor Cinemas), Heavenly Hash ice cream, and roller blading sessions, we've somehow still remained friends!

Onto the Kasteel. They really had a unique way of presenting the history of the house in a way I'd never imagined before. Rather than normal exhibits or even video displays, the entire mansion was running a movie set as one day in the life of the castle, when the mistress receives an urgent letter that the husband was returning that night with major political dignitaries for a banquet. Thus, we're taken into the life of the castle's many servants as they prepare over the course of the day in 1680. It wasn't even just a "factual" documentary, but a movie plot line with internal intrigue, scandals, etc. The story was projected over 20+ huge screens throughout the different rooms, with multiple plot lines. Really fascinating!

Of course, the tradeoff for the unique AV presentation was that most of the rooms were near pitch-black, so it's not the place to go if you want to open cupboards and peer in. However, there were a few rooms not used for the AV where you can see the house collections well, such as the butterfly displays, animal heads, pianos, and family portraits. You can't see from the first picture of the kids airborne, but the castle is surrounded by a moat seen here on the right picture.
Another cool "Lord of the Rings" scene!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Finding the Nemo

On May 19 we went to Amsterdam and the first place we went was the Nemo which is a big science center (I don't know why it's called the Nemo because it is not orange or white and is not shaped like a fish,) but it was very interesting there was  a ball factory were there were a few people scanning the balls and a few people packaging them.
Zach inside a big bubble on the left. People always say that Zach and I look alike. Well, on the right is what would happen if you actually did put us together!
When we were there there was also  a rubiks cube competition (they can do it with one hand in under 30 seconds!) and there was a workshop that we went to that teaches you a way to do a rubiks cube without failure except we didn't have enough time to finish it. And you can't be in Amsterdam without taking a picture along the canals - so we didn't!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Oh Canada!

This year Ryder Hesjedal a Canadian cyclist from Victoria, British Columbia won the Giro d'Italia! We were watching the last race today and it was a time trial which Ryder is really good at! Ryder is the first Canadian to win a big race like this, he only beat Joaquin Rodriguez from Spain after 3 weeks and 3,500 km of racing by 16 seconds! Ryder gained 47 seconds on Rodriguez who is a bad time trialist (But still faster that dad by a few light years!).
Dad's friend Rich Pestes from Pez was actually at the finish of the race (Rich is also from British Columbia but from Vancouver instead of Victoria). We think we saw a Pez jersey amongst the fans. Daddy's joining Rich and the rest of the Pez crew for a 10th anniversary week of cycling next week up many of the same big climbs raced the past week!

Jacob's fishy story

There was once a nice little fishy that liked the world where he lived but the only problem was that in the world where he lived water when it froze shrank and did not expand so it would not just freeze the surface of the water, but the winters in that world where not as long as in our world but then one year the little fishy was in his little anenome watching the FBC (fish broadcasting company,) and when it came to the weather channel usually his favorite part he got a bit scared because the weather fish said that that winter was going to be a very long winter.  So for the rest of the summer he was always thinking of how to avoid the long winter that was about to come and finally he  found a plan, when the winter came and all the fish were hiding in their anenomes. He lived in a big group of lakes so he went out and went on land and  went from lake to lake until he got to a lake where it would be like any usual winter. And when he got there he found a good comfortable anenome and stayed there the rest of his life.

This was part of my science project... And the below is great weather for ducks and fishes...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Der Dutch Commuter Bikes

How can you not love a country where bikes have right of way over cars? Yes it's true, at the numerous roundabouts and crosswalks, cyclists have legal right of way over cars! With a country that largely pan-flat, why wouldn't you bike whenever possible? Indeed, the whole country is pretty much one big bike lane, with well marked lanes with their own traffic signals.
Biking here isn't just something to do for fitness or for the hard-core, it's just an everyday way of life. Instead of a Sunday drive, couples would be out on the bike paths on their bikes. Same with just getting anywhere from A-B, whether it's for groceries, getting to work, or just going around town. How cool is this - Amersfoort has a few FREE secure underground bike parking lots throughout the city!
We've been extremely fortunate that the Roetens have two adult commuter bikes in the shed for us. The video shows what's cool about Dutch commuter bikes.
Even more fortunate, the local bike shop in Hoogland were so very kind enough to lend the boys bikes for our stay here - bedankt Collette!
So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cat on a Dutch Tiled Roof

On May 13 Mother's day when we were up stairs doing some stretching mom happened to look out the window and she saw two little cat ears on the roof and then the head popped up, so we opened the window and it came up and mommy brought it down stairs and we started doing our stretching again but then a few minutes later we saw it again so we opened the window and it almost walked right in except that it was a big drop from the window to the floor so mom brought it down stairs again.
Today May 20, Zachary and Daddy were doing a jigsaw puzzle upstairs when the cat jumped in to say hi and walked across the puzzle.
Yah and did I mention that our neighbours have a pet Deer!!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Hoi Hoogland!

Well, May 8 we landed in the Netherlands and to the final (theoretically!) main stop of the sabbatical adventures! It was a smooth but long day of travel from Rome to Amsterdam, all for a short 2.5h flight but 10 h door-to-door. We're in the little village of Hoogland, which is next to the small town of Amersfoort, and if you need the nearest city, it's Utrecht! It's a great place and the country is already twitching in anticipation of Euro 2012 soccer championships, as you can see from the gnome on the left. First Dutch match is June 9!
We were really fortunate that Elly and Hein managed to find this terrific house for us to rent. We're renting it from Henny and Jan Roeten. It's by FAR the biggest place we've been in our entire trip, 3 floors, a small shed for bikes, and even a small backyard! Jacob especially is enjoying the "life of ease" sofas. There are even three bedrooms, so the boys could actually have their own rooms for the first time in their lives. However, Jacob decided he was lonely, so they decided to share a room instead. Check out the cool sheets set, especially "Wall-E!"
Like I said, it's nice to have a backyard and, if the liquid sunshine ever lets up, to actually enjoy it and eat out back. The decorative tub on the left freaks me out nearly as much as our Darth Vader GPS...
Henny and Jan were even nice enough to stock up the house with some of the Dutch essentials, namely a huge container of chocolate sprinkles, liquorice candy, and chocolates. Also they left us some stroopwaffels, tulips in vases, and the espresso machine! And being Holland, there's cheese everywhere!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Pantheon - home of all the gods

The Pantheon (Pan=all; theo=god) is a Roman temple for all of the gods. Tiberius, one of the Roman emperors and later another emperor wanted to put Jesus in the Pantheon as well as the Roman gods, but the Roman Senate did not approve of that. The Pantheon was made with 2 types of architecture mixed together, it had the columns in the front of the building and the building itself had a dome.

The Pan-photos of Rome!

Housed in the Pantheon now is the grave of the famous painter Raphael Sanzio (right), and the first two Italian kings (along with many other people, the Pantheon is like a graveyard because all around the edge are graves). The dome is 142 ft high and 142 ft in diameter, and was the inspiration for many famous cathedral domes like St. Peter's Basilica (Michelangelo) and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. There is a hole at the very top of the dome, and the floor drains when it rains. The columns outside the Pantheon are also enormous, and the whole thing is still original from Roman times!
Right next to the Pantheon is a church that looks pretty plain (Daddy's colleague Laura says it's the "Roman" style) on the outside, except for another Egyptian obelisk (this time on an elephant) that the Romans took from Egypt. But inside, the church was big (no church can claim to be "really" big after seeing St. Peter's!) and featured Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo (right).

Monday, 21 May 2012

Circus Maximus

Circo Massimo (or Circus Maximus in English) is a place where the Romans had many chariot races and other contests. There are chariot races like the chariot race in the movie "Ben-Hur". One problem in that movie is that they do nine laps instead of seven. For counting the laps there is a contraption where you pull down either an egg or a dolphin after each lap. The laps are pretty big, so the stadium must have been very very big.

Run laps around this big flickr album if you can!

There's no end of neat stuff in Rome, or the Vatican in this case. On the left is the back view of Christ and the apostles above the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica, taken during our descent from the dome. While there, we also got some Vatican stamps and sent some postcards.
For those of you wondering, not only does the Vatican have its own post office, but countries like Canada have embassies to the Vatican. So in Rome, there's the Canadian embassy to Italy, and also the Canadian embassy to the Vatican. There's no way you can fit all the embassies into the Vatican itself!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Trevi Fountain

The day we arrived in Rome when we were heading back to the hotel we saw a big crowd so we went to have a closer look a we figured out that it was the Trevi fountain, and the story is that if you throw in a coin you will return to Rome so me and Zach did but then mom was out of change so mom and dad didn't get to. Zach thought that if you were a Roman soldier before you left to fight you should throw in a coin so you would return again!

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Swiss Circus Guards

The Swiss have always been the guards of the pope. Swiss mercenaries have been bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards. Michelangelo actually designed the yellow and blue "costumes" for the Swiss guards or the guards of the Vatican. The Swiss guards (The ones at the Vatican) are the only  Swiss guard left in Europe. The Papal Swiss guards are now at the Vatican but used to be in France.
The Swiss Guards also double as traffic cops for cars going into the Vatican, minus the court jester uniforms. Mommy is just outside St. Peter's Basilica with the Guard in the background.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

St Peter's Basilica

On Monday (May 8) we went to Vatican City (country #15!) and St. Peter's Basilica. We were hoping to go to the Vatican Museum, but the lineup was so long that it went along the Vatican walls almost to St. Peter's Basilica (>1 km!). Daddy took the picture here during his February visit. We walked up all the 551 steps to the top of the St. Peter's dome, designed by Michelangelo and inspired by the massive Pantheon dome built by the Romans.

Our Roman Holiday

From the top there was a great view of the area around (we also though we saw the CN and Eiffel towers!).
After that we went into the Basilica itself. It's massive - each of the side naves were as big as other big churches! Remember the last blog about the words and letters? Around the whole basilica there are giant mosaics of all the words that Jesus said to Peter in the bible, and the letters are 7 feet tall! The letters were black and around them there was a gold outline.
Also in the Basilica were some bodies of dead popes who had been well preserved like Pope Innocent XI and Pope John XXIII (on the left), while most of them were actually below in the crypts.

Housed in St. Peter's is the famous Pieta sculpture by Michelangelo, of Mary holding Jesus after he had been crucified. There are many other sculptures and paintings in St. Peter's but the Pieta is by far the most famous. Next to it is one door that the Pope only opens once every 25 years for one year. At Christmas Eve he ceremonially opens the door and the next he plasters it up. The next time it will be opened is Dec 24, 2024 - mark your calendars!
The guy this whole place is named after, St. Peter. The Basilica is built at the site where Peter was crucified by the Romans (upside down as per his wishes, as he felt he was unworthy to be crucified as Jesus was). He is most often depicted with keys, symbolizing the keys to Christianity. The statue on the right is bronze and inside the Basilica, and the right foot is constantly kissed and rubbed by pilgrims, so it's pretty shiny.
 Everything is just BIG in St. Peter's Basilica. See the altar (up close on the right)? It's bronze and it's 7 stories high!
More big things at the Basilica. The left shows the shrine to the last Pope, John Paul II, who died in 2005. The painting goes almost the whole way up the whole huge wall, which is just unbelievably big. And speaking of big, check out the angels behind us!