Friday, 29 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Orange Crush(ed)!

Every 4 years, the Euro football tournament madness sweeps over the continent. The World Cup may be bigger, but the overall quality of the football is probably higher here, because there's really no easy way to qualify. Anyway, after being finalists in World Cup 2010, all of Holland was in full orange frenzy.

Well, that didn't last long! The whole country was decked out in orange, but boy the Dutch stunk out the joint! They lost a bit of a shocker to Denmark 0-1 in the first match, then got absolutely humiliated 1-2 by the Germans in a highly hyped match. To top that off, Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese finished the humiliation with another dominant rout. Oh well, the good thing with the Dutch is that they party BEFORE the match rather than afterwards, so we still ended up having a fine BBQ at Hein and Elly's before the final match!

At halftime, down 0-1, Hein drove us back to Amersfoort and we raced home on the bikes (never seen Jacob ride so fast!), literally getting home JUST in time to see Ronaldo score again! Jacob was so disgusted that he just stomped upstairs and went straight to bed!

Italy-Spain in the final on Canada Day, should be great!

In other sporting news, we're taking the train Saturday down to Liege to catch the prologue of the Tour de France! BTW, figure out this math for me. My taking the train to Valkenburg (southern end of Holland) three weeks ago normally cost 46EUR return for one adult. Liege is even further away, further south, and in another country, yet the TOTAL cost for 4 of us (2 adults, 2 kids) return is 76EUR! And speaking of kids, Zachary's grounded as of July 26, when he turns 12. That's because all the travel discounts are for 11 and under (e.g., a full day unlimited train pass is 48EUR for adults and 2.50EUR for kids!)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Van Gogh Museum

Our museum cards paid off for us the day we went to the Van Gogh Museum. They allowed us to skip the line of about 45 minutes. Unfortunately, that didn't help much when we got to the crowded exhibit halls and had to strain to get close to see the paintings. I would love to go again on a less busy day and be able to enjoy them a little more. is a good resource on Van Gogh, though it's not affiliated with the museum I believe.

The museum had a well designed picture hunt and tour for the children that got them looking carefully at the paintings. The museum was designed to group paintings into the different periods of Van Gogh's life.  After being there, we watched a 2 1/2 video series all about Van Gogh's life and it was so neat to be able to saw of the painting discussed in the video "we've seen that one!"

It would be so hard to pick a favourite painting out of so many - Van Gogh's bedroom is very striking with the bright colours and personal material, the irises are amazing, different sunflowers, blossoms, harvest fields - they are all very compelling.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Dutch Bike Madness

Beyond windmills and clogs, bikes are the things people probably most associate with Holland, and for very good reason - they're everywhere! It really is amazing to see how ingrained, pervasive, and ubiquitous cycling is as a means of transport here. It is so completely unlike the attitude towards cycling and the way it's integrated into urban planning in North America, or really anywhere else. I mean, many cities now have bike paths, but nobody does them like the Dutch. Bikes generally have right of way, and there are separate lights and clearly marked direction signs all over.
Cool Dutch Cycling #157: Bike racks are EVERYWHERE! I've written before about the masses of bike racks at every train station in every town, and also the FREE underground parking in the town of Amersfoort and elsewhere. But it's not just the "city" implementing these, libraries (right) and pretty much every store has loads and loads of bike racks outside their premises.

Unlike North America, cycling isn't an "activity" or "exercise," but just a way to get around. On the right I took this picture in the midst of "traffic jam" of kids biking to school and people getting to work in Amersfoort. And while it's hard even for a dedicated bike commuter like me to think of riding to the Fonthill library without finding my bike shoes and such, there's no such qualms here and you just roll along in your normal street clothes. Or in the case of the girl hitching the double on the left, your big 6" spike heels!
The entire country really is one big bike path, as there are separated bike paths alongside pretty much every road and even main arterial roads. So there's very little worry about cars and we've been pretty comfortable even going without helmets. Really, for any errand or trip of 10 km or less, it really doesn't make sense to even think of a car.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Windmills are big machines that rely on the wind to work, they are used for pumping water, grinding grains, and making electricity. The first windmill was built by Heron from Alexandria in the first century AD and was used to power organs, that was the first time wind had been used to make energy. In Holland windmills had many uses, especially for draining the land.
When not being actually used to drain land or to grind flour, windmills also make for nice pictures! There's Daddy riding through a windmill near Amerongen, and the more modern wind turbines for electricity near Spakenburg. Daddy rode right under them, and was amazed at how fast the blades turned and how silent they were.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Uffizi Gallery - Florence

The day after my birthday, we went to Florence and spent most of the day going to the Uffizi Gallery. By most of the day, I mean 2+ hours in line and about 3.5 hours in the galleries! Since Karen did art studies with the boys, I had been very anxious to see some of the works of these artists that we had studied: Cimabue, Giotto, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and in the nearby Piazza del Duomo - Ghiberti's bronze doors.

If I had to pick a favourite artist at the Uffizzi, I think it would be Botticelli. I love the beautiful colours, smooth surfaces, perfect detail of his paintings. Maybe also because there was a whole room devoted to him and some of the paintings are so large that they just are so impressive - Birth of Venus, Spring, Madonna of the Pomegranate, Madonna of the Magnificat, The Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi. 

Now that we are speaking of the Annunciation, I never realized that there were so many paintings of this event in the Uffizi and, in fact, in all of Italy. Here are a few of my favourites for your comparison:

The Annunciation - Leonardo Da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio

Leonardo da Vinci: Picture of Annunciation - Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Annunciation - Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Filipepi called Botticelli: Picture of Annunciation - Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Annunciation - Fra Fillipo Lippi (In the San Lorenzo Church)

Annunciation, San Lorenzo

Another by Fra Fillipo Lippi

File:Fra Filippo Lippi 014.jpg
Of course, also at the Uffizzi is one of Michelangelo's most famous paintings outside of the Sistine Chapel: The Holy Family, the Tondo Doni. It is a very beautiful painting of the Holy Family and you can spend a long time just staring at it.  I wonder why he portrayed Joseph as being so much older than Mary?

Saturday, 23 June 2012


This past Saturday afternoon, Jacob, Zachary and I drove with our friends, Hein and Elly, to the town of Harderwijk where they were having a special day at the harbor there. Hein is the scientist that Stephen is visiting and collaborating with here in the Netherlands. They've known each other since 1995, when Hein was a visiting scientist at DCIEM where Stephen did his Ph.D. His wife, Elly, works in Amersfoort as a physical therapist for children. They live in the village of Soesterberg where Hein works at TNO, a well known Dutch research company.

Harderwijk is also located on the "old land" side and across the water you can again see the reclaimed "new land."  In the water, we saw a new memorial that was just unveiled on April 12 2012, honoring 117 people who died in this area from air crashes during WWII. Walking along to the dock, Hein had to stop for a fresh herring sandwich, but the boys settled on deep fried mussels.

Elly tried her hand at a sail raising competition. The problem was that they had weight the sail with an extra 20 kg weight to make it a challenge.

The boys got a chance to go out in a little sailboat and have a cruise around the harbour.

Our camera failed and Stephen had the other one in Italy, so here's some gratuitous Dutch cheese and swan photos instead!
There was a windmill in town that had been built in the 1700's and moved to this location in 1968. We were able to go right up inside it and see how everything worked on the inside. This windmill has previously been used to grind flour and also as a distillery for making liquor. It had a thatched roof and will all the wooden parts inside it is easy to see how windmills could catch fire with the friction of the parts and the heat produced by the brakes. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Stelvio!

There are many amazing climbs in the world of cycling, but the Stelvio (2,758 m, the highest pass in Italy) is definitely among the top 5 in the history of the sport. I was lucky enough to ride it during the PezCycling News 10th birthday party bash at the end of May, only 5 days after the Giro d'Italia finished Stage 20 atop it. There are 3 ways up  the Stelvio: 1) Bormio (1,225 m, the way we and also the Giro did), 2) Umbrail from Switzerland, and 3) Prato from 900 m.
The climb just goes on and on. It's 24 km or so of climbing from Bormio, including a few very narrow tunnels that have only recently been lit. There are 40 switchbacks too from this side, and 48 from Prato. From the Bormio side, it's never so incredibly hard that you're grovelling (although there's one stretch at 14%), but it's just relentless and gets really hard with minimal oxygen as you approach the summit!
We started in Bormio on a beautiful sunny and warm day, and it gradually got cooler and cooler as we ascended. Partway up, Rich and I found a part of the original road that was still roughly paved, so we figured it was a fun shortcut to take what we called the "Strade Fausto Coppi!"
On hard mountain stages, the directeur sportif in the car hand out water bottles to riders struggling at the back, and the pro cyclists are sometimes known to hang onto the bottle a bit longer than decent as the car continues to drive along, a trick known as a "sticky water bottle." So since pro rider Davide Vigano (Lampre-ISD) was driving Rich's rental car to the top, we figured it'd be fun to have a pro cyclist giving Rich a sticky bottle! On the right I'm enjoying the sun and the climb at one of the buildings on the climb.
Yes it's the last day of May, but there's still acres of snow near the summit. Indeed the pass usually only gets opened about this time each year.It's apparently snowing there now in mid-June! I'm about 1km to the summit on the left. Like Joaquin "Purito" Rodriguez, I tried an attack within 1 km to go but, unlike Purito, I blew up about 50 m later!
The Pez boys (Gord, Rich, me, Leslie) atop Stelvio with the route towards Prato behind us. Check out all the switchbacks! We drove up from Prato from Verona airport, and it's just dizzying. On the right is my beloved Ritchey BreakAway on the podium and monument dedicated to Fausto Coppi, "Il Campionissimo." The Ritchey has really served me so unbelievably well in all my travels, from the cobbles of Roubaix and Flanders to the epic climb of the Stelvio!
Of course, what goes up must usually come down too, and we had a blast of a descent down the Umbrail side to Switzerland. Wicked fun switchbacks and even 2 km on dirt roads. Here's Rich carving a turn. From the bottom, we continued to fly down this gradual downhill towards Prato, where we got picked up by Marco and the gang from Enjoy Garda hotel for the second half of our birthday party along Lago di Garda! Buonissimo!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Biking to the Beach

Approximately 7 km north from us is the town of Bunschoten-Spakenburg. It is a small town on what used to be the coast but because of land reclamation is now the southern bank of a "river" between the old land and the reclaimed area on the North. There is a beautiful old windmill and I am always impressed biking through the town how beautiful the houses are.

There is a small harbor with old fishing boats, and outside of town there is a small beach. We have biked to the beach twice now and the second time we rented kayaks and headed across the river to explore along the other side.
We'll be back with a later post on our visit to the cultural and fishing museum here in Spakenburg...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Anne Frank Huis

Since knowing we would be coming to The Netherlands, the Anne Frank House has been on our list of places to visit. This  museum is the actual warehouse and business in which Anne Frank and her family and 4 other Jews hid  during the Nazi occupation of Germany. The Secret Annex was in the back and upper part of the warehouse and business owned by Otto Frank. When they went into hiding there, they had written some letters to make it appear they were leaving the city. They were helped by Mr. Frank's business partner and employees.  Unfortunately, before the end of the war, they were betrayed and sent to concentration camps.  Otto Frank was the only one of the eight who survived the camps and returned.

During their time in hiding, Anne kept a diary, which she called Kitty. She had gotten the first diary on her 13th birthday shortly before they went into hiding. At first she was writing just for herself, but when she heard on the radio a request for written notes and diaries about the war, she started rewriting the diary and editing it with the view of submitting it for publication.  After their arrest, one of the helpers (Miep Gies, Otto's secretary) who was not arrested, collected up the pages from the Annex to save them for Anne. Unfortunately, she never came back from the concentration camp.  Her father, Otto Frank, decided to publish the diary but he merged her personal diary with the rewritten diary to come up with a third version.

The Diary of Anne Frank has been translated into many languages. It has become a story synonymous with WWII history, but much of it deals with the thoughts and feelings of a young, teenage girl. There was about a 40 minute wait to get into the museum and then a slow line following along the rooms. Photos are not permitted, but this is the bookcase they built to cover the entrance to the secret annex. The museum consists of the rooms of the warehouse and Secret Annex but without the furnishings, which Otto requested to symbolize the emptiness of the world from these lost lives. There were some personal articles on display and audio-visual presentations in the different rooms.  Some pages of Anne's actual diary were on display but no pictures were allowed due to preservation concerns.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ambling in Amsterdam

We have so far spent 2 days in Amsterdam - on the first day we went to the Nemo Science Centre (see Jacob's blog), the Van Gogh Museum, the National Museum (Rijksmuseum) and the Anne Frank house, and the second day we went to the Nemo again, the Maritime Museum and the Jewish Children's Museum.

Amsterdam is a great city to visit. All roads and trams seem to lead back to the Central Railway Station, there are lots of direction signs. The canals are lovely to walk along.

One great thing about the Netherlands is that you can buy a Museum card for a year that gives you unlimited entrance to many of the museums in the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum on the left).

For us, that is so much better than buying a city card and trying to cram in as many museums as possible in 2 or 3 days. Even better, it allowed us to skip the LONG line waiting at the Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately, it didn't help us with the big crowds inside. Lots of sightseeing still leads to pretty sleepy boys though!

Look for upcoming blogs on these individual museums...