Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tripping down Memory Lane: Netherlands Nostalgia

I’m sitting on platform 6 at the train station in Arnhem, Netherlands. Our train leaves in about an hour. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be at a hotel in Lund, Sweden which hopefully will have the Internet access lacking at our hotel in Beekbergen, Netherlands. We went out this morning and took photos of the various places we sat, using whatever unsecured wireless network we could find. Saturday night, driving back from dinner, I detected an unsecured network. There was a spot to pull off the road, so we did. Younger son left the car in search of a stronger signal, but the rest of us sat in the car, netbooks on laps, doing e-mail. That’s why I haven’t posted anything here about what we’ve been doing. The night I uploaded most of the photos for The Last of the Temples, my butt got mighty cold sitting on the pavement in front of a store that had closed for the evening.

It was an interesting five days in the Netherlands. As one might expect, some things have changed while others have stayed the same despite the passing of 19 years since we lived here for a year. The house we rented for that year, in the small town of Soest, looks much the same. The main street of town had expanded a bit. There were some new businesses, but some of the stores I used to frequent were still there. The toy store where we bought a couple of things that we still have, including one stuffed animal that older son wrote about in one of his college essays, looked much the same. The McDonalds we used to frequent was still there and still had an aviation theme to match its proximity to a museum of military aircraft. In terms of changes, the big one was that the hospital in which younger son was born was torn down in 2000. Here’s what it looked like when we used it; I took this photograph off the information board that now stands on the site of the hospital. Here’s what it looks like today. In the US, we probably would have (a) renovated the hospital to use it for some other purpose (this is a topic of discussion at home right now as one of the two hospitals in Charlottesville prepares to move into a new facility outside of town) or (b) torn it down and replaced it with another large building. Ziekenhuis Zonnegloren (Sunrise Hospital, if I remember the translation correctly) now shows up on maps as Zonnegloren, a nature preserve. We hiked partway around one of the trails, and the place is truly amazing. They are even working on restoring a large area of sand dunes.
Besides exploring the old hometown, we went to two places that older son remembered or remembered having been told about. The first was Apenheul, an open-air primate zoo. The first time we went there in 1989, I was pregnant with younger son and exuding some sort of pheromones that the spider monkeys found irresistible. People were taking pictures of me with all sorts of monkeys attached to my head, my backpack, my arms, my legs, all over. When we went back after younger son had been born, they ignored me totally. In the 19 years since then, they have had various problems with the small monkeys stealing items from visitors’ bags. Today, they use squirt guns filled with water to train the small monkeys not to get on visitors. They still come pretty close to you, though. All of the above were basically right there with visitors. And despite the fact that they are trained not to interact with visitors, they sometimes do. One of the type shown in the last photo above jumped into and then out of my lap while playing with another monkey. It happened very quickly, but it gave me the distinction of being the family member with up close and personal interaction with monkeys on two of our three visits to Apenheul.

The larger apes and gorillas are kept on islands, very visible to visitors while at the same time at a safe distance. There were orangutans. There were gorillas, several with babies. There was also the alpha male gorilla. The young human primates also found some of the children’s attractions quite enjoyable. It’s good to know that your kids are still young at heart.
The other place that older son claimed to remember was Madurodam, a replica Dutch “town” built on a precise 1/25 scale, and located in the suburbs of The Hague. Older son remembered “feeling like a giant” at some place we visited during our year in the Netherlands, and this had to be it. Here’s an example. Looks like a large office building, right? Wrong! Madurodam is constructed to convey information about Dutch history and architecture. For example, this is a “body farm.” The smaller building is the head, the narrow hallway is the neck, and the larger barn is the body. It’s not exactly the type of “body farm” we think of in the States. Here are some other shots, some of which show that everything is small and some of which don’t. Here’s the Alkmaar cheese market. Probably the simplest way to describe this next shot is to say that it’s Amsterdam’s monument to the Gay Pride movement, though in Dutch its name is the Homo-monument. There’s the Rijksmuseum complete with Rembrandt’s “Night Watch.” Below, the building to the right of the one with the red shutters is the Anne Frank House. The only thing they forgot to include is the line of visitors which often stretches down the street and around the block. This is one of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions, as well it should be. We went through it on my first day in the Netherlands in 1989, and it is a very sobering experience.

Finally, there’s even the Red Light District, though I have no idea why there’s a Star of David on the door here.
Driving around the Netherlands, the first thing that comes to mind (well, my mind anyway) is the reliance here on alternative energy sources. There’s a very large wind farm on the coast of the country, but even in the interior you can’t drive or ride on a train for long without seeing a windmill of the power rather than traditional Dutch variety. These three were right along the interstate-equivalent road that we took to get the The Hague.
The other thing we did in the Netherlands was spend half a day in Amsterdam. We went on the obligatory canal cruise. Among the attractions you see is the world’s largest floating Chinese-Indonesian restaurant. It can seat over 900 patrons at a time. You see houseboats. This is not the most elaborate one we saw by any means. You see the narrow canal houses; they’re narrow because properties were taxed according to the width of the building along the street. Interestingly, the other place we saw this was in Hanoi. The “stick” you see jutting out from the top of each house is there to raise large objects that don’t fit up the narrow, back-and-forth staircases inside. Parking along the canals can be tricky. This photo, for example, fails to convey that the rear wheels of the middle car are almost perfectly aligned with the edge of the canal wall. Finally in terms of the canal cruise, I took this shot solely because the reds caught my eye.
We also visited two museums, the Hemp and Marijuana Museum and the Torture Museum. The Torture Museum was so dark inside that I took only one photo, that of a sign on top of the platform beneath the guillotine.
The lighting in one part of the Hemp Museum, while not entirely conducive to photography, was conducive to growing weed. In case you don’t already know, pot is legal in the Netherlands under certain conditions, but the folks who run the museum know that it’s not legal most other places and have the legal disclaimer posted throughout the museum. They also offer samples, which are free though tips are accepted. If you ask me off the blog which family member(s) chose to partake of the free samples, I’ll probably tell you. I just won’t post it here. Since pot is legal here, there are stores selling seeds. This one is run by the same folks who run the museum. This is one of the coffeeshops at which you can request the menu they keep under the counter that lists the types of marijuana they offer.
And speaking of businesses, can you imagine a condom store in your town? We saw the condom shop as we were walking through the Red Light District. Photos of the non-shop sort of business are strongly discouraged there, so this is all you’ll see of our walk through there.

Amsterdam's Dam Square always offers something unusual. On the day we were there, it was costumed figures with whom you could pose for a photo. Darth Vader and Batman were there along with a gorilla and some sort of robot.
Finally, UVa and UvA are not the same. UVa is the University of Virginia, while UvA is the Universitiet van Amsterdam. It was more crowded than I expected in Amsterdam given the season, though we were there on a Sunday afternoon. The sons were not that impressed with Amsterdam saying that “it was just a city, though it did have whores and weed.” I’m not sure that Amsterdam would want to adopt that as a city motto, but it is pretty descriptive.

Other things that hadn’t changed much in the Netherlands included the Dutch reliance on schedules. If you want to eat a late lunch, say at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, good luck finding a café that is open. Lunch extends to about 1:30, but that’s it. “Convenience stores” are those open seven days a week, though they may close at 7:00 at night. The bicycle parking lot at a Dutch train station still rivals the bicycle parking lot at a Hue University dorm. The Dutch people still downplay their skill at English, responding, “a bit” or “a little” if you ask fi they speak English, after which they carry on a perfectly understandable, near-fluent conversation with you in English.

It’s now morning, and the train is chugging through Denmark. We’ll be in Copenhagen in a bit more than an hour. We decided to bypass doing anything in Copenhagen and will head directly on to Sweden. The husband is giving a talk at the University of Lund tomorrow and needs some time to prepare. The sons and I are hoping for wireless so that we can check e-mail and update blogs. If you read this, you’ll know we were successful. The next step will be 22 hours on four different trains, going from Malmo, Sweden, to Trondheim, Norway. There, we expect to visit the mountain house of Blaine’s second cousins as well as the “home place” that gave the Norum family its surname. Thanks to Blaine’s cousin, I have an appointment for my next shot of rabies vaccine, meaning that I won’t have to walk into a new hospital and start explaining about having been bitten by a dog in Cambodia. Our final event in Trondheim will be the joint concert by the Frank-Zappa-less Mothers of Invention and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra. The day after that, it will be Oslo and the Viking Ship Museum (among others). In less than two weeks, the husband and I will be home. It’s been a great trip. As one of the sons said at lunch the other day, “You’ve got a lot for the Christmas letter this year, Mom,” to which the other son added, “And it’s only April.” I’ll be honest and admit that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

And don’t think the above is a farewell in terms of this blog. The Internet gods willing, I’ll continue to post a bit about where we go and what we do in Norway, so check back from time to time over the next two weeks to see what you might see here. In the meantime, as the Dutch say, tot ziens!


VA said...

The contrast between East and West is definitely being observed and experienced by the entire family!
Perhaps the sons are just jaded now! But I doubt it. What if you your trip had been reversed?
Enjoy the Northland! A fitting "topoff" to your fantastic voyage!

Karen said...

Your pictures took me down memory lane. Was there in 1978 and I must admit, brought back some very fond memories!

Anonymous said...

I just spent an hour on google and google.maps trying to find Zonnegloren Hospital in Soest. I happened upon your blog and now I know why I can't find it! My son also was born there when we lived there back in the 80's. We are planning a trip back to Holland soon and wanted to show him where he came into the world. Guess it's been taken over by the apes! Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to our return visit to Nederland.

Leanne said...

It was so fun to read your story about your return visit to Holland! We lived in Soest for three years while my husband was in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Camp New Amsterdam at Soesterberg Air Base. Both of our children were born in Holland, and our daughter was born at Zonnegloren. No wonder I could not find the hospital on Google! We are very fond of Holland and have wonderful memories!