Exploring Paulliac and the Medoc wine areas

The little girl among the wild flowers

The little girl among the wild flowers

The wines of Paulliac came highly recommended from the marquis of the chateau where we stayed in Alencon. Since it was our first time to be in the area, we had no clue as to what can be expected. We were pleasantly surprised during the drive to Paulliac as we passed through scenic vineyards, lovely wine chateaus and fields of wild blooms.

Paulliac lies on the banks of the Gironde estuary and it could this crucial geographical location and geological phenomenon that account for the special quality of red wines from this area.

We took our time savoring a lovely lunch of seafoods in one of the many nice restaurants along the harbor. On the way back, we stop by a lovely wine chateau along the way and just took our time to savor the blissful atmosphere under the blue skies. We also made a short stop at a field of wild blooms and really had a great time savoring nature’s incredible ability to create beauty that pleases the senses.

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

Paulliac

Paulliac

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Seafood lunch

Seafood lunch

The harbor of Paulliac

The harbor of Paulliac

The Gironde Estuary - it's mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

The Gironde Estuary – it’s mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

Our family

Our family

She's one little comic

She’s one little comic

Also a good tattoo artist

Also a good tattoo artist

And an acrobat

And an acrobat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Paulliac

Paulliac

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Prized grapes

Prized grapes

Vineyards

Vineyards

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

A little girl in the vineyard

A little girl in the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

Can't resist to do flower-picking

Can’t resist to do flower-picking

My little girl among wild blooms

My little girl among wild blooms

Flower girl

Flower girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Our family

Our family

Flower girl

Flower girl

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

Wines and macaroons in Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

France is simply one country which has everything for any traveler. To those who love the water, there is the cold Atlantic coast on the west side and the balmy Mediterranean in the south. Height lovers can go for either the Alps or the Pyrenees, those who love the cosmopolitan life had choices of Paris or the Riviera and those who love the tranquil life in the countryside had plenty of choices too. Vineyards, orchards, gardens, lavender fields, flower fields are endless and so are the chateaus and manors.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely town of Saint-Emilion. Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Saint-Emilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins. About 32 kilometers northeast of Bordeaux, it is a very popular tourist destination because aside from having that step back in time, it is also famous for its red wines and macaroons.

The drive to Saint-Emilion was a very pleasant experience, passing through gentle hills of vineyards and bewitching sunflower fields. Parking was quite a challenge in this small town but despite a bit of a walk from the parking to the town centre, we enjoyed the stroll through its narrow streets that seemed as old as time.

We did not have a fix agenda of things to do so we had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the foot of the hill leading to the King’s Castle Keep. Nothing fancy, we had the “plat du jour” on offer which consisted of a salad, main course and dessert. French meal never disappoint for even in their simplest, they are still top notch.

After lunch, we were off to do the sightseeing bit with hubby and daughter opting to climb the King’s Castle Keep which with its 118 steps was quite something for the little girl. She was so proud of this accomplishment.

Before leaving town, I made sure to get myself a dozen of various flavored macaroons. While Laduree is being extolled in Paris as the mecca for macaroons, Saint-Emilion is said to be the birth place of this simple almond biscuit when they were first made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who resided in the village.

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

One of the many wine cellars

One of the many wine cellars

The road leading to "The King's Castle's Keep"

The road leading to “The King’s Castle’s Keep”

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbing the King's Castle Keep

Father and daughter climbing the King’s Castle Keep

Our family

Our family

Sunflower fields along the way

Sunflower fields along the way

Vineyards

Vineyards

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Salad

Salad

Entrecote steak with fries

Entrecote steak with fries

Main course of the plat du jour

Main course of the plat du jour

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Ice cream dessert

Ice cream dessert

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

Church interior

Church interior

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

Narrow street

Narrow street

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Museum

Museum

My little girl

My little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Raspberry macaroons

Raspberry macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Rose macaroons

Rose macaroons

Fishery Day Observance in Spakenburg

Spakenburg wooden boats and fish catch ready for smoking

Don’t we oftentimes look far beyond the horizon for many exciting things to see and miss what is right under our noses?

This would seem the case with me for having been to other places to witness interesting cultural phenomena and overlooked what was simply amazing in a place that is even just cycling distance from home.

On this post, let me take you to Spakenburg, a fishing village which to this day still clings to age-old traditions and way of life. Many of its older generation of women for instance, still go about their daily lives wearing traditional costumes. Sundays are still strictly observed as day of obligation to the Lord so apart from going to church three times, all establishments are closed for business and typical Sunday activities like football games are forbidden.

Considering that we’ve lived here in Amersfoort for almost seven years, I was never aware of the Fishery Day observance in nearby Spakenburg. Thanks to a tip from our friend Tammy, we were finally able to witness this wonderful spectacle last 1st of September (Fishery Day is every first Saturday of September so we learned).  Wooden fishing boats had the sails on their masts raised and the local men, women and children were dressed in traditional costumes. (Normally only the older Spakenburg women wear the traditional costume on daily basis.) Every aspect of the traditional way of life here was out in the open and it was amazing to see how this village is able to keep the traditions alive and well to this very day.

Raised sails on the wooden masts

The mayor and the women of Spakenburg

Laundry-drying

Thick woolen socks that go well with the wooden clogs “klompen”

The dry dock at the harbor

Spakenburg women

Francesca and me with the Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg children

Spakenburg girl

Fish auction house

Father and daughter with smoked mackerel bought at the auction

Smoking of fish is a traditional way of preserving them in the old days but is still very much in practice to this day

My little girl playing with the fish net

Spankenburg ladies and Spakenburg textiles

The traditional way of cleaning raw herring – head is removed as well as the bones then eaten with chopped onions and pickles

Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg

Pentecost weekend camping and castle hunting

The Nijenhuis Castle

I take a bit of a break from my Tuscany series and bring back a bit of Dutch flavor to my post.

Two weekends ago, we had this long weekend due to the observance of Pentecost. The Dutch may not be that religious but there are a few Church holidays where an extra day of holiday is observed the following day such as Christmas (Second Christmas Day), Easter (Second Easter Day) and Pentecost (Second Pentecost Day).

The Pentecost weekend had the best weather we ever saw this year with summery temperature that hit beyond 30 degrees Celsius. After the wet, grey and chilly spring, we were just so glad to finally be able to get rid of our coats and wear light clothing and to be able to enjoy sunshine to our hearts’ content. We opted to go camping and put to test the new tent which we were pretty curious to check out. Our old tent suffered irreparable from the mistral last year when we camped in the South of France.

We camped in Heidepark, Lemelerveld which was about an hour’s drive from our place. No special reason to choosing this camping place except that it was a good distance away from home and that there was also a pool which the little girl was so excited about.

I love combining such an adventure with castle hunting and in this country, it is not impossible to find a castle that is within easy reach. The Nijenhuis Castle proved to be a good choice because it had a wonderful sculpture garden and amazing collection of contemporary Dutch art as well. The sculpture garden was a big hit with the little girl who found it a wonderful place to explore and simply perfect for hide-and-seek.

Father and daughter outside our tent

Improvised skipping rope game

Playground at the camping site

This rabbit from another tent charmed her straight away

The rabbit and the little girl

This little girl braved the chilly waters of this unheated pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Cold…brrrr….

The Nijenhuis Castle

Another angle of the castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The little girl enjoyed picking the little white daisies to make little bouquets

The little girl and the castle

The sculpture garden… the little girl and me were fascinated by the strange guy with the long moustache which was groomed in a very peculiar way

Father and daughter

Me behind the camera

Me and my little girl

Our family

Artwork at the sculpture garden turned plaything for the little girl

Perfect for climbing

The sculpture garden with the well-known piece of Queen Wilhelmina (grandmother of Queen Beatrix) in the distance

Our family

Our family

The little girl spent so much time coming up with leis made from flowers and twigs

Perfect place for running around and hide-and-seek

Rhododendrons in full bloom at the castle grounds

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendrons

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Lunch of tomato soup

and freshly baked breads

Tulips (part 4)

April is about to draw to a close but this month which used to be in recent years the nicest time in spring has been for the most part wet, cold and grey. I still can’t say “Adieu” to my winter coat with the temperature still too cold and oftentimes unpredictable. Still, spring is inching its way forward but I haven’t really managed to take new pictures.

Here are spring pictures from last year, a continuation of my Tulips series.

My little girl’s fourth foray into the flower fields (Spring 2011)

Ask a typical Dutchman if he/she have pictures in the flower fields and you will get that bewildered look. It is also against their “principle” to go to Keukenhof which they say is just meant for tourists.

My husband never really cared about the flower fields nor ever been to Keukenhof before we met. It was like, “Why would I go to Keukenhof or why would I have my pictures taken in the midst of the flower fields?”. Being in the midst of flower fields or standing in front of the windmills are simply the most uncool things to the Dutch, especially the younger generations. They prefer to travel abroad and have their pictures taken in the most exotic locations. Don’t get me wrong there. I was the same, wondering when I was still in the Philippines and my husband (then still the boyfriend) wanted to have our pictures in the middle of rice fields or his pictures on top of the jeepney or among coconut trees.

Human nature I should say… We take for granted those things or places which are familiar and ordinary and we give more importance to those which we do not have or are unusual.

These days, we appreciate what is within reach, what is right before our very eyes. Our daughter provides us with a different perspective in looking at things through her young eyes. She shows appreciation and enthusiasm in everything around her. We hope that she will continue appreciating nature and its beauty and the many simple things in life.

These pictures were taken last year in the area around Zeewolde. We were on our way home after spending a lovely weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten when we took a different road (a secondary road as opposed to the usual highway that we take) and saw these fields of tulips. It was already late in the afternoon but with the nice weather, we were seduced to have this photo session with our little girl.

Our family

Afternoon sun

Father and daughter playing the statue game

Pink tulips

Papa's girl

Among the red tulips

Me and my little girl

Among the white tulips

Playful pose

I got the odd one out!

Playful pose

Tulip fields

My little girl and me

Our family

Hurrah!

White tulips in the afternoon sun

Can I pick some flowers????

Let's hide from Mama!!!

The afternoon sun

White tulips

The apple did not fall off far from the tree -- A picture of us taken by Francesca

Setting sun

Mama, can you see me????

Our family

Yet another castle on one fine spring day

Rosendael Castle

There are times in life when our plans take a different turn and yield surprises beyond our expectations. A few weeks ago, we went to the Veluwe intent on exploring Biljoen Castle but that turned out to be off-limits to the public. Instead, we discovered a nature reserve nearby and was pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the landscape and can hardly wait to be back when the season of heather goes full swing.

On the way back home, we took a different route and discovered a very nice hilly hairpin road which is pretty unusual in this very flat country whose great part is even below sea level. That drive led us to discover yet another hidden beauty in the Veluwe forest — the lovely Medieval Rosendael Castle. Being the castle freak that I am, I was right away captivated by the lovely sight in front of me. Too bad that it was already getting late and the little girl after all the playing in the nature reserve fell asleep in the car. I just went by myself to take a few pictures, intent to come back another time. The castle was anyway closed till end-March so I did not feel so bad that I have missed on a lovely visit. All the more reason to return…

I was charmed too by the crocuses in full bloom and the busy bees.

A lion statue at the castle's entrance

Rosendael Castle in the distance

Rosendael Castle

View of the village houses from the castle's park

Rosendael Castle

One of the buildings in the castle's grounds

Rosendael Castle

A thatched house that is pretty common in the area

Yet another thatched house

A white crocus and its visitor

Busy bees

Dainty white crocuses

Purple crocus and its visitor

Saw this horse-drawn carriage just as we were leaving...

More on Keukenhof and its surprises (April 2011)

Francesca and the little lamb

Beyond the bewitching spring blooms, we were surprised to stumble upon the little animal farm inside Keukenhof to entertain the kids. There were turkeys, pigs, sheeps, lambs, a calf and some rabbits. Though a bit hesitant at first, Francesca enjoyed petting the lambs and the little calf.

Here are more pictures from Keukenhof. There was just so much beauty that I can’t resist taking so many pictures. ;-)

Chasing birds

Daffodils

With a Japanese lady in traditional costume

Enjoying a lolly by the fountain

Reds and yellows

Father and daughter admiring the fountains

The beauty of rain

Geraniums in the rain

We can plan our lives in careful details, at times down to every bend and turn. We want that perfect holiday with sunshine and blue sky but what if we get the exact opposite?

On a holiday to Austria way back in early June 2009, that was exactly what happened to us. Instead of the beautiful alps where Maria from the Sound of Music is singing “Doe a deer” with the Von Trapp children, we arrived to a gloomy Salzburg and the mountains were hardly visible from the mist. The weather forecast was very discouraging too, cold and wet in the many days to come.

Instead of staying in our tent as we have booked an already assembled tent and we just needed to step in, we had to stay in the camp apartment for a week in our 2-week holiday because of the sheer cold and dampness inside the tent. Going around was in most cases, dampened by the not so cooperative summer weather of rain and more rain.

This holiday…not turning out the way I envisioned actually gave me an altogether different perspective. I learned to appreciate the rain and its nurturing role in the environment. I learned to appreciate that in life, our plans may not always work out the way we wanted but we can always make the most out of it.

An inspiration for jewellers

A rain-soaked daisy

A moth caught in the rain

Edelweiss

Rain-soaked flowers

Butterfly

Edelweiss

Chasing royal footprints at Paleis Soestdijk (Soestdijk Palace)

Paleis Soestdijk

The palace from the other side of the lake

Last Friday at noontime, we waited in bated breath for the news conference by the surgeons of the University Hospital Innsbruck to learn about the condition of Prince Johan Friso, the second of the three sons of Queen Beatrix. A week before the news conference, Prince Friso has been buried in an avalanche while skiing off-piste in Lech together with a childhood friend (the son of the owner of the posh Gasthof Post where the royal family has been staying for about 50 years of skiing in Austria). It was said in the news that he was not wearing the safety vest and that it took about 20 minutes to find and dug him out of the snow. From that time onwards, we did not have any news except that he is in critical but stable condition.

The news conference brought out the most feared prognosis on everyone’s mind. The prince who lay in coma may never regain consciousness again. The brain damage was just so severe due to lack of oxygen from the 20 minutes that he was buried in the snow and the further 50 minutes it took to resuscitate him. The doctors hoped that the mild hypothermia might have prevented that brain damage but that was not the case. A grim news to everyone and extremely much more to his mother, his wife, 2 little daughters and his brothers and their families.

Life is so fragile and happiness can be clipped in an instant. Here is a young and smart guy (he’s got MSc in Aerospace Engineering from TU Delft, who has the world at his feet and in an instant, everything has been transformed in such a nightmarish tragedy. I feel so sorry for his mother who I actually met in person last November at an affair in my former school. She attended the conference where President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali gave a lecture on the democratization process in his country and in Africa. I was standing close to the queen in the ensuing cocktail reception and much to my surprise, we were sipping the same wine and eating the same snacks. She was not a snob, much to my amazement as she listened patiently and chatted animately with the MA students who were also in attendance.

So much for my sad news, I bring you one lovely place where we normally go for our Sunday walks especially in spring. We happen to live a mere 15-minutes away from this simple royal palace with a lovely garden.

A royal palace that used to be the residence of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard (parents of the reigning monarch, Queen Beatrix), Soestdijk reverted to state ownership and was transformed into a museum after the death of Prince Bernard a few years ago (Princess Juliana died a few years before him).

This is a very simple palace (we’ve made a tour of its interior in 2009), testament to the simple taste of Princess Juliana in her lifetime. A place full of happy memories as this was the place where she raised her 4 daughters, received foreign heads of states as well as the Dutch people who came in droves to greet her on her birthday on the 30th of April with her husband, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Happy occasions in the family were also celebrated here like the engagement of her daughters.

Late spring is the best time to be here at Soestdijk. On this visit almost 2 springtimes ago (May 2010), the weather was fantastic and the various types of rhododendrons were in full bloom.

Francesca had a great time today running around, doing her imaginary fishing and simply smelling the flowers. I love the sight of the lake lined by those rhododendrons of various colors. After a good walk through the palace grounds, I always enjoy a cup of cappuccino and some piece of cake at the Orangerie.

the lake

The enthusiastic little fisher and her father

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons

Ferns

The bridge

Red birch tree

Father and daughter

The chasing game

The little girl and the big tree

Orange rhododendron

Nature coming back to life

The fountain

One of the few sculptures inside the palace grounds

Trees coming back to life in spring

Father and daughter

Palace grounds

The little girl can be happy with just twigs

Father and daughter

The little girl and the palace

Palace grounds

Rhododendrons

Lilac rhododendrons

The Orangerie

An insect at work

The patient fisher

Yellow rhododendrons

Rhododendrons in full bloom

The little flower picker

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Me and my little girl

Paleis Soestdijk

El Nido, our little paradise on earth

El Nido at dusk

With the snow and ice gone, this last bit of winter is just such a drag. There is still more than a month to go before the official start of spring but I can hardly wait to move on into the new season. Even my little girl is already longing for the time when she can go outside and pluck some flowers because at the moment, there is hardly anything of color anymore.

The weather is not helping either to cheer me up. Today it is wet, windy, cold and grey. Thus, I am going down memory lane to a wonderful holiday we had way back in 2006 in the Philippines. This particular place is called El Nido (or the nest) in Palawan and is so-called because of the limestone cliffs that are so typical in this area which are home to a special type of swift, the cave swift that are renowned for building the saliva nests used for the Chinese bird’s nest soup.

This place is special to me and the Mr. because this is where our love story started with a coincidental meeting on its shores over 15 years ago. We call this place our own little paradise for being here is like no other from the wonderful things to see — beautiful uninhabited islands, pristine beaches, scenic limestone cliffs to amazing things to do — island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving or simply relaxing on the beach listening to the gentle to and fro sway of the waves on the shores and the chirping of the birds and crickets in the trees (or at times being pelted with fruit stones by monkeys who do not like intruders). Add to that the pleasantly warm weather, the friendly people and the relaxed if not lazy pace of life which is a comforting interlude from the busy lives we lead back here in the west.

We enjoyed our almost one week stay in this paradise…island-hopping every day and having our simple meals by the beach. Though I have this fear of the deep water, I was caught up in the magic of snorkeling, oftentimes forgetting the time while observing the amazing world beneath the waters…schools of colorful fishes, beautiful corals, sea turtles, clams, and many more.

My husband when he first came to the Philippines has really made it his goal to see El Nido because Jacques Cousteau has remarked that it was the most beautiful place he ever explored. He described El Nido as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.

I miss El Nido and I look forward to returning one day…that time with the three of us. I am sure that our little girl will in a heartbeat get fascinated by these islands and its limitless charm.

US on one of the many uninhabited islands

Early morning on the shores of El Nido town

El Nido at dusk

Island scene -- pristine beach, wild plants and flowers

Typical feature of the islands - white beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Coconut trees

Mangroves

White sandy beach, coconut trees and limestone cliffs

Sea shell

a local fruit (not sure if edible)

Limestone cliff

Approaching an uninhabited island

Limestone cliff island

A local flower

Coconut trees

Wild orchids growing abundantly on the limestones

Fruit-laden coconut tree

A local plant

a lovely shell

Sea shell

Coconut trees along the beach

The limestone cliff up close

This monkey was maybe not happy with intruders to his world - he kept on pelting us with fruit stones ;-)

Lazy pace of life in the islands

An uninhabited island

The Dutch and ice-skating: Why the passion?

The Netherlands is at the moment in an ice skating frenzy. Every canal, shallow lake and river which has frozen from days of sustained sub-zero temperature are venues for ice skating. Some places are holding ice skating races and a colleague of mine told me that there was even an ice disco at her parents’ place in Almere. We even came close to having the almost mythical “Elfstedentoch”, that almost 200 kms. ice skating tour/race that spans 11 cities up north in the province of Friesland. The whole country waited in bated breath for the decision of the Vereniging Elfstedentoch (Eleven Cities’ Tour Committee) last Wednesday if the tour will push through (the 16th in its history which dates back to 1909 and the first this century). Even foreign members of the press descended in Friesland to cover this event and were also betting for a GO on the Elfstedentoch which is hailed as the creme de la creme, the tour of all tours and the race of all races in outdoor skating event not just in The Netherlands but in the whole of Europe.

Frozen canal across the road from our home

The little girl getting her beginner's skates on

Baby steps to mastering the ice

The country got caught up in maelstorm of emotions that it will have its 16th Elfstedentoch this winter when the oftentimes very reserved and sceptical Vereniging Elfstendentoch had its first meeting earlier in the week. Then a contingent of 50-man army members were sent to Friesland to prepare part of the route, clearing the ice of snow so that the sub-zero freeze will still enable the ice cover to further grow especially at night. The Friesians also rallied to the challenge, mobilizing everyone to do their share in clearing up the ice of snow cover either by hand or with the aid of some ice-clearing machine. The committee requires that the average ice thickness to be a minimum of 15 cm. in the entire route in order to be safe to accommodate 16,000 skaters (not including the enthusiastic public who also step into the ice to cheer the participants). With all the news focused on economic troubles across Europe these days, the idea of Elfstedentoch was a much welcomed diversion. Hotel rooms in Friesland suddenly became overbooked and overpriced. The Dutch Railways (Nationale Spoor) was offering special tickets to Leeuwarden (the capital of Friesland) with 40% discount. In every nook and corner of the country the talk was only about the Elfstedentoch.

I was one of the millions who waited in bated breath for the press conference of the committee last Wednesday. And I was one of the millions who felt disappointment and sadness afterwards. The committee after consulting all the ice masters (Rayonhoofden) decided against holding the Elfstedentoch due to weak spots in some areas where the ice thickness did not meet the minimum standard. Some places have just around 10-12 cm. which was deemed to be not sufficient enough for a large contingent of skaters. The weather forecast also showed that the worst of freezing is over and the coming days were not going to result in more ice growth. The ever enthusiastic skaters asked that the minimum standard of 15 cm. be lowered (ice skating is already OK at 8 cm.) but the committee was adamant to keep it, justifying that it was already a reduced one from the original 18 cm. in the earlier races in. Again, this shows the Dutch pragmatism who will not be swayed by emotions that were hitting the roof for a go on Elfstedentoch for no one want to have on their plates the blame in case something untoward happens.

Never mind if the Elfstedentoch is not pushing through, the Dutch en masse are still off with their skating shoes and that will stay till the ice start melting. The training and passion start early and that is for my daughter as well who actually surprised us this Friday when on her third time on the ice (2 other times were in the ice skating rink after Christmas), she just took off walking quite some distance without falling. She has conquered her fear and found her balance on the ice. I know that just like with walking and other phases in her life, it will only go from strength to strength from here onwards.

Finding her balance and conquering her fear...this little girl is catching the ice skating fever

Finding her balance on ice

Baby steps to mastering the ice...papa still in the background

Baby steps to mastering the ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

There were other kids also getting their introductory lessons on ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

Learning the tricks of ice skating


Falling on ice is part of the learning process

Baby steps

Teens hit the ice right after school

Birds contend with a very small unfrozen area under the bridge

This bird with its spread-out wings caught my attention


To explain the Dutch passion for ice skating is to take a deeper look at the country’s geography, geology and history. Two-thirds of The Netherlands lie below sea level. I remember that as a child when I was presented this fact, I found it extremely difficult to imagine. How can the country not be overwhelmed by water when the sea water level is higher? In the Philippines, the land is never below sea level but we still get inundated by flood waters on almost a regular basis. Why is it different in The Netherlands. Then came the story about the dike that protect a village against the water and how this one little boy stuck his finger in a small leak in the dike which made him a hero.

The Dutch can be considered as among the most ingenious of people in the world for having mastered living in this condition of most of its land being below sea level. They created dikes and levees. They even reclaimed land from the sea. How did they do it? The Dutch since centuries ago learned to pump the water from low-lying areas with the use of windmills and channel them to a series of canals. The canals then channel the water to the rivers which would eventually empty into the North Sea. That’s the reason why The Netherlands has many canals and how swampy places like Amsterdam for instance, became a habitable place and was used as inspiration by Peter the Great of Russia to create St. Petersburg.

These canals would get frozen in winter especially when the sub-zero freeze goes on for a sustained period of time. I guess it is because of these conditions that the Dutch became very passionate with ice skating and the history goes to as far as the 14th century when they started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater’s shoes with leader straps. Poles were attached to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double edge blade, making the poles a thing of the past as the skater could now push and glide with his feet (called the “Dutch Roll”).

While the Elfstedentoch is a “No Go” for now, the hope that it can still push through has not completely waned. THe temperature will warm up beginning end of Sunday till most of the week but by end of next week, there is a second freeze expected. Who knows, it might still happen…let’s keep our fingers crossed for now.

More pictures here:

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Fun in the snow starts


There’s nothing more fun for children in winter than to be able to play in the snow. After almost giving up that winter will ever put in a real appearance this year, the cold snap from the high pressures emanating from Russia and the Atlantic finally brought us the much awaited winter wonderland. Snow fell generously last Friday that finally there was enough coating to be able to enjoy real winter fun.



We live along the dike or actually more of a sound wall that acts as barrier to the noise coming from the A1 highway. This unique location means that we have this little inclined area which from spring to summer is a patch of green dotted with wild blooms and now in winter is one fun area for downhill sleighing.





We were out to enjoy the much awaited snowfall. Francesca got both the old-fashioned wooded sled and a plastic one. Of course, fun in the snow is not complete without friends to play with so we checked on her friends (Luuk and Job) if they were around and luckily they were. What a lot of fun it was as they glided downhill on Francesca’s plastic sled over and over again till they were cold, wet and hungry. I made some sausage rolls which they devoured in no time.

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Bicol express: one spicy Philippine dish named after a train service

A cold snap is currently chilling Europe these days and the mercury has dropped and stayed at sub-zero levels in the last couple of days. At times like these, there is nothing that I like more than to eat something hot and spicy, something familiar. What came to mind was a very special dish from the Philippines (my home country) and specifically from the region where I come from, Bicol. This dish is called “Bicol Express”, coined from the train service that runs from Manila to the Bicol region. What makes this dish special even in the Philippines is its spiciness and use of coconut milk because in general, Philippine dishes are not spicy but lean more to the Spanish influence due to the ties with Spain which colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Bicol Express


When I first came to Holland, I didn’t know that making this dish will be a big thing to my in-laws, friends and colleagues. I made it for myself then for comfort especially when I start to pine for things back home. After introducing it to the people here, it became the most anticipated dish whenever we had gatherings.

The dish is simple and had very few ingredients which in many ways, make its taste pure compared to spicy curries for instance.

For this dish, I used the following ingredients:

700 grams pork belly cut in cubes
2 tin cans of coconut milk (I would have used coconut cream but didn’t have that on hand)
6 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
6 pieces long chillies, sliced
freshly ground pepper
Salted tiny shrimps (This provides the special flavor and if not available, can be substituted by shrimp paste but salt should be added.)

The chillies used for the Bicol Express


The ingredients: pork, chillies, garlic, onion, coconut milk, salted tiny shrimp

Cooking instructions:

Sautee the garlic and onion

Add the pork meat

Add the coconut milk

Let the stew simmer for a while

Add the salted tiny shrimps, check the taste as this is the seasoning used. No need to add salt.

When the dish is almost done, add the chillies

Let it cook for a short while

The Bicol Express

Serve with steamed/boiled white rice and some vegetable (boiled broad beans in this case)

The Dutch Approach to Sex Education

I’ve been toying for sometime to write about this topic because I know that this is one relevant issue that confronts parents, children and the society as a whole. With population growth exploding especially in developing countries and the pressure on precarious natural resources mounting, there is a big need to address the issues on sex, population growth, and the dire economic consequences if we keep on with the status quo.

I come from the Philippines, the only Catholic country in the far east where the view on sex compared to The Netherlands where I now live is like night and day. Sex is something that is talked about in hush-hush tones and contraceptives are such a no-no especially if the very influential Catholic Church will have its way. They even threatened to excommunicate the president of the country for showing favor to the pending bill in Congress on Reproductive Health which will promote responsible sex and use of contraceptives.

Condoms and the pill


The Dutch approach is completely the opposite. Sex is a non-issue and is tackled just like any normal physiological activity of the human body. It is not sensationalized or attached with malice like the way it would be in the Philippines so it does not become a “forbidden fruit” for which everyone then becomes tempted to pick.

Sometime ago, I remember a conversation I had with an aunt of my husband. Being from the old school, she was peeved to learn that her 10-year old granddaughter (as well as the classmates) were to bring bananas to school because the lesson will be a demonstration on how to apply the condom. Such a generation gap! Her daughter (my husband’s cousin) found it funny that her mother was overreacting. In the Dutch academic curricular, lessons on the human body and its parts are given at six. Kids are being made aware of their body and how to take care of themselves at such a young age and what other people can or cannot do with them. That awareness also helps them from not being abused or taken advantaged of. I see nothing wrong here. Information and knowledge are power. Most cases of child abuse happen because children being innocent, are not aware of what are acceptable and not acceptable to behaviors of adults around them so abuses can oftentimes go on for years because adults with moral ascendancy over them perpetuate ignorance and fear.

Awareness of sex and contraceptives do not make children promiscous as contrary to the arguments put forward by people who oppose the idea of introducing sex education. The opposite is even true where repression of any talks about sex and educating the youth about this all but natural human physiological activity make them more curious to experiment which oftentimes lead to unfavorable outcome. In this day and age where access to internet is a common thing, it is so easy to just google the subject of sex. The thing is that if we do a search on the topic of sex, internet leads us to unsavory porn sites and that is where all the problems start. Doing self education on this subject rather than getting a proper lesson in school leads to the wrong ideas and expectations.

Growing up in the Philippines and being educated in a school run by nuns, this topic has been such a huge taboo. We were made to believe that even just sitting in a place where a male classmate has sat down will cause pregnancy. You can just imagine us with fans or magazines that we would put over any place where we would sit. Extremely ridiculous!

The Dutch approach is just the opposite. When children of maybe around seven begin asking their parents about how babies are made, parents will not tell them of the stories of storks bringing them or of bees and birds. The subject will be approached with a very truthful and clinical explanation which to be honest, makes sex the least interesting topic in the world in the eyes of children.

Bees and birds approach to discussing the issue is ridiculous to the Dutch. Issue is approached with all honesty.


Here in The Netherlands, children are given all the opportunities to be children and to savor childhood innocence. This is especially true when you see the lengths that parents would go to perpetuate the concept of Sinterklaas, the bishop who comes to the country from Spain every year on a steam boat aided by the Zwarte Piets (Black Peters) with presents for the children. The children are told that their behavior the whole year through is being noted by Sinterklaas in his big book and depending if they are naughty or nice, will get the kind of presents they deserve. The naughty ones only get a bag of salt. The point I’m making here is that this moment in children’s life when they still believe in Sinterklaas is regarded as very sacred by the Dutch. Out here, there is a time for everything…to be a child and to grow up well-informed of the essentials in life.

There is always a time to be a child...to believe in Sinterklaas

and Zwarte Piets


Time flies. It will not be long that my daughter will be asking questions about this subject and many more. She will receive honest answers from us for I am sure that with the upbringing she has, she will be wise and discerning enough to follow the right path. This is my take on parenthood. What about you?

The Dutch winter fun begins

Just when I thought that from autumn we’ve skipped a season and progressed to spring especially as crocuses are already starting to peek out of the ground and bloom, winter suddenly puts in a very much delayed appearance courtesy of high pressures from Russia and the Atlantic that eventually found their usual winter rythmn. My mindset is already in a spring mode and now I need to shift back to winter which means thick and warm clothing lest I freeze. Brrrrrrrrrt!

There’s a lot of excitement sweeping the country with this weather development. Few more days of sustained sub-zero temperature will mean that outdoor ice skating will be the main event this coming weekend. In some areas up north, some shallow lakes are already covered with ice that is strong enough for skaters to skate on. In our place, the ice cover is still thin so we still need a bit more time. My daughter can hardly wait…

Our family on ice


The other times that there was ice, she was still too young for skating. Now at four, she is just at that perfect age to start learning this very Dutch preoccupation. I say very Dutch because ice skating has been a Dutch-dominated Winter Olympics sport especially the long distance (10-kilometer) category. This is not a surprise because this kind of skating is very much imbued in the Dutch tradition. Up north in Friesland in times of severe winter when there is ice, they have this special event called “Elfstedentoch” or Eleven Cities’ Race which involves skating through frozen canals, rivers and lakes between eleven historic Friesian cities covering a distance of almost 200 kms which should be completed before midnight. It is no easy feat but one that is eagerly awaited and has a long waiting list for would be participants as they have to be a member of the Association of the Eleven Friesian Cities. Some of the participants have even been registered at birth by their parents to ensure a place because the number of participants is capped at 15,000 of amateur skaters. Why is this the case? Well, we don’t get ice that can sustain this event that often. Even though there had been occasions of sub-zero temperatures in the last few winters, oftentimes they were not long enough to really ensure that the ice in the almost 200 kms. skating route would be thick enough (minimum of 15 centimeters along the entire route) and safe enough for the huge contingent of skaters. The last time that this race took place was in 1997 and before that was in 1985 or over 20 years earlier.

Another way of enjoying the ice


This canal is part of the almost 200 km. route for the Elfstedentoch


Francesca getting her skating lesson from her father


Over a year ago we were in Harlingen (Friesland) after Christmas visiting family and there was ice. Francesca got her first ice skating lesson. Me, on the other hand, didn’t skate but just walked over the ice. I tried ice skating before in my earlier days here in Holland and decided it was not for me. I can endure a few bruises and blue spots but the fear of broken bones was just too much. I’m just too old to learn the tricks of this sport and just prefer watching those around me glide through the ice with ease.

Every single Dutchman is out to enjoy ice skating when there is ice


I love the frenzied atmosphere when there is ice. It is akin to celebrating a national skating fiesta where everyone is out to just enjoy this fun for free. The Dutch, known for being wise with their money, welcomes anything that will not cost a cent and outdoor nature skating is one of them. Some very enterprising ones even get to earn extra bucks putting up stalls selling hot coffee or hot chocolate with heaping of whipped cream, such very much welcomed comfort amidst the chilly weather.

In our neighborhood are also shallow canals which froze two years ago. We were there as well though the little girl was still too small to skate so she stayed seated on her sled being pulled either by me or her father. She enjoyed watching the other kids showing off their skating skills and told us that when she’s older and bigger, she’ll do the same too.

Skating lesson from her papa starts this way


Skating aside ftom being a national passion is also an amazing bonding moments for families. Parents and their kids are just at their happiest on these times. It is amazing to see small children learning their ways into the ice from their patient parents who are dedicated to ensuring that this national passion lives on.

A chair is a beginner's essential


Most if not all towns and villages also have their ice skating associations. If skating is held in canals or lakes, they also have their ice masters or experts who check the quality of the ice and declare when is it safe to skate on the natural ice. Other villages are even more creative, creating temporary ice skating rinks by flooding a contained area like fields with a thin layer of water which then freeze a lot faster than the canals.

Bets are being made now (probability currently at 25%) whether we will have the Elfstedentoch this year as the sub-zero temperature is expected to continue until next week. If that happens, expect Holland to be featured on world news.

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Royal weekend at Palais Het Loo (Het Loo Palace)

The upside of living in Amersfoort which is pretty centrally located in the country is its close proximity to many places worth exploring especially on weekends and throughout the year. Two royal palaces are within easy reach on top of the many castles, parks, zoos and forests as well.

Palais Het Loo

The main fountain


One place that we love visiting especially on a warm and lovely day is Palais Het Loo (Het Loo Palace) in Apeldoorn as it is just a good half hour’s drive from home. We’ve been inside the palace twice so we’re pretty happy to just explore its lovely 17th century garden which is really stunning especially in spring and summer. Patterned after Versailles, this garden and the fountains are just perfect for a family’s outing and even a little picnic.

Almost 2 springtime ago, we were at Palais Het Loo on a warm and sunny Sunday. I couldn’t have asked for a better day as the weather was just perfect and it was amazing to see spring literally exploding all over the place from the fruit trees bursting with flowers, to bees buzzing here and there, to trees finally waking up and getting their green cloak after the winter slumber and to spring flowers just blooming in profusion.

Our little girl had a great time as she found the garden and the huge trees just so much to her liking for playing hide and seek. Later, she found a play buddy in a boy who was about her age.














"Royal" cappuccino



One of the many fountains


Forget me not


Amazed by the fountain...



Playing hide-and-seek behind the big trees...



Colors of spring







Horse-drawn carriage



The royal stable

A visit to Holland’s spring garden in 2010


We’re not even halfway through with winter yet I feel that this season is already going on forever. It is because this is the weirdest winter that I’ve ever had in this country since over a decade — warm, wet and gray. Not a single speck of snow has fallen and there seems to be none in the horizon when I look at the long term weather forecast either.

I’m trying to beat the winter blues by thinking of spring already…though that’s still a good two months away. Spring is the season where I won’t be found complaining. On the contrary, spring is the best time to be in this country. Holland opens the spring season with a bang and like a lady in full bloom, she’s at her prettiest.

One place that I never miss going to is Holland’s world-famous spring garden — Keukenhof. It is a garden that’s one of its kind as it displays the creativity of the best gardeners in the world. A step inside this park and you’ll know what I mean with the way this park is transformed into a spring wonderland.

Every year, the park takes on a theme and oftentimes, royalties and/or heads of states are in attendance to open it for the season. Two years ago, the theme was “From Russia with love” and the park was opened by Crown Princess Maxima and Mrs. Svetlana Medvedeva (wife of the Russian president).

We were lucky with the weather on our visit to the park then. The sun was shining and the sky was blue without a tinge of cloud at all. Our little girl initially enjoyed her foray into the flower garden but later we discovered that she was having chicken pox that’s why she was not her usual bubbly self anymore.

Anyway, here are the pictures I took on that day.
















One of my enchanted moments…a picnic in the park

One enchanted corner in the park


Picnic by the water


Father and daughter - my favorite subject


Our happiness as a family consists of simple enchanted moments of togetherness… a walk in the forest, a picnic in the park, a visit to a nearby castle or simple flower picking and blowing bubbles by the little girl in the neighborhood.

One warm and sunny day in late spring last year, we went for a picnic in nearby Groeneveld Castle. The castle itself was under renovation but its sprawling wooded park has remained open to the public. I love it there in late spring because the park was by then very green and the decades-old rhododendrons of all colors everywhere were in full bloom.

My daughter and me


Simple pleasure like playing with grass


We found a nice spot close to the water and under the shade of tall trees which was just perfect for a picnic. We brought a thermo of hot coffee, sandwiches, cookies, cola and apples. Now, who says fun should be expensive?

My little girl was animated by the amazing setting. My husband and I couldn’t suppress the sudden rush of childhood memories as we watched her doing all the things that we did as kids.

Tree climbing


I can’t wait for the time when the weather will warm up again to go back to this same place and re-trace our steps from last year.

My little girl

One warm spring day in our neighborhood

My little girl and the red poppies


Butterfly


Spring is a wonderful time here in Holland. Towards the end of the season when the daffodils and tulips have bidden their curtain calls, it is the turn of the poppies, dandelions and daisies to take center stage.

The little flower picker


I love it in our neighborhood. We have this long stretch of green area which becomes blanketed by red poppies, yellow dandelions and white daisies beginning late spring and way into the summer. My daughter who loves picking flowers just enjoy the amazing spread in front of her.

Yellow dandelion


Father and daughter


My family


I love photography and in spring that passion is ignited to fever pitch. There are just so many subjects to indulge into…from flowers to insects and most of all, my lovely little girl ;-).

Red poppies


A green insect


Dandelion


Pink blooms

More pictures:

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My memories of a lovely Friesian home

The Friesian home in summer

The Friesian home in summer


Outdoor breakfast on a sunny summer day


Just like in a fairy tale, my parents-in-law once upon a time, lived in my idea of a dream home…a lovely and cozy farm house way up north in the province of Friesland. It was a home like no other for every nook and corner had my mom-in-law’s loving touch. Mementos that filled the house had stories to tell from their times in Tanzania (Africa) and Suriname (South America) to inherited small things from both sides of the family. Simple things that we would normally overlook just blended in the whole set-up to make this almost 200-year old home acquire a character of its own.

The Friesian home in winter


Christmas


The cozy living room


The fireplace


My memory remains vivid of summer barbeques, of cozy drinks by the fireplace on chilly autumn days and of happy Christmas dinners. When I was in that home, all my cares in the world simply vanished as the love and warmth of my loving husband and in-laws reassured me that everything was all right.

It’s almost four years ago since they left that home to move closer to us so that they can enjoy the time with their youngest grandchild. They also realized that in their advancing years, maintaining a home like that was becoming a drain financially and physically. They had almost 30 years of fond memories which will see them through in the coming years in a new place they will call home.

The vegetable garden


Flowers everywhere


It was me and my husband who had difficulties with letting go because our infrequent visits were all filled with amazing memories. Our busy lives in the west kept us away because of the two-hour drive, but our days there were well-spent. In summer, we would spend there a long weekend timed on Dad’s birthday which falls on the sunny month of July. I would normally be busy organizing the barbeque which was always fun to hold in the sprawling garden which burst with blooms that only someone with the magic touch like Mam Sil can do. I enjoyed harvesting produce from the garden…from potatoes to beans, raspberries and strawberries. We cycled a lot too, and thoroughly enjoyed countryside bliss such as the sights of quaint villages and pasture lands.

My husband cherishes his memories of that home with fondness. The space afforded him in his teens the privilege to indulge in his passion for raising rabbits and pigeons.

We now only have pictures and memories engraved in our hearts when we think of those idyllic times way up north. Friesland to those in the western part of the country seems like another country already but it is a lovely province with people who are proud of their distinct heritage. They speak their own language and take pride of everything that’s truly Friesian — Friesian horses, Friesian sugar bread, Friesian cows, etc. And there’s one Friesian who’s hit the international scene lately. Her name is Doutzen Kroes.

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Holiday in the tropics: Why it’s more fun in the Philippines

Our own paradise on earth - El Nido, Palawan


Uninhabited island in El Nido


Island hopping in El Nido


“It’s more fun in the Philippines”, goes the new tourism campaign slogan that’s sweeping my home country which has been going viral in the last couple of days. I’m actually very happy that finally tourism is being given a boost. It’s high time for the Philippines to shine as a must-see country in Asia. Thailand has its “Amazing Thailand” campaign and Malaysia has its “Truly Asia” slogan. The Philippines was left out for a long time in the cold when in fact, she has so much to offer.

I’ve got a long way still way to go with my Loire Valley castles blogs but what the heck…let me blog about the many fun things to experience and see in my beloved Philippines. I’ve seen those gorgeous pictures of must-see places so let me show you this country through the eyes of my Dutch husband who really see the fun part of the Philippines like any tourist would.

The financial district of Makati in the distance


There’s no denying that just like any developing country, the Philippines has high poverty incidence which exists side by side with enormous wealth. Thus, it is normal to see high-end cars alongside rickety buses and cars on the highway, to view shanties in the metropolis with the high rise buildings of the financial district in the backdrop. The drive from the airport to the hotels in the more opulent areas like Makati will mean passing through congested areas with ambulant vendors selling anything from “balut” to household merchandises, beggars asking for small change, flimsy built shops that offer vulcanizing services, cellphone charge loading, etc.

Meeting friends mean eating and more eating


To holiday in the Philippines is a combination of fun, pleasure and discomfort (to those who never experienced brownouts for instance). When meeting family and friends, expect that to be a marathon of eating after eating. Being invited for a snack means finding ourselves guests to huge parties so there are times when the hubby would ask if it is possible to meet my friends just over drinks and no more food ;-)

The hubby and the jeepney


My husband and I are unconventional travelers. We hate organized trips so we always take the off the beaten tract kind of adventures. We’ve traveled by plane, buses, tricycles, jeepneys and motorcyle to reach places that we want to see. I remember a time when we were in Camiguin and we wanted to see a waterfall. We were told that the way to go there was either to hike for 5 kilometers or go by motorcycle. To our surprise, there were 7 of us in that motorcycle.

Hidden Valley, a tropical rain forest resort in Laguna which is south of Manila


Hidden Valley Resort


We were last on holiday in the Philippines way back in 2006. It was for 2.5 weeks with half of the time visiting family and friends. We stayed a few days in Manila, then off to Lucena City where I used to be assigned as a bank officer to meet up with friends and former colleagues, then to Bicol to see my family and then off to El Nido, Palawan (that place which we would never miss for the world).

Riding a carabao


Driving a jeepney


Meeting friends in Lucena was fun. My husband was able to satisfy his wishes of riding a carabao and a scruffy horse and then driving a jeepney. He thought it was so easy to ride a carabao as he see very young boys on top of carabaos but realized that some things were easier thought of than done. Then it was off to driving a jeepney which he thought was also a very cool thing to do but realized that it was not built for his size and comfort. He struggled with the drive because the jeepney did not have even the standard direction indicator, the steering was tough and he could barely see what was in front of him because his sheer height means that his eye level was far higher than the small Filipino driver behind the wheel.

Island hopping to uninhabited islands


Having this place all to ourselves, what more can we ask for?


Grilling tuna for lunch


Freshly grilled tuna, island-style


Fun with children who serenaded us with lovely local songs


Our holiday was capped by a trip to El Nido, Palawan, the place where our love story started way back in 1996. We were then both backpackers who met on the beach with that excellent view of limestone mountains. We remained true to that memory of our first meeting, backpacking again and stayed in a simple cottage by the beach. We enjoyed our glorious days in this island paradise, island hopping every day and having picnic on the beach. We saw the guests of the exclusive resorts in El Nido also visiting the uninhabited islands where we were — they were ferried by speed boats and the resort staff would set up table for them with the finest table cloth and the finest china and were served posh meals. We, on the other hand, far enjoyed our meals of barbeque and grilled tuna with the boatmen with us.

Transporting a pig, Palawan-style


We felt so sorry to leave the island as during our stay, we developed an excellent rapport with the people we met there. Some evenings we were serenaded by the children who were just so happy to regale us with their stories. My husband cannot think of any best place to be for holidays. The best holidays are those filled with happy memories, with inconvenient experiences that stick to memory long after the holiday like our stay at a pension house in Taytay where we stayed awake the whole night because the bed was just filled with bed bugs.

Market scene that we really love


We saw and experienced a lot of things that we will forever cherish. Most of all, what makes the holiday more fun in the Philippines is the friendliness of people we met everywhere.

More pictures here:

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My city (Amersfoort) in early spring

Crocuses everywhere


Crocuses in various colors


Enjoying the sun


The city gate


There is nothing more exciting than the coming of spring that I look forward to every year. The long drag of winter especially after the snow or ice is gone simply gets too much that everyone here can hardly wait for the herald of the new season. Spring to me starts when the crocuses wake up from their slumber, sprouting through the ground and blanketing open spaces in yellows, whites, purples and lilacs. The Dutch with their passion for flowers and organization, ensures that spring follows a synchronized order with the daffodils following the crocuses in the blooming game. Tulips cap the spring beauty pageant.

My little girl wasn't able to resist the flowers


My advice to would be visitors to Holland is to come in spring. This country is simply awesome and experiencing this season here is the dream of a lifetime come true. Everywhere is abloom and going out is just a pleasure. If you are a photography enthusiast, you’ll never run out of subjects.

Running around enjoying spring


One early springtime almost 2 years ago, we went to the city center for a little stroll. Although temperature-wise it was still very chilly, the sun was shining and the sky was blue…just the perfect spring day for a little stroll. We had a great time just sitting on the bench enjoying the sun rays and admiring the beauty around us. And like any typical Dutch, we brought our lunch with us which we ate at the city square.

Centuries-old buildings


Centuries-old buildings in the city centre


Lunch at the city square


One of the city canals

We live in Amersfoort, a municipality and the second largest city in the province of Utrecht. It is a city with a long history having celebrated its 750th birthday in 2009. This city is known too by a few names such as the “City with a heart” and “Boulder City”. The former is attributed to the heart-shape formation of the city centre which is visible from the air.

Old map of Amersfoort (taken from Wikipedia)

Amersfoort is not part of the usual tourist route but below is a list of places to see when in the city:

1. The Tower of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwentoren) – one of the tallest medieval church towers in the Netherlands at 98 meters. The construction of the tower was started in 1444. The church was destroyed by an explosion in 1787, but the tower survived.

The Tower of Our Lady (summer picture)

2. The inner city of Amersfoort has been preserved well since the Middle Ages. Apart from the Onze Lieve Vrouwentoren, the Koppelpoort and the Muurhuizen (Wall Houses), there is also the Sint Joris Church, the canal system with its bridges as well as medieval and other old buildings, many designed as national monuments.

A canal close to the home of Piet Mondriaan

If you want to see more of the Netherlands and want to get away from touristy Amsterdam, hop into an intercity train to Amersfoort. The train ride takes just a good half an hour and you are already in this lovely city. It is also very much possible to make a side trip to Spakenburg to see those women in traditional costume (see my earlier blog about them). That is just a bus ride away from the train station.

More pictures of Amersfoort:

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The women of Spakenburg are keeping the traditions alive

Our picture with one of the women of Spakenburg


Two Spakenburg women having a chat at the market


Unbeknownst to many, there are still places in Holland where age old traditions are alive and well and where practices from centuries ago are thriving well into the 21st century.

Holland, a small country here in western Europe, looms big in the global arena when it comes to liberal approaches to many issues which are still taboo in many countries such as abortion, same sex marriage, soft drugs, prostitution and euthanasia. Against this backdrop, I’m sure that it will come as a huge surprise if not shock to many that there are still very conservative and ultra-religious communities here where the practices, traditions and way of life observed are from many centuries ago.

A Spakenburg woman on her bike

I am lucky to live close by to one such place. Within cycling distance from my home is the fishing village of Spakenburg and this place is pretty unique because the women there live up to their age old traditions. They go about their daily lives in traditional clothes. There are other aspects of life in Spakenburg which are still too traditional as well such as strict observance of Sunday as the day of the Lord. The people of Spakenburg go to church twice and on special religious holidays, even three times. All establishments are closed on Sundays, even the ice cream bar or cafes. And local football games which in typical villages are held on Sundays are held on Saturdays out there.

I love going to Spakenburg on a Saturday when there is an open market because I would normally see these women doing their groceries or cycling to the market. There is also a museum that can be visited that explains their culture and traditions. To know more about this museum, here is the link: http://www.museumspakenburg.nl/

Other useful links are the following:
http://www.dd-spakenburg.nl/
To go there by public transport, you can check the schedules of the trains and buses through this link: www.9292ov.nl

When I visited the museum some five years ago with other Filipino friends, that was the time when I really learned more about their way of life, about their traditions, about their clothing which was quite a revelation because they would for instance, have a new set of clothes for the entire family when a family member dies. They also observe a very strict mourning period and everything in the house would be painted in black.

The women of Spakenburg are resilient and strong, known for their dedication to family and for keeping their houses extremely tidy. In the old days when the men went to the sea, chances are that they may never return. It is for that reason that these women had to be strong for their families.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Spakenburg if ever you find yourself in Holland. In summer, there are plenty of cultural activities out there to see. The village is very pleasant to visit. I love the harbor with the view of the docked traditional Spakenburg wooden boats. There is also a windmill that can be visited daily except on Sundays.

From Amsterdam, you can take the train to Amersfoort and there is a regular bus connection that will take you to Spakenburg.

Here are more pictures from our usual visit to the village.

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