Kids on the loose at the gardens of Soestdijk Palace

Flowers for you...

Flowers for you…

Happiness is oftentimes just right before our very eyes, ready to be grabbed with both hands and very much willing to be shared and spread around. We never need to look far and wide nor travel to the ends of the world to find it. All we need to do is to open our hearts and embrace the opportunity to be a blessing to others just as our lives have been blessed by the One above. I live by this tenet on a daily basis, choosing to be happy when I wake up each morning, thankful for the many blessings of good health, my loving family, loyal friends and the career that fulfills me professionally.

I can never be happier waking up yesterday to the bright sunny day. After enjoying the leisurely breakfast that we normally have on a Sunday, I was busy again preparing our picnic basket. It was destination Soestdijk Palace which is a 10-minute drive away for a family outing. Timing-wise, yesterday was just perfect because the decades-old rhododendrons were in full bloom. Because happiness is best experienced when shared with others, my daughter invited her best friend to come along. Oh, what a day!

Soestdijk Palace was home to the late Queen Juliana (grandmother of present King Willem-Alexander) and her husband Prince Bernard until their deaths in 2004. The palace was opened to the public since the spring of 2006.

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Running around

Running around

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Jumping from sheer joy

Jumping from sheer joy

Chasing each other

Chasing each other

Playing hide-and-seek

Playing hide-and-seek

Picking flowers...

Picking flowers…

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Quiet moments ...

Quiet moments …

More chasing game

More chasing game

Checking out how tall the tree was...

Checking out how tall the tree was…

Best friends

Best friends

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons in full bloom

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

Just so much beauty all over...

Just so much beauty all over…

My little girl

My little girl

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree...

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree…

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Reflections on the lake

Reflections on the lake

Our family

Our family

Best friends...

Best friends…

Bouquet of spring blooms

Bouquet of spring blooms

Our family

Our family

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

Red leaves against the blue sky

Red leaves against the blue sky

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Soestdijk Palace

Soestdijk Palace

Palace grounds

Palace grounds

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

The best friends

The best friends

Against the sun...

Against the sun…

Lotus leaves on the lake...

Lotus leaves on the lake…

Reflections...

Reflections…

The Orangerie...

The Orangerie…

Clouds...

Clouds…

Best friends

Best friends

Light pink rhododendrons

Light pink rhododendrons

Red and green

Red and green

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Reflections...

Reflections…

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Hubby

Hubby

Me

Me

Our family

Our family

Bird in the air

Bird in the air

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Reflections...

Reflections…

My little girl

My little girl

Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ;-)

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ;-)

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ;-)

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

A royal encounter – up close and personal with Crown Princess Maxima

That’s me with the big grin a step behind Crown Princess Maxima

Let me take a break from my Tuscany series of posts and tell you of my royal encounter yesterday with our lovely crown princess. I was lucky to get an invite from my alma mater, the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) to attend the inaugural lecture of Professor Stella Luz A. Quimbo from the University of the Philippines School of Economics following her appointment to the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity.

The Prince Claus Chair which is chaired by Princess Maxima was established by Utrecht University and the International Institute of Social Studies in early 2003 in honour of Prince Claus of the Netherlands (1926-2002) who has been deeply committed in promoting development and equity throughout the world.

This was actually my second time to attend this event and the second time to see the crown princess in person. It was just amazing to finally shake hands with her and introduced myself as being from the Philippines. Something to tell grandchildren in my old days that I had this real meeting with the princess (she’ll be queen by then) and finally documented with this one picture. ;-)

These pictures were taken by Piet Gispen, the official ISS photographer and lifted from the ISS Flickr site.

Princess Maxima

Professor Stella Quimbo

Professor Quimbo with the Rector Magnificus of Erasmus University and Rector of ISS

Professor Quimbo with Princess Maxima, the rectors and the ISS faculty

Professor Quimbo with Princess Maxima, the Mayor of The Hague and the rectors

Princess Maxima in conversation with the ISS students

Queen’s Day celebration

A turn around in the weather spelled the big difference and great fun in this year’s traditional Queen’s Day celebration. The day before, we were still in our thick winter coat but on this day, we could go out in summer outfit, my husband even in his shorts.

The 30th of April has been celebrated as Queen’s Day during the reign of Queen Juliana (mother of Queen Beatrix, the reigning monarch) because that was her birthday and the gates of Soestdijk Palace opened up to the Dutch people who would come to bring her presents. She would be with the royal family in full force to meet the people in her very own down-to-earth manner. This has of course endeared her to her subjects. Queen Beatrix’s birthday is in January but the April 30 celebration has been retained because weather-wise, this is the best time for the Dutch to party. Holland on this day explodes in orange as the Dutch family belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau (Oranje-Nassau). The manner of celebration has also taken a different route. On this day, Queen Beatrix and the members of the royal family visit two towns/cities and participate in the many organized activities. The younger royals literally let their hair loose by joining in the many fun games, much to the amusement of the people who normally don’t get the chance to see them up close and personal and in such a very relaxed and playful manner.

This celebration has seen rough times in recent years. Three years ago, at the celebration in Apeldoorn which is also a royal stronghold, a drama unfolded right before the very eyes of the Dutch royals. A black Suzuki swift driven by a man suffering from depression drove through the crowd in full view of the royal family who were in an open bus. Eight people died from this incident which has always been viewed as a fun and safe activity.

This year, the royal family visited the towns of Veenendaal and Rhenen. The mood was sober especially when the queen addressed the crowd that unfortunately the royal family was not complete. Tragedy struck the royal family when the queen’s son Prince Johan Friso was buried in an avalanche while the family were on a skiing holiday in Austria last February. He is in coma and in long-term care at a specialized hospital in London and to which the doctors have already declared that he’ll never wake up again save for a miracle. He is the smartest of the queen’s three sons and father to two very young daughters who will never get to live normal lives again.

Apart from the festive mood, Holland is also one big flea market on this day. Anyone with second hand stuffs to sell is out to make a few bucks. It is a case of one’s junk can be another person’s treasure. Old clothes, shoes, toys, music records, DVDs, delicate chinas, books, etc. which have been segregated for disposal after spring cleaning can maybe still earn a few bucks. To my little girl, the big attraction was the merry go round and the chance to eat her favorite “olliebollen” which is normally something that is on sale around Christmas and New year. Some enterprising young girls were offering nail polish for 50 cents with several designs to choose from. My little girl showed her patriotic side asking for the colors of the Dutch flag.

After the walk through the busy Langestraat, we had enough of this Orange madness and decided to already go home. I suggested to the hubby that it is not a bad idea to head to the tulip fields in Zeewolde for our annual photo session since the weather is just fantastic for that.

Orange is the color of the day

Other people's junk can be another person's treasure

Everyone wants to earn a few bucks...this boy with his violin for a few cents

Selling old records

Old DVDs

Old toys and game boards

Old chinas, etc.

Old shoes

Old toys

A manicure of preferred design from enterprising girls for Eur 50 cents

The colors of the Dutch flag in her nails... a very satisfied customer

Merry-go-round always spells "F-U-N" to the little girl

A balloon is also a must-have...pricey at Eur 6.00

And "olliebollen" which has become rare at this time of the year is a treat to the little girl

Ogling the many sorts of sweets

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

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