Sunday, July 1, 2018

Two Famous Dutch Cities, One Castle, One Fortress City

We ended our last blog entry with a hefty dose of modern architecture thanks mostly to our visit to Rotterdam.  In today's entry we will go back in time, in some cases waaaaay back, for our architecture.

We are in the last few days of exploring the Netherlands with Seattle friends Steve and Janet.  For our last day in Delft we stayed put, as did our tandems, and we explored the city on foot.

The Grote Markt or main city square was relatively empty since today was not a market day, and tourist season is also not yet in full swing.  We showed you some canal photos in the last blog entry, and here's one more that is a bit different since this canal once brought goods for sale by boat to all those businesses you see on the right side of the Markt.  Those are not doors you want to be stepping through nowadays.

The impressive building across the Markt is the Stadhuis, or city hall.  The tower dates to the 1200s and survived a fire in 1618 but the rest of the building is post-fire, and more recently remodeled to look much as it did before the fire.

In that photo of the Markt, our back was to the "New Church," so-called because it was not begun until 1393.  The Oude Kerk  (Old Church) was begun about 150 years earlier (in its current form as a similarly massive church).  For the moment we'll just look up at the steeple high above us, and a little later take you up as we climb its 376 steps to a height of 85 m, which is about the height of a 26-story building nowadays.  But first let's look down the long, tall nave, and then compare the look with a painting from a few hundred years ago, unfortunately a bit blurry.  If you read our last blog you read about the important church position of "dog whipper," and sure enough there be dogs wandering about.  As for the bottom right-hand corner, that is indeed a grave digger.  Like all ancient churches in this part of the world, there are a lot of folks buried under the church floor.  The second photo below shows a few of the more legible gravestones.

But in addition to the hundreds of obscure people buried down there, this church has an amazing list of others who are far from obscure.  One of them is Hugo Grotius, the founder of international law.  He popularized the concept that travel on the ocean should be free to all nations so long as the ship is beyond the reach of a cannon on shore, later popularized as the 12-mile rule.  He has an impressive memorial in the interior wall of the church.  It's overshadowed, however, by the mausoleum of William the Silent, the father of Dutch independence.  He was the dominant political figure in the first years of what the Dutch call the Eighty Years War that ran, truly, for 80 years.  The Dutch had just begun fighting for independence from Spain.  Spanish King Phillip II put a price on William's head, and someone tried to collect it by shooting him dead in a building nearby.  The assassin  did get a reward of sorts, but it was a quick trip to the next world, after some particularly brutal bits of vengeance.  William's family plot was in a city that was controlled by the Spanish just then, so it was decided to bury him here in Delft, and later to build the impressive life-size mausoleum which is much visited by the Dutch.

Well, that started a tradition.  All of William's descendants (many also named William or Wilhelmina, by the way) wanted to be buried here, and since they became the royal family of the Netherlands, they have gotten their wish.  A model in the church shows "where the bodies are buried," so to speak.  The guide showed us where Queen Beatrix will be buried when she dies, in one of the crypts closest to the camera.  At least they haven't put a little model coffin in that crypt just yet.  Beatrix abdicated in 2013 in favor of her son, who reigns now as King Willem Alexander.  When we asked where he is to be buried, our guide explained that he has ordered a new crypt to be constructed in the area below the guide's right hand in the photo to the left.  The old crypt is, apparently, a little creepy, but more to the point it was built for folks no taller than 160 cm.  Willem Alexander is 183 (6 feet tall to us Yanks), which is the average height of a Dutch male today.  Obscure fact:  Dutch men are the tallest on average of any country in the world, and Dutch women second-tallest, after Estonians.  Future tall Dutch kings will no doubt thank Willem Alexander. The tradition of burying folks in churches, incidentally, was banned in the early 1800s in the Netherlands, with the sole exception of here, and with the sole exception of the royal family.

Before climbing those 376 steps, there's one more stop, in front of a stained glass window.  All the original ones were destroyed, twice.  First, by a fire in 1536.  Then in 1654 when an ammunition storehouse many blocks away went up in what is known as the "Delft Thunderclap,"  blowing out not only the church windows but pretty much every other window for a kilometer around.  So this is not an old window.  But it does commemorate a very old member of the House of Orange, William the Silent's family.  Yes, this one too was named William.  Brits and Americans remember him as part of the dynamic duo of "William and Mary."  He left the Netherlands in 1689 with 35,000 soldiers and landed in England.  King James II did the math, and he did not have 35,000 soldiers willing to fight and die for him.  So he left.  The Brits call it the Glorious Revolution.  William reigned with Mary, and when he died, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.  One of the few who is not buried right here in Delft.
And now to tackle those stairs that will take us upward, away from all these graves and ghosts of the past.  They are narrow, of course, and started out stone then turned to wood.   Here's a downward look at the last several dozen steps as we made our way heavenward.  After quite a good workout we came to an opening in the wall.  Oh my!  What a view!  Things do look a bit different from up here, higher than the roof of the church.

Turning just a little to the right, we are now looking down at the shops on the right side of the Grote Markt.  Just a very few blocks away is the Oude Kerk, almost but not quite as large as the New Church.  Turningn further, almost 180 degrees from the city hall, and we're looking down on the roof of the part of the church over the altar and at a canal street headed north.  It's not the one our accommodations are on but almost indistinguishable in shade and charm.

But wait, even though we're higher than the roof of the church, we're far from the top!  We're less than half-way!  If you hike past the elaborate workings of the church clock and bells to the very top, the third viewpoint that you finally reach does seem very distant from the activity of the streets below.  The market square and city hall look more like model train models from this height.  Looking to the northwest, our lodgings are almost precisely at the center of the photo, but so buried by surrounding buildings that even the owner had a hard time telling which one was his when we showed him this photo.  The leafy square to the right is not a park but a town square surrounded by restaurants, and every square meter of this square that is not occupied by a tree trunk has a table and chairs set up on it.  If you could see through the trees you would spy dozens of plates and glasses on those tables and dozens of waiters scurrying back and forth across the streets of the square keeping them filled up with food and drink.

From our 250-foot-high perch we can now see Rotterdam on the horizon, about 16 km / 10 miles away.  But notice the green space between Delft and Rotterdam?  When you look north toward Amsterdam, the green space is vaster still.  The Dutch call this het Groene Hart, the Green Heart.  Even though this is one of the most densely populated parts of a country that is itself one of the most densely populated in the world, you are never far from nature.  The map below helps show this.  Orange means houses and businesses, yellow a national park that is sand and heath, green a national park that is mostly forested, and off-white land that is farmed or forested.  But up here you can see that the map lies -- the off-white areas are quite, quite green, at least this time of year.

Did you notice anything a bit odd on the horizon in the photo above that looks toward Amsterdam?  We did, and cranked the camera up to maximum telephoto.  What the heck is that???  We showed it to the owner of the flat where we were staying.  "Oh, that's the ski slope in Zoetermeer," a city 15 km away.  A ski slope?  Yes, they produce artificial snow in that gigantic tube in the colder months, and the Dutch don't have to travel to Switzerland to go skiing.  OK, time to descend.  It's always so much more fun than ascending.  Perhaps it would be even greater fun on the Zoetermeer ski slope, but we're not waiting until winter to find out.

Our ticket to the New Church also included a visit to the Old Church, also quite interesting but not needing photographic preservation in today's blog.  But it does have four graves that draw crowds.  Two are of admirals whose names are known to almost all Dutch people and to few others except enthusiasts of naval history.  But the remaining two . . .  they are blockbusters.

One is the final resting spot for Johannes Vermeer, a man who spent his entire life in Delft and died poor, but whose paintings are now among the most treasured in the world.  His Girl with Pearl Earring  is often called the "Dutch Mona Lisa."  The other superstar native son is Antoni van Leeuwenhoek.  He ran a shop here selling linen goods.  He used magnifying glasses to get a better look at the quality of the fabrics he sold.  One day he got the idea of combining two magnifying glasses of different sizes and shapes, and stumbled into becoming the inventor of the microscope.  That would have been quite an accomplishment, but he kept going.  He developed a skill at making lenses and produced incredibly good microscopes, then started looking at things with his new invention.  When he looked at pond water, he was astonished.  Little animals were swimming in it, so tiny that no eye or even magnifying glass could detect them.  Today van Leeuwenhoek is considered the father of microbiology for his discoveries and his correspondence about them with Newton and other leading scientists of his day.  The handsome bas relief is from a memorial to him in front of the modest home where he was born.

We now had three final days of riding with Steve and Janet.  Our next stop was Gouda.  Are you thinking of cheese after hearing that word?  You're not alone.  Some authorities on the web claim that over half the cheese sold in the world is categorized as gouda.  Seems doubtful, but there's certainly a lot of it.  It's so named not because it's made here, but rather because cheese of this type has been traded in a cheese market in Gouda for centuries.  It still is, though today it's more tourist skit than commercial transaction.  And of course our two tandem teams had to wander into a cheese shop to sample the wares, and of course our group needed to walk out with almost a kilo of cheese, of two different types.

Gouda is actually a relatively small city, and very quaint.  We often take a photo of maps we encounter while walking to supplement our guidebook maps, which are often minimalist.  Here's one from the sidewalks of Gouda, and you can see that the old part of the city has a goodly number of canals, as so many Dutch cities do.  One of them had something we had not previously seen on Dutch canals, however:  a bride and groom drifting along in a small boat, with the wedding photographer racing alongside taking photo after photo.

Like a good Dutch city, Gouda also has a Grote Markt in the center of town, but unlike most, it has something in the middle of the town square -- the city hall.  Its flair and its age -- it dates to the mid-1400s -- give you a good idea how long the cheese business has been making big money for Gouda.  The Grote Kerk, by comparison, is tucked away in a warren of narrow streets, hiding from photographers.  And let's not forget windmills.  This is the Netherlands, ja?  Gouda has two tucked into quiet corners of the old city.

It's easy to get mentally lost in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in places like then.  Walking along, something jolted us into the middle of the 20th century, a Stolperstein.  The idea for these "stumbling stones" came from German artist/activist Gunter Gemnig.  Since 1992 nearly 70,000 have been placed in 22 countries.  In Gouda alone there are 158.  Each one is placed in front of the last place a victim of Nazi murder lived of his or her own free will, based on careful research.  The name is a deliberate pun on both "stumbling" upon one as a chance encounter while walking, and stumbling in the sense of encountering a significant problem.  This Stolperstein tells us that Sara van Dantzig once lived in the house here, was deported at age 58 to the detention center at Westerbork in eastern Netherlands, and murdered there three days later.  By going to the Stolperstein website one can learn more about her life, and what documentation was used.

The next morning we continued eastward across a part of the Netherlands that is fairly watery.  So much so that in 1672-73 the Dutch intentionally flooded a swath of land about a dozen miles across and several dozen miles long, and thereby successfully prevented the French army from attacking Amsterdam.  Today the passage was quite pleasant, and a lookout tower with a carved cormorant for a neighbor gave us a good look at the surroundings.

We reached our hotel early and dropped off our panniers, then headed over to Kastel de Haar. In the 1890s, Etienne Gustav Frederic, Baron van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar inherited this castle, or as it appeared to most people at that time, a pile of stone that once represented the ancestral home of the van Zuylens.  By good luck or perhaps good planning, the Baron had managed to marry Helene de Rothschild, the only child of Paris banker Baron Salomon de Rothschild.  With money no object, they hired Peter Cuypers, who had just designed the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to rebuild the castle in what some would call mock medieval style.

It's quite a place.  Of course, it's surrounded by a moat -- a (bird) family friendly one at that.  Inside the best way to describe the central court is probably "theatrical."  Cameras have a harder time accommodating different levels of light than our eyes, and the windows up high look uninteresting in the first photograph.  But with a darker exposure and a focus on the windows alone, you can see how colorful they truly are, as is the Zuylen family crest in another window down low, where the guests were sure to be able to read it.

And theatrical was probably an appropriate style, since the Baron and Baroness and their progeny in later generations have made a point of befriending folks from the theater and then the film world.  Just a few of the guests, many on multiple occasions:  Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel, Joan Collins and Brigitte Bardot.  Of course, what's not to like about being offered a stay in a sumptuous castle, all meals included, for the price of free?

We took a tour through the place.  The two nicest rooms were the Baroness' bedroom and dressing room.  A little Parisian influence from the Baroness, peut-être?

And if you're a fan of Downton Abbey or its predecessors Gosford Park  and Upstairs Downstairs, you know that if there's an upstairs there's going to be a downstairs.  Here's the kitchen, where a coal-fired stove made it an exceedingly warm place to spend your working day, an aspect of downstairs life that the tv shows and the movie never quite conveyed, so far as we can recall.  As for the service stairs, they're narrow, for sure, but actually quite normal for the Netherlands so far as steepness is concerned.  We're not quite sure why, but Dutch staircases are the steepest we've encountered anywhere in the world, not only in old houses but even in new ones built in the last few years.

Our last day riding with Steve and Janet followed the Vecht River for much of the way.  We stopped at a lock that connects the river with a nearby lake that is roughly a meter lower in elevation.  Depending on the length of your boat, it costs between 4 and 6 euros each time you lock through.  Nearby workers were busy thatching a roof, and a windmill sat quietly, its sails stowed away.  We were 20 km from the heart of the largest city, Amsterdam, and the fourth-largest, Utrecht, but you'd never know it from scenes like these.

And then it got even more bucolic as we took a 4 km hard-packed clay/limestone path down a narrow peninsula that bisected the lake.  Of course we climbed the tower.  And of course Louise got in some push ups, something she tries to work into some part of each day, on top of the 40-50 km we ride most days.

Finally, we were  in Naarden.  This is a Vestingstad, a fortress city that still has its ancient defensive shape.  The town hall has a model, or you can just look at the satellite view on Google Maps, to see its star shape.  American and British planes on bombing missions from the UK to Germany in WW II used its shape and its position on the edge of the IJsselmeer to make it a landmark, in that age before GPS and the many other way-finding tools of our own era.

It's a low-key kind of spot, with only a few places to stay and a few more restaurants that folks drive to, perhaps from nearby Amsterdam and Utrecht.  The city hall is open most days and a volunteer there was happy to tell us all about the meeting room for the city council.  Across the street is the church, remarkably large for a city as small as Naarden.

The artwork in the church was actually quite interesting, such as this woodwork and those paintings way up high on the ceiling.  The one we've shown in close-up thanks to the telephoto lens on our camera depicts sinners being led off to hell.

After dinner we strolled over to the ramparts for a view, then retired to our B&B for the night.  Next morning after breakfast we said goodbye to Steve and Janet as they headed west and, 3 days later, back to Seattle.

As they headed one way, we headed the other, east and then northeast.  We'll tell you about it in our next blog entry, coming to a computer near you soon.

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