France, Le Pays Bas, and France

13/7/2015

The day before the Fourteenth of July. I returned yesterday from 4 days in The Netherlands. And I couldn’t wait to get back to blogging! So many adventures to recount. So many observations to share. So many philosophies to ponder.

And so much housecleaning to avoid.

Today is cleaning day. Waiting for a delivery from Monoprix as I was out of pretty much everything. After he arrives, I have to buckle down and clean. And in a very efficient way. No procrastinating for 2 hours, then clean for 15 minutes and procrastinate some more. Repeat as necessary.

No, I have a CE this afternoon with Chantel – the gal who broke her leg. Last time for a couple weeks. She is taking the usual Parisien vacation in August. But she is starting early.   Yes. Paris closes in August. Literally. OK not everything. But small boutiques do. Hair salons do. Boulangeries do. Even restaurants. Moi – staying here. Maybe a day trip to Nantes. Oh and definitely a day trip to Calais. What’s in Calais? A dear friend I haven’t seen for years! His cruise ship docks for a day on August 10..

And frankly, unless there is another canicule (heat wave), I am fine with this. I have had too much activity in the past 2 months – visitors, vistiors, Berlin, Amsterdam, The Hague… Liking my own bed. And silence of the apartment.

It’s very silent today – most of the people in the offices across from me appear to have “fait le pont.” That means made the bridge – or taken a four day weekend what with the Holiday tomorrow. When I walked to Monoprix, I noticed that the foot traffic was very light for that hour. Only a few people are left in Paris – and the tourists.

The Netherlands – another fabulous time with my friend and her family. She has been making changes in her backyard – new cedar fencing, new arrangement of outdoor furniture. Gorgeous. She has planted her flowers in such a way that it looks like Giverny. I was very impressed.

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Friday we went to Kinderdijk. This is a world hertigage site – 19 windmills used to pump the water up so that the land isn’t flooded. These Dutch do know water management! Pretty impressive. We took the boat down the canal to two different windmills that are now museums.

2015-07-11 11.59.24 2015-07-11 11.47.30

The others are actually lived in. Some were working and a few were getting started – they have to extend the sail out on the blade – by hand. There is an electric pump now, but the windmills still work.

Then on to Amsterdam. Before hitting the museum, we stopped for my HRC pin and had a quick lunch. 2015-07-10 14.59.10Then on to the Van Gogh. OK, apparently I am not the VanGogh connoisseur I thought I was. Before his starry night period, he was a regular old painter. Artist. He had the basics down. But it is his later period for which he is most famous that I like the best. While this museum has the most Van Gogh, the most famous are in the D’Orsay and the Met and MOMA. I didn’t realize the extent to which his sister-in-law promoted his paintings after his and Theo (his brother, her husband)’s death.

2015-07-10 15.57.43Then on to a park for a nice break. Yup. Bicycles all over. We didn’t rent ones this time. Had places to go and things to see.

After the pause in the park, we drove out in the country to a restaurant of my friend’s former colleague for dinner.2015-07-10 20.33.04 It was on a beach on a canal. Beach Pavilion. And it was delicious. Best steak I have had in Europe. And in such an out of the way place.

Any Volvo drivers? What a cool car. It has a camera that reads the speed limit and puts it on the dashboard. And you exceed it and the dashboard lights up red. 2015-07-10 20.42.16And if you change lanes without signaling, it sort of clucks at you.

Saturday was The Hague. Two destinations there – a crystal store. I needed more rose quartz and ended up with many others too. It’s a Reiki Center also. But strange… just a door on the street as if it was just an apartment. I guess you have to want to go there – no drop-ins encouraged.

2015-07-11 15.49.40 Then the Mauritshuis.   This is a tiny museum. Tiny. But wonderful. It is the home   of Vermeer’s the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I love this painting. I saw it recently at the DeYoung in SF. There it was displayed in its own room.   With a great deal of information about its recent restoration.   But that’s the kind of greeting you get when you are a visitor. 2015-07-11 16.18.34Here, in her own house, she hangs on a wall in a nice room that she actually shares with other paintings. She even shares the wall!   No   respect at home. Made me think of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. She shares a room but she has her own wall – actually a divider in the middle of the room. Your family never treats you like royalty.

2015-07-11 16.20.50I also discovered the Goldfinch by Fabritius. It’s a great painting – but I couldn’t buy a poster. The chain that holds it to its perch is too depressing. Now I will have to reread the book.

The highlight of the Museum, however, was the elevator.elevator

Yup. An elevator. To enter the museum you walk down stairs to a level below ground. Then you take an elevator up to the first floor. It was a cool elevator – as you went up, you realized that the elevator walls were clear glass. It was a bit weird as it slowed at one point as it came up to the top and then paused and went up higher. We paid no attention and got out. Enjoyed the paintings. And when we were done, we went back to the elevator. Except. There was nothing there but a rectangular box of clear glass just sitting on the marble floor. Weird. We just looked and then suddenly the marble floor in the box starts moving up! And there is the elevator.   Better than the Vermeer – but in a different way.

Followed the museum with a walk about town and dinner on the square. We commented about how nice it was to eat on the square – and how European.

Enjoyed a bit of Belgium as we had lunch in Antwerpen before my train left. Belgium has two languages.. maybe three. With their own names, but similar to Dutch, French and German. Suddenly I was able to read signs again. I feel at a tenuous place with my French skills and I don’t want to leave and speak something else for a week. I am in France until Sept 4. 2015-07-09 16.30.45 2015-07-09 16.28.47The Antwerp train station is amazing – with trains coming in on three levels. Modern. Then you turn around and a beautiful classic building is the entrance.

Monoprix has not delivered yet. They have an hour left on their window. In between paragraphs I have actually been cleaning. Some dusting in the bedroom but basically just the vacuuming left and I don’t dare do that until the delivery is here. It would be disaster to miss the doorbell.

News about the 14th of July in the next post. Just an observation that you cannot leave this planning until the day before. The restaurants with a view are booked. Duh.

Brief interlude – Monoprix delivered. Met Chantelle at her house for 2 hours of conversation. She says I am progressing and she was impressed with some new idioms I tossed into the conversation. I finally met her husband. He is a contractor and showed up in Levis and work shirt. Tres American. Very nice but I found myself scared to talk to him. I figured out afterwards that it was because he was just a French person and so far I have only really had full blown conversations with my exchange folks and brief interactions with store and restaurant personnel. I had to concentrate but I did survive. And he is sweet.

Dinner with Laurel with a nice view. Planning activities for le quatorze juillet.

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