|Date:||Tuesday, September 1, 1998|
|Location:||Haarlem, The Netherlands, to Bacharach on the Rhine, Germany|
Same old Haarlem breakfast of champions: cold cuts and corn flakes -- alliterative but eclectic.
Off we go in the Heidebloem bus to the Aalsmeer flower auction. Very impressive: This is a truly humongous transit warehouse with several auction halls. Each hall has one or more electronic "dutch auction" displays. The price starts high, and decreases rapidly and automatically, until a bidder is willing to purchase some or all of a lot. He/she pushes a button and indicates the quantity to purchase at the bid price. The remainder is then re-auctioned in the same manner, until all of a lot is exhausted. Extremely fast and efficient process. There is a huge variety of types and colors. The warehouse is set up with a visitor catwalk running down one side (over tram cars holding flowers of every imaginable kind and color, and past auction halls) and back up the other.
Here are a smattering of shots:
The bus takes us to the Arnhem outdoor folk museum. This is a park with relocated old farm and town homes. The Farm homes have tiny sleeping nooks, where family members slept sitting up! According to Gene, the common wisdom of the day said that lying down is too hard on the heart. (Gee, common wisdom was just as good then as it is now!)
We pop into the reconstruction of a 19th century town, to view the burgher's beautiful home, complete with ceramic tiled hearth. My favorite part was a visit to the bakery, which produces some truly delicious products. Rick buys a loaf of white bread, which he shares with the group. Brig and I enter the store, and I don't know quite what to do. There is a seemingly endless array of bread and cake products that I want to sample. I settle on two items: A small currant cake, the size of a crumpet. It turns out to be pleasant enough. The real find, the one I need to try to reproduce, is a full-sized loaf of raisin rye bread. It is soft, yet dense; crammed with sultanas, and dusted with bran. We share it with the group. Happily, there is plenty left for me. I polish it off in the next day or two. (As I transcribe this, a month after the fact, I am salivating as I remember the texture and flavor. I wonder if I can approach the quality of that delicious loaf in our bread machine?)
There are several examples of windmills (this is Holland, after all). One windmill is set up as a sawmill. Another is for pumping water -- the Netherlands' most famous usage of wind power.
...which brings up a running joke: Gene quotes an old saw, "God made the Dutch, but the Dutch made the Netherlands." Whenever Gene can't remember his lines, from here on, he flips back to "God made the Dutch..."
Anywho, the bottom line is that the Netherlands were just a bunch of marshes, ignored by most of europe as being a wasteland. Until, that is, the Dutch figured out how to build dikes, pump out the sea water with wind power, how to flush out the salt with fresh water and halophilic plants, etc., until they finally had turned worthless marshland into valuable, productive real estate. This process continued right into the mid-twentieth century.
And now for a "pancake" lunch. We are treated to four varieties of Dutch country pancakes, which bear little resemblance to American pancakes or French crepes. These appear to be entirely unleavened. Just flour and egg -- very dense and filling. We share the table with Peggy, Ray, and Rick. The first three selections are mushroom; egg and ham; and cheese. All are delicious. The dessert pancake is also good: apple and currant. We are all stuffed. Here, you finish:
After lunch, we hop on an old electric trolley, assuming that it is included in the park's admission price. Wrong! As I photograph Brig in the trolley, she is captured in a surprised expression, as the impeccably uniformed conductor asks her for her ticket. We happily pay him the f2 (around a dollar). The trolley is immaculate, and gorgeous -- an operating museum piece. It's all wood and polished metal fittings. The head of every single screw is aligned with the direction of the surrounding wood grain. Obviously, this is a work of love by devoted trolley fans. While cruising around the park we sail past a large trolley museum. Too bad we don't have the time to stop and explore it...
By now, it is starting to drizzle a bit. We hurry to the exit, and find a few minutes to browse the gift shop. It's our last opportunity to spend guilders (and exhaust our coins). I find some licorice and honey-waffle cookies (did you know I have a sweet tooth?). Brig finds a beautiful ceramic candy holder (around $30). Thus begins our booty collection...
Back on the bus to Bacharach on the Rhine.
We pile out of the bus, and troop past the remnants of the medieval city wall into the Hotel Kranenturm. The hotel is built in and around a portion of the medieval wall and a tower, upon which a crane had once been mounted to load and unload ships. Thus the name, which means Crane Tower.
Our room (#12) is on the third floor (counting by European standards, which means it is 3 flights up from ground level). It has a beautiful double bed, and a bay window that overlooks the Rhine and a park suitable for picnicking. It also overlooks the train tracks, which are thick with freight and passenger trains, blasting by at around 90 kph. Noise? No problem -- two pair of disposable earplugs await us on the headboard, gratis! The room keys are skeleton style.
We decide to explore the town a little, before dinner. There are several pensions just a street or two back from the Kranenturm. One of them boasts of its endorsement by Rick Steves. The price seemed pretty reasonable (sorry, I don't remember what it was). Several of the shops have grape vines growing on them. Ripe (and unripe) grapes hang invitingly. We accept the invitation, and sample some. Some aren't bad. Others are not really ripe yet -- very sour. We notice a shop selling true "italian ices". We decide to partake of a pre-dinner appetizer. I lust after lemon ices -- a treat from my childhood on the streets of Flushing (Queens, NY). This is MUCH better. Very smooth, and tart. Perhaps a scoche too sweet. Not a trace of the bitterness I remember from NY's lemon italian ices. Inexpensive, too, at DM1 ($0.60) per scoop . I suspect this was actually lemon gelato, not granita. Whatever...
We return to the hotel (joining up with Ling and Ray along the way), and make our way to the dining room. We start with a potato-leek soup (nice, but a little salty for my taste). Then the main dish, Beef Bacharach. This turns out to be a couple of slices of beef, swimming in a nondescript gravy, with boiled, peeled new potatoes. Accompanying this is a bowl of string beans per table. The beans (the best part of the meal, from my point of view) obviously started the day very fresh, but were cooked to old european standards. That is, they were cooked until very soft -- almost "canned" consistency. They are in a parsley, onion, and butter sauce. B+ for flavor. C- for texture. Brigid manages to procure other tables' leftover beans for our table. We each purchase a glass of white Bacharach wines: dry for me, medium for Brig. They are very nice, not sharp, but there is little fruity or floral character. For dessert, a homemade chocolate chip ice cream. Luxuriously rich.
Gene announces some post-dinner entertainment: We join the group, at the nearby park on the Rhine, for a reading of the exceedingly corny store of the Loreley Rock. (This rock is a hairpin bend in the Rhine, perhaps 6 miles upstream. The story is of a siren -- Loreley, who lures incompetent sailors to their deaths, and a brave soldier -- Ronald -- who is killed by the Rhine while driving her off.) Much wine accompanies the story, to make it palatable. I contribute our fluorescent flashlight, to make the reading a bit easier. Gene does a good job on his sections, but Rick can't help but snicker at his parts. Julie also shares in the reading.
Afterwards, the group gets silly, singing Kumbayah; Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore; Amazing Grace; and other loony tunes. [My favorite, improvised line for Kumbayah: "Someone translate, Lord, Kumbayah..."] The hit of the evening was Ray's rendition of There Was a Hole (the prettiest little Ho' that you ever did see). The wine fueled these excesses, no doubt. I only had one 8 oz class of merlot (plus 7 oz of white wine at dinner), and ended up more drunk than I have ever been.
The rest of the group decides to climb the 500 (rather damp) stairs,
300 feet to the top of the ridge, in the dark, to visit Castle Stahlek
(now, a youth hostel). I decide that I've had far too much wine for
such an endeavor. We let the group take our fluorescent flashlight,
and turn in for the night.