After all the eating and drinking over Christmas we needed to get some exercise to walk off the extra calories we had consumed so we headed to the Berge Bos a large, wild, park with lakes and woodland just outside Rotterdam and just a few minutes away in the car from where our daughter and her partner live in Pijnacker.
There are plenty of birds and other wild life there and some surprising domesticated creatures too – namely, a herd of shaggy, baggy, Highland Cattle.
We saw one lonesome but handsome specimen who was grazing in bushes just off the track we were walking on and then a group of these fabulous large horned creatures just over the other side of a small channel in a clearing.
After a lovely long walk we visited the park cafe for a hot drink – and in Jonathan ‘s case, a big slab of apple pie and cream ( he obviously hadn’t eaten enough treats over Christmas!)
Between Christmas and New Year we went on a trip to Zaanse Schans, where there is a collection of well-preserved historic windmills and houses. From 1961 to 1974 old buildings from all over the area were relocated.
Some of the houses and windmills are set up as little museums and it was very interesting to see the the weavers’ house and to learn that fabric to make sails for the hundreds of sailing ships were woven from hemp which was grown all over the Netherlands back in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The cottages and looms were owned by the sail manufacturers and the weavers were paid very low piece rates which meant they lived in poverty. Woe betide them if they were struck by incapacitating illness as they would not only lose their livelihood but their home as well.
Braziers and outdoor heaters warmed us at Hannah and Pieter’s New Year’s Eve party which for the start of the evening anyway, was held outside. A table full of temptingly delicious finger food was laid out including a large bowl of olieballen – balls of deliciousness a bit like doughnuts but fried in oil and served hot, doused in icing sugar.
On the stroke of midnight all hell let loose – fireworks exploded from every direction and it honestly sounded like we were under siege! There were stunning fireworks of red, gold, silver and green in every part of the sky.
The really amazing thing was that these explosions of brightly coloured stars and massive bangs continued not just for half an hour or an hour but for more than three hours!
It seemed like every household in the area was holding their own huge fireworks display – each trying to outdo every other home’s show.
This temporary mayhem and madness contrasts sharply with the usual calm and orderliness that normally prevails in the Netherlands. It was almost as though the citizens abandon all their good conduct for one night only so that they can get rid of all their suppressed crazy, subversive behaviour before they knuckle down and return again to be good members of society for the rest of the year!
A day’s recovery was needed the following day (it might have even been two!)
Our next adventure was to Amsterdam where in the morning we visited the Stedelijk Museum of Contemporary Art. We had hoped to go to the Van Gogh Museum but it was sold out for the whole day! Even in winter the number of tourists in Amsterdam is on another level.
Sadly the Stedelijk was a disappointment. The exhibition we most wanted to see was Chagall, Picasso Mondriaan and others – Migrant Artists in Paris but there was a massive queue trailing back at the doors to the gallery with at least a half hour wait. As we had other things on the agenda that day we decided not to join the line.
There were of course other exhibits – a series of Japanese posters, a room full of cymbols hanging from the ceiling that the public could hit (two people at a time); several rooms covered from floor to ceiling in black paper butterflies, a number of digital media exhibits etc but nothing that really made a huge impact.
In the afternoon we walked the short distance to the Rijksmuseum- or to be more precise, outside the Rijksmuseum where a skating rink had been set up for the winter.
Hannah and her best neighbourhood friend from Australia had a wonderful time on the ice and managed to stay upright despite it being quite a while since they last skated.
After a huge “all you can eat” sushi meal we hurried to Stromma Damrak Pier 5 to pick up our canal cruise to view the exhibits in the Eighth Amsterdam Light Festival.
Each year, hundreds of ideas have been submitted by designers, architects and artists from around the world. A selection committee then chooses about 30 artworks that make up the festival’s installations.
It was a lovely way to see more of Amsterdam (besides which, we are always happiest when on the water!) and some of the exhibits were really imaginative and quite spectacular.