Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mid-week ride to Leiden

Wednesday weather looked promising -- not so cold as the day before, and low chance of rain until late afternoon.  So we packed a lunch and rode to Leiden.  Needed to navigate the farthest part of the ride (into and out of Leiden itself) pretty carefully, but the rest of the trip was easy.  Congratulated ourselves on arriving safely with a coffee for me, mint tea for Katie at a sidewalk cafe in the old town, in the middle of a street market.  Produce looked killer, especially the melons, but too much to carry so we contented ourselves with some great olives for dinner later.

Old medieval section of Leiden is plenty confusing, but we found a free public parking garage for bicycles then went walking.  Visited the old wool guild hall -- Leiden was a major wool center -- they made and exported great quality stuff though the life of the everyday worker or small independent family shop didn't look any too easy.

Then a tour of the big old church, St Pieterskerk.  A really great church!  Churches in the modern day have kind of fallen on hard times, membership and attendance is way down, maintenance costs are way up, the books just aren't balancing.  I have a small theory and idea on how to help.  Katie and I have walked all around the outside of a couple of big churches without being able to identify the front door.  It seems a small thing, but does make it more than a little hard to get inside.  A "front door" sign might make all the difference.

This church had a nicely marked entrance, and it led through a little ante-chamber cafe where they had a terrific offer:  you paid to enter the church, but if you wanted to get a coffee or tea on the way out you got a 1 Euro rebate and a chance to warm up with hot beverage.  Good system, more power to them for setting it up.  Incidentally, upkeep charge on the church itself averages ~1000 Euro / day.

Got some rain on the ride home, but it was light rain and kind of pleasant.  Bought tulips at a little roadside honor stand!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Train to Gouda

Tuesday was a last blast of winter.  Cold enough that people were talking possible snow, though it didn't.  A good morning to leave the bikes at home and take a train to Gouda for an outing.  So we did.

Gouda is a nice town, and easy to find your way from train station to old city center.

I might as well get this out of the way early in this post.  The highlight of this visit to Gouda for my inner 9-year-old was a sign outside a burger stand in the railway station:  "Met echte Cheddar kaas!".  How cool is that!?  "With genuine Cheddar cheese!"  In the town of Gouda, Cheddar is an exotic cheese worth bragging about. OK, now I've got that off my chest and we all know the level of my cultural sophistication.  But hey, it was a pretty special moment.

Town square is dominated by three things -- town hall, cheese guild hall, and church.  Gladly ponied up admission to tour the town hall and church, but balked at paying admission to the cheese guild hall.  Went into the entrance shop, and frankly, it was a bit commercial.  Made me think the tour might have been kind of cheesy.  (Inner 9-year-old again...).  Did get a great photo of carving over the door -- weighing of the cheeses:

Town hall was really cool.  Beautiful big building, still in use for town council meetings and special events.

The first room we went into was exceptional in that both Katie and I had the same reaction:  "the light is like a Vermeer painting."  Room had been used previous day for a King's Day celebration and still had flowers on the tables.  Took a photo that sort of captured the light, I hope.

And another that sort of captured the construction.

The church, which was under some heavy reconstruction due to settling, is famous for a couple of things.  First, size.  It is big.  Really big.  Second, stained glass.  Which was pretty exceptional.  Third, catching fire regularly, although I don't understand how a brick and stone church catches fire.  Like many religious matters, guess you just have to take it on faith that it is possible.

Walking into courtyard outside the church, found a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy.  I like his work a lot, and it is distinctive enough to be readily recognizable.  So it was emotionally kind of similar to running into a friend in an unexpected place.

Then took the train back to Alphen.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

King's Day

Today is
King's Day.

Everyone  celebrates, even Google.  And it is a sunny morning!

Had a great adventure last night -- helped a mom and her son recover his stolen bike.  They were in town square inspecting a bike by iPhone flashlight.  It was his, filched the day before when he left it unattended and unlocked for a moment.  Long story short, together we got it back to our apartment and watched it while they went home and got his spare key.  Key worked, so it was his bike for sure.  All's well that ends well.  Here's a picture of his bike... Katie and I found a photo on the website of the shop here in Alphen were he got the bike new 7 months ago as a present.

Resumed later in the day...  and what a day in 
Alphen!  Lot's going on. Flea market.  Rides.  Multiple concerts.  Food stands.  Everyone enjoying the day, from kids to grandparents. Even local Hell's Angel was out shopping the flea market.

Best concert in my books was a tasteful presentation by a local band of selected great works by the old masters -- Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the King, etc.  Surprised but happy to find that they covered a couple Ry Cooder tunes, even though to the best of my knowledge he isn't pushing up tulips yet.  Everybody dancing and having a great time.  One little kid stood rapt in front of the stage, just loving it... in a few years he'll be up there himself.

 Then out on the back roads and bike paths for a 15 mile ride.

Now time for dinner!

Second half

Packed up our boat stuff, said goodbyes and left the Anna Antal on Saturday morning.  Train to Alphen and back to our little apartment.  Unpacked and assembled bikes... took about an hour each... then out for a short and simple leg stretcher ride of 5 miles -- cross the bridge and right on LF2.
Good nights stleep, a breakfast, and then off for our first real ride here.  No goal, no hard plan, just a "ride as long as it fees good and try to find our way back to the apartment safe in time for dinner".

Katie navigated using the "Fietsroute Netwerk" system of map signage and did a great job -- we did make it back safe after 26 miles, had a mid-afternoon snack of Frites followed by a nice dinner of rice, salmon and salad.  Believe Katie felt justly proud and competent!  (Will post our exact route here later.)

Weather last week was unusually fine but nothing lasts forever.  We are in the Netherlands so... broke out the rain gear.  On the bright side it's a fine light rain, barely wet at all.

Beautiful ride.  A highlight was seeing a pair of nesting storks!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fun is where you find it...

Great group of people on the Anna Antal.  15 cyclists, most from Alaska, some from Canada, two-thirds women.  And a crew of 4 -- captain, cook, cook's helper, and cycle guide (Marjan). Engineers, research scientists, entrepreneurs, health care professionals, retirees, students...

Mid-week, Marjan proposed an event that was right up my alley.  A sculpture 'contest', with simple rules: 1) each entry must incorporate an empty toilet paper tube; 2) beyond that, whatever you can find.

People kept their project plans close to the vest, but materials assemblage entailed a lot of dumpster diving!

Results were unveiled after dinner on Friday.  Delightful stuff!  I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Riding and sailing a 'short Northern loop'

After dawn visit to FloraHolland operation we floated back to near Amsterdam, then rode a northern loop for 3 days.  Purmerend, Edam, Alkmaar, Beemster polder, more... I've probably got them out of order, because my memory is really simple:  three days of wonderful cycling.  Weather kept getting nicer until by Friday it was shirt-sleeve-cycling nice in the afternoon.  Now have a nice tan as well as an extra 10 pounds (tempted to adopt the cook on the Anna Antal).

A solid week of great weather in April, zero rain. Usually cloudy in the morning, evolving to full sun by late afternoon. Locals say an April week without rain is very unusual.  I get the impression that it has  happened before, but maybe not since about say 1887.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Busman's Holiday at Alsmere

Photos for now, text to come later, but basically a "busman's holiday" for an auction geek... world's largest daily auction of perishable flowers.  Hybrid of auction and commodity trading floor, fronting a mega-organized warehousing and distribution system where the stock rotates 365x / year.

And finally after 4 days some "later text",  giving a sense of the scope of this operation.   To believe it you really have to see it, but here are the basics.

The "FloraHolland" operation is located adjacent to Schiphol airport, one of the worlds largest.
This enables both the import of fresh flowers for daily sale, and the immediate export of sold flowers.
FloraHolland does more than 100K transactions / day, with an average daily value of 9.6M Euro.
35M flowers sold / day.
3.7B roses sold / year, 1.7B tulips, then a bunch of flowers whose names I can't recognize.
3739 direct employees; 250K full time jobs including both direct and indirect employment.
4700 flower seller members (4100 in the Netherlands, 600 located in other countries).
Ranks with the seaport of Rotterdam and the airport of Schiphol as one of Netherlands top 3 'mainports'.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Leiden to Alsmere... beautiful day

Glorious weather.  Cold in the morning, shirt sleeves by mid-afternoon, no rain.  Beautiful!  And supposed to be just as good tomorrow.  Our account at the Karmic Bank of the Weather is going to be seriously over-drawn at this rate.  Some snapshots -- a nice sailboat and windmill, a nice steep uphill path in the Dutch Alps, and nicest of all... the view from sundeck of our boat when we reached it again in the afternoon after ~30 miles of cycling.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Anna Antal, Haarlem to Leiden

Joined the Anna Antal on Saturday afternoon.  Nice group of people.  Mix of Americans and Canadians, all adults, generally fit without being over the top, bike and travel enthusiasts.  Met two couples from Anchorage who both knew our old friend Brian Davies.  Short ride around Haarlem in the evening.

Sunday was a great day for cycling.  Warm by spring-in-the-Netherlands standards (mid-afternoon high around 50 degrees), little wind, zero precipitation.  And as of the moment... Monday morning... today is looking just as good.

Rode through the region of flower bulb farming.  Tulips just starting to bloom, but the other earlier flowers -- I always forget their exact names, so I group a bunch of them under the generic name of 'you know, that other flower...'.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that maybe some of them were Crocus, Hyacinth and Daffodils.

Spent a couple hours at the Keukenhof, an annual garden event focused primarily on tulips.  It was pretty interesting, but in a nutshell:  lots of flowers, and lots of people -- most of them taking selfies by the gigabyte.  So I took a couple photos of flowers, and of people taking selfies with the flowers.

Then we rode on --

To Leiden.  Beautiful old university town.  Medical schools here since the late middle ages, today a center of stem cell research.  First town in Netherlands to rebel against Spain when the joint issues of "we pay way too much taxes to that guy in Spain" and "we don't much like his religion either" joined forces and sparked emergence of modern Netherlands.