Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Real or Surreal?

Surrealism -- noun -- a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.

Hieronymous Bosch is a hometown boy here.  He wasn't technically a surrealist, but I think that's only because he painted centuries before that 20th-century movement.  To me his work is as surreal as it comes, if a bit obsessed with the heaven / hell thing.

I worked in a corporate environment that prided itself on being guided by 'big data', so I'm personally highly aware that surrealism can creep into conclusions based on data science.

So was delighted to find this sculpture (a modern construction taken from a Bosch painting), next to this school.  Juxtaposition is as surreal as it gets.

Hieronymous Bosch based sculpture

"Hieronymous Academy of Data Science"

Lost, found, and another great castle

Katie found a likely looking ride on our map, titled something like "Discover Brook Valley from Windmill to Castle", and we rode it yesterday.  Maybe 25 miles?  Will never know exactly because we got lost twice, so can't figure out exact mileage.

I'm a huge fan of the knoopunt (node) system:  numbered points on the map and in actual locations, with directional signs from each to all other directly accessible knoopunts.  What can go wrong with such an elegant system?  How can you get lost?  Well, elegant as the system is, it depends on two things.  The number signs from the map must actually exist at the physical route junctions, and they must be located where they are supposed to be.

Sometimes it doesn't happen that way.  Not often, but sometimes.  On this route, it's possible that the installation crew finished the job late on a Friday afternoon, after a few beers and a spliff at lunch.  So errors were made in the installations.

First time, we "found" ourselves and got back on track.  Second time was pretty hopeless, we might be out there still if a good samaritan hadn't stopped his car, considered the situation, and led us directly to a spot we could rejoin the correct route.  Nice guy, even if he was pretty brazenly much more interested in helping Katie than helping me.  (Who can blame him?)

So here is the coolest thing about the ride.  On the map in very tiniest possible type it said "Kasteelmuseum Heeswijk"... hard to spot. Then access itself was really remote and kind of weird.  You had to find a tiny bike path, ride down it, then turn down an even tinier one.  So you approach this castle through a countryside path rather than a road... it is like cycling up to Camelot or something.  Imagine a castle rising from fields and woods, with not even a jet contrail in the sky to let you know you are in the 21st century rather than the 12th.

First view -- cycling in the 12th century?

Rather than recount the castle's history, I'll link to a description and post some photos.

Couple things to call out about the visit that made me particularly happy.  First, an actual spyhole just like in the movies!  Enabled you to look down unobserved from a stairway into a dining room below.  Very cool.  You can see the school kids also loved it.  Second, check out the circular steps in the castle's oldest tower.  Finally... I was kind of bummed on Monday when we discovered the "family with rats" diorama had been removed from the Biesbosch museum, so you can only imagine how happy I was to discover a mummified rat in a baggy in one of the display cases here!  For all I know, it might be the same guy.  Nice to know he has been made part of the collection, which was otherwise really 'medieval upscale'.

Kids and spyhole

Spyhole view

Tower stairs
My friend from the Biesbosch museum?

Approaching castle by path

Castle Heeswijk

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Riding in the Biesbosch

We took a train trip to Dordrecht on Monday, and from there rode out to the Biesbosch.

Was a classic summer day.  Hot and sunny until mid-afternoon, then big clouds that didn't quite turn into a thunderstorm.  Not a lot of miles on the bikes (15 - 20?) but really enjoyable ride.

The Biesbosch (means 'rush forest') is essentially a classic freshwater delta swamp, Dutch style.  Lots of interesting ecological, economic and historical tie-ins, but I'll skip those and leave the details to Wiki.

Two things I do want to call out.

First, pronunciation.  Through trial and error I've found that you must be native to the Netherlands to pronounce Biesbosch correctly.  It looks easy, but is not possible for a foreigner.  P. J. O'Rorke's classic analysis of Lebanese customs agents attempting to pronounce "passport" (Bassboat? Bizport? Passboot? Pisspot?) gives a good idea of the challenges.  I've found my attempts to say Biesbosch run something like this:

Me: Beezbosh
Native Dutch speaker (after a pause):  No, more like Beezbahs
Me: Beezbahs
N D s (a a p):  Well, more like Beiezboss
Me: Beiezboss
N D s (a a p):  Not exactly, more like Beeezsbahsh
Me: Beeezsbahsh
N D s (a a p):  Maybe really a bit more like ... (repeat all afternoon)

Saying "we are going for a ride in the Biesbosch" to anyone here is great fun and a guaranteed conversation starter.

Second, the Biesbosch museum.  We visited it about 15 years ago and remembered it very fondly -- it had dioramas of family life in the region!  Was really looking forward to seeing the dioramas again (especially one I remember as showing Mom cooking in a tiny rush & willow hut meagerly provisioned with a baby in a cradle and a stuffed rat running along the rafter while Dad was out hip deep in cold watery muck cutting reeds).  But the museum had gone upscale at some point with a new building, fancy projection technology and some ecology oriented stuff focused on school kids.  Educational, but I miss the dioramas.  They were way more realistic and touching.

Sweep / nice thank-you

On the ride from Amsterdam to Brugge we had a group of 17 riders including our guide.  The guide normally rides at front of the pack and leads the way. At the other end of the pack is the last rider, or "sweep".  In between you've got a mix of riders, riding styles, and standard or e-powered bikes.

Riding sweep in general just means... ride slow enough that nobody gets left behind.  It can have moments of high drama and responsibility, but even those mainly are addressed by phoning the guide at the front and saying "hey we have a problem back here."  So I guess the single most important thing for riding sweep may be: have a cell phone that works for a local call.  I had that and met some of the other criteria as well:  slacker, happy riding slow, and likes to have conversations with whoever else is at the back of pack at the moment.

Anyway, I rode sweep for much of the trip.  Frequently joined by Katie, which was nice.  And we didn't leave anyone behind accidentally.

One of our group paid me the nicest compliment at the end of the ride, nice enough that I don't want to forget it.  She was a good competent rider, but maybe felt a little challenged by the daily distances and some of the speed demon riders with e-bikes.

Paraphrasing since I don't remember her exact words, but what she said was close to this:  "Thank you for riding sweep. Your approach to it gave me permission to feel good about my riding."  That was a really nice thing to say.

K & S riding sweep

Monday, May 28, 2018

Just passing through

A beautiful find on Sunday ride south of Den Bosch. 
Engraved stone on right side of path, field of grass on the left.

wat blijft is de wind op de grasharp spelend 

what remains is the wind playing on the grass harp

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Count of Flanders / Castle Gravensteen

Flanders heraldic symble
"Count" or "Countess" historically was technically a mid-level position in the aristocratic hierarchy, but the reality could vary enormously.  Count of Flanders was more or less as powerful as it gets.  Flanders was an economic jewel, and her rulers married up for generations.  Ultimately the title Count of Flanders was held by the head of the Hapsburg family, who also held such titles as Holy Roman Emperor -- essentially, the ruler of much of Europe.  Super boring stuff unless you are a history geek, but fascinating if you are.

Universally interesting is the home of the Count or Countess:  Castle Gravensteen.  Current castle was built in the 12th century, and was built on the site of an original structure dating to the 9th century.  This place is it when you think "castle".  Has it all -- towers, keeps, battlements, dungeon, moat -- the works.  And for a small contribution to the upkeep, you can go in and pretty much have the run of the place.  Walking the castle from bottom to top was an experience of a lifetime.  If you have any interest in castles (who doesn't?) here's my advice: go to Ghent and do it.

In real estate terms, the castle "has good bones" -- a euphemism for "still needs some works".  From some viewpoints it is perfectly restored and looks in almost new condition. When you see it from other viewpoints, you realize this pile of stone really is a thousand years old.

Castle Gravensteen

This was powerful

A brass memorial block set in a sidewalk in Dordrecht, recognizing the arrest and deportation to Auschwitz of Mozes Jacob Kets de Vries.  I'm at a loss for words on what a single block by itself would have felt like.  In reality there were about two dozen of these blocks set in the sidewalk outside of what I understand had been a retirement home for aged men and women.  Each had a unique birth year, but each shared the same "murdered" date:  November 19, 1942.

"roken is dodelijk", 16th century

Interesting juxtaposition of two exhibits in the Gouda cathedral museum.  If they had run "smoking kills" campaigns in the 16th century, this could have been a good one.

Amsterdam > Brugge: then some Impressions

Some very different cycling as the days progressed!  Started with classic Dutch windmill and farming country, changed gradually to modern Netherlands wind-turbine, delta works and industry scene, then back through the centuries again to medieval cities of Ghent and Brugge in Belgium.

Maybe let some pictures speak for themselves about impressions?  I'll try posting one pic from each day and see how that works.

Day 1 -- Gouda Cathedral Windows -- wow

Day 2 -- impromptu stop at art show in country

Day 3 -- is this a classic scene or what?

Day 4 -- Optimists setting off on a cold and rainy morning

Day 5 -- K & S with Netherlands colorfield

Day 6 -- Canal in Ghent

Amsterdam > Brugge: First the Facts

Week of riding from Amsterdam to Brugge with CycleTours finished yesterday.  I didn't post during the ride mainly because it went by so quickly.  But I'll do a couple posts now, starting with the basics:  6 days of cycling, no major accidents for anyone, very nice weather but with one "I'm cold, soaked to the bone, and my shoes are squishing" day, and ~186 miles cycled in total.

GPS record of much of the ride, captured by another rider:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Riding with CycleTours

Painting in our cabin
 Joined CycleTours boat yesterday in Amsterdam.  Bit of confusion... our originally scheduled boat (the Anna Antal) had a mechanical problem with the engine cooling system... so the company moved us all over to another boat (the Wending).  Happy change... the Wending is a bit bigger, nicer cabins, etc.  Our group is about 18 people, and the Wending accommodates 24 normally, so we've got room to spare.  All in all, an upgrade.  No complaints.

Good group of people.  All Americans, which is statistically unlikely given our past experiences.  Two groups of friends, one from New England, the other from California, two moms getting away from the family to celebrate a big number birthday, plus Katie and me, our guide Karline, the captain Jurgen, Anna Mieke (!!!) the cook, and her assistant Agnes.

 Cycled today from Oude Wetering down to Gouda, a beautiful 30 mile ride.  On a sunny, warm Sunday of a 3-day holiday weekend here.  Got off around 10:00 after a leisurely breakfast -- the boat couldn't leave earlier due to a bridge schedule issue so we hung out until the morning fog lifted and the sun came out strong. Lots of people out cycling and enjoying the day today.
Passed by Alphen, came within about 3 miles, thought about a detour for some frites... but the weather was too nice today for frites, so we can live with the decision.

Stopped at a local beach in the afternoon, an an impromptu 30 minute nap under a tree.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How old... is old?

Deventer is >1100 years older than our hometown, San Mateo.  Deventer celebrates its 1250th anniversary this year:

1250 years creates a very different perception of what it means to be "old".  As an example, here is a paraphrased conversation among our landlady (Y), Katie (K) and me (S) yesterday.

Y: Try this cheese, you will like it, it is called "Bunker Cheese"... because it is aged in an old bunker.
S: An old bunker from World War II?
Y: No, sort of an older bunker. With a line.
K: Oh, the Maginot line. A bunker from World War I.
Y: No, a sort of an older bunker than that.
S: Oh, from the Napoleanic Wars.
Y: No, a kind of an older bunker really. About flooding the land. 
K: Oh, the 16th century revolt against Philip II of Spain?
Y: Well possibly, but maybe a bit older.

It's paraphrased, but pretty much verbatim.  For something to be considered "old" here...  it needs some serious years.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Back on the bikes

Left the ship Tuesday and took train to Deventer, a wonderful old Hanseatic town in Netherlands.  Visited once before for a day, but now have chance to spend a couple days and explore on foot and bikes.

Took our first long bike ride yesterday, round trip Deventer to Zutphen (another wonderful old Hanseatic town).

The Cosmos' response to our unpacking and assembling the bikes was, naturally, an immediate change in weather.  An unbroken two week string of near perfect days... broke.  We started out the morning ride to Zutphen in a nice spring rain.  But even a nice rain is basically cold and wet.  Memorable comment as we stopped to put on more rain gear:  "... ah, the first sneeze of pneumonia."  Let's hope that is just a joke.

Seriously, it was terrific to ride through the Dutch countryside again on the LF3.  Beautiful country.  Intensely green in the springtime.  And beautiful bike paths.

Weather improved immensely in Zutphen.  Picnic outside an old cathedral, then an impromptu visit to Zutphen's museum.  Huge luck!  Closing days of a special exhibition, staged with support of the Rikjsmuseum.  I don't read Dutch, so I'm going to just take a guess at exhibition title:  Local Great Painters You've Never Heard Of,  in A Museum without Crowds.  If that was the title, the curators hit the mark -- the painters were all local guys, they were great, I'd never heard of any of them, and the museum was peaceful with room to breathe.  Plus, downstairs they had an exhibit about a Viking raid circa 800, and you can't beat Viking raid exhibits for interesting.

Afterwards... Mother Nature kind of sucker punched us.  We discussed whether to just take an easy train back to Deventer, but the rain had stopped, the sun was out, and we felt young and optimistic so decided to ride bikes home.  About a mile into the ride a massive wind started, right into our faces, and it didn't stop until after we reached home couple hours later completely pooped.  Now thankful for all those stairs on the Brilliance, our cardiovascular system and legs were up to the job.

Morning on LF3


"Local Great Painters You've Never Heard Of' Show

Some things never change... is he texting on a cell phone?

Just a beautiful painting

Nameless Viking Guy

Vasa Museum

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm may not be the one of Wonders of the World, but it's close. The Vasa is a really big and fancy 17th century warship. Also a kind of a monument to military poor planning and over-reach, and to everybody's reluctance to tell a King that he's a bit nuts. But on the positive side, just imagine... an entire seventeenth century warship, preserved exactly as it was the day it launched!
Vasa... as the King hoped she would be

On 10 August 1628, Wasa set sail on her short maiden voyage, promptly sinking in Stockholm harbor. As I understand it, the ship was a little too tall and top-heavy, as the King had insisted on her having a full extra deck of cannons.  And too skinny to hold enough ballast to compensate for the high center of gravity.  So she slid down the launching ways into the water, tipped over, and sank.

Vasa's captain
Only ~30 people died. The rest just swam to the nearby shore. The museum included the skeletal remains and some interesting analysis of the probable lives and occupations of the lost. The captain was one of the them. I think he chose to go down with the ship, rather than having to explain the situation to the King.

Hard-hat salvage diver
Fast forward 333 years to 1961. Vasa was salvaged intact, and raised from the harbor floor by hard-hat divers passing steel cables under her keel, then stretching the  cables tight using salvage ships. She was reconstructed, replacing the rusted away iron bits, and is an astonishing 98% original. Vasa is now suspended in mid-air, and viewable from nearly touching distance.

Viewing her is very close to time-travel.

Scale model reproduction

Vasa herself!