Monday, October 30, 2006

Die Niederlande

Thursday October 12th I took a train to Delft in the Netherlands, where I met a friend of mine from high school who has family friends there. Her friends were a really nice and engaging older couple who work at the university there. This is their house:

While in Delft, Elke, our hostess, gave us an incredibly thorough and informative tour of her town, including several interesting recent buildings on the university campus (one which appears to be submerged in a hillside) and many beautiful old structures from the era when Vermeer and Rembrandt were alive and painting there -- the former was born and lived much of his life in Delft. It was particularly interesting how the only ancient part of the city, packed tightly and surrounded by the few remains of what had been a wall & moat, seemed like a city apart from the more spacious and in parts modern counterpart beyond the walls. We had beautiful weather Friday, and managed to zip over to the Hage in the morning before this tour. Here is the gates to old Delft:

[It was actually a very odd experience crossing the German border on my connection train and hearing Dutch for the first time. While in writing the language has a number of similarities to German (almost understandable), the pronunciation differs SO much that it only 2 or 3 words in a long ramble made any sense to me.] I found this instructional decal equally strange, and commical (I don't think i've even given that much attention to pushing a button):

Saturday afteroon took us 2 hours back across to the country to Enschede, nearly on the German border (poor planning on my part led us here 2nd rather than 1st). Here we spent the night and toured the city and local campus with another of Becky's family friends:
In addition to enjoying a pleasant dinner with Henny and Wim, and their adult son who came by for our visit, we were encouraged to visit their daughter (and granddaughter) in Utrecht, whom Becky had likewise not seem in many years:

After taking leave of Jannika and little Franka in Utrecht, Becky and I departed for Amsterdam...
[In retrospect it was unfortunate that we didn't spend more time in these smaller cities/towns, because they seemed to have a richer sense of culture, and were not as polluted (both literally and figuratively) by the prevailing tourist bent of the big city]

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dresden on our Day of Unity

Last Sunday I hopped on a train down to Dresden, where I stayed with a fellow foreign language assistent until Tuesday afternoon. The long weekend was in honor of the German Day of Unity, celebrated on October 3 (even though this day was technically that of the bureaucratic unity and not the popular dismantling of the wall).
[incidentally, I did not leave until Sunday because weeks ago I had purchased a ticket to Bertholt Brecht's "Caucasian Chalk Circle" at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus -- a production which turned out to be a fascinating example of his unique theories and accompanying style... however, I do wish I had been better able to follow the subtleties in the often complex text]

Kerstin and I spent Sunday afternoon exploring the old part of the city, which is crowded with towering ornate recreations of the original museums, churches, and palace which were destroyed during the war. Nearly all of these massive buildings, clad in darkened stone, are topped by beautiful gilded statues which form a starck contrast to their gritty pedestals.

The so called, palace, was never actually occupied, but was an impressive three-story building that ran the perimeter of a large green space and series of fountains. The whole complex (of which I only have film photographs) was constructed for court functions, but was first used to celebrate "the electoral prince Frederick August’s marriage to the daughter of the Hapsburg emperor Archduchess Maria Josepha" (

The next day we took a short train to the Sächsischer Schweiz, a national park with towering rock formations that rise out of the lush rolling landscape near the Czech border. From our train station we had to take a tiny ferry across a small river to Stadt Wehlen, from which we headed up into the hills through the forest. Our hike peaked at an impressive lookout, from which we could see the river we had crossed and the town from which we had started.
On the way down we took shelter (from the rain) and dinner from a small restaurant at the base of the cliffs, before heading back to our train via a path along the river. That night I got a chance to see some of the new part of the city; the more lively, student populated center of nightlife. And Tuesday afternoon we meandered back through the city, past a flea market on my way to the train station.