Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sinterklaas Arrives in Diemen

We have been watching as beautiful Christmas decorations have started to appear on the streets of Amsterdam.

To kick off the Christmas season, Sinterklaas is scheduled to arrive this morning from Spain.  This young man, one of Sinterklaas's helpers, eagerly watches for his arrival.

November 19th was the exciting day for Sinterklaas to arrive in Diemen.  He came all the way from Spain by boat, and was eagerly awaited by hundreds of excited boys and girls.
This small boat carrying some of his helpers (Swarte Piets or Black Petes) came in advance of the boat carrying Sinterklaas.

One of the Black Petes jumped into the freezing water for a short dip.  Brrrrrrrr..

A young boy on the sidelines was all dressed up in his Black Pete costume, and was happy to let me take his picture.

Crowds lined both sides of the canal from the first bridge (the one we cross to reach our apartment) to the second bridge about 2 blocks farther up the street.

The children sang songs and recited poems while they waited for Sinterklaas to arrive.

Black Petes were busy handing out goodies to the waiting crowd.

Here he comes!!!  The boat on the right is carrying lots of Black Petes and Sinterklaas - the main attraction - is on the boat to the left.

The Black Petes have had a long journey.  As you can see, the word Spanje (Spain) is clearly written on the side.

The Black Petes are very colorful!  They look like court jesters from medieval days.  The story goes that they were originally Moors living in Spain during the days of Sinterklaas's charitable works among the poor.

Sinterklaas, (or St. Nicholas) the one in the bright red cloak and tall red hat with a golden cross,  was born in 271 A.D. and lived to December 6, 342 or 343 in Spain.  He was a benevolent priest who often walked through the town at night leaving small gifts on the doorsteps of the poor. 

Tradition has it that he enlisted the help of a Moorish knave called Piet to help carry his packages. 

Black Pete - a grinning, happy fellow - carries a birch rod and a sack of goodies.  If the children are good they get the goodies.  If they have been naughty, his sack is large enough to carry them away.

We're talking REALLY black, Black Petes.

And LOTS of them!  The newspaper reported that when Sinterklaas arrived in Amsterdam he brought 500 Black Petes.  We probably saw around 50 here - but we're a much smaller city.

The traditional treat from Black Petes bag is a handful of spicey cookies called Kruid Noten.  They taste similar to gingerbread and are about the size of a far quarter.

I'm guessing this one is a Petrina - a girl Pete.

Children anxiously await their gifts from St. Nicholas's helpers.

After making his way down the east side of the canal, Sinterklaas's boat turned and went across to the other side where he waved and smiled at the children on that side of the canal.  There was a white horse on the landing waiting for him to mount and ride to the city building where more children were anxiously watching for his arrival.  The Dutch start getting into the Christmas spirit with Sinterklaas's arrival.  On December 5th they will share small gifts and poems with family members in the tradition of this historical benefactor. 
What a fun way to start the Christmas season! 

Monday, November 28, 2011


  We took advantage of a beautiful sunny day and drove to Naarden - a small town east and north of Amsterdam.  Naarden is like a large open-air museum and one of Holland's best examples of a fortified town.  It has a double ring of walls in the shape of a star.

An aerial view shows the unique shape of this fortification.  How pretty is that!

It is possible to go into the bunkers and explore the armaments and other military defense equipment.

During the last century this bridge of land was built to allow access to the town by car.  Originally the fort was totally surrounded by water - making it easier to defend against invaders.

The St. Vitus church was built in 1380-1440, and was the only building that was not destroyed by the Spaniards in 1572 when they burned the town to the ground as an example to other Dutch rebels.  The surrounding buildings would therefore only be about 400 years old, (still a lot older than anything we have in America.)

We were very intrigued by these trees.  We couldn't figure out why they are trimme to be flat on top.
Another interesting thing to ponder....

We parked by the Arsenal museum and started our stroll around the city.

The town is already decorated for Sinterklaas Day, which is less than three weeks away.

These red brick buildings with white trim are a common sight in the Netherlands, and one of my favorite Dutch designs.

Elder Beckstrand in front of the Arsenal Museum, which was originally used to store the town's weapons.

The bag hanging from this window is an example of the bag Black Pete carries, which is filled with treats for good little children.  (The Dutch children are warned that if they are bad little children Black Peter will put them in his bag and carry them away.)

The streets are narrow and the buildings are very quaint. 

This beautiful gate to the town survived the Spanish fire that destroyed the rest of the town in 1572. 

Known as the Utrecht Gate, it is one of several entrances into the fortress.  We walked out through the opening and across the draw bridge.

Arrow holes were built into the interior of the gate so that unwelcome guests would be discouraged from entering.  You'd have to be a pretty good shot to aim and fire in time to hit the approaching rider - the depth of the holes didn't allow for much in the way of periferal vision.

The drawbridge was only built wide enough for one horse-drawn conveyance to enter or leave at a time.  Nowdays it is only used for foot traffic.

Every dorp (small town) has it's stadhuis (city hall), and this one is very similar to others we have seen in Holland - especially the stadhuises in Haarlem and Gouda.

Elder Beckstrand is examining a statue of Jan Amos Comenius, a famous Dutch scholar and educator.

The late afternoon sun shining onto the church made it positively glow.

We made a complete loop around the town and returned to our car near the Arsenal.

As we left this pretty fortress I took more pictures of the outside walls.

This was the perfect day to explore the Gemeente Narden.  The weather is getting cooler, but we're always grateful when the sun shines.

Goodbye to all of you lovely old buildings.  I will miss seeing you when we return to America.

I don't think they'll have anything like this in Arizona.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we drove back towards Diemen.  Although it was only 4:30 pm, the sun was already very low in the horizon.  It is dark by 5:00 this time of year.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bastogne World War II Sites

On a crisp Friday morning, November 11th - Veteran's Day in Europe as well as America - we drove to Bastogne, Belgium to tour some of the World War II sites, particularly the location of the Battle of the Bulge.  We were interesting in seeing where Joe was when he fought in that battle and was taken prisoner.

Our first stop was at a large monument just east of the city of Bastogne.  This armored tank was of the vintage used by the US soldiers in that campaign.

This was a small memorial to the American soldiers of the 101st Division who gave their lives to stop the Germans.

           The City of Bastogne will forever owe a debt to the American soldiers who gave their lives for the freedoms they now enjoy. 

This is a huge memorial that is in the shape of a star.  Each state that sent servicemen to Belgium is honored here.

                          Elder Beckstrand with Elder and Sister Anderson in front of the memorial.

The great state of Utah is listed with the other states who sent soldiers to fight against Hitler's army.

The monument was in a beautiful, quiet area on the top of one of the many hills outside the city.

From the top of the monument we could see an unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside.  There was a slight mist in the air - typical of November weather.

Another view from the top of the monument.

 We looked out over the valley and tried to imagine the horror of facing the German tanks as they rolled through this valley.  The battle took place in December, when snow and cold would have made conditions even more intolerable.  We were cold after just a few minute out in the elements.

Elder Beckstrand stands in front of the plaque paying tribute to Joe's Division - the 28th.
This was a map of the area where the battle took place.  The star shows the location of the monument.  Bastogne is the rectangular area just north and west.

This sign was at the entrance to the memorial, explaining the reasons the monument was constructed and how it is laid out.  It is a beautiful tribute to the American soldiers who fought here.

As we drove back to Bastogne we admired this lovely church in the center of town.

It was located across the street from the Battle of the Bulge Museum.

I took this shot for Traci and Cherie - the door lovers in our family.

The arrows point the way to the museum containing WWII artifacts.

I've seen lots of these motorcycles with their passenger cars in WWII movies.

This exhibit contained lots of helmets, water containers, and mess kits left in the area.

A large map on the wall showed the location of the various U.S. military units and the Germany army advances.  This was Hitler's the last big push to try to cut the allied forces in half by capturing Antwerp.  The secrecy with which he amassed his troups caught the allied troups completely by surprise.  Eisenhower had placed his new recruits in eastern Belgium because the fighting was less intense there.  Little did he know how quickly their fighting ability would be tested. 

 We were shocked when we saw Joe standing in the back of a jeep during a film that was being  shown of footage taken during the war. We had to stay and watch it the second time to be sure our eyes weren't deceiving us.  It was really him!

After leaving the museum we drove around the city of Bastogne to get a feel for the area.  There was a Veteran's Day parade being held on main street just as we arrived.

We stopped at the city square and got some luscious French pastries and some delicious French bread to make sandwiches for our lunch.

The square was surrounded by restaurants and cafes.  We enjoyed walking around the square and watching all of the interesting people.

Before leaving eastern Belgium we drove out into the countryside to get a feel for the places the armies were located during the war.

The rolling hills are visable in all directions.  This landscape is very different from the flat country we're used to seeing in Holland.

Joe said the battle in which he was taken prisoner was fought on a large hill.  It could have been located in any of these places. 

The churches here are different from the Netherlands.  These have tiled walls that almost look like quilt blocks sewed together.

Sister Anderson stands in front of a water tower in the small town of Wiltz.  It was cold and windy, and we were grateful we didn't have to stay out in the weather like the army did in December of 1945. 

We left eastern Belgium and drove back towards Brussel to the town of Waterloo.  I wanted to see where the great battle between Napoleon and Wellington took place in 1815.  This monument was erected in honor of Wellington and the English army for their valor in stopping Napoleon in his push to conquer Europe.

There was a large diorama in the round building behind us which depicted scenes from the Battle of Waterloo, but we had spent too much time in Bastogne and it was already closed.  It was okay - I just wanted to see the place where the battle took place.

It was just 5:30 pm when we were walking around the area, but the sun had almost set.  It gets dark early this time of year.

This picture over the door of the visitor's center shows scenes from the famous battle. 

As the sun set we could see people just coming down the stairs from the top of the monument.  It is quite a climb to the top.  It has been a long day and we have a long drive ahead of us to get back to Amsterdam.  I guess we'd better say goodbye to Belgium.  It's been a lovely day, and a sobering one.  We owe so much to the brave men who fought and gave their lives to preserve the freedoms we enjoy.