When you’ve got to go

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People urinating in public are a problem in Europe. You often get a whiff of it and from time to time you see it up close and personal. When you stop at a service station to go to the loo it is usually done in the parking lot. I think this problem, which is not nice to encounter, is due mainly to the fact that there are either no public toilets or if there are toilets you have to pay for them. In an effort to reduce the problem some towns are putting in public urinals that you stand at and use with your back to everyone – but still out there. We saw this sign in Belgium and even though we don’t speak the language we get the impression that the council do not want you going in the street and if you do you will be fined – something that I think more parts of Europe should crack down on. I don’t want to see someone going to the toilet and I really don’t want my kids to have to watch someone going to the loo.

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Waterland

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Neder actually means water – so the Netherlands is actually the Waterlands and this is obvious everywhere you go. There are canals everywhere. Paddocks do not have fences because every field is surrounded by canals.

You often pass canals of different heights as water is pumped from lower areas up to higher canals and ultimately to the sea. Huge areas of the country have been drained and pumped dry so that it can be used for farming and housing.

Traditionally, areas of water were drained making polders, using windmills or a series of windmills if the water needed to be raised great heights. Part of this process was also the building of dikes and canals to divert and take the water out to sea.

There is an area near Haarlem where a lake had developed over the centuries because of tidal floods breaking over land as well as drainage from other areas being pumped into the lake. However because this lake was growing it was also eroding its way through towns and engulfing more and more land.

We visited the Museum De Cruquius to find out more about the Netherlands and water.

Over a number of centuries there were a number of plans to drain this area and reclaim it. In the 1800’s the king made the decision to drain the lake and to use steam power, which he had seen in England, to do it. This was the start of the industrial revolution in the Netherlands.

But first, before any water could be pumped out, a canal had to be dug to take the water away. So they dug a canal 62 kilometres long and 40 metres wide all by hand, hundreds of men digging through the mud. While the canal was dug the pumping stations were being built.

The lake covered an area of 18,500 hectares and contained 800 million cubic metres of water, so the pumps had a big job to do. The steam engines used were the biggest in the world with a diameter of 3.66 metres and the one at Cruquius is the only one remaining.

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It took 3 years and 3 months to drain the water out of the lake and then a few more years work inside the polder to dig more drainage canals throughout so that water could be continually drained away.

The Schiphol airport which is the Netherlands main airport is built inside the area of this lake 5.5 metres below sea level. Our guide told us that if they get a lot of rain and do not start pumping water out soon enough the run way begins to move and get waves in it.

The tour here was very interesting. While the steam engine no longer works, it is now still operated with the help of modern hydraulics. It was amazing to see this massive machine move into operation and the eight huge balance beams moving up and down operating the pumps outside. I can only imagine what it would have been like for people used to windmills to see this massive machine in operation.

The rest of the museum showed some of the other ways that the Netherlands deals with water. Almost 70% of the current land area was once underwater. There is a constant battle to keep water out – rain water, ground water and sea water.

The museum has an interactive map which pumps water in to show the different water levels without dikes and if a tidal flood comes in. The dark and light green areas of the map show the areas of the Netherlands that have been reclaimed or are now protected from going underwater at high tide by seawalls and dikes.

It amazes me the lengths the Dutch have gone to to keep their country liveable, a huge undertaking that will not stop as canals need to be dug, dikes maintained and water pumped (at 6500 pumping stations)– it was a great museum to visit to understand the ingenuity and determination that keeps Dutch feet dry.

Just down the road is a museum which shows what life is like in the polder after the area has been drained. Unfortunately most of the museum is in Dutch so we didn’t understand everything that was there. But we enjoyed our visit and learnt a little more about life in the Netherlands.

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Corrie Ten Boom

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We headed off from Amsterdam on our way to Haarlem. On the way we had to stop at a bridge while it opened and allowed 10 or 12 sail boats to pass through which was a bit of a different experience.

We were going to Haarlem to visit the home of the Ten Boom family. The Ten Boom family were a Christian family who worked with the Dutch resistance during WW2. The family helped by hiding people who were on the run and trying to escape the Nazis. The family were clock makers and used their shop as a front to help them in the work they did to help others. The store below the house is still a jewellery store and it is condition of any lease that they must operate a jewellery store here with the name Ten Boom Jewellers if they wish to lease the premises, as a memorial to the family. The family built a secret hiding place in one of the bedrooms in their house. The hiding place was constructed by building a brick wall in the bedroom leaving a 600 mm wide cavity behind for the width of the room of about 2 metres. Entry to the hiding place was through a cupboard built in front of the wall with a sliding panel inside. The family also had an alarm rigged up so that if anyone saw the Nazis coming they could set off the alarm and warn the rest of the house and those who were there hiding could make it into the hiding place before the house was searched. They would do drills to make sure that everyone could get hidden within 70 seconds.

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One day the Nazis came and the alarm was raised; the 6 people got into the hiding place before the house was searched. During the search however some illegal ration cards were discovered. These cards were used by the family so that they could buy enough food for all of the extra people in their house. This was enough to arrest the family who was at this time made up of the father and older sister and Corrie Ten Boom.

Those in hiding were trapped in the hiding place for 47 hours before they were released by some of the Dutch Resistance and were never caught.

The father died after one week in prison. The older sister also died while in a concentration camp. It was only Corrie who survived and that was due to her release brought about by a clerical error. She was 51 and she spent the rest of her life telling others about what had happened and how God had used her family. It gave her a great opportunity to share about God’s grace and forgiveness.

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It was interesting to see the hiding place as well as the home. What was more impressive though was the way that God used the family to help so many people as they made their way to freedom.

It was a real challenge for us to trust God, even though we will probably never be faced with such difficult circumstances.

I thank God for the families like the Ten Booms who had the courage to follow God in this way when so many chose to ignore the plight of others. I was again reminded of the sacrifice that Jesus made to save us so that we could have a relationship with Him.

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Van Gogh

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Due to our late night we had a pretty slow start to our day.

Our only aim for the day was to visit the Van Gogh museum. We made our way there and like most places in Amsterdam it was very busy. This made it a little difficult to see some of the works.

Never the less it was interesting to see some of the paintings which were recognisable. It was also interesting to see the progression of Van Gogh’s style.

I am a little unsure if I actually like his paintings.

He was obviously very troubled.

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I was amazed to hear that even though he is very well known he only started painting when he was 27 years old and only painted for 10 years and some of that time while he was in a mental institution before he took his own life.

After a while Legoboy and I left the ladies with Van Gogh and headed for the playground.

We finished our time in Amsterdam by taking another way back to the ferry terminal. We tried to travel a different way each time we went through the city so that we could get varying views.

We can understand why some people like Amsterdam. It is definitely very pretty. But it is also extremely busy.

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Amsterdam – Anne Frank’s House

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We caught the ferry again and made our way through the city stopping at a little food market next to the Waag which is the oldest non-religious building in Amsterdam.

We bought some Poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) which we thought was a very Dutch thing to do – and we all enjoyed.

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The Netherlands was taken over by the Germans after only 5 days of war during WW2. The country surrendered after Rotterdam had been decimated in an effort to reduce the civilian casualties. Once the country had been defeated there were many who collaborated with the Germans as well as those who worked against them – the Dutch Resistance.

We went to the Dutch Resistance museum and learnt about some of the experiences of the war. It was of course a sobering experience and the suffering of the people is unbelievable. There was also the story of the Jews who were deported. Of the 107 000 who were deported to German concentration camps only 5000 returned after liberation, the rest had died or been killed in the camps. I was reminded of what is going on in Iraq at the moment. This museum also had a junior section that the kids really enjoyed, giving the same information but in a relatable, interactive way.

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After visiting another market and buying some more Dutch treats (this time Stroopwaffel) we gave Legoboy a bit of a break. We spent some time at a playground where we met a family who had spent the last ten years living in Melbourne (she is Dutch, he is an Aussie). The two boys ran about using up energy as only boys can do.

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We made our way back to Anne Frank’s house and joined the queue. We lined up at about 7pm. We finally made it into the house at about ten to nine. As you can imagine there were lots of people inside the house as well as outside still waiting, so it was pretty crowded. But we got the opportunity to see the inside of the house and the annex where the family had hidden during the war. When we read the book it was hard to understand how the annex could not be obvious to the Germans, but now that we were here it was easy to understand how the annex had been hidden for so long.

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We made our way into the annex via the bookcase that had been built to hide the door and understood more completely the story of the book.

It was great to visit this house and get a better understanding about the story as well as read the stories and see the photos of the stories that surrounded the lives of the inhabitants of the annex.

It was sad to again be reminded that of the 8 inhabitants of the house only one (Otto Frank) survived the war. After almost making it all of the way through the war in hiding those living there were arrested and sent to concentration camps about 6 months before the end of the war. Seven of them then were killed or died of disease, some within weeks of liberation – very sad but the story of millions who died in the cruelty of the war.

We left the house at about 10:15 then made our way back to our campsite, while looking for dinner and avoiding the red light district – we got to bed about 12:30.

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Amsterdam

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On our way to Amsterdam we went along the Vecht River which is where all of the aristocrats from Amsterdam built their weekend estates.

The area was very pretty and some of the houses were very impressive; we enjoyed meandering along the river and through little towns.

It was as we were driving along the river that we saw a little car driving along the bike way. The bike ways were used by both bikes (as you would expect) and mopeds and now cars.

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We made it to our stop in Amsterdam and got set up. The site was very busy and when we arrived there were only 3 spots left, and while we booked in more and more motorhomes turned up. We were glad to have a spot.

SWTTM, Legoboy and I went for a walk to check out the passenger ferry we could take to town. We saw the ferry come in and were surprised to see the front of the boat come down and then mopeds, bikes and even a little car drive off followed by all of the people.

The ferry terminal is in an area that used to be a ship building area. One of the massive old buildings has been converted to an art space used by lots of different artists – it was an interesting place to visit.

We had a thunderstorm to rival Queensland during the night with thunder, lightning and heavy rain.

It was still raining in the morning so we had a slow start in the hope that the rain would stop. The rain did stop so we headed off but it started again while we walked to the ferry and got very heavy but we pushed on after a short detour into the art space warehouse.

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We caught the ferry (which was free) and on the way to town the rain stopped which was nice. We were greeted by a huge bike parking area at the ferry terminal.

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One of our main reasons for coming to Amsterdam was to visit Anne Frank’s house. Since we have been in Europe we have read “The Diary of Anne Frank” so we were pretty keen to check out the house where the story actually took place. So we headed toward the house.

One of the things we noticed about Amsterdam was not only the pretty canals and houses but also that many of the houses had some very interesting leans on them. I am not sure that this is a result of all of the water that is around or the fact that the foundations of the buildings are built on timber that has been hammered down into the ground. All around the town we were amazed at the angles on some of the houses.

We also came across more bikes, mopeds and small cars on bike paths.

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We got to Anne Frank’s house and discovered hundreds of people lined up waiting. We thought this was a possibility and decided that we would come back later and see how the line was then.

We continued to walk around the town and enjoyed looking at the buildings and the canals.

We also went to a Tesla (a brand of car) showroom.

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The girls had an interesting toilet experience on one of our few toilet stops (public toilets are few and far between – and generally have to be paid for). The doors to the toilets that they visited were made of clear glass – until you locked the door when it became opaque – well mostly opaque. The girls soldiered on bravely (when you have to go you have to go) but were not huge fans.

We went to a diamond museum and got to see diamonds being cut as well as jewellery being made. It was an informative visit and a little eye opening to see some of the jewellery that was for sale at the jewellery shop at the end of the museum.

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On our way back to Anne Frank’s place we stopped by the floating flower market which had some beautiful flowers that were incredibly cheap.

We got back to Anne Frank’s house and the line still held a few hundred people. A museum staff member informed us the line was closed for the night so we would need to come back another day.

We made our way back to the ferry terminal and accidentally strayed into the edges of the red light district from which we made a hasty retreat.

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The Netherlands

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It has been just over 6 months since we first arrived in The Netherlands and now we are back again. We feel a little more relaxed with driving around than we did when we first arrived.

In Dordrecht there is a man who has built a replica of Noahs Ark. The Ark has been built to the dimensions in the Bible. It was great to visit this ark to see this full-sized replica floating in the river and get a grasp of what the actual ark may have looked like.

The Netherlands is of course known for windmills, canals and dikes, so we made a stop at Kinderdijk where you can walk along the dikes and check out the ten or so windmills that are along this canal.

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There is also a more modern pumping station here which used massive Archimedes screws and diesel engines to move the water.

We got pretty wet when we visited Kinderdijk as it was raining heavily but by the time we were on our way back to Max the rain had stopped and we dried out.

We drove through Rotterdam which is a shipping city and has a lot of new buildings (we found out later that Rotterdam had been very heavily bombed during WW2) as well as lots of public artworks.

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We camped for the night in a suburb of Rotterdam right beside a canal. The camp site was in a narrow street and as Max is quite long we had to park with the rear of Max hanging over the canal so that we did not stick out into the road. The girls were not very comfortable with this situation as their beds are at the back of Max and there was nothing to prevent us from rolling into the canal.

Just down the road were a couple of traditional Dutch windmills.

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Brugges

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Brugges was a lot like Ghent, a merchant town built around the same time around canals. Brugges is on a bigger scale however and is more touristy.

There are lots of tourists catching boat trips through the canals as well as horses and carriages ferrying tourists around the town so it was very busy.

Despite the tourists we enjoyed walking around checking the place out. Like a lot of European cities there are a lot of bikes around the place – all kinds of bikes that allow the whole family to travel around together sometimes on one bike – it is very interesting to see the different designs.

There were also some pretty creative chocolate shops here. We decided to give the Fries Museum (yes a potato chip museum) a miss.

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There is a lace museum and demonstration centre in Brugges which we went to visit. Lace was one of the products that Brugges was famous for, but is now no longer made commercially here, and this centre helps to preserve the art of lace making.

There was a group of ladies making all kinds of lace pieces. I have no idea how they actually do this, there seems to be pins and thread and bobbins going everywhere. The ladies hands move so fast that you cannot see how the process even works. There was a lady here who was in her mid-eighties who had been making lace since she was five. She was working on a piece with over 200 bobbins and her hands flew as she made the lace. It was very interesting to see the process and to see the beautiful work that these ladies made.

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We made our way back to Max through the town centre and along the canals.

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As we left our car park we missed a turn and ended up having to drive right through the town down the narrow lanes and through all of the tourists, we then got stuck at a canal and had to wait while a bridge opened and closed for a boat.

We then got stuck in peak hour (I guess that it was peak hour) traffic as we made our way back to our new friends house for another night getting to know them.

After dinner we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. We came across a sign on the side of the road advertising Horse Milk. Yep that is right, Horse Milk. So if you would like some fresh horse milk let me know, I know where you can get some – although it is a little expensive.

We were glad that we had made the effort to visit this family and definitely enjoyed getting to know them and appreciated their hospitality.

Our last stop in Belgium was in a pretty little village called Brecht – which we eventually got to after spending hours stuck in traffic on our way past Antwerp.

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New Friends

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My sister has a friend from her church in Queensland who is Dutch and has moved with her family to Belgium while one of their sons attends university. They also have a teenage daughter who is a friend of our nieces. We thought it would be nice to meet this family even though we had never met them.

We arrived at their house just outside Ghent, another merchant town in the north of Belgium, and made our introductions then got down to getting to know each other. We enjoyed a lovely dinner together and then the 3 girls went off to get to know each other and Legoboy and their son headed off to play lego.

After dinner we headed into Ghent (but left Legoboy to play lego) and enjoyed a tour of the town with our very own tour guide who was very well informed.

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Ghent is a very pretty town full of old buildings built in the 1600’s; it also has a castle. There are canals criss-crossing the town that were used by the merchants to bring their goods in and out of the town. We wandered past the fish market and the meat market over bridges and through squares. We visited a more recent feature which is the graffiti alley.

We really liked Ghent, not only because it was very pretty – with its buildings and canals – but also because it was not crazy busy and packed with tourists. It also helped that we had a great guide.

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Waterloo

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While we were in London we visited Apsley House which was owned by the Duke of Wellington. The Duke had defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. Waterloo is on the south side of Brussels in Belgium.

On the battle field is a huge monument of a massive lion on top of an equally massive hill. From what I have read the monument was built by a man whose son was killed in the battle. According to the story the hill was built by a bucket brigade of local women who took soil from the battle field. I am not sure that this story is true or not but the monument is definitely there as a memorial to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

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At the site there is also a panorama of the war which is inside a building built for this purpose in 1912. Obviously the place has been a tourist attraction for a long time.

Next year is the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo so there is a lot of construction work going on to build a new visitor centre and exhibition.

After visiting Waterloo we made the short trip into Brussels.

The outskirts of Brussels did not impress us that much as it was rather industrial and not as pretty as we thought it would be.

Once we parked however, and we started walking through the town we discovered a lot of pretty old buildings as well as the palace that we made our way past as we headed for the centre.

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We went to the Grotte Markt which is the famous square surrounded by merchant buildings. Some of these buildings are very ornate with gold gilding and statues covering the rooftops. The square was full of tourists – it was very busy.

Just around the corner we visited the Mannekin Pis a famous statue that you may recognise from the photos. There was also a huge crowd squeezing around here taking photos. I am not sure why this is a tourist attraction.

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Just up the road we bought some waffles with strawberries and chocolate which seemed like the Belgium thing to do. We also had a ‘Ghents nose’ (I can’t remember the Belgian name) which is a fruity sweet filled with squishy fruity filling and I guess looks a little like a nose – Legoboy enjoyed this but the rest of us were not so sure.

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While we were wandering around Brussels I had seen a tourist shop called the Atomium with some models of a building in Brussels by this name. It looked interesting so we decided to visit it on the way out of Brussels. The Atomium was built in 1958 as part of an Expo. It was an amazing building built so long ago. I think the “Welcome” sign at the base of the Atomium should say “Welcome Earthling” as it would not seem out of place.

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