More Cheese Please……

Cheese!  The Dutch know how to make good cheese.  After our first day on our bike trip through Holland we stayed in the town of Edam.  The cheese might be a little on the bland side, but the town is exquisite.  Our little hotel was right out of a fairytale, directly on a canal.  Apparently the Dutch have very strong legs from all their bike riding, so walking up vertical staircases (even the handrails are vertical) is no big deal to them.  It was a big deal to our tired legs!

 

A few days after Edam we had more cheese in Gouda (ok, I had cheese everywhere). Personally I like the “ancient” cheese. – I like the fact that they call it ancient, and I think it tastes like you are eating a little part of history.   The town of Gouda has a fantastic Weigh House (17th century quality control for the cheese), a beautiful cathedral (Janskerk) and the best fondue.  To appreciate the cheese more fully we stopped at a small farm and asked for a tour of their cheese making operation.   Our guide was a young farmer whose pride in his family farm was contagious.   The sight and the smell of the “aging” room with wheel after wheel of aging cheese is gratefully seared into my memory.

 

We took ferry rides across small canals and large rivers, we tasted delicious coffees and pastries at local bakeries in small towns, we lingered over long lunches with no great hurry to get anywhere and we created life-long memories with friends.  I am grateful for the network of bike paths that ensured that we never had to ride on a major road.  I have a greater appreciation for a good GPS unit and a good navigator.  And I chuckled at the mobs of school kids in the afternoon that giggled at us as we rode by in our full-coverage rain gear (did I mention that it rained most days).

 

After our week of riding we spent a few days getting up close with some of the best of the Dutch masterpieces in Amsterdam.  We stumbled upon an 18th century paint demonstration at the Rembrandt House Museum (where he lived and worked) and took the information we learned there to view the masterpieces at the Rijksmuseum with a more discerning eye.  Learning how Rembrandt painted efficiently on many canvases simultaneously in layers from dark to light was fascinating and allows you to appreciate his genius further.   Johannes Vermeer’s secret was revealed that even though he was a poor painter, he splurged on the more valuable lapis lazuli material to make his blue hued paint.  Unlike Rembrandt, Vermeer’s blues have held up over the past three centuries and are as mesmerizing today as they would have been in the 17th century.   When I dream I want to dream in the blues of Vermeer’s Milkmaid.

 

When you go to Holland of course visit your bucket list stuff in Amsterdam.  Pre-purchase tickets for the museums it will save you time.  We saved at least 1-2 hours waiting in line for the Anne Frank House alone.  Go to the Rembrandt House Museum to see the demonstration on 17th century art mechanics before visiting the Rijksmuseum so you too can appreciate the masters even more.  But, if you really want to see Holland, jump on a bike and spend a few days soaking up the details.  And remember, the more you ride, the more cheese you can eat.

 

 

 

Chasing Windmills, Tulips and Cheese

 

 

We turned a 90-degree angle inland, leaving behind the strong headwind and moon-like dunes along the North Sea and descended a hill.  I wasn’t in the lead of the group so I heard the reaction before I saw it.  In front of us were fields upon fields of colorful blooming tulips – reds, purples, whites, and yellows.  The color and sheer volume was breathtaking.  We immediately jumped off our bikes and ran to the closest field of ruby red.  We felt like kids in a candy store.  The color and scent was completely engulfing us and we revealed in it.

 

This was the fourth day of our bike trip through Holland (or The Netherlands) and it was like riding your bike through a Monet painting.

 

I planned a trip for myself, my husband and 2 other couples.  I planned it to include  what I consider the highlights of Holland – windmills, tulips and cheese!   What I discovered in the process is that Holland has far more to offer and on a bike we were able to experience it up close.

 

Perched on my bike seat, I marvel at the industry of the Dutch people.  They wrestled the land from the sea, they experienced one of the most prosperous golden ages in the 17th century through colonial rule, they provided a culture for expansion of the arts with master painters producing some of the world’s most beloved masterpieces and they elevated the humble tulip to represent the worlds first speculative economic boom.  Today they represent a well-educated populace, a tolerant culture and great hosts to visiting tourists.

 

The proximity to water (everywhere) makes it very easy to sustain a variety of birdlife.  It was magical to whiz by swans roosting on enormous nests with big beautiful eggs or startling a pheasant in the underbrush.   Osprey and herons majestically perch on random logs in the canals and eye you with distain as you ride by.  I am not a birdwatcher, but I could be converted with such variety and abundance.

 

We stopped and investigated many 18th century windmills along our ride.  Many of them are still occupied by families and still function as mills.  One especially memorable view from my bike was when you could see the massive modern day windmills used for energy production today in the background and in the foreground a cluster of 18th century windmills that literally made the country through draining the lowlands of water and abating the flood waters.  You can’t help but be awed by the contrast.

 

Quite often we were humbled as we rode down a path (really a two way road) feeling pretty smug about our bike riding prowess and we would be promptly passed by an elderly couple going into town for their daily shopping.   The six of us, decked out in our bike riding gear complete with helmets (sure sign of a tourist) would be repeatedly smoked by granny in a skirt, high heels and a wicker basket!  You have to love a country that has more bikes than people.

 

For the rest of the story check out my next blog entitled:  “More Cheese Please”…….

 

 

New Journey: Gain Momentum for the Downhill

Image

“Where on earth are you going next….”.  Who knew that one simple question could change a person’s life.

I needed a change, I needed to wake up and learn something new.  I was given the opportunity to leave my comfort zone….. and I took it.  8 months ago I resigned from my health care administration position and stepped into the unknown world of travel coordinator.  What a fun ride it has been and I will use this forum to speak of my highs and lows and of course share my journeys.

I have a lot of traveling to catch up on and I don’t want to waste a minute. It is so cliche to say that life is short….but it really is.  I’m closing in on 50 and I want to catch the momentum on the downhill.

I have completed 2 international trips this year so far, and have a final one planned for the fall.  I experimented on my family first with a trip to Spain (families are great that way) and then I experimented with close friends (friends are great that way too) for my proof of concept trip to Holland.  In the fall I will be escorting 10 fabulous ladies on an adventure of a life time doing some volunteer work in Lima, Peru and then tackling the Inca Trail climaxing at Machu Picchu.  Not bad for my first year.

I have other trips in the works, including a bike trip to Napa Valley, a trip to South East Asia at the beginning of 2013 and an artist insider trip to Germany for fall 2013……  Off to a great start and gaining momentum with each booking.

Loving the journey, check back for updates and future trip offers.  Contact me at SaperenTravel@gmail.com

-Alicia