Thursday, May 31, 2007

Another visit to Delft

We took another trip to Delft to shop for a little more delftware and....
spend some time in the city square and its environs.
We wanted to see inside the Nieuwe Kerk...

...where the Dutch royalty is buried (see previous posting on Delft).

Case noticed this stained glass window entitled "The Raising of Jairus's Daughter". It is an abstract piece amongst the more classical works in the remaining windows, but you might be able to make out Christ's hand above the girl's face. (It helped us to have the diagrams in the guide book. Now our reaction is appreciation and enjoyment instead of just, "???")

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cycling trip to Breda

Case rides through a neighborhood in Dongen as we head out of town.

We noticed the post-woman doing her rounds!

Case drops by the Breda jail to see if they'll let him in. (From Case: Or maybe just give me a job. I mean, how many penitentiaries do you find that look like this? And we saw the jailer's cars parked out front -- a Jag and a Volvo! Of course, it might be nice to know about the beds and the food before checking in, but with these clues, I figured, "How bad could it be?")

Riding into Breda...
I've noticed how they build their transportation networks: On the left the road for the cars, then the red path for the bikes and a separate walkway for pedestrians. This is especially helpful for cyclists at intersections, where bicycles have their own pathways and stop lights.

Breda's city-center cathedral. This was not a tourist destination, but a working church. Something like this in the U.S. would probably be historical land mark!

On the way home, we stopped by the store in Dongen and filled the bicycle basket with groceries.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Madurodam, The Hague, Holland

A day out with (left to right) Carolien, Colinda and Peter-Jan.

The background statue commemorates the famous Dutch legend of the boy who put his finger into the hole through the dike, thus saving his town from flooding.

Madurodam, built in 1952, is a miniature Holland on the 1:25 scale.

I admired the miniature foliage throughout the park and imagine the gardeners are kept very busy keeping everything trimmed to scale.

A miniature St. John's Cathedral of Den Bosch. According to the Madurodam guide, it would cost 450,000 euro to reconstruct this model today.

"Giant" Colinda observes a parade....

and demonstrates the ice slide.

Freezing along with the ice sculptures (a separate -- and full-sized -- attraction carved by Chinese artists and included in the park). We didn't last long in the ice sculptures native enviroment of ~15 F.

Three Eskimos!!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Delft, Holland

Celebrating birthday #35 in Delft and enjoying some birthday shopping for delftware!

This photo shows classic Dutch architecture, from the gables of the canal houses to the Gothic spire of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in the background.
Nieuwe Kerk has sheltered the crypt of the Dutch royal family since William the Silent ("Father of the Fatherland", and in whose honor the Dutch national anthem was written) was buried here in the 16th centry. His family's burial vaults in Breda (not far from Dongen) were not accessible at the time, due to the war of rebellion against Spanish rule. Also of passing interest, William the Silent was the grandfather of William III, King of England,
King of Scotland,
King of Ireland,
and Stadtholder of the Netherlands.
(Those royals got around in those days, didn't they?)

Yes, it's not just the picture....with age the tower of the Delft church has settled on its foundation, leaving the center spire 6.5 feet off vertical. Here the famous Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, is buried...
after spending his entire life in Delft, leaving 34 luminous paintings, including "The Girl with the Peal Earring."

Water lilies on the canal

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Family in Rotterdam

We enjoyed a tasty meal with Henk & Marjan the family after a day trip on which the kids accompanied us. L to R: Carolien, Lukas, Colinda, Marjan, Peter-Jan, Henk, & Jolene (Lukas is Carolien's boyfriend!)
We stopped by to visit Tante Co & Oom Piet in their home, along with Henk and Marjan who graciously translated for the non-multi-lingual.
Peter and Els graciously allowed us to crash Peter's birthday gathering, so I (Jolene) met lots of family who came for that and enjoyed their company. Unfortunately, we got so busy chatting at that visit that neither of us thought to snap a few pictures -- a fact we regretted when it occurred to us soon after we left!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Enjoying a home exchange in Dongen, Holland

Feeling at home in Dongen with a snooze on the couch.

We are both really enjoying being "home". We've had quite a few days were we stay in town, leaving the house only to take a run through town or a bicycle ride along the nearby canals to neighboring hamlet. On a couple few days, we've never even left the house, grunting lazily to each other (OK, for the record, only Case grunts) about how nice it is to be "home" and in one place for a while. We've been very comfortable, and we're enjoying every day of our three weeks at home.

A leisurely breakfast

Oh, the luxury of a kitchen & homemade food!

"Our house" looks very much like the townhouse across the steet through the picture window. On some home exchanges (including this one) the car comes with the house. That's it through the window, too. This is our first home exchange and we are really enjoying our experience!

Plenty of relaxing time (it took about a week of on and off work) to complete a 1000 piece puzzle.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amsterdam, Holland

We took a day trip to Amsterdam from Dongen in southern Holland, about an hour-&-twenty-minute drive. Part of this trip was taking care of business like getting train reservations and making arrangements to rent bicycles later this summer. Case, sitting in the Amsterdam train station preparing to make train arrangements.

After completing our business, we took a tour of Amsterdam's famed canals.

Waiting for the boat.... note the bicycles in the back ground, they were everywhere!!

One of the many bridges over the canal as seen from the canal tour boat: Some canals are narrow and there were a few tight turns for the boat. We had a moment of surprise and consternation when our captain misjudged a turn and swung the backend of the boat into the bridge with solid crack! Maybe this is a common occurance, because he didn't seem to bat an eye... we just bounced off the bridge and kept going.

There were many house boats along the way, complete with water, sewer and electricity. With over 1800 houseboats in Amsterdam, there are apparently a few illegal ones as well. (We're wondering if we can buy and old tub and moor it unobtrusively on a shady canal... Sure would be cheaper than the hotels around here, and I guess our home exchangers are going to want their house back eventually.)

Some boats were quite unique...this guy's barge is a bit overdue to be mowed!

In honor of Case's love for Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch!!! (That and Taco Bell are still on our list for when we get back.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How're we doing this? (long & no photos - sorry)

When we tell folks about the one year sabbatical we’re on, the question is often raised: “How can you possibly afford to do it?” That question, or its corollary – “You must be fabulously wealthy” – is evident more often than not, even if unexpressed.

Well, how are we doing this? We are not very wealthy by North American standards. (Of course, by global standards, we are fabulously wealthy … but if you are reading this, in all likelihood so are you!)

What follows is my answer to the question. It is my hope that, given these details, some of you who would like to do the same will see that it is not impossible. Rather than wealth, it is more commonly simply a matter of priorities. Here are some techniques you may want to employ:

  1. Wait until age 43 to get married. This will give you plenty of time to earn income that you don’t quite know what to do with.
  2. Look in to the “pay yourself first” concept, and, early in your career, begin putting a goodly percentage of income into savings before you pay your bills, make elective purchases, or do any other budgeting.
  3. Graduate from school without debt, thanks to generous parents.
  4. Always buy used cars, and keep each car until it is at least 10 years old, or officially near death.
  5. Rent “tiny and cheap” in a location with good weather. You’ll save on lodging, and if it gets too cramped for you indoors, you can just step outside.
  6. Buy a modest house. If possible, get lucky in timing that purchase so that the real estate market shoots up shortly thereafter.
  7. Find employment in a field such as cancer care, where you experience daily reminders that length of life is not guaranteed, and that some people do not live long enough to spend their retirement savings. Pay attention to what the dying truly care about – it is instructive.
  8. Collect experiences instead of possessions.
  9. Cultivate the ability to enjoy the experience of traveling on a limited budget, “roughing it”, and even camping out. Then look for good deals on an occasional “splurge” trip.
  10. Arrive at a point in your career where you feel confident you can find another job when you need it, even if it is not at an ideal location. Then become willing to let go of the job you are attached to and take whatever is available when it’s time to go back to work. (Ethical lapses in your superiors can help loosen your attachment.)
  11. Don’t become too attached to your home. That way, you will be willing to swap it with someone else to save on lodging costs (“home exchange”), sell it to finance your trip, and/or live somewhere else if you can’t get a job back in your old neighborhood.
  12. Hold loosely your material blessings (house, possessions, jobs, career, income) and tenaciously your non-material blessings (relationships, experiences, integrity, faith).

While part of that list is included “tongue-in-cheek”, it remains my opinion that the key to taking a sabbatical is more a matter of priorities than income. In truth, we are spending some of our retirement savings, giving up in the process some (non-guaranteed) years of retirement leisure, and some of the material goods that steady employment might bring. These are priorities that rank lower in our list. Indeed, whatever we might miss in the future, we hope not to miss (if you get my drift), because even in those future years, we hope to still value what we did, what we are as a result, and what we are doing then, above what we might have had. (Ask us again in 30 years...)

Perhaps you are beginning to see why they say every oncologist starts his career as a scientist and ends it as a philosopher…

Appendix: Miscellaneous observations

I continue to muse on the benefits and desirability of various political systems. In our travels, we have met far more Europeans and Australians taking sabbaticals than we have North Americans. Hostel hosts and our fellow travelers have commented on how unusual it is to see North Americans doing this, whereas in contrast, one Dutch traveler reported being greeted by, “Oh, another one from the Netherlands, eh? Tell me, are there any of you left in Holland anymore?”.

Societal attitudes toward wealth, work, and maturity may play a role in this disparity, no doubt; but it appears to me that the social welfare state makes it easier for citizens of those countries. Certainly, there is much less concern about healthcare and retirement among the sabbatical-takers we’ve talked with, simply because their political systems virtually guarantee these. Some European countries even require companies to allow for sabbaticals, and the state pays a stipend to the employee who takes one. (In ways too complicated to explain here, this system cuts down on unemployment and saves the state money in the long run!)

Those benefits of the social welfare state would be neither here nor there, save for one additional observation. I find that my European family and friends display less anxiety, more contentment, and more willingness to live modestly than their North American counterparts. There is still the chicken-and-egg problem, but if these attitudes do stem from the socio-political system, it would certainly make that system “better” and, therefore, more desirable to me than the American one. (Not sure how to fit this into my otherwise libertarian leanings…)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Riding around Dongen, Holland

A happy man with the wind in his hair!

Shooting blindly over his shoulder... "I am a little more to your left, and up a bit more!!"

"Here I am." Pretty good for a blind, over the shoulder shot while riding his bike ahead of me!

From Case:
Jolene is a very good sport. I've been trying my usual trick of "following my nose" for navigation on our outings. It doesn't work so well in Holland. There are too many canals-enclosed neighborhoods with only one road in/out.
It took us 1.5 hours to drive to Keukenhof Gardens following the map, and 3 hours to come back following my nose. And even then, I had to look at the map! (It didn't help that I thought "doorgang verkeer" probably meant "no outlet", when it really means "through traffic"!) The bike ride went similarly.
But Jolene comes gamely along for the ride, and only teased me a little about all the U-turns.
I do better elsewhere. Honest! (That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

Guess where we are?

Hey! How could you tell?

Lots of color!

Wandering the garden...

we had come to see the tulips...

but, instead found a pavilion full of lilies!


Something for the easily entertained!

And of course, the obligatory windmill.
(Brace yourselves. There'll be a lot more of these in the days ahead.)
What's left of the tulip fields.
It was a warm spring, and the tulip blooms didn't last long enough for us to see them. Case had to content himself by trying to describe to Jolene what Keukenhof looks like in full bloom.
We were recompensed by the lily and orchid exhibits, however. If Keukenhof in season is a glimpse of heaven, the air in the lily pavilion was a whiff of heaven!

These orchids were just like the first flowers Case sent me. I was impressed! But he took one look at them and decided he could do better. You should have seen that second bouquet!!!

There were enough tulips left to give the "flavor".

And we found photo ops at every turn.

Hey handsome!

Making friends.

Oops! we forgot the zoom again....

that's more like it!

One last picture from the lily pavilion...

and it's time to go home.