Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Weekend with friends visiting from Nebr: Highlight - Zaanse Schans Windmills (Aug 1 - 3)

Recently, we were lucky enough to have our second guests in Belgium. Our friends Brett and Emily Meyer from Omaha traveled to Europe at the end July through the middle of August initially for Emily's work in London; though, they were able to make a wonderful vacation out if it! It was nice of them to stop in our neck of the woods for a few days, so we could show them the best of Belgium along with a few sites in Holland (They also went to London, Paris, Switzerland and Italy). We really enjoyed having them here as it was fun to see friendly faces from back home! We packed a lot of destinations into a short time frame, but I think everyone enjoyed themselves. We went to the following places in Belgium: Leuven, Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. We also went to Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans which are in The Netherlands (Holland).

The highlight of Holland had to be 'Zaanse Schans' row of 'working' windmills. We went into two windmills, one being a Paint Mill and the other a Sawmill. It was extremely interesting seeing how they worked. The Paint Mill contained huge cement wheels which rotated when the wind caused the windmill's sails to turn: resulting in the grinding of raw materials into chalk to make pigments for paints. The Sawmill had blades which moved up and down when the windmill's sails rotated; thus, cutting the log. Besides all the old fashion windmills, Zaanse Schans had a few tourist shops and several traditional green wooden Holland houses along the Zaan River.

Next, we ventured back south to Amsterdam (only 20 - 30 minutes away). We saw a few of the tourist attractions and even went in Anne Frank's hiding place (museum) which was a very touching experience. I remember reading "The Diary of Anne Frank" and learning about the Holocaust from my History teacher, Mr. Nienkamp, along with visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC on our Close-Up trip. The museum was quite interesting and actually didn't contain any furniture because Anne's father, the only survivor in his family, didn't want the museum to be furnished; instead it contains mostly dialogues and pictures on the walls along with some video and diagrams (the bookcase, where the secret annex / hiding place was located, is still in the museum).

On the wilder side of Amsterdam, we didn't go into any coffee shops (aka 'Smoke Shops'), but could smell enough 'grass - use your imagination' without even going into them! The Red Light District amused them...we even heard one young boy ask one of the girls "will your clothes come off" and she's like "duh, of course"... we died out laughing! I think he wanted to become a man that night! Also one girl was pulsing / flexing her butt for some young guys...trying to persuade them to come in to her little red light infused room!

The other towns in Belgium that we visited are very cute medieval cities (some with canals, like Amsterdam, but not as extensive) which Shannon and I have been to before, but still enjoyed going back. Leuven is actually only 30 minutes from Brussels, so that's where we ate out the first night our guests arrived (it's a little cheaper outside of Brussels). The next day, which was Friday, we ended up going to Bruges and Ghent (refer to early blogs for history). We saw most of the attractions; plus, made a point to stop at one of my favorite Chocolatiers, Dumon along with sampling some Belgian Waffles and Beer. I even ordered mussels for dinner in Ghent and made our guests try them because you at least have to try them while you're in Brussels! (it's one of their specialties)

The last day we gave them a tour of Brussels. We showed them sites like Cinquantenaire Park, Manniken Pis, The Atomium, The Royal Palace, Grand Place and other unique architecture (refer to early blogs for history). The King's Royal Palace was open to the public in August; therefore, we were able to view the elaborate chambers which included dazzling chandeliers, ornate parquet floors, magnificent furniture, beautiful large pieces of art, high ceilings and stunning reception rooms and the list goes on. The Mirror Room was quite fascinating since it's ceiling and central chandelier have been covered with green iridescent wing cases of 1.4 million Thai jewel beetles, which reflect the light with a curiously vibrant energy. Lastly, we ended our day at Poechenellekelder, a great beer bar, despite its unpronounceable name! Although on a very touristic path (opposite Manniken Pis) this bar has an extensive Belgium beer list.
Zaanse Schans Windmills: Brett, Emily, Shannon & me

Traditional Holland home

More characteristic green wooden houses of Holland

Windmills on the Zaan River

Paint Mill 'De Kat' (processing raw materials to make pigments)

Inside the Paint Mill (huge cement wheels rotate to grind raw materials into chalk to make pigments for paints)

A 'worker' changing the direction of the windmill's sails (notice he's wearing wooden clogs)

On balcony of the windmill

Shannon likes the angle shots!

Sawmill 'Het Jonge Schaap' (the boy is removing the bark, preparing the log to be cut)

Inside sawmill cutting the log (saw blades move up and down when the windmill's sails rotate)

Finished cutting the log

More windmills on the Zaan River

Emily & me

Gouda everywhere! (Holland's famous cheese)

Another cute Holland home

Emily & I trying on wooden clogs in Amsterdam - more comfortable than you think!

Anne Frank house - Amsterdam

Dining out in Leuven the first evening our guests arrived

One of my favorite Chocolatiers: 'Dumon' - Bruges

Brett, Emily, me and Shannon by canal in Bruges

Canal in Ghent

Cinquantenaire Park (it's pretty cool driving under it!) - Brussels

The last day our guests were with us we enjoyed some Belgium beers at Poechenellekelder (note that all beers are served in their own special glass) - Brussels

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