Delft Pottery and the House of Orange.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  , Zuid-Holland,
Sunday, September 4, 2011

11 Sept. 4 - Sunday

This was another early morning, and the group was instructed to be ready to leave by 07:50 as we had a long drive. I had my Packs mostly ready to go, so it didn't take long to get organized.  Our Driver had the Bus ready and waiting, and we departed from the Hotel at about 08:00 to begin the trip to Delft.  I was sorry to be leaving Bruges, as I felt I had hardly scratched the surface and there was so much more to see.  There is often discussion on the HelpLine on which city is "best" in Belgium, with some preferring Brussels or Ghent over Bruges.  After visiting all three cities, I have no doubt that Bruges is the city I prefer of the three.

After a drive of about an hour and a half on a grey and stormy morning, our first stop was at a large storm surge barrier, which consisted of a series of large hydraulic gates to regulate and control the flow of water from the ocean.  There was a large concrete building constructed lose to the gates (possibly a Control Centre), and as it was Sunday morning there weren’t too many staff members there.  I saw one person inside one of the offices, possibly a Security Guard.  The group was hoping to use washrooms, but there were none available.

We then travelled to the Watersnood Museum, which is constructed inside four large concrete Caissons that were used to seal the Dike breach that occurred when the Dikes ruptured on 1 February 1953. The breach caused enormous flooding and damage, and use of the Caissons was a clever and expeditious way to seal the Dike.  One interesting fact regarding the Caissons is that they were originally built as part of the Mulberry Harbour for Arromanches in the D-Day invasion, but were disused and languishing in storage in England.  When they were towed to the desired position, the Caissons were sunk and then shored up with tons of boulders at their base.

The Museum was built inside the Caissons, and the displays provided an excellent narrative of the events which transpired, and the hardships faced by the Dutch people as a result of the floods.  The Caissons are located in the exact area where they were originally sunk, as new Dikes have been built so they now sit on dry land.  Each of the Caissons has a different theme.  For example, Caisson 1 focuses on the response to the disaster and the efforts of the volunteers and workers, while Caisson 2 focuses on the people and the "human aspect" of the flooding.

From there we headed for the small town of Zierikzee for lunch.  After scoping out the available dining options, I decided to stop at small Eetcafe with a nautical theme, and ordered a Club sandwich which turned out to be an interesting culinary adventure and somewhat different than what I was used to.  The sandwich was made on Ciabbata bread and had not only the “usual ingredients, but also grated carrots, slices of purple onion, dressing and a few other items.  This was not a sandwich that could be picked up for consumption, but had to be eaten with a knife and fork!

After lunch we carried on to what I found to be the most interesting and impressive stop of the day, the large Maeslant storm surge barrier at Keringhuis, near the port area of Rotterdam. We watched a 30-minute video which described the design, construction and use of the facility (four different designs were considered) and toured the displays for a more technical description with a very nice young lady.  She’s originally from Bulgaria, but her mother married a Dutchman, so she’s been living in the Netherlands for a number of years.

Walking underneath the large structures of the gate provided a good view of the incredible size of this facility.  The actual gates are massive and are driven by six hydraulic motors (only four are required at one time) which are fitted with gears and attached to a large concrete structure in front of the gates.  The gears on the motors mesh with gears on the top of the gates.  Large tubular metal beams attach the gates to a central “hinge” point which is a ball & socket structure ten metres in diameter.  One fact that I found very surprising is that operation of these gates is entirely computerized, using data from tides and meteorological sources.  The Port Authority is also involved in the process, as shipping traffic must be coordinated with gate operations.  There is redundancy not only in the computer systems but also the power systems for the gates.  If both of the primary power sources fail, diesel backup is provided.  There is a small Control Centre built above one of the gates, which is apparently staffed by four people when gate operation takes place, however my impression was that they only monitor the system for proper operation, and they don't actively control the gates (although I'm sure that capability is provided).

Construction and use of the gates is VERY tightly regulated, as when they’re closed, all commercial boat traffic to the port of Rotterdam is stopped.  Given the huge number of ships that access the port every day, any interruption in commerce would have enormous financial consequences.

After a long and tiring (but interesting day), our group arrived in Delft at about 17:30.  We had a short walk to the hotel, and I was pleased that I was using a Backpack as I was able to breeze right along at a much faster pace than the rest of the group who were using those goofy wheelie bags.

Our final stop for the day was Hotel de Plataan, which our Guide had described as being somewhat “unusual”.  The rooms are all decorated according to the theme of various trees.  My room (206) was labeled “Quercus Robir”, which I was told means “summer Beech tree”.  There was one large window in the centre of the sloped ceiling, which has been fitted with a rolling shutter mounted at an angle, rather than curtains.  There are two single beds, one of which is somewhat like a hospital bed, with electrical controls to raise the head, the knees or the feet.  There’s a small “wet bathroom” which is completely tiled, so no need for a shower curtain.  I also discovered a small Bar sink and Hotplate hidden in a cupboard.

Delft is a city of about 100,000 and is located between Rotterdam and the Hague.  The town has been occupied since about the 13th century, and has long been associated with the House of Orange. When William of Orange was assassinated in 1584, he was interred in the New Church rather than the traditional family burial location in Breda, which was still in the hands of the Spanish at that time.  One notable event in the history of Delft was an explosion that occurred in a gunpowder magazine on 12 October 1654, which destroyed much of the town and killed at least 100 people.  Delft is also known for the artist Johannes Vermeer who produced paintings showing domestic middle class life of the time.  The city is also known for the beautiful Delft Pottery and the Delft University of Technology.

We had time for a short “freshening up” break an then had a brief walking and familiarization tour of the main sites in the downtown area.  At 19:00 we headed for the Rossio Mediteranean restaurant for a group dinner.  Everyone had the appetizer of tomato soup with bread (it was really good!), but there were three choices for the main course – Fish with a Fennel sauce, Steak with “Baba Ganouche” (which I gather is some kind of Eggplant concoction from the middle east?) and a vegetarian Frittata (a few in the group are vegetarians).  I chose the steak, and it was very good.  With the meals, they also served Fries with Mayo (which is the custom in Belgium, and they’re surprisingly good) and small salads to be shared.  There were also three choices for dessert – Ice Cream, some kind of pastry and Limoncello (of course, I chose the Limoncello along with coffee).  Beverages were not included nor was the coffee, so I had to pay extra for the three glasses of Chianti I enjoyed as well as my “after dinner coffee”.

I walked back to Hotel with a few members of the group, and we arrived before anyone else.  Our illustrious Guide arrived a few minutes later and when I mentioned that they offered Jenever (sometimes called “Continental Gin”) in the Hotel Bar, he asked me to join him for one.  Eventually Huub joined us, but he was drinking beer, and we all had a nice visit. I also chatted with the attractive girl working at the bar.

Of course, I needed at least two samples of Jenever to properly evaluate it, but after that I was starting to get "run out of steam" so went back to room to get a much needed rest.  I turned the TV on for a few minutes to get caught up on the news headlines, and while flipping through channels found a fairly current movie so decided to watch it for a few minutes.  It was the movie “RED” with Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich as “aging spys” who had one more mission to complete.

That was the end of a long and interesting day.

11 Sept. 5 - Monday

I got to sleep in a bit this morning as we were back on somewhat of a “regular” schedule today, with a walking tour with a local Guide at 09:00.  I went down for breakfast at about 07:30, and thought I might be one of the last to go for breakfast but it turned out I was one of the first.

The breakfast fare was much the same as in Bruges, with cold meats, cheeses, breads, hard boiled eggs, juices and coffee.  The Toaster was a bit of a strange contraption though.  It didn’t have a conventional “slot” for the toast, but rather two removable rectangular wire baskets which could be opened by squeezing the handles.  The bread was placed in these and when the handles closed the bread was compressed.  The wire baskets were then placed in the Toaster and a timer control rotated to set the cooking time.  The elements didn’t seem to heat up to the same degree as a “normal” toaster, but the arrangement did work (albeit slowly).

At 09:00 we met our local Guide, Annamarth, in front of the Hotel.  Although the weather was supposed to be sunny, it was actually quite windy and rainy.  We proceeded to visit the Old Church and several other local sites, and continued to the New Church where William of Orange is interred.  One interesting story is that his wife, a French Princess, carried William’s heart with her in a small box everywhere after he was assassinated.  On a trip to France just before she died, she told others that she would leave the heart in a “safe place”, but nobody knew where that place was.  It wasn’t until crews were renovating the crypt area that workers found the small box inside the large stone sarcophagus, but nobody was able to verify that the heart was actually there (the Dutch Royal family wouldn’t allow it to be examined).

After the tour ended there was an optional tour of a factory which produces the famous Delft ceramic ware (fortunately it wasn’t too far, as my back and legs were getting really sore!).  The displays just inside the door were beautiful, and the group was led to a small workshop in the back for a tour of the facility.  There were quite a number of molds and partially finished ceramics pieces in various stages of manufacture, as well as three large Kilns.  One of the staff provided a description of the manufacturing process from start to finish and showed examples.  He also described some of the cheaper versions of Delft ware that are produced in “cheap labour countries” using impressions rather than hand painting.  He showed the three trademarks that will be found on the bottom of authentic Delft ware (the cheaper versions won’t have the trademark stamps).  Some of the inferior foreign products may have a labels that says “Delft 1805”, which doesn’t signify the year of production, but rather the number of the stencil that was used for the supposed “hand painting” (a much easier solution when making large numbers of fake copies, but in no way signifies authenticity).

After that part of the morning ended, we were free for lunch.  I decided to drop my large Camera back at the Hotel and just take my Canon Elph for lunch (I was worried about getting the large Camera wet, even though I had an Umbrella).  The weather had been reasonably nice when we started the Ceramic tour, but it had changed again to very windy and raining.  The wind was so strong that it turned my Umbrella inside-out!  I decided to use my GPS unit to find my way back to the Hotel in the shortest time and once I got a “fix”, the device worked perfectly.  On the way back to the Hotel, a very loud Siren sounded and the origin of the sound seemed to come from several locations in the city.  It sounded like an air raid or disaster warning system (something like London during the blitz), and as it turned out that’s exactly what it was.  I asked one of the local residents and apparently the disaster warning system is tested on the first Monday of every month at noon.

Our Guide had suggested a small luncheon restaurant called Stad Koffeyhuis, and I decided to give that a try.  Several others from the group and myself all ended up there, and sat together (the others had seen the restaurant recommended in the Guidebook).  I decided to order the Chicken Satey, which was chicken on a skewer served in a type of Thai peanut sauce, accompanied by some small mashed potato pieces, a tiny salad and some brown French bread.  The bread seemed freshly baked and it was really good, as was the rest of the meal, but it was very filling.  One unusual part of the dining experience today, was that the Waitress had placed the order on a small handheld PDA.  She did not provide a printed bill, but rather just a small “credit card” with a Bar Code on the back.  When that was presented to the Clerk at the Cash Register, a receipt was printed based on the information on the Bar Code.  What an interesting idea!

Just as we were preparing to leave the restaurant, the weather turned again, and it was not only raining and windy, but there was also thunder.  We waited a few minutes and then decided to brave the elements anyway.  By this time I had a good idea which way it was back to the Hotel, so the walk didn’t take long at all.  By the time I got to the small supermarket close to the Hotel, the weather was sunny again.

Back at the Hotel I had a short nap and rested my back and then updated my Diary.  In addition to the entries from today, I wanted to expand and complete the information from yesterday.  I felt this would be a good time to take some “rest and catch-up time”, so this was the end of my touring for the day.

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