Thursday, June 26, 2008

Netherlands and Beyond

Sorry for the delay in posting.  It was late when we returned to our hotel (motel) in Sassenheim and I wanted more internet time it was another 15 euros so decided to save the money.  We voted to revise our schedule for Tuesday as we needed rehearsal time so we left Sassenheim at 8 a.m. to go into Amsterdam, only a 15 minuted ride when it isn't rush hour.  We all visited the Anne Frank house. It is hard to imagine living with 8 people in such a small area and with black out curtains all day every day, never going outside etc.  Lots of steep stairs that were more like ladders going up and down.  We reported back to the bus to unload only to find that Gerard and Norbert, our driver and guide, had resourcefully borrowed a tall rolling rack from a grocery store and had move all the tables foam etc.  across to Westerkerk.  They were in the second trip with the bells so we only had to take our personal items.  Such nice guys!  The concert here and the next two as well were combined concerts with Boudewijn Zwart.  He has a portable carillon that travels on a trailer.  He wheels it in, connects all the contacts to make the bells play and off he goes!  He is an excellent organist as well and we played a handbell-organ duet with him.  He played a couple of organ pieces and a couple of solos on the carillon and we were the rest of the program.  It was a very successful merging of talents.  

After the concert we packed up and were off to Gouda where we toured St. Johns church (St. Janskerk), the city a bit, and had a little time to shop for cheese.  Time was short so we didn't really have time for a real lunch.  Since most of us had bought cheese, crackers and other munchables we had a "potluck" on the bus with everyone tasting what everyone else had selected.  Fun and quite yummy!  On the road again to Schiedam and our performance at the Grote (great) church.  The concert was to be similar to the afternoon one but the organ was so out of tune with the bells that we couldn't do the duet.  Just a small audience for this one but that is OK as they enjoyed it just as much.  Packed up again and headed back to the Sassenheim for our last night there.  (Did I mention how much fun it is to pull rolling bell cases over bumpy cobblestone streets and sidewalks or that some of the streets were so narrow the bus had to back up to get us out!)  We had to leave bright and early next morning; so we all pretty much packed up the night before.  We had wonderful breakfasts in the hotel so left on a full stomach.  

Wednesday we drove to Rotterdam and took a driving tour of the city then headed to the coast.  The driver took us the scenic route rather than the expressway so we really got to see a lot of the country and more windmills.  They also have a lot of the big metal ones too that they use to generate power.  We drove along the coast to see Maeslantkering, the last project of the Delta Works.  They constructed two huge "gates" that swing closed to close off the sea when there is a very bad storm to prevent flooding inland.  Norbert told us that all of the Netherlands are below sea level; so high seas come in and cause flooding all over the country. This was quite an amazing project, and they test it a couple of times a year to be sure all parts are working.  They have only had to really use it once since it's completion.  As we drove on from there we crossed over several other parts of the whole project that block the sea from entering.  Quite ingenious and complicated but also quite amazing.

From there we continued on our way to our evening concert in Vlissingen.  We made a brief stop at Veere, a very picturesque town, where surprisingly, we took pictures!  We had to keep moving as we had a deadline for dinner and rehearsal in Vlissingen.  We did make one more stop in Middleburg which is the seat of government for the Zeeland province.  Another lovely town, and we had time for a lunch and/or a bit of shopping.  Lovely town and beautiful buildings.  Pictures will follow on the link provided at the top of the page.  Vlissingen is another beautiful town right on the North Sea; so quite windy.  It was another town of very narrow streets; so our trusty Gerard navigated us as close to St. Jacobskerk as he could get us.  We hauled equipment about a block, set up, rehearsed and then had dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  Food was delicious.  St. Jakobskerk dates back to 1328 and is beautifully preserved.  We had a wonderful concert and a wonderful audience.  We had the local organist play our duet piece on the big pipe organ; so it was a challenge with us at one end of the sanctuary and the pipes at the other.  Mr. Zwart was there again with his carillon; so the concert ran 1 1/2 hours between carillon solos, organ solos, carillon/organ/handbell duets and our solo pieces.  The hosts here were most enthusiastic and sincerely invited us to PLEASE return in the future to play for them again.  Surprisingly, most of Holland has never heard handbells at all.  The audience consisted of locals but also of folks who had driven from quite a distance to hear us.  One such group was young boys who are the first handbell group in Holland.  They purchased a used set of bells and are getting started.  They were quite interested in all the techniques we used etc. as well as our 6 octave set of choir chimes.    As I said before, a wonderful concert and audience.  We felt bad that we really had to rush off, but by law in Holland, drivers can only work 15 hours and we still had to drive on to Brugge in Belgium.  We made it, and as he turned off his bus the 15 hours expired.  He tells us there is a 2,000 euro fine if they catch them over the limit.  (He then has to have 24 hours off to rest with no driving so; we will have a new driver to take us to our concert venue in Brugge.)  We dumped stuff in our rooms and most of us, including Gerard and Norbert headed off across the square to see if anything was open past midnight so we could have a beer to celebrate our concert and also Stuart Schweidt's 16th birthday.  Here they can have "soft" liquor, which is beer and wine, at 16.  Stuart is Elizabeth's son, and he came as her traveling companion.  We sat outside in a cool breeze as the bar was small, noisy and smoky.  Stuart drank a few swallows and decided that it really wasn't very good.  Fun for him though.  

So now it is Thursday and I am about finished with catching up.  We had breakfast in the hotel and set off on a walking tour of Brugge which really is still a medieval town.  Very narrow streets, beautiful buildings, etc.  Lots of chocolate and lace for sale.  Needless to say, I had to purchase some chocolate as did quite a few of the others.  We really needed more time in each of the cities/towns we visited as there is so much to see; but alas we are on a fixed schedule so I must stop now and get ready to go to the next concert venue here in Brugge.  We will have our first "solo" concert tonight as Boudewijn didn't come with us. 

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