Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Farmer from Beerta

DeBoer means “the farmer” in Dutch. Naturally, having a Dutch name, we were delighted to travel north of Amsterdam to Beerta, birthplace of Shawn’s grandfather. To set the scene up, let me first describe the happenings of the night before.

We went to a lovely little pub and sat right next to a canal and enjoyed some hearty beer and an appetizer, I believe to be a special kind of meatball, amid the lights at night. We had warmed up with beverages at Brad and Aubrey’s, so by this point, we were really beginning to enjoy our evening. Afterwards, we headed to an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed some wine, some food and the company of a few stray cats (not mangy cats; healthy, friendly, right-at-home-in-Amsterdam cats). Note: Brad, Aubrey and myself all ordered some pretty common Italian food. Shawn, on the other hand, while he did order pizza, he ordered… seafood pizza. Mussels and everything. After everyone was finished, we went to the next establishment, had a few more amazing beers and then jaunted home while telling some really bad and cheesy, and at the time, hilarious jokes (ie What do you call a fish with no eyes? What are the two horniest animals in the barnyard? You get the point). We all went to bed, none the wiser. Come morning, almost everyone felt well. Everyone expect Mr. Mussels. At first it appeared he was just hung-over. However, as we were in the car, road tripping north to Beerta, we noticed his symptoms were not subsiding. Let’s just say, Shawn DeBoer left a little bit of him everywhere possible on the way to, and in, Beerta. He marked his heritage territory with “Gatorade” rather then with pee. Poor guy. We later diagnosed him with a combination of a mild case of food poisoning washed down with a decent, but not damaging, amount of delicious beer. By the time we got home late that night, he was feeling better and was up to eating some good ole fashioned Mac N’Cheese, shipped specially from the U.S.

Now, to recount what we saw on our journey. We headed out in the morning and leisurely made our way north. We stopped in some quaint towns and even stumbled into the most picturesque little town on the North Sea. Adorable little lambs roamed the hills, cobblestones roamed the streets and fake snow was covering everything. They were shooting a movie! Granted it’s a Dutch movie, but still, what are the odds? They were preparing for a scene set on a bridge. The cast and many, many extras were all decked out in charming, old, winter apparel and all stood on their marks. Finally, action was called and we watched them go through a very quick scene where an ancient car crossed the bridge surrounded by clapping people. It only lasted about 10 to 15 seconds, then they all backed up, returned to their marks and prepared to do it again. Very cool. After the scene was finished, we strolled through the rest of the town and found it to be nothing short of lovely. Too bad I can’t recall the name. Guess we’ll just have to go back someday.

After a couple more stops, we finally ended up in Beerta; birthplace of Shawn’s grandfather! Had he felt better, I’m sure he might have appreciated it more. Although he did get out of the car to take the obligatory photo by the Beerta sign. And then quickly proceeded to the neighboring house to upchuck some more. After he was finished, we drove through the very small town and came to a very large church. We got out to explore the cemetery and did come across a couple of DeBoer tombstones. Long lost relatives perhaps? Not sure, but we took photos of the headstones to see what information we can dig up. We’ll have to keep you posted. Having not much else to see or do there, we finally called it a day and headed the two hours home. Shawn enjoyed some fruit in the car and snoozed on and off until we arrived back at the Ragers. It was a good day and although it was tough for Shawn to go, it would’ve been tougher had he missed out on this chance to see and tell his family about Beerta, home of the farmer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Photo Pause

I've written a lot. You need a break. Enjoy some of my favorite photos.

Ridin’ the Rails

I’ve covered planes and automobiles. Guess that means it’s time to talk trains. This was our first try at the trains and I have to say, I think it went without a hitch. That’s not to say, however, that it went without some happenings. Right after arriving in Amsterdam, Aubrey helped us book our first train tickets. Then right before departing from Amsterdam, Brad helped us look up the train times and connection we needed to make. In hindsight, I think this is why we did so well, we started off with help!

Having stayed up entirely too late the night before, we were both exhausted when we sat down on our first train to Bruges. We dozed on and off quite easily this first trip. As per our usual snoozing position, I had my head resting on Shawn’s shoulder. All of a sudden he jerked, we both woke up, we looked around, then we heard a smack and the person behind Shawn say, “ouch.” We turned around and this same person was returning Shawn’s water bottle. Apparently he was dreaming and trying to fend off something by throwing whatever was in his hands at it. He threw the bottle so high we had time to wake up and hear it hit the person behind us. It was so funny and we were so tired; it made me laugh the rest of our vacation and still gets a giggle out of me now. A had-to-be-there-moment I’m sure.

Our train ride to Cologne must have been down-right boring because I don’t remember a lick of it. It must be filed in my memory somewhere behind the Fiat. I did, however, jot down a few notes while on the train to Paris. This was actually the only non-connecting train we took and also the first train we didn’t have seats right next to each other. Instead, we sat across from each other. I had four blissful hours of listening to Shawn’s neighbor talk to himself (we never did figure out in what language), my neighbor yell into his cell phone while drinking a Coke Light, our neighbors across the aisle chat in French while drinking beer with the largest head I’ve ever seen and my iPod blared such tunes as System of the Down’s, Chop Suey while I sobbed over the last few pages of Marley and Me. It was a kaleidoscope of noises that didn’t seem to stress us – probably because we were on our way to Paris.

Each time we boarded the train and saw the employees in their getups, it felt like we were going back in time. That is, until we looked out the train windows and saw all the graffiti. It was everywhere, on every wall and surface that could be reached with spray paint. Even in Paris when we used their Metro, the walls were covered in graffiti. It was a little sad but not unexpected. Paris’ Metro (city subway), by the way, was even easier yet. It was simple, quick and inexpensive. We never did find those light-up maps Rick Steves is always talking about, but the paper copy we kept folded in our pocket did just fine.

I’ll spare you a separate post on the final mode of transportation we used and will just say, Europeans are a very fit population because, they, walk! They walk everywhere! Included in these walks are stairs! Stairs are also everywhere! I cursed the day I wore flip-flops and cared enough the next day to wear my Pumas. The muscles in my legs I had revived were SO sore. Good news, I lost a few pounds from all that walking. Bad news, it won’t stay off long so we better go on another vacation.

East by Northwest

With automobiles taken care of, I thought it time to discuss how we got around when not in the Fiat. First: the planes. Our flight to Amsterdam lasted just over eight hours. Up until this point, the longest we’d been on a plane was four hours. We knew this was going to be interesting. With the advice of Aubrey, we did our very best to sleep for as many of those eight hours as possible. However, this mission was impossible.

As you can imagine, it’s not easy to sleep on a plane. First, you’re sitting upright, not conducive or comfortable. Second, there’s the inevitable head-bob situation. Third, the movie selection was enticing. Fourth, the stewardesses. These lovely people would come around every hour on the hour, we’d wake up and they would ask us if we wanted water. By the fourth hour I was like really?! I don’t want any water! I’m very hydrated! I want to sleep! Please, for the love of Amsterdam, let me sleep! I was in the middle of a Tylenol PM coma so I was a bit groggy and maybe a little crabby. After fighting the good fight, I’d say we slept maybe three or four hours, interrupted of course.

The flight back was exactly the opposite. We had to stay awake. Although this was easier, by the eighth hour, we were still itching and wiggling to get out of the seat, off the plane and on American soil. We each watched four (different) movies on that flight and managed to keep our eyes open. However, the saga of the stewardesses continued. They were making their dinner rounds and with the choice of a vegetarian or chicken roll, they ran out of chicken just before our row. I like chicken, no offense to vegetables. About four hours later, they came around with the second offering of food. I can’t remember what this particular meal was, but I do remember they ran out of the good choice just before our row. Again. Seriously! If you ran out of something once, wouldn’t you try and at least switch the row that gets gypped the second time? Common sense would make you think so but apparently not.

Aside from the above, there were a few other oddities. For instance, flying out of Paris we, ironically, connected back in Amsterdam. Prior to security at Paris, we were told we’d have to check the bag that we had already carried on the first flight. After some verbal disagreement between airport staff and ourselves, we shuffled around the contents, added a few layers to our bodies (it’s okay – we were headed to Minnesota) and easily carried on the luggage. Once on the plane, we somehow ended up in the wrong row. After moving ahead a few feet, we found ourselves in row four, two rows back from the entire two rows of first class. With six people per row, that means 12 lucky people got to sit in the elusive first class. I had to giggle when they closed the magic curtains just after takeoff. This was an hour flight at best and they took the time to close the curtains for 12 whole people. Having never sat in first class, I can only assume those 12 people were doing sacred rituals or at the very least, taking shots of Tequila.

Overall, the flights weren’t terrible and I’m sure they could’ve been improved upon had we partook in the free wine, but we’ll label that a lesson learned for next time.


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