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If I was a Bird, I’d Want to Live Here!

My husband and I didn’t know what to expect when we were off to our next stop – Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. We were not to be disappointed.  We took a tour bus to the gardens, which is a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam.  Our tour guide talked about the gardens while we were on the way, and he spoke five different languages!  I could only understand one but recognized parts of others, sometimes!

Keukenhof Gardens

Our tour guide informed us that over a million people visit the gardens during the eight week period when the flowers are in bloom. “More than 7 million tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths fill over 32 hectares (79 acres) with color and fragrance.”  The flowers are arranged perfectly into artistic pieces of work.  Not only were the flowers beautiful, but we also enjoyed seeing the ponds and very large trees.

We snapped over 90 photos while we walked around the gardens for three hours. It was very difficult to narrow it down, but I’ve posted 29 (to be exact) of my favorites here.  Being amongst all the flowers, trees, and birds was timed perfectly since we had just gone through a very long and cold winter at home.  Plus, the flowers all seemed to be at their prime, except for some daffodils that had seen better days.  Some of the flowering trees were losing their petals, but we got to see them in all their glory before the wind picked up.

We could tell by the songs they sang, that the birds were glad to be there, too. I couldn’t help but think, “If I was a bird, I’d want to live here!”  Keukenhof Gardens was spectacular and more than I ever imagined!

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

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Anne Frank’s Hideaway Home

It was a cool and windy day when my husband and I went to tour Anne Frank’s House and Museum. Thankfully, the sun shined down from a light blue sky to warm us. There were many people standing in line with their previously ordered tickets in hand. A group of about 20 people enter the museum in 15-minute intervals. Right now, tickets need to be ordered on-line 60 days prior to the tour because there is a renovation in progress.

263 Prinsengracht

When we first entered the bright museum, we each were handed a monitor for our guided tour. Every room has a sensor on the wall. A recording on the monitor gives details of each room plus other historical events about World War II. After seeing a few rooms in the museum, we entered the first floor of 263 Prinsengracht. The first floor is the warehouse of the spice company that Anne’s father, Otto Frank, and his partner, Hermann van Pels, set up. We climbed the narrow and steep wooden stairs to get to the second floor, which was the office space.  There we saw a beautiful view of the canal below. At the end of the hallway is the bookcase that hides the Secret Annex. The rooms were mostly empty because the Nazis removed the items after they captured the eight people in hiding. There were a few personal items on display that included: Mr. Frank’s Charles Dicken’s book – he was teaching himself how to read English; Margot’s, Anne’s sister, writings from her Latin correspondence course; and copies of Anne’s diary. The original diaries were not on display due to the renovation.

Each room has a photograph on the wall of what it looked like when it was furnished. The first room we entered, after going through the door that was camouflaged as a bookcase, was where the Franks stayed during the day. Before we entered Anne’s room, we noticed the wall where Mr. Frank marked the growing heights of his daughters. Pictures of movie stars were pasted to Anne’s bedroom wall, just as she left them. There is a small bathroom on this floor where they also did laundry. Up the next level is a small kitchen area that everyone shared, and Mr. and Mrs. van Pels also used that area as their living quarters. Peter’s room is adjacent to the kitchen and the walls are decorated with photos of movie stars that Anne also pasted there. From Peter’s room, we could see the steps to the attic. The attic is closed off with Plexiglas at the ceiling. A tilted mirror gave us a view of the place where Anne liked to go to get fresh air and look at the sky and trees.

The exit took us to the museum store, and as we walked down the stairs to exit the museum, there is a giant portrait of Anne on the wall. One can’t help but think about the sweet girl and others like her and her family. Even though we know the outcome, a person’s heart sinks when they read the last sentence in Anne Frank’s diary: “ANNE’S DIARY ENDS HERE.” When my 13-year-old self read The Diary of a Young Girl, I never thought my older self would visit her hideaway home. I was fascinated with the diary back then and felt I could relate to some things she was going through. Familiar things such as how she got along with her family and friends and how she appreciated the outdoors. Anne’s story stayed with me.

I recently read the book and was amazed by how great a writer Anne was. Anne described her surroundings and circumstances so well. Not only her emotions came through, but how she loved and how she thought she didn’t love some people. Anne was wise beyond her years in the ways she understood humankind.  Of course, Anne had bad days – who could blame her with being stuck where she was – but she mostly managed to stay optimistic and hopeful while she was in hiding for those two years. Most likely her positive attitude was due to having her diary. Anne wrote, “When I write, I shake off all my cares.”

At first, Anne wrote her diary for herself, but later she decided she would like to write a book about the war based on her diary. She edited her diary many times as she was going to use it as a reference. Immediately after the Franks, van Pelses, and Fritz Pfeffer were arrested, the secretaries, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, who worked in the office, found Anne’s diary and held onto it until after the war. Mr. Frank was the only one of the eight to survive the camps. In the late 1950s, the house was going to be torn down for a new development, but many people in Amsterdam campaigned against the demolition. The house was preserved and turned into a museum which opened in 1960. The Anne Frank House is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands with 1.2 million visitors every year.

After the war, Mr. Frank worked at getting Anne’s diary published and it has been read by people from all over the world. Mr. Frank answered thousands of letters that he received from readers of the diary, and he concluded each letter with: “I hope Anne’s book will have an effect on the rest of your life so that insofar as it is possible in your own circumstances, you will work for unity and peace.”

Being in the Secret Annex was a surreal experience for me because I could not believe I was actually where I was at the time. Even though it made me feel heavyhearted, I am glad I was able to visit Anne’s hideaway home. That visit will help Anne’s story stay with me all the more.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world. ~ Anne Frank

Hectically Moving Crowds

Amsterdam Walk About Town

Amsterdam Walk About Town

Amsterdam is a beautiful and interesting place to visit. My husband and I arrived on a Tuesday late in the morning the beginning of May.  We were met at the airport by Peter, who drove us to our hotel in a Mercedes van.  Mercedes are a very common sight in Amsterdam.  The ride felt very comfortable, not only because of the type of van we rode in, but because people drive on the right side of the streets in the Netherlands.  When we got closer to town, we noticed the bicycles.  The city bikes have fenders, chain guards, and a skirt guard on the rear wheel.  A shocking amount of people were commuting to work and other places on bikes in their office-type clothing.  No one wore a helmet and sometimes babies were strapped in either on a bike or a person who was riding one.

Rembrandt Square

As we neared where we would be staying, Peter had a hard time finding a place to park. Luckily, he was able to wedge the van in between two cars that were parked alongside a canal, and we got pretty close to the hotel, the NH Schiller.  The hotel was built in 1912 and is located next to Rembrandt Square.  The lobby is decorated with stained glass windows, woodwork, and artwork painted by Frits Schiller who once owned the hotel.  The headboards on the beds are also reminiscent of the creations of the artist.

NH Schiller Hotel (Bottom Photo is Headboard)

We quickly checked in, got a map, and went for a walk to find Anne Frank’s House & Museum. Along our walk, we commented about the stunning architecture of the buildings.  Some buildings seem crooked as if they are leaning onto the next.  Canals wind about the town.  We marked our way by how many canals we crossed.  We ambled down a main street, by the Royal Palace, took a left turn to cross three canals and found Anne Frank’s House pretty easily.  We would return to the house of the well-known author later that night to go on our tour.

Amsterdam Royal Palace

Amsterdam Royal Palace

The streets were not only alive with bikers and walkers, but trams, buses, cars, and a horse and carriage helped make the town boom. Ferries dotted the canals.  Around a million tourists visit Amsterdam this time of year during an eight-week period to see the tulips at Kuekenhof Gardens, a 40-minute drive away.  We wandered around a little more and came upon a little restaurant called Mama Pancakes.  My husband’s breakfast came with scrambled eggs, sausage, beans, and bacon, chopped up like ham.  I ordered an omelet with ham, and toast on the side.  Both meals came with a garnish of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  The coffee was served in a tiny white cup atop a little matching saucer.

Amsterdam Mama Pancake CoffeeTiny Cup of Coffee

Our tour of Miss Frank’s house was soon to arrive, so we went back to our hotel to get ready. Now that we knew the way, we felt confident we would get to the tour on time.  We only worried about staying out of the throng of the hectically moving crowds!

All went well, and I’ll write soon about our tour.

Thanks for visiting!

No Crumbs Were Left Behind

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For Christmas, my husband surprised me with a gift of a weekend getaway for both of us at the Ann Bean Mansion in Stillwater. As the temperatures dropped, my vision of wandering around Stillwater to shop sunk like the rapidly decreasing temperatures. We knew it was going to be a hibernating sort of weekend, and we decided it would be a great time to hang out in a mansion instead of being cooped up at home.  Besides, it gave us a reason to be lazy and just relax, which is always nice.

Before we went to the mansion, we stopped at Pub 112 in downtown Stillwater for dinner.  To warm my bones, I had a Sunburnt Nutty Irishman which is made with Tullamore Dew, Frangelico, Bailey’s Irish Cream, River Moon Coffee and topped with whipped cream.  I also ordered the Guinness Beef Stew.  The beef was tender and accompanied by root vegetables, peas, mushrooms, fresh herbs and topped with baby red mashed potatoes.  The green stuff that adorned the plate tasted like kale.  When I asked the waitress what it was, she confirmed my suspicion and said it was deep-fried.  The crisp kale was different prepared that way, and I wondered if all the nutrients got fried away too.  As I savored each bite, hubby enjoyed his burger.  After we cleaned our plates, we were off to find the mansion which was just a short trip away.

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When we entered the place, it felt warm and cozy even though the entryway is quite large.  We were greeted by Jeremy, the innkeeper.  Jeremy and Erin, a husband and wife team, have been innkeepers since 2004.  Jeremy told us that the mansion was built in 1880, and he escorted us to the Hersey room.  Mr. Hersey was part owner of Hersey, Bean and Brown Lumber just when the town of Stillwater was getting settled.  To read more about the history of the mansion, click here.

Jeremy brews his own beer and told us about the never-ending supply of warm chocolate chip cookies that can be found in the dining room.  After we got settled, we ventured off to find the cookies with melted chocolate chips.  We had to restrain ourselves from visiting that room too much, but we did go there a few times!

We explored the living room, and I took these photos.

I enjoyed looking at the antiques and the beautifully carved woodwork that surrounded the rooms.

Mr. Hersey’s room, below, was quite large and is heated by a fireplace.

Looks like someone forgot their shoes!

That night, besides eating cookies, we lounged, watched TV, and I browsed through the History of Stillwater where I discovered that Mr. Hersey was quite the lumberman. It was very quiet even though we heard other guests come and go every once in a while. I was surprised that the old windows in the building didn’t make the place too drafty, but closing the shades helped a lot.  The still night turned into a peaceful morning.

We had breakfast in our room, but guests do have the option of eating in the dining room, if they’re feeling social that is!  Somebody knocked at our door, and left a sumptuous tray of food without being seen.  No crumbs were left behind at this meal either!

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Menu:
Merlot Poached Pears with Yogurt and Granola
Cheddar Gougere with Tomato Jam
Buckwheat Blini with Dutch Apple Compote and Sausage
Peach Mango Crumble

St. Michael's

Thankfully, our old van turned right over even though the temperature was still below zero.  We visited the Church of St. Michael for mass a few blocks away.  We got to explore another beautiful old building that is one of the oldest parishes in Minnesota that was built in 1853.

We had such a nice and relaxing time, we’re thinking about going back again when the weather gets warmer or maybe we’ll go when it’s below zero again…

To Walk Along the Jagged Rocks

“Let’s run over to Itasca before they get here,” my son-in-law Michael said. The four of us grabbed what we needed and went to the car. Michael drove while Laura, Matt and I watched the scenery go by. As we bumped along the highway, we listened to some old tunes back from when I was growing up, and no one wanted to change the station!

The day was just like the others since the four of us got there. It felt a little warm even though the sun wasn’t shining down on us. The smoke from the fires in Canada floated to northern Minnesota making the sky hazy. Some could smell the smoke, and I felt like I got a whiff once in a while, but I think that might have been my imagination. We sort of enjoyed the blanket of protection from what would have been a steamy summer day.

“This is the road I took to get here,” said Matt. “I think I went around the lake the other way.”

“Ya, this is the way you should go home,” we chimed in together. I thought about how our family get together was a hodgepodge of an event. Laura, Michael and I arrived at the resort on Wednesday night, Matt drove in on Thursday morning, and the rest of us were waiting for Dad and Katie to arrive that afternoon.

“I think I’ve been here before a long time ago with my family when I was growing up,” I said. When we entered the state park, trees towered high above us. Pristine lakes with names of women poked out to show us not only trees grow there. We only saw a few of the 100 lakes during our short stay.

After parking, we headed toward the path, and the Headwaters – Caretaker Woman greeted us:

We read the sign above to learn that the woman is “releasing a clutch of small turtles from a basket, renewing the seasons and continuing the waters of life.  Her flowing hair is like that of flowing water.  The turtles, strong water symbols, also symbolize the universal cycles of life in Anishinabe (Ojibwe) belief.”  Then I understood why all the lakes are named after women.  Click on the picture of the sign to learn more!

A few more steps down the road, we found the spot where the mighty Mississippi starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s traditional for visitors to walk over the jagged rocks just to say you crossed the spot where the Mississippi River begins, but for some reason we didn’t even think to make that little journey. Funny that we traveled so far and didn’t do what everyone else does when they get there. That doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the view.

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We continued to walk down a path along Lake Itasca. Just as we were on our way back to the parking lot, the phone rang. Katie let us know they were waiting for us at the cabin. We left just as quickly as we arrived anxious to all be together again.

Maybe another time we’ll all get to walk along the jagged rocks together.

The family is one of nature’s masterpieces. ~George Santayana

 

Sun Set Golden on the Horizon

2015_03_29 Pierside Grill

When we approached the host of the restaurant at the Pierside Grill, we had to tip our heads back to see his face.  His long, straight hair was pulled back tight and was the same color of the sand we could see off in the distance.

“Table for four, please.”

“We have a policy that your entire party has to be here before I can show you to your table.”  I looked down at the podium.  The policy was posted beneath the spot where our host was resting his elbows.  He held tightly onto each of his hands as if he felt the same way about the policy as we did.  There was quite a crowd and almost all the tables were full even though it was pretty early in the evening.  I couldn’t imagine which table we would get by the time our party was complete.  The parking lot was far away, and it was probably difficult to find a parking space.

“Oh,” we said together in monotone voices.  The sun was still a little high in the sky and wouldn’t be setting for a while.  A hostess stopped by and ushered a complete party to their table, a table that could have been ours.  My stomach moaned in protest but was only heard by me.

“He’s just parking the car.  He should be here soon,” said Gran.

The host fanned some of the menus back and forth in front of his face as if he was nervous, so we scooted over to the side to make room for other customers.  Some of the sunbathers on the beach were packing up, getting ready to go.  I briefly surveyed some of the tables to see if others were finishing their meals and wondered who might leave next.

When Gramps arrived, our host showed us to our table.

“I saved you this table by the wall,” said the ponytailed man as he tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear and dealt menus to each of our spots at the table.

“This is great,” exclaimed Katie.  We were surprised to get a spot where we could see the waves of the Gulf gently glide along the shore.  Our waitress brought water, and we ordered coconut shrimp and iced tea.  As we watched the wide open space before us, it seemed as if the beach was a stage, a show for us to watch.  A man rode his bike to make a trail in the sand.  His parrot held tight to the handle bars.  We wondered if the bird was tied to the bars or if it held tightly of its own free will.

Now that the sun was setting lower, the day felt cooler, and dogs were getting their walk along the beach.  A set of black labs that resembled our family dog waded out into the water while being led on leashes.

“Don’t drink the water,” I said to them even though they were too far away to hear.  It was as if they heard my advice and held their heads high, careful not to dip their heads.  They must have tasted the salt of the water sometime before.  Seeing the labs made me wonder how our dog Lila would have liked the beach. When I thought about her earlier that day, I knew she wouldn’t have liked going on a walk with me because it was very warm that day, in the 80s.  Lila loves cooler weather, and I doubted she would want to vacation in Florida because there are snow banks.

As we sipped tea and munched on coconut shrimp, we noticed how more and more people were lining up on the pier ready to watch the sun set.  Our waitress checked with us several times, but we pretended we couldn’t make up our minds as we briefly looked at the menu.  We didn’t want to get ushered out of the restaurant too quickly, and we noticed many tables were empty at that time.  We had gone there to watch the sun slowly slither away on its daily journey.

People of all ages and sizes strolled along the water’s edge while I watched a lady perfecting her hand stand.  Sometimes she tipped right, then left, but most of the times she was able to keep her balance upside down tightly clad in a bikini.  I wondered how the rush of blood to her brain must have felt as I watched a cloud stretch out to make different shapes.  At first that cloud looked like a spoon which somehow turned into the shape of a bird.

We ordered ribs and burgers, which were quickly delivered and deliciously devoured.  As the clouds drifted away, the sky became a pale, soft blue as if it was dimming, ready to sleep and show its stars.  Getting closer to the edge, the sun set golden on the horizon turning parts of the blue sky pink as it set.

Good night soft sky.  See you tomorrow.  It’s always a blessing to see you.

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just Going Here was Worth the Trip!

“It’s been years since I’ve seen an eagle,” I said. All four of us murmured our awes.  Just as we were rounding the corner on our way to Lanesboro, Minnesota, we spotted two eagles hovering over the remains of a deer. The closer we came to the deer, the higher the eagles flew towards the cloudy sky. Their wings stretched out and up to lift them higher.

The charming town is nestled in and surrounded by colorful bluffs. Some trees were bare, their leaves blown off by some earlier wind. Others were green, holding tight to their leaves. The ones that changed showed us rusty colors or yellow leaves that mimicked the sun.

Denise drove us down Parkway Avenue and we passed by bed and breakfasts, little shops, restaurants, an art gallery and theater. Bicyclists and walkers could be seen travelling over the bridge that crosses over the Root River.

After we found the Cottage House Inn, the bed and breakfast where we stayed, we stopped at one of the gift shops. We talked about how fun it would be to go on an Amish tour.  There were guided or self-guided tours available.  We decided on the self-guided tour. We bought a CD, and when we went out the door, we noticed that the clouds had magically disappeared.  The sun greeted us as if welcoming our decision to explore on our own.

We got back in the car to find our way to the beginning of the tour. On the way, we traveled a scenic route where we saw the beautiful valley. Patches of bright green and tired yellow fields made patterns below. When we found our starting place at the intersections of Highways 52 and 16, we started the CD and listened to the narrator who gave us directions on which way to travel. In between directions, the narrator talked about the living and working habits of the Amish people. He instructed us that we were only to visit the farms that had signs that said they were open for business. He also told us not to take any pictures because it’s against the Amish people’s beliefs. We traveled along the white dirt road and found the first farm.

The farm was large, and the white house stood tall. White shirts hung upside down in front of the porch. The sleeves swayed in the wind waving and welcoming us. We got out and walked to the small red shed. There was only one other car in the driveway. It belonged to a family of customers inside the shop. A teenage boy was on duty as the cashier.

At this shop we found handmade rugs, quilted pot holders, baskets, wooden turntables, rockers, jams, honey, and pickled beets. We each bought something. I got a jar of raspberry jam and a jar of honey.  We were proud because we made it this far on our adventure! When we arrived at the next farm, we were greeted by a beautiful brown horse that was hooked up to a buggy. The horse looked at us as we smiled back. We wondered if someone was getting ready to go for a ride or if the horse was just there for the customers to admire.  The shop was surrounded by large pumpkins and multicolored corn. When we entered, we were greeted by a teenage girl. We noticed how dark and cold the building was. The other shop’s stove kept us warm. This shop had handmade furniture, cashew candy and vegetables for sale. We didn’t buy anything but went back in the car to find the next farm. This is where we had a little trouble finding our way.

The narrator instructed to restart the odometer after each visit. We figured out how to do that, but when the narrator’s instructions said to go south on a road that only travels east and west, we got confused. He told us that “when we went past the little school-house,” but we couldn’t find a school-house.  We travelled south the way we thought he meant.  If we wouldn’t have travelled that way, we might not have seen the Amish man plowing a field the old-fashioned way. There were farms with modern equipment mixed in with farms surrounded by buggies. After trying to find our way and after a very large semi-truck raced past us and kicked up so much white dust that we weren’t able to see, we decided to return the CD and get our $20 deposit back in Harmony, Minnesota.

After we returned the CD, visited a couple of shops where we admired beautifully handmade Amish quilts and furniture, we went back to the bed and breakfast in Lanesboro. When we got to our room, we noticed that we didn’t have a TV, but there was a radio in the corner. A little diary on the dresser explained how we were staying in the Penny Room, and the visitors are supposed to look for and then hide their own three pennies. I only found one penny inside the dresser on top of the bible and didn’t think to hide my pennies because we all were too busy gabbing and munching on cheese, crackers, dips and salami.  We talked about how the narrator must have been mixed up on his directions and wondered if someone turned the street sign around as some sort of joke or if there was a scratch in the CD. We realized we liked the experience even though we couldn’t find the way we were supposed to go.

 

Can you find Slant Avenue?

We explored Lanesboro some more. We found the Scenic Valley Winery which was only a block away and has been in business for 20 years. We sampled three different types of wine. The first one I tried was rhubarb. It tasted tart and was hard to swallow. I also tasted the harvest wine, and we each decided to buy a bottle to bring home.  The cranberry was my favorite.

We walked to Riverside on the Root, a restaurant that is home to the Dirty Martini Lounge and enjoyed delicious cosmos and sandwiches.

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After dinner, we noticed that the Lanesboro Art Gallery was hosting a show. Many beautiful paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry, lawn ornaments, and post cards were for sale. After wandering around town a little longer, we went back to the Cottage House Inn where we saw people playing cards on the main floor, with a bottle of whiskey as the centerpiece. We chatted the night away like old friends do while munching on peanut M&Ms and licorice.

All the adventures of the day made for a sleepy group.  We quickly fell asleep, but were jarred awake when the town’s siren went off around midnight.  A few minutes later, sirens from firetrucks could be heard and traveling off in the distance.  The volunteer fire department was quick to respond, but we never found out where the fire was.

The next day we asked a man who was working at the gas station where to go for breakfast, and luckily, he told us how to get to the Pastry Shoppe.

We got a table next to the window just in time as many people arrived after us and had to wait for a place to sit. The specials were listed on the chalkboard on the wall:  Ham, Onion and Cheese Quiche, a Pastry Breakfast, and Biscuits and Gravy. A framed article explained about the menu at the place, but the waitress explained it better.

“Is that your menu?” I asked as I pointed to the chalkboard.

“We don’t have a menu. People can order whatever they want, and we see if we can make it, but we don’t make pancakes or waffles. We have French toast. He makes the best hollandaise sauce in the world,” she said as she pointed to the chef with her pencil.  “We’re out of the Biscuits and Gravy.”

Kathy and I ordered the Quiche, Denise ordered the pastry that was piled high with hash browns, ham and eggs, and Judy ordered Eggs Benedict and agreed that it was a pretty great hollandaise sauce.

“Just going here was worth the trip,” I said. It was a very tasty breakfast.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to bring you more coffee,” the waitress said when we were in line to pay our check. “The next time you come, just go grab the coffee pot and help yourself. This is a casual place.” We asked her to let the chef know how much we all enjoyed our breakfast.

We ended our stay by exploring trails and walking along paths that used to be an abandoned railroad track.  The next time we visit the “Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota,” we might have to rent one of those bikes built for four.  If you’re ever in the area, it would be worth your while to stop by for a visit!