Trains Run on Time

The morning we left Amsterdam to go to Zürich is the day I should not have worn my money belt around my waist, because that’s when I got frisked at the airport.  I had gotten used to strapping the belt on every morning.  When the lady who worked at the airport started patting me down is when I realized the money belt that held my passport and credit cards was triggering this activity.  “Next time, don’t wear that when going through security,” she politely said.  Whoops! 🙂  Before leaving on our trip to Europe, I read a few articles about the pickpockets, which is why I was careful about wearing the money belt. For that reason and the reason that a friend of mine had her purse and passport stolen when she was in Italy.  It’s a big mess to go through when losing a passport.  I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me.

After the frisk, we boarded our flight on KLM Airlines.  The flight attendants wear white blouses, light blue blazers and skirts with a matching pill hat balanced on top of their heads.  It seemed as if they were coming out of a decade we’d already lived through, but it was nice to see!  Plus, they gave us little chicken sandwiches in a white and Dutch blue paper box covered with pictures of old-fashioned windmills.  It was the simplest of meals, but left quite an impression.

When we arrived, there was a different feeling from what we experienced in Amsterdam. Zürich seemed to be a bit more serious, quiet, and less crowded.  We found the office of the train station, and the lady there pointed us to the train tunnel.  This is where I started to feel a little anxious.  What were we thinking?  Could we really navigate our way through Switzerland by ourselves via train?  What if we ended up on the wrong train?  But all went well.  The lady at the train station handed us a train schedule and told us about the SBB Mobile app.  The app has the timetables and has the ability to purchase tickets.  We didn’t have to worry about buying tickets since we purchased them before we left for our trip.

The tunnel wasn’t very crowded, and since I didn’t have the app loaded on my phone yet, I asked one of the train workers if the trains have numbers (like the bus I take at home). He said, “No, it all works by timetable.”  In true Swiss fashion, each train has a spot on the car where it indicates its destination.  All the trains ran on time, just as you would expect when traveling in Switzerland, the clockmakers of the world.  There was no need to be nervous about numbers on trains.  To be sure though, we asked fellow travelers if the train was going to Bern.  🙂

We noticed a lot of graffiti on walls and under bridges as we travelled to Bern, which I didn’t expect to see. I also saw billboards or signs for Electrolux vacuum cleaners and Elna sewing machines – things my dad bought when I was younger.  After we got off the train in Bern and were trying to figure out where to go next, a lady walked up to me and asked for directions in English!  I thought I must look like I belonged there but told her we were trying to figure out the same thing.  We ended up following everyone else and found our way to the restrooms and some restaurants.  Luckily, we bought the best chocolate, chocolate chip muffin I’ve ever eaten.  Back to the tracks, we found our next train, which was going to Interlaken.

The scenery improved more and more as we traveled along and left the big city of Bern. When we got to a valley by a lake and mountains surrounded us, I knew we were in Interlaken.  The beauty of it all took my breath away!  So much so, that I did not take pictures at that time.  After a few more minutes of train travel, we were at the train station in Interlaken and took a cab to our hotel.

We stayed at the Hotel Bellevue, which has been in business since 1801 and is located on the River Aare. Above are pictures of the outside of the hotel and an adjacent restaurant, reception area, headboard on bed (thought it was cute!), updated bathroom with clear shower doors, and view from our hotel.  Carla, at reception, told us “people around here like to watch the parasailers jump off the mountain and try to land in Hohematte Park,” a short walk away.  After checking in, we leisurely walked around town where we found a beautiful church, the park, the spot to go to buy a wristwatch – there were many watch shops there – and more beautiful architecture.  Even though we enjoyed our short stay in the Netherlands, it was nice to be away from the Hectically Moving Crowds and busyness of Amsterdam.

Interlaken Hotel Where We Did Not StayFancy Hotel, Where we Did Not Stay

We ended up having dinner at the restaurant next door to our hotel – Goldener Anker (Golden Egg) – which Carla recommended. Our waitress brought us a little basket of bread.  We both had a dinner salad which came with finely-shredded beets and carrots.  I had chicken schnitzel.  In case you don’t know, schnitzel means the meat is tenderized and pounded thin and covered in flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs.  Instead of bread crumbs though, mine was covered in coconut flakes and came with a mustard sauce.  My husband had fresh perch with a rice medley.  The atmosphere was relaxed with hushed conversations and soft American rock music in the background.  The staff was very accommodating and the food was delicious.

The reason we travelled to Switzerland was to see where my grandpa grew up. My dad received many postcards that were sent to him from his cousin, John, who traveled there many times.  John encouraged my dad to visit, but Dad did not like to travel by airplane and never went.  Those postcards, the picture calendars Grandpa received from his hometown, and Grandpa’s stories made me want to visit my ancestral home.  Knowing we could get to Grandpa’s birthplace by train the next day made me excited for our next adventure.

Next stop:  Ringgenberg and Brienz, with more mountain pictures to come.

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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.

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!

Jell-O Soup

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When I was a little kid, Mom used to take me to the Forum Cafeteria in downtown Minneapolis for lunch. Sometimes we would meet one of her friends or it would just be the two of us.

“Mom, I want a hamburger. What do they call it here?”  I would always ask, my nose barely reaching the counter while I pointed up at the tray of patties.

“Tell them you want ground beef,” Mom would say. It was a deliciously seasoned patty that came with mashed potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable.

“Make sure you order the Jell-O, too,” Mom would remind me. The Jell-O came in evenly cut squares, shaped like a brownie.  They put the Jello-O in its own separate bowl.  We carried our trays over to one of the little tables close to the cafeteria line and were able to see the front entrance.  The place was always abuzz with clanking dishes and echoing conversations.  It wasn’t only a good place to eat; it was a great place to visit to look at the Art Deco decor.  The floor was black and white checkers, the lights sparkled down towards us, and the decorative mirrors surrounded us.

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The Saxe Bros. of Milwaukee built the bulding in 1914. The Saxe Theater was intended to be the best theater in the country to watch motion pictures.  By 1916, the theater name changed to Strand.  Then by 1929, the Forum Cafeteria Co., of Kansas City, signed a lease and converted the space into a restaurant.  The Forum Cafeteria was in business from 1930 until 1975.  It re-opened under many different names after 1975, as a disco or other restaurants.  An article in the StarTribune gives a good history of the places that tried to make a go of it after the Forum Cafeteria closed.

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This photo was taken after a renovation.

Even though I appreciated the Art Deco at an early age, the best part of the experience was when Mom and I acted silly when we were eating lunch. It was the only place where we took mouthfuls of Jell-O squares and swished it around to make Jell-O soup.  Even though the giggles escaped while we swished, we kept all that Jell-O inside.

Mom and Me Picture

Little memories like that can make your day a happy one.

Mom, when thoughts of you are in our hearts, we are never far from home.
~Author Unknown

The Gifts and the Memories of the Money Jar

Great Grandma VG with her Great Grandchildren (Left)
Great-Great Grandma with her Great-Great Grandchild (Right)

A year ago in March, our family got together for a Sunday meal. Five generations ranging in age from 103 years old to the new little one who was born the month before.  My husband’s grandmother had become a great-great grandma, and others got new titles too, so there was much to celebrate.

I made Great-Great Grandma’s (aka Grandma VG) favorite salad that day, one that I had made many times before. Grandma VG loved that cabbage salad and always raved about how delicious it was.  Grandma VG named the ingredients one by one with each bite she took.  The sunflower seeds were at the top of the list.  The salad is full of flavor and doesn’t get boring probably because of all the butter, oil, and salt it contains!  On that Sunday in March though, Grandma VG didn’t comment about the salad and that was a sign to me that she wasn’t feeling like herself.

Whenever Grandma VG came over before she turned into a great-great grandma, when our kids were little, she always brought along her money jar. We’d have our same routine.  Grandma came into the house, took off her wrap, greeted all of us (even Music, our dog, who loved her too), and asked us how we were doing.  We visited for a while, ate dinner together, and when we were done, Grandma went to get her purse.  She asked all the kids to gather around our kitchen table, and she pulled out a little jelly jar filled with coins.  The kids’ eyes lit up and she told us how she went shopping, and this was her leftover money.  Grandma VG loved to shop and liked to look at the new styles.  Most times she had a story to share about something she found interesting or new with the mall or something she found.

The kids would remember whose turn it was to count out the coins. The coins got divided up into three even piles with even amounts.  If there was anything extra, it went back in the money jar.  “We’ll save that for next time,” Grandma would say.  I always thought this was a great way for the children to learn how to count money and how to share, and I bet that was Grandma VG’s plan too.

Around this time last year, Grandma VG passed away. After her funeral, Matt, our youngest, inherited the money jar.  It only contained a few coins, but it held a lot of memories.  Grandma knew how to make people feel special.  One thing that always made me feel special was when she introduced me to others as her granddaughter, who I was by marriage, but she rarely mentioned the marriage part.  We miss her and her stories.  We still love her, and we’ll hold that love close and guard it, just like we’ll hold close the gifts and memories of the money jar.

Death ends a life, not a relationship. ~ Jack Lemmon

And now, here’s the recipe:

Cabbage Salad

2 packages of coleslaw mix
bunch of green onions, chopped
2 packages Ramen noodles (chicken base), broken up
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 small package slivered almonds
½ cup butter

Brown chopped green onion, noodles, sunflower seeds and almonds in ½ cup of butter on low heat.

Dressing:

1 cup salad oil
3 teaspoons soy sauce
packets of chicken base from Ramen noodles package
2/3 cup sugar

Mix dressing ingredients, pour over coleslaw mix and onion, noodles, and nut mix. Can be prepared ahead; mix with dressing just before serving.

Sparkling Spring

 

Eighteen inches of snow is never a welcomed sight, especially in the spring. Memories of last weekend, when the snow fell on us, lingered in my mind yesterday morning.  It felt like winter was never going to leave.  That snow was heavy and swirled about in the blowing wind.  It blanketed everything around and made me dread it even though it left sparkling flakes in the night.  Those sparkles would have appeared more beautiful early in the winter instead of early in the spring.  It felt awkward to have to stay in during a blizzard when all winter long Lila and I have been going for long walks on Saturdays.

Yet, not everyone was disappointed by the four letter word that begins with the letter “S.” Lila loved it.  Even though the snow was all the way up to her belly, she ran and jumped around like she was going through an obstacle course.  As she came back into the house, she ended up bringing a bunch of the snow along with her.  The flakes clung to her black fur.  She must have liked the cool feeling it gave her because she didn’t shake it off.  Lila tends to walk in the snow when we go for our winter walks.

After Lila and I left the house for our walk at 8:30 yesterday morning, the birds greeted us with happy songs. (We didn’t hear a peep out of any birds last weekend.)  The sun was peaking over to warm us and the bright snow spotted the grass making us wonder if winter was still holding on.  The temperature was 30 degrees.  We still had to trudge through some snow piles when we walked to the path.  The more we walked, the warmer it got.  My winter jacket, hat, and mittens were no longer needed, and I tied my jacket around my waist.  Others walking around the park had been more confident in the weather and wore lighter clothing.  The sun was warmer than I thought, and the wind was nowhere to be found.  It got to be 40 degrees by the time we got back home.

In spots, the green grass sprung out at us. Some trees had buds to show us.  Cardinals chirped a lovely tune to us.  Canadian honkers honked at us.  Robins hopped close to us.  Other birds dove in and out of trees around us.  Squirrels hid from us.  Wild turkeys flew up into a tree branch to get away from us.  The day brought us temperatures in the 60s.  It looks like all these things in nature think spring is sparkling through to leave winter behind.  I guess I think so too?  Whatever happens next, Lila will be happy.

Under the giving snow blossoms a daring spring. ~Terri Guillemets