A most excellent collection of windmills in Holland

If you go to Holland, eating Dutch cheese, visiting the Anne Frank House, and checking out a windmill should really be on your bucket list.

Located close to Rotterdam, is a most excellent collection of windmills called the Kinderdijk. Be sure and visit their informative website if you are planning a visit.

In 1997, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 19 impressive windmills for your viewing enjoyment. Located on both sides of a waterway, the best way to view the windmills is via bike, although we saw quite a few walking the path. Bike rental fees are just 2.50 euros for two hours.

As I hadn’t actually pedaled a bike in many years, I imagined the thick, tall grasses on both sides of the pathway were planted just for me. In case I fell off the bike I wouldn’t fracture any bones … or fall into the water.

One of the windmills, second on the right, is a working museum and charges a small fee. As a visit to Delft and Haarlem were on the list that day we didn’t make it to the museum.

Here is an interesting factoid: 17 of the restored windmills were built between 1738 and 1740 for water drainage.

My grandfather, who was from northern Holland, actually took care of water levels, probably in such a windmill. The visit to the Kinderdijk, made it all the more personal and impressive.

When things go wrong in Amsterdam

The above photographs show the area of Amsterdam where we were supposed to stay. Pretty nice looking right? When we started planning our trip to Holland it was always with the intent of renting an apartment, as our son and daughter-in-law from California would be hanging out with us. Months before we left, I sat in front of my computer for hours looking for just the right spot on VRBO.com. The one I eventually rented was in the Joordan neighborhood, with 2 bedroom, 2 baths, laundry facilities and kitchen. We envisioned the trendy neighborhood known for specialty shopping, cafes, restaurants and art galleries. It would be perfect!

A week before arriving in Amsterdam there was a flurry of emails back and forth between me and the apartment owner. Final arrangements! Then two days before the dude asked if I wanted to check-in early, for a fee of 50 euros to cover the early housekeeping fee, as his renters would be leaving the night before. After a little hesitation … I knew he was gouging me … but I said yes anyway. The upside was it would give us all an opportunity to perhaps nap and adjust a little to the time change before meeting my cousin and her husband for lunch. My last two emails with the owner before I turned off my computer and left for the airport was … we would meet between 9 and 9:30 am at the apartment to get the key.

Many, many flight hours later, Hubby and I arrived at 9:15 am and knocked on the apartment door. We rang the bell. No answer. We didn’t panic. The dude still had a little time to arrive with the key. Pretty soon it was 9:45 and still no dude … and it was starting to rain. We found a bench two doors down and covered slightly with scaffolding. When 9:15 turned into 10:30 and still no guy with the key, we started to worry. Ricky and Kate showed up and a hug-fest ensued. I guess they could tell by the steam pouring from my ears that I was a teapot about to blow. We had the owner’s phone number but our phones were not cooperating. When a nice lady that lived on the block offered to help call the owner for us, we were hopeful. After several tries and leaving messages, we were finally able to chat with our missing-in-action owner.

“Oh so sorry, but I’m an hour away. I’ll give you the key code and you can let yourself in,” he said.

Hubby pushed some numbers on the key pad and opened a little door that was to hold the key. Only there was no key. Suddenly, from behind the door to our apartment, the blinds lifted. There was a scary-looking lady in the window. After a short conversation, she confided she was locked in by her apartment mates, who had left for a few hours, and besides, they were not set to leave until the next day.

“This has never happened in the three years I’ve owned the apartment,” said the owner when we got him back on the phone.

His offer was for us to stay at one of his properties in another part of Amsterdam … for a night … then move back to the Joordan apartment tomorrow afternoon. Geez, we were already going to lose one day of our vacation because of this guy … why not go for two? Did we take him up on his offer … nope!

My son, our travel logistics expert, found us a couple of hotel rooms on Hotels.com before the taxi pulled up a few minutes later. The Room Mate Hotel was located in the UDock section of Amsterdam. The location was not ideal, the hotel was built on a new artificial island, but it was only a 10 minute walk to the train station and we made it work.

Why am I telling your this story? Because if you are going to rent an apartment, be sure and charge it to a credit card. We were able to dispute the charge. The credit card people do an investigation, and basically, if the apartment dude is deemed an idiot, the “temporary credit” becomes permanent.

The rest of the trip was awesome!

Five things I learned while in Amsterdam

We recently returned from our fourth trip to Europe. Did you know that early September is generally a great month weather-wise to visit Europe? We started traveling to Europe in 2008. We’ve been to Italy twice and then Paris for our 40th anniversary in 2012. Every two years we head for parts unknown … at least to us! We can’t let our “world traveler” kids have all the fun.

This year we went to Holland, with a little side trip to Bruges, Belgium. My mom was born in Holland and I really wanted to experience the country. Holland did not disappoint … amazing cheeses, museums, canals, bikes and interesting architecture! Our son, Ricky, and lovely daughter-in-law, Kate, also joined us for the Holland part of our trip.

Amsterdam was totally not what I expected. The guide books never really prepare you for when your boots actually hit the ground. The airport is nuts. But people are friendly and most speak English! I now know how it feels to, as the famous playwright Tennessee Williams wrote, “… to rely on the kindness of strangers!”

Although Kate and Ricky landed 15 minutes later than we did … different flights, different terminals … we never could seem to tag up with them at the airport. It didn’t help that our cell phone programmed for international travel failed us. As Plan B was always to meet at the apartment I had rented in the Joordan area of Amsterdam, no big tragedy.

So here is my list of five things we learned while in Amsterdam:

We never met a piece of cheese we didn’t like! The weight of hubby’s carry-on backpack when we left for home can attest to that.

We learned that the wide bike paths found everywhere in Amsterdam are for bikes and you could get run over if not extremely careful!

A tulip museum, like a cheese museum, is not really a museum. It’s a shop that sells tulip bulbs.

Public transportation is your friend! Learn how to use it! Purchase a day pass (or multi-day pass) good for trams and buses. Very reasonably priced. Swipe your card when you get on … and off public transportation! It’s a two-step process. I have no idea why.

Purchase your tickets for the Anne Frank House and busy art museums before you leave on your trip! There is no way I would have stood in the long line outside the Anne Frank House. And let’s face it … if you go to Amsterdam you must pay the house a visit!

Next time I’ll share how to be flexible on your European vacation … especially when things go wrong!

Sister Mary Rita’s Healing Quilt

Every quilt has a story … especially this one. It belongs to my friend Mary. When she asked me if I could make a hanging sleeve for a quilt she wanted to hang, of course I said yes. When I first saw it, I knew I’d never seen anything like it. It was heavy … very heavy … and contained 120 very personal squares … each one unique … and most every single square was not made by a quilter.

It was lovingly made 20 years ago for Sister Mary Rita, my friend’s sister. Mary Rita was her oldest sibling and the oldest of six girls and seven boys. She was a Catholic nun in the order of the Humility of Mary. As a young child, my friend learned so much from her sister about unconditional love and the value of each person. Sister Mary Rita also had the inside scoop that nuns actually do have hair. She was an educator in the Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio. Mary told me her sister was well-educated, smart, compassionate, funny and so much more. Take a look at the picture taken while the family gathered for a picnic…..yes, she was also a swinging nun!

When Sister Mary Rita was in her 40’s she was diagnosed with a blood disorder and then with Multiple Myeloma. For many years she lived with her cancer, receiving treatments as needed. Mary told me her sister continued to live her life to the fullest, with little to no complaining, being more concerned about how others were doing. In her 50’s and 60’s, she took more time off and traveled with friends. The Nags Head North Carolina beach was a favorite destination.

The patchwork quilt was a thought … a discussion … between Mary Rita and her best friend, Sister Cathy Walsh, in 1994. They had seen an article in the Reader’s Digest about a healing quilt. Cathy said that talking to and seeing Mary Rita nearly every day, she sensed that Mary Rita needed to reach out to friends and family and let them know how to support her. As friends do, Cathy encouraged her. Mary Rita wrote a letter asking for prayer and/or a patch for a quilt. They created a template and sent it with the letter to family and friends, many of whom were priests and nuns. In her letter, she wrote something like “I will wrap the quilt around myself and be reminded of and feel your love.”

Patches started flowing in …. 120 are on the original quilt with scriptures, poems, embroidery, needlepoint, creative arts, photographs, a clover secured in a plastic casing and even a Cleveland police patch. Later, ten more patches came in and small lap quilt was also made.

Cathy commented that every quilt square has its own story and they all came together to share and provide Mary Rita comfort. Sister Mary Rita wrapped herself in it daily!

In November of 2001, Mary’s sister had a seizure while driving. Mary told me her family thanked God He protected her, and others on the road, after she crashed into someone’s yard. By mid-January of 2002 Sister Mary Rita was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Nine months later she passed away, but throughout her interventions and treatments she did as she always did…. lived her life to the fullest, listened and learned from the doctor and others, treasured her time with family and friends and never lost her faith.

In 2007, my friend received the quilt and it is now hanging in her guest bedroom. As guests visit, the quilt gives her the opportunity to tell others about her amazing sister and all those who touched her life.