We have had a bit of snow over the last few days and the temperature is always usually below 0 degrees. I was told that out in the countryside about 15 minutes drive from Waalwijk, you get frost in the trees which makes them all white and beautiful to look at. So today, I was just going to cycle to the dunes where there are a lot of trees there, but Auke offered to drive me around.
There was no wind (which was nice), but as you could imagine it was very cold! I was glad I rugged up well for these shots. It was great to be parked under the trees and have small snowflakes gently coming down on you. It was very still and peaceful and pure. I used a circular polariser to darken the blue sky and bring out the white landscapes slightly more. The views were incredibly stunning. Judge them for yourselves!
I also have a smugmug gallery up containing the full size version of these photos. You can get to that page here.
Many thanks to Auke for driving me around to see these sights!
Day 1: Antwerp
Since my Visa situation is still not resolved, we are trying to get me to see as much of Europe as we can in case I might have to go back to Australia in a few weeks.
On the long weekend of 2nd to 4th of January, Fem and I toured Antwerp and Maastricht. Antwerp is in Belgium so now I can say I have been to at least 2 countries in Europe
We took the train to Antwerp. The train system is pretty good here, although they have a first and second class. We were in second class which was not really any different. The first thing that hit me once we got out of the train at Antwerp was how massive the train station was.
There were 3 levels of trains arriving at the station. There was a glass cylindrical dome over the entire station. But the best part was the main concourse. It is one massive room, with very detailed and stunning statues on the walls and a gigantic dome for a ceiling. It would easily be about 12 stories high. Absolutely stunning.
So off we go to our hotel for the night. We learnt our first lessons for travelling by train: Always make sure the hotel is close to the train station.
We walked and walked and our baggage became heavier and heavier. We ended up in the Jewish section of the city. I have never seen so many Jews all dressed in black trench coats with black hats. Interesting to see. With our bags finally dropped off at the hotel, we walked back north into the main city to check it out. Naturally we were drawn to the main church in town. It was a massive one, as shown below.
It was pretty impressive inside. But again all these churches are very dark inside which make it rather tricky to get sharp photos without the aid of a tripod.
There were a lot of paintings inside this church. Some are rather well known. the most famous (according the church guides) is the one below. These are truly massive artworks. I have included a second photo with some people in it to give you a sense of scale. I personally know very little of artwork!
For afternoon tea we had some genuine Belgian waffles. They were yummy!
In one of the main city squares they had a medium sized ice skating rink. There were plenty of people skating away around inside it . I was not game enough as it was too packed and fast flowing and I knew I would be shit at it. The city itself is more densely packed that your typical Dutch city. Plenty of narrow alleyways and side streets and shops really clustered together. It was very pretty though. I did enjoy it.
It started getting very cold, so we decided to go and see a movie. We saw “Australia”, which I thought was ok. The battle scenes on Darwin could have been a lot longer.
One thing I didn’t like was you had to pay to use the public toilets at all the places we went to. About 40 cents a go. This is something I am not to happy with as everyone “needs to go” at some stage. It’s not like you have a choice. Although at restaurants or McDonalds you didn’t have to pay. Ah well.
Afterward we caught a taxi back to the hotel as we we didn’t feel like walking in the freezing dark night.
Day 2: Antwerp to Maastricht
We had a relaxing morning, followed by our free buffet breakfast in the hotel. We then headed back into the city to get some Belgium chocolates before we headed back to the train station. It was frighteningly cold. We had to be rugged up big time and walk at a brisk pace to keep warm. My face which was the only exposed area was going numb and I found it a little hard to talk.
The chocolates were very nice and cheaper than I thought. We slowly ate them over the next two days. Yummy little treat
It was a very sunny day, so the train station looked a lot better than the previous day so I got a few more shots while waiting for the train to take us to Maastricht.
This was definitely the most impressive train station I had ever been in!
The train ride took 3 hours and we had to change trains at a small town in the French section of Belgium. We were there for only 30 minutes but saw a lot of French complaining and whining so we were glad to get out of there and back into Holland.
Maastricht is the southern most Dutch city and is very close to both the German and Belgium borders. Our hotel was right next to the train station so we avoided any long difficult walks! Once we were set up we then head into the city.
We crossed the Maas river and into literally thousands of people shopping. Maastricht to me seems like a very stylish city with old architecture and lots and lots of shopping.
There was a carnival in the main city square so we browsed around there. There was a rows of restaurants and I felt like spare ribs again so we went to a place that apparently specialised in them. The dinner was yummy and afterwards we walked through the carnival again. There was another ice skating rink and yet again the temperature dropped like a rock. Luckily the 50D has very good high ISO performance so I was able to get these handheld shots with out too much motion blur.
Day 3: Maastricht
Yet another very cold day. We woke up and packed up and left our bags with reception and went back into the city again. Being a Sunday morning the city was deserted.
We didn’t have a free breakfast this time so we just had a cheapie feed at McDonalds. After getting some more shots of the bridges over the calm river we then explored the old fortified walls to the south of the city.
We went back to the Carnival and went on the Ferris wheel to get some higher view shots of the city.
Then it was off to the main church in town for some shots and sightseeing.
While it was indeed an impressive church, we both found ourselves quickly becoming “churched out”. So we didn’t spend as long as the other churches.
There were some interesting things though. I could swear the statue in the image below left has horns on him. Click on the image to zoom in and see if you if you agree!
Below you can see the main chamber of the church. There was a rather macabre image of Christ on the cross and for most of the stained glass windows in these churches are the traditional type. I noticed that one of them was rather modern. You can see the differences yourself by clicking on the two images below on the right.
After that and some more looking around, we had had enough. After a short walk back to the train station we caught a train and then a bus back to Waalwijk. Overall it was a great weekend away. Plenty of churches, cold weather, Belgium waffles and chocolates and fine food. A great time!
This weekend we are off to Amsterdam for the weekend. Stay tunes for more soon!
Yet again we shivered in Waalwijk with below zero temperatures recorded each day in 2009. It snowed a reasonable amount during the morning of the 5th of Jan. However it didn’t melt away like before. It stayed there. I have heard reports that tomorrow it will go down to –9. This will make cycling to swimming (indoor heated pool) rather tricky. You have to watch out for the slippery iced sections.
Today I cycled to a small park close to the centre of town. Not many people had walked or cycled through it so I was able to get some great untouched snow shots.
So while the majority of my readers are in sunny hot humid and sweltering Brisbane, I offer you some photos from the north end of the world. Hopefully looking at these photos might make you feel a little bit cooler.
This winter has been rather cold even for Holland normal standards. So it is unusual at this time to have full frozen over pond. We were having a relaxing day on the 1st of January (recovering from the awesome fireworks!) so Fem and I cycled over to this donut shaped shallow lake. The weather has been below zero consistently for the last week now and the lake has been frozen over.
This was the first time I have been on a naturally frozen lake, so it was pretty cool.
The only rule we found was that Fem and I could not stay close together for too long otherwise we hear a crack! The second time this happened I felt the ice I was standing on crack and then drop by about 5 mm. This of course scares the crap out of you when you are about ten metres away from the shoreline!
So I decided to stay close to shore so if I ever broke it completely I would just get my shoes wet.
I walked along the edge where it was clearer. Unknown to me at the time this means the ice is weaker. I took one step on the clear ice and saw about 6 crisp cracks snake out from under my foot. Oohh! back back back…
We walked to the other end of the lake via land, as I was really not trusting the ice anymore. Even though lots of other people were on it I was just too unsure. On the other side Fem convinced me it was ok as long as we didn’t stand too close to each other. So we walked back on the ice and I enjoyed it!
Fem’s older brother Mark and Fem’s friend Nga-Chi dropped by that afternoon. Here you can see the three of us together. No Nga-chi is not actually that short, but she certainly appears that way when standing next to me and Mark!
That evening Fem and I got ready for our 3 day trip to Belgium and Maastricht.
This was my first New Years away from Australia, and it was a great one!
In Holland, and most other European countries from what I hear, fireworks are legal on the night of December 31st. So there is nothing stopping you from buying all these awesome fireworks for you to set off. I am sure Fem’s parents bought more than usual this year to show me how cool fireworks can be. I have to say I was looking forward to it.
The day started off calm enough. Fem was at work, and Fem’s mum spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking oliebollen. These are small spoonfuls of dough that are deep-fried. You eat them usually with icing sugar and taste sorta like donuts.
At about 3pm in the afternoon I called my folks via Skype to wish them a happy new year. They were glad for the call but were tired and wanted to go to bed.
When our evening came, we had plenty of oliebollen and a table full of small nibblies. We certainly did not go hungry at all. We watched TV and just hung out in the lounge room until it was midnight. Yay! Happy new year! I got a call from my folks (9am their time) and then it was time to set of the fireworks.
This was when the night got REALLY interesting.
Generally the fireworks are lit off in the street in front of your house. By the time we got out there, several other people in nearby neighbourhoods had already started their fireworks. Also it was rather cold and there was a surprisingly thick fog in the air. So you look up and were hearing these incredibly loud bangs and pops and booms. The fog was lit up with sudden bursts of red and green and yellow.
“Oh wow.. this is cool!” I thought. We had all our fireworks, but the neighbours on our left and right also had a lot of fireworks as well. And there was a large group of men 50 metres away down the street that seemed to have pooled all their resources and bought a large amount of fireworks including some truly massive ones. So for the relatively small street there was a lot of stuff going on! Even Fem said she had never seen so many fireworks before in her life. Yes! A great introduction for me!
So it was a basic matter of people coming out one by one, and using a lit wick to light the firework and then quickly get back before it was set off. Having four people do this at once you almost constantly had a loud bang going off every few seconds. Plus in the background beyond our street in all directions, you also had lots of other people setting of their stuff. I felt like I was in a warzone, sure the fireworks are not as massive as you see done by the pros in Sydney or Brisbane, but when you are right in the thick of it, and smelling the gunpowder and sulphur and having your vision obscured by all the smoke and fog, it becomes really surreal.
Some of the fireworks have several charges, the first one goes off, and if was not stabilised, the roll tips over, and then shoots the remaining charges sideways into fences and houses and sometimes even people. I was out the front just watching in awe, when there was a sudden sideways streak of something screaming past my ear.
“Oh shit!” I ducked as that firework shot again and it hit our front fence. It shot again and it went into the open door of our house! Fem was standing there and got a hell of a fright but was not physically harmed. Phew..
The skies were lit up with a constant barrage of colours and sounds. I tried to call my folks again to see if they could listen to the sounds as it was incredible. But another firework somewhere got tipped over and we had to duck for cover as screaming sparklies were shot over our heads. I could feel the adrenaline going through me. I heard some bangs down the street to see the group of men lighting these massive fireworks.. the ones that shoot up really high and then just explode. Again one tipped over and it shot into the glass wall of a toy shop and exploded showering the whole area with sparks.
I was beginning to think those people down the street where a little reckless with their stuff and this was confirmed a few minutes later when some other large fireworks either didn’t shoot up or was pointing to the ground. It started exploding right on the ground and I remember turning to see what the hell those almighty bangs were and seeing the silhouettes of several guys just running towards me while having these massive sparkler explosions go off right behind them! Once the big firework had been all fired off, they just casually walked back and lit up some more. I think they were more careful from then on as there were no further misfires from them!
Holy shit… this was turning into one memorable night!
We also had a lot of neighbours come over and shake our hand and wish us a happy new year. Everyone was in a happy and cheerful mood. Rather surreal given the closeness of all the fireworks being set off and the few near misses we were having.
I was given a few smaller fireworks to light up. I was not game to light the big ones. I left them for Auke!
It lasted for roughly 50 minutes and was definitely the most impressive fireworks display I had been part of.
Towards the end, I decided to race in and my camera to record some of this. I was just too awestruck during the main barrage to photograph anything!
The two fireworks in action shown above were some left over from our neighbours. These are rather small in comparison to what we experienced earlier.
By about 1am it all died down. There was still some fireworks being set off in other streets, but it was more just the occasional boom.
Wow.. what a way to start 2009!