Ice Skating

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.

a Frozen Lake Fem and I on the ice

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…

Me on the ice Femk on the ice

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!

From the land path Walking back on the ice itself. Plenty of people here

Matt, Nga-chi and MarkI was glad to get back indoors in the afternoon as it was damn cold outside.

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.

New Years

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.

Me with our fireworks

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.

Plenty of Oliebollen for everyone!

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.

Our street Me about to set of some fireworks

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 neighbours fireworks in actionAuke about to set off a banger More fireworks The cleanup begins

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!

The Delta Projects

On Sunday the 29th of December, Femke and I drove out to the Delta Projects. This ended up being our last outing for the year of 2008.

Thanks to the GPS, it was able to tell us how to get there.  But we first had to scrap all the ice off our car! This was a sign that it was going to be very cold that day!

Iced car

The Delta Projects consists of these massive dikes build at various river junctions to hold out the north sea to stop the land from being flooded. The most interesting sections are the coastal walls which can control the water coming in via these massive doors. These walls stretch out for kilometres and it took decades to complete. Overall this was one of the most impressive engineering feats I have seen.

There is a Delta Park which houses a museum containing info about all this stuff. Since I can’t show you that in detail, you can visit the Wikipedia link here to find out additional info about the Delta Project. The Delta Park is where we spent most of the day.

A view of the dike wall Do we look cold?

Its an interesting place, as you can see the massive dockyards where they built all the pillars of the wall. The also have sections for marine animals including 4 live seals and some massive aquariums. The park itself is more a summer attractive as you can go swimming there and there are a lot of outdoor areas.

Seals waiting for food The main building at the Delta Park

The park itself An Octopus in the aquarium

One of the museum sections Seals put on a show for food

Unfortunately when we were there, the temperature was –4 and with the wind chill factor (it was blowing a gale) it dropped it down to –9. We both ended up wrapping ourselves with everything we had as there were big sections of the park that were outdoors which meant we were totally exposed to the winds from the North Sea!

At the north end of the Park you can walk out and into one of the Pillars of the massive dike. Here you can stand see the water being let through the wall.

A part of the massive wall. Right inside

It’s impressive to see. Also to think that with a push of a single button the doors will come down and seal of many kilometres of coastline. They only do this when the seas are too rough. It does not happen very often. (on average about once every few years)

Seeing the North Sea rushing in A wider view

After seeing the wall, we were both suitably impressed, but after walking around the rest of the park for a while in the exposed wind and cold. We had had enough. We went back inside and watched this “3D movie” which would have been one of the worse 3D movies I have ever seen. Imagine a crappy high school 3D animation project in 1995? It was worse than that. Oh well 🙂

Yes it was very cold and windy

At the end of the day we drove home and started to gear up for New Years.

The Efteling

On Boxing Day, we all decided to go to the Efteling (thanks to Fem’s mum!) . This is one of the major theme parks in Holland, sort of like a Dutch Disneyland in a way.

For people who got tired of walking Lots of snowed gates, trees around

It was a very cold day as you would expect, but the weather was great. Most of the main rollercoasters were closed for winter, but I was ok with that for the other two smaller rollercoasters I could not fit into anyway due to ridiculously small leg room. I don’t get it. Holland has the tallest people in the world (on average) and yet the rollercoasters are all designed for 10 year old Asian girls. It just does not make any sense.

Can you see me here? A gaint bird at the front of one of the rides

There was a lot of people there as you could image. (sun + holidays = lots of people) but the queue times were not too bad. They ranged from about 5 to 30 minutes. The trick was trying to stay warm while snaking your way through the exposed lines outside.

Fem folks on the ice throne Fem and I on the ice throne

Outside of most rides, where other people were waiting for their friends who were in the queue they had these big bonfires to try and keep people warm. This helped nicely.

Quite a few of the rides consisted of just sitting in a cart as you were paraded past large setups with animatronics and lavish sets. This was pretty interesting but it still pales in comparison to the Superman Ride at Movieworld in Australia. However there was still a lot to see and do. Ranging from live wind up dolls, to an ice skating rink, plenty of statues and a cool winter theme throughout the park.

Part of the Arabian Nights area You could go on this to get a good birds eye view around One of many statues A live doll

The Efteling certainly has a fairy tale theme to it all, with lots of references to wood folk, Arabian nights, fairies and troll like characters. It was a great way to spend a day.

IMG_1185_resize IMG_1202_resize

The sun set at about 4:45pm and you can stay there until 8pm which meant everything was lit up really well. I was wishing for a tripod to capture the night scenes but I had to settle for putting my 50D on a brick wall to get the two shots below. We all had a good time and were able to walk off the two massive meals we had on Christmas day!

 One of the many lit up areas Leaving the main entrance of the Efteling

Loevestein

On the 14th of December, we decided it was high time I went and saw a castle. There are not a lot of castles in Holland, and luckily there was a pretty good one about 30 minutes drive north. This is Castle Loevestein. The Garmin GPS I took with me proved itself rather useful, as neither Fem or myself knew how to get there. But we just searched for it, added as a Favourite and away we went!

Fem pointing to the map The main moat to the castle

The castle itself has a moat all around it. The water was rather icy from the shot you can see below.

Icy water! Another view of the moat

Once over the moat there was a small village. But now it just holds a Museum, a tourist centre and some cafes. In older times it was a base for the troops.

The main street The Main house?

Once we paid our entrance fees and turned around the corner at the end of the row of houses we are greeted with the castle itself on its own mini moat. It’s a pretty impressive sight!
Once inside the middle area is all completely hollow.

 The entrance to the castle The whole castleThe hollow inside area

There are actually not a large number of rooms inside the castle, just a lot of big ones. It was also built for defence, so the staircases up to the next level are very narrow and tight. There was not a lot of furniture in the castle. The two rooms below has the most decorations. The majority of the other rooms were barren.

The main hall The discussion room

The dark shadow at the bottom of the photos above is my lens. I should have brought my external lens for these shots. 🙂

A knights metal outfit A basic pulley ssyetm Fem squeezing up a narrow staircase. Imagine how cramped I was!

It was a good “first” castle for me. Hopefully I might get a chance to see some more!

Photographic shot in the main hall View of the moat as we were leaving.