Sinterklaas again!

Last night was the 5th of December here. This is where Sinterklaas is celebrated in the homes in the Netherlands. You could think of the the evening of the 5th of December as being the same as the morning of the 25th of December in Australia.

The table of goodies before we started Fem with her cat Fem's mum feeding the cat

The only main difference I noted was that the presents were not under a tree, but they were in a bag (Sinterklaas’s bag!) that was brought down from upstairs when the time was right. So after watching some very important shows on TV (Dutch soaps), Fem and her mum went upstairs to bring down the bag.

The cat amazed at how awesome the 50D is Fem with the bag!

We then had drinks and yummy nibbiles (including Fem’s delicious apple turnovers) on the table while Auke, handed out the presents. The presents were unwrapped one at a time so everyone can see your reaction and enjoyment. I was very happy and surprised with what I received. This included:

  • A book called The Undutchables which is an accurate and humorous take on life in the Netherlands.
  • A soft bicycle seat cover to help my not yet fully formed biker’s bum.
  • A sample of local Waalwijk beers and liqueurs.
  • A giant M in rich milk chocolate. Yum!

After the unwrapping The gifts I received

It is Dutch tradition to give small poems along with the gifts on Sinterklaas. Fem and her parents got their Dutch poems first, and with my final present I got my poem as well.

I have attached a copy of it below as I thought it was very sweet and well done!

The poem I got

Den Bosch

On the 29th of November, after a few weeks of me doing remote work away at home and Fem looking for work, we decided to explore the city of Den Bosch.

This city is roughly 20 minutes drive east of Waalwijk. We went there by bus on a very chilly morning. You know it’s a chilly morning when your face goes numb from just the morning air.

Main street of Den Bosch Crossing one of the many rivers around the city Cool statue on a roundabout

The Saturday markets were on, so we looked around for some good deals. After finding some good nibblies, we just walked around the streets. The city seems to have a maximum building height of about 5 stories. Plus the street layout was a bit random with plenty of side streets, ally ways and lanes. Without a map, you would get lost very quickly, as it’s hard to get your barings with most streets looking very similar.

There is a bakery near the main train/bus station that is famous for it’s “bosche-bollens”. (I am certain I have misspelt that) These are servings of tennis ball sized whipped cream covered in a thin layer of deep fried dough and then a generous layer of chocolate. The Dutch, thankfully have stayed away from this horrendous “mock cream” that is usually put on all Australian cream buns, so you get a lot of thin beautifully rich whipped full cream and oh is it yummy. Fem tells me people come from far and wide just to go to this bakery. Each time we walked past it, there was a a queue spilling out into the street for it. 🙂

The highlight of the day was going to the Saint Jan cathedral in town. This is by far the largest and the oldest cathedral I have been to. The insides were utterly stunning and awe inspiring. The amount of detail on the woodwork, the statues, the stained glass and the massive paintings has to be seen to be believed.  The lighting inside were a little dim, so I had to up the ISO on my wonderful Canon 50D to get a decent shutter speed.  (Have I mentioned how much I love my camera?)

Wow.. what a massive organ inside the Saint Jan church huge size interesting touch with the dove underneath

This church was created around 1200. So that makes it roughly 4 times older than Australia. On the back wall is this unbelievably huge piano organ, which you can see it in the first photo. I have included some tourists at the bottom of the photo so you get a sense of scale.

great light display detailed stained glass

Some basic stats: Length – 115m, Width – 62m, Height of the dome Ceiling – 41m, Height of the outside spire – 73m. Number of statues inside and out – 600

Number of bells – 59, weight of the largest bell – 5500kg.

the side waylooking up

burial areas inside the church another look at that organ

There are even noblemen buried inside the church. When you walk down the isle ways, it’s common to actually be walking on people graves. Interesting to say the least.

Once outside, due to how close the town is built to the church it’s hard to get the whole thing into a single shot. Obviously this is not the largest cathedral in Europe but it was very impressive to me. I am looking forward to seeing other massive ones!

exterior shots of Saint Jan exterior shots of Saint Jan exterior shots of Saint Jan

On Christmas day we are thinking of coming back here at night, as it is lit up really well and will have a good atmosphere. Hope to get some more great shots of it then!

Sinterklaas

On the 15th of November, the Netherlands celebrated the arrival of Sinterklaas!

This involved watching the main parade on TV that day. Each year Sinterklaas arrived via ship to one Dutch town that has a harbour. There he on top of his white horse and his dozens of Black Pete assistants then hand out candy and treats to the delighted children and parade through the city. They end up at the town hall where there is a speech by that town’s mayor and there is plenty of celebration all around. The theme this year was red balloons. So there are red balloons attached to all the major landmarks around the Netherlands.

Obviously from Australia’s perspective Sinterklaas is like our Santa Claus, and the Black Pete’s are the elves.

One attraction of the whole parade is that there are always things that “go wrong”, and it’s interesting to watch and see how the Black Petes get Sinterklaas out of the trouble. This year his boat got “stuck” in the harbour. They solved that issue by attaching all these red balloons to the ship and that lifted it high over the obstacle.

Also Sinterklaas’s main chair at the town hall was destroyed by a parachuting Black Pete who landed on it. The TV kept cutting back to this poor Pete who was desperately trying to get a replacement chair before the parade snaked it’s way to Town Hall. Of course he comes up with comical alternatives such as a toilet, a wheelchair and a really tiny chair, but just before Sinterklaas arrived he was able to get the correct chair replaced in time! It’s all good fun and quite entertaining to watch.

On the 16th, each Dutch town gets their own Sinterklaas parade. Obviously it’s smaller than they main one on TV the previous day, but it’s still good to see everyone out and about. There were lots of Black Petes doing acrobatic dances and jumps and plenty handing out candy to all the children. Most of the children had bags to catch all the candy in 🙂

Below are the shots from the parade in Waalwijk.

Start of the Parade A Black Pete giving candy to a child

The marching band One of the caridges in the parade

Sinterklaas himself The black pete orchestra

marching band another shot of sinterklaas himself Wallkwijk townhall covered in red balloons

Up until the 5th of December, each morning when you wake up, there might be some chocolate waiting for you. This is what Fem and I received this morning from Fem’s parent. We also give them sweet treats every few mornings as well!

IMG_0586_resize

Then on the 5th of December, we would then exchange small gifts. (no this does not occur on the 25th ) 🙂

Visit to Heusden

On the 9th of November, Fem and I drove to the old town of Heusden which is just north of Waalwijk. You can see from the aerial shot from Google maps, that Heusden is an odd looking town practically surrounded by a moat. This was due to it being a heavily fortified town back in the middle ages.


View Larger Map

It has the old style charm for a Dutch town. A lot of history and a few windmills scattered around it’s fringe. Since it was Sunday when we went, there was not a lot of people out and about. By the time we left in the early afternoon it has opened up a bit more.

The walls at the entrance Fem on the street

Fem and I spent the morning there, just looking around, getting some shots and had a nice lunch at one of the restaurants.

Windmill and a town light the main area

We noticing a group of dog walkers gathering. What was interesting was that nearly every dog was a Dachshund! Must be a common theme for this town. I was surprised how loud the bark was for such a small dog!

More windmillsView from above 

It was a nice little town to visit! There were lots of side streets and nooks and crannies, so it would be pretty easy to get lost there if you were new to the place.

Bikes and the Loonse en Drunense Duinen

In the Netherlands, car parks are not cheap and also not plentiful, also most places you want to go to are not too far away. Also petrol is expensive and since the land is also seriously flat (and I mean FLAT) it then makes good sense to use bicycles to get from place to place. The road network also caters heavily for bicycles with many dedicated lanes and the road rules which state “if a car hits a bicyclist, the car is automatically at fault no matter what”. There are also a lot of bike racks in most populated places. So it’s just generally the way to go. I would estimate about 60% of the town gets around via bike.

I also didn’t want to drive anywhere as the road networks in Europe all drive on the “other” side of the road. It currently spins me out a little bit whenever we drive (me as a passenger) through big turns and go on roundabouts. So bikes are the way to go!

Luckily at Fem’s parents place they have two spare bikes so both Fem and I are able to use them when we can.

On the 6th of November after a few days of jetlag recovery, we decided to look around. To the south of Waalwijk is a national park called Loonse en Drunense Duinen. This park contains massive (flat) sand dunes that you can walk around or through. It struck me as odd to see sand dunes this far inland, but apparently a long time ago this was close to where the shoreline was.

Naturally we used our bikes to get there. After a 30 minutes gentle pedal we were there.

Autumn Sandy terrain

We walked around the dunes for a while. The day was very overcast. Fem said that it would better on a sunny day as the colours of the trees would be more visible. I got some more use of my new 50D and loved using the camera more and more.

More sand Femke

Afterwards we tried to get some lunch at a nearby bistro, but they didn’t accept credit cards so we had to go back home with empty stomachs. It seems in the Netherlands that credit cards are not as popular.

Me on a bike

This is me cycling back to Waalwijk from close to the National Park.

A pretty street

Fem took me on a scenic route back to town and we passed down this street which I thought was definitely picture worthy. 🙂

We spent the rest of the week just relaxing and catching up with some of Fem friends.