The Dutch Connection to Thanksgiving

Old Greensboro

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate, and happy Thursday to those who don’t. Regardless of your nationality, it’s always nice to take a moment to think about the good things in your life and be thankful for them, be they big or small. It’s a nice reminder when things aren’t always going so well.

Although Thanksgiving is seen primarily as a North American holiday (our Canadian neighbors to the north celebrate a few weeks before we do in the US), there still is a Dutch connection to the holiday. In fact, the Pilgrims spent approximately 12 years in the Netherlands, around Leiden, before actually heading to the new world. There’s even a Pilgrim museum in Leiden, which gives a bit of history on their time there, and includes information about the origins of the Thanksgiving celebration, which may have begun during their time in the Netherlands. As mentioned in Wikipedia, “According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of Thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.”

I’d be interested in visiting the museum someday. As the website says, the museum aims to present the reality behind the Pilgrim myth. Part of the myth seems to be that they went straight from England to the Americas. I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn anything about a stopover in the Netherlands when I was in school and learning about the pilgrims.

I guess I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue to learn, both about my home country and my adopted homeland. The fact that the two countries have been so intertwined for centuries makes things even more interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Misty Look

Through the Trees
We’ve had quite a bit of fog recently, and today is particularly foggy, and not just here in Utrecht. Much of the country is blanketed in heavy fog today, with some flights out of Schipol being cancelled because of it. I went out this afternoon to snap a few shots. Even later in the afternoon, the fog hasn’t burned off. If anything, it’s getting heavier. I do like the quiet stillness that comes with it, though. Best of all, it’s the perfect weather for a big pot of ewrtensoep (split pea soup), which is our dinner tonight.
Een Andere Straat in de Mist


Een Straat in de Mist

Elbow in Amsterdam

We bought the tickets months ago, but there was no way we were going to risk missing Elbow’s concert in Amsterdam last night. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years, having been incredibly frustrated to learn that they were playing in Amsterdam — at the picturesque Paradiso — shortly after we first moved here, but with tickets well and truly sold out. They played PinkPop, a summer festival here in the Netherlands earlier this year, but summer festivals are a heat stroke waiting to happen for me, so I had to give it a miss.
Early Arrivals
We got to the Heineken Music Hall early last night, not long after the doors opened. We knew that going for a spot on the ground in the standing-room-only section would be a nightmare for us, knowing that we’d probably be surrounded by Dutch giants and not see much at all. Instead, we headed for the seated section in the back, but still got a decent spot. The hall soon filled up, with even the steps next to me in the seated section becoming impromptu seating.
By the time the show started — which included their beautiful song Mirrorball, of course — the place was packed! The show itself was amazing. So worth the years of waiting to see them live! Besides making great music, they put on a fun show, with lots of laughs, as well as some moments of heart-aching beauty. As the saying goes, “I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats.”

One of the best moments of the show came when the band joked that since they’re celebrating 20 years together, the audience should sing Happy Birthday to them. We dutifully did, and then things took one of those wonderful turns and the audience ended up surprising the band by launching into the Dutch birthday song. It started off in patches, but eventually, the whole audience came together in one voice, singing and cheering, while the band looked on in amazement. They truly had no idea what was going on but seemed to absolutely love it all! See for yourself:

Sailing With Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas Intocht

It’s that time of year again. Sinterklaas made his annual trip by steamboat from Spain to start his festivities here in the Netherlands. All across the country yesterday, Sinterklaas multiplied like Tribbles and made his grand entrance up and down canals, ports and rivers.


In Utrecht, he made his journey up the Oudegracht canal before disembarking at the Weerdesluis to then proceed on his trusty steed, Amerigo. From there they paraded through the center of town, heading to the Domplein and other locations, strewing pepernoten everywhere he and Zwarte Pieten went.

Ta Da!

For the next few weeks, until December 5, there will be a run on carrots and chocolate letters as kids and parents make the nightly exchange: kids leaving carrots in their shoes for Amerigo, and parentsSinterklaas leaving behind chocolate letters, pepernoten, and other small treats for the kids.

Pepernoten A.U.B

I keep meaning to buy some klompen (wooden shoes) for our furry kids to set out for Sinterklaas. After all, human kids aren’t the only ones that go see Sinterklaas’ arrival.
For Furry Kids, Too

It’s a good thing I went on foot yesterday to see the arrival. The city was packed and traffic was a nightmare. Parking was particularly tough. Even the city’s many squares, both small and large, were converted into parking lots for the day.
Extra Parking


Telling Time

11/11/11 at the Utrecht Meridian
Today’s confluence of ones in time and date is mildly interesting, but I knew there were some photo groups that would be posting photos from around the world, all on this one day. It’s a topic I generally find interesting, having participated in a past One Moment in Time project that the New York Times did a while back. Since I’m still taking at least one photo a day, I figured I’d try to come up with something vaguely interesting for this particular theme.

After a bit of thought, I decided to head over to the Sonnenborgh this morning. The Sonnenborgh is an observatory and museum that stands atop one of the city’s old bastion walls that used to ring the entire city center. After all, don’t forget that Utrecht, as a town, was already massively important one thousand years ago in 1111, and was granted city rights by Henry V a few years later in 1122.

However, the main reason I chose to photograph the observatory at the Sonnenborgh is because the museum is also the home of the Utrecht Meridian.

For centuries many cities had their own observatory in order to ascertain the time. The stylish Meridian Room at the Sonnenborgh was also constructed for this purpose. Up until the start of the 20th Century, the stars were mapped to measure the passing of time, with the aid of a special telescope positioned on the Utrecht meridian. Come and check what the actual time is at longitude 5° 07′ 46.67″!
Source: Sonnenborgh

Thus, it seemed appropriate, on a day when everyone was focused on the time and date, to choose a location in the city that had served as an official time keeper. I think that’s one of the many joys of living in a city with so much history. You can find a connection, no matter what the theme!

Sonnenborgh Observatory and Museum


Size Is Relative

Narrow House
A few weeks ago, I saw an article on Curbly (a home design website) about what may be the narrowest house in New York City.

The property at 75 1/2 Bedford Street in the West Village of NYC, is famous for once being the home to Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margret Mead, Cary Grant and John Barrymore. Also known as the Millay House, it may also be the skinniest in the city. Built in 1850, the property is a scant 9 feet wide.

I’ve kept the story open in a tab for a few weeks, meaning to blog about it, because I found it kind of amusing. I’m pretty sure that when we were looking for houses here in Utrecht, we may have seen something very similar in size. Essentially each floor was its own room. Kitchen on one floor, living room on another, bedroom up top, and I think the one bathroom was also on the top floor. No fun if you’re on the ground floor and need to go!

Since then, I’ve noticed many narrow houses and buildings around town, which isn’t surprising considering the Dutch habit of building up, rather than out, in order to fit in as many building as possible, at least in the city centers. It’s the same reason that houses were built tightly in New York, as well.

The photo above is of yet another narrow house that I came across today in my wanderings. I thought it was a particularly cozy-looking narrow house and is probably little more than half as wide as its skinny New York counterpart.

Besides coming across that house today, my other impetus for finally getting around to blogging about the narrow houses was yet another Curbly post, this time about what may turn out to be the narrowest house in the world. It hasn’t been built yet, but there are plans for a house in Poland that will be about four feet wide. Still, until it’s built, I think we might have the narrowest address (although I’m still not sure if it’s technically a house, or just an addition to the building next to it, but with its own house number). Regardless, this has got to be one of the skinniest!
Small Living
(Yes, I’ve written about this house before.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Windows.2

Still Life With Bike
As I explained in my previous post, my first thought for this week’s theme was to photograph the Dom cathedral’s wonderful Gothic windows. However, as I was walking down Domstraat toward the cathedral, I passed this art gallery that has been a frequent source of inspiration for me. A window installation of the work of one of their featured artists inspired my own artwork that now hangs in our bedroom. The current exhibit by an artist who does wonderful graphic-style images of Utrecht is another favorite. I love seeing the different parts of the city depicted in this format.

As I walked past the gallery Saturday, I was inspired by one of the paintings. The artist has focused on one section of the Stadhuis, including just the windows and the ubiquitous bicycles. I loved the idea of using this painting of windows, seen through a window, with the reflections of other windows layered over it all. Even better, some of the Gothic windows of the cathedral, which is just a few steps away, are reflected in the gallery’s window.

Windows Multiplied
Additionally, I love how the windows in the painting seem to line up so well with the windows of the building reflected in the gallery window. This collection of windows, all in one window, was too good an opportunity to pass up!