Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oompaloompas and the Dutch pottery mines

Hello again faithful viewers,

It's once again time for another instalment of EUROTRIP 2010 (text doesn't convey the big announcer voice I was going for).  Anyway,  a new day,  a new adventure. This time our story comes from the "village" of Delft.

Like all these stories,  looking back after I can see we were in for a wild ride, all the signs were there.  Immediately exiting the train we were greeted by a crowd of short orange-faced people dressed in drab sweatwear.

Failing to do our research before setting off on this journey, we were quite turned around. We decided to follow these strange folk into the town hoping we could get our bearings and find our hotel. The plan worked and soon after we had found our nest.

The hotel,  a rather non-descript building from the outside, had a few surprises of it's own in store.  The room was like non other I have ever laid my eyes on.  The walls, floor and ceiling had been painted in a desert island motif.  Mini spotlamps on dimmer switches dotted the ceiling and once turned low, shone like, well cheesy fake stars in a hotel would (Liz would like to add they were in the constellations of Orion and Ursa Major).  The bathing accommodations were modest,  a small shower with built in tanning booth and a spacious 2 person Jacuzzi. The bed was also modest, consisting of 2 individual Ultramatic adjustable singles pushed together.  A hard sell but we must grin and bear these situations when they arise.

After a quick clean and wash we headed out into the village, a tall spire drawing our eye.  A turn right,  then left , down an alley and out we came in a large square.  On one end a massive tower with church attached; on the other, a smaller tower surrounded by a town hall. In between was noisy and  busy market.  A normal village by any standards,  a few passes up and down the aisles  of vendors led us out and around the outside.

Face to store....upon store of white and blue pottery. We had arrived in the capital of Dutch Pottery. Delft pottery was introduced a long time ago, by the Chinese, or the Spice Trade, or the Dutch East India Company. These could possibly be all the same thing. Dated to the 1500s, Delft decided to dedicate dozens of declining or derelict breweries to the manufacture of pottery wares. These were homegrown knockoffs of Chinese porcelain, made from ingredients imported from England, France, Hungary and eventually Canada. Artfulness  came form scenes of classic Dutch landscpaes, windmills and nature. Now, China manufactures cheap knockoff Delftware and sells it to Europe.  The cycle is complete.

Thinking quickly we turned and ran for the first available church, the only safe place from the hairy potters. We tossed 6€ at the counter and began the ascent of the tower.  Around and around...and around we went and then we stopped.  Then around and around....and around again until we reached the top, a staggering 109m above the ground in a brick building built in 1496. An amazing sight:  the surrounding areas, the churches, the canals, the houses (some with years painted on their roofs) and a McDonald's sign.

Sights seen, we descended the tower and entered the church. The Nieuwe Kerk - the home the Dutch Royal crypt (including both William of Oranges) -  is made of brick and wood, and was partially destroyed after a lightning strike in 1654 that exploded about 30 000 tonnes of gunpowder. It has since been restored to its current condition and the 36 or so bells can be heard clear across the town.

After we made a dash through the market to a far off structure, it's leaning tower guiding our way. The 13th century Oude Kerk houses the burials of both Vermeer (arty fellow who was born, lived and died there) and Leeuwenhouk (sciencey fellow who was born, lived and died there) along with some other Nederlandsers of historical importance. Churched out, we headed out and about. Picked up a single Delft plate that wasn't decorated in windmills or clogs, or milk maids!

Delft, day two, was a tour of the last remaining Delft Pottery factory from the 17th centtury. Royal Delft, to be pompously correct. The tour was led by the esteemed audio recording, and passed by the artists painting the pottery (in black, it then turns blue during the firing process) and the potters themselves. Having seen enough plates and vases to last a significant lifetime, it was time for a damp skulk through a botanical garden and the private dwelling of the 14th century Oostport.

The next day saw us heading off the Leiden, away from the theme room and into a generic hotel room. Leiden is the city with the oldest Dutch University, founded by an Oranje-Nassau in 1575. Since, we had to leave early the next morning, we headed out to explore as soon as we could. We climbed an old Dutch Windmill, De Valk; saw a Sinterklass canal parade; went past dwellings of Rembrandt and Descartes; walked along the "prettiest scene in the world" circa 1700; ate a greek lunch; went to a museum of science and medicine (complete with steampunk and formaldehyde babies). And then everything closed. Dashed off to the local supermarket, got our eats, and headed back to the hotel. 

Not enough time was spent in Leiden - there is a density of museums and "attractions" far beyond one day's effort. It is only a 30 minute journey from Amsterdam, and so an easy day trip to return.

Now, we're in Amsterdam. Sitting pretty (or nearly so) in our new digs.



  1. hey, i heard the reverberation in 'EURO TRIP 2010'
    love the pottery, esp first pic.
    matt, you're looking mighty daper. in fact you two are way too attractive, it makes me want to vomit.