Frank R. Hall and Associates
   382 E. Montecito Ave
   Sierra Madre, Ca 91024
MAY 2001

Patricia and I returned recently from a tour of Holland and Belgium, and this not-so-brief report will include our impressions for those of our friends who are interested. Those who aren't can simply utilize their "delete" keys. Ain't E-Mail grand?

This particular tour was sponsored by one of St. Joseph Health System's member hospitals, Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo. Our tour Director was Winnie Johnson, who doubles as Vice President of the Mission Hospital Foundation. One interesting aspect of this tour was that most of the 14 people involved were strangers to each other before the tour began, by the time our 12 days were up; we were all fast friends. From the Hospital were John Bolger, Winnie's husband and Peter Bastone, President and CEO who invited his mother, Connie, since wife Julie couldn't come. New friends were Dr.Tim and Verneda Byron, Don and Mary Ann Sadon, Murray and Merle Brown along with the Hospital's major benefactors, Ed and Ann Muldoon.

Another interesting aspect was "Ketel One"

KETEL ONE is a very fine Vodka made in Holland, which can cost you upwards of $20 a fifth, unless you buy it at Costco. Their American Headquarters is located in Aliso Viejo and the company has been generous to our Hospital. Part of the purpose of the trip was to call on Ketel One Home Office and Distillery located outside Amsterdam, which we did on our first day. The Nolet family founded Ketel One in 1691 and the company is now being managed by the 10th generation of the same family. I found it astounding that one family could produce sons in every generation for three hundred years.

Carl Sr. the current President personally greeted us and was presented a beautiful Steuben Glass by Peter and Winnie in thanks for Ketel One's support of the hospital. Carl's brother Paul Nolet took us on a personal tour and then out to lunch. Carl Junior (the next generation of Nolets) has moved to California to run the U.S. operation and he has also produced a son to assure longevity unto the 12th generation. That's a lot of consecutive X-chromosomes.

Interestingly, all Ketel One Vodka is exported. You can't buy it in Holland; the Dutch don't have a taste for it. They do make a product for the Dutch market called "Genever" (pronounced like the Swiss city with an "R" on the end). We all brought home free samples.

AMSTERDAM is a very interesting city, but, we were warned, can be a dangerous place to carry a wallet or purse. The Red Light district is famous, of course, and is a short walk from the main train station for those so inclined. Several of our group wanted to see it and were titillated by the adventure. Winnie asked a Hooker if she would allow her picture to be taken, for which the Hooker asked a fee. When this was denied, she cussed out the group in perfect American gutter profanity. We didn't go along on this sojourn since we had seen the Red Light district the last time we were in Amsterdam. One interesting note, I had always thought there would be a single red bulb over the door of an establishment, but the red lights are actually florescent tubes which light the show-window cubicles of the hookers. The resulting pinkish light does for them what cosmetics can't, subtract 10 years or so from their apparent age.

Signs in Amsterdam are often in English to woo the thousands of British youths that come across the channel on weekends to smoke pot and commit sins that are legal only in Holland. But, you need to be careful because English terms will often have different meanings than in the States. For example, to smoke Pot one goes to a "Coffee House", so called because it isn't legal to sell liquor and marijuana (or other "soft drugs") in the same establishment. So young people stagger from the Bar to the Coffee House and back again all weekend until it's time to go home on Sunday night.

You go to an "Arcade-Entertainment Center" to gamble, such establishments contain only slot machine type games, no pin ball machines.

The term "Topless" refers to a convertible automobile. While "Live Sex Shows" are seemingly everywhere. Sorry, we don't know what goes on in those, but we can guess.

LIBERAL HOLLAND Not all Dutch people are proud of the legalization of "Sin" in Holland. Ed and I attended a Dutch Rotary meeting where a Rotarian told us he was embarrassed by the actions of their parliament, but it certainly is good for the "Balance of Trade". The latest rage is the Gay Marriage, legalized there earlier this year and the country abounds with "gay Gay honeymooners" (so to speak).

We were shocked to find two hard core movie channels available on the TV in our "5 Star" hotel. These weren't watered down "Spice Channel" type porn, these were Triple X "Debbie Does Dallas" type porn. It was explained to us that we could have had those channels "blocked out" if we had requested it at the desk, but, their regular guests would complain if porn were not readily available.

With our Dutch Rotarian friends Ed and I also discussed "Physician Assisted Suicide", also recently legalized in Holland. We told them that Oregon voters had approved it years ago, but, for all practical purposes it doesn't exist there because no physician will participate for fear of being sued by some trial lawyer representing a relative wishing to cash in on Uncle Joe's demise. The Dutch Rotarian was amused that lawyers could wield so much power. Perhaps we should export some lawyers to Holland.

Our Dutch Tour guide told us that she and her "boy friend" have lived together for 5 years and have a two-year-old daughter. They haven't considered marriage because "divorce is so expensive"; they simply have a "contract". There are three types of these agreements. The first is the verbal agreement that American young people seem to favor, which can be very unsatisfactory when ended. There is a "Cohabitation Agreement" which codifies what belongs to whom and how it will be distributed in the event of a "Dis-agreement". Finally, there is a "Partnership Contract" which is more binding and spells out such things as whose family name the children will bear, who gets what at termination, spousal and child support arrangements, etc. The "Partnership Agreement" was originally devised to provide a "marriage-like" arrangement for Gay people, but soon became popular with "Straights". Gays were dissatisfied and continued to press for the right to marry.

She told us only "Gay" young people in Holland want to get married these days.

She also told us the Dutch have legalized what she called "soft drugs". These evidently include just about everything except cocaine and heroin. We were also told that even illegal hard drugs are readily available and you won't be arrested for using them unless someone complains about you.

Finally our Rotarian friend told Ed and me that Holland isn't really "Liberal", but rather, "Libertarian". They believe a person ought to be able to do anything he wants as long as he doesn't hurt anyone else in the process.

SPEAKING DUTCH really isn't necessary; nearly every person we met in Holland spoke excellent English, many with no accent. Dutch is a very difficult language to understand when spoken, but, you can figure out a lot of written Dutch words which often look like English words with an extra letter thrown in, "Staation" for example. I asked a Bell Hop at our hotel how to find the Post Office and he told me. I asked what the sign would say over the door and he said, "It will say Post".

The Dutch have also adopted many American expressions. The English word "Hit" for example has been adopted as a noun to describe a very popular record or movie, but it can't be used for any of its many other English definitions. The Dutch when speaking to each other will use the English term "The States" to describe the United States. Listening to the speaker at the West Amsterdam Rotary Club speaking in Dutch was interesting just to see which American expressions he would use. Among those were "Baby Boomer", referring to himself and "Professional Portfolio Management" referring to his profession.

OUTSIDE AMSTERDAM We visited Edam and sampled the Cheese, the ancient city of Delft home of Vermeer where we saw the famous china being made and The Hague where we saw the Royal Palace and the World Court through the window of our "Coach" We visited the famous "Flower Fields" where acre after acre of tulips, hyacinths and other flowers in every conceivable color dazzle the eye.

FEATS OF ENGINEERING All of us learned as children about how the Dutch reclaimed their land from the Zider Zee and about the little Dutch Boy who saved his town by sticking his finger in the dike. A quaint tale, but, until you actually see the country you can't imagine the magnitude of the miracle of engineering the country represents. The average elevation in Holland is BELOW SEA LEVEL. The whole damn country was reclaimed from the sea by dikes and dams and canals built by people who didn't even have the power of steam, let alone the internal combustion engine or electricity. In California canals are built for irrigation and to carry water from the reluctant North to the thirsty South. In Holland, the canals were built to carry the unwanted water from the delta of the Rhine and other rivers out to sea, in addition, of course, to carry ships inland. The wind and tide were harnessed to provide power. And, so it goes today. While we were there they were working on a project to protect the southern half of the country from surges of the North Sea by building a giant off shore dam.

AT THE SAME TIME ART FLOURISHED. Name another country that has produced as many great artists per capita. Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Vermeer, Van Gogh and hundreds more grace the museums of the world.

A BIT OF HISTORY: As soon as the Dutch managed to claim their land from the sea, their neighbors, greedy for access to new ports, began to over-run them. Most of their history involves rule by outsiders including the Dukes of Burgundy, the Hapsburgs of both Austria and Spain and, of course, the French led by Napoleon. The Dutch refer to these periods in their history as the "French Period" or the "Spanish Period". They are not so kind with the Germans whose reign during both World Wars is referred to as "The Occupation" or simply as "During the War". Ann Frank's house is the most visited landmark in Holland.

Holland was among the early conquests of Martin Luther, but about half the people (including the Nolets) remain Catholic and for several hundred years it has been a safe haven for people being chased out of other countries because of their religious beliefs. After Waterloo, the independent nation of "The Netherlands" was created including Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and a couple of states that now belong to Germany. This lasted only until 1831 when the Belgians carried out their own revolution and the Netherlands was whittled down to just one state, Holland. So, the names "Holland" and "The Netherlands" are synonymous, although you will find differences from Province to Province as to which name they prefer.

DAS BOOT After three days in Amsterdam we boarded the "Prussian Princess" a German River Boat for our cruise of the tributaries of the Rhine and the Canals of Holland and Belgium. There were about 100 passengers on the ship about 60% of which were German and 40% Americans. We sat on different sides of the ship, for the convenience of the staff, since not all waiters spoke English. There was also a Swiss couple, presumably to act as referees in case fisticuffs broke out. The rooms were cramped and the walls were so thin that if someone phoned the adjoining stateroom, you answered your phone.

There wasn't much entertainment for those used to a large cruise ship, but, a young man played a keyboard every night and we decided even his Sinatra tunes sounded like the "Beer Barrel Polka". On the next to last night, we finally convinced our Tim to sing a couple of songs, (he has a doctor's band in Orange County and does a great Elvis impersonation) and he was a great hit with passengers and crew.

Cruising the rivers and canals was a terrific experience.

ROTTERDAM: Our first stop was Rotterdam, which was destroyed by a bombing raid in 1940. Our tour guide was careful not to mention the source of the bombs, in deference to our shipmates. Unlike Amsterdam which is full of quaint and lovely buildings,
Rotterdam is dominated by ugly glass skyscrapers that marked post war architecture. We might just have well been in L.A. A group of us did have a great walk along Embassy Row and in their Central Park, where it seemed everyone had a dog, a really BIG dog.

One interesting site in Rotterdam standing at the entrance to the harbor area is a huge statue of Peter the Great, reminding us that it was Holland, not Venice, Peter used as the model for planning his "Venice of the North," St. Petersburg.

DEPRIVED OF SHOPPING We arrived in Rotterdam on Sunday, April 29th. No stores are open in Holland on Sunday. On Monday, April 30th, we arrived in Middleburg a quaint little community only to discover it was the Queen's Birthday and all the stores were closed. On Tuesday, May 1st we arrived in Gent, Belgium where May Day was being celebrated and of course all the stores were closed.

IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM. We really did land in Belgium on a Tuesday. During our two days there we visited Bruges, Brussels, Gent and Antwerp and had a wonderful time. The Medieval Architecture is spectacular and Belgian food is a great improvement over the Dutch or Indonesian (also a specialty in Holland). When the shops finally opened, on May 2nd, we found ourselves in Antwerp, diamond capital of Europe, a very dangerous place to be with a shopping hungry group like ours. Luckily, Murray is a jeweler and helped make sure we weren't gouged. We bought Patricia a bracelet, which she will be happy to show you.

Unlike Holland, which has one language and many religions, Belgium has three languages and one religion, Catholicism. Our Tour Guide told us that Islam is the 2nd religion of Belgium with about 5% of the population and Protestants number less than 1%. In the North, the Flemish language, which you might call Dutch with a French accent, prevails. In the South the Walloons speak French while a few along the border with Germany speak German. Officially, it is a bilingual country, which means that all Belgians speak both major languages and most speak English as well, though you'll be disappointed if you expect them to sound like Hercule Poirot.

While in Brussels, our motor coach pulled over to the side to let a motorcade pass. It turned out to be King Albert on his way to the office. Leading the procession was a single motorcycle, blue light flashing. It was followed by the King's Mercedes with a driver and the King alone in the back. Bringing up the rear was a single "security" car with three men in it. The King had a personalized license plate so everyone would know who it was, ALBERT9, I think. He's a real Monarch too, not one of these royal figureheads, the Belgians are proud to be Europe's last functioning monarchy.

We loved Belgium, and intend to return the next time we go to Paris as it is a little more than a couple of hours by train.

THE WEATHER It rained on nearly every one of our 12 days in Holland and Belgium, but, then, you don't go to these countries in spring to play golf.

THE ENERGY CRISIS: While electricity and gasoline prices have soared in the States, the Dutch and Belgians have adjusted to the price of gasoline at about $1 per LITRE (about $4 a gallon). In the cities you see many more bicycles than cars and they'll run you over, too, if you're not careful. On their roads and freeways you will see mostly small cars, with an occasional Mercedes. We did see one Lexus. But, we saw no S.U.V.s; no motor homes; no recreational trailers or campers; no pick up trucks without company logos and we saw no power boats in the marinas, except for a few outboards. There are also fewer trucks than in the rest of Europe, but that's because most goods are moved by barges on the canals. One morning a barge load of yellow and green John Deere tractors passed us and we all waived and cheered in a little patriotic display.

We did pass some trailer parks, but the trailers were all mounted on permanent foundations and as we passed some beautiful mansions that lined the river outside of Mastrecht we noticed none had a boat dock.

That's conservation.

WE'RE ALMOST FINISHED HERE, but there are two questions I must answer if you have stuck around long enough to read this whole thing.

1. Did we see any impact of "Mad Cow" or "Foot and Mouth" disease? None there, McDonalds seemed as busy as it always is in Europe and all the cafes served beef in abundance. The U. S. Customs people were interested, though.

2. Did we pay Duty on the Bracelet? Yes, and you would be amazed at how pleasant the Customs people are when you are not standing in the "Nothing to Declare" line. And the amount of Duty wasn't bad, only 4% on the first thousand and 5% over that. It used to be 10%

Hope you enjoyed our little adventure. Let us know if you have any questions, corrections, comments or would like to "unsubscribe" from our little travelogues.


Pat and Frank



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