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?
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.
interesting aspect was "Ketel One"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
go to an "Arcade-Entertainment Center" to
gamble, such establishments contain only slot machine
type games, no pin ball machines.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
told us only "Gay" young people in Holland
want to get married these days.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the rivers and canals was a terrific experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
ALMOST FINISHED HERE, but there are two questions I
must answer if you have stuck around long enough to
read this whole thing.
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
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%
you enjoyed our little adventure. Let us know if you
have any questions, corrections, comments or would like
to "unsubscribe" from our little travelogues.