Going Dutch


Open-Air Museum NL
On a day I was traveling through the Netherlands by train, I saw thousands of farmers blocking a major road into The Hague with their tractors.

Later I learned their caravan was sixty miles long. Many of the farmers waved red, white, and blue Dutch flags, as they protested a government livestock policy.

A sign read No Farmers, No Food. The Netherlands exports more food than any other country in the world except the United States, making Dutch farmers a powerful lobby.

Land managment in the Netherlands is historically esteemed. Approximately one-fourth of the country lies below sea level. Thus, the name: nether means low-lying.

To improve their lot, the enterprising Dutch engineered complicated drainage systems, involving dikes, canals, and pumps driven by windmills. They claimed their country by reclaiming it from the sea.

Remarkably, the Netherlands, with all of its farmland, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Its seventeen million citizens live in an area the size of Maryland.

I spent most of my time in Holland, which is a region within the Netherlands. (Holland and the Netherlands are not two names for the same country.)

The Netherlands regularly ranks high in per-capita income, quality of life, and happiness. Proud locals boast, “If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.” Continue reading

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Afoot in Flanders

Bonne Chiere Mill, Bruges BE

Bonne Chiere Mill, Bruges

YearTripper is not a food blog, but Belgium begs the exception.

Where Belgium’s rivers drain into the North Sea, mussels are both plentiful and popular. Over sixty thousand tons of them are consumed annually. Most restaurants sell them by the kilo (just over two pounds).

The shellfish are steamed in Belgian ale or white wine, onions, celery, garlic, herbs, and butter. Mussels are usually served with fries, in a combo known as moules frites.

Belgians claim they, not the French, invented french fries. Thank Americans for the misnomer. Supposedly, fried potatoes were first introduced to American soldiers in Belgium during World War I. As French is one of Belgium’s three official languages, the soldiers nicknamed the dish “french fries.”

Ever since, the wrong country has been getting the credit. Continue reading

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Ruins and riches

Semperoper, Dresden DE

Semper Opera House, Dresden

The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

This is how author Kurt Vonnegut described his character’s (and his) first view of Dresden, Germany, in 1944.

My recent impression of Dresden’s cityscape was much the same.

The Old Town is a fascinating cluster of ornate palaces, churches, theaters, museums, monuments, and squares. Its dense arrangement of royal buildings is among the grandest in Europe.

But in the time between Vonnegut’s first look and mine, all of it was erased. Continue reading

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Streets of Berlin

Reichstag DE

Reichstag

In late September I joined forty-four thousand fellow visitors for a tour of central Berlin.

As participants in the Berlin Marathon, we circled the inner city clockwise and, over the course of a few hours, passed several historical landmarks spanning centuries.

The race starts in Tiergarten, a central park much like New York City’s. After World War II, residents of Berlin planted potatoes in the park in an effort to stave off starvation.

Their dire situation was caused by both the devastation of war and the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. The hunger was somewhat abated by the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

Altes Museum DE

Altes Museum

In response to the Soviet siege, the Allies launched hundreds of thousands of flights into the city to deliver food, medicine, and fuel.

At the rescue mission’s peak, planes were taking off and landing every ninety seconds. Some of the pilots dropped chocolates to Berlin’s children.

The airlift was based at Tempelhof Airport. Now out of service, the airport was put to use as the venue for the marathon expo. To pick up my race bib, I walked through the deserted terminal, past ghostly check-in desks, empty baggage carousels, and blank departure boards.

Next to the expo, a Douglas C-47 transport plane was parked on the tarmac, a reminder of the airlift.

Douglas C-47 DE

Berlin Airlift plane at Tempelhof

A couple of days later, I lined up at the start with runners from 150 countries. The sky was overcast and threatened rain, but the participants were anxious to begin.

Berlin’s course is flat and record-eligible. In 2018 Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest ratified marathon ever run in a time of 2:01:39.

I just wanted to finish. Continue reading

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A ramble through Dingle

Dingle Walk IEThe rain was steady, as I strained to see the next waymark on the climb up Mount Brandon.

The black marker posts did not identify an obvious footpath, but instead indicated the general direction—uphill through a marshy field of rubble. The markers stood every hundred yards or so, but were sometimes too far ahead to be seen.

I had been climbing for about two hours. The footing was difficult. Rivulets of rainwater ran down the mountainside through channels that had to be circumvented. A vertical swamp. Each step, I slipped on a rock or plunged into an ankle-deep puddle. My shoes were soaked. 

Looking up, I could not measure my progress toward the shoulder of the mountain. Dark rain clouds obscured Brandon’s summit. Once inside the cloud bank, I could see only the dim shapes of boulders and scrubby trees. The markers faded from view.

I wasn’t exactly lost, but I was stranded. Somewhere ahead was a trail that would lead me down the other side of the mountain, but in the fog I couldn’t find it. Continue reading

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Coasting through Croatia

Dubrovnik HR

Dubrovnik

(I’m touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. To read about Slovenia and Bosnia, please see the previous posts, “Breaking free and Building bridges.”)

To sleep in the hill town of Motovun, Croatia, a steep hike is necessary, either a short one from the car park at the halfway point or a long one from the bottom of the hill. The long one of over one thousand steps passes the quaint boyhood home of Mario Andretti. Continue reading

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Building bridges

Mostar BH

Mostar

(I’m touring Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. To read about Slovenia, please see the previous post, “Breaking free.”)

The region now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina is a melting pot that never melted.

The country has three major ethnic groups, three self-governing territories and two alphabets. Its schools are segregated.

Bosna i Hercegovina is the country’s official name. It is also spelled Bosnia-Herzegovina and sometimes abbreviated to BiH, B-H or B&H. For the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to it as Bosnia.

The country is the size of West Virginia with a population of nearly four million. It is bordered by Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Sarajevo is its capital.

Bosnia’s currency is the convertible mark, but most Bosnian businesses accept euros and Croatian kuna as well. Bosnians joke they are the only predominantly Muslim country in the world with no oil. Continue reading

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