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Traveling in Europe: Den Bosch Part II–Cathedrals and Culture

Europe 2011: Den Bosch

Click on the top picture if you wish to see more of Den Bosch.

sculpture, Den Bosch, the Netherlands, gothic architecture, Brabantian style

The interior has many sculptures of the saints.

I spent two days hanging around Den Bosch, and really I could have spent longer. It’s a beautiful pastoral town with many interesting shops, a town market square and the best gothic cathedral (in Brabantian style) I saw in Holland. St. John’s Cathedral (Sint Jan’s Kathedraal) began its life in 1220, and unlike the churches of northern Holland, it never fell under the hand of the Protestant Reformation. Thus it is covered in statuary on the exterior, as well as a plethora of saints on the inside.

I was told I was lucky because the church had been under scaffolding for the last ten years as they did major repairs. There was an educational display inside that depicted some of the restoration techniques used to preserve and shore up the water porous stone. These endeavors are extremely expensive, can take years of work and will be needed again in decades to come. I’m sure it’s not the biggest cathedral in Europe by St. John’s was picturesque.

Den Bosch, angel, architecture, gothic cathedral, St. John's Cathedral, Holland

Angel with a cell phone

The exterior is festooned in angels, gargoyles and workers. Each flying buttress has  craftsmen sitting on the struts all the way up. Every pinnacle has a saint or an angel and one angel, replacing one of a few that fell to disrepair, is, when you look closely, standing in pants with a pouch/purse on her hip. She is holding something to her ear and I was told that they asked permission of the bishop to put up a modern angel. She holds a cell phone, but there is only one number because it’s a direct line to heaven.

The interior has some very good triptychs, and some are unusual in that they are part panel paintings and part carved panels. The stained glass sheds rainbows of light on the interior walls and many of those are still painted in frescos. Others have been renovated to bear the painting of centuries past and the use of color on the stone walls is something I had never considered in a cathedral before. The effect is quite stunning.

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A Boschian delight on the canal

Besides the cathedral, which is well worth a few visits, I went to the Hieronymus Bosch museum. it’s in a church that I think was designed in the 1800s but was never completed due to lack of funding. It was taken over to house information and displays on Den Bosch’s most famous son. His “Garden of Earthly Delights” is probably one of the more bizarre paintings of the Middle Ages. Bosch was fervently religious but his creatures and depictions of events and sins were right out of a drugged up fever dream. What an imagination. Interestingly, there is not one Bosch painting in Holland. They all reside in Spain. At the time Holland (or that part that has Bosch’s paintings) was under Spanish occupation and the Spanish loved his works well enough to transport them back to the homeland. Therefore there are replicas of his paintings but with informative displays as well as the sculptures.

Den Bosch, Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, art, Holland, Dutch

Inside the Hieronymus Bosch museum

I also realize now that I lost some pictures because there was an art show on the main floor by a contemporary artist inspired by Bosch. In the basement was a setup of what the artist’s life might have been like, along with displays and mannequins. There were interesting shops and lovely cobblestoned streets. The market on the weekend was jam packed with goods to buy from food to clothing. It was hard to walk through because there were so many people and it was a lovely day. I can see why people would get away to Den Bosch and if I’m in Holland again, I’m definitely coming back.

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Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam

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Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam

Amsterdam was a place of contradictions. It was large, in terms of things to see and do, and small in terms of area, though I still managed to walk a good seven hours one day, getting lost on the wrong side of canals. It was cosmopolitan but kind of dirty because of so many people, the sidewalks and streets sporting numerous stains and dead gum and just general grime. I find that cities of this size end up with the group mentality issue. Like mob mentality, this massive city entity is one of mindless automatons, people all trying to get to where they’re going, without willing to move or adapt or politely let someone by. I cannot stand crowds for this reason; not because there are a lot of people but because there are a lot of people being mindless and self-absorbed and not trying to work with the whole. Drives me nuts.

Amsterdam, travel, transportation, trams, bikes

One of Amsterdam’s trams

But…I maneuvered through the flight to the train and from the train station to the tram, even though the police gave me the wrong directions. There are plenty of trams and buses, and getting around is easy, as long as you watch out for bike lanes. I did blunder twice into a bike lane and nearly got smeared. Even so, the Dutch never swore at me (that I understood) and moved out of the way and I apologized profusely. Holland is the land of bicyclists, probably only second to China. At train and tram stations I saw thousands of bikes parked in racks. On the narrow, medieval cobblestoned streets there are often trams, cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians. A sidewalk might exist and might also be very narrow. A painted line in most cases is all that separates the bike lane from the sidewalk or road. And sometimes you just have to scoot around a parked car or someone moving items in and out of a building.

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Dutch buildings are tall, narrow and lean

The buildings, ranging in years from four-five centuries to recent, are narrow and tall. The windows are likewise very high. It seems back in the 16-17th centuries people were taxed by the width of their houses so they built up. Of course they were probably taxed on width because the land was reclaimed foot by painstaking foot from the sea, and most of Holland is below sea level. In fact, if I ever wanted to build anything near or on water I would hire a Dutch hydraulic engineer; they’ve been doing this for centuries.

gables, Dutch houses, moving hooks, winches, Amsterdam

A good example of fancy gabling and the hook for moving items in through windows.

As all the buildings are high and thin, it means there are many many narrow stairs, in fact too narrow to move furniture up. So they built hooks on the top end of the buildings by which to pulley items into the structure, and they’re still used to this day. Because of this way of moving furniture  the buildings indeed lean out into the streets,because a perfectly perpendicular building would have its windows and facade smashed in a move. The buildings have several different types of gables, (step, bottle, etc.) which were popular for distinction as well as design at the top window. Before street numbers, shops had plaques that differentiated them or what they did or sold.

And of course, everywhere there are canals. Before coming to Holland when I thought of canals I thought of Venice. How was I so ignorant? Holland is truly the land of canals, everywhere. Some areas have more than others but they are like the veins of the land. The land between the agricultural canals is called a polder and the Dutch manipulated every aspect of building below sea level. Not only do the canals provide irrigation, they also work as routes for delivery and transportation as well as being a way to maintain the land. Theywork as a bleed-off when the water levels rise and save many structures from flooding. Truly amazing when you think about it. Now days, sewage is not dumped directly into the canals and they are pleasant, with numerous boat tours or houseboats.

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One of many picturesque canals

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This building sat all by itself.

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These houseboats are often 100 years old.

The streets are a mixture of cobblestones and modern paving, just as the buildings go from modern to five centuries old. There is not grid in a medieval aged city as the streets grew organically out of the center. In this case the Amstel River played a role in forming Amsterdam’s streets, which horseshoe out. Wandering up and down these streets and canals and just looking at the buildings that people take for granted was as interesting to me as going into a historic cathedral or a museum. Canada’s oldest buildings might only be one and a half centuries old (especially the west coast), established by people moving into natural geographic areas and planning out their towns. The sheer age of European cities gives a much more organic and haphazard growth.

There is actually enough to talk about with Amsterdam that I’ll do a second post on some of the other historic aspects.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam

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Writing: Bits and Pieces

I can now say which stories I’ve accepted so far for Aberrant Dreams, in fantasy. The contracts will be going out as soon as I get back from the workshop in a week. http://www.hd-image.com/stories.htm

I still won’t know when they will be up but here they are:

  • Kiss of the Blood Red Pomegranate by Kristin Janz
  • A Taste of Nettles by Katie Howenstine
  • The Girl Who Swallowed the Sky by Jacqueline Bowen
  • Year of the Mountain Lion by Maria Schneider
  • Helkappe by Claire Cooney

Kiss and Helkappe are underworld stories. They are all strong in imagery and original plots, presenting an alieness or a humanness that is intriguing. We’re slowly catching up and I know there are others that have had longer waits. Joe has put some books to bed that he’s publishing so we should see things moving faster.

The Lawrence, Kansas workshop is half over and maybe it’s time to talk of the town. Lawrence is small, maybe 80,000 people before the students arrive in the fall for KU. There is one main street with stores and a few side streets. The box stores are farther out but they have a bit of everything. It’s quaint, it’s easy going and there is hardly any traffic. I love that aspect.

It does get blistering hot with high humidity (at least today-we’ve been luck) and it gets winters and tornadoes. It could be too small too. But it’s a nice place to visit. We walked to town yesterday and got to take a closer look at the sandstone(?) buildings on campus. They date to the turn of the century (1900) and are of a light brown stone. They look so clean and light, unlike similar buildings I’ve seen elsewhere. I don’t know if this is because there is less pollution here, the tornadoes scour them (unlikely) or because they scour them. A few buildings are in a deep red brick. The Natural History Museum is nicely done with carvings and gargoyles, and “Darwin” carved below one window and “Huxley” below the other.

There are a number of houses that date to the early 1900s, some earlier. A few are in brick but many of wood with the gingerbread finishings on them. There are a few cobblestone streets of rectangular red bricks, much like the few streets that still exist in Vancouver. And there are many fairly unremarkable homes. The shops offer quite a range of latest fashions.

I don’t know if I could live in a town this small over all but it is certainly appealing and the smog is low level. It’s definitely tempting.

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