Tag Archives: moat

Traveling in Europe: Den Bosch Part I–Canals & Countryside

Den Bosch, moat, Holland, Dutch history, travel, culture, fortress

Den Bosch's ramparts and river served as a nearly impregnable fortress.

My last stop of four cities in Holland was Den Bosch. The full name is ‘s-Hertogenbosch and I think you have to be Dutch to pronounce it. Most people call it Den Bosch now and pronunciation seemed to differ between “den bos” and “den bosh”. Den Bosch is south of Utrecht and north of Eindhoven. It’s not large but considered a place to get away “to”. I probably would have missed it completely if it wasn’t that speculative writer and editor Jetse de Vries lives there and I emailed him to meet up.

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Boschenballen; worthy of making a stop in Den Bosch

Once I started reading about Den Bosch it sounded interesting enough that I stayed for two nights, couch surfing with Will. Jetse and I played a bit of tag at the train station, trying to find each other. Once we met I put my luggage in a locker and off we went to a cafe where Jetse introduced me to Den Bosch’s own claim to fame, the Boschenballen. If you’ve ever seen a profiterole (cream puff), imagine one bigger than your fist, covered in yummy dark chocolate and inflated with creamy goodness.  I wasn’t sure I could eat the whole thing (and shhh, but I’m allergic to dairy) but I took a bite and another and somehow managed to polish it off. I certainly didn’t need lunch till much later.

North Brabant, Den Bosch, fortress, Holland, history, canals

A very larg cannon is housed in the structure atop the walls built in the 15th century.

By the 1500s it turns out Den Bosch was once the true mercantile center of Holland, with three rivers (Dommel, Aa and Maas) converging nearby. The Dutch are also masters of the water ways and trade came and went by land and water. It was second in population only to Utrecht. ‘S-Hertogenbosch means Duke’s Forest and the original Duke was Henry I, Duke of Brabant. Over the centuries, with fortifications increasing, Den Bosch was considered impregnable and nicknamed the Marsh Dragon. They had built a moat from the rivers and water ways; if invading forces came near, they flooded the lands around. Too deep to walk through and too shallow to put a ship on, the city’s defense’s held strong.

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To get over one of the many bodies of water, there is a hand crank raft to take people across.

That is, until 1629 when Frederik Hendrik of Orange, using Dutch ingenuity and a goodly portion of purloined coins from a Spanish armada, built a dyke around the city with windmills and then pumped out all of the water. He managed to break through the one weak spot in the wall’s defenses and then rebuilt that section making it stronger. The ramparts still stand and are integral to holding back the waters. Den Bosch is considered one of the better fortress cities in Holland. A nature reserve now borders one side of the town, giving great pastoral views and nature walks.

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The underground canal tours are lovely and a great way to see the city.

Jetse had booked a canal tour and Den Bosch’s canals are unique in Holland because they’re mostly covered, unlike the open canals elsewhere. While the tour was in Dutch, Jetse was able to tell me much about the rich history of this small town. It seems people were not allowed to build outside the wall and as the city became more crowded they actually built over the canals. At one point the city was going to pave over the canals but instead the government made it a protected townscape, preserving the historical ramparts and the canals.

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Boschian fun on the canal.

The weather was perfect in late September, around 25-27 degrees Celsius. The tour went under the city and then outside around the ramparts. It ended with ducking into a darkened alcove where they showed a short film on Hieronymus Bosch, the city’s most famous painted. The water level was relatively high so we really did have to duck. And along the canals were large sculptures of some of Bosch’s strange creations.

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Den Bosch's canals were very beautiful.

Even without understanding Dutch the tour was worth it for the sheer beauty and scenery. The following day I took a walk outside the city walls and got to see Den Bosch from afar. Of the cities I visited Den Bosch definitely felt the most pastoral, because of the flat fields and the winding river around it. In my next post I’ll talk more about the cathedral and other aspects but it was definitely worth the visit. I’ll also have the full album posted once Picassa stops being persnickety.

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Dublin and Ireland

 Tsk, yesterday, I was in a such a rush that I post a piece that I had posted the week before. So, here is a different piece on Ireland. First posted Oct. 14, 2007 on Blogspot
Now that I’ve been back for a few days, I’m starting to sort through my pictures. Dublin was the first real landing spot in Ireland. So of course there are many shots of the streets and the housing, which differs from Vancouver. Architectural history, barring the earlier dwelling of the coastal other indigenous people (and not many of those remain due to the deterioration of wood and leather) in most of Canada goes back about three hundred years. Yes, there are a few exceptions like bits of a Viking settlement in Newfoundland or the 16th century Basque whaling village, but all in all, our civic history is relatively young. So Dublin like many European cities has history steeped in history that can be seen in the shape of the streets and the buildings.

The link listed here connects to my photos of Dublin, with the exception of the two fox pictures from my friends’ back yard in Glasgow (where we first landed). Foxes are the local vermin in Glasgow but protected there now. Some of the pictures I’ve included are fuzzy. I was still learning the digital camera and in some cases the lighting was very low but I have them here out of interest.

Dublin’s one day included a trip to Christchurch Cathedral. Parts of it date back a thousand years. Some of the tile work is still beautiful and holds up well after thousands of feet walking over them and hundreds of years. Some of the tiles are originals. Others were redone in the 1700s. Interestingly there was a glass encased, mummified rat and cat, found in an organ that had been restored. Who was chasing whom, we may never know. We also went to the famous Temple Bar area, which is trendy but has some interesting pubs and restaurants. We ate at Fitzers which was very good and not that cheap. A drink of rum and coke and a cider cost about 15 Euros in Dublin. It’s 1.5 dollars CDN to the Euro. Dublin is supposed to be the most expensive city in Europe right now.

We also went to Dublin Castle, which like many structures has many centuries of history and more modern parts built on the remains of the older places. Still used today by Ireland’s president (who serves a seven-year term) the rooms are of 17th-18th century designs. Under the buildings are excavated ruins of the original walls and towers. We were told that they used to take the heads of the executed and stick them on pikes about the castle. Eventually the heads would rot and plop into the moat. How do they know this? Well, they found four hundred severed heads in the moat. Which spawned this drinking song that you can sing to “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Ninety-nine severed heads in the moat, ninety-nine severed heads.
You take one out, you toss it about, ninety-eight severed heads in the moat.
At which point, you could take a sip of said beverage and pass it down the line. More than ninety-nine heads though and it gets quite ungainly to sing. My sister and I had the opportunity to sing through all the heads to zero while stuck in rush-hour traffic in Cork. It kept us amused and even if our windows were open a bit, the people stuck in traffic beside us studiously ignored us.

Last was wandering around the River Liffey. This bisects south and north of the city. There are various car and foot bridges over the river and the areas between are called quays, such as Merchants quay, which gives you an idea of what it must once have been like before the advent of cars.

If you wish to use these photos, please ask. They are copyrighted.

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