Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A last day in Leeuwarden

On Tuesday morning Olivia and Paul and the kids joined us for breakfast at the hotel. Kate stopped by as well. When a family is separated by an ocean every opportunity to share real face time is precious. The kids ran, danced and played while we finished our coffee and shared stories.  Check out was at noon but we were packed and ready by the time Robert arrived.  Everyone was going their separate ways. Kate had to get to work and Paul and Olivia had about three hours of driving to reach home. Alex had taken the train back to Leeuwarden so there would be enough room for our suitcases in Robert's car. He had gifts and flowers and his large diploma as well, so the back seat was packed around me as we left. 

It took a little over an hour to get to Leeuwarden where Alex had prepared lunch. It was the first time we had visited since Robert had moved. The apartment was modern, comfortable, and full of books.

After lunch Robert took us to the hotel where we spent the night. It was the former palace of the Frisian  Stadholder, and the downstairs rooms bore witness to an elegant past life.
Crystal chandeliers, damask wall coverings and family portraits distinguished the sitting rooms and dining areas. 

The hotel was in the town center, so we walked to the shops.

It had been many years since I had walked in Leeuwarden, but the streets were still familiar, and the leaning tower had stayed put.

We stopped at a cheese shop where we could sample before buying
and even poked our nose into a bookshop, more by habit than interest in Dutch literature. As the wind picked up and flakes began to dot our coats, we looked for a coffee shop. But instead of coffee we ordered hot, creamy chocolate and watched the bikers pass outside.


It was a short walk back to the apartment. I dozed and Grace read as Robert helped Alex put the finishing touches on a delicious salmon dinner. After dinner Robert took us to visit his former house at Troelstraweg. He had rented it to a colleague of Alex, and they were delighted to show it off. Since I had last visited Leeuwarden in 2003 a transformation had taken place. Everything was freshly painted. The kitchen had been enlarged and modernized. The upstairs bathroom was unrecognizable. Two bedrooms had been combined into a large master bedroom by taking out a wall. Memories flooded back as we sat and shared tea and cake with the renters. 

And then it was time to return to the hotel. Robert promised to pick us up at 6a.m. For the drive to Schiphol airport. My flight was at 10:30, but Grace will stay until Monday. After seeing me to the baggage drop off, they headed to Leiden to see where our ancestor Elder William Brewster stayed before he set sail on that historic voyage to Massachusetts in 1621. It hardly seems possible that I can leave Holland and arrive in Massachusetts on the same day in this 21st century.  Elder Brewster would surely consider it a miracle. It still even seems miraculous to me. 

They say that Massachusetts is expecting a Nor'easter on Thursday so I expect to feel right at home. Our next trip is planned for June. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It was a BIG day

Yesterday's events were the reason we came to the Netherlands. It began at 11. After breakfast we called a taxi which took us to the Groningen Museum where the Symposium took place. Monday is the traditional day for museum closures so that meant the museum was free for an academic symposium centered around Robert's research.

The program was sponsored by the Prince Claus  Conservatoire.  The title of the conference was "De cérébrale organisation van audio motor-transformaties in musiek." 
Since the program was in Dutch Robert had arranged a guided tour of the current museum exhibit on Rodin in English.
That was interesting and informative and filled our time until lunch.  After lunch we joined the symposium. 

Alex had commissioned a composition in Robert's honor and the string ensemble performed before the afternoon lectures.

The three afternoon presentations involved many musical examples, and one speaker used an English PowerPoint, so we were able to follow enough of the content to make it interesting. 

The next event was the defense of Robert's dissertation at 4. He and Alex walked us to a coffee shop where we had enough time for coffee and a chocolate cake before Kate and her friend Aline met us.

They had their bikes, but they walked with us to the University building where the ceremony would take place. 

It was in an ancient hall on the second floor. Friends, family and colleagues streamed up the stairs and packed the room.

As family we were seated on the front row. 

At 4:15 the doors opened and a master of ceremonies led the examining professors who wore robes and academic berets.

They filed in and took their places at tables on each side of the central podium. Robert, Alex and a third sponsor, dressed in tails, filed in. Alex and the colleague sat on the front row and Robert took his place in the hot seat at the center.
For about an hour he took questions from the examining faculty about his dissertation. He answered with confidence and enthusiasm as he discussed his original ideas and research. 
The head professor kept things moving, and after the agreed number of questions he called a halt. Everyone filed out. Then a few minutes later they filed back in.
This time Robert was granted the degree and given a vey large diploma. Everyone clapped and congratulated him and the academic part was complete. 

We headed for the restaurant. Grace and I walked with Vincent, Rebekah, Carlos and Charles. The wind had picked up and there was a cold mist as we headed toward the restaurant.  Grace and I stopped at our hotel to change and walked over to the restaurant after about a half hour. 

There we joined other invited guests, family, colleagues and friends for a buffet dinner followed by a few speeches and another performance of the composition.

The family was gathered and everyone was very happy to celebrate together.

It's no wonder that Grace and I fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillow. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Love those Patriots

I knew that I was probably going to miss an exciting game when I booked my ticket for this trip, but I had no idea that I would miss the best Super Bowl ever. I went to bed at about 11 because I was tired. I thought I might wake up during the night to check on the gam. . Sure enough I woke up when the Falcons were up by a TD. 
It was hard to follow because the play by play was exceedingly slow and the scoring feed didn't match up. But I stayed with it till half time. Although I didn't lose hope I realized that I'd be under the covers watching the feed stream slowly for another hour at least. I have a big day today so I  shut my mind down and finally went to sleep. 
The next morning when I checked, the initial result was the score at half time which was marked as final. I was feeling discouraged and resigned when the actual final score popped up. Sooo exciting. I can't believe that Brady actually passed for over 400 yards. Records must still be tumbling. And Roger Godell must have loved  presenting that trophy. 
I can't wait to get home to watch from beginning to end. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

More family time

This afternoon Kate drove us outside of Groningen to visit our nephew Charles and his family.

It's been several years since we have visited them and it was no surprise to see them so grown up. We shook hands with a tall 13 year old and his charming sister who was born thee days after our granddaughter.

We felt at home in their living room as they served us tea, coffee, cookies and apple tart.
Charles had put together a slideshow of their family which showed us some of their birthdays, vacations and family times. Although the adults all spoke English the kids listened carefully as they worked to match their classroom English to the flow of our conversation. Although both of them study English in school, they weren't ready to speak up. I'm pretty sure they understood more than they admitted, however. 

In the evening we went out to a new restaurant in a nearby hotel. The food was traditional Dutch cuisine and everyone relaxed around the round table. 

It was so pleasant that I forgot I'd be missing the Super Bowl tonight. Not till I got back to the hotel did I realize that kickoff would be after midnight here.  Will I follow the play by play in bed?  Will I sleep soundly and wake up tomorrow with good news?  Maybe ......

Sunday morning in Groningen

Such a great day

Our first day in the Netherlands was just about as good as it gets. We arrived in Amsterdam after a smooth flight on a rather empty plane. Although we arrived early Robert had arrived and was waiting as we exited customs control. Our bags just fit into the trunk of his tiny Renault and we headed east on the way to Olivia and Paul's new house.
 They recently moved into a new development on reclaimed land in a country whis has been turning lowlands into living spaces for centuries. As we turned off the highway Robert exclaimed at the new block which had appeared since his recent visit. It looked like traditional brick row houses but was prefab construction which had been recently assembled. 
Olivia welcomed us to her modern white living room and gleaming kitchen. The kids were watching a soccer game on a tablet
and gathered around to shake hands and welcome us. The kids were happy to see Opa
but until the soccer game ended that was the main attraction .
Kate surprised us by joining us for lunch. Bread, cheese, sausage and chocolate sprinkles were a hit with both kids and adults.
Then the kids played in the yard where they took turns on a mini trampoline with net fencing to keep the game safe. Trucks and digging toys in the sand pit were the other activities. This is a great improvement over their apartment in Rotterdam. The yard is a necessity for such active kids, but soccer in the kitchen is another great option for practicing ball control.

After lunch we headed north to Groningen. Since I was in the back seat I gradually lost the thread of conversation and drifted into a nap. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and clouds reflected in various water surfaces. Ancient windmills alternated with modern wind turbines in the landscape as we sped along modern highways. I came back to consciousness as we entered Groningen. Robert drove us to our hotel where we checked in, stretched out on white sheets and sank into a deep sleep. 

We woke in time to shower, dress and meet Robert at six. He took us to a warm and welcoming restaurant which was close to the concert hall. As I started to decipher the menu Robert pointed out that duck was on the list and that's all it took. Nothing else comes close in my book so the choice was easy. The plates only had meat on them, but there was a plate of fries and vegetables to share in the center of the table. This is a great way to serve a restaurant meal.  Grace and I shared a plate of mini desserts which was lots of fun. We turned the plate counterclockwise and each had a taste of a very sweet medley. 

The concert hall was a brief walk away and we arrived shortly before the intermission.  We waited in the modern hall with a black ceiling and dramatic red lighting.

Kate came out at intermission with our tickets. The first half of the concert had been a tutorial on Tchaikovsky's First Symphony with examples from the musicians. The second half would be the performance.  We had seats on the fifth row with perfect sight lines to the cello section. This was the first time I had actually attended a performance of Kate's orchestra and we thoroughly enjoyed the music.
Thanks to our afternoon nap we even stayed awake. We got broad smiles from Kate during the curtain calls and after the encore. It was the end of a great first day.