Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Summer Vacation

Early in the young life of Tracy Lou, her family did not take many summer vacations away from Medicine Lodge except for a few trips to visit relatives living in Kansas.  During the summer, Tracy Lou’s dad picked up part-time jobs to supplement his meager teacher salary.  One summer, her dad painted houses, and both her mom and dad taught swimming lessons at the public swimming pool situated on top of a tall embankment inside the town’s city park.

Tracy Lou learned to swim as an infant and by about the time she entered kindergarten, she could swim the width of the pool.  Her parents taught her all of the strokes including the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and sidestroke.  She mastered how to flip over on the end of each turn for smooth and quicker transitions back and forth across the pool. She could dog paddle for thirty minutes or more without touching the bottom of the pool.

Tracy Lou loved to jump off the diving boards, even the high dive, when she was quite young.  Her dad called her “a little fish”. She learned to do a front flip but she could never master more than a back dive in reverse. Back then, children were allowed to swim at the city pool without adult supervision so kids rode their bikes to the pool and spent the entire afternoon swimming, diving and playing water games with their friends.  The pool manager would make all the kids get out of the water for 30 minutes to ensure everyone took time to eat a snack, frozen zero bars were Tracy Lou’s favorite, rest and go to the bathroom.  These breaks also allowed the children to apply more sunscreen but they rarely did.

Tracy Lou’s mother loved to swim so in the summer evenings, her Mom would drive down to the pool in her station wagon to take a dip and Tracy Lou loved to tag along and swim laps beside her mother.  Tracy Lou learned that the only sport her mom participated in while in high school was swimming.  Her school, Topeka High, had its own in-door pool, which blew Tracy Lou’s imagination.  “That school must have been rich to have an in-door swimming pool”, said Tracy Lou.  The only in-door swimming pool that Tracy Lou had ever swam in was one in Alva, Oklahoma, located at a college the family visited occasionally.  Tracy Lou thought it was odd that her mom did not play other sports as a kid because Tracy Lou loved games of all kinds and dreamed of playing them all, especially basketball.

RDG1

 

Summer Road Trip to Quinault, Washington

Tracy Lou’s maternal grandparents owned a lake house on the Quinault Indian Reservation in the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. The family took a few road trips out and back in the summers in the 1960’s. Dad worked as a ranger for the National Park Service for a couple of these summers.

On one trip, the family left Medicine Lodge in June for the week long National Lampoon’s Vacation-like, family road trip from western Kansas to the rain forest of Quinault, Washington in 1969. On this particular trip, Tracy Lou was only eight. The plan was to put all four kids in the back of the old green station wagon and drive nearly 2,000 miles; stopping when her Dad found a good camping spot or a place of interest to her educator father and social conscious mother. “Good places”, as defined by the parents, were state parks, historical sites, and nature preserves.  Never a KOA campground or hotel for this family.  Her parents rented a U-Haul trailer to connect to the back of the family wagon and then crammed both the wagon and the trailer with kids, sleeping bags, cookware, food, tents, coolers, blankets, and all the other necessary supplies for a two-week road trip to and from Washington State.

The family typically got back home just in time for the start of school.  Her Dad borrowed heavily from the local scout troop for the necessary camping supplies.  The boys were so involved in that club that there was a huge and ferocious hand painted wolverine on the cement wall of their basement for the troop meetings.

One day, at the half waypoint of the trip, Dad, Mom and Mike traded turns driving over five hundred miles to brake at a campsite adjoining the Snake River. The entire family escaped the stuffy car to stretch their tired and aching joints.

Before the kids could venture off, they normally helped set up the campsite.  At that time, most tents, consisted of thick canvas with wooden poles and spikes, and were assembled by pounding the stakes into the ground to support the poles and then the canvas. This took the entire family pitching in to get the multiple tents upright because the ground was rocky and hard or muddy and wet.

This time, their parents allowed the four kids to head on down to the river before the tent raising ritual.  Tracy Lou ran to the river’s edge and put both feet in.  The river was wide and she could see small white caps as the water rumbled along across a few boulders and fallen trees peeking up out of the surface of the water.  The water felt like hot ice on the back of her legs and on the top of her feet but it beckoned the four of them in.  They noted the swift current but from where they stood, on the edge of the tributary, the stream massaged their stiff joints while they swam between each other’s legs, splashed, dived under, and threw some river rock to see who could make them skip the farthest.

They could see Mom and Dad heading down to the river edge so the siblings started to cross over to the other side of the river to a play a little game they liked to call, “running away from Mom and Dad”. Mike held Tracy Lou’s arm as they hopped up and down in the water, moving across the river to the other side.  The bottom of the riverbed, covered in pebbles, hurt Tracy Lou’s feet, so she paddled along holding on to Mike. Tom was treading along beside them when all of a sudden; the strong current in the middle of the river sucked him under and pushed him down the river.

Tracy Lou and her brothers screamed for help from the shore.  Dad sprinted down to the bank following Tom as he bobbed along unable to get out of the river.  Tracy Lou could see his wet head but he was drifting faster, swept downstream. Just ahead of Tom’s head, lay a fallen tree.  Tom smacked into the limb of the tree and went under.  Then he came up again and then back under.   Dad splashed into the water, reached under the limb and pulled Tom out of the water by the back of his trunks, all while struggling to keep his own balance in the strong current.  If not for the tree and Dad’s strong swimming skills, it is not clear how this adventure would end.

Everyone slinked quietly back to the shore to put up the tents and reflect on what nearly happened.  Rivers may look calm on the surface but can have fast under currents and that is dangerous enough alone, but with boulders, logs and other debris, Tom was lucky he was not seriously injured or drowned.  From then on, Tracy Lou knew to avoid crossing fast moving rivers even if she was a little fish.

Often on these camping trips, Ed fried doughnuts outside over a propane burner like the way he learned at Boy Scout camp.  He took an old pot, filled it halfway with oil, and set the pot on the stove on high.  Using biscuits in a tube, Ed would take each biscuit; pull a whole in the center of the dough until it looked like a doughnut. Then, he would place it in the hot oil to fry.  He fried several at a time.  Then, he took an old paper sack, filled it with a little sugar and cinnamon and then placed the fried bread into the bag.  He shook it all about and then brought out the hot doughnuts for us all to enjoy.

RDG2

School’s out for the summer

Growing up in a small town had its advantages to young children, as there was a lot of freedom.  Tracy Lou’s family lived on Main Street and she walked alone the two blocks downtown to the library, to her dad and mom’s work, to the grocery store, to the swimming pool, to the cool waters of the lazy Medicine River, to the vacant lot out back and to her friends’ houses that lived in town.

On her block, there were many families with children but Tracy Lou was the youngest.  The Rhea’s, the Strack’s, the Newsom’s, and the many other families all had at least three children so finding a playmate was rarely an issue. Games included pick-up basketball, touch football, riding bikes, constructing elaborate forts from cast-off materials, and planning kid-directed block events like a carnival, track meet, or theatre production.  The children charged family and community members to attend these events and they even had a banking account for safekeeping the profits.  Tracy Lou’s brother, Ed, was the activity director but all of the kids participated in one way or another.

Life on the block was fun except when it was not.  Since the children had so much freedom to play outdoors and away from their parents’ supervision, accidents did happen from time to time.

One involved Tracy Lou and a gallon of house paint.  It was a hot, summer day and Tracy Lou was about nine years old. She lived just a few houses from the Rhea sisters so they often walked to the library to check out books together or she hung out with them while they did chores or practiced their musical instruments.  Teresa and Jeanne were four and five years older than Tracy Lou.  Teresa was willing to play Barbie’s with Tracy Lou and they often took their dolls outside and built tree houses for them in the bushes. Tracy Lou had the only Ken doll on the block.

Teresa taught Tracy Lou card games, jacks, and jump rope tricks.  Tracy Lou was enamored with Teresa and spent all the time she would give Tracy Lou that summer.  On the day of the accident, Teresa and her older sister, Jeanne, had a fight. Jeanne had a temper and she flounced off and went into the house.  Teresa and Tracy Lou continued to play jacks and completely forgot about the angry older sister.  They were playing jacks on the concrete behind their house situated at the base of a series of exterior stairs that led up to a tiny deck before entering the house. On the edge of the small deck, house paint cans piled up on top of one another.

Teresa and Tracy Lou were engrossed in flipping jacks and tossing the hard, red ball back and forth between them. Tracy Lou heard the screen door open above her. She noticed Teresa looking up at the landing above. Teresa yelled something at Jeanne.  There was a loud noise from the deck and Jeanne yelled back. Tracy Lou suddenly felt something cold and wet running over her head and shoulders.  She reached up to her face and first felt and then smelled wet paint all over her hair, over her eyes and in her ears.  She did not know what happened.  Later she learned that Jeanne had accidently kicked a can of paint over the edge of the porch and it opened in mid-air pouring paint on Tracy Lou, head to toe.

Tracy Lou sprinted the three houses home hysterically crying for her mother.  Tracy Lou kicked in the kitchen door with her foot, and her mother ran to her and hugged her tight.  She carried her to the bathroom and lifted Tracy Lou into the bathtub.  She ran warm water and washed much of the paint down the drain and in time, with soap and a lot of rubbing, all of the paint rinsed out of Tracy Lou’s hair and off her skin.

Alley Trouble

Directly behind the houses on Main Street, a dirt alley provided access to trash bins, parking, and to the backyards.  Cars and trucks bumped down it, blowing up dust. People on foot, instead of walking around each block, cut through the alley.

The children living on the block played in the alley a lot.  They peddled their bikes along the tracks in the orange, Kansas, dirt, skipped along it for quick access to each other’s backyards, and often met in the over-grown vacant lot on the other side of the alley to play baseball or football.

Tall, thin, poplar trees lined the path, providing a natural barrier from the alley into the backyards.  There were also a few hedge apple trees with chartreuse orbs of lumpy fruit bending branches low to the ground.  These thorny trees provided the mushy bombs for games of war between platoons of youngsters. Tracy Lou avoided this game as the hedge apples oozed a white, slimy liquid causing her skin to turn red and burn wherever it touched.

Normally, the kids did not throw the hedge apples at each other but flung them at makeshift targets like the back of an old garage or a trunk of a tree.  One time, one of Tracy Lou’s brothers broke out a glass window with a second-rate throw.  Mike rang the neighbor’s doorbell, and confessed to Mr. Newsom his error.  He asked Mike to walk down to the hardware store, get the clerk to cut him a piece of glass to fit the window, and then return it to the Mr. Newsom for repair. To pay for the glass, my brother did a few chores for him.  Back then, people fixed problems without a lot of fuss.

There was a nursing home for elderly people located at the end of the alley.  The children sometimes met up with the old folks slowly shuffling the alley to one destination or another.  To Tracy Lou, they seemed so tired and sad.  She always tried to greet each one with her best smile but most of the time; they did not even look her way. When she described how the old people acted, her mom told her to leave those poor people alone and she said, “They are living out their last days, the best they can.”  Mom was not so generous, Tracy Lou noted, when she caught one of the old men, stealing ripe tomatoes from her garden.

One Sunday, four neighborhood kids stumbled upon an old man laying quietly in the middle of the alley. He was motionless and as the kids got nearer, they saw that his eyes were open but not blinking.  Quickly, they ran to the nearest house and asked for help for the man. The ambulance came with sirens blaring, which got Tracy Lou’s attention.  She ventured down to the back of the yard, near where the ambulance parked, but her Dad told her firmly to go back inside the house.  Later, Tracy Lou overheard her parents saying he died.  At dinner, Dad led a prayer for the old man’s soul.  Mom was worried if the kids that found the man would sleep at all that night.

Of course, all the kids knew the exact spot of the old man’s demise so they cautioned each other to not step near it, sort of along the same rule in the old silly rhyme they sang together:

Step on a crack,
You’ll break your mother’s back;
Step on a line
You’ll break your father’s spine.

The alley seemed a place ripe for trouble.  One time, a neighbor offered to keep his Shetland pony in the vacant lot for a couple of days so that the pony could eat the grass and no one would need to mow the lot.  While grazing, one of the kids went up behind the pony to try to pet him, and was kicked in the jaw so hard he walked around with his teeth wired together for weeks and could only drink liquid through a straw that fitted perfectly between two of his incisors.

Another time, her brother Tom, played with matches in the alley, and inadvertently caught the entire vacant lot on fire.  The volunteer firefighters came to put it out while Tom cowered under his bed afraid to come out.  Tom thought he had burned down the entire town but only a large patch of grass turned black.  Of course, this story was retold many times in Medicine Lodge homes about the danger of children playing with matches.

RDG3

 

One Tank Trips

One Tank Trips

So, where do you like to travel for a day trip that takes less than a tank of gas to get there and back from Fort Worth?  I call that a one tank trip. I have a few suggestions to share in this blog but I am really interested to learn from you some unique, out of the ordinary, places to go in the north Texas region on one tank of gas.  Please share in the comments below.

So, my short list,  in no particular order:

Drive out to Eagle Mountain Lake and hike in the newly developed Eagle Mountain Park.  Pack a lunch as they have picnic tables, benches and clean, modern amenities.  Great views of the lake, deer crossings, birding and great trails. The park is located just north of the fort. It is free and open 7 days a week.

This summer, I explored  Cedar Hill State Park. The park has lots to offer including hiking, boating, fishing and picnic grounds but I enjoyed floating in the cool water of the lake in an area dedicated to swimming. There is no sandy beach so bring some shoes you don’t mind getting wet.  To get there from Fort Worth, head east on I-20 and follow your GPS to the front entrance to the park.  There is a nominal fee but Texas state parks need our support now more than ever. Take your floaties when the weather warms up or go now and enjoy the trails without sweating to death.  You can also visit Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center just down the road from the state park.  They offer hiking trails and a nice visitor’s center for learning more about native grasses and plants of our region.

Cruise to Denton, Texas, up north near the Oklahoma border, and shop in their vintage stores in the vibrant downtown and be sure to stop by their farmer’s market on Saturday morning just a couple blocks off the square. Check out the booth that offers a wide-variety of agua fresca and salsa. There is live music by local artists to entertain you while you shop and nosh.  Opening day for the market this year is April 6th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Follow them on Facebook

McKinney is an enjoyable, revitalized community with lots of great shopping, restaurants and they have a great butcher shop named Local Yocal Farm to Market just one block off the old-time town square. It’s less than an hour drive. We missed it on our visit, but there is a Saturday Farmer’s Market if you get there in the morning.

Check out Booked Up located in the Texas panhandle, just two hours northwest of Fort Worth in Larry McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City, Texas.  Booked Up carries between 150,000 and 200,000 books on any subject imaginable.  Wear good shoes as this day is full of standing as you pour over the shelves of books. All stock has been purchased over the last four decades by writer Larry McMurtry.  Remember the book, Lonesome Dove?  He wrote it.  There is a cafe on the square where you can rest your sore feet, grab lunch or stop by the DQ on the highway out of town.  There is almost, always, a DQ in small town America especially in Texas.

Are you a foodie like me?  Drive to Carrollton to the best Korean market in the metroplex.  It is called H Mart and is located about 40 minutes from the fort if you can skip peak traffic times.  Plan on getting there early to avoid the crowds.  Be sure to take your shopping list as this store is overwhelming with asian product lines.  They have at least 80 varieties of kimchi alone.  Plan to revive yourself at the french bakery inside the store.  Lovely pastries and the latte is the drug you need to keep going through all the stuffed aisles of eye-popping merchandise.  This place smells good too.

Take a short road trip to tiny Venus, Texas, south of Fort Worth on highway 67 for brunch at Casa Jacaranda on the square.  Everything in this mexican restaurant is house-made and prepared with so much love.  Alert.  There is a bakery inside — you won’t be able to pass up a sweet treat no matter the new year’s resolution.  Walk around the square to burn some calories and admire the architecture and imagine what it was like back in the outlaw days of the Great Depression.  Several of the scenes from movie, Bonnie and Clyde, were shot on the Venus square. These buildings still stand. Unfortunately, most of them are vacant now.

Of course, there is always Waco so you too can join in on the Magnolia craze by shopping at the Silos, taking the self-guided tour of the fixer uppers or eating at the Gaines family’s new restaurant.

And Fort Worthians, we could go to Dallas.  Currently, at the Dallas Museum of Art, there is an exhibition by Ida O’Keefe I plan to take in this week-end.  It will be interesting  to compare and most likely contrast Ida’s work to her more famous older sister, Georgia.  The Klyde Warren Park is just across the street from the museum so you can grab lunch from a food truck and relax on a bench soaking up a little Texas sunshine before or after touring the museum.  The Nasher Sculpture Center is just next door and it is always a treat with its outdoor sculpture garden and small galleries. Both museums have cafes offering wine by the glass, coffee or a just a place to rest a while. I can’t walk by a museum gift shop without buying at least a little memento of my visit.

Where do you go when you have a free day on the calendar?  My resolution is to find more of those kind of days in 2019. So help me out, by sharing some suggestions.  Why not fill up the tank and take to the country roads, y’all?

 

 

 

 

 

A Jazz Age Night in KCMO

A Jazz Age Night in KCMO

In the Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City, Missouri, is located the Green Lady Lounge.  In a town like Kansas City, well-known for its jazz-steeped history, the Green Lady, a reference to female ghosts of lore?, carries that torch with pride. Past the unassuming door lies a low-lit, red adorned room that beckons with a long bar, two live jazz band areas on two levels.  Gold framed mirrors and oil paintings as well as velvet-covered lamp shades embellish the place.  We had to jockey for a table but after some cool negotiations, we found a cozy spot right up front where we could see the band as well as the swarms of people ordering drinks, rubbing shoulders and swaying to the music.

Photo Credit:  Chelsea C. Marshall. On our way to the Green Lady Lounge

About every two hours, the bands switch out so for me, the chance to hear a variety of jazz sounds was the real treat. The later band was better.  The people watching got better too, the later we stayed, until it came to that point where it didn’t.  You know what I mean? It’s best to show up at the Green Lady after 11 p.m. but you can catch the live music beginning every day — yes, every day, beginning at 3 p.m.  No cover and most of the mixed drinks are $10 or more.

We elected to have our cocktails before showing up at the Green Lady and we found, based on C2’s recent experience now living in the area, that Tom’s Town Distillery Co. is a great place to start your night. Tom’s Town Distilling Co. draws its name and inspiration from the country’s most polarizing and corrupt political boss, Tom Pendergast. Pendergast had roots in the liquor business as a saloon keeper and as the founder of a wholesale liquor company.

Several in our party tried The Angry Goat which uses Tom’s Bourbon, Lillet Rose, strawberry habanero syrup and lime.  The bartender tops the drink with a slice of jalapeno which I would avoid based on the gasps and hiccups from those who imbibed.  Be sure to select some small plates to go along with the strong drinks.  We picked mixed nuts, fried sriracha pickled green beans, tempura style,  and farm to market warm ciabatta served with olives, olive oil and balsamic.  Luckily, we were seated in the back lounge of  the speakeasy. It was a busy Saturday summer night and rocking loud up front near the entrance.  It felt like we were back in the roaring 20’s.

We didn’t plan for a tour but if we did, it looks fun.  Tours last approximately one hour and include an in-depth look at the distillation process of their spirits (gin, vodka and bourbon), a brief overview of Kansas City during Boss Tom’s rule, and a tasting of each of their award-winning spirits. Tours are $10 per person, and are offered Tuesday through Saturday.

So, cheers, to a jazzy Saturday night in the Paris on the Plains.

Products I Love

Products I Love

Dill pollen, hand collected and AMAZING when sprinkled on green beans, eggs or tuna salad or on the end of your finger. Pollen Ranch Spices This is not just some substitute for dried dill leaves. Rather, it’s a subtler, more nuanced version of the familiar dill, milder than the fresh herb but equally suited for many of its uses. It’s a great finishing spice for lots of dishes and reduces the call for salt.

pollen

Vanilla pure bean paste – so much more concentrated and vanilla flavor than extract and half the cost of vanilla beans without the hassle of scraping out the pod. Vanilla paste

Grab the Gold Energy bar – gluten and dairy free.  These bars are expensive so if you can’t afford the price tag or you pride yourself on being thrifty, try making your own by following this link Copy Cat Gold Bars

The smell of pinon pine incense takes me to New Mexico every time. When I smell it, my shoulders immediately relax.  The very smoky aroma upgrades your daily yoga practice Cones of Pinon

Black flats.  I live in black flats and love these from Clarks.  Almost all the shoes in my closet are Clarks Black Flats to Live in

For my clothes, I let Stitch Fix take care of me and love getting the little aqua box every month full of 4-5 items of clothing and accessories selected just for me to try on and decide either to add to my wardrobe or simply return in the postage paid mailer.  So easy, so fun, at stitchfix.com

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a great way to buy healthy seeds for your spring garden.  I learned about them when I took a gardening class at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT for short). Johnny’s Seeds  The seeds come in resealable packages with a plastic bag within the outside paper wrapper.  Great for storing in your refrigerator.  Order their free catalog. It is a beauty.  If you want to learn about soil biology and urban gardens check out their classes at BRIT.  They’re legit! BRIT

seeds

Happy Spring from the Red Dirt Girl.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

Fried Bologna Sandwich

After reading a Rick Bragg short story in Southern Living magazine in which he describes in salivating detail the assembly and devouring of fresh garden tomato sandwiches, my memory returned to lazy summer days eating fried bologna sandwiches with my brothers.  My mother worked as a county social worker so when we were home alone on summer vacation, she left lunches up to us to prepare.

Sandwiches were our specialty including:  tuna melts, peanut butter and jelly, and margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon — all slathered on soft Wonder white classic bread.  Later, mom learned about the importance of fiber and switched us to whole wheat.

One of my favorite combos in those days was a fried bologna sandwich with mustard and catsup (my mom always spelled it catsup, not ketchup). We didn’t toast the bread, it was better soft so it could absorb the grease.  We took pre-sliced bologna, usually Oscar Meyer (those ads even got to our frugal Mom), melted margarine (no real butter existed in our home in those days) in a frying pan, placed the bologna slices carefully in the grease to fry gently on both sides.  We made tiny slits on the edges of the bologna with a knife so it would lay flat in the pan and not curl.  I liked my bologna very crispy (SPAM too but that is for another blog).  We put one or two slices of fried bologna between slices of bread, spread liberally with mustard and catsup, and enjoy.  I liked mine with a side of baked beans or fruit cocktail (always wanted the single cherry in the can) if we had any in the pantry and always a dill pickle spear.  It is not a prize sandwich without a pickle on the plate.

bologna
Delicious, yes?

I don’t eat bologna sandwiches anymore in fact I don’t remember the last time I ate one.  Most likely, I last consumed one in my youth or maybe in desperation during my college days when I lived off bad dorm food and free happy hour tacos.

I doubt if I made a fried bologna sandwich today it would taste as good as I remember.  Like in Rick’s experience, when he described his tomato sandwiches to kids today, they say “yuck”.  They would rather slather avocado on multi-grain toast, top it with flaxseed and microgreens and call it a meal or go by Starbucks and order a latte with a tomato basil panini.  We couldn’t even purchase avocados in Kansas in those days, they were not part of the produce section, neither was kale, flax seeds or microgreens. And we made our own coffee, on the stove, in a percolator.  What the hell is a panini?

Back in the day, bologna was so cheap, lasted forever in the fridge, and filled the bottomless pit of my brothers’ tummies with salty, fatty, cured meat parts. The catsup added sweetness and mustard that spicy, tart compliment. It was all we had at the time. Which explains why we learned to love bologna sandwiches

If you want to read more by Rick Bragg, check out some of his stories and books at Rick Bragg Southern Stories

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium.  It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities.  We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season.  We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.

The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.

The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city.  But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.

cathedral
Our Lady’s Cathedral

After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt.  The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here.  Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals.  Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste.  You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space.  Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years.  If walls could talk, eh?

ruben
Ruben’s Home

Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp.  The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.  We welcomed the sun.  Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.

waffles
Waffles!

Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us.  Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals.  Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke.  We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings.  The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.

antwerp
Let’s go home, Brr

The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists.  The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides.  Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather.  I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.

old bar
Antwerp Tavern

After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam.  Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.

beer
De Koninck Blond Beer

 

 

 

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

We arrived at the Schiphol Airport at two on a cold afternoon, Christmas Eve Day,  after traveling for at least twelve hours before arriving at our final destination –  a modern, light and festively appointed international hub for both air and train travel in the Netherlands. We were officially on holiday with our family including our three daughters, our new son-in-law, our daughter’s partner, and a long-standing family friend making us a party of eight.  We were a mixed bag but all comfortably over the age of twenty-one and ready for some debauchery in the Venice of the North.

all together

Having never been to Venice, I don’t know how Amsterdam compares but I found this city more akin to New Orleans than any other metropolis in the states.  Although, Amsterdam built its city on the water, New Orleans strives, unsuccessfully to keep the water out. Both cities embrace all comers and offer up the arts in all forms.

canal rides

First, the canal houses with gabled facades line the waterways providing you, through unshuttered windows, an intimate peek into the daily lives of the Dutch.  Amsterdamers evidently like living a curtain-less existence, thereby showing the world they have nothing to hide. Take a leisurely stroll down any street and you are sure to notice one startling similarity: a persistent lack of curtains, and hence personal privacy.

bikes

Second observation is that bike riders rule in Amsterdam.  Pedestrians are measly targets for sadistic riders either on scooter, bicycle or tram.  Watch the f— out for them, all the time. Seriously or better yet, rent a bike and join them at their own game.  They ride in the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow. We saw them do it with our own eyes as we dashed out of their way. There are nearly 900,000 bikes in the city, four times the number of cars.  This city even has a huge bike parking area in the center of the city.  I have no idea how the owners even find their solitary bike in the vast sea of spokes and fenders.

melina

Check out the city art scene.  Our pick was the Van Gogh Museum.  We felt like we knew Vincent and his family after spending several hours learning about his life, his short but prolific painting period of only ten years, and how the demands he made of his self, his  mental illness all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. It didn’t help that he sipped on turpentine and was known to eat paint.  Vincent shot himself in the chest, which I found an odd attempt, and he died of his wounds in 1890 at the age of only 37.  Sadly, his art work got better, the more he struggled with mental illness as you could see from the progression of his first great piece, “The Potato Eaters”, to the “Bedroom” and “Sunflowers”.

with jessica

We did take a peek at the infamous red light district one evening after dining at a nearby Indian restaurant, Ashoka. Highly recommend the restaurant for the friendly service, accommodating chef, and fine cuisine but based on my stance on feminism, should I applaud or be appalled by the legalization of prostitution? The women are running their own businesses, so they are entrepreneurs, of a sort. I think they have union. But, on the other hand, they are promoting a trade that is degrading to women and perpetuating a culture in which women are treated as objects.

We drank a fair amount of beer along with other types of spirits during our stay.  The local beer is found at Brouwerig’ Tij a brewery under a windmill to boot.  So crowded but the beer soothed sore feet and we loved their logo. Yes, we bought the souvenir shirt.

2brouwerijhetij_SidebarLogo-150x150

We also bought Delft dishes (how can you resist the blue and white patterns?), some cool prints from Gallery Varekamp, featuring scenes from around Amsterdam to remind us of our journey, along with packages of stroopwaffles, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, and salty Dutch liquorice.

Beyond what I have already shared, it was the simple moments that I will remember best.

  • Tram rides and getting lost and found again
  • The issue of no ice, at all, in our Air BnB — why?
  • Watching Dutch cooking shows on television – they seem to love to cook outside in the snow on an open fire
  • Skip-Bo, lots of Skip-Bo
  • Daily postings to social media
  • Sunrise at 8:30 a.m., sunset at 4:30 p.m.
  • Learning about Banksy, the street artist
  • Listening to the sing-song sounds of the Dutch language
  • Family meals together. Ok, just being together.
  • Our daily uniform of parka, hat, gloves and boots
  • Opening simple stocking stuffers on Christmas morning
  • Walking, lots of walking
  • Having Melina join us from Germany for a couple of days – miss you!
  • Christmas Markets — as many as we could find in a week!
  • Ferris Wheel rides
  • Grocery shopping
  • That time all of us in the our group went right, but one went straight…