Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maakt u een praatje op ons stoepje

I guess I am one of those guilty individuals who rarely make contact with neighbors. I am far from being shy in real life but I shy away from making social contact (I do not have a disease!) in the neighborhood because, honestly, I am simply just not interested?

Well, the short walk to the city center yesterday made me feel small, like I should be accountable to my surroundings when I saw this rainbow painted stone slab just 2 blocks away from where we live.

“Maakt u een praatje op ons stoepje” means and is a call to action to the people in the neighborhood to have or build more contact with each other.

With the growing individualism and please-mind-your-own-business attitude in the society, getting neighbors to bypass the standard ‘hallo’, ‘goede morgen’, and ‘dag’ greetings has become one of the more difficult social challenges in neighborhoods nowadays. I cannot deny the fact that this is a good call to action -- build more contact with people around us and not build walls, albeit idealistic.

OK, what about if some people prefer to be on their own?

When I used to live in Greenhills, Manila (Dutchman always laughs at my address because it rhymes with Quack Quack, lol), I barely knew anyone in the condominium except the security guards. My neighbors rarely greet in the lift. To some, I smile. Maybe it’s the big city fast paced life mentality where people tend to ignore each other by the mile -- hey, I have my busy life, and you have yours!

To be brutally honest, I can’t really be bothered with neighbors BUT I try to be civilized, to maintain politeness and greet everyone cordially when I meet them. It is just not me to be freely engaging with other people for the sake of chatting or putting my nose into their businesses, i.e. the endless talks about the dreary Dutch weather, oi someone has blocked the driveway yesterday, or did you hear the next door neighbor last night playing loud the organ again? (this actually happened, apparently some neighbors complained about the strange music this guy was playing, and
in his attempt to bid his excuses decided to ring everyone’s doorstep including ours, lol)

Moreover, and maybe this is shameful to disclose online, I really don’t have the need to make friends. I don’t have the need or call it urge to belong to a neighborhood – or yearning for that feeling of belongingness and acceptance as esteemed by many. I simply don’t have any interest whatsoever? And I refuse to be a fake because I cannot be sharing my private space physically if I don’t know the person for quite some time. Logical right.

So, I have never asked a neighbor to have coffee or tea with me at home.

I think life is simpler this way when you just mill about with your own life. It sounds a bit cold... yes, I admit, but it’s true, at least for me.

Perhaps this is the product of being too independent, being too individualistic and being a realist.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Low-key Christmas Market under the bridge in Mala Strana

In December last year, I was in Prague, Czech Republic. After spending the whole day in Mala Strana, the neighborhood across the old town, I checked out the Christmas Market located under the Charles Bridge.

The market was nice and low-key. I made sure I had my gluhwein with me as I toured around the place.

Then for dinner, I tried the traditional Prague ham. I have been eyeing this piece of crunchy meat all day long. Grilled in open-flame and meat carved directly from the pig when you order it! Delicious.

I then sat down on a bench and watched a group of country folk musicians playing on stage. With my second cup of warm gluhwein in my hand, I just sat there, enjoying my surroundings, and taking in the whole merry ambience.

The music on the podium was new to my ears. I do not even understand a single thing as it was in Czech. It came to a point that the people in front of me and around me were dancing. Everyone suddenly was in high spirits! It felt so surreal. The music, the lights, everybody swirling, laughing, clapping... I felt so mesmerized and sucked into the whole moment, that I truly wanted it not to end.

Christmas Market under the bridge.

Last shot of Mala Strana as I walk back to my hotel.

Travel Period: December 2008

Chasing the stress away for the spring holiday

How timing! Flying Dutchman frequent flyers magazine is featuring Morocco with a long article discussion on Essaouira and of course Marrakech!

Magazine caption translation - Morocco, Saida: “My country is the most beautiful country.”

I am going with a girl friend and our plane tickets and hotels were already booked a couple of weeks ago. However, I have not yet gotten myself to face up the upcoming spring holiday because I am still wrestling various obstacle relay matches at work that includes irritations, misinterpretations, long string of email battles (ha-ha combative mood, can you relate?) and raising my voice!

ARGHHHHHH! I hate office politics!

I’m telling my stubborn, strong willed, aggressive self to back off a bit so I won’t bite off an ear. The backing off, and even just the thought of it, is enough to cause me so much STRESS.

The guy sitting in front of me suggested I should take up knitting as a hobby to help improve my (im)patience but I told him if I follow his suggestion it will be the marking of lunacy for me.

SIGH. I badly need a holiday break! Be somewhere else physically where I don’t have to think about the business. I am only seeing Pounds, Euros and Dollars signs right now... plus the highly volatile movement of the exchange rate which is actually the catalyst of all this confusion. And the chasing of everything else of course, how could I forget. It just never stops. All I know it’s not healthy anymore.

So, with all this headache-stress, I really thought I was going to be sick today. At some point, I felt I was having chills. A colleague confronted me, “Go look at yourself in the mirror, you are tired, go wash your eyes, go home.” Um, wash my eyes? I can only surmise they are bloodshot red because of the stress.

However, business-wise, and against all the odds - the economic slowdown and a very glum market forecast, my own business is doing quite well. (I don’t see my work as work, I see it as my own business)

But right now I seriously need to start prepping myself up for the upcoming trip and channeling my energy to thinking only of fascinating Kasbahs, aromatic mint teas, cross dressing belly dancers, camels, and shape-shifting sand dunes of the Sahara otherwise I will rupture into insanity and declare, “Ik ben overspannen!” (I am burned out!). Afterwhich I take out a 6-month sabbatical aka burned-out leave.

OH GOD FORBID. HELL NO. NO WAY. I refuse to be part of that overspannen clique.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Daliborka Tale and Prague’s Crimson Roofs

The Daliborka Tower has an interesting story about Knight Dalibor.

I had the chance to explore the dungeon tower he was held prisoner and stories said that he was probably the first prisoner in Daliborka Tower. He was detained due to rebellion where he spent his days learning to play the violin. Soon rumors about the beautiful yet sad melodies he played spread. Many locals would come and gather under the tower to listen, and some even brought him food.

Dalibor’s daily diet normally consists of bread and water, given to him by the guards. However, with the new variety of food the people brought him every day he surely was well fed and pampered.

In the coming days, Dalibor became so popular with the people that the authorities were scared to announce his fate, which should have been death.

I am not sure how the tale ended really...

Anyway, I descended the ramparts and caught these breath taking views of Prague’s crimson roofs:

Around and below the castle fortifications there are vineyards grown. There are also terraced gardens and I believe I quickly visited the Royal Garden as well.

Travel Period: December 2008

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Golden Lane inside the castle grounds

The Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) is a narrow alleyway with tiny shops selling locally made handidrafts inside the Prague castle grounds.

It somewhow awakens the child in you. Maybe because of the bright and colourful hues of the little shops. They are best fit for small people. It just evokes fairy tales, legends and dwarfs, that sort of thing.

The houses are built at the end of the 16th century. The writer Franz Kafka lived here on house number 22. The house is now a memorial exhibiting his works.

So how did this street gets its name?

Legend says alchemists used to live on this street and one named Uhle was secretly experimenting on turning metals into gold. One day the residents heard a big explosion coming from his house. When they arrived at his premises they found him dead and a golden bar which turned out to be gold.

I also discovered the traditional Czech spa wafers sold by a street vendor by the entrance to the Golden Lane. They were still fresh and warm. A nice in between snack. Sadly I did not have pictures of this spa wafer.

Here are the pretty houses:

People back then were so small???

Old house of Franz Kafka.

Travel Period: December 2008

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Landgoed Schaffelaar in Barneveld

Barneveld, a municipality in Gelderland (in the east of the Netherlands) is popularly known for breeding chickens. Poultry farming and egg production is a huge industry in this little low-key town. In the town center you can find statues of this winged creature everywhere.

A giant rooster! The Schaffelaar Castle in Neo-Tudor style is named after Jan van Schaffelaar who jumped off the Barneveld Tower to save his men.

However, we didn’t visited Barneveld for its impressive collection of pullet (they even have a museum called Het Nederlands Pluimveemuseum) or for its uninspiring little town center -- we came here for the walking trails in Landgoed Schaffelaar which is advantageously located just right across the small town center and a huge parking lot.

If you are a reader of this blog, you will notice that part of my favorite weekend activities (when I am not assaulted with the lazy bug) is strolling in forests, nature parks and noble estates open to the public.

More pictures here: Barneveld - Gelderland, The Netherlands

Begin of the walking trails to the forest. The property is now owned by Het Geldersch Landschap as you can see on the white fence gate.

The Schaffelaar Estate or ‘Kasteel de Schaffelaar’ as popularly known by the locals in Barneveld is a park that is open to the public to roam around. The castle is in Neo Tudor design circa 1850 which was sold in the late 60’s for an outrageous symbolic sum of fl1,00 (1 Dutch Guilder!) by its owner, a baroness to the Barneveld municipality with the promise that the municipality will restore the castle to its previous glory -- which they did and was reopened in 1980. The land property around it is now owned and managed by ‘Het Geldersch Landschap’.

The walking trails in the estate were a very nice experience. Route is approximately 7+ kilometers, not that long, and leaning towards the romantic route really with the castle in the background, the manicured themed park and gardens in its proximity and the dreamy bridges. I can only imagine how the place would look like during mid spring to summer when the flowers are in full colour and bloom, and the trees covered in lush greens.

The walking trail and the bald trees... and next foto arethe goats. That string before the fence is with voltage!

I just love the expanse of the property... the elegance it exudes... oh, the romantic wooden bridge which is my favourite, the lake... and the symmetrical lanes in the forest which at the moment are flanked with bald trees because of the winter season.

There is an inviting Orangerie royally designed in Victorian style in the middle of the field that now serves as a café restaurant. Unfortunately this pretty café is only open from Tuesdays and Thursdays. I cannot help but the capitalist in me frowns at their strange opening times when they could have easily grossed more profit if they have opened on a weekend! There were actually quite a number of people in the estate -- families with children going for a walk, teenage girls on their ‘oma’ bikes, mothers pushing baby strollers, couples sitting on the benches enjoying the beautiful and peaceful panorama....

The beautiful wooden bridge. This is one of my favourite places in the estate.

Don’t they see that the estate is bustling with people during the weekend? Take for example the pannenkoeken restaurants in Rhijnauwen and in Lage Vuursche, they are open on weekends because after the forest walk people naturally would search for a place to sit down to eat and drink. Who would go there between Tuesdays and Thursdays anyway?

Anywho, after the stroll we went for tea in the (ghost) town center. Most of the restaurants as predicted by the Dutchman were closed. He whispered to me that Barneveld is a ‘zwaar gereformeerd dorp’ or ‘christelijke dorp‘ meaning, a very religious town of the Dutch Reformed (protestant) Church. OK, that is why many horeca establishments are closed!

The Netherlands might seem very tolerant, free and open to the outside world but you will be surprised to find many strict and traditional religious communities still existing in this forward thinking little country.

Biggest medieval castle in Europe: Prague Castle

The Prague Castle was a bit of a disappointment though. It did not speak to me. It is said to be the biggest medieval castle in Europe, but it is actually a complex in itself. I do not find anything so special about it except that it is humongous.

This is the baroque Matthias’ Gate built in 1614. There are always guards stationed at the entrance and they are favourite subjects to pose with by tourists.

Inside the courtyard of the Prague Castle complex you can find the imposing St. Vitus Cathedral that towers above Hradcany and Mala Strana. I am not much of a fan for eerie-looking Gothic churches but this one have a very nice detailed facade painting.

The castle is also the seat of government and is home to the non-partisan Eurosceptic president of Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Czech Republic currently holds the EU presidency and the bullheaded Vaclav Klaus refuses to fly the EU flag at the Prague Castle! He explains that he is not an EU opponent but an “EU realist”.

Many Czech citizens are a bit embarrassed by their Europhobic president but I quite admire the man for being a great thinker. He challenges the norms and asks questions many influential leaders have never thought of asking or have had no courage doing so. I like leaders like that; real pioneers, great critics, and leaders who think outside the conventional box. Hmm... incidentally, we have the same birthdate.

There is also a couple of museums and art galleries, St. George’s Basilica, the Golden Lane which I find cute, a few palaces, a monastery and some viewing towers in the castle complex.

The photos here of course:

These guards must have a laugh about tourists after workhours.

St. Vitus Cathedral inside the castle grounds.

Massive courtyard in front of the New Royal Palace.

St. George Basilica is the 2nd oldest church in Prague.

Not sure what this building is for but it looks pretty.

Travel Period: December 2008

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nerudova Street

The famous and picturesque Nerudova Street (King’s Road) that leads to the Prague Castle in Hradcany is also a wonderful experience in itself. The narrow cobbled alleyway is flanked with vibrant multihued pastel coloured burgher houses and is home to many embassies. I just love this street.

It was just 10 in the morning when I walked on this street and it was already completely buzzing with people and activity! People are out here early.

On this street you can find beautiful house emblems on the facade. Back in the olden times, the residents do not have house numbers. They identify and name their houses by their emblems located on top of the doors.

Hmmm. Must be an interesting job being a mail man in those days.

My photos below:

Just lovely isn’t it?

Travel Period: December 2008

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