From the Netherlands to the Badlands

What do a drug store in the middle of nowhere, the Badlands and The Netherlands have in common?

It took me traveling to all three to see the common thread. You’ll have to muddle through this blog for the answer!

This month I have, weirdly enough, had the opportunity to journey from The Netherlands of Europe to the Badlands of South Dakota. The topography of the two areas couldn’t be more different, but both owe their landscapes, in large part, to water.

Netherlands literally means “lower countries” which is more than apt since only about half of The Netherlands is three feet above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are artificial with about 17 percent being reclaimed from the sea since the late 16th century.

The Badlands are as dry as the Netherlands are wet, but it’s the power of erosion wrought by wind and water that formed the Badlands.

The Badlands were called “mako sica” or “land bad” by the Lakota people. French-Canadian fur trappers in the early 1900’s dubbed it “les mauvais terres pour traverse” or “bad lands to travel through.” It’s easy to understand why. Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and rugged terrain make it a hostile environment.

Today, from the comfort of our air-conditioned vehicles, we can focus on the geologic definition as we tour the Badlands National Park. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded (by wind and water) in a dry climate. The result are some breathtaking vistas.

Water also played a role in creating a manmade tourist attraction in the area as well. While in the Badlands National Park, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

For literally hundreds of miles across the prairies of South Dakota, I saw the billboards advertising Wall Drug. After what seemed like the one hundredth billboard, I googled the store, proving once again that advertising works.

I learned that it all started in 1931 with a free glass of ice water. Dorothy and Ted Hustead bought the drug store in the tiny town of Wall and were on the verge of going bust until Dorothy had a great idea. She suggested her husband make lots of little signs offering free ice water and place them at intervals on the side of the highway. Advertising works and pretty soon the Husteads had a thriving business that has grown ever since.

Today, Wall Drug is a 76,000-square-foot menagerie of Americana.

So whether it’s The Netherlands, the Badlands or Wall Drug, water is the tie that binds.

And this lucky human, who is 60 percent water, saw all three this September.

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Ode to “Gezellig”

The Dutch have a word — gezellig–which doesn’t have an English equivalent. It’s pronounced, for those brave enough to try, heh-SELL-ick.(Yes, even nice Dutch words like gezellig sound like you’re about to puke.)

The word captures the essence of the culture here as the Dutch tend to love all things gezellig. It carries a lot of different meanings (cozy, quaint, or just plain nice), but it also captures the feeling you get when enjoying life’s pleasures — like spending time with friends or reading a great book while sipping your favorite drink.

Gezellig describes the Dutch awareness that joy can be found in the simplest things…real pleasure awaits in the details.

Take something as mundane as a light cord in a hotel bathroom, add a tiny wooden clog — and you’ve got gezellig!

Admit it. That little shoe makes you smile, doesn’t it?

Most cafes and restaurants here in Amsterdam have gezillig. They’re adorned with pillows and throws and cute little knick knacks placed just so. My favorite is Mr. Sister which sits on the water right outside Amsterdam Central train/bus station. We nickednamed it “Genie in a Bottle.”

Good food + great ambience = fond memories. That’s just one of the many formulas for gezellig.

Speaking of ingesting…I am now a mint tea addict. Americans have their coffee…the French their wine…the Italians their espressos…and the Dutch their fresh mint tea. Add the honey — it’s definitely gezellig!

I even liked the fresh mint in my ginger ale.

And nothing is more gezillig than stroopwafles. These chewy pieces of heaven are like my all-time favorite — macarons — I can never eat just one.

Lots of places in Amsterdam are gezellig. Heck, how else could you essentially turn a swamp into one of Europe’s most charming cities?

Gezillig is one of the reasons I can leave my daughter in Amsterdam with very little heaviness in my heart. She caught the positive vibe right away. She’ll thrive here.

May she, and all the Dutch, continue to find plenty of gezillig in life.

A gezellig moment in Giethoorn.

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A Peek at the Dutch Masters

Enjoying a couple of days in Amsterdam with my Meggie before heading home and leaving her to fashion a new life in this old city for the next couple of years.

This afternoon we made our way to the Rijksmuseum to take a peek at the Dutch masters.

The museum is one of the most visited in the world with more than 2.5 million annual visitors. It’s very well laid out and the presentation of the art within is quite, well, masterful.

The main event is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, and the museum serves it up right. The masterpiece is featured at the end of a great hall where I was just as impressed with the stained glass as with the painting.

There’s a lot to like at the Rijks. The doll houses on display were miniature glimpses of the female domain in past centuries. No little girl’s fantasy house, these were actually owned by wealthy women who spent time and money creating each room and its scenario.

In addition to the Dutch masters, the Rijksmuseum features some modern art. Meg and I particularly enjoyed Ferdi’s Wombtomb.

This wooly piece of furniture would be quite the conversation starter. I would bet the price of admission that it’s one of the most photographed pieces in the museum.

Meg was delighted to know that she could have access to the museum’s library for her own studies. It’s looked pretty much like this since the 1800s, only now most of its volumes are contained underground.

After hours pondering man-made art, it was wonderfully mindless to bask in the glory of an early evening sky as seen from the window of Meg’s apartment.

The creation is its own masterpiece.

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Swan Lake Revisited

Celebrating my 57th year on the planet, I find myself far from home in the idyllic Dutch village known as Giethoorn. What a nice place to pass a birthday!

Cars are optional in this village of canals and walking/bike paths that borders the De Weerribben-Wieden National Park.

About 2600 people call Giethoorn home and you can’t help but envy every one of them. Their magical village’s four miles of canals and thatched-roof farmhouses date back to the 18th century.

The Dutch are super friendly people, but in Giethoorn even the ducks are friendly. This fellow hopped out of a canal and waddled over to join us for a cup of mint tea at a cafe.

Naturally, water fowl abound here. I have never seen so many swans. Not just gliding down the canals…

but I counted close to 30 in the wild on a lake in the national park. “Giethoorn” means “goat horn,” but I will always think of it as Swan Lake.

Megan and I checked into Hotel Giethoorn yesterday which was a unique experience as the check-in process was totally automated.

We did, however, rent bicycles from an actual person employed by the hotel this morning and pedaled our way out to the national park and all around Giethoorn.

Biking is great, but walking the canal paths offers the most idyllic views of this magical place — some of them seem straight out of a fairy tale.

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A Slot Built for a King

Frederiksborg Castle, or “slot” as the Danes say, is a short train ride on Line E headed north out of Copenhagen to the lovely town of Hillerod.

The original castle was built by King Frederik II, but it was his son, Christian IV who constructed most of the palatial abode in the 17th century.

In fact, Christian IV was the monarch behind many of the splendid structures in Copenhagen. He liked to build things…bankrupting his country in the process.

It’s hard to begrudge Christian his castle at Hillerod when you’re visiting. It is magnificient, seemingly rising out of the moat/lake — Slotso– surrounding it.

Entering the castle, you’re greeted by the splendid Neptune Fountain.

The first major room on your walk-through is the singularly impressive chapel…

Moving from room-to-room, the views from inside the castle looking out are breathtaking…

The ceiling work is simply spectacular in room after room…

Next to the chapel, the massive ballroom is the most impressive interior. The gigantic ballroom stood in stark contrast to a royal bedroom complete with a bed fit for a very small king. Seventeenth-century humans were much smaller than their 21st century descendants — by a foot or two if that bed is any indication!

The third floor of the castle wing open to the public contains an art museum tracing the history of Denmark. I particularly liked this piece of Crown Princess Mary created by Danish artist Gugger Petter using newspaper.

Leaving the castle, you’ll find the baroque garden and grounds as delightful as the castle itself.

A hunting lodge fit for a king.

My friend, Margo, and I capped off our tour of this majestic castle with a ride on a little ferry boat that tools around the moat/lake Slotso.

I can’t think of a better way to cap off our stay in Copenhagen than a day spent at Frederiksborg Slot.

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Of Windmills and Mermaids

Denmark’s most famous son, Hans Christian Andersen, lived most of his life in Copenhagen. One of my favorite tales by Andersen is “The Little Mermaid” and today I visited the iconic statue inspired by that tale.

Edvard Erikson sculpted the lovely sea creature who has sat upon her stony perch since 1914. Despite having her head and limbs amputated at various times over the decades by vandals, the young lady has persisted.

A statue of H.C. Andersen resides in the King’s Garden which I also visited this afternoon. The royal garden was established in the 1600’s by King Christian IV as eye candy for his palace.

Across the street from King’s Garden is Copenhagen’s Botanical Gardens.

The main attraction, a giant greenhouse, was lush with tropical vegetation, but I admit to being more fascinated by being inside a massive glass house.

I didn’t throw stones while inside nor did I tilt at a windmill when I saw one today at Kastellet, a star fortress dating back to the mid 1640s.

But I did long for more time to lounge among the soothing greenery at Kastellet to nurse my head cold and re-read some fairy tales by H.C. Andersen.

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First opened in 1843, Tivoli is the second-oldest amusement park in the world and it’s still drawing crowds in Copenhagen. The famous tourist spot is a charming combination of amusement park and gardens.

I visited the park late Saturday afternoon along with thousands of other locals and tourists. More than 4.5 million people visit Tivoli every year. It’s definitely a must-see while in Copenhagen.

In addition to a rollercoaster and a variety of other rides…

There are also lovely garden paths and areas to stroll through…

along with plenty of restaurants for all budgets as well as a few souvenir shops, all housed in interesting buildings that add to the ambience.

In short, there’s a little something for everyone — even live stage shows. As for me, I was partial to the flowers.

At night, Tivoli lights up. It’s well worth going late in the day, grabbing a bite to eat and strolling around until the sun goes down.

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