Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Amster...dam, Part II: Gouda Cheese and Clogs

To discover some of the more traditional Dutch things to be found in the Netherlands, we had to traverse outside of Amsterdam, which is how we began our second day. This day felt less rushed and a bit more relaxed than the first, as we headed by bus towards Volendam, a small, quaint historic seaside town in northern Holland, about a half hour's drive from the city. Before setting off to explore the harbor town, though, we took a quick stop to learn about two tried and true Dutch staples: Gouda cheese and clogs...

Yes, they still make clogs in Holland, and for some strange reason, they make cheese in the same places, too! Somewhere on the road between Amsterdam and Volendam, there was a ruralish area that was home to at least a couple of these cheese/clog shops, and we made a stop at the first one we came upon, I believe it was called Irene's.

A quick check inside by Steve, our tour guide, and Ivan, the tour leader, we were ushered off the bus to watch and learn how both world-famous Gouda cheese and clogs are made.  I have to say, it wasn't as boring as I thought it would be.  The cheese-making demonstration was interesting enough, but the clog maker, I think, missed his calling.  In between shavings and cuts of smallish pieces of wood that would eventually become traditional Dutch shoes, he had the kids laughing with a slick sense of humor and some humorous clog-making demonstrations.


After the demonstrations, it was off to the gift shop to browse and purchase, what else...cheese and clogs.  I tell ya, even though this place was in a rural area, they sure knew how to market their goods. Delectable samples of about twenty varieties of Gouda and other cheeses were there for the tasting and the clogs, oh the clogs...even I was tempted.  In the end, though, I was sensible and only purchased several logs of cheese, some of which I gave as gifts and other that I just finished enjoying only yesterday.


After the fun and educational stop at the cheese and clog factory, it was off to Volendam, a place my friend Lori had been to on a past trip and highly recommended as one of her favorite spots.  I was excited!  

Volendam was as charming as it was beautiful.  With one main promenade along the waterfront, alongside a marina, dozens of quaint little shops and eateries abound.  For two hours or so, my fellow travelers and I explored all it had to offer, and I think we all enjoyed every minute.  This place is definitely worth a half-day's visit if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam.  Check out the pictures and you'll surely be intrigued by this beautiful place...

I didn't buy clogs, but I tried some on...

Well, that's about it for this turn at a post.  We ended up spending about a half a day exploring the more traditional side of Holland and that morning sticks in my head as one of the highlights of the trip.  Check out my first post on my European adventure below and stay tuned for more...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Amster...dam! Part I

The trip to Europe was a great a way for me to preview places I've never been before that perhaps I'd like to visit again on my own someday, and our first stop, Amsterdam, was definitely one of them. This particular destination is legendary, but not for its churches, monuments, museums, or even its famous canals.  No, it's the legalized marijuana and the notorious Red Light district that brings many people to this progressive European city...but that's a decidedly adult reason to visit Amsterdam. Since mine was a school trip with 41 tenth graders, there wasn't going to be any of that.  Still, Amsterdam was hella cool and a place I definitely would like to visit again.


As would be with all of the places we visited in Europe, our jaunt into Amsterdam in the Netherlands was fast and furious, and since we arrived from an overnight flight around 10 in the morning, we were off and running straight away.  Rather than recap the action of the two days we spent in and around the city, I'd like to share some observations I made of this cool place...

Amsterdam, the City and the Sights, Part 1

Immediately upon arriving in Amsterdam, you know you are in Europe.  With trolley cars speeding down the center of the streets, people on bikes everywhere, the shops, the bakeries and other tempting eateries, and of course the architecture, you just know you're not in America anymore.  I loved it!

Amsterdam Centraal

The first cool place we saw, which was surely the heart of the city, was the Amsterdam Centraal Train Station.  Built in 1889, this Neo-Renaissance building is as stunning as it is busy.  The main hub of the city serves over a quarter of a million passengers each day and is the final destination for many bus lines and trolleys.  


Up the road a bit from the train station was our first destination and the central location for most of the sights we'd be visiting that first day, the Rijksmuseum, which is the national museum of the Netherlands.  The building houses over 8,000 works of art in a gorgeously architectured structure set amongst a huge reflecting pool (another week or so it would've been full of blooming tulips!) and at the center of several museums and the famous Iamsterdam sign (check out the picture above).  We spent most of the day in this beautiful area and it's surely somewhere I'd like to see again.  

Well I hope you've enjoyed this first little tidbit on my trip to Europe.  Stay tuned for some more on Amsterdam and the rest of the places and things I experienced in the Old Country...  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Holiday World's New Thunderbird Coaster Takes Off This Saturday

Ah spring!  There are a lot of things to love about spring...the flowers, the warmer air, spring cleaning, and...roller coasters!  Yes, it's been a long, cold winter and it seems like months since I last brought up the subject of coasters on this blog, but this Saturday, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana will be debuting its newest thrill ride, Thunderbird, and if that doesn't get this roller coaster enthusiast's juices flowing, nothing will...

I first visited Holiday World, a long awaited visit at that, last year and though the park overall was a bit smaller than I had expected, I loved its stable of coasters, especially the fantabulous The Legend in the Thanksgiving section of the park.  At the time, the three coasters at Holiday World were all of the wooden variety, so when the park announced Thunderbird back in July, I was excited to see it was of the steel variety.  In fact, not only is the new coaster an out and out steel ride, but it's a record breaking monster.

Thunderbird is the world's first launched wing coaster. For those of you new to coasters, a winged coaster is one in which riders are seated on the sides of the track, giving them a feeling of flying. There are several winged coasters out there, including Wild Eagle at Dollywood, X-Flight at Six Flags Great America, Gatekeeper at Cedar Point and others. None of those coasters, though, use magnetic launch technology as this one does.

Here are the stats for the new Thunderbird, as posted on the Holiday World website:

Description: Thunderbird is the nation’s first launched wing coaster. It is Holiday World’s first major steel roller coaster, with a 0-60mph launch in 3.5 seconds, followed by multiple inversions – including a 14-story Immelmann loop, Zero-g roll, barrel roll, and loop. Continuing Holiday World’s tradition of sending roller coasters through thickly wooded and hilly terrain, Thunderbird at first soars and loops high in the air and then hugs the ground, surprising riders with rapid-fire “near misses” such as keyholes, themed elements, other rides, trees, and even the ground.

Track length: 3,035 feet

Height: 140 feet at Immelman loop's peak

Speed: 60 mph

Ride Time: 1 minute, 18 seconds

Designer: Bolliger & Mabiliard

Legend: In 1620, as the Mayflower neared the end of its 66 days at sea, a mighty storm nearly capsized the ship, taking it hundreds of miles off course. As passengers and crew feared all was lost, an immense bird appeared in the sky. The thunderbird, whose wings created the thunder and eyes flashed the lightning of the powerful storm, rescued the ship by launching it to the New World.

Well, I won't be riding Thunderbird this summer, at least I don't anticipate it, but judging from the video below, I think maybe I'd like to make another visit to Santa Claus, Indiana sometime in the near future...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Basking in the Afterglow of a European Adventure

Well, it's been five days already and I can't believe that just now I am sitting down to write.  A week ago right now, I was sleeping in my hotel room in Rome, Italy.  Thinking back on it, it all seems still a dream...

It all started for me back in December.  It was the second to last day before Christmas break and Ivan, the social studies teacher who runs the school's annual sophomore Europe trip, asked me if I wanted to join in.  I'd always imagined what it would be like to be asked, and I wasn't ever sure if I'd say yes if I was, but I did, and I did so excitedly.  Hey, you've got to take opportunities in life and this was one I'd be an idiot to pass up.

The three months in between being asked and actually going went by oh so quickly, and before you knew it, April 2nd came and I was on a flight to Amsterdam.  This trip wasn't one like I'm used to, though. It was a working trip as I was one of five chaperones, plus Ivan, to accompany 41 tenth grade students to 8 cities in 4 countries in Europe.  Being the school's ESL teacher, none of my own students were going, and so I was the only chaperone who didn't know any of the kids beforehand, but I was told they were a great group of kids, which they were.  

All in all, the trip was awesome!  I got to spend 12 days with six great people and 41 good kids and we experienced a lifetime's worth of adventure.  We started off in Amsterdam, then moved on to Paris, Zurich, and Lucerne, and the Italian cities of Verona, Venice, Florence and Rome.  We saw windmills and clogs, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Vatican and Switzerland from over 4K feet. We ate macaroons and pizza and lots of cheese, checked out Lamborghini's and Ferrari's, two Coliseums, the canals of Venice and experienced the Renaissance splendor of my favorite European city, Firenze.  

So stay tuned as I share some of what I experienced on this wonderful 12-day dream trip.  The experience was inspiring, to say the least, and it's left me dreaming of future adventures...


Thursday, April 2, 2015

On Vacation

Today I am heading off to Europe for a 12-day vacation tour with my school and will be returning here to John's World on April 15.  Be well!