Tag Archives: The Netherlands

Not everything was saved in The Netherlands


ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands — Our friends in The Netherlands took great pains to show us communities that were spared the ravages of world war.

Indeed, the nation is a gorgeous collection of Renaissance architecture. Its neighborhoods charm the socks of those who see them for the first time.

Amsterdam is mostly water and a canal cruise is an absolute must for any visitor. My wife and I took one on a warm sunny day in that beautiful city.

Rotterdam is a magnificent city, too. But for a different reason.

It was essentially rebuilt after World War II. Rotterdam was not spared the savage consequences of armed conflict.

The Nazi air force, the Luftwaffe, bombed central Rotterdam into oblivion as it fought to conquer The Netherlands. Adolf Hitler’s high command expected the conquest to take 24 hours; it took the Nazis five days to subdue the Dutch, who put up extraordinary resistance against the invaders.

What emerged from the rubble is a city of gleaming skyscrapers ringing one of the world’s largest and busiest harbors.

The picture attached to this brief post is of one of those modern marvels. My wife and I, along with our friend Coen, took a high-speed tour of the harbor. We saw hundreds of ships in port, anchored in the harbor waiting to dock and we saw one ship that had been hoisted out of the water, sitting in a drydock.


Yes, some neighborhoods survived the aerial onslaught that devastated Rotterdam. Our journey to Europe that enabled us to see Old World charm also exposed to us a country that was able to rebuild a great city.

The Dutch did that in Rotterdam.

Blog is taking wing … so to speak

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

I don’t consider full-time blogging to be actual work.

It’s more like therapy for me. It keeps me engaged to the best of my ability, which I suppose depends on whether you agree with the opinions expressed in this forum.

So, when I decide to take a vacation, I like taking High Plains Blogger with me. Where I go with my wife, the laptop comes along and the blog keeps spewing out musings on this and/or that.

OK. So, here we go.

My wife, myself and the blog are getting set to take wing.

We’re heading soon for Germany and The Netherlands. We have friends in Bavaria — the pretty region of Germany — and in The Netherlands we intend to see. I’m going to get caught up with these folks, one of whom I met on a journalist field trip to Taipei, Taiwan in 2010, the others I met while traveling through Israel on a month-long Rotary International Group Study Exchange trip in 2009.

I have a couple of burning questions I’m going to ask people I meet during our stay in Western Europe.

*I want to know about the Middle East refugee situation in both countries. We keep hearing on this side of The Pond about the “flood” of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. What has been the impact of their arrival? Is it the “crisis” that we’ve been told it is? And what is the state of the nationalist fervor that appears to be building, particularly in Germany?

*The second question is a bit more straightforward. What’s the feeling in Europe about the state of the U.S. presidential election that’s going to pick up a serious head of steam. Particularly, what do the Europeans think of Donald J. Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party to be its candidate for president of the United States? I will do my level best to set my own bias aside as I glean the views of our German and Dutch hosts. Rest assured: We’ll talk also about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There is likely to be some more local color I’d like to provide as well.

Neither my wife and I have been to Germany or The Netherlands — although we did stop once in Frankfurt, Germany to change planes en route home from Athens in 2001. I don’t count airport stops, you know?

I am anxious to see my friends. I also am anxious to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of cultures that are much older than ours.

What’s more, I am anxious to obtain — to the extent I am able — a broader world view of the chaos that’s about to unfold in my own country as we make up our minds on who’s going to become the next Leader of the Free World.

Come to think of it, I might even ask Europeans whether they hold the U.S. president in such high regard.

Overseas travel awaits

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

You’ve heard about my plans to travel in a recreational vehicle with my wife throughout North America.

That’ll happen in due course. Some of it’s happening now as we take our fifth wheel out for long-weekend excursions. Retirement beckons. It’s coming closer every day and soon enough we’ll be free to hit the road.

However, we have some places we intend to see abroad as well.

My wife and I have compiled an official list of places we intend to visit once we decide we’re tired of working. More or less in order of preference, but not entirely so, here they are:

Australia: Neither of us has been close to the Down Under continent yet. I’ve been to Southeast Asia a time or three over the years. My wife has been to Taiwan twice with me. Australia is calling our name.

We have been communicating with a friend in Adelaide ever since we met this individual on another trip, in 2000, to Greece. We’ve indicated our desire to see him. He is receptive to our visiting him in the state of South Australia.

My fascination with Australia goes back to when I was about 13. My dad was entertaining a job opportunity in the coastal town of Rockhampton, between Sydney and Brisbane. I studied all I could then about Australia, anticipating a huge move. Dad didn’t pursue the opportunity. We stayed put. My interest in Australia, though, has remained high.

My wife has agreed that Australia should be at or near the top of our foreign destinations when the time arrives.

Greece: We’ve been there twice together already, in 2000 and 2001. I returned a third time in 2003. It is the land of my ancestors. My wife fell in love deeply with Greece almost from the moment we landed in Athens.

She has told me on more than one occasion: “Of all the places we’ve seen this is the one place I could return to again and again.”

It is magic. The scenic splendor is breathtaking. The antiquities are staggering. The people are charming.

We’re going back.

Israel: We’ve been there as well. We spent a week in the Holy Land after I had spent four weeks there leading a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. We stayed in Jerusalem and saw quite a few holy sites during our time together there.

We were unable to see a lot of other sites. We didn’t get to Galilee. We saw only a small part of Bethlehem. There were many other sites we left unseen. Time wouldn’t allow it.

Germany: Four years ago on a tour of Taiwan, I met a young journalist who lives in Bavaria, which I call “the pretty part of Germany.” He and I struck up an immediate friendship. We communicate regularly. He has invited us to visit him and his young family. Oh, how I want to see the mountainous region of southern Germany. We’ll get there.

Africa: I’ve long had a fascination with the wildlife of Africa. I want to shoot some of it — with a camera. The idea of a photo safari sounds like more fun than I deserve.

The Netherlands: The trip to Israel five years included my making some friends from The Netherlands. They traveled with our Rotary group. One of the Dutch group and I have remained in contact in the years since then and he, too, has extended the invitation for my wife and me to visit him there. How can I say “no” at the chance of seeing such a spectacular region of Europe?

We’re not yet ready to quit working. Indeed, I intend to keep writing for as long as I am drawing a breath.

It’s a big world out there and we’re excited about seeing more of it.

Not exactly a 'bucket list' item, but …

I’ve kept this link filed away ever since I got it about a year ago.

It’s of Israel. It’s a promotional video, about 5 minutes in length that shows the best of one of the world’s most fascinating, complex, enduring and loveliest countries.

I spent five weeks there in May-June 2009. Most of that time was as part of a Rotary International professional exchange. Four young professionals came with me and we interacted for with others as part of Rotary’s effort to build bridges among cultures. Five folks from West Texas got an education that they will keep forever. And all of these wonderful young Texans have become four of my very best friends.

What’s more, together we forged friendships with our Israeli hosts — and a Rotary team with whom we traveled from The Netherlands — that will last our entire lives.

The final week was spent as a tourist, with my wife who had come to join me once the Rotary portion of the trip had concluded. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Jerusalem. We took tours to Masada and the Dead Sea and walked all through Jerusalem, visiting holy sites and then booked a tour to neighboring Bethlehem in the West Bank.

As I look repeatedly at this video it occurs to me how vibrant that country is in a region riven with strife, bloodshed, hatred and suspicion. But watch the video and you notice it’s a land of intense religious diversity, with Christians, Jews and Muslims literally praying next to each other.

We visited a site, for example, in the old section of Tel Aviv where a mosque and an Orthodox church share a common wall, which we were told is a huge sign of unity in a region known for religious violence.

My wife and I intend to return there. We have many more holy sites we want to visit.

Call it a variation of the “bucket list.” We’ve been there once already. But there’s so much more to see and experience. Check out the video. You’ll see what I mean.

Biker gangs getting into the fight

My first reaction to this story wasn’t well thought out.

Dutch officials say that biker gang members from The Netherlands who are fighting Islamic State terrorists in Syria or Iraq aren’t breaking any Dutch laws, the story goes. “Yes!” I thought. A friend of mine — himself an avid motorcycle enthusiast — believes that perhaps American biker gangs ought to join the fight “as they don’t have anything to lose, either.”


I’m not so sure this is a good idea, no matter who’s doing the fighting.

It’s the bad guys who worry me and what they are demonstrably capable of doing to those who oppose them.

I know nothing about Dutch law and what that country’s constitution allows. If the Dutch say the bikers — presumably they’re some serious bad a**** — aren’t running afoul of their country’s laws, then they would be participating at their own extreme risk.

If they get caught, though, they ought to ponder what is likely to happen to them in front of the whole, wide world. So should their countrymen.

Should some Americans join them? Umm, no. I have zero appetite for watching a potentially horrifying spectacle play out if it involves an American “mercenary” who’s joined the fight against ISIL.