In the school business we are all about inclusion, acceptance and diversity. So is Amsterdam!! It gets an “A” for this, albeit a “Scarlet Letter A.” What a strange and intriguing place, and quite pretty in an old way with its many canals and beautiful architecture. Although I had been here briefly before, it was with a tour group, so that visit was structured, which is not all bad, but it limits spontaneity. [Read more…] about Amsterdam–A Strange & Intriguing Place
The school where I was chairing the accreditation visit is in the Limburg section of The Netherlands, where “stinky cheese” is a proud part of the culture and an everyday commodity. As a nice gesture, the leadership provided each of us on the accreditation team with a beautiful basket filled with fruits, chocolates, wine (can you believe a school included wine?), cheeses and crackers. The teachers had also placed vases of fresh tulips in our rooms. When I walked into the hotel room, I thought something had either molded or someone had died. It never occurred to me that the stench might be coming from the beautiful gift, but out of curiosity for the contents I tore into my basket and soon found the culprit—Limburger cheese!!!!
Now, I know why this smelly stuff is the brunt of jokes on the Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello. And I certainly understand why Mark Twain asked if the guy was dead? I remember when I was in high school somebody smeared some Limburger on the classroom door knobs so when anyone touched the knob, they would smell really bad. Weren’t we terribly clever in those days??
But one of the assistant principals serving on the team wanted everyone’s cheese so we all gladly handed over ours. I can only imagine how her car smelled carrying seven cartons of stinky cheese. That four hour drive back to her home in Germany could not have been pleasant, and the snowy roads were not the worst of her problems. But the good news is, if she forgot her deodorant, I don’t think anyone would know the difference.
Now, the school review is over, and I am taking in the sites in Amsterdam! Stay tuned for the next report on my ongoing adventure.
It has been snowing here in The Netherlands since Tuesday. It appears that the white stuff is determined to follow me this winter, dusting my path and making my shoulders look like I have a bad case of dandruff. I’m beginning to wish it were dandruff.
Monday, there were golfers on the golf course at my hotel. Not that it was warm; it wasn’t, but at least at that point there was no snow. Apparently, Dutch golfers are a hearty bunch because none that I saw even wore coats. Me, I’m a fair weather golfer so playing in 25 degree weather makes little sense. It’s on par with playing tennis in South Texas in the middle of July. There are just better activities to choose from when Mother Nature rears her ugly head—like reading a good book in front of a crackling fire with a cup of hot chocolate or in the opposite case enjoying the coolness of air-conditioning when the sun bares down unmercifully.
But I must admit, my hotel is a golfer’s heaven on earth. What a treat to be here in late spring or early summer. It must be gorgeous because even now in the dead of winter, the grounds are a lush green—that is when they are not covered in this white stuff. I can only imagine the beauty of these rolling hills, lined with hundreds of conifers and young pine trees, once the colors of spring are revealed and the tulips begin to pop up all over.
The Golf Hotel (what a clever name, don’t you think?) is about all things golf. The huge patio off the living room area of my hotel room looks out over the sprawling expanse of one of the several courses carved out of the 272 acres. There is a 27-hole championship course, which I wouldn’t even attempt, but also a 9-hole course and 9-hole par three course that wait the less skilled such as yours truly. But even more than golf, this would be a wonderful place to sit outside in the spring with a glass of German wine, trocken of course, and take in the scenery of the southern Dutch countryside. But right now I’ll have to settle for the amenities offered in this little part of Europe. Did I mention the schnitzel? Yummy.
Today I leave for Europe, first to serve as chair of a quality assurance review (accreditation visit) for a Department of Defense international school in Brunssum, The Netherlands, and then to play a few days in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. The school serves children of the Joint Command NATO forces which include a representative group from the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
I fly into Dusseldorf, Germany, and will be picked up by a colleague who will be serving as my vice chair. We will then drive about an hour and a half to Brunssum which is located in the southern part of what used to be called Holland. From what I have read, it promises to be a pretty drive, and we will have time to stop along the way if we choose.
On Monday, we will meet with the commander and other officials, and then late in the day, meet members of the school team who join us from different Department of Defense schools throughout Europe. I always enjoy meeting these educators who have led extremely interesting lives, often living in many different parts of the world.
The next three days, I’ll be quite busy in the school, evaluating its programs and processes, talking to administrators, teachers, students, and parents and reviewing all matter of paperwork, etc. I’ll also spend time in classrooms.
Then, I’m off to play. I’ll either leave for Amsterdam Thursday afternoon or early Friday morning. Although I have been there before, it has been eight years. The last time I was there I had an incredible opportunity to see the Floriada, which is a gigantic international floral festival held only once every ten years.
For acres and acres, there are flowers growing representing different nations, all beautifully landscaping the hills and valleys that surround lakes and ponds. I will miss the tulips this trip, but there will be plenty of other things to see; hopefully a few windmills. I loved the canal last trip so I know I will take another boat ride.
One day I plan to visit The Hague on the North Sea, home of the International Criminal Court and the de facto judicial capital of the United Nations.
After a short visit, I’ll probably catch the train to Delft, known for its blue porcelain that is synonymous with The Netherlands. At this point, “play plans” are not carved in stone, because I always get good suggestions when I meet people in the schools. These recommendations often cause me to change my mind anyway, so who knows? I only know I will fly out of Amsterdam to come back home, but the in between is still in limbo, therefore, watch for blogs and I’ll keep you posted.
In the last blog, A Play Day of Wine Tasting, I began my wine tasting journey along Highway 28, just northwest of El Paso. Yes, El Paso! I know it seems an unlikely place for vineyards, but they are popping up in the Mesilla Valley, and people are flocking to the wineries to enjoy the cozy ambiance, to engage in friendly conversations over a good glass of locally-made wine, and to raise their glasses to a relatively new activity in this part of the southwest. Although wine was first introduced and planted at Catholic missions along the Camino Real almost four hundred years ago, most of the wineries are relatively new.
After the second winery and visit to the “pecan shop,” we ventured down the road to Rio Grande Vineyards, and the newest tasting room in the area. This was my favorite of the three wineries we visited, partly because it was the busiest and the wine was extremely good (especially for New Mexico wine) and mainly because the owner/wine maker was so sincerely friendly and informative.
He obviously enjoys what he does, and since he comes from a long line of New Mexico farmers and wine makers, he knows the history of the area, and he shares it with unfettered enthusiasm. He appeared excited to pour something of every wine he had, and explain how it was made and how he gave it the special taste that it yielded.
The tasting room is quite nice, with a beautiful view of the Organ Mountains. The tall wooden stools make the experience more enjoyable since one can prop up on them and comfortably sip the wine and enjoy the stories of the recently retired Air Force proprietor who makes you feel welcomed and appreciated for sharing part of your day.
After a considerably lengthy stay, we decided that if we were going to see the little historic village of Old Mesilla as had been recommended by numerous locals, we had better pull our derrieres off the tall stools and be on our merry way. With two bottles of white and one red wine in tow, we did just that.
Only five miles down the road from the winery, the plaza of the colonial capital of the Doña Ana Land Grant, was an easy find. It is a sleepy little tourist spot, but a fun and interesting one as well. The Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoaches stopped here, and many famous and infamous characters, including Billy the Kid, once occupied this village for short periods of time.
The old adobe and brick buildings give a hint to their storied past, but today these old structures are filled with curios and other souvenirs. Jewelry stores, a very old book store, a chocolate shop, three saloons and numerous gift stores crowd the plaza area, which we learned on warmer days also has mariachis performing and vendors selling their goods from temporary booths and/or carts.
After hurriedly perusing the area and deciding we were more hungry than interested in shopping in the blustery cold, we opted for a meal of great New Mexico style Mexican food at La Posta Restaurante y Cantina. Sitting in front of a huge kiva fireplace, we finally warmed up, rehashing the day’s events and saying a hearty “salúd” to a nice, relaxing, fun day in the area where Texas and New Mexico cultures meet, blend and offer a memorable time.
Last Saturday was a great day, because I called a truce with work and played. After four straight days of evaluating high schools, it was a much needed break in a daunting schedule. The day was made even more fun because I “played” at something I enjoy so much—wine tasting. Now, that won’t be a surprise to those of you who follow my blogs consistently.
I didn’t realize until this last trip to El Paso, that vineyards and wineries were enjoying such amazing growth and interest, but after several conversations and a quick review of the promotional magazines of the area, I learned that numerous wineries are popping up along Highway 28, just northwest of El Paso between Canutillo, Texas, and Mesilla, New Mexico.
The first winery that my friends and I visited was Zin Valle, along the first mile or so of Highway 28. The husband and wife owners produce a portfolio of wines, some of which are made from grapes grown in the area while others come from grapes or juice brought in from other well-known grape-producing areas. Tasting here was free, and the room is beautifully appointed with a granite tasting bar and a huge window providing a panoramic view of the Franklin Mountains, which on that day had a substantial topping of fresh snow. A barrel room and cozy porch added to the ambiance, although it was certainly too cold and windy to enjoy a tasting outside.
For those of you who think it is warm in El Paso all winter—think again. The high was 42 on Saturday, and the wind showed no mercy, but the sun did shine, giving some reprieve to an otherwise brutal day of bone chilling weather to this South Texas gal.
After tasting three whites and three reds, and buying a bottle of Pinot Noir, made on-site using grapes from California, we were off to La Viña, about five miles down the highway. The Tuscany designed facility was watched over by Princess the cat who also graces the label on one of the wines.
Tastings here were five dollars, but that was worth it, especially since they throw in a souvenir glass. Although all the wines are made from locally-grown grapes and were good, most were sweeter than I like and slightly expensive, so I opted not to purchase any at this stop.
The road to the next winery took us through amazing orchards of pecan trees. I can just imagine how pretty the drive might be in any other season besides winter, because there are thousands of huge trees, some even creating a canopy over the highway for a couple of miles. A quick stop at the Stahmann Family Store gave us an opportunity to taste all things “pecan,” and to buy several pounds of freshly shelled and chopped pecans to take home for baking. (To be continued)