The Cherry Beer Adventure

We discovered Belgian cherry beer some time ago and we have been looking forward to drinking it in the country of origin! We had the first cherry beer in Delft and were introduced to Mort Subite kriek (kriek is the Flemish word for the type of Morello cherry used to make the beer).

Market Day in Delft

The beer arrived in very civilized 250ml bottles (most beers are served in bottles rather than cans) with their own uniquely shaped glasses meant to enahnce the flavour of the beer! The first impression was that it was not as sweet as our preferred Lindemans Kriek, but since the first taste, this kriek has been steadily growing on us. It’s very morish!

Mort Subite is the brand name for a number of lambic beers brewed by the Belgian brewery Keersmaeker. The beers take their name from a café in Brussels, À La Mort Subite, at rue Montagne-aux-Herbes Potagères 7. Having arrived in Brussels, we had to visit!

Cherry beer adventure

Around 1910 Theophile Vossen ran an establishment called La Cour Royale. Amongst his many customers were a lot of employees working at the National Bank of Belgium. Those employees passed their time in the pub playing a dice game called “421”. Before returning to the office, the employees played a quick last game and the one who lost was called the Mort Subite or the sudden death, referring to the speed with which someone could lose their money.

Very soon this name became well known and when Theophile Vossen moved to the current address in 1928 he decided to call his pub À La Mort Subite. His sons and grandsons René and Jean-Pierre Vossen continued the tradition for more than 36 years. Today, the pub is being run by the fourth generation of the Vossen family and the pub retains the original 1928 decor.

Cherry beer adventure

Having walked 40 minutes from the hotel to get to the pub, we decided to have the large beers.

Cherry beer adventure

The reaction when we saw the size of the glasses was priceless and not captured on film! That we know of 🙂 The experience provided for a most entertaining and memorable evening. Each glass probably held almost a litre of beer!

Beer in Belgium dates back to the age of the first crusades in the 1100s, long before Belgium became an independent country. Under Catholic church permission, local French and Flemish abbeys brewed and distributed beer as a fund raising method. The relatively low-alcohol beer of that time was preferred as a sanitary option to available drinking water. What are now traditional, artisanal brewing methods evolved, under abbey supervision, during the next seven centuries.

In the 16th and 17th century, a beer termed crabbelaer was the most popular beer in Ghent; at the peak of its popularity, more than 50 different breweries produced more than 6 milion liters a year. Other kinds of beer brewed in Ghent were klein bier, dubbel bier, clauwaert, dubbele clauwaert and dusselaer. We’re going to Ghent tomorrow, we’ll be sure to try some!

Lambic is a wheat beer brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) by spontaneous fermentation. Most modern beers are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts; Lambic’s fermentation, however, is produced by exposure to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Senne valley, in which Brussels lies. The beer then undergoes a long aging period ranging from three to six months (considered “young”) to two or three years for mature. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous, and cidery, with a slightly sour aftertaste.

Fruit lambic is one of the three classes of lambic beer. Fruit beers are made by adding fruit or fruit concentrate to Lambic beer. The most common type is Kriek, made with sour cherries, traditionally “Schaarbeekse krieken” (a rare Belgian Morello variety) from the area around Brussels. As the Schaarbeek type cherries have become more difficult to find, some brewers have replaced these (partly or completely) with other varieties of sour cherries, sometimes imported.

A traditional kriek made from a lambic base beer is sour and dry as well. And not to our liking! The cherries are left in for a period of several months, causing a refermentation of the additional sugar. Typically no sugar will be left so there will be a fruit flavour without sweetness. There will be a further maturation process after the cherries are removed.

More recently, some lambic brewers have added sugar to the final product of their fruit beers, in order to make them less intense and more approachable to a wider audience. And to us! They also use cherry juice rather than whole cherries and are matured for much shorter periods.

Check out the cherries we saw on the way back to the hotel.

Cherry beer adventure

Cherry beer adventure

They are still in the shop on account that the shop has been closed since we saw them! On the positive side, nobody else has bought them either.

On the Chocolate Trail in Brussels

The capital of Belgium may be known as the Capital of Europe, but it is also, at least as far as most chocolate aficionados are concerned, the World Capital of Chocolate. Ever since the Brussels chocolatier Jean Neuhaus invented the praline 100 years ago, the city has been at the forefront of the chocolate business. There are a million residents and some 500 chocolatiers, about one chocolatier for every 2,000 people. The average Belgian consumes over 7 kilograms of chocolate each year, one of the highest rates in the world.

There is chocolate for tourists, and there is chocolate for Belgians. Chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois prefer the artisanal makers. Seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.

Chocolate plays an important part in the Belgian economy, and there are over 2,000 chocolatiers in the country, both small and large. Chocolate is very popular, with 172,000 tonnes produced each year, and widely exported. Côte d’Or is probably the largest commercial brand, with their products available in virtually every grocery store in the country. The largest manufacturers of fine chocolates are Neuhaus, Godiva, Leonidas, and Guylian. Both the chocolate bar and praline are inventions of the Belgian chocolate industry.

Belgian chocolate refers to chocolate produced in Belgium. While cacao beans and other ingredients such as sugar can originate from outside of Belgium, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in the country.

Europe was introduced to cocoa beans when Spanish explorers brought them back from what is now Mexico in the late 16th century. They reached Belgium about 100 years later. By the mid 18th century, chocolate was extremely popular in upper and middle class circles, particularly in the form of hot chocolate. Among them was Charles-Alexander of Lorraine, the Austrian governor of the territory. When King Leopold II colonized the African Congo from 1885 to 1908, partly for the cocoa crops, the resulting genocide was a dark moment in the country’s history. It is also when Belgian chocolate started earning its formidable reputation.

But these days, the industry is changing. With countries like Germany and the Netherlands becoming larger European exporters, in Belgium, a new class of chocolatiers is finding innovative ways to hold on to the country’s chocolate crown. They are breaking away from traditional pralines — which Belgians classify as any chocolate shell filled with a soft fondant center — and infusing ganaches with exotic flavors like wasabi or lemon verbena, and creating such imaginative pairings as blackcurrant and cardamom and raspberry and clove.

A little breakfast to get little bears going…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

… to the first chocolate shop – Laurent Gerbaud, rue Ravenstein 2D, many people’s favourite chocolate shop.

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

Here you can find satiny bonbons with figs from Izmir, ginger from Guilin and hazelnuts from Piedmont. Such reliance on global ingredients is what sets apart the new generation of chocolatiers. And as they continue to push the boundaries of creativity, they’re also rewriting the history of Belgian chocolate.

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

No cherry chocolates, but plenty of decadent chocolates. We’ll take some!

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

We then went to the Grand Sablon, which, with no fewer than eight chocolatiers, is the city’s epicenter of chocolate.

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

At Pierre Marcolini, smiling saleswomen stood over the glassed-in display of small, rectangular bonbons that looked as exquisite as jewels. Backlighted shelves on the opposite wall showcased what Marcolini is famous for: his single-origin Grand Cru chocolate bars.

In 2004, Marcolini raised the bar when he started scouting the globe for the best cocoa beans. He became the only chocolatier in Brussels to work directly with plantations in countries like Venezuela and Madagascar, bringing the beans back to his ateliers for roasting and grinding. Most people think it’s the percentage of cocoa that makes a difference, but apparently it’s the origin of the cocoa bean that does.

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

We’ll take this one…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

Plenty of cherry chocolates at Godiva…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

Godiva was founded in 1926 in Brussels, by Joseph Draps who opened his first boutique in the Grand Place in Brussels under its present name, in honour of the legend of Lady Godiva. Godiva specializes in truffles, a chocolate confection that was originally created with a chocolate ganache center coated in cocoa powder or chocolate. Godiva’s original dark truffle was created in 1946 and this legacy has continued until the present, bringing us new dazzling flavors like the Harvest Spice and Crème Brulee truffles.

Mmmm…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

This looks good…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

And here are the cherry chocolates. Paw of approval!

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

The next stop on the chocolate trail attracted us with the level of sophistication, and with the packaging and presentation as slick as a Place Vendôme showroom. Which made perfect sense when we realised Ladurée is a French luxury bakery and sweets maker house created in 1862. It is one of the top premier sellers of the double-decker macaron, fifteen thousand of which are sold every day. They are still one of the best known makers of macarons in the world and after tasting some of their wonder creations, we believe that!

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

The first Ladurée bakery opened on the Rue Royale, Paris in 1862. Ladurée’s rise to fame came in 1930 when his grandson, Pierre Desfontaines, had the original idea of the double-decker, sticking two macaron shells together with a creamy ganache as filling. Queen Catherine de’ Medici had brought the macaron to France from Italy in the 16th century, and the recipe for the biscuit had hardly varied over the years, but the amounts of the ingredients used and the appearance of the end product were up to the individual bakers.

Today there are Ladurée tea rooms on the Champs-Élysées and in Le Printemps Haussmann, so plenty for us to choose from when we get to Paris. They have also opened shops in a number of cities around the world, so you can try them locally 🙂

Couldn’t get anywhere near the macaron display for a photo, so we checked up close the chocolates, before we queued to get some macarons.

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

That was exhausting! A little Belgian hot chocolate would be good now…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

… with a little something sweet. What to choose…

On the chocolate trail in Brussels

Welcome to Belgium

Waiting for suitable transportation to arrive…

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

The town hall, in town square, was built in Rococo-style and has a beautiful pediment which bears the coat of arms of the city. It was constructed from 1740 to 1745 by architect Van Baurscheit. The rococo style continues inside the building and is best shown by the extremely elegant staircase. Inside the town hall a few works of art make it worthwhile to pay a visit to the building.

Against the town hall stands the belfry tower. This tower is the symbol of the power and the autonomy of the city (other important Flemish cities like Bruges, Ghent, Kortrijk, etc also have belfry towers). From the balcony of the tower the official city announcements were proclaimed. The tower itself dates from 1369, a time when the city of Lier became rather prosperous. Today, the belfry tower is the last remainder of what used to be the cloth hall, the symbol of the medieval economic expansion of the corporation of cloth workers. The tower is crowned with four little corner turrets. These turrets date only from 1911 and are an expression of the renovation style that was popular at the end of the 19th century, whereby old buildings were adapted to make them look genuinely old and medieval.

Look Honey, the car has arrived!

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

It’s a white Cadillac!

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

Very comfortable!

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

First stop the Stedelijke Museum to see Harry Bruegel 🙂

In 2011, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp closed its doors for a complete renovation that will see the museum closed until 2018 – 2019. Incidentally, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in The Hague have just been renovated, so everything was very shiny, including the works of art! While the Anterp museum is being renovated, the art works from the museum are on loan to other museums in Belgium and abroad. The Girl with the Pearl Earring from Mauritshuis earned quite a bit of money for its museum renovations by travelling to other art galleries. One of the exhibitions organised in Belgium is Brugelland at the Stedelijke museum in Lier. This exhibition cycle displays the influence of Pieter Bruegel (The Elder) on later paintings of the lowlands. Every year Bruegelland changes its focus and presentation. The artist collective Voorkamer was chosen as guest curator for the period 2014 – 2015 to redefine and complement the current exhibition with works of contemporary artists.

We quite enjoyed the contemporary works of art and thought the artists diplayed amazing creativity to in re-interpreting and paralleling Bruegel’s works. Our favourite was the video above, by Lech Majewski, a Polish film and theatre director, writer, poet and painter. Ok, so we will have to carry a tripod around as well!

In 2011, Lech Majewski completed three years of work on THE MILL & THE CROSS, a film based on Peter Bruegel’s painting “The Way to Calvary”. This unique digital tapestry, composed of layer upon layer of perspective, atmospheric phenomena and people, required patience and imagination as well as the use of new CG technology and 3D effects. Starring Charlotte Rampling, Michael York and Rutger Hauer as Bruegel, the film opened at Sundance Film Festival and was praised by Dennis Harvey in Variety as “an extraordinary imaginative leap; visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble; immersive experience… remarkable.” and by David D’Arcy in Screen International as “a breakthrough epic film… a revelation that should not be missed.” Since then the film sold to over 50 countries and has taken part in a score of festivals. Based on this intricate film work, Majewski created a series of videoart pieces entitled BRUEGEL SUITE that were installed in February 2011 in the Louvre and in June became a part of the 54.Venice Biennale, displayed in Titian’s parish, Chiesa San Lio, and now in Lier, Belgium.

http://www.lechmajewski.com

Next stop, the Zimmer Tower with the Jubilee Clock.

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

The Zimmer Tower, also known as the Cornelius tower, was originally part of Lier’s fourteenth century city fortifications. In 1930, astronomer and clockmaker Louis Zimmer (1888–1970) built the Jubilee (or Centenary) Clock, which is displayed on the front of the tower. The Zimmer Tower, with the Jubilee Clock was even allocated a square on the Monopoly board game!

The tower was built no later than 1425 though the precise date of construction is unknown. In 1812 the tower was sold by the municipal authorities, but after World War I, they repurchased it and slated it for demolition. However, in 1930 clockmaker Louis Zimmer presented to the city the Jubilee Clock on the occasion of the hundreth anniversary of Belgian independence. The clock consists of 12 clocks encircling a central one. These clocks showed time on all continents, phases of the moons, times of tides and many other periodic phenomena. It was decided to place this new design in the old tower, which had to be substantially reconstructed for this. In honor of the astronomer they renamed the tower the Zimmer Tower.

Dials

Next to the tower is the Zimmer Pavilion that houses the Wonder Clock. That clock, consisting of 93 dials and 14 automata, was designed by Louis Zimmer for the Brussels World Exhibition in 1935. The clock then travelled to New York and was installed in the Museum of Science and Industry. Around one of these dials moves the slowest pointer in the world – its complete revolution will take 25800 years, which corresponds to the period of the precession of the Earth’s axis. Subsequently Zimmer attached to the clocks a mechanical planetarium. The wonder-clocks impressed Albert Einstein, who congratulated Zimmer with the creation of these unusual mechanisms.

On the small square at the foot of the tower an exhibition of the solar system was arranged with the aid of metallic circles and the rings (circles designate the sun and planets, rings the orbits of planets). These also show asteroids Felix (No 1664) and Zimmer (No 3064), which were named after Felix Timmermans and Louis Zimmer when discovered in 1929, and 1984. In 1980 the tower obtained the status of state protected monument. Now the Zimmer Tower and Pavilion with the wonder-clocks are a museum.

The patron saint of the city is Saint Gummarus and he’s got a church in Lier, which was closed for lunch… If you get to see it, this church is one of the most impressive expressions of the Brabantine gothic style. The present church was built to replace an older Romanesque church that stood here since the year 1000. The tower of the Saint Gummarus church is the oldest part of the building, and dates from 1378. In 1702 the tower was raised until it reached a height of 80 meters. The architectural style shows this later addition, the highest part of the tower is more traditional and no longer gothic. The choir of the church was completed between 1475 and 1516. Nave, transept and side chapels date from the 16th century. The church was conceived and constructed by the famous Brabantine architects Anton Keldermans and Domien de Waghemakere.

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

The stained-glass windows date from the 15th and 16th century. In the choir the so-called Imperial windows display the portraits of the donators, Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife duchess Mary of Burgundy. Other crowned heads are Philip the beautiful and his wife Johanna of Castilia, Filibert of Savoy and Margaret of Austria, Emperor Charles V and his brother Ferdinand of Habsburg. This part dates from the first quarter of the 16th century. The windows in the southern aisle illustrate the Coronation of Mary.

In the wings of the choir some beautiful triptychs are preserved, amongst which is one by Rubens (Saint Francis and Saint Clara) and one by Goswin van der Weyden (Colibrant).

Behind the Saint Gummarus church, a less imposing, but no less important, religious building can be seen : the Saint Peter’s Chapel. This chapel is probably the oldest still remaining construction in Lier. It was built around 1225 as part of a larger Romanesque church. This church replaced the older, wooden church that was erected here in 764 by Saint Gummarus. After the Saint Gummarus church had been completed, the Romanesque church was partially demolished, but a part of the choir, a part of the nave and the transept were preserved. During the First World War, the chapel was completely burnt down, but afterwards rebuilt by canon R.Lemaire.

In 1496, Lier was the scene of a significant marriage in European history, when Philip the Handsome, son of Maximilian of Austria, married Joanna of Castile.

Brussels - Museum of Fine Arts

The son born out of this marriage, Charles V (born in Ghent, 1500), would later rule over the combined Austrian and Spanish empires. Charles V would always have a soft spot for the Low Countries. He ruled the Dutch territories wisely, with moderation and regard for local customs, and he did not persecute his Protestant subjects on a large scale.

A little walk in the park before leaving for Brussels and the chocolate trail…

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

Lier - Welcome to Belgium

Market Day in Delft

Market Day in Delft

It’s Thursday and it’s market day in Delft. There’s antiques, bric-à-brac and books, as well as food.

Market Day in Delft

Chocolate, lollies and licorice…

Market Day in Delft

Cheese…

Market Day in Delft

Seafood…

Market Day in Delft

This is as close as we got to herring, eel and other fishy Dutch delicacies…

Market Day in Delft

Delft is primarily known for its historic town centre with canals, and now with Honey’s shoe floating around, for Delft Blue pottery where we had a beary royal experience, for the Delft University of Technology and its renowed engineering and science courses, for the painter Vermeer and the scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, and for its association with the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau.

Metamorphosis

This is the most famous cityscape of the Dutch Golden Age. The interplay of light and shade, the impressive cloudy sky and the subtle reflections in the water make this painting an absolute masterpiece. We are looking at Delft from the south. There is hardly a breath of wind and the city has an air of tranquillity. Vermeer reflected this tranquillity in his composition, by making three horizontal strips: water, city and sky. He also painted the buildings a bit neater than they actually were.

You can take a guided art history tour through the painting on Kees Kaldenbach’s website: http://kalden.home.xs4all.nl

Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime. He seems never to have been particularly wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for lapis lazuli and Indian yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

However, most everyone would be familiar with another of his paintings, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, which we saw at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Tracy Chevalier’s novel Girl with a Pearl Earring and the film of the same name (2003) are named after the painting; they present a fictional account of its creation by Vermeer and his relationship with the (equally fictional) model. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth playing the lead roles also made the movie memorable.

The movie did get some things right, such as the fact that Vermeer and his wife Catharina, at some point moved in with her mother, Maria Thins, who lived in a rather spacious house at Oude Langendijk. Here Vermeer lived for the rest of his life, producing paintings in the front room on the second floor. He and Catharina had 15 children, four of whom died before they were baptised. His family obligations with so many children may have taken up much of his time. He was also acting as both an art-dealer and inn-keeper in running the family businesses and he spent time serving as head of the Guild of Saint Luke, a trade association for painters in Delft. All these commitments plus his extraordinary precision as a painter may have limited his output. In addition, Vermeer never had any pupils and therefore there was no school of Vermeer.

In all probablity, Maria Thins’ dwelling stood on the corner of two streets, the Oude Langendijk and the narrow ally Molenpoort (present day Jozefstraat). At the end of the Molenpoort there was a wooden gate which served to stop cattle which had escaped from the Beestenmarkt. The site of Vermeer’s house is now occupied by the 19th-century Maria van Jesse church building. A commemorative plaque, an initiative of the Dutch art historian and Vermeer expert Kees Kaldenbach, signals the place for today’s curious.

A Beary Royal Experience

Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.

Recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death; he was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken’s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing sixty-six pictures to him, although only thirty-four paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

In December 1675, Vermeer died after a short illness. He was buried in the Protestant Old Church on 15 December 1675. His wife Catharina attributed his death to the stress of financial pressures. The collapse of the art market damaged Vermeer’s business as both a painter and an art dealer. She, having to raise 11 children, asked the High Court to relieve her of debts owed to Vermeer’s creditors. The Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who worked for the city council as a surveyor, was appointed trustee. The house, with eight rooms on the first floor, was filled with paintings, drawings, clothes, chairs, and beds. In his atelier, there were two chairs, two painter’s easels, three palettes, ten canvases, a desk, an oak pull table, a small wooden cupboard with drawers and “rummage not worthy being itemized”. Nineteen of Vermeer’s paintings were bequeathed to Catharina and her mother. The widow sold two more paintings to Hendrick van Buyten in order to pay off a substantial debt for delivered bread.

With the market gone for the day, and all the fishy fish packed away, the little bears have come out to try safer Dutch delicacies – bitterballen, kaasstengels and mini kiploempia’s with a little cherry beer 🙂

Market Day in Delft

Market Day in Delft

And to finish, a little cherry cake 🙂

Market Day in Delft

We need a lot more sustenance than this to tackle the House of Orange-Nassau!

The Garden of Cherry Delights

‘s-Hertogenbosch was a flourishing city in fifteenth century Brabant, in the south of the present-day Netherlands, at the time part of the Burgundian Netherlands. The city passed through marriage to the Habsburgs sometime in the 15th century.

The city has its own food speciality, the Bossche Bol, effectively a giant profiterole, somewhat larger than a tennis ball, which is filled with whipped cream and coated with chocolate.

Garden of Cherry Delights

Garden of Cherry Delights

Garden of Cherry Delights

Yum!

The city’s official name is a contraction of the Dutch des Hertogen bosch — “the Duke’s forest”. The duke in question was Henry I, Duke of Brabant, whose family had owned a large estate at nearby Orthen for at least four centuries. He founded a new town located on some forested dunes in the middle of a marsh. At age 26, he granted ‘s-Hertogenbosch city rights and the corresponding trade privileges in 1185. This is, however, the traditional date given by later chroniclers; the first mention in contemporaneous sources is 1196. The original charter has been lost. His reason for founding the city was to protect his own interests against encroachment from Gelre and Holland; from its first days, he conceived of the city as a fortress. It was destroyed in 1203 in a joint expedition of Gelre and Holland, but was soon rebuilt. Some remnants of the original city walls may still be seen. In the late 15th century, a much larger wall was erected to protect the greatly expanded settled area. Artificial waterways were dug to serve as a city moat, through which the rivers Dommel and Aa were diverted.

Garden of Cherry Delights

Until 1520, the city flourished, becoming the second largest population centre in the territory of the present Netherlands, after Utrecht. The birthplace and home of one of the greatest painters of the northern Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch, the city was also a center of music, and composers, such as Jheronimus Clibano, received their training at its churches. Others held positions there: Matthaeus Pipelare was musical director at the Confraternity of Our Lady; and renowned Habsburg copyist and composer Pierre Alamire did much of his work at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The wars of the Reformation changed the course of the city’s history. It became an independent bishopric. During the Eighty Years’ War, the city took the side of the Habsburg (Catholic) authorities and thwarted a Calvinist coup. It was besieged several times by Prince Maurice of Orange, stadtholder of most of the Dutch Republic, who wanted to bring ‘s-Hertogenbosch under the rule of the rebel United Provinces. The city was successfully defended by Claude de Berlaymont, also known as Haultpenne.

In the years of Truce, before the renewed fighting after 1618, the fortifications were greatly expanded. The surrounding marshes made a siege of the conventional type impossible, and the fortress, deemed impregnable, was nicknamed the Marsh Dragon. The town was nevertheless finally conquered by Frederik Hendrik of Orange in 1629 in a typically Dutch stratagem: he diverted the rivers Dommel and Aa, created a polder by constructing a forty-kilometre dyke and then pumped out the water by mills. After a siege of three months, the city had to surrender, an enormous blow to Habsburg geo-political strategy during the Thirty Years’ War. This surrender cut the town off from the rest of the duchy and the area was treated by the Republic as an occupation zone without political liberties.

After the Peace of Westphalia, the fortifications were again expanded. In 1672, the Dutch rampjaar, the city held against the army of Louis XIV. In 1794, French revolutionary troops under command of Charles Pichegru took the city with hardly a fight: in the Batavian Republic, both Catholics and Brabanders at last gained equal rights.

From 1806, the city became part of the Kingdom of Holland and, from 1810, it was incorporated into the French Empire. It was captured by the Prussians in 1814. The next year, when the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was established, it became the capital of North Brabant. Many newer and more modern fortresses were created in the vicinity of the city. Until 1878 it was forbidden to build outside the ramparts. This led to overcrowding and the highest infant mortality in the kingdom. The very conservative city government prevented industrial investment, they didn’t want the number of workers to grow—and the establishment of educational institutions—students were regarded as disorderly. As a result, the relative importance of the city diminished.

‘s-Hertogenbosch was founded as a fortified city and that heritage can still be seen today. After World War II, plans were made to modernise the old city, by filling in the canals, removing or modifying some ramparts and redeveloping historic neighbourhoods. Before these plans could come to effect however, the central government declared the city a protected townscape. Most historic elements have been preserved. Because the main ramparts are crucial in keeping out the water, they have never been slighted, their usual fate in the Netherlands. In contrast to cities like Rotterdam, ‘s-Hertogenbosch also survived the Second World War relatively unscathed. Much of its historic heritage remains intact, and today there are always renovations going on in the city to preserve the many old buildings, fortifications, churches and statues for later generations. In 2004 the city was awarded the title European Fortress City of the year. It is planned to restore the city defences to much of their old glory in the coming years. ‘s-Hertogenbosch also has the oldest remaining brick house in the Netherlands, ‘de Moriaan’, which was built at the beginning of the 13th century. In the 1960s, de Moriaan was renovated to its former glory based on a famous 16th-century Dutch painting called ‘De Lakenmarkt van ‘s-Hertogenbosch’ (‘The fabric market of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’). In the north of the old city, the hexagonal powder arsenal, or Kruithuis, still exists, one of only two of its kind in the country. The Townhall is an originally 14th-century Gothic building, transformed in the typical style of Dutch classicism in the 17th century. Around the city itself many other fortresses can still be seen. Until recently it was a major garrison town.

Garden of Cherry Delights

‘s-Hertogenbosch is also home to Saint John’s Cathedral, which dates from around 1220 and is the height of gothic architecture in the Netherlands. It has an extensive and richly decorated interior, and serves as the cathedral for the bishopric of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In 1985, it received the honorary title of Basilica Minor from Pope John Paul II.

Garden of Cherry Delights

Garden of Cherry Delights

Originally, the cathedral was built as a parish church and was dedicated to St. John Evangelist. In 1366 it became a collegiate church, and in 1559 it became the cathedral of the new diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. After 1629, when the city was conquered by the Protestants and Catholicism was banned, a Protestant minority used the church, which came to be in a heavily dilapidated state. When Napoleon visited the town in 1810, he restored the building to the Catholics.

A Romanesque church used to stand on the spot where the St. John now resides. Its construction is thought to have started in 1220 and was finished in 1340. Around 1340, building began to extend the church, from which its current gothic style came. The transept and choir were finished in 1450. In 1505, the romanesque church was largely demolished, leaving only its tower. Construction of the gothic St. John was finished about the year 1525.

Garden of Cherry Delights

In the year 1584, a fire broke out in the high wooden crossing tower, more majestic than the current one. Soon the whole tower was set ablaze, and it collapsed upon the cathedral itself, taking with it much of the roof up to point where the organ was situated. In 1830, another fire damaged the western tower, which was repaired by 1842.

The first restoration of the cathedral lasted from 1859 to 1946. A second attempt at restoration was executed from 1961 to 1985. The third and most recent restoration started in 1998 and was completed in 2010, costing more than 48 million euro. Major parts of the building are once again covered by scaffolding erected for restoration of the outer stonework, but also, ironically, to remedy mistakes made by earlier restoration attempts.

During the restoration 25 new angels statues had been created by sculptor Ton Mooy, including the one with a modern twist. The last angel in the series holds a mobile phone and also wears jeans. “The phone has just one button, says the artist. It dials directly to God”. The mobile-using angel had to be first approved by the cathedral’s fathers, who rejected earlier designs with the jet engines on the angel’s back.

Garden of Cherry Delights

The large organ in St. John’s Cathedral is one of the most important organs of the Netherlands. The organ case of this organ is one of the most monumental of the Renaissance in the Netherlands. This organ has a long history that begins with the construction in the period 1618-1638 by Floris Hocque II, Hans Goltfuss and Germer van Hagerbeer. The rood loft and the organ case were built by Frans Simons, a carpenter who probably came from Leiden. The sculpture of the organ case was carved by Gregor Schysler from Tyrol, who, however, like Floris Hocque, was originally from Cologne.

Garden of Cherry Delights

The organ was renovated, expanded and improved in past centuries by several organ builders, according to the latest fashions. The last renovation took place in 1984 and was conducted by the Flentrop firm. The organ was restored to about the situation of 1787, as the German organ builder A.G.F. Heyneman left it. Use is made of many pipes of that era, but also of pipes from later periods. In late 2003 the organ was thoroughly cleaned.

As mentioned, the city was the birthplace and home of one of the greatest painters of the northern Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch.

Little is known of Bosch’s life or training. He left behind no letters or diaries, and what has been identified has been taken from brief references to him in the municipal records of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and in the account books of the local order of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. Nothing is known of his personality or his thoughts on the meaning of his art. Bosch’s date of birth has not been determined with certainty. It is estimated at around 1450 on the basis of a hand drawn portrait (which may be a self-portrait) made shortly before his death in 1516. The drawing shows the artist at an advanced age, probably in his late sixties.

His grandfather, Jan van Aken (died c. 1454), was a painter and is first mentioned in the records in 1430. It is known that Jan had five sons, four of whom were also painters. Bosch’s father, Anthonius van Aken (died c. 1478), acted as artistic adviser to the Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady. In 1488 Bosch also joined the highly respected Brotherhood of Our Lady, an arch-conservative religious group of some 40 influential citizens of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and 7,000 ‘outer-members’ from around Europe. By about 1480, he had married a nice Catholic girl, the wealthy Aleit van den Meervenne. An entry in the accounts of the Brotherhood of Our Lady records Bosch’s death in 1516. A funeral mass served in his memory was held in the church of Saint John on 9 August of that year.

It is generally assumed that either Bosch’s father or one of his uncles taught the artist to paint, but none of their works survive. Bosch first appears in the municipal record on 5 April 1474, when he is named along with two brothers and a sister.

Far from a starving artist, Bosch was a prominent city burgher, and his reputation was widespread enough that royalty in several European countries bought his paintings. He managed the rare feat of becoming a famous painter in his own time despite spending virtually his whole life in the village where he was born. By confining his travels to his own vivid imagination, the deeply religious Bosch created incredibly detailed visions of sin, judgment and punishment that still give viewers the creeps today.

Bosch’s work – almost all of it religious in nature – consistently showed a terrifying, demon-packed hell awaiting all variety of sinners and fools, an outlook very consistent with his strict religious affiliation. Also, Bosch painted at a time when books were hard to come by (moveable type was first invented shortly before his birth) and art was still the best way to communicate biblical teachings to people and to scare the bejesus out of them.

In his early period, he painted a few works that weren’t religion-specific, but even those mocked the flaws of his fellow man. In “The Conjuror” (c. 1475), he paints a gullible villager mesmerized by a magician’ s trick while an accomplice picks his pocket. “ The Cure of Folly” (c. 1480) concerns a surgeon in a funnel hat using a scalpel to remove a stone from the head of an elderly patient (a superstitious procedure reputed to cure, of all things, stupidity).

Other early Bosch masterpieces included: “ The Seven Deadly Sins,” with an allegory from everyday peasant life for each sin; “ Death of a Miser,” in which a man on his deathbed collects a last bag of gold even as a shrouded reaper enters his room; and “ The Ship of Fools,” with a boat full of drunken singers (including a nun and monk) sharing space with omens of stupidity and hubris.

Those works paved the way for the seminal works of Bosch’ s career, a trio of oil-on-panel triptychs (three hinged panels that fold together) created in the early 1500s. All three featured a chaotic middle panel flanked by scenes of Eden on the left and of eternal damnation on the right.

“The Last Judgment,” the largest painting Bosch ever made, also packs the most raw dread into the frame. Here, the Eden scene is actually four scenes in one, from the fall of the rebel angels to the creation of Eve. The middle panel is the judgment itself, with Jesus rapturing a tiny minority of souls to heaven while the rest are subjected to all kinds of inventive torture – cooked in pans by demons, forced to dance nude for other grotesque monsters or impaled by various pointy objects. The demons themselves might be Bosch’s greatest contribution to art and pop culture, ranging from human-animal hybrids to fat witches with brightly colored faces to legged serpents with built-in trumpets and armor. “The Haywain” has a similar setup, with its middle panel built around a giant hay cart pulled by monsters as people fight each other on their way to grab some hay. Of course, their greed for a worthless worldly good is punished in the right hand panel, with more torture at the hands of demons.

Bosch topped both those works with “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” with its fully realized vision of wild lust. The “ Garden” could refer to the left-hand panel, where God in the form of Jesus presents Eve to Adam for the first time and all kinds of animals populate the landscape. Or it could mean the center panel, where hundreds of naked humans overindulge in all of the world’s pleasures. Animals and plants grow to massive sizes, to the point that couples copulate inside giant berries. People enjoy sex, dancing, eating, drinking, cavorting with animals; pretty much everything they weren’t supposed to do in the 1500s.

Not surprisingly, Bosch’ s most over-the-top depiction of the fall from grace comes complete with his most graphic damnation yet. The hell of this painting features extra layers of irony, with musicians tortured on a giant harp and lute, a huge hollowed-out man used as a factory by demons, and the bizarre structures from the garden replaced with exploding buildings encased by darkness. Anyone intrigued by the rest of the painting couldn’t miss the message of where Bosch felt such antics would lead.

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution

Bosch’s later works included somewhat mainstream scenes from the life of Jesus, trading the hideous monsters of the triptychs for hideous expressions on the faces of deceitful men. And his surprisingly uneventful personal life continued its fairly mundane pace.

Famous during his lifetime, Bosch became less so in the years after his death when the Italian Renaissance dominated the art world (Leonardo da Vinci and Bosch were born and died within a few years of each other). As Michelangelo, Raphael and others became popular, Bosch’s distinctly medieval style looked outdated. But his legend got a second wind 400 years later. Salvador Dali credited Bosch as a precursor to the surrealist movement, and paid homage to the “Garden of Earthly Delights” in his own “The Vision of Hell.” The budding psychoanalysis movement was also fascinated by the monsters conjured by Bosch’ s imagination; Carl Jung actually called him “the discoverer of the unconscious.”

So imagine, Bosch dares to use cherries not only to depict a worldly pleasure, but also a temptation that will lead to a fall from grace. Ha! There’s someone who would have never made it to a Cherry party! And it seems most appropriate that in ‘s-Hertogenbosch we found the Jan de Groot bakery…

Garden of Cherry Delights

…full of decadent pleasures…

Garden of Cherry Delights

…including the most decadent of all…

Garden of Cherry Delights

…cherry cake!

Garden of Cherry Delights

So there! Bears rule!

Garden of Cherry Delights

Utrecht

Another day, another trip, this time to Utrecht and some lovely castles and gardens along the Vecht canals.

Utrecht

Evidence of Utrecht’s Stone Age and Bronze Age inhabitants has been found, but the bulk of archaeological excavation (and of the written record) has focused on the city’s Roman era. Probably founded as a fortified town, or castellum, circa 50 CE, the city was initially settled by about 500 Roman soldiers. Artisans, farmers and the soldiers’ families were settled here too, allowing the town to be another self-sufficient mark on the Roman line of fortresses that stretched along the Rhine and was known as the limes Germanicus. At this time the settlement was known as Traiectum, indicating that it was possible to cross the river here. This would later become Trecht in Dutch and, later still, Utrecht to distinguish it from Maastricht.

From the 3rd century, this area was routinely invaded by Germanic tribes and Utrecht was abandoned by 275, when it became clear that the Romans could not hold this northern border. The settlement sinks out of sight until about 650, when a church built here indicates the growing power of the Franks, under Dagobert I, in this region. It was also in this period that English and Irish missionaries arrived to Christianise the Frisians, and in 721 Charles Martel endowed Utrecht with a fortress and countryside for its bishop. This is an indication of its growing importance as a Frankish feud and the town swiftly became the base of Latin Christianity in the region and was a significant border town for the Carolingian empire.

Utrecht’s wealth as a trading depot on the Rhine allowed it to grow, but politically it remained under the rule of its wealthy and powerful prince-bishops. In 1528, however, secular power was transferred to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor – not without local resistance, however. A heavily fortified castle at Vredenburgh sent the city a clear message: the garrison was not there to guard the town, but rather to force its submission. In 1579, however, the seven northern provinces in the region signed the Union of Utrecht, a document that bound them to join against Spanish rule, and an early indication of the Dutch Republic. The new state, predominantly Calvinist, abolished the archbishopric of Utrecht in 1580 and much of the city’s trade was brought under the new republic’s rule.

During the Dutch Republic, Utrecht stood as Amsterdam’s alter ego – while Amsterdam (and Haarlem) were primarily protestant and pioneered the art we associate with the Dutch Golden Age, Utrecht had a larger Catholic population and its art was more influenced by the Italianate school of Antwerp and especially by the works of Caravaggio in Rome. The Utrecht Caravaggisti became known for works heavily indebted to Caravaggio or copies of Caravaggio’s that had been Dutchified by the use of a slightly muted palette, greater attention to the subtleties of ambient light.

Utrecht’s long decline was halted by the introduction of the railroad in the 19th century, when it was newly connected to Amsterdam and became an important hub of the Netherland’s rail network. In 1853 it even regained its Roman bishopric and became a centre of Dutch Catholicism once more. The Industrial Revolution brought great changes to the city, not least a rejuvenated population, but it also made it a focus of German attention during World War II. It was liberated by Canadian Forces in May 1945.

Paushuize is the second oldest historic building located in the city centre of Utrecht.

Utrecht

Pope Adrianus VI had the house built before he became a Pope, when he was attached to the court of Charles V in Spain. He hoped to return to Utrecht someday. In 1522, he was elected Pope and died one year later in Rome, so he never got to live in his house in Utrecht. Paushuize has a magnificent interior which proves it once functioned as a palace. In the 19th century, the building became the residence of the Royal Commissioner.

The Dom Tower is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

Utrecht

The highest viewpoint is at 95 m and from this platform you have a magnificent panoramic view of the city of Utrecht and its surroundings. After climbing the tower of the New Church in Delft, we took the guide’s word of the 456 steps to the top!

The gothic Dom Church was built as a cathedral for the bishop of Utrecht and dedicated to St. Maarten.

Utrecht

The interior with many lavishly decorated tombs is impressive. The Dom church draws many people daily for a guided tour or a moment of silence and peace. The free Saturday afternoon concerts have been a household word in Utrecht for over thirty years.

Utrecht

Since we visited on a Tuesday, Puffles put on his own concert…

Utrecht

The Dom church also has a lovely garden.

Utrecht

Om….

Utrecht

Next was a visit to Sypesteyn. A castle turned art gallery and museum, Sypesteyn was reconstructed in the early 1900s on the foundations of a late-medieval manor house destroyed about 1580. Today it holds some 80 paintings dating from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, representing the work of artists such as Paulus Moreelse, Nicolaes Maes, and Michiel van Mierevelt. Particularly the Loosdrecht porcelain has a good reputation. The esquire had the castle built not only to house his art treasures, but also to honour his forefathers. The garden and park have been laid out in the 17th century style.

The history of the castle is unusual. It was built at the start of the twentieth century from old building materials, such as Roman brick and antique doors, as a memorial to the Van Sypesteyn family, who is reported to have lived in an old castle situated on the exact same spot. The originator of this romantic ideal was the last male descendant in the line, Jonkheer C.H.C.A. van Sypesteyn who died in 1937 without leaving an heir.

Sypesteyn

Sypesteyn

Sypesteyn

Sypesteyn

Sypesteyn

Sypesteyn

The Muiderslot is a castle located at the mouth of the river Vecht, some 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam, in Muiden, where it flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee. It’s one of the better known castles in the Netherlands and has been featured in many television shows set in the Middle Ages.

The history of the Muiderslot (Castle Muiden, where muiden means rivermouth) begins with Count Floris V who built a stone castle at the mouth of the river back in 1280, when he gained command over an area that used to be part of the See of Utrecht. The River Vecht was the trade route to Utrecht, one of the most important trade towns of that age. The castle was used to enforce a toll on the traders. It is a relatively small castle, measuring 32 by 35 metres with brick walls well over 1.5 metres thick. A large moat surrounded the castle.

In 1296 Gerard van Velsen conspired together with Herman van Woerden, Gijsbrecht IV of Amstel, and several others to kidnap Floris V. The count was eventually imprisoned in the Muiderslot. After Floris V attempted to escape, Gerard personally killed the count on the 27th of June 1296 by stabbing him 20 times. The alleged cause of the conflict between the nobles was the rape of Gerard van Velsen’s wife by Floris. In 1297 the castle was conquered by Willem van Mechelen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, and by the year 1300 the castle had been razed to the ground.

A hundred years later (ca. 1370-1386) the castle was rebuilt on the same spot based on the same plan, by Albert I, Duke of Bavaria, who at that time was also the Count of Holland and Zeeland.

The next famous owner of the castle shows up in the 16th century, when P.C. Hooft (1581-1647), a famous author, poet and historian took over sheriff and bailiff duties for the area (Het Gooiland). For 39 years he spent his summers in the castle and invited friends, scholars, poets and painters such as Vondel, Huygens, Bredero and Maria Tesselschade Visscher, over for visits. This group became known as the Muiderkring. He also extended the garden and the plum orchard, while at the same time an outer earthworks defense system was put into place.

At the end of the 18th century, the castle was first used as a prison, then abandoned and became derelict. Further neglect caused it to be offered for sale in 1825, with the purpose of it being demolished. Only intervention by King William I prevented this. Another 70 years went by until enough money was gathered to restore the castle to its former glory.

The Muiderslot is currently a national museum (Rijksmuseum). The insides of the castle, its rooms and kitchens, have been restored to look like they did in the 17th century and several of the rooms now house a good collection of arms and armour.

Muiderslot

Muiderslot

Muiderslot

Muiderslot