Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kids with lanterns, old churches

Back in Alkmaar...

Peace work at IFOR is both active and challenging for me, as I need to interact with people from all over the planet, who are also interested in getting involved with the organization. I've just finished the Fall issue of our quarterly publication IFOR in Action and already working on the next. As for off-time, I recently shared with Katie O an experience I had that exemplifies my life in Alkmaar...

I had taken a walk along a loop that goes through Centrum Alkmaar and the old quarter. By chance I came upon this endless procession of children. I think every kid in town was there and half the adults, who were lined-up along the streets watching. Each kid had a stick with a lantern on the end, and each group of kids had a unique lantern theme: cheese, ghost, skeleton, etc. The groups were being announced as they came into the Waagplein (plein=square) at the end of the ¼ mile journey through the lamppost lit, 1000 year old, narrow cobblestone streets.

Alkmaar was the first city in the Netherlands to be freed from the Spanish occupation. It was a turning point in the Eighty Years War and gave rise to the expression "Bij Alkmaar begint de victorie" (Victory begins in Alkmaar). This all happened on "Oct. 8," 1573, which explains the above event that night.

There are many buildings dating back to the 14th century all around me, and canals dating back to the 9th century. From my apartment window I can see the huge, gold layered, ornate steeple of Sint Laurenskerk or Grote Kerk (large church). It contains the early-Renaissance tomb of Floris V, Count of Holland, and just several blocks away is the Waag, or Weighing House, built around 1390.

Mixed in with the grand, old churches and historic buildings in Alkmaar's Town Centre are surprisingly many trendy shops and restaurants. I counted 15 cafes in a row on just one side of a street that's only a block long. Canals and boats everywhere, from the canal at the end of my street I could easily take a small boat to Amsterdam or to the North Sea, that's actually only about five miles away.

Of course, Amsterdam is full of historic churches, too. Marion, who was visiting IFOR from Salzburg, Austria, and I toured the Begijnhof, a 14th century abode for pious women that "didn’t want to take the nun’s veil" but wanted to care for the sick and elderly. We also saw the Nieuwe Kerk on the Dam and Oude Kerk, one of the oldest stone buildings in the city, the Bloemenmarkt and Paleis op de Dam (Royal Palace), and later took a long afternoon canal boat ride through the city.

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