Journal of my Dutch trip 2015

On 15 April 15 I arrived in the Netherlands for a stay of six weeks. Spring was late this year, I was welcomed by nice weather, flowers everywhere. And I was really craving for traditional Dutch food..:-)

I did not really celebrate my birthday on April 17, because the next day we had a Family Gathering . But I did not feel lonely that day, because I got visitors, my youngest brother Otto and my soulmate Inez. A good opportunity to practice  taking selfies..:-)



As usual it took me a few days to get acclimatised. I visited friends and went to the Vondelpark for a photo shoot, resulting in a blog Homage to the Vondelpark .

One of the big celebrations in the Netherlands is Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), now renamed Koningsdag (King’s Day). Observed for the first time on 31 August 1885, the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina.  When her daughter Juliana became Queen in 1948, the holiday was moved to her birthday, 30 April. Then, in 1980 Beatrix became Queen. Her birthday is 31 January. Too cold to enjoy the many outdoor activities. Therefore it was decided to keep it on 30 April. Now Willem Alexander is King, born on 27 April, so they changed the date. Personally I think they should have kept it on 30 April. What to do when Princess Amalia (born 7 December) will become Queen…:-)?

I went to town only for a short while. Too many people.

A few days later I went to Utrecht to meet Yolanda, a former student, who has become a good friend. Beautiful weather, we walked in the town before we had dinner.

And of course I had dinner with my other Yolanda, Paul’s sister. It has become a nice tradition that we meet for a “sumptuous” dinner when I am back in Holland. This time we went to restaurant Bonjour. French cuisine, friendly service. And very reasonably priced: 24.50 Euro for a three-course dinner.

With my friend Inez I visited Rotterdam and Dordrecht on a day trip. In Malaysia, thinking about what to do during my stay in Holland, I had optimistically assumed that I had plenty of time for longer trips, but that was a mistake…:-)

On the evening of the 4th of May we have  the Remembrance of the Dead ceremony in my country. Quite impressive, I used to go to the Dam Square for the two minutes of silence. This time I was already on my way, when I noticed that near my condo there was a (smaller) celebration. So I attended that one instead. Impressive. After the ceremony I met (my second…) Yolanda at the Concertgebouw, where we attended a performance of the Anne Frank cantata. I hope the name Anne Frank is familiar  to everybody?  We finished the evening with a beer at the famous Welling cafe! Near to where I have been living most of my life. Nostalgia.

By the way, it was a good decision not to go to the Dam Square. Have a look at the crowd there!


The last two weeks of my stay were a bit too hectic…:-) I felt like the Flying Dutchman, travelling all the time. Of course I was to blame myself…:-) I had to maintain a calendar meticulously…:-)


First I went with Nico, Paul’s brother, to Santenoge in Burgundy, where we stayed five days in his country house, Living Like God in France. After coming back, I visited Ruud and Jur in Groningen. They live in a nice house with a beautiful garden. The next day we made a trip in the countryside and visited the old (14th century!) church of Zeerijp.

My following visit was to the south-west of the Netherlands, the province Zeeland where I visited a friend from my university days, a long time ago. Here is the report: Middelburg.

One day at home and off I went again, to Alkmaar, where Arie and Ineke are living. Another report: Alkmaar. The next day I continued to Valkkoog, where I stayed overnight with Lous and Arend. In the afternoon we visited the sand suppletion project of the Hondsbossche Zeewering (Sea dike). In the left pic below I have indicated the location of the sea dike in red.This dike was a weak spot in the Dutch defense system against the sea. Now new land and dunes have been created. Impressive. The visitor center had an interesting gadget where you could give the impression (with a soap film) that you were standing in the water. Of course we had a nice dinner, my youngest brother was also present.

Before going back to Amsterdam the next morning, I took pictures of the sculptures, ceramics and paintings created by My artistic sister

Finally the next day I traveled to Limburg with Paul for a few days of long distance walking, part of the Pelgrimspad

Then it was time to fly back to Malaysia, where I could recover…:-)

Of course beside all this, I visited and or invited friends. A few pictures

This visit was a bit longer than usual, the reason being that I was considering to come back once a year only, for a longer time. After this visit I think I will keep it as before, coming back twice a year, for about one month.


During my last visit to the Netherlands I have visited quite a few historical cities. Utrecht, Dordrecht, Maastricht, Middelburg and Alkmaar. In 2009 Aric and I  had visited the famous cheese market in Alkmaar, no time to explore the town. Recently my brother Arie has moved to Alkmaar and Ineke and he had invited me to visit them. We had an interesting walk in the historical center of the town. Alkmaar has a rich history. During the Dutch war of independence , the siege of Alkmaar in 1573 was a turning point: “Victory begins at Alkmaar”

The House with the Cannon Ball is one of the few wooden houses in the town. During the Siege the Spanish army fired a cannon ball, which destroyed part of the house. The Fish Market dates back to the 16th century, the present fish tables were built in 1755.

In many historical towns in the Netherlands you can still find so-called Hofjes , courtyards with almshouses. Financed and built by rich merchants for (generally) poor people. With rules and regulations. The Wildemanshofje has 24 houses and is only for ladies (even now) . The Hofje van Splinter (1648) is a hidden gem, with only 8 (now 7) houses. The Hof van Sonoy is bigger and is now a restaurant.

I did not know that Alkmaar has many Jugendstil (Art Deco) houses. Next time I must find more, as it is one my favourite architectural styles.

We continued our walk, admired the spectacular town hall and had a look at a few churches. We walked along the ramparts, where the Windmill of Piet is the only one remaining, in the past there were ten. There is so much to see. But we were thirsty and needed a beer…:-)

Arie and Ineke have a very nice house, on walking distance from the center. We had an enjoyable evening with very nice food.


Middelburg is a town in the south-western part of the Netherlands and capital of the Zeeland province. It takes about 2.5 hour by train from Amsterdam, very remote according to Amsterdam standards…:-). So  I have visited Middelburg (en Zeeland) a few times only. A friend of mine, Henk,  is living in a small village near Middelburg, we know each other from our University days, more than 40 years ago! Since a few years we have a more or less regular contact again,  because we are both interested in astronomy and cosmology.

Finally this year we met for the first time in many decades. I could stay overnight in their “garden house”.   Did I like mussels, Henk’s wife Nel asked me? Sure, I did and Zeeland is famous for its seafood.

Henk met me at the station and had planned a walk in the historical center of Middelburg. Nice weather. MIddelburg has a rich historical past, in the Dutch Golden Age (17th century) it was after Amsterdam the most important trading center. Many lavish 17th and 18th century merchant houses and storehouses (some of them  restored after bombing in WWII) can still be admired. Center of the town is the Abdij (Abbey) with the Lange Jan (Long John) tower, built in the 14th century

We decided to climb the tower, one of the highest monumental towers in the Netherlands (91 meter). Beautiful view of the town , the abbey and the impressive town hall

We continued our walk, admired the Town Hall and had coffee on a terrace at the Market square. I tried the Zeeland specialty, a cinnamon bun called bolus. Bolus means “turd” in English, quite an apt name, I think…:-)  In May 1940 part of the historical center of Middelburg was destroyed by bombing and fire. I include one picture of the St Joris Doelen as it looked like in 1940. What a beautiful restoration. The same holds for the Abdij.

After our lunch we had a look at the beautiful sundial of the Stadsschuur. Not everybody looking at this sundial will understand the meaning of the figure eight “decorations”. They are analemma’s. See the Equation of Time for technical details.

From Middelburg it was only a short drive to Serooskerke where Henk and Nel are living in an attractive bungalow, with a beautiful garden. When they told me I could stay overnight in their “garden house”, I expected simple accommodation, so I was quite surprised that it was actually a full-fledged apartment.

We had a very pleasant evening. Nel apologised that the mussel season was over, instead we had lobster. Yummy!  And a dish with zeekraal (Salicornia, glasswort in English) and baked mussels. And ice cream with strawberries. What a treat.

We had a lot to talk that evening…:-) Memories from our shared past, stories about our respective family backgrounds. We will hopefully meet again next year. In Zeeland or in Kuala Lumpur…:-)

My artistic sister

When you have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I have a nice family. See for example my recent report Family Gathering A disorderly bunch, my late parents called us lovingly. Here we are, in chronological order.

Only one sister, Lous, how she must have suffered in the past with five brothers..:-). During her working life she has been a teacher and counselor like me. But with an artistic streak which I completely lack 🙁

When I am back in the Netherlands, it has become a nice routine to visit her and her husband Arend in their  bungalow in Valkkoog, north of Alkmaar. During my last visit I took pictures of a number of her creations. Judge for yourself.

As you see, she is using a large number of different techniques. I am proud of her.


About galaxy SDP.81

This astronomy blog needs a fairly long introduction, sorry…:-)

Our Sun is one of the more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Here is the Milky Way, as seen from Earth. Many of you may never have seen this “milky” band, because you need a clear sky without light pollution. Next to it an artist expression of the Milky Way with the location of our Sun indicated by a red arrow.



The Milky Way is one of the about 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe. The Andromeda galaxy (left pic) is a close neighbour at a distance of about 2.5 million light-year.  The picture to the right was taken by the Hubble telescope. This image shows about 10.000 galaxies!



Many of you will have seen (and admired) the images taken by the Hubble telescope. Here is the telescope, it is still orbiting Earth at an altitude of ~ 550 km. Next to it the probably most iconic Hubble image, nicknamed the Pillars of Creation.


pillars of creatrion_cropped

But not many of you will have heard about the Herschel telescope! This space telescope has been operational from 2009 to 2013. Its major objective was to discover how the first galaxies formed and evolved, starting from clouds of gas and dust. These clouds are not yet hot enough to emit visible light, but they still emit (thermal) radiation with wavelengths in the far infrared. It is this far infrared and sub-millimeter radiation that Herschel has recorded. Here is the Herschel telescope and a picture, taken by it. Not as spectacular as the Hubble pictures, right?

image description


Actually, each pinprick in this image is a galaxy! Or better, a galaxy “under construction”, still basically a contracting cloud of gas and dust, Hubble would not be able to see them. Most of these galaxies are billions of light years (ly) away, the radiation we receive now, has been sent out when the universe was young.

We are finally coming closer to SDP.81. It is one of the baby galaxies (ID81 in the image below), discovered by Herschel, at a distance of about 11.7 billion ly .  Why is it (and a few more) so bright ?


Here comes the surprising answer: because its radiation has been magnified by a gravitational lens between this galaxy and earth!

A gravitational lens? Yes, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity predicted that light can be bent by massive objects. Or, formulated more correctly, massive objects will curve the fabric of space-time. His theory was spectacularly confirmed in 1919 during a solar eclipse (and made Einstein instantaneously famous!)  Here is a schematic diagram of this light bending.


In the case of SDP.81 a massive galaxy is located, 3.4 billion ly from Earth, exactly between us and SDP.81. A rare coincidence? Sure, but keep in mind that there are 100 billion galaxies..:-)

A  gravitational lens works differently from a traditional lens where the light bending is strongest at the edge of the lens. Here it is the other way around, bending is stronger near the center. When the alignment is perfect the (magnified) image becomes a ring,  a so-called Einstein Ring. Here are a few examples of Einstein rings, images (in visible light) taken by Hubble. Some are only partial because of misalignment.


Wouldn’t it be great to find out if the image of SPD.81 is also an Einstein ring? Then we need a much higher resolution then the (already large) 3.5 meter mirror of Herschel could give us.

Alma can help us! ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. It is a collection of 66 radio telescopes  (with 12 and 7 meter antennas), located at 5000 meter altitude in Chili. Here is ALMA


Technically it is called an (astronomical) interferometer. To keep it simple: the radio telescopes work together in such a way that they effectively combine to a huge mirror of many hundreds meters or even kilometers diameter. The telescopes can be moved around. The high altitude has been chosen because the climate in the Atacama desert is extremely dry, crucial for observations in the millimeter/submillimeter range. The maximum resolution has been described by the  Alma astronomers as being “about the same as seeing the rim of a basketball hoop atop the Eiffel Tower from the observing deck of the Empire State Building“.

Here is Alma’s result for SDP.81, published a few weeks ago. An almost perfect Einstein ring! Keep in mind that this radiation is invisible, the red color has been added for the dramatic effect. And the visible light of the lensing galaxy is not recorded by ALMA.


And here is a combination of three images. The left image is taken by the Hubble space telescope. The lensing galaxy is visible. The middle picture shows the Alma result, in more subdued colours. And the third picture? Montage of the SDP.81 Einstein Ring and the lensed galaxy

The Einstein ring in the middle picture is a “distorted” image of SDP.81. But, assuming a (simple) model for the gravitational lens in between, you could try to reconstruct the “real” image. And that’s what has been done with the third image as result.

An (approximate) image of the SDP.81 galaxy how it was, almost 12 billion year ago, when the Universe was still young. Some structure is visible, the bright parts are regions of dramatic star formation.