Kids on the loose at the gardens of Soestdijk Palace

Flowers for you...

Flowers for you…

Happiness is oftentimes just right before our very eyes, ready to be grabbed with both hands and very much willing to be shared and spread around. We never need to look far and wide nor travel to the ends of the world to find it. All we need to do is to open our hearts and embrace the opportunity to be a blessing to others just as our lives have been blessed by the One above. I live by this tenet on a daily basis, choosing to be happy when I wake up each morning, thankful for the many blessings of good health, my loving family, loyal friends and the career that fulfills me professionally.

I can never be happier waking up yesterday to the bright sunny day. After enjoying the leisurely breakfast that we normally have on a Sunday, I was busy again preparing our picnic basket. It was destination Soestdijk Palace which is a 10-minute drive away for a family outing. Timing-wise, yesterday was just perfect because the decades-old rhododendrons were in full bloom. Because happiness is best experienced when shared with others, my daughter invited her best friend to come along. Oh, what a day!

Soestdijk Palace was home to the late Queen Juliana (grandmother of present King Willem-Alexander) and her husband Prince Bernard until their deaths in 2004. The palace was opened to the public since the spring of 2006.

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Running around

Running around

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Jumping from sheer joy

Jumping from sheer joy

Chasing each other

Chasing each other

Playing hide-and-seek

Playing hide-and-seek

Picking flowers...

Picking flowers…

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Quiet moments ...

Quiet moments …

More chasing game

More chasing game

Checking out how tall the tree was...

Checking out how tall the tree was…

Best friends

Best friends

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons in full bloom

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

Just so much beauty all over...

Just so much beauty all over…

My little girl

My little girl

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree...

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree…

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Reflections on the lake

Reflections on the lake

Our family

Our family

Best friends...

Best friends…

Bouquet of spring blooms

Bouquet of spring blooms

Our family

Our family

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

Red leaves against the blue sky

Red leaves against the blue sky

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Soestdijk Palace

Soestdijk Palace

Palace grounds

Palace grounds

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

The best friends

The best friends

Against the sun...

Against the sun…

Lotus leaves on the lake...

Lotus leaves on the lake…

Reflections...

Reflections…

The Orangerie...

The Orangerie…

Clouds...

Clouds…

Best friends

Best friends

Light pink rhododendrons

Light pink rhododendrons

Red and green

Red and green

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Reflections...

Reflections…

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Hubby

Hubby

Me

Me

Our family

Our family

Bird in the air

Bird in the air

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Reflections...

Reflections…

My little girl

My little girl

Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was โ‚ฌ 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ๐Ÿ˜‰

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

Chasing royal footprints at Paleis Soestdijk (Soestdijk Palace)

Paleis Soestdijk

The palace from the other side of the lake

Last Friday at noontime, we waited in bated breath for the news conference by the surgeons of the University Hospital Innsbruck to learn about the condition of Prince Johan Friso, the second of the three sons of Queen Beatrix. A week before the news conference, Prince Friso has been buried in an avalanche while skiing off-piste in Lech together with a childhood friend (the son of the owner of the posh Gasthof Post where the royal family has been staying for about 50 years of skiing in Austria). It was said in the news that he was not wearing the safety vest and that it took about 20 minutes to find and dug him out of the snow. From that time onwards, we did not have any news except that he is in critical but stable condition.

The news conference brought out the most feared prognosis on everyone’s mind. The prince who lay in coma may never regain consciousness again. The brain damage was just so severe due to lack of oxygen from the 20 minutes that he was buried in the snow and the further 50 minutes it took to resuscitate him. The doctors hoped that the mild hypothermia might have prevented that brain damage but that was not the case. A grim news to everyone and extremely much more to his mother, his wife, 2 little daughters and his brothers and their families.

Life is so fragile and happiness can be clipped in an instant. Here is a young and smart guy (he’s got MSc in Aerospace Engineering from TU Delft, who has the world at his feet and in an instant, everything has been transformed in such a nightmarish tragedy. I feel so sorry for his mother who I actually met in person last November at an affair in my former school. She attended the conference where President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali gave a lecture on the democratization process in his country and in Africa. I was standing close to the queen in the ensuing cocktail reception and much to my surprise, we were sipping the same wine and eating the same snacks. She was not a snob, much to my amazement as she listened patiently and chatted animately with the MA students who were also in attendance.

So much for my sad news, I bring you one lovely place where we normally go for our Sunday walks especially in spring. We happen to live a mere 15-minutes away from this simple royal palace with a lovely garden.

A royal palace that used to be the residence of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard (parents of the reigning monarch, Queen Beatrix), Soestdijk reverted to state ownership and was transformed into a museum after the death of Prince Bernard a few years ago (Princess Juliana died a few years before him).

This is a very simple palace (we’ve made a tour of its interior in 2009), testament to the simple taste of Princess Juliana in her lifetime. A place full of happy memories as this was the place where she raised her 4 daughters, received foreign heads of states as well as the Dutch people who came in droves to greet her on her birthday on the 30th of April with her husband, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Happy occasions in the family were also celebrated here like the engagement of her daughters.

Late spring is the best time to be here at Soestdijk. On this visit almost 2 springtimes ago (May 2010), the weather was fantastic and the various types of rhododendrons were in full bloom.

Francesca had a great time today running around, doing her imaginary fishing and simply smelling the flowers. I love the sight of the lake lined by those rhododendrons of various colors. After a good walk through the palace grounds, I always enjoy a cup of cappuccino and some piece of cake at the Orangerie.

the lake

The enthusiastic little fisher and her father

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons

Ferns

The bridge

Red birch tree

Father and daughter

The chasing game

The little girl and the big tree

Orange rhododendron

Nature coming back to life

The fountain

One of the few sculptures inside the palace grounds

Trees coming back to life in spring

Father and daughter

Palace grounds

The little girl can be happy with just twigs

Father and daughter

The little girl and the palace

Palace grounds

Rhododendrons

Lilac rhododendrons

The Orangerie

An insect at work

The patient fisher

Yellow rhododendrons

Rhododendrons in full bloom

The little flower picker

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Me and my little girl

Paleis Soestdijk