This past weekend we decided to make a day trip to Groningen in the northeast of The Netherlands. It was about a two and a half hour drive. On the way, we drove past a few tulip fields and a lot of wildflowers.
Upon arriving at the city, we left the car in a parking garage and headed toward the museum that prompted our visit. As we began down the street, we suddenly realized we might be in the red light district as to our right was a store window display featuring variously sized penises and on our left was a very old prostitute in her undergarments awaiting business. We quickly ushered the children along (they seemed oblivious to it all) and made our way to a less controversial area.
Our first stop was the Groniger Museum. The museum currently had a special exhibit of Chihuly work so we thought we would check it out.
In addition to the Chihuly exhibit, the museum has a permanent collection of oriental china, paintings and sculpture work (you can be certain there were a few strange pieces thrown in the mix-yes that is Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese).
After the museum, we made our way to some of the historic areas of the city. Most of the places we stopped were almshouses, housing areas provided as a charity for the poor. They are walled in areas featuring courtyards and what we would think of as apartment-style housing around the courtyard. People still live in these areas today. The first one that we stopped at was St. Anthony’s Gasthuis. This used to be a hospital for plague victims and later became a mental institution for 200 years before becoming housing. Across from this was St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Next, we went to another almshouse, the Pepergasthuis. You can see the bars on some of the windows which are left from the days when part of the building was a home for the mentally ill. This one had a pretty courtyard with a historic water pump.
We moved on to Martini Church with its tower. We chose not to climb the tower but instead walked around the church to the area where they have some of the government buildings.
We stopped for lunch and while I’m not sure of the history of the building that the restaurant was in, but it was a beautiful building.
After lunch, we walked through the outdoor market and bought some vegetables before heading to A-Kerk. It was closed but the dome on top was impressive and has apparently had to be put back on several times in its history.
Finally, we stopped at the Pelstergasthuis, which is one of the largest almshouses in the Netherlands and the oldest in Groningen dating from the mid 1200s. It used to be a hospital for the poor and an overnight stop for medieval travelers but has been housing the elderly since 1600. It had nice courtyards.
After leaving Groningen, we drove to the nearby city of Leek and stopped at Nienoord Castle. The castle is not a fairy tale European castle as you might see in Germany or France but more of an estate home or mansion. This one, however, did come complete with two drawbridges and a moat. The castle houses the National Carriage Museum so we had a peek at the various carriages from over the years including ones used by the royal family. They even had a simulation in which kids could try to drive a carriage.
There was a small house featuring shell walls next to the castle.
The grounds at Nienoord were very nice as well.
While Groningen wasn’t our favorite place that we have been in the Netherlands, it was a pleasant trip and not a bad way to spend a Saturday.