Three Weeks in the Netherlands

I was really looking forward to ‘living like a Dutch person’. Well, as you can read below, we explored many areas of the Netherlands. It was fun to bike to and from town to get our groceries and do errands. I was amazed by how much Dutch I could understand and even found myself dreaming Dutch phrases.

Sunday, July 10:
Yikes, up at 3:20am to get ready for our flight to Amsterdam. We caught a taxi to the train station to catch the 4:37am direct train to the airport. We found our way around and boarded the plane for our 7:20am flight. At Schipol, Peter was waiting for us as we exited the arrival area. We arranged for our rental car and headed towards Amersfoort to find “our” house for the next three weeks.

Monday, July 11:
We drove to Rotterdam to visit the Delta Works. Although we enjoyed spending most of the day learning about how the polders were formed through the building of the dykes, the museum has become more of a small amusement park geared to smaller children.

Wednesday, July 13:
Today we headed to the northern part of the Netherlands. We spent about 2 hours walking through Dockum. We happened upon an old working windmill used for grinding wheat. Two retired gentlemen keep the windmill in operation as a hobby. We enjoyed the opportunity to climb to the top of the windmill and receive a personalized ‘tour’. It was interesting to learn how the sails can stop very quickly, how to start the sails and how to add or remove tarps to make the windmill operate at varied speeds.

Since my mom’s family was from this area in Friesland, it was fun to poke around. We continued on about 10 minutes down the back country roads to a small village called Ee, where my mother was born. We walked around the village hunting for the exact house.

We continued our drive to the very northern part of the Netherlands (Lauwersoog) for fish and chips right along the North Sea. Our accommodations for the night was a very old farmhouse in Twijzerlerheide that had been converted into a Bed and Breakfast. The funniest thing about the place was our room’s assigned bathroom was on the opposite side of the dining room from our room. We laughed at having to cross the ‘restaurant’ to go wash up in the morning.

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Thursday, July 14:
On the way to visit Uncle Reggie (Peter’s mother’s brother) in Groningen, we spent the morning at a Jewish Memorial Museum (Westerbork) on the site that had been used as a holding camp or transfer station for Jews en route to concentration camps. It was sobering to stand at the place where many died or spent their last days.

We visited the farm where Peter’s mom and siblings grew up. We joined Uncle Reggie for coffee at his local hangout. (A horse training arena) We then went for dinner at a local restaurant that seemed more like a pub in a small Midwestern USA town than in a country village in the Netherlands. The decor was various items representing country western music. Even the music playing was English country music. Our accommodations this night was another converted barn (Stal Zwartschaap) in Stuifzand. This time, each unit was an individual suite with a mini kitchen, two bedrooms and living room. As part of the accommodations, bicycles were available for guests to use. The kids and I spent several hours touring the Dutch countryside on our ‘fiets’. At one point, we wound our way around several curves, across train tracks, through the forest and in the middle of farmer’s fields. The cows looked deceptively like bulls so we quickly turned around and retraced our steps to our farmhouse.

After a leisurely morning of breakfast and biking, we joined Uncle Reggie for koffie, appletaart and krokketen. After another visit to the farm, we began our journey back to Amersfoort.

Friday, July 15:
On the way home from our visit with Uncle Reggie, we had a quick look through Hoogeveen and an international horse jumping competition that happened to be just down the road from the family farm.

We arrived in Amersfoort in time to bike to the grocery market to buy supplies to make dinner.

Saturday, July 16:
We spent a wonderful day visiting with friends from Switzerland that we hadn’t seen for years. Gerrit and Sandra, a Christian couple from Switzerland, had stayed with us as ‘homestay’ students for three months in 2004. We always really enjoyed their friendship and looked forward to the opportunity to visit together. I had sent several email attempts to contact them as I had hoped to meet up with them while in Switzerland. Gerrit finally replied to one of my emails (they have changed their regular email address) and wrote that they were going to be vacationing in Utrecht during the same time as our vacation in the Netherlands! Utrecht is only a short drive from Amersfoort.

Along with their two children, Joyce and Jaan (ages 9 and 6), and Sandra’s parents, we toured Amersfoort. We toured the town tower and climbed the 360 stairs to the very top. It was originally part of the church but the church had exploded about 200 years ago. According to the local story, the church had been used to store explosives and a caretaker accidentally lit a cigarette. The tower survived but not the church.

Of course, each day of visiting includes a coffee break! We found a little coffee shop in town to relax for a few minutes before climbing aboard the small flat boat for a canal tour around the medieval walled village.

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Sunday, July 17:
A quiet morning to relax before heading to Peter’s cousin’s house. Aart and his wife, Marlou, invited us to spend the afternoon with them and join them for dinner at their house. After coffee time, we boarded a train at the station just down their street to Breda, a historic medieval town. Aart and Marlou’s children, Larissa and Jules also joined us. This was especially fun for Cameron and Arianna as their English was excellent and they were very chatty and social. Larissa is a year older than Arianna (19 years) and Jules is 16 years old. Like Cameron, Jules enjoys soccer (football in Europe) and running track.

When we returned to their home, we were treated to a most sumptuous dinner of salads, bread and various barbecued meats. Hmmm….even days later, Arianna and Cameron still comment that this was the best meal they have had on our vacation!

Monday, July 18:
We packed up for our biking adventure and drove to Noordwijk. I was apprehensive that all the details would come together. Would we find the bike shop? Is there parking available to leave our car for 3 days? Will we find our Bed and Breakfast accommodations without the luxury of a GPS? Would the weather hold or will we get caught in a rain storm?

Well, we found the bike shop and were thankful that our bikes were ready, thanks to our pre-booked reservations. Each bike was outfitted with one saddlebag which we stuffed full with our belongings that we would need for the next few days. We still each needed to carry a pack back for our water bottles and additional supplies.

We started our bike journey along the coast aiming towards Den Haag. We were instructed to “just follow the markers for the bike routes and you will be fine”. All was well as we biked up and down hills along the sand dunes with the sea to our right and the dunes to our left. When we passed through Wassenaar, however, things went a little sideways! Hmmm…two signs pointing to Den Haag.

Well, after circling most of the town of Wassenaar, it was time to look for a visitor information or someone to point us in the right direction. I found a shop that sold more detailed maps of Den Haag. The woman who worked at the shop was so kind and even looked up the address on her computer so she could point us in the exact direction we needed. So, now we knew to aim to Schevinginen and not just Den Haag.

We continued biking back towards the sea coast in the 35degree blistering sun. We were sure grateful for the breeze off the sea! Once we reached Schevingen, I again asked a few locals for directions to the street we needed. We cycled around a few blocks and finally found our address. Hooray for old fashioned techniques of paper maps and asking locals!

We brought our things into this small, two bedroom basement suite and biked back towards the pier to swim in the sea and find a place for dinner. Cameron loved swimming in the North Sea, even though it was a bit cold. We enjoyed some delicious pannekoeken before heading back to the basement suite to rest from our 50+ kilometre bike journey.

Tuesday, July 19:
Arianna was sick with a cold and allergy symptoms from the dusty, smoky basement suite. We were all tired and feeling rather apprehensive about another day of searching for bike paths and unknown addresses in the sweltering heat. So, we decided to adjust our plans and return to Noordwijk a day early.

We enjoyed a lovely morning biking up and down the sand dunes along the sea coast. Now that we knew the best way, the return journey was certainly much faster. We stopped for some lunch in Katwijk, a village along the sea. Peter stayed wIt’s the bikes and the three of us walked through the town in search of some bread and fruit. We found a bakery with ham and cheese croissants and a market selling fruit.

We returned our bikes to the bike shop in Noordwijk and then enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream slushy before beginning our drive back to our home base in Amersfoort. Along the way, we did drive through Leiden to see the famous church ‘Pieter’s Kerk’. However, even that was like finding a needle in a haystack. One would think that it would not be too difficult to find a large church in a small village. Well, Leiden turned out to be a bigger city than we expected and the town centre boasted several large churches within a few block radius. We marched up and down the streets in the burning sun on a mission to find the church where one of my distant relatives (on the Vegt side) had been buried. We finally found the church but were unable to locate the grave marker in the church as some had been worn down or covered with mats, carpets or chairs.

Wednesday, July 20:
Ah, a day of rest and poking around our home base of Amersfoort. We did some shopping, house cleaning and laundry.

Thursday, July 21:
We met up with our friends from Switzerland (Gerrit, Sandra and their children) at the open air museum in Arhnem. The museum was so large that it took all day to explore all of the various exhibits. 99 exhibits demonstrated the history of life in the Netherlands through the past two-three centuries. Peter and Cameron were running to make it through the last two exhibits before the 5:00pm closing time. It was great to spend the day with our friends. Although Arianna, Cameron and I plan to meet up with them again in Switzerland, this will be the last time Peter will be able to visit with Gerrit and Sandra.

After the museum, we drove to Peter’s cousin’s house for dinner. Maaike treated us to a delicious dinner of various salads, breads and lasagna. Hmmm, we were so hungry after a full day of sightseeing. Maaike’s sister, Jannie also joined us, as well as Maaike’s daughters Stephanie and Amy, Amy’s boyfriend (Sayad), and Jannie’s daughter Denise. Maaike and her family had spent several weeks with us in Canada in 2006, so it was fun to catch up with everyone again.

Friday, July 22:
After what seemed like a short sleep, we drove to a Park and Ride in Amsterdam to spend the day in Amsterdam. From the park and ride, we navigated our way to the Metro and wondered up and down the city streets searching for the Anne Frank museum. We spent a solemn two hours in the museum before meeting up with Peter’s cousin, Aart, his wife Marlou and their two children (Larissa, age 19 and Jules, age 16). The museum was very well done and really gave visitors a glimpse into what so many Jews faced during World War 2.

Part of our group split off to do some shopping in Amsterdam, while the others walked through the museum district. We met together for drinks later in the afternoon and then searched for a restaurant for dinner. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta and pizza in an Italian restaurant. From there, we walked to catch our 8:00pm canal cruise. For the next 90 minutes, we cruised the canals while learning about some of the historic buildings along the way. Wow, we were all surprised to see how busy these canals can be on a Friday night. It certainly seemed like rush hour traffic on the waterways!

We rode the Metro back to the park and ride station and navigated our way back to our home in Amersfoort. It was past midnight before we all crashed in our beds.
Saturday, July 23:
A well-deserved day of rest to recover from a few busy days of sightseeing. We poked around the open market in Amersfoort and spend some time wondering through the shops.

Sunday, July 24:
Today, Peter’s family had organized a special event for us. The de With family were all invited to play a round of Boerengolf or Farmer’s golf. This game is modelled after a traditional golf game but with some Dutch modifications. The club is a stick with a wooden shoe (klompen) attached to it. You hit a ball about the size of a soccer ball and try to get the ball into holes in the ground throughout the farmer’s field. As this is golf is played on a farm, players should expect obstacles or hazards within the course. Such obstacles might include cows, canals, ditches, cow patties, fences etc..

We had enough people to make 4 teams of 3-4 players. It was a great way to meet various family members as we laughed our way through the ‘golf course’. What an inventive way to use wooden shoes!

From here, we all drove to the de With family farm where Peter’s father grew up. After coffee and cake, we went for a long walk around the entire farm. Arianna and I laughed when the ‘walk’ became rather adventurous and we realized that we all needed to crawl through barbed wire and cross a canal over a homemade bridge of a ladder tied to a piece of wood. The 21 hectare farm includes about 60 cows, 30 goats and 30 sheep, corn fields and hay fields.

We also toured the farmhouse and the various barns where the animals are kept. The main part of the farmhouse is about 250 years old and the ‘newer’ addition is about 150 years old. Needless to say, there is a lot of history in those walls!

We then enjoyed a delicious BBQ with many varieties of meat. There is a big grill set up and everyone picked out their own meat and stuck it on the BBQ. You are then responsible for cooking your own dinner. Hmmm, I might have to adopt that tradition so one person is not stuck by the BBQ.

It was a great chance to meet almost all of the family and spend time getting to know everyone.

Monday, July 25:
Since we didn’t get to bed until past midnight, we enjoyed a slower day to rest, sleep and poke around the village. Cameron, Peter and I went for quite a long bike ride in the afternoon to see what was beyond the housing complex in the opposite direction. We discovered a nice nature park, a zoo and a delicious looking pannekoeken house. We added the pannekoeken house on our ‘to-do’ list for this week.

Tuesday, July 26:
The weather was perfect our a full day of biking through the Hoge Veluwe National Park. At each entrance to the park, there are hundreds of bicycles available for everyone to use. The bikes were coaster bikes without gears but were actually quite comfortable. When you stop to visit the Kroller-Mueller art museum, you just take a new bike.

We spent about 1.5 hours browsing through the art museum which boasts one of the largest Van Gogh collections. Of course, we needed to pause for coffee and gebak. (Pastries) We climbed back aboard the bikes and continued to cycle through the nature reserve. Along the way, we even saw a large deer very close to the bike path. We cycled through most of the routes and even had time to include a tour at a castle that was commissioned by the original owners of the park in the early 1900’s. (The Kroller-Muellers were involved in the iron ore business and were very wealthy. With some of their money, they purchased a huge property for a park, had a large castle built, and built an art museum. Since they were art enthusiasts, they had an unlimited budget for purchasing works of art and filled the museum with VanGogh, Picasso, Monet etc… When the business later came into difficult times, the park and museum were sold to the government for public use.)

Aart and Marlou (Peter’s cousin and his wife) took a day off of work to join us for the day. They followed us back to Amersfoort where we enjoyed a delicious dinner of hamburgers in the city’s inner courtyard.

Wednesday, July 27:
I began the day with a 3km walk around the city centre while everyone else was waking up and getting ready. We did some house cleaning and relaxing before going back to the town centre for a bit of shopping.

Arianna met her second cousin, Amy, in the village for some shopping. Jannie and Maaike (2 of Peter’s cousins) and Jannie’s daughter, Denise, met us at our house in the late afternoon. We walked to the village and Peter, Maaike, Amy and Denise took the tour to climb the 346 steps to the top of the tower. After a bit more shopping, we drove to the pannekoeken house for dinner. Hmmm, those were tasty pannekeoken. We can understand why the parking lot was full.

Thursday, July 28:

As our time in the Netherlands comes to a close, we will spend part of today exploring a castle and a palace nearby to Amersfoort. This will be our ‘Royal day’.

Friday July 29:

We hope to visit Corrie Ten Boom’s house as we have read the novel, The Hiding Place.

Saturday, July 30

An early flight to Switzerland for the three of us, while Peter will catch his flight back to Vancouver.

Samples at a Chocolate Factory!
Samples at a Chocolate Factory!

Then off we went to Venice! Wow, was it every hot in Venice. What a beautiful city to visit.

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