18 February 2011

Schmoke and a Pancake? A short trip to the Netherlands

I've been living in the UK for two years now, and in that time have not made the short trip across the North Sea to visit my long-lost Dutch family. And as time is rapidly running out, I thought I better get my A into G and get across there.

Just to put things into perspective; my Grandfather was born in the Netherlands. He moved out to New Zealand, married a good kiwi girl and had a whole bunch of children, my mother included. My mother then had me, and 26 years later here we are...

I took Friday afternoon off work, and after a minor passport hiccup, made my way to Stansted. A short 45 minute flight later I landed in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital: home of tulips, clogs and coffee shops.

After a short train-ride into the city I met up with my awesome new Dutch friends - Femke and Mees, who allowed me to crash on their couch for the evening. We had some drinks then went out to their friend's house. But it wasn't just any normal house... it was a BOAT! I met some cool people and had a great time hanging out with the Amsterdam locals.

Bright and early the following day I jumped a train to Harderwijk to meet the first of the Whanau. I can tell that you are all going to get lost in a sea of mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters. But stick with it... I was visiting my Grandfather's (Ralph) sister's (Janny) daughter; Dianne, her husband and their three children. We sat down for a nice lunch before taking a tour of Harderwijk. It was a cute little fishing village with colourful buildings and cobble stone streets. We went into a functioning windmill which was quite interesting, even if the guide could only speak Dutch.

After dinner I caught another train to Vrizenvein to meet another of Janny's daughters and her husband - Ina and Couzijn, and their four children. I spent the following day with Ina and Couzijn - starting off nice and early for a church service - again, could not understand a word! After church we scaled the bell tower to look out over the town, then we all went to Janny's house for coffee. I met MORE family! Including another of my Grandfather's sisters, Senie. We also went for a bit of a tour around Vrizenvein, taking a look at the place where my Grandfather grew up and a few other hot-spots. Oh, and I tried the famous zoute haring (basically raw fish with onions). It tasted OK, but the texture was... different. Yeah, I didn't finish it.


That evening I spent with Robert and Janneke and their four boys. The following day we took a drive out to the Holten Canadian War Cemetery. Quite a sobering experience to see the hundreds of rows of gravestones. While driving around I realised just how compact the Netherlands is. But it is strange... there aren't many big cities - just hundreds of tiny villages, all only a few kilometres apart. This is really reinforced by the fact that their capital and largest city, Amsterdam, has a population of under one million. But there are 16 million people in the Netherlands, all living in a country about 300km x 250km.

What is even more strange about this country is that about 25% of its area and 21% of its population are below sea level. Add to that the fact that it is extremely flat. While Robert and I were out driving we went up what the Dutch called the 'mountain'. Yeah, it was more of a small hill... So pretty much wherever you are in the country, you can see/touch/smell/taste water.

Anyway, we are getting off track. I had lunch with Robert and Janneke, then in the afternoon met Coen and Siny Keus, who drove me back to their house in Muiden, about 20 minutes out of Amsterdam. That evening we took a quick wander around Muiden, which is a quaint little village with a freakin' awesome castle! Check it out, it's like it's from a fairy tale...

The following day we took a drive north of Amsterdam to a place called Zaandam, a cool area with plenty of windmills and old-style Dutch houses... which are strangely all painted in green and white. I'm not sure of the exact reason for that... There was also a gift shop with more clogs than I have ever seen in my entire life!


We also visited the small towns of Edam and Marken, both very pretty.

I spent the afternoon wandering alongside the canals in Amsterdam, walking the cobbled streets, admiring the beautiful architecture, and taking hundreds of photos for you. Thoughtful eh?

Final thoughts - I'm really glad I made the effort! I had a great time, met loads of long-lost relatives who were all very welcoming, truly experienced Dutch culture and got to see a lot of their beautiful country.


  1. Very cool man, Coincidentally I almost booked a flight to Dusseldorf to head to Amsterdam just last night! ...and am now looking for flights :)
    Very nice pictures, the panoramic of Zaandam is an especially nice use of colours.
    Hope you had a great time mate, and didn't eat too many waffles, they sure are tempting when you've been to your local coffee shop :)

  2. Awesome photo shots. You sure did a great documentation of your journey. Looks like it was a great visit to your long-lost family.


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