23.06.2009 16 °C
Many evenings these past ten days I had the best intent in removing myself for a couple of hours and write about our happenings in Holland, however as you may have noticed it did not happen. It is difficult to find time when every minute has been so enjoyably spent reacquainting with family and a country we both hold dear. That and the long days, it stays light until nearly 11.00pm and if there is a sun and a barely double digit temp. the Dutch remain outside until the very last light fades.
Renting a car in Triers was a great decision and gives us the opportunity of seeing the sights and taking routes not on maps. The price of gasoline is high, close to $8.00 a gallon but the distances are not and less than half a tank was consumed while traveling through 5 countries. Crossing the borders in Northern Europe is somewhat anti -climatic. Small blue signs, bordered by yellow stars announce you’re entering a new country in the language of the country you are departing. Seeing Luxemb(o)urgh posted as such is one of our favorites. The French add the o the Germans leave out. Entering the Netherlands from its most Southern spot announced the country with the French
” Pays Bas“,- the low countries -which makes a lot of sense. The Netherlands is not only totally flat but at times so below sea level that one wonders if the next raindrop would make the country overflow which of course does not happen since the Dutch mastered their sea and waters a long time ago.
Finding our way back home to Uden, the small town in the province of North-Brabant appeared difficult at first, especially finding my brother Ton’s home there. The town I was raised in no longer exists except in my memories, or with my eyes closed. The trick is learning the roundabouts. The country is swamped with these and as long as one knows which roundabout turn to take, the cities and whole country can be taken with ease. In case one does not know, keep on circling the roundabout until a decision is made even if it causes great annoyance to the other drivers who have to give you the right of way and will start tapping an index finger on their own forehead.
For Tom the changes in Uden were even greater since his last visit there was in 1980. The beautiful home Ton and his wife Fieke built, is on the same spot where years ago I picked strawberries to raise extra cash. Ton and Fieke have two young sons, Jip(13) and Abe (10) who excitedly awaited our arrival and found a new fishing buddy in American uncle Tom. While so much has changed in Holland and Uden it was good to see that which has not. On our first evening there, while sitting outside, thousands of young children walked by with their teachers and parents, the Udens Avond 4 daagse ( the evening 4 days walk). As a child I participated in the walk of 10 Kilometers nightly ( 6 or so miles) through the town and it was great witnessing tradition and hearing the same marching songs. Ton and Fieke gave us sound advice, get on a bike and find the old city back. So true. Each small town in the South of Holland has at its center a church and windmill and they remained. It was good to learn the new through recognizing back the old and our first couple of days were spent revisiting the places I lived, learned and played. The old market still meets on Monday mornings and we partook and tasted all our favorites, some of which can only be bought there. Fish still tastes the best when bought from an old wooden stand surrounded by screaming market men selling other wares like cheese, fruit and underwear, all side by side. We are at the utmost time here, niewe haring, asparagus and cherries all ripe , ready or caught in June and while losing our tans, fastly regaining the weight lost earlier on in our travels. We visited the small bar/restaurant Tom briefly lived above years ago and Marc’s BBQ still serves the best satay in town .Tom enjoyed it so fully he grinned and showed teeth ! The main form of Dutch transportation is still the old bicycle and my sister in law Fieke , daily peddles to the grocery store and fills the saddlebags. Jip and Abe, like the rest of their classmates, ride their bikes to school and consider themselves quite lucky to only have to ride a couple of miles each way. They have friends who daily ride two hours to attend school. Extra consumed cheese sandwiches are their form of energy. Children still learn four foreign languages simultaneously and 13 year old Jip already is quite fluent in Latin, French, German and especially English. During our Uden days we made side trips through the provinces of Brabant, Limburg and Gelderland. My mother Annie was raised in the town of Vielingsbeek, near the Maas (Meuse) river and as a young child my siblings and I had great freedom and adventures near this river and I enjoyed showing Tom around there where my fondest memories rest. The town still does not own a bridge over the river and it is the same ferry which connects the two shores. As a small 5 year old I imagined the land across to be foreign country and longed for the stuiver ( 5 cent coin) it then took to cross the river. I remember the excitement when the ferry man on rare occasions would let us ( my sister, cousin and I) cross for free. My early wanderlust was surely set then when waters were crossed and “foreign shores” touched? I remain thankful to the kindhearted ferry attendant who saw and recognized this in a child so young and the freedom we safely lived in those days. This time we crossed the ferry with our German rental car and kilometers down the other shore’s road found another ferry and had another short, but thrilling crossing back .
The weather was cold, wet and dreary and totally added to the reality of it all.
We drove up to Gelderland where the “Hoge Veluwe” National park is. I tried to explain heide to Tom, the landscape found in the park and the closest translation I arrived at was “ Heathlands”. At any of the three park entrances one has the option to park the car and travel the rest of the area with a free, white bike or pay the extra fee of continued car driving over very limited car roads. We opted for the bikes as most people do. Throughout the park there are 1700 “Witte fietsen” (white bikes) totally free to use over the many excellent nature paths. The bikes are quite simple, no gears/speeds which are not needed on an absolute flat surface and instead of handbrakes a step back brake system. Very basic and with fewer technology in place, less chance of break down. We were so impressed with the whole idea that we commented to the park attendant who replied “ Ja mevrouw” ( yes, madam) “ The museum is still 12 kilometers away and if everybody walks that far they would get tired”. We loved that reasoning, we are in Holland where walking 12 kilometers makes one tired but traveling the same by bike does not. We ended up biking over 40 Kilometers that day past great heath lands , stopping by the Kroller Muller museum and while maybe not totally exhausted definitely experienced saddle pain, better known as monkey butt. The Kroller Muller museum was one of the reasons for our Veluwe trip and owes its existence to Helene Kroller-Muller, the daughter of a German industrialist who married a Dutch man in the late 1800‘s. After attending an art appreciation course she became inspired to start her own collection and single handedly acquired over 11.000 art works. Her favorite artist was Vincent van Gogh and Helene was convinced he stood above the other major art movements through his method of expression, technique and humanity. Helene Kroller-Muller collected 91 paintings and approximately 180 other works on paper by Van Gogh, thereby amassing the world’s largest collection of his works. ( Exception Van Gogh family collection). When the Kroller-Muller family were threatened with losing their estate on the Hoge veluwe by the economic recession of the 1920‘s-1930’s they had the foresight to donate the entire collection to the Dutch State under the condition that it build a museum to house the collection on the estate which is now National Park “ The Hoge Veluwe”. What we consider the most impressive is the absolute accessibility of the museum. We wandered through after parking our white bikes and were free to lose ourselves in the museum rooms, returning often to our favorite Van Goghs while neither hushed nor shushed. Pictures without flash can be taken and outside in the gardens are great sculptures including Rodin’s “ femme accroupie”.
Together with Ton, Fieke , Jip and Abe we spent a day at the shores of the North sea and while no longer tempted to swim in water that cold, we had a blast walking and playing while windblown. It is a different shore with its very own beauty and nowhere can the sea so fully withdraw by low tide than on a flat Dutch beach.
Language has changed here somewhat over the years and the word Daag ( Bye) is now seldom heard and the most common greeting upon departure used is Doei. We can get used to that. What is strange to hear is the ease with which many Dutch people use American cuss words. Never have we heard shit with such frequency out of the mouths of babes and grown ups alike.
Our time in Uden has come to an end and during our final traveling days we hope to see much more of Holland while also spending time with my sister Thea , her husband Ruud and their 5 children.
Tom and Els