Monday, April 15, 2013

The Motherland

Of all the countries I've set foot in, I now have a favorite: the Netherlands. Of course I love EnglandI wouldn't be living there if I didn'tand France, and Normandy, and Belgium were beautiful, but there's nothing like the homeland. Almost 100% Dutch, I can claim my origins in this country regardless of whether I speak the languageDutch is not a pretty language anyways. It is because I have roots in this beautiful land that I fell in love with it.

Our first stop after crossing the border of Belgium, was Oost-Souburga small village on a south-western peninsula where hardly any tourists venture. It seemed a strange city to enter into our GPS, but we have historical connections that led us down the road. Oost-Souburg is the city where my great-grandfather grew up in the early 1900's, until age 7. Before passing away, he wrote a descriptive memory of his childhood home, describing the quaint little village from a child's perspective, and alongside his words, he drew a rough sketch of his street. He drew a canal, a bridge, a windmill, and a steeple, writing "it may have been a Catholic church, but I do not know." Driving through the city, we got lost several times, turning the wrong way down one-way streets, and driving in circles in the round-about, but at least we had a French license plate (this way the locals would blame the French for being crazy tourists). We were also quite fortunate that there were few cars on the road, as almost everyone rides their bicycle. At last we found the street, labeled Kanaalstraat, translated to Canal Street, where we found the canal, the bridge, the windmill, and a steeple that a 7 year-old could have easily mistaken for a Catholic church. We had found my great-grandfather's street. 

Our connection to the city was strong and nearly brought my mother to tears, but it wasn't just the history we connected with. The locals were also extremely friendly, welcoming us into their peaceful town and taking time on their Saturday afternoon to assist us in finding information. Their hospitality was genuinely friendly and for the first time since leaving America, I didn't feel like a tourist. I belonged. (Read Project 21, #8). 

Over a course of 3 days, I fell in love with small town Netherlands. After Oost-Souburg, we visited a number of little towns including Oudewater where the houses leaned forward and the canals ran brownwe saw our first stork nest on top of the church, and I was quite surprised by its size; Soestduinen where we slept in the outskirt forests in a luxurious hotel surrounded with biking paths; Giethoorn which is the Dutch Venice with narrow, winding canals, arched bridges, and tiny cottages with thatched roofsthe peace and quiet of the simple town was refreshing; Elburg where we ate gelato for dinner; and Harderwijke where the constantly red street-lights and road blockades refused to let us drive through the city centeragain, we found ourselves driving the wrong direction on one-way streets. The towns were endless. 


Though we could have explored these small towns for days, we made our way towards Amsterdam, stopping for a few hours in Keukenhofthe famous tulip garden. As spring had only just begun, the tulips were fresh bloomers outside, peaking their heads up from the ground. However, in the indoor greenhouses, the fantastic tulips stood as tall as my waist, blooming with a vibrant radiance. For hours, we wandered the beautifully decorated gardens, admiring the signs of spring and appreciating the warm sun on our faces.


I finally got to pet a spring lamby!
By afternoon, we were in the busy city of Amsterdam, riding down the city canals lined with tall skinny buildings. The canal system, a much larger scale of Giethoorn's, is brilliantly engineered, resembling a bike wheel or spiderweb, with large outside rings and smaller connecting spokes. Bikes lined every fence, piling up around every bike-rail, and houseboats lined the canals, one after another, in an endless chain. And at night, the city was gorgeous, bridges lit up with strings of white bulbs and jazz bands playing on street corners. Though many cars aren't seen during the day like most big cities, hardly any are seen at night, creating a peaceful atmosphere perfect for a moonlight walk.

The highlight of Amsterdam was the Anne Frank museum, where we walked through the tight rooms of a classic Dutch home, up the ladder-stairs and through the bookcase door into a small-scale apartment. The pictures Anne pasted on her wall were still hanging, wrinkled from the paste as if hung only yesterdayher diary-voice whispered in my head like a ghost in the room. Walking through the museum, I was fully engaged from start to finish, reading every sign and watching every video, and I completely lost track of time. No museum has ever sucked me in that far before. 

The Netherlands was my favorite country, connecting with me on many levels, so when I said goodbye, I shed a few tears. But saying goodbye to my parents at the end of Amsterdam was far more difficult, as I wanted to continue sharing my experiences with them rather than write my experiences to them as I do to many. However, our memories of our time in the motherland will last a lifetime and I will cherish the adventures forever!

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