Leaving Amsterdam, hello Iceland

We wake early and begin the process of packing.  I’m always surprised that eventually it all gets into the bags though at the outset it seems like a tall order.  I look over and see John sweating as he forces his kit bag shut, then point to my hiking boots and asks him if he has room.  He looks at me incredulous, smartly says nothing and begins the process anew.

Marieke and Nelda have prepared coffee and breakfast for our last morning and will drive us to the airport.  We are thankful for all that they have done to create a perfect trip to the Netherlands.  We hope that one day we will be able to create a memorable time for them in our country.  It was a leap of faith for them to open their home to us, not knowing much about us save for our wedding photo circulated through the family and a few anecdotal stories about John along with memories of his last visit 20 years previous.  From the first night our fears and hopefully theirs were put to rest as we were talking and laughing as if we had known one another forever.

We haul our too large bags to the elevator and then into their car.  An elderly gentleman rides the elevator with us, then hops on his bike and zips out of the parking lot.  John and I look at each other and shake our heads at a sight that we will likely not see for some time.

We arrive at the airport expecting to be dropped at the entrance, instead we are escorted to the correct airline.  We are touched at this extra effort to ensure that we will not waste time twirling around.  It is time to say good-bye.  Thank you at moments like this always seem inadequate, good-byes sad.  We will miss them a great deal.

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My bag is overweight, though the lovely girl says she does not notice as she slaps a heavy sticker on its side.  Security has me standing on a podium as I am searched for nothing.  John says its because I look shifty as he clears security without a second look.

Our next stop is Iceland and we are excited about this next experience. We will enjoy the first few days with 6 of our friends.  We sit back, relax and smile at the faux northern lights display on Icelandair.

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Family Amsterdam

We leave the Van Gogh museum and are shocked to discover that we have spent nearly six hours. Our plans for a return to the Rijksmuseum dashed, we venture to the boats where we can enjoy a canal tour.

The tour is relaxing, we sit back to listen to a history of Amsterdam through our head phones.  The homes are stately, the ground shifting beneath them has my carpenter husband constantly tilting his head to make them square.

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We complete the tour, find the metro station, and wait for the wrong train.  We have learned as John questions our choice, asks a helpful young lady and soon we are on the right train zipping to Nelda and Marieke’s home.

We have been invited for dinner at Aunt Emmy’s home in Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam.  It is a perfect ending to our trip to the Netherlands.  Aunt Emmy visited us in Canada a few years previous and sparked our desire to visit the Netherlands, it is a full circle moment.  Marieke and Nelda have bought sunflowers as a hostess gift, fitting after our day at the Van Gogh museum.

We arrive to Emmy’s bright, cheerful home and are treated to a tour of her cozy home.  She has prepared a wonderful dinner for us.  We begin with avocado and tuna as a mousse and enjoy with lettuce.  The main course, “gourmetten”  has us interactively cooking our own fish and vegetables in small pans at the dinner table.  It is a sociable, relaxed experience.  The food is to our taste as we cook it ourselves adding condiments and spices as desired. This method of cooking is popular at Christmas in the Netherlands, a cozy, family experience  and we are touched that Aunt Emmy has gone to all this trouble for us.

After dinner we enjoy coffee and look at photo albums.  The photo albums have been lovingly created and are shared with all family members by a rotation schedule.  John enjoys seeing photos from the times that he visited the Netherlands as a child and young man and seeing photos of his Dad as a young man. We hear stories about John’s late father and learn more about him.  John finds it interesting to hear a different perspective  about the father he knew and loved and the people who loved him.

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The hours zip by, night has fallen as we begin the journey back to Amsterdam. We speak about the amazing trip that we have enjoyed, all the things that we did, our desire to come back, our hope that many family members will visit us in Canada.  We have been here for only 8 days, though it seems like months as each day filled with family, experiences and love.  We are truly blessed.

Dutch food and family

We arrive back to Nelda and Marieke’s eager to share our day.

Marieke has made a traditional dish called boerenkool stampot (mashed kale and potatoes) served with sausage. This is typically served in colder months and is a comfort food. There are a few different ways to eat this either with vinegar or with stock. We try both and like Switzerland declare them both tasty. Nelda wonders if we should hand in our Smit card and it does cause a stir that we also like the vinegar way. We are touched that Marieke went to this trouble for us.

We decide on a walk around the Amstel river with Nelda. The river is so pretty at night with houseboats flanking the sides, warm, cozy lights aglow, outside lights reflecting. Boats amble down the river. On the shore a path circles with runners, bikers and walkers sharing the space, enjoying the last of summer. We enjoy a beverage with a view of the Amstel and take in the ambience.

Tomorrow we will spend some time with John’s Aunt Ann. Tinneke and Don have graciously offered to drive.

We wake early and prepare for the day. Tinneke and Don arrive and we are off. It is raining today though we cannot complain as the weather has been perfect. Whenever it rains we are indoors, when we venture out it stops.

We arrive at Aunt Ann’s and are surprised and pleased to discover Marjo and Eric will also join us. We hear Bach in the background creating an elegant atmosphere. The large window allows for maximum light despite the rain.

We enjoy a wonderful lunch of smoked eel, salted herring, cheese, bread, cold cuts, so many wonderful things to eat. We sample everything and I’m surprised to discover I like eel and herring.

After lunch we retreat to the lounge to chat. Ann has prepared a list of memories to share with John about his late father. We enjoy a cozy, rainy afternoon listening to stories and learning about John’s Dad as a young boy and man. Ann says that John looks like his Dad and it is both sad and happy at the same time for her.

We spend a lovely afternoon listening to stories from the past, sharing our present lives and plans for the future.

Family

Don and Tineke have offered to drive us back to Amsterdam to Nelda and Marieke’s home. This saves us much time and confusion to navigate our way by bus, ferry, bus and train. We are so very thankful.

They arrive and we bid Paul goodbye and thank him for his hospitality. It has been a memorable experience that we will both remember with fondness. In a lifetime of days,yesterday was the best.

We begin the journey to the ferry. As we drive onto the ferry, Els waves. She has ridden her bike to see us off. She will ride the ferry across and back, then bike home. We are so happy to have a chance to say goodbye.

We sip coffee and enjoy the short drive back. Don and Tineke invite us to their home and we happily say yes. It is nice not to have to say goodbye so soon.

Their home is warm and cozy with large windows. Their life in books, pictures and art surround. The room draws us in and immediately we are comfortable.

We chat about Canada and Tineke produces a scrapbook she made after her trip to Canada with her parents and brother, Hein. It’s interesting to see the pictures from that time. We welcome them to visit us in Canada and hope they will.

We learn about their other home in Portugal that we hope to visit one day. We learn they met each other when they were very young, they both lived a lifetime, then met and began another. How lucky they found one another, though life really does happen exactly as it should.

We enjoy cheese, crackers, wine and beer before venturing out for dinner. The neighbourhood is a vibrant community with interesting architecture and large, bright windows.

We arrive a short distance later to a round orange restaurant. It’s cozy inside with a central fireplace and bright windows for 360 degree viewing of people.

We share drinks and enjoy a wonderful meal of bread, fish, mussels and steak. Strong coffee and dessert round off a most excellent meal. Conversation is easy and relaxed.

Don and Tinneke drive us back to Nelda and Marieke’s. We pass through the museum district, see a large bathtub claiming to be art, along with The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. It’s good to be reacquainted with the lay of the land as tomorrow we are alone.

We thank Don and Tinneke for a wonderful dinner and day and make plans to meet again. We arrive at Nelda and Marieke’s assume our seats as the wine is poured and we pick up exactly where we left off.

Biking Texel

We wake early to help with clean up from the party. Family arrives and in no time the cleanup is complete. Els, Theo, Carla, Paul, John, Tinneke, Don, and myself make the many hands to create light work.

John’s cousin, Carla has brought a bike for me to enjoy while we are here. John’s Grandfather biked around this island well into his 90’s, though this practice is not unusual in the Netherlands. Still, I wanted to have this experience and today is the day. Paul, Karl, John and myself set off. The bikes are different, touring bikes as opposed to mountain bikes. It’s like biking as a child. I sit high on the bike though it’s comfortable and nice not to hunch over.

The paths are paved and mostly flat. We are not alone, there are many people biking young and old though considerably less volume than Amsterdam.

We work our way to the beach a short ride away. We arrive lock our bikes easily with a lock installed on the tires, the key remains in until used. How wonderful to not fuss with combinations and search for keys.

We walk the short distance to the beach and find the sand dunes John’s dad described. How amazing, so tall and majestic they flank the entrance. There is a restaurant, requisite supply store though my eyes are drawn to the water. I continue.

The water is cool though quickly I adjust and enjoy the soak. Children play on the sandbar, sea birds swoop playing with the wind. Seashells cover portions of the beach. There are beach houses that can be used for the season providing a more permanent structure to enjoy the summer at the beach.

We enjoy the space and begin to walk back. I just want to stay here. We opt for lunch at the restaurant to continue to enjoy the ambience. The food excellent, local beer cold, perfection.

We hop back on the bikes and continue. Paul shows us the Polder lands, new land reclaimed from the sea. When the industrious, clever Dutch run short of land, they just make more.

There is a lighthouse in the distance. Paul tells us about about an annual walk around the island.

We turn around though each time we get back on the bike it hurts a little more as our butts become accustomed to riding. Paul tells us he is getting us tough for our trek through Iceland so we don’t embarrass ourselves or the family name.

We arrive back and decide on dinner at a nearby beach restaurant. Tinneke, Don, Els, Theo will join Paul, John and myself. Paul explains if we bike he can enjoy a drink though if he takes the car he will be the designated driver. Reluctantly, we opt for the bike ride though our butts scream their protest.

The bike ride is beautiful, flanked on both sides by tall stands of trees. I discover second gear and marvel to Paul that I had no idea the bike had more than one. Paul casually smokes a cigarette while he rides, John and I focus on the task at hand.

We arrive and walk the short distance where we are greeted by the others’. The meal wonderful some have hake(fish), others’ have steak. The waiter errs our order despite its simplicity. The sunset beckons and demands its photo, I comply.

We enjoy each other’s company, the conversation switches between English and Dutch and John and I begin to follow the conversation using context and body language, coupled with a few words we have learned.

Too soon it’s time to leave, the sky dark. We figure out the lights on the bikes, the moon and stars light the sky and we begin the ride with Paul leading the way. How cool to ride a bike at night. Mentally, I decide to remember this moment, though my butt declares it will be sometime before I forget.

Texel, Netherlands

Today we travel to Texel for the family reunion. I’ve heard so much about this place, my expectation high. I attempt to curtail my enthusiasm to avoid disappointment.

The first time I met John’s parents they showed me pictures and a book about Texel. John’s dad spoke about the sheep market, dunes and the beauty of the beaches that he declared rivalled any beach in Hawaii. From that moment this was a place I needed to see and today was the day.

We travel a great distance to the ferry with Nelda and Marieke pointing out the sites. We pass small quaint towns even one whose name roughly translated means ditch, Slootdorp. Marieke and Nelda laugh stating some day when they retire they will live in this town. We pass a town where each house is decorated with flags as today is a celebration we don’t know what they are celebrating so speculate, perhaps it’s because we have arrived we joke.

Soon we arrive at the ferry. I learn the crossing will take 15 minutes, hardly enough time to collect our thoughts. Still we have a chance to come upstairs, look at the sites, peruse the souvenirs and take photos. I stand on the deck and the seabirds swoop and dip leading the way to Texel.

Too soon we arrive and begin the journey to John’s cousin, Pauls’ home, the scene of the family reunion. We first stop at the site of John’s Grandparents homestead, The home consisted of a house, a summer house and a carpentry shop. The summer house remains though the rest is gone making way for row homes. Still, I close my eyes and imagine them in their later years waiting for the bus to arrive and their children and grandchildren to visit.

We set off for Paul’s home and I prepare myself to meet the relations. A group is gathered, though we are given our space initially with a chance to take in their sheer volume before joining in the fray. John and I are touched as the reunion is every two years though they have added another this year because of our visit.

Gradually we meet them all, a lovely bunch, friendly and welcoming. They all speak English well, thankfully, as my Dutch is limited with only the ability to ask for salt and pepper and I have no need for either so it would be awkward.

We drink strong coffee and enjoy Gevulde Speculaas cookies. The almond taste is lovely, I enjoy two and a second cup of coffee.

We eat fried fish to remember John’s grandfather who would trade sausage for small flat fish. The fishermen would be tired of fish and happy for the sausage. The fish were small and not saleable. Win win all around. The fish is flash cooked in oil with no breading and is melt in the mouth goodness. I enjoy two and part of Johns’ too.

We look at the pictures that have been assembled, so much work. It depicts John’s grandparents followed by their 12 children and their children and grandchildren. I marvel at what is created because two people fell in love.

John’s remaining Uncles and Aunts chat with us. Ann, Jan, Nely, Emmy, Els and Tinneke. We hear stories about him, his youth and how difficult it was for him to be away from home when he arrived in Canada at the tender age of 18. We learn how his Mother would sit down once a week to write her eldest son. I think about how difficult it must have been for John’s grandparents to say goodbye to their oldest son when he journeyed to Canada. Travel so different then and the length between visits uncertain.

We continue visiting and meet everyone, learn about each other and enjoy the beautiful weather in Paul’s yard. John is reminded how he longed for a McDonalds during his last trip to the Netherlands. Chickens and a rooster weave in between creating a tranquil peace despite the crowd. Don plays piano and accordion and sings including a Canadian song for us. The song is not familiar in words though the music is east coast.

The family gathers for a picture, organized chaos ensues though like a well orchestrated system within minutes everyone assembles, the moment is forged. Day turns to night, Indonesian food arrives, we indulge.

At intervals family members leave to catch the ferry, some opt to not say goodbye as it’s likely to take too long to go through everyone and the ferry will be missed. There is a mad scramble to catch the last ferry, the frenzy ends.

The night quiets and all that remains are those who will stay the night on a Texel. A circle of chairs is assembled around a warm inviting fire and in a time honoured tradition we stare into the flames. Tineke strikes up the ukulele and Don harmonizes with the accordion. Together they sing. We listen to the conversations around us and pick up the gist.

The family disbands and soon we are three, John, Paul and me. We retreat to our room in his home, sink deep into bed and reminisce about the day. John states he can’t believe he’s related to all of them and marvels that not everyone is here. He wonders how different his life might have been had he been raised here. I think about my expectations that have been surpassed. We both agree we are very blessed.

Amsterdam

We arrive in Amsterdam after a long night and day of travel. We are greeted at the airport by John’s cousin, Nelda and Aunt, Emmy. Such a welcome pleasure and so very different from other trips where we arrive without knowing a soul.

We enjoy a coffee and beer at the airport and collect our thoughts before continuing our journey. We find the lighthouse marker where we find Nelda’s car and relax while she expertly navigates the car to her home. I reflect on other trips where we frantically search for the rental agency and then twirl our way out of the airport, brows furrowed as we find our accommodation sleep deprived. I decide I like this experience much more.

We arrive at our destination, a beautiful, spacious apartment with a view of the Amstel river. We set our bags down in our room and visit for a few moments before exhaustion settles in and our eyes’ blink rate slows. We crawl into bed for a nap with a planned wake up call a few hours later to break the jet lag.

The knock on the door arrives and we peel ourselves away from the comfortable bed to the dining room where we meet Marieke, Nelda and Emmy for coffee. Soon dinner arrives without our effort and we indulge.

Satiated we decide on a walk around the neighbourhood. The light dims, the river shimmers as we admire architecture, each building unique and beautiful, all favourites its too difficult to choose. Nelda points out important landmarks, the train station, trolley and bridges. We get our bearings.

We arrive back, drink wine and learn about each other. Soon we are talking and laughing, like we have always known each other, deep belly laughs and tears run down our faces to round out our first night in Amsterdam.