Wednesday we left Belgium after twelve wonderful days, and we drove north into the Netherlands. We stopped in Utrecht for lunch, and I fell in love with this beautiful city. I liked all the places we visited in the Netherlands last year, but this newly discovered city just had a great vibe to it. It was typically old, had beautiful canals like other places, but it had a certain local flair that was obvious, and it lacked all sense of global shopping, such as Starbucks and H&M. I love Starbucks and funky shopping just as much as anyone, but it’s so nice to see there’s still a city that hasn’t been overrun with globalization. I suspect there’s an IKEA out on the highway, but hey, I enjoyed the moment and the space I was in.
We arrived on the polder farm to visit Cees and Margarit around 4:00. When Barry was an exchange student in the Netherlands, he lived with Cees’s family for 3 months. Cees and Margarit have 2 daughters, the eldest (17) is away at school and the youngest (15) was at the farm to meet us too. They’re a lovely family and we enjoyed our time with them very much.
Let me give a brief, and rather poor, description of the polder. When the Dutch decided that they’d close of the Zuiderzee (South Sea) from the North Sea (Atlantic Ocean) to avoid flooding, they created created new land, called huge polders, within the new fresh water lake. This new land, after decades of draining it, is now used for farms and new towns. As we drove towards the polder, we watched the elevation gauge on the GPS slowly drop from 8’ feet above sea level to the lowest point we saw, which was -5m below sea level. I guess we know why it’s called the Low Lands! Cees’s farm is at -3.5m below sea level and you can see the dyke just behind the farm fields that holds back the lake. It’s a fascinating feat in water and land management, but still a little unsettling to know you’re sleeping below the lake level less than a km away.
Our time at the farm was excellent. Cees kindly dug out toy peddle cars, unicycles, and skateboards for the kids to use, and undoubtably the peddle car was the favourite. Tommy, their super friendly dog, loved to go for rides in it too, which the kids enjoyed. George’s favourite moment on the farm, however, may have been when Cees offered a tractor ride. Much to my surprise, Cees let George drive and I only prayed that George didn't’ drive the multi-million dollar tractor into the ditch or over the crops which are ready to harvest next week. I went inside instead of watching!
On Thursday, Cees and Margarit toured us all over their province. We stopped at a museum that explained, in kid friendly ways, how the dykes were built, how the sea became fresh water and how the windmills pump the land dry. I think we covered the week’s science curriculum that morning. After lunch we drove to a forest and climbed a 40m tower to overlook the region. The tower was quite impressively built with winding stairs in and out of the tower. Before we climbed, Cees asked if I was afraid of heights, to which I replied no, but when given the opportunity to climb over two layers of netting 30 meters above the ground, my natural instincts to not walk across kicked in. The kids ran around feeling completely secure, so I let me desire to not be outdone by my kids override my fear of falling to my death. I climbed out on the netting and suspended myself above the forest floor. Barry joined us, perhaps because he was curious too, or perhaps he just decided that if the bottom fell out he’d rather plummet with us than watch us go!
A delicious dinner of poffertjes - mini pancakes covered in icing sugar - and waffles was had at a nearby village. This confirmed that the kids love dutch food; breakfast is bread covered in butter with chocolate sprinkles, lunch was fresh pizza, and dinner was another overdose of sugar followed by their dairy intake of ice cream. We’re going to be huge by the end of this trip.
When we left home, I was determined that I’d become disciplined about our routines. If we were only travelling for a week or two, I’d be willing to live recklessly like most people do on holidays, but I felt, feel, that we need more self-control than that. I was determined we’d eat our vegetables, not indulge too much, get good exercise, sleep 8 hours a night, and do the homeschooling everyday. So after 10% of our trip is complete, I want to let you know I’m failing miserably. We’ve had an abundance of chocolate, overloaded on bread products, and we’ve completed the equivalent of 3 days of homeschooling!
So I could get up and stop the children from eating bread with the chocolate sprinkles that Margarit sent with us to our little cabin on another farm, or I could lay in bed with my coffee and enjoy the sounds of happy children and keep writing
…I’m such a disciplinarian…
We had originally booked a week in Delft in an apartment, but it got cancelled and Barry found us a cute cabin on a farm not far from where he lived for a year. It’s a dairy farm so I can hear the cows mooing this morning, but I can also hear the passing by of trucks and the odd train whistle that reminds me that in the Netherlands, nothing, especially throngs of people, are never far away. It’s such a dense place.
The two bedroom cabin is tiny, but quite comfortable. The best part for the kids is that they have found a way to get rid of the few vegetables I’ve provided by giving them to the three rabbits, two guinea pigs and two large pigs who are just outside our door.
Shortly after we settled in at the cabin yesterday, we headed to the beach, 20 km away, as the weatherman had predicted this would be the nicest afternoon all week. The air felt cool, so I wore by sweater, down jacket and brought my light coat just in case. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the beach quite hot and we all stripped down as much as possible and enjoyed a walk in super fine sand (with lots of shells). The best feature of the beach, apart for the gorgeous sand, is the abundance of bars and restaurants built along the sand. After getting a little parched from our walk, we stopped at nice place, enjoyed cold beers and Sprite and lounged away an hour or so on some nice rattan sofas in the sand. It was very civilized! Barry had often raved about the Dutch beaches, but I didn’t really believe him given the proximity to the north pole, but he was right. The beaches here are extraordinary, it’s just the weather that can be unpredictable. Luckily, we had an especially warm September day to enjoy them.
Today is Saturday and we’re planning to meet Barry’s former host-sister (Cees’s sister), Ellen, and her family to go for a bike ride and dinner. It’s a classic activity here, so despite Molly’s hatred of cycling, she’s onboard for acting Dutch for a day. She probably thinks there’ll be stropwaffles along the way.