For many years I have wanted to travel to this land. My mom had a "special birthday" and I thought maybe that was a good time to travel... I wanted to go with her and once I approached her, we then asked my brother and sister to join us on this adventure. A year and a half later the time came and off we went... flights were booked months ago, accommodations were arranged and an itinerary was planned. All of that didn't take away from how much work went into leaving our own little families but we all have amazing spouses who supported our travel dream. Away we flew!
We arrived to sun and warmth after a long flight (I traveled from Ottawa to Toronto then met them for our flight to Amsterdam). We found a cafe with a patio (the first of many) and enjoyed just finally being there. I won't forget the feeling...it was awesome and we were still only in Schipol Airport!
We picked up our rental car and Ben drove us to Den Haag, where we were staying for the first few days.
Once we settled into our apartment in downtown Den Haag, we went for a walk and to have dinner. There was a little bit of rain but this was the only time we had rain on our whole trip.
The day after we arrived we met up with our cousins, Jack and Josee. They live in Canada now but are originally from Holland and happened to also be visiting. We spent two days with them and they acted as our tour guides. They took us to the Masdag in downtown Den Haag not far from our apartment, which is an art museum that holds this spectacular panorama... we stood on a platform that showed this scene all around us depicting the town of Scheveningen in as it was in 1880. This is the area (more or less) where my Grandpa Rimmelzwaan is from.
This trip was filled with wonderful unplanned experiences one of which was the parade we watched not too far from where we were staying. The Dutch Royal family were participating in the opening of parliament and they held a parade beforehand... so many royal fans were out on the streets. It was so much fun to watch and learn.
We then drove to where our Grandpa Rimmelzwaan's family lived (until he was about 3 years old). This was a farm which is now a restaurant and tennis court club. It is in nice condition and we were able to walk around and then have lunch. During the war, this was kept intact because the German military used it as a place of recreation. The Rimmelzwaaan family did not live there at that time.
My grandfather has stories from his childhood of the German occupation. As a child, I didn't understand but as I adult, I often think about what he told us and cannot imagine that life. We heard more stories during our travels... fear but bravery is in every story.
This is the view from our rooftop balcony in Den Haag... such a beautiful city.
The following day we drove to Voorburg, about a 20 minute drive that took us a wee bit longer due to unfamiliarity with practically everything related to driving in this country! On a side note, it took Ben just a few days to become more comfortable and actually started enjoying the tiny streets in our small car. Thank goodness for small cars!
Voorburg is where my Grandma Bloetjes (Bontje) is from. Mom didn't know of any living relatives to visit but she did know the church the Bontje's went to and where their house used to be.
Next stop... Pijnaker; a 15 minute drive away from Voorburg. This is where my Grandma Rimmelzwaan (Kerkvliet) grew up and where her niece, Nicoline and her family live. I connected with Nicoline on facebook last year after my aunt Susan mentioned that I should. Nicoline was so so helpful and wonderful during my planning process and was a gracious host when we visited. Her sister, Helma came for the day to spend time with us as well. These two ladies are my dad's cousins and it easily felt like family, as did all of our time spent with relatives. This is where Nicoline lives with her husband, 3 sons and her mom. It's a beautifully restored place and I am so thankful we could visit.
Nicoline arranged for us to have bikes and we went on tour to Delft. It was spectacular!
Nicoline took us to her place of work, an orchid greenhouse. The flower industry is HUGE in the Netherlands. As a result, buying a stunning bouquet of flowers is easy and affordable in Holland!
Once we arrived in Delft, we climbed he church tower... not my idea of a good time because the stairs were steep in a tiny space. I did make it up halfway and turned around to slow my heart rate down. The rest of my crew went the whole way up!
I took a lot of photos so I cannot share them all here on my blog... it would be way too long BUT this picture speaks to me of Holland. This view of a canal, flowers, buildings close to water and bicycles is very iconic of the Netherlands. I love Canada but I fell in love with biking in Holland.
The main reason I wanted to travel to Holland was to experience where my ancestors are from and maybe connect with them a little bit more. I also love to travel.
This building below is where the they left from to travel by boat to a new land, Canada. It must have been frightening to leave... by boat with maybe only one person you knew (your new husband) and set out for a new life. As we toured the Rotterdam Harbour, these thoughts were in my mind.
After a BIG day of touring... Den Haag to Rotterdam and back... we ended up at this beautiful restaurant where we were treated to lots of wine and really, really good dutch food. Thank you Jack and Josee for being the most gracious tour guides. We will never forget this experience.
After 4 nights and 3 full days of busy touring and visiting, we left Den Haag for Hoorn. We drove about 1 hour from Den Haag (approximately... might have been less) and stopped at Edam. This was the cutest little village with beautiful streets filled with old charm. This village is known as a stop for tourists but we enjoyed the small crowds to find cute shops and a good bistro for lunch.
We also stopped at my Great Aunt, Tante Bets' apartment not too far away... she lost her husband just this passed August, my Om Pe. We had a visit with her and walked around the village she lives in as well. Mom had a longer visit with her and left with a mantle clock that has been in our family for a long time. Such a treasure... and it made it home safely to Canada!
By late afternoon we arrived at to our next spot, Hoorn. This was a nice surprise... a beautiful town and an even more beautiful apartment right downtown. I planned our accommodations and this one was a great surprise... I would definitely come back here. Our host, Sophia, was kind and gracious and very happy to provide us with ideas for what to experience while staying here.
The day after we arrived in Hoorn, we decided to relax and just walk around the downtown core and experience the market. It was busy but really interesting and the shopping was great! We ate great good, bought some souvenirs for our family and some treats for ourselves. It was another beautiful day!
On the Sunday, we had a full day planned... we drove to Zaanse Schans, where there was a living museum of windmills profiling what they were used for many years ago. In the past there were many, many windmills all over the country that were lumber mills or flour mills but now there are very few. We toured any active lumber mill and walked around the traditional houses and a wooden shoe factory.
After a late lunch, we headed out to find a bike rental shop so we could ride through the countryside... mom had a tour planned for us. This was my most favourite experience on the whole trip which is funny because I wasn't so sure about it to begin with. I don't ride a bike very often and 17km sounded like a lot for someone like me. Give me beautiful scenery and flat roads any day and I would bike a lot more often. I smiled the whole time...
Many evenings we enjoyed a simple supper just like this... good bread, cheese, meat and wine. This meal also included some veggies and delicious fig jam. We would play euchre, chat with our families and head to bed early.
Onto the last part of our trip... Amsterdam. We left our wonderful spot in Hoorn for a two bedroom suite near Schipol Airport. We hopped on a shuttle to the airport and then the train into Amsterdam. We did this two different times which was easy and fun! This took us right into downtown Amsterdam which was quite a shock to our systems compared to the rest of our trip... crowds and so many different types of people from everywhere! It also felt less dutch with Starbucks and other chain restaurants dotting the landscape but after walking a few blocks we were back into dutch territory with "coffee shops" on every corner and bridges lined with bikes over the many canals.
This picture shows part of Dam Square and is a busy spot!
The first evening here we met up with some Bloetjes cousins which was so much fun! They took us out for dinner and we had great conversations. Connecting with cousins was part of our trip that ended up being so much fun and "bucket-filling".
** Immigration can disconnect families. This doesn't mean it isn't necessary to make a new start but the downside is that the descendants of that family don't get to know more relatives. In our case, we have first cousins but nothing beyond that nearby and therefore the family can feel small. This trip allowed a connection to occur and now I have new relatives to know... mostly via facebook but that's pretty awesome!
We spent a whole day just walking around the downtown portion of the city along the canals. It was a beautiful day. We found a great restaurant to relax and eat another good meal and late afternoon we had a reservation for a canal tour with "These Dam Guys Boat Tour". It was on recommendation that we use this company and it was very fun and informative. By the end of the day our feet were tired and we were happy to head back to our apartment.
It was a trip of a lifetime and something I will treasure forever. These people are my own and despite that fact that we live separate lives and far apart, we came together to celebrate our heritage and spend some meaningful time together. I smile thinking about it.