Wednesday, 21 May 2014

It's time...

Yep, the time has come to write the last post of  my Return Journey.

Well, I arrived home on Wednesday 14th May, after a 24 hour journey, which went very well. Incidentally for those who feel Australia is too far away, or conversely, Europe is too far away, it really is only ONE day of your life to get there. Just 24 hours. OK, it might be a little annoying to hang in the sky for 21 hours (with a 3 hour break in Singapore) but hey, in 1957 it took our family 6 weeks to travel from Holland to Sydney in a refurbished troop carrier without stabilizers. It included 14 days on the Indian Ocean between Capetown and Fremantle, a very frightening storm in the Great Australian Bight and lots of seasickness before we finally and safely docked in Sydney to begin our Australian life. But that's another story, maybe a story for another blog...

So there really is very little left to tell. The last few days were spent attending Mieke's church and visiting her garden house once more in the pouring rain. Because of the wonderful spring temperatures this year, the shrubs, annuals and salad greens have just grown to maturity in no time at all. Most of the ground was still very wet and bare when I first arrived, but now the ground is covered in greenery with many plants growing very tall and wide.
The garden is growing like crazy!
The little garden cottage is coming together inside too, with just the need for some kind of heating to be able to stay there overnight during summer nights and window coverings.
A typical Dutch evening meal of veggies and oh! meat. :-)

On Sunday afternoon we visited our friend Sita at Bruekelen once again. She cooked us a delicious typical Dutch meal of vegetables and meat. If you ask a Dutch person what they had for dinner, they will name a vegetable eg: we had (green) beans,whereas an Aussie will always name the cut of meat they had.
With Sita at her home

So much stuff to pack!
On Monday 12th May, the day before I left, I needed to pack! I had not taken my own advice to travel as light as I said I would. Well, in one way I had, because I only took a smallish case with me, plus a soft carry on bag, but both of those were fairly full (see my case here) and I wore almost every piece of clothing I brought during my stay in Holland, but I could have done with a bigger case really. I bought a fair amount of souvenirs/gifts and also some boots and clothes to take home with me.  Anyway, long story short, Mieke, who is a master packer because she has traveled so much and has packed so many cases, came to my rescue. She managed to pack EVERYTHING in the 2 bags and some extra bits and pieces went into a shopping bag. All packed and we did some more shopping, home for a coffee, then over to Nelleke's place for a beautiful home cooked dinner. (Thanks Nelleke for your hospitality! Truly appreciated.) On our way home we took a detour into the countryside to watch the sun set over the many waterways, the farms and a church steeple in the distance. Then home and off to bed for my last night in Holland.

Last coffees at Schiphol Airport
Flying home day dawned pretty early for me. I think I was up at 5.15 am and was showered, dressed, breakfasted and ready to go by about 7.15! Off in the car by 7.50 and guess what, we got stuck in the 'file' or the queue, or in Aussie, peak hour traffic, but we had plenty of time. After arrival at Schiphol, luggage check in and a long 'gezellige' coffee with Mieke, we said our goodbyes with many hugs and even a little has been so special getting to know each other again after all these years and I was so well looked after by her. (Thanks and hugs Mieke!)

 A final wave after going through customs and I was on my own to find my flight departure gate. The flight was slow to get off the ground and left about 45 minutes after scheduled because of the heavy airport traffic. The flight to Singapore went well.. I watched 3! movies! and they certainly keep you occupied by feeding you well! Singapore air staff are just wonderful and look after everyone with such patience and lovely smiles. After a three hour stopover in Singapore I was off to Brisbane at last.

How wonderful it was to come out of immigration to be greeted by not only Ross, but ALL my 4 girls! Their smiling faces and love for me blew me away and I couldn't help but cry and embrace them all at once, even with the barricade between us!
We headed to Tonia's house for tea/coffee and lots of happy laughter, chatting and giving out my souvenirs. Happy and tired we headed off to finally be home and in my own bed!

My beautiful family

It's a week on now and I'm still trying to get over my jet lag. Hope it goes away soon, because I'm really tired of falling asleep at inappropriate times of the day.
I'm back at work and driving my lovely special needs boys to and from school again. So all is just about back to normal routine.

And with that, I will put this blog to bed. For good.
 It's been an amazingly wonderful journey.
 It was a journey of many emotions, and some of these were:
  • The first time I saw the Dutch flag flying high in the sky above Keukenhof gardens.
  • The first strains of the St Matthew's Passion in a beautiful old Amsterdam church
  • Walking through my home town
  • When I heard the pipe organ played by my second cousin Klaas, especially for me, in my childhood church
  • Meeting up with family members and old friends after many decades
  • Travelling through the flat Dutch landscape with its many waterways, green meadows, church steeples, dairy cows, sheep, windmills and quaint houses
  • Walking among the throng of celebrating thousands in Amsterdam on the first ever King's Birthday 
  • Coming back a second time to my hometown to attend morning church service. So special
  • Standing in the building which was once my home. The place where I was born
  • The kindness of everyone I met. It was overwhelming. Simpy wonderful
 As I wrote in a card to thank my sister Mieke:
"I feel rather teary as I write this (I even had a little cry during the night) - after all, this quaint country was also once my home and I reckon my roots are actually pretty deep, deeper than I thought."

Will I return once more?
Only time will tell...

Hugs and love to all my readers.
Sunset over Waterland, near Amsterdam - last evening in Holland around 10.30pm

Saturday, 10 May 2014

On the home run...

Hi everyone,
This will be the last blog before flying out from Holland next Tuesday 13th May 2014. My return journey has come to an end. The weather has changed from amazing spring weather to rain, wind and cooler temperatures more suited to a regular Dutch spring.

Well, since my last blog which told about the first Koning's Dag (King's Birthday), incidentally, the first Dutch KING since Prince Willem lll in the 1800's.( Read about King Willem-Alexander here ).I've been busy re-visiting my home town Wolvega and back to Gouda to see my cousin Henk and wife Sonja.
With two weeks still to go in Holland and having seen and done most of the things I had planned to do, I wondered what we would do during that time. Mieke and I planned a trip in Friesland but then I had a strong, nagging feeling that I wanted to go back and visit my hometown once more. I'd only been there three days, and felt it wasn't enough somehow.  So I made plans to go back and my friends Jaap and Florence kindly invited me to stay with them again.

The week before I went back I spent some time resting at home, visited Amsterdam city again and took an hour's tour by boat through the city's canals, which was fun and informative. The driver/guide asked which nationalities were on board and then did his commentary in Dutch, English, German and Spanish. Pretty clever I think. He had funny little jokes which made us all laugh. It was a perfect Spring day and actually quite hot in the sun - I really enjoyed  that. One of his jokes was that in the Brouwer's Gracht (Brewer's Canal) where all the ancient breweries were located, they used to use the canal water in the brewing process. He said that they ofcourse don't use it anymore these days, only now they just use it for beer that's exported! :-)
After the boat ride I walked into the inner city and enjoyed browsing the quaint streets with so many small shops everywhere. Lots of fashion stores, coffee shops (both those selling coffee and the smelly ones selling drugs, with lounging, bleary eyed young people in the windows), restaurants, ice cream shops, even a hardware store which occupied 3 store fronts with a different department in each. I bought some tops for myself, some souvenirs  and walked and walked up and down long and short streets. I found a very cute 1950's coffee shop and enjoyed a quiet sit down with a drink and some free wifi.

We also spent some time at Mieke's garden, which is really coming on nicely. There is lots of work to be done like weeding, planting, watering, as well as setting up the cottage. Mieke is really enjoying working there, while I sit and read or do some minor gardening that doesn't involve pulling out weeds. I'm lkely to pull out  the wrong plants, seeing I don't know much about Dutch plants.

Saturday week ago, I once again took the bus to the city and caught the train to Wolvega. I really enjoy watching the flat Dutch country side roll by, filled with dairy cows, windmills, little houses and farms and of course lots and lots of water in the form of large canals with large barges on them which transport all kinds of cargoes. As well, rivers meander through the landscape  crossed by many bridges.
I spent a lovely few days wandering around the township with my friend Jaap who explained where things were in the 'old' days, and where we played as kids, where we swam at the pool (now no longer there) and other places of interest. We met a few people along the way from the old days who we had a chat to, which was nice.
On the Sunday Florence and I headed off to church - the church where we went as a family. It was as if time had stood still in all those 60 years. This is what I shared on facebook: Church service in my home town church. I sat on the cross benches under the windows, where I sat with my mum and dad and sisters. It was all there: the traditional psalms and songs; the beautiful pipe organ; the minister in his long black toga with white collar standing in the high pulpit. A child's offering coins still rolled on the floor and the peppermints came out and were shared just before the sermon began, just like when I Was a child. Lots of good memories. I'm glad I took the time to go back to Wolvega this weekend"".

In the afternoon I spent a lovely couple of hours with Henk Pesman and Esther and their cute children. Coffee and 'taartjes' with lots of 'room'. Whipped cream is something the Dutch love - in cakes, with dessert and in their coffee. :-) Also of lots of talking, looking at old historical and family photos. Henk kindly walked me 'home' and I lost (and luckily found) my glasses (thank you Florence) on the path along the waterway. Very grateful that I found them, seeing I can't see without them.
 Stayed another 2 days with Jaap and Florence...lots of talking, good food,(and late night wines), walks on the outskirts of town along farms, fields full of buttercups and freshly sown crops, lots of waterways, and the obligatory windmill, as well as horses, cows and sheep. You can walk late into the evenings because the days are getting longer and warmer each day. 

Jaap and Florence drove me the 2 hours to his sister Sita's home at Breukelen. Her garden adjoins the river Vecht at Breukelen.  Lots of pleasure craft sail by regularly and you can sit right at the river's edge on a nice day. We had a lovely time chatting, eating (of course!) and the next day Sita and I strolled around the very quaint village, browsing the shops and then a lovely lunch with Laksa with prawns for me and a cheese and tomato toasty for her.
 All too soon I needed to get ready to catch the train to Gouda to say my goodbyes to my cousin Henk and  his wife Sonja. That night we ate a delicious old style Dutch meal of Stampot of Endive with rook worst. (Raw endive mashed into hot cooked potatoes, onions etc served with rook wurst) YUMMMMO. 
A lone fisherman.
Next day we walked along the paths and the dyke which runs along the Nederlandse Ijsel. 
Sonja and I  among the wild rhubarb growing along the river
A really lovely walk, with wild rhubarb growing along the river banks, someone enjoying a quiet spot of fishing, boats plying their trade, the lock where the boats wait for the water to equalize. We even saw a long funeral procession with lots of bikes (and cars too)  with the undertakers wearing  tails and high hats!
Again time to move on. Henk and Sonja drove me to Amsterdam, back to Mieke's house. They stayed for afternoon tea and then we ate a hearty meal of Dutch pea soup with sausage and healthy bread and cheese. Mieke had to go out to a meeting, so we three finished off with a coffee before they headed home.

To all my wonderful hosts here in the Netherlands, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your care during my stay with you. Without you all my 'return journey' would not have been what it was. I really would have been completely lost without you all - would not have known where to go or how to get there; what to see or do without you either taking me or pointing the way. Thanks for all the meals, wines (wijntjes), walks, drives, beds to sleep in and above all, the talks about the old times when I was a child; the history lessons about my forebears and about Wolvega town.

I loved seeing old friends and family again:
  • Jaap, Sita, Afke and Jan Sleyt
  • Henk and Klaas Pesman
  • Tante Tinie
  • Henk Dijk
  • Bert Dijk
  • Piet v/d Hoef and his family (thanks for the tompoucen!)
I loved meeting and making new friends too:
  • Nelleke Bosshardt (friend of Mieke's)  - thanks for the meals and coffees
  • Florence Sleyt (thanks for your hospitality - it was simply amazing)
  • Els Dijk  (heel gezellig!)
  • Sonja Dijk ( so hospitable and kind)
  • Cor and Paula (cute house in the Tuynwijck -thanks for the tea and chat!)
  • Henk and Ria (visited their fabulous house in a river ship - thank you!)
  • Mariella and her family (Henk's daughter in Gouda)
  • Marleen (Sleyt) and her farm they are renovating at Ter Idzard...what a job! wow!
  • People at Mieke's church - very friendly
  • People in shops, coffee shops and restaurants - always helpful and friendly. Didn't come across one who wasn't. Even the bus drivers greeted us!
Most of all I THANK my wonderful sister Mieke who shared her home with me and put up with my cases (and at night my bed with me in it :-)...) in the corner of her dining/kitchen. Without your guidance as to language, etiquette, what to see, where to go, taking me here, there and everywhere, my 'return journey'would have been really hard going. You made it easy, fun and so enjoyable. Thank you soooo much.

On Tuesday morning I fly out. Someone suggested I could now cross this off my bucket list. Yes, I can but it was so much more than that. Something  like this trip  is not just a wish to cross off a list. It's something that I mulled over I guess, almost all my life. Something I may have needed to do earlier, but it never seemed the right time somehow.
Now that it's almost over I am so glad I went  when I did. People were able to spend time because they are mostly retired, so didn't have to go to work, or take kids to school etc, So that was a major plus. The weather has been unseasonably mild with minimum days of rain. The tulip gardens were flowering in early April, instead of in May. There were lots of sunshiny days where a coat was unnecessary, so even though I didn't come for the weather, it certainly was a plus to have great days to go out in. Another plus is that I was still young enough to be able to do the lots of walking and climbing stairs you do here. People ride (bikes) and walk everywhere during the day. To the shops (groceries), to church, for fun (as if they need to). In the cities people ride their bikes very fast. Your really have to watch out as they have right of way over pedestrians and cars! People also walk fast, are nearly always busy with something - either in the house, the garden or outside it. They walk fast, talk fast, act fast. It's a small intensely busy place, especially in the cities...I found the country life much more relaxed though.

So there you are  my lovely readers. There should be one more instalment and then this blog will be just floating around in cyberspace, finding it's way onto someone's laptop, tablet, phone or whatever communication device is created in the future, who googles 'The Netherlands' or some related subject.

Photos below of some of the happenings this past week:

With Henk at the lock where the boats wait to go down stream

Taking the stairs to the top of the dyke next to the river

Cute pussycats in the window in Bruekelen


Laksa soup - out for lunch with Sita

Sita's beautiful garden at the river Vecht

My auntie Tinie's house where I played with her kids when I was little

On the steps of Lindenoord, recently restored - we used to collect chestnuts under the old trees here.