Tag Archives: Amsterdam

A trip down memory lane, Netherlands – 2

29 Aug


Netherlands, or Holland as we “Dutchies” call our country, is an interesting place to observe through the eyes of my children.  Having lived here for the first 20 years of my life, it still feels “normal” to me, the way certain things are done – however now they make me ponder as Emile & Filou point things out.

For example, we rented some bikes to take a ride through the Dutch dunes (dunes are the hills that protect Holland against the water) – and when picking up our rental bikes, we were not offered a helmet (something that is unheard of in Canada – especially for children).  Nobody in Holland wears a helmet (except on a road bike maybe).

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Filou getting used to his multi-colour Dutch bike

As a child I would bike 45 minutes to school and back, each day amidst large groups of children – rain,  (lots of wind) or shine.  It was fun (I always had red cheeks – “appelwangen”) and I never felt unsafe. This is of course because the Dutch have this amazing network of bike paths that are completely separate from the roadways.  Emile also found it funny how you lock a Dutch bike – the bikes have a lock attached them, and once you pull a lever down and take out your key, it’s locked and you can leave your bike (Anthony was worried we didn’t have a strong cable to attach it to some solid structure).  But it all seems to work just fine here.

So, after a nice, 1 hour bike ride through the dunes and nature reserve surrounding Noordwijk (we saw a large group of deer and an incredibly large, white snail that caught Emile’s attention)– against, some typical, strong Dutch wind, we reached “het strand” (the beach), where we locked up our bikes, Dutch style, and hiked 5 minutes over a dune, to reach the North Sea.  Emile and Filou had a blast jumping in very high waves, and even Anthony braved the somewhat cold water.

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Walking through the dunes to the Noordwijk Beach

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Like in Canada, water is of course plentiful in Holland, and a trip down memory lane was a visit to the sailing school I frequented as a child. Similar to summer camps in Canada, Dutch kids often go to sailing camp for a week. “De Wijde Aa”, was the name of one of such sailing camps, a place where I hold fond memories.

This camp, located in Roelofarendsveen, has its own windmill where we slept at night, and a variety of small boats, used to teach us the intricacies of manoeuvering Dutch winds.  This sailing camp was educational but mostly very fun with its multitude of different games, activities and songs.

The sailing instructors (usually university students) knew how to make it a good time for all.  One of those instructors in particular left a big impression on this little Dutchie; he was very handsome and incredibly kind and fun with the kids (I remember him making a song about me and my blue hat – I was always wearing this bright blue hat at camp).  A little girl crush, on a guy that I thought had the most beautiful name: Emile.   So, ever since then, I told myself that if I had a son, I would call him Emile.  And so, here I was, with my handsome, firstborn Emile, at the sailing school that inspired his name – very sweet! (the only thing missing perhaps was the handsome instructor Emile – probably now in his 50’s or 60’s. J).

We continued our exploration on the water and took a nice boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam with the family.  The canal houses are so unique and intricate in their design, and boating through the extensive network of waterways in the capital city is a lovely way to explore this “Venice of the North”.  Our good friend Pieter Tol, who we had the pleasure of connecting with while there, lives in one of those beautiful canal houses overlooking the water.  These houses were built deep but very narrow with incredibly steep staircases (I was completely out of breath getting myself to his 3rd.floor apartment), as in the Golden Age, taxes were to be paid on the width of the houses. Now, they are protected and a precious commodity, where each floor is sold or rented separately.

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Emile admiring the “7 bridges” within the Amsterdam canals

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Loving the cool Amsterdam vibe

Also, fun in Amsterdam was the flower market where you can buy any kind of flower bulb (the kids were surprised at the many different colours of tulips – they produce any colour or mix of colour, you can imagine – even a totally black one!).

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Emile and Filou at the Amsterdam “Flower Market” where they admired the flowers and other Dutch products, such as wooden shoes

But the most interesting place to learn about the amazing flowers of Holland is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction or Flora Holland (http://www.floraholland.com/en/), in the city of Aalsmeer (for a few euros you can watch the auction, but be there at 7 am for the best show. At 9:00 am it is all over!). Every day, thousands of the most beautiful flowers and plants are auctioned off here to wholesalers and export companies – that for 80% will distribute and sell them worldwide.  It is amazing to see the incredible sea of coulours – one flower more beautiful than the other.

Once the flowers are auctioned off, and sold, they are transported on the floor, from one location to the next by hundreds of people on “stand up electronic bikes”.  Although the process at the auction is highly computerized, it is interesting to notice that it also still needs a lot of human intervention.  Of course, I knew Holland was a flower land and we always enjoyed a multitude of fresh flowers and plants at home, but I had never been to this auction which gave me a whole new appreciation for its scale  – and reason for which Holland is so famous.

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Some of the many colourful flowers at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction

So as we continue to enjoy more family time, and soon re-connection time with good friends, my trip down memory time continues…


24 Aug

After Twillingate, our intention was to drive to Terra Nova National Park and onwards West to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and take the night ferry from Argentia back to North Sydney.  But as everyone knows, travel is unexpected and so too in this case.  The Marine Atlantic ferry, the one that had taken us to Newfoundland only two days before, crashed into a dock and was beyond repair for at least a month (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2013/08/06/ns-ferry-delays.html), and so the ride back from Argentia was cancelled until Sept. 1.  This forced us to turn back west to our starting point – leaving out all of the eastern part of this gorgeous province.

So after spending a few more fabulous days in Gros Morne National Park, where we enjoyed more incredible views and hikes, and spent a fun afternoon taking in some local tunes (at the Merchant’s Warehouse café in Woody Point, multi-talented Mike Madigan delighted the audience with fun Newfoundland – cod liver oil and sailor – songs, while taking the kids on stage and teaching them to play with the “ugly stick” and spoons), we made our way back safely to Halifax, Nova Scotia where we caught an Iceland Air Flight to Europe – Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Emile and Filou having a blast on stage with Mike Madigan, playing the “funny stick”


At Halifax Airport, leaving for our first transatlantic flight to Europe

As thrilled as Emile & Filou were about their transatlantic flight (they watched movies all night, and never slept a minute although it was a night flight), my personal excitement started to build as well, as the next destination on our list was a visit to my “home country” or should I say, country of origin?  A country I hadn’t visited for 6 years.

To now have the opportunity to show Emile and Filou the many wonderful traditions, culture & sights this unique, little country has to offer, together with my parents (the boys’ Opa and Oma), who are both turning 75 this year, is something to be truly cherished.

After a warm and emotional welcome at award-winning Schiphol Airport, we made our way to Landal Green Parks in Noordwijkerhout (about ½ hour drive from Amsterdam), where we also met up with my sister Caroline, her daughter Amandine (my lovely goddaughter), and my sister’s boyfriend Antoine and his son Leopold (who all live in Angers, France). We took three lovely bungalows at this Landal Dunimar vacation park, located in the heart of the flower fields and close to the North Sea.

To quickly immerse ourselves into Dutch traditions, one of our first visits was a daytrip to Volendam, a fishing village where the older generation is still very proud to wear their traditional attire – and where a fun activity is to dress up in traditional costume and take a picture – something which of course we could not resist doing.  Emile and Filou loved this “dress-up” activity and their half Dutch roots certainly started to show (and for me – what can I say?  A real “Dutchie”!).

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Three Dutchies in Volendam costume

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Opa having a blast in his new outfit

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Opa and Oma with children and grandchildren

And you are not a real Dutchie until you have eaten a raw herring up side down, which Opa was eager to teach the boys to do.  They didn’t like the taste very much, but were a good sport in trying this Dutch delicacy.

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 Little taste of Dutch herring, which is to be eaten like this

On the other hand, there are many Dutch treats the boys LOVE, such as Dropjes (Dutch salty licorice), Vanilla Vla (custard drink the Dutch eat for breakfast – and come in many different flavours – the vanilla one being our favorite!), stroopwafels (syrup wafels), poffertjes (mini pancakes with icing sugar), krokketten & bitterballen (deep fried type meat balls) and fries with sweet mayonnaise (and now they understand why mom never eats ketchup, and chooses the white stuff whenever possible!).  And last, but certainly not least, of course the many kinds of delicious Dutch cheese.

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Fries with mayonnaise, so much better then ketchup!

So next, it was onto Edam, a beautiful, small historic town, known for its cheese production (one that is sold all over the world).  Emile tasted and chose two different kinds of cheese, of which we bought one piece each. We were all astonished at the cheap price of the product; about 7 dollars for these two large pieces of scrumptious cheese, which would easily cost 2 – 3 times as much in Canada!


Filou in a lovely little cheese shop in Edam

So as we are very much enjoying our family time here, and eating up a wonderful storm – we look forward to another 2.5 weeks in this wonderful country – a place that very much feels like home again – and is interesting to observe through the eyes of my children.  More on that later….