On Saturday we made our way into the city of Groningen. It was an awesome place and I’d love to have more time there someday. We had lunch at Drie Gezusters, wandered through the farmers market, climbed the martini tower and of course, played pool at the snooker hall we/Patrick found.
My grandma’s brother, his wife and their family live in the Netherlands and while we were there we got to meet some of them. My great uncle Ytzen and aunt Rieka welcomed us warmly into their home . Rieka’s authenticity and sweetness and Ytzen’s playfulness won us over completely. They are easy to love and over the course of an evening visit, I did fall in love with them.
We also got to spend some time getting to know their daughter Corrie and her husband Herman. They were great tour guides, taking us to see the sea at Delfzijl, sharing a coffee on the coast and walking through the harbour, teaching us about the marine culture we know so little about.
At first I was nervous to meet these relatives and wondered whether I was right to invite myself into their lives, but we were treated so wonderfully, it really was a highlight of our trip and I can’t wait to visit again. I’m already planning the next trip where I’ll hopefully bring my mom to meet her cousins and get to know more of the family.
As I mentioned before, one of the major reasons we decided to spend a week in Holland was to meet some of the family I have there and to see the town my grandparents came from, Uithuizermeeden. It’s a small town, perched about 5 km inland from the north sea, right on the north tip of the Netherlands. Patrick and I biked from our campsite to Uithuizermeeded, about a 25km round trip. The bike trails in Holland seem plentiful and more efficient than the train tracks or highways and it was a beautiful ride.
When we got to Uithuizermeeden, we spent some time just biking around to get a feel for the place. It was obvious that this town had changed a good deal since 1951 when my grandparents left it, but the core of the town and some of the older church buildings seemed to have been there for centuries. What was really poignant for me was walking the cobblestones along the older roads and knowing that they had seen generations of my ancestors walk them as well. My grandma is an important part of my life and has been since I was born so to see the place she came from and be able to talk with her about it when I come home is really special. My grandfather passed away when I was very young and I have no memories of the two years that I knew him, so walking these streets let me feel a closeness to him that was unexpected and moving.
After wandering the town and having some pickled herring and beer for lunch (Patrick had something non-fish of course), we headed over to the cemetery and spent an hour or more walking through the plots, photographing the grave markers inscribed with the names of my family. Some I had heard stories of, some I still have no idea if we’re actually related or if the last name is just coincidence. One of the most beautiful things I saw in Holland was the footpaths of this graveyard. Rather than paving or putting down gravel, the walking paths between graves are made of seashells. It made the paths into beautiful hues of blue and grey and it reminded me of the north sea. It turned the sound of your footfalls into something sacred.
I was searching for one grave in particular though, knowing for sure that my great grandmother (my grandma’s mom) was buried there. After about 45 minutes of searching, we found it. I spent some time just sitting there in the grass and thinking about my connection to this woman. I know next to nothing about her, but I found myself wondering about her personality, her life and what she thought about a great grandchild she never knew seeking her out at this memorial stone. It reminded me how strong the pull for connection and history is in my life and how important it is to follow those needs.
Growing up in a very Dutch immigrant community, I never really was one of those kids who wanted to go visit Holland. From my limited understanding, it was all droppies and fish and wooden shoes and water and crowds. Other than pickled herring and bathing, I’ve never really been a big fan of any of those.
This trip though, I decided we needed to brave the Netherlands because I really felt it was important to me to meet the family I have there and see the town my grandparents came from in Groningen province. And I was right, it was really important and moving for to meet my great uncle and aunt and cousins and walk the streets of Uithuizermeeden knowing my grandma and grandpa had been in this same place. What I didn’t anticipate, was how much I fell in love with this country. We spent 90% of our time in the very north tip of Holland camping near the town of Appingedam, biking everywhere we went and I LOVED it. There will be more posts coming up about family and Appingedam and Groningen and biking, but this post is completely, solely about the reasons I fell in love and felt at home in Holland.
*Patrick really liked it too.
Originally we’d planned to leave Paris a day earlier than we did and visit Belgium for a few days before we headed into the Netherlands. However, it turned out that Queen’s Day was April 30, so we decided to spend an extra day in France, skip Belgium and head to Amsterdam a couple days early to see the city on this crazy holiday. Our friends Ryan and Guus invited us to join them in their partying…so we did! We made it to their beautiful place in Amsterdam just in time to share the amazing meal Ryan prepared and then we headed out on the town. We decided in advance not to bring our camera or phones since we weren’t sure how crazy the city would be.
Well, we had a great time. A really great time. In fact, so great that the next day was not so great. Patrick and I decided that the most we could do was to take some aspirin and train out to the north country. The above photo is kind of how I felt on Queen’s day.