The Perfect Dutch Days

It’s not secret to those who know me that I am proud of my Dutch heritage. All four of my grandparents were born in the Netherlands, and came to Canada after WWII. My mom’s parents first took me and my cousin to the Netherlands when I was 11. We spent 3 weeks biking around the countryside, attempting to learn the language and savouring the food. I fell in love with Holland then and there. I have been back 5 times since then, the most recent being last summer. My trip to Europe was entered on going to Ireland for my cousin wedding. But this also happened to coincide with my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary – and they decided a party was in order. So my mom’s parents, my brother, my great aunts and uncles and cousins and Dutch relatives galore gathered to celebrate – as only the Dutch can do. And so my Irish adventure suddenly had an added pitstop! Ray was still back at home, so I adventured from Ireland to Holland and back on my own. I had a brief three days there but enough to squeeze in all my favourite things!

1. Vla

Vla is one of the best things about coming to the Netherlands. It’s one of those wonderful things that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s like a pudding (coming in all flavours – though I love the chocolate), but a little thinner. You find it in the dairy section of the local grocery store. Every time Ray and I are in Holland we go to the local grocery story, and buy 1 L of Vla, and a can of whipped cream (also WAY better there than here. Don’t know how to describe why. It just is). We always travel with reusable spoons in our suitcase, and make sure of tea cups found in the hotel room. Pour Vla, add whipped cream, and voila. Except, Ray wasn’t on this trip with me, so I didn’t have to share! More Vla for me. Yum!!

2. Markets

I love outdoor markets in Europe, but I love the ones in Holland the most. Fresh bread and produce, candy, hot kibbeling, warm stroopwaffel and the flowers. Oh, the flowers!! No one understands flowers like the Dutch. I wanted to buy them all and bring them back to my hotel room and just stare at them all day. Also – 20 roses for €3,50?! Wrap your head around that.

3. Biking

Windmills, tulips, and bicycles – three icons the Netherlands. Unlike here at home, the vast majority of Holland is very very flat – making it a wonderful place for a leisurely ride. The Dutch ride religiously. In fact, there are more bikes than people in the country (approximately double!) Every time I am there I say how much I want to bring home a Dutch bike (and then Ray reminds me that we will in a very hilly area and I my love biking less when I get home….hard to know). In a rare opportunity, I got to enjoy a lovely afternoon at Hoge Veluwe National Park, just me, and my parents. The park is an interesting combination of forest meets sand dunes, in a way what is unique and beautiful. They have over a thousand free white bikes inside the park, and you just pick one up and start biking at will. The centre of the park is an amazing art museum.

4. Art

The Netherlands is home to great artist and great works of art. The favourite of both Ray and I is the well known Dutch Painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The Kröller-Müller Museum is located in the center of the Hoge Veluwe National Park. So in one visit I got fresh air, good exercise, quality family time and great art. Kröller-Müller has the second largest Van Gogh collection in the world, and the collection did not disappoint. It is no secret that I am a fan of bright colours, which is one of my favourite things about Van Gogh. But aside from the beautiful bright colours, he is also one of two painters that truly evokes an emotional response for me (5 points for those who know who the other is).

5. Good Food

Have I mentioned how much I love Dutch food? And the only thing better than good Dutch food is good food with good family. My parents, grandparents and extended family went out for dinner – and of course I ordered apple pannenkoeken. Also some delicious mushroom soup. Mmmm….any soup made in Holland to me is “dutch soup.” And they are all amazing. Every trip to the Netherlands for me is accompanied by a corresponding list of things I want to eat there. Warm stropwaffel. Gouda. Pannenkoeken. Poffertjes. Dutch Candy. Bitterballen. Frites. Soup. Endivestomp. On the world-wide culinary landscape Dutch cuisine might not be found on the top of the list, but to me, it’s number 1. Everything about it feels like it’s wrapping me in a warm hug. The Dutch have a word that represents that feeling. It is gezellig. And for the record, regardless of growing up with 4 Dutch grandparents, I cannot pronounce the word right either. The word encompasses so many things, and is pretty much the perfect word to describe how I feel about everything in the Netherlands. The people, the food, the villages and buildings, and of course, time spent with my family. There is a light-hearted generosity, friendliness, welcoming nature to it all. I’m sure I’m not doing justice to trying to define the word.

6. Photography

Photography is a theme for me anywhere I go. However, each place has a different essense to it, and to Holland, it’s the feeling it evokes. I spent 2 nights in the town of Amersfoort. The second night I was there I walked down to the river to capture the lights on the gates comes on. The sun had just set, the warm yellow lights lit up and reflected off the water below. I tried to capture the balance of light as I snapped photos in between bikers headed back home, or into town for one last drink with friends. This photo was taken at 10 PM. A perfect moment frozen in time.

7. Family

There is no greater reason to visit the Netherlands than to be with family. Quality time with quality food and drink in someone’s beautifully manicured yard among gorgeous greenery and flowers – there is nothing more Dutch than that to me. My parents, brother, Oma and Opa, great aunts and uncles, my mom’s cousins and their kids, and family friends, all together. Lubica made me (well – the kids – but also me) Poffertjes, and Renzo tended to the grill, and of course my Opa gave a speech (he would never pass up the opportunity). And me, my Oma and my stood together on Dutch soil – three generations of Dutch women, together in one place. Always a special experience. This is truly what is encompassed by the word gezellig.

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