Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Going back to the old country

       I'm going home this week -- at least "home" as I once knew it. Going back to the Netherlands -- Holland, as it's also known. Home of the Dutch.
Dutch royalty: Queen Beatrix and soon-to-be
 King Willem-Alexander (thestar.com)
       But home for me since 1956 is the United States of America, and I love it. I'm Dutch in heritage only. Found that out, for real, on my two previous trips back. I have a Dutch  in name and had a Dutch family, but I am an Americanized Dutchman.
       When I tried to speak Dutch, I did it with a Southern American drawl. Uh, they're not used to hearing that in Amsterdam. Consequently, my Dutch conversations fell just a little short.
        This will be third trip back to my little country; I went in 1991 -- after 36 years away -- and again in 2004, and it will be Bea's second trip; she went in 2001.
         My Dad took us on each of those trips, and he knew what he was doing. He had money in a bank in Amsterdam (thus easing the dollars-to-Euros exchange) and he knew where he was going and how to do it.
         This time we on our own. Good luck to us.
         Well, actually, our host there will be Catherine "Kitty" Kruyswyk-van der Woude, who is a second cousin of my father's. She's been to the U.S. often, speaks fluent English (and other languages), and she was a big help to my father and Bea on their trip in 2001.
           She lives in Zaandam, a town about six miles (oops, kilometers) northwest of Amsterdam.
           And, yes, to answer a question I receive often, we do have relatives there -- Kitty and a cousin, Heleen (her grandfather and my grandmother -- mom's side -- were siblings), who lives in Antwerp, Belgium but grew up in Amsterdam. Plus, we have a friend we'll meet in The Hague -- Peter DeWeijs, who played basketball at Centenary College in 1977-78 when I was the sports information director.
            Holland is about the size of one of our smaller states, Maryland (I looked this up), and it doesn't take long to travel from point to point; the longest trip might be three hours by train. Public transportation is well-run and readily available (at least, that's our experience).
             The country is densely populated, with two cities of more than 1 million people (Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and roughly one-sixth of the country is water, with much of the rest only slightly above sea level.
            The North Sea has had its way with Holland several times; thus the reputation for the sophisticated dykes system (New Orleans was leaning on advice from the Dutch after Hurricane Katrina). And, of course, just about everyone knows it's the place for windmills and wooden shoes and tulips.
             The timing of our trip, in fact, centers on two things: (1) the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum -- the national museum -- this past Saturday after a lengthy renovation and (2) the peak of the tulips season.
             Bea noticed the Rijksmuseum re-opening on a Facebook post, and said she'd like to visit there (hopefully, the crowds won't be too large) and maybe one or two of the other great museums for which Amsterdam is known.
             (We'll see how they compare to the museums in Fort Worth. Can they be any better than the Kimbell, which is world-class?)
            Now, too, is when the Dutch flower gardens are blooming; one of the highlights of a five-day river cruise we're booked for is to visit the Keukenhof, with its abundant and colorful fields.
          On my past two trips, we saw a lot of my original hometown, Amsterdam, which we left for Shreveport when I was 8 1/2, and we saw some of the countryside -- the fishing village of Volendam, the cheese capital (Alkmaar) and the sights on the train trip from Amsterdam to Antwerp, and back.
          This time we intend to see more of the country, places such as Rotterdam and The Hague, maybe even Eindhoven in the southern part of the country, and a few smaller towns.
           One day that we will NOT be going into the big city is Tuesday, April 30 -- the day before we leave. Amsterdam will be packed that day and covered in orange (the national color) because the House of Orange will have a significant change.
             Queen Beatrix, who was a princess (Queen Juliana's oldest daughter) when I lived in Holland, is abdicating the throne and her son, Willem-Alexander, will become The Netherlands' first King in 123 years.
             We didn't plan to be in the country when that happens; the announcement was made after we'd booked the trip. But that will be exciting to watch on television.
              Maybe at some point we'll go back to the neighborhood and the old (very small)  house -- if it is still standing -- where we lived before Shreveport and the beautiful big canal just down the street.  Maybe we'll search for the old Jewish neighborhood where my grandparents lived and where my parents grew up.
               We'll be taking pictures and taking notes, but I'll wait to blog on the trip until we return to the United States. Don't bother to call; we're not taking our cellphones, but we will be checking e-mail and Facebook on our IPad and any computer we can access.
               So, talk to you soon after May 1. By then, it'll be good to get home.                


  1. Nico...I have fond memories of my long-ago trip to the Netherlands: Brown Cafes, herring, croquettes, Indonesian restaurants, the Red Light District in Amsterdam, the Heineken Brewery tour, Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, a trip to The Hague, etc. I will return one day.
    Ken Sins

    1. nico and bea,

      looking forward to meet you in NL and guide you through the Hague and delft coming saturday,