For 18 months I am living now in Holland (The Netherlands) and I experienced all the seasons in different parts of the country. I thought I never could get used again to the dark clouds, the rain and the amount of people living all together on a few m2, but guess what? I did! Mind you, Lochem is no Amsterdam or Rotterdam and traffic cues are a foreign language in this part of the country. Also, here the word neighbour means, that you help each other in times of need. We even have a “neighbour app” invented, after one of us had a severe accident. We use the app to inform each other regarding disasters, as well as suddenly organised parties, or when a rabbit is on the loose……..
During the winter months, I get the opportunity to explore some other parts of the Netherlands. After 45 years or so, I return to the province of Friesland or Fryslan, as this province has its own language. Back to the tiny places, where time stood still. We used to go there by boat during the summer holidays, admiring the old “Zuiderzee towns”, strolling around during the day and sleeping on the boat in the picturesque harbours at night. This time, I visit over land in December and enjoy the stillness of the towns of Lemmer, Stavoren and Hindeloopen, without any tourists. Such a rich history you can find here and all the drama these pretty small towns experienced, when “IJsselmeer” was still “Zuiderzee”. So many lives of the fishermen got lost in the rough waters of the sea, years ago.
Stavoren is the oldest city of Friesland and got its city rights between 1060 and 1067. During the late Middle Ages, a sandbank formed a blockage for ships entering or leaving the harbour. That meant an end to the prosperous years.
Hindeloopen is famous for its Hindelooper art and costumes. Especially during the 17th and 18th century, the shipping trade thrived in this tiny town.
Both these towns are part of the so-called “Eleven City Tour”, an ice skating contest in Friesland, only possible after days of frost (which never happens anymore!).
Lemmer is surrounded by lakes and very popular among water sport and beach lovers. Once, it was a thriving fishing town, with a fleet of 146 ships. One of the most spectacular sites to visit is the ir.D.F.Woudagemaal, a steam-powered pumping station and UNESCO World Heritage Site. See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9tXJcOj4wg&t=7s
Not many foreign tourists will discover these places, hidden in the North-West corner of the Netherlands. Here you get the typical Dutch view; clouds in all kind of shapes, above a green flat land, with sails on the horizon.
I also experience Lochem and Zutphen during the seasons. The grey skies in winter make place for the fresh green of Spring. Plenty of gorgeous days in March, are inviting me out to prepare my garden for the Summer. I work hard on the in-and outside of my cute house and the progress is rewarding.
In between duties, I find time to enjoy playing tennis with some great people, go to the fitness and explore my new surroundings. No time for house-sits at the moment! Also, I have to try to find a job. This is a whole new experience, as for the last 20 years or so, my jobs consisted of moving around the world, establish new gardens, paint houses and volunteer. This time, I need to find a real paid job and although everybody is telling me that there are no jobs for people of my age, I am positive I will find something. Hello, I am full of energy, believing in myself and with tons of crazy experiences. In between all these activities, I also have to prepare for the arrival of my two children and one boyfriend in July. I haven’t seen my daughter for more than 20 months and for a devoted mother like me, that is way too long! When people in the Netherlands complain that their children are living two hours away by car, I feel hurt, but try not to show it. Whenever my daughter mentions that she and her partner might go for a while working a bit North of “Down Under” (Australia), my heart starts pounding…..Maybe there is hope? As a good mother you don’t want to interfere in your children’s life. I myself went to Curacao at the age of 25 and stayed there for a couple of years, without seeing my aging father. So who am I to judge?
While reading a book, I stumbled upon this Quote from the poet Kahlil Gibran; a lesson for all of us………..
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you can not visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backwards nor tarries with yesterday.
September, 2016, The Netherlands
A 15 minute car drive over a road through the forests and farmland, brings me from my home in Lochem to Zutphen, a town situated at the confluence of the rivers IJssel and Berkel. Until now, I only visited Zutphen two or three times, but for sure I will return to this town, full of culture and history, many more times in the future. .
Founded in the 11th century as Zuidveen (Southern peat bog). In 1312 it was fortified and became a member of the Hanseatic League. Zutphen was occupied by the French, the Spanish and during WW2 by the Germans.
There are still quite some medieval fortifications like the Nieuwe stadspoort (gate), the Drogenapstoren (tower) and the ruined Berkel gate. In the St.Walburga’s church you can find the Public Library. Definitely worth a visit. If I would live here, I probably would visit the library a few times a week! Other places of interest are The Wine House Tower, the Town Hall and the Butter and Meat Halls (Markets).
If you like shopping, there is a variety of stores with second hand or new stuff and sometimes funny displays in the windows!
During the Heritage days, the second weekend in September, when many monuments open their doors in the Netherlands (free of charge), I got just a glimpse of a few of those historic buildings.
As in Lochem, also here you can go for a tour with a “whisper boat” along the river Berkel. It gives you a totally different view on the town and it is a nice break after a few hours of hiking!
Zutphen also organizes many festivities. From now on I have to keep my eye on their cultural website and newspaper. One of those events was the ”Art along the IJssel” and ”Brocante Market”. It took place on the last weekend of August and the temperature was good enough to give the children (and one grandfather) some fun time in the fountain!
I gave myself a day off to discover a bit more of this vibrant town. A variety of Art was displayed along the river, from paintings and ceramics to glass objects and pictures. From the river you walked along the Brocante stalls into town. There was music, mostly French tunes and people filled the many terraces around the Wine House Tower and the inner streets.
I used the day to take pictures instead of buying things. My house doesn’t need more decorations, so the camera let me concentrate on other things……..
August 2016, Lochem, The Netherlands
My first summer in the Netherlands since many years and no long, warm summer nights, filled with mosquitos, as in Canada. The nights are or wet or too cold. The good thing is that you really enjoy those few occasions, when you are sipping your wine on the patio and constantly telling each other what a beautiful night it is!
My garden gave me a surprise, when I noticed that the little plant, which suddenly appeared was not a cucumber nor a courgette, but a pumpkin! By now, my whole back garden is filled with pumpkins……..
I do miss my animals, after taking care for so many dogs and cats, goats and ducks and whatever else for the last two years. Though my neighbour cats are regular visitors and sometimes I wonder if they choose my house as theirs and their own house just as a favorite restaurant.
Though there have been enough days to enjoy the outdoor life, it seems that in the Netherlands sometimes summer starts, when school starts again……..We are amidst a heat wave and it is the end of august.
My new, old house is getting the colours it deserves. All my little treasures from a lifetime travelling and the cherished memories from the past are giving it the appeal I was looking for. I even started using my own pictures as decor. Waking up with the stunning sunset of Diakofto, Greece and the stillness of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada is giving my day a good start!
I am literally painting the summer away. A job, which will take months before it is finished, but to see the improvement is very rewarding.
Still, now and then I get my walking shoes on and try to catch some shots of the inviting nature of Lochem and surroundings.
From my home, I cross the street and walk into the cornfields, along the river and into the woods, passing a windmill or an old farmhouse.
Going in another direction, I can easily walk to the old centre of town, where tourists are filling the patios, as soon as one sunray breaks the sky. Lochem is a town, but it has a village atmosphere. It is surrounded by a river and a canal and filled with cycling and walking paths. Around Lochem, plenty of old mansions and castles are attracting many Dutch and foreign visitors.
Hopefully next year, I will have more time to discover everything the area has to offer. For now, we combine work with pleasure, as during the summer months many festivities are organized, not only in Lochem, but also in many of the villages around. After Canada, where drinking alcohol is not allowed “on the street”, it is great to be back in a country with different rules!
After arriving back to the Netherlands in January, I am trying the get used to the Dutch way of living. Twenty three years is a long time to be away from the “home country” and although I have been back for holidays on and off, it is different to emerge into daily life again. I settle myself in the East of the country, as pace of life is still slower as in the West and the outdoor is gorgeous for hiking and cycling. The first weeks I rent an authentic little house on the edge of a provincial town, on walking distance of the station and the centre. The house is cute and cozy, but the winter days in the Netherlands are dark and rainy this year. On the nights that there is frost, I am very happy with my warm water bottle, as the windows are single glazed and there is no heater in the bedrooms. On some nights I need gloves to read a book in bed! It feels like back in time, when I was just a little girl and when winters were still harsh in the Netherlands. We used to wake up with the windows covered in ice on the inside….. Though watching the television, which shows us the refugees in Macedonia, sleeping in soaked tents with their little children, I feel like a princess in my bed.
From the town where I am staying for several weeks, I visit some of the so-called “Hanse towns”, situated on the peaceful IJssel river. Hanse was a medieval guild or trade association. These historic towns remind of the region’s rich trading past, which reached its golden era in the 15th century.
At the same time, I try to discover if this is an area where I would like to settle down. Therefor, I explore neighbouring villages and even start to explore the Real Estate market. A very time-consuming effort, but also very necessary and fun to do.
Deventer, is one of the first towns I visit of the Hanseatic League. It is among the oldest cities of the Netherlands and its history goes back to records of the 9th century. There is a great collection of heritage; here you can find the oldest brick house, the oldest park and the oldest academic library. Every December Deventer hosts a Dickens festival, which attracts lots of visitors.
During this first visit I start my tour along the river and walk from there into the inner city. Around every corner, there is another surprising building, alley or little courtyard and even an excavation site.
Shopping is fun in this town with so many cute little stores………
Another Hanse town is Doesburg. Way smaller than Deventer, but with so much charm! From here the view over the river IJssel is stunning and I imagine going on my bike in Springtime, following the meanders of the river, over one of the many perfect cycling paths. A bike was one of the first things I bought in the Netherlands. You can’t go around without it!
In Doesburg you will find the oldest restaurant and Grand-Café of the Netherlands, called “De Waag” and is situated on the Koepoortstraat 2-4. It goes back to the Hanse era and coming into the building is walking into the past. Today, the fireplace is on and people cuddle up around the fire, as it is a cold day. It is interesting to tour around the building, as it consists of many different rooms for various events and every room has its history……
I am looking forward to my visit to Zutphen, another Hanse town and after, to Bronckhorst, which is called “the smallest town of the Netherlands”. In fact, there are even towns with fewer inhabitants, but for the attraction of visitors it is better to keep that illusion!
Since I am now the proud owner of a small car, I can cross the Netherlands more easily and with more fun! Beginning of March, I moved to another house on a holiday park bordering the woods and since then the weather changed into Spring feeling days and I am right in the area that I enjoy most; the rivers, canals, historic towns and villages, farm and woodland.
On the 3rd of December, I arrived in Pedreguer, Costa Blanca, Spain for a house and dogsit of around 5 weeks. I was here also in February, 2015 and I looked forward to see the dogs and the Dutch house owner again, with whom I became friends over the last year. Due to a pretty slow internet in this part of Spain, I am unable to upload photographs from my computer to my WordPress blog. I even went with the computer to some cafe’s in the surroundings, but also there no luck. That means that I have to wait, until I am back in the Netherlands on the 6th, with publishing the blog stories about Spain.
In the meantime, I look back on a very turbulent year again. For two years in a row, my life is a roller coaster, with many good memories regarding the countries, where I had the opportunity to stay and look after the properties and animals of the owners. I feel privileged, that all my housesit owners asked me back.
I met wonderful people during my travels and it was a great experience to travel on my own. At times I felt lonely and yes, even a little depressed. During the last year, I had to close not only doors, but also windows and I know they never will open again.
On the other hand I realize, that other doors and other windows will open up and I am looking forward for these new opportunities, in a better environment of love and appreciation.
Life is all about making choices and to be able to make a good choice, you need to be in a peaceful environment, where you feel safe and surrounded by people, who are loving and caring.
I still haven’t found that environment yet, although I did find the loving and caring people……..
So I will keep on travelling for a while in 2016, spending my time in between rentals and house sits, starting in the Netherlands in January and February, with a big ? for March and April and in May, I will return to the country, where my children grew up and where I felt so happy; Greece…….
I will stay for around a month at the Peloponessos, in the house of my best friends from Greece, celebrating the Greek Eastern together and looking after their property, while they are going on a holiday. I am looking forward to finally seeing them again after many years.
Although my house sits were all great, there are of course some highlights. For sure that was beautiful Canmore, in the Rocky Mountains, Canada. The overwhelming beauty of the Rockies, spending quality time with my son and his girlfriend and looking after the adorable dog Sage, are experiences I will never forget.
Mexico, with its diversity of people, landscapes, climate and culture, took also my heart.
Portugal, where I fell in love with Cacela Velha, the market places, the kindness of the people and the coastline of the West.
So many memories to look back on and so many photographs, which tell me again and again how fortunate I was to be able to travel so much, not only over the last two years, but during the (nearly) 60 years of my life.
I even discovered my home country again; places I never visited before, like Amerongen, Wijk bij Duurstede and the impressive Canadian Cemetery of the 2nd World War in Holten, with the 1.394 graves, from which 1.355 of Canadian soldiers……
I must admit that I miss “my Cuba”, where I travelled for over 30 times, partly doing my “housing projects” and meeting so many grateful, wonderful people with always a smile on their face.
That door always stays open, as there I felt happy and alive!
Let’s take a deep breath and plunge into 2016!
On one of those last sunny Autumn days, when the light is giving that special glow over the water and the fields, I decide to go “island hopping” in Zeeland. At least, it feels like it, although the islands and peninsulas in Zeeland are interconnected by bridges and dams of the Delta Works.
A friend of mine is coming with me and we have to make a choice, which places to visit, as the days are short and the dog I take care of in Oostvoorne, can’t be left alone longer than 5 to 6 hours.
There are two places in the province of Zeeland, where we have never been; Veere and Zierikzee. Both very authentic and with lots of atmosphere.
From Oostvoorne, we drive over the Haringvlietdam to Goeree Overflakkee and via Schouwen-Duiveland to Walcheren, to Veere.
Veere is special, just beautiful wherever you look! It must be crowded in the summer and even now, all the patios in the pictoresque centre of the town and along the harbour, are occupied by visitors. Though in the back streets it is very quiet. We discover a tiny old-fashioned store, with all kinds of sweets from our youth and our parents youth.
The long history of Veere goes back to the year 1150 and the famous Municipality building, the “Big Church”, the “Campveerse” Tower and the Cistern are all built in between 1500 and 1600 or even earlier. Scottish wool merchants used Veere as a storage and distribution place and they left their footprints in the “Scottish” houses.
We decide to go for lunch to Zierikzee, where there are more choices in restaurants and hopefully not as busy, as here in Veere.
Also Zierikzee is situated along the water. Not as small as Veere, but very pretty and well-worth visiting!
We choose a small and cozy restaurant, where the speciality are the Mussels. So glad we made this choice! We get a bucket, which is filled with delicious mussels, supposingly 2 kg, but it is way more…….Served with a salad and fries and a crispy white wine. We try to eat our way to the bottom of the bucket, but it is impossible!
After, we still have time to do some more exploring around this fascinating old fishing town. There are many points of interest and we only get to see a glimpse during this short visit. The old harbour, the Municipality building from the 16th Century, various windmills, the Maritime Museum and the St. Lievens Monster Tower are worth visiting.
Finally, we drive back to Oostvoorne, while passing the famous information and attraction centre of the artificial island “Neeltje Jans”, connected to the shore by a dam.
The roads here are quiet and the landscape is still empty. A totally different part of the Netherlands and I love it!
It is nearly dark when we arrive back “home”, where the pets are waiting patiently………
This time, I am going to Voorne Putten, South of Rotterdam and close to the province of Zeeland. For 9 days I will take care of a cat and a dog, in a house surrounded by greenhouses with tomatoes and cucumbers.
For the last couple of months, I took care of Chinese Shar-Pei dogs, Flat Coat Retrievers, Labradors, Corgis and others and now I will look after a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a very interesting dog. Very strong and sometimes a little bit naughty, but so sweet and funny.
He loves going out into the dunes and there are enough of those in Voorne Putten! It is a very interesting area, with on one side the view of the harbour of Rotterdam and the newly built Maasvlakte 2.
On the other side, there are endless opportunities to hike in between agriculture fields, over the dunes and beaches and even through new landscaped areas. Above all, you can visit Brielle and Hellevoetsluis, both towns with a lot of history and each with its own charm. In Hellevoetsluis my daughter was born and of course I have to visit and witness the positive changes in the old centre. It is 25 years ago that we lived here for around 4 years and we enjoyed living in this town by the water, until we moved to Greece.
The lighthouse is still a favourite spot to enjoy the sunset and even at this time of the year, people are still sailing on the “Haringvliet”.
Brielle is a “one of a kind” town, where many events took place in the past and consists of fortresses, a former prison, the St. Catharine church, an orphanage and lots of monuments from the 17th century.
Interesting is also the Asylum square, where you will find a beautiful building, which was used as a nursery for the sick, old and poor sailors.
These days, the word Asylum is used again for another group……..
Another interesting visit is Futureland at the Maasvlakte 2. From the beauty of the historical towns, back to the reality of 2015 and even beyond, as the Maasvlakte is still in progress. At Futureland you will learn all about the development of the new harbour, with its fully automatic container terminal. Also, you will learn how this harbour was made, by using 240 million cubic sand from the bottom of the sea. There are possibilities to tour around the harbour by bus or boat or even have a future flight experience in the centre itself.
I enjoy my house sit in this part of the Netherlands, which is so totally different than the centre or the East. Here you are also close to Zeeland, with the “Deltawerken”, definitely worth a visit!
With a few more days to go, I will get the opportunity to visit some of the most remarkable villages of the province of Zeeland; Zierikzee and Veere.
My daughter left again. Back to Australia and back to her own life with her own friends, but without her family. We spent a great time together and we also spent a wonderful day, with a couple of family members in Amsterdam, just walking hours along the canals, wandering through “the Jordaan” and watching the enormous line, in front of the entrance of Anne Frank’s house.
Having a beer (or two) at a very well known cafe in the same neighbourhood and of course eating the Dutch famous “bitterballs”. For the first time I walked through the “Nine Streets” (I even never heard of it!), with all the little cute stores.
By the time the rain started pouring, we sheltered in one of the many Thai places and had a typical lunch.
I have never seen the beautiful statues of “The Nachtwacht” on Rembrandt Square, or I just can’t remember them anymore.
We also passed the famous Tuschinski Theatre, a gorgeous building! Too bad the weather was not great, but the company was more important and you never get bored in Amsterdam!
For the last months, it has been a continuously saying goodbye and saying hello. Meeting old friends and making new ones. Packing and unpacking. Tears and laughter. Closing doors and opening others.
After more than one year of traveling, I still don’t know where I will settle down. At least I know, that it will not be my favorite Central America anymore. I am nearly 60 years young and to start a new life on your own in that part of the world, where I don’t know anybody, is probably a foolish decision.
There are still other options on my list. I have time, although by now I am longing for my own little place and my own stuff around me, which will be shipped by the end of this month, for storage in the Netherlands. So we keep on hopping from house sit to house sit and from rental place to rental place.
I am grateful for the hospitality of a very dear friend, where my 4 or more suitcases are stored and piles of paperwork and where I stay in between my house sits and rental places.
The last weeks I also had to make decisions regarding health insurance and travel insurance. To get covered, you need to register first in the Netherlands and that is what I did. It gives peace of mind for now and gives me time to explore further.
My next house sit is in an old weaver’s house in Leiden. Surprisingly, it is situated around the corner of where I lived in the 70ths. In that time, I followed a training for scrub nurse at the University hospital in Leiden. A great town for students, very lively, authentic with cozy restaurants and pubs. My favorite pub was L’Esperance and it still exists, including some of my old friends! Over the years, I have been back from time to time and sad enough, there are always friends from before, who passed away.
By the end of my week stay, the rain finally stops and I grab my camera for some shots of this city, so full of history. The Citadel gives an overall view of all the famous public buildings and churches of the city and everywhere are signs with explanations in Dutch and English.
I walk for several hours and discover neighbourhoods, where I have never been before. At the end of the day, I have a beer at L’Esperance and yes, meet some old friends again. It is still a special place for me………
On the 1st of October, I arrive again in the Netherlands, in Amersfoort. This is the town where I was born and where I spent the first 19 years of my life. I said goodbye to Ontario, Canada. It is a closed door. The next time I will be back in Canada, it is to visit my son in the Rocky Mountains again and I do hope I get the opportunity to visit him many times more in my life. In a few days time, I will see my daughter in Amersfoort and after one and half year it is time; it has been way too long! My daughter and her Irish boyfriend, who live in Australia, are both going back to their roots, getting to know each others family and friends and I am looking forward to meet her “better half.”
Amersfoort is a historic city and well worth a visit. As a child I never realized that my town consisted of around 500 monuments. This time, we walked on various occasions through the town and every time I discovered more areas, where I had never been before.
We even took a boat tour, which might not be as impressive as in Amsterdam, but still enjoyable with all the funny water outlets and here and there artifacts of the famous painter Mondriaan, who was born in Amersfoort. Climbing the 98 mtr. high tower “Lange Jan” or”Long John” is something I left for another occasion, but is probably very rewarding.
As I realize I might stay in the Netherlands for a while, I have to get used to the Dutch way of life again, all the rules (there are many!), the use of “inappropriate” language on television, the fact that quite an amount of Dutch people don’t look Dutch anymore, and the fact that Dutch people complain about nearly everything.
I am feeling overwhelmed by the amount of cars, bicycles, pedestrians and dogs, all coming from various directions at the same time. Roundabouts after every 10 meters. Parents, who juggle with their infants, in carts at the front and/or back of their bikes. Learning how to use the OV card for the train system, not only checking it in, but also OUT and swiping it against the appointed post and NOT the post which says “connecting”…….(thank you for not giving me a fee!)
Realizing that trains not always arrive on time anymore and sometimes they don’t go at all!
I also don’t feel as safe anymore, as while living in Canada. So many devastating things are happening, within such a short distance and you realize again, how vulnerable we are all here in Europe and beyond and how much the world has changed.
Still, I appreciate the beauty of the Netherlands again and the richness of its history and culture, while spending time in some of the most fascinating Dutch cities, during the next coming weeks. This month I have two house sits, one in Leiden and one in Oostvoorne. For me, both areas are very familiar, as I lived there many years ago and I do hope to see some old friends during my stay.