Trip diary

Part way through the process of writing The Occupied Garden, we travelled from Canada to the Netherlands to visit the places in our story, meet and interview some of the people who lived it, and conduct research at archives, museums and historical societies. Our sister Heidi accompanied us as a research assistant. We spent many enjoyable days experiencing Dutch culture and architecture and scenery and learning about our family history. We spent more near tears as we crept through Anne Frank’s rooms, gazed at the names engraved on a memorial to the Dutch Jews who perished in the war years, and listened to the personal accounts of people who lived through the occupation.

Wednesday, May 31: The heat is stifling in Toronto today. Temperatures are near 40C. Severe thunderstorms delay our flight from Pearson Airport by several hours. We amuse ourselves by people watching and cracking silly jokes, and when we finally take to the sky we think of Opa, who loved flying so much that he scribbled a mini diary on his first few flights, describing the patterns of the clouds and land below, and feeling, as he put it, “superb.”

Thursday, June 1: We arrive in Amsterdam at 10 a.m., and are met by Aunt Rige and Dad. We haven’t seen Dad in too many months. He has just arrived in the Netherlands himself, having left his boat in New Zealand and travelled via Asia and Russia to join us. Outside of Schiphol Airport we realize the warm Canadian weather hasn’t followed us. It is 9C, and our sandaled toes are cold!

Oeral Thus

Oeral Thus

We take a train to Oeral Thus, Uncle Nick’s century-old boat and our “floating hotel” for at least part of our visit. Nick is not there; he is singing that evening with his men’s choir in Harlingen, a performance we would have loved to see, but time is at a premium. Dad goes to take in the show, while Aunt Rige and we three walk to the Jewish Historical Museum to pick up the copy of Henny Cahn’s travelogue that we had ordered online. We’d stumbled on this journal, an account of a family friend’s escape from the Netherlands in 1943, purely by accident when browsing the museum’s online catalogue.

After a stop at the Rembrandt Café to warm up with coffee, we return to Oeral Thus and prepare a meal of pasta and green beans. Our cousin Jerry, away on business, had offered us the use of his apartment for showers and we decide to take him up on it after supper. As we climb through the hatch of Uncle Nick’s boat and lock the door, Aunt Rige jokes that she is the last person who should be trusted with the key. Almost immediately we realize the key has been left inside. With some ingenuity and the loan of a knife from a neighbouring boat, we break into Oeral Thus, retrieve the key, and set off for Jerry’s, crossing the Amstel by ferry.

Friday, June 2: This morning the sun is shining, and it is a little bit warmer. We take a train to Westzaan to meet Aunt Rige’s friend of more than sixty years, Ineke Batelaan, who has agreed to be interviewed for the book. Ineke’s mother, Rie, kept a journal during the war, and the Batelaan family generously allowed us access to it during the writing of The Occupied Garden. Rie’s writing was an invaluable resource, bringing the years of the occupation in Leidschendam to life for us. It has since been published in the Netherlands.

Westzaan is a picturesque village situated just north of Amsterdam. A bylaw ensures its quaintness: new buildings must conform to the existing architectural style in keeping with historical features, so Ineke’s house, like the others on her street, is brick with dark green trim and has a decorative gable window. Ineke is a friendly, smiling woman with short grey hair. From the living room where we settle over coffee and strudel, there is a view of a garden and a small stream filled with lily pads. Her home is decorated with artwork brought from Papua New Guinea where she once lived. An avid reader, she has a large collection of books that spans the length of her living room wall.

With our tape recorder running, Ineke begins to recount her wartime experiences. She brings out her mother’s diary, and is brought to tears reading a paragraph. Having read it too, we understand its power. There are many questions this morning; she shares stories and photographs, and is candid and generous with a subject that is obviously still difficult for her to talk about. Soon Uncle Nick arrives, and after a delicious lunch of homemade Indonesian chicken and coconut soup, we leave, feeling we have met someone very special indeed.  The drive back to Amsterdam is muted, the morning’s interview having been emotionally draining. We marvel at the special bond of friendship between two young girls, now women, which could not be broken despite distance and the passage of time.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

Back in the city, the line up for the Anne Frank Museum on the Prinsengracht, which sometimes stretches around the corner, looks promisingly short, and we decide to visit. The museum has a modern glass addition, but the area behind “the bookcase” where the Franks and others hid is still as it was during the war. The crowd shuffling through is quiet, and it is daunting to be within these walls that we have read about, and to imagine what was endured. We know we will experience more of these feelings in the days ahead.

Saturday, June 3: Oeral Thus has a berth near Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, so we are within easy reach of any mode of transportation we choose. Today we plan to visit museums, so after a stroll along the Damrak with stops in a few tourist shops for souvenirs, Aunt Rige and we three sisters take a tram to the Jewish Historical Museum. The museum is housed in a beautiful old synagogue, and we browse its collection and the attached bookstore before continuing on to the Hollandsche Schouwburg. Originally a theatre of some prestige, during the Nazi occupation it became a holding place for Jewish deportees en route to the concentration camps. The images and stories now housed within these walls are devastatingly sad, telling of the evils that humans are capable of perpetrating, yet they remain a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

Hollandsche Schouwberg, photo by Pauline Prior

Hollandsche Schouwberg, photo by Pauline Prior

Afterwards, we find an outdoor café, catch up in our notebooks, and take what feels like a necessary break. We seem to need time to remind ourselves that we are more than sixty years removed from the horror of the Second World War. It is more difficult for Aunt Rige, who lived it. But at the same time, she is so obviously pleased to have us here, and to see our enthusiasm for understanding her past.

We move on to the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum), and venture back in time to the 1940s. The sprawling exhibits tell how the Dutch resisted the Germans during the war, both covertly and openly: hiding Jews, forging identity cards, spying, carrying secret messages, organizing strikes and protests, operating an underground press. The exhibits are excellent, and we spend the rest of our afternoon here, finishing up with a tour through a special temporary exhibit of Prince Bernhard’s personal collection of photographs and films of the period.

Back on board Oeral Thus, we watch some footage Dad has taken of Uncle Nick singing with his men’s choir, and the Cossack dancing he saw recently in Russia. Finally, we slip our mooring and motor through the canals of Amsterdam, looking out at the crooked houses on either side, and eventually anchoring for the night south of the city. 

Sunday, June 4: We spend the day aboard Oeral Thus, motoring through the canals towards Leidschendam, our father’s childhood home and the setting for much of The Occupied Garden. Along the way we see windmills, greenhouses, old men fishing with very long fishing poles, and couples biking, children seated front and rear. 2006 is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt, and we float past huge reproductions of Rembrandt paintings tacked to fences and perched on rooftops. One we spy secured to the underside of a bridge as we float beneath it. 

Rooftop Rembrandt near Leidschendam

Approaching Leidschendam, the houses lining the waterway are newer, and the gardens, patios and gazebos suggest a more affluent population. Dad snaps our picture as we pass the sign for Leidschendam-Voorburg. This is a first visit for Kristen and Heidi, and we are all excited to be coming here together. We moor Oeral Thus in the Vliet, and from here we can see the octagonal church that our great oma and opa attended (Moeder and Vader den Hartog in The Occupied Garden). It is a short walk along the Vlietweg to the Tedingerstraat and the Broekweg, the working class neighbourhood where our family once lived, and this is our first destination when we disembark.

World Cup fever has gripped the Netherlands, and the streets of Leidschendam, like those in Amsterdam, are awash in orange, a colour that honours the royal House of Orange, and by extension, the national soccer team. The Tedingerstraat is strung with orange banners in support of the Dutch team competing in Germany during our stay, and several house fronts are covered in orange plastic. We are surely the only ones in the street thinking of another time, when German boots rang on the bricks and the thrum of bombers sounded overhead. We pause in front of 61 Tedingerstraat, a non-descript brick row house. In this most ordinary of homes our opa hid his radio when it was illegal to own one. In the back alley we peek through a hole in the fence and Aunt Rige points out the different colours of brick and roof tile that speckle #61, sixty years on the only evidence of the tragedy that occurred here. 

Heidi, Tracy, Kristen and Rige peer into the family's

Peering into the family’s old backyard

Monday, June 5: Today we drive to the city of Gouda to meet with Piet and Corrie Blom, old neighbours of the den Hartogs on the Tedingerstraat. Corrie was 12 in 1945, and Piet 18, and though Corrie finds the war years difficult to talk about, she and her brother are open and candid and we fill our notebook. The hours slip away. It is an emotional day, especially for Dad and Corrie, who share a conspicuous place in the dramatic events of March 18. Only when we finally get up to leave do we realize we have forgotten our gifts for them!

We return to Leidschendam and take a walk along the Damlaan to the Gereformeerd church. It’s a theatre now, but in the days of the occupation its attic was a hiding place for Jews and resisters, and its reverend became a target of the Nazis. We stand across from the once-church, in front of what used to be the reverend’s home, trying to imagine the scene as the Nazis kicked in his door and loaded his furniture into a waiting truck.

the Gereformeerd Kerk, Leidschendam

the Gereformeerd Kerk, Leidschendam

Tuesday, June 6: The sun is out and the weather has turned a little warmer. We have an appointment with Aad Zandbergen at the Leidschendam archives, housed in the old city hall, a beautiful castle-like building built in 1940. There are magnificent stained glass windows and glazed brickwork, and though the building is no longer used as the city hall, marriage ceremonies are still performed here. Today is considered a choice day for a union, since it is the sixth day of the sixth month of a year ending in six, so wedding parties in all their finery wait their turn for the use of an elegant chamber.

Our primary interest is the boxes of old photographs, newspapers and publications, and Mr. Zandbergen has prepared well for our visit. We comb through the treasures he lays out, and at almost every question or comment we make he disappears to find more. By the end of the day we have a stack of photocopies to take away, and information we never expected to find and indeed hadn’t been looking for: proof of our opa’s involvement with the resistance movement.

At the Leidschendam-Voorburg archives

At the Leidschendam-Voorburg archives

Wednesday, June 7: It is our final day in Leidschendam, and Oeral Thus departs for The Hague, with Dad and Uncle Nick aboard. Aunt Rige and we three sisters walk, following the route she and her brothers would have taken to Emmaschool in neighbouring Voorburg. She recounts anecdotes about the games they played as children along the way, and points out the location of the flower shop where she asked Ineke Batelaan to be her friend. We pass the Vreugd en Rust Park where Rige’s old opa scrounged for sticks in the last winter of the war, and eventually come to the school. It sits across from a large rectangular pond skirted by elegant weeping willows, and ducks float among the lily pads. During the war, Jews hid in the school’s attic, but at some point, the Germans used the school’s roof as a lookout. Helmets and rifles were discovered there when the fighting ended. A teacher greets us at the door and Aunt Rige introduces herself and us and we are invited inside. She shows us the classrooms and the attic and afterwards we visit the play area at the back of the school, unchanged since our aunt and her brothers attended.

Uncle Nick, our master of transportation, meets us with his old Chevy, less glamorous than Oeral Thus, and we drive from Voorburg through The Hague to Scheveningen, where he navigates the narrow one-way streets to find the row house we have rented on Jan van Houtstraat. We are excited to begin this part of our adventure, since we will now be on our own, without our Dutch-speaking guides, and Scheveningen, a seaside resort famous for its grand beach hotel and its boardwalk, plays a part in The Occupied Garden. Largely evacuated during the war and dotted with German bunkers that still tarnish the landscape, it is also the home of the infamous prison known as the Oranjehotel. Here, too, are acres of sand dunes, where so many resistance workers met an untimely end.

Our host, Trudy Pronk, is a smiling, frazzled-looking woman who serves us hot, strong coffee in the Dutch tradition. She points out books on the shelves to do with the wartime Scheveningen, and tells us some of her own family story. She is very supportive of our effort to research our grandparents’ experience. Too many Dutch people, she says, have buried their stories for too long, and the young are curious. When Trudy, Uncle Nick and Aunt Rige leave, we unpack and settle in. Our pad consists of a living-dining room with TV, stereo and comfortable furniture, a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and laundry room, but the gem is the enclosed patio at the back of the house complete with passionflower, roses, azaleas and potted geraniums. Looking forward to relaxing there later, we set out to explore, stopping at a little café on a side street where we order beer and croquettes, then off to a grocery store to stock up on eggs, cheese, yoghurt, meusli, tomatoes, cherries and wine.

Thursday, June 8:  Only our first full day in Scheveningen and we are leaving already. This time we have an appointment with members of the historical society in Strijen, the small town on Hoekse Waard Island where Opa was stationed as a soldier in May 1940. Uncle Nick and Aunt Rige pick us up by car, and we meet Dad and his wife Helen who have come from Brabant, where they are staying with Helen’s family. Adrie van Everdingen is our Strijen contact, and he meets us wearing a dapper white linen suit. Three other society members join us in a boardroom, and here, as in Leidschendam, the men have assembled a myriad of books and papers and photographs for us to peruse. There are eleven of us here, and many conversations take place at once, but our time is productive and well spent. After, Mr. van Everdingen offers to accompany us on a car and walking tour of the area, to retrace Gerrit’s steps during those few days of combat. We set off through open countryside under a sunny sky, and it seems impossible that the carnage of May 1940 could have happened here. There are sheep grazing on the dikes and buttercups nodding in the breeze, and it occurs to us that Opa would have looked at a similar scene as he bounced along the road in a truck sixty-six years ago, except then he could have heard the fighting on the other side of the river, and seen the smoke from the burning buildings. How did it feel for him on that day, a gardener with a rifle shoved into his hands, heading out to fight the invader?

Working with Strijen area historians

Working with Strijen area historians

We stop at a row of concrete bunkers in a field and peer inside. The blackness is claustrophobic and cold despite the warmth of the sunny day. We move on to the bank of the Kil, a wide river with a strong current, and we try to – and try not to – imagine the fear of the soldiers on both crossings, into battle and after.

We cross to Dordrecht where Gerrit’s regiment fought, and Mr. van Everdingen directs us through a beautiful wooded area. We try to connect this peaceful spot with its mossy trees and flowering plants to the horrific scenes shown in the photographs on the War Over Holland website, wondering how they can be one and the same. Later, we think the same thing as cars rush to and fro on a busy roadway, once the location of a deadly ambush we recount in The Occupied Garden

Rige at a concrete bunker in Strijen

Rige at a concrete bunker in Strijen

Pulling ourselves back into the present, we have lunch as a group at an outdoor café in lovely old Dordrecht. The brick streets and the architecture around us date back hundreds of years, but the posh, modern shops are bustling. The local Museum 1940-1945 Dordrecht apparently boasts an interesting collection that includes uniforms like the one worn by Opa in 1940, but it is closed today, and we have to miss it. In fact, we have little time to spare and can’t often divert from our planned route anyhow. We walk back to Uncle Nick’s car past a man perched high on a scaffold, removing paint from a centuries-old building with a tiny blowtorch.

Friday, June 9:  Today we’re on our own and we have plans to explore The Hague. It’s the first day we are able to wear summer clothes without constantly pulling on a jacket. Scheveningen blends into The Hague the way Leidschendam blends into Voorburg, but we know we are in The Hague when the homes fronting the leafy, tree-lined streets have expensive cars parked in gated yards. Some mansions bear brass plaques with a country name, and we realize these are embassies. The Hague is a government town, more reserved than footloose Amsterdam. Noordeinde, the queen’s palace, is in the very heart of the city, beyond all these elegant homes. We find it in a tangle of narrow, busy streets filled with art and antique shops, a stately white structure with shuttered windows and a high, wrought iron fence that sports the royal crest and the queen’s motto: Je Maintiendrai. When the Germans invaded, it was to this sanctuary that Queen Wilhelmina came with her family, fleeing Huis ten Bosch, the country palace so close to Leidschendam. But Noordeinde provided no safety against the relentless German army. After first sending her family to England, Wilhelmina reluctantly followed.

Statue of Queen Wilhelmina, The Hague

Statue of Queen Wilhelmina, The Hague

From the palace we walk to the Binnenhof, the seat of government. We pass through an arched gateway to the inner courtyard. It is busy here, though the austere brick walls mute the sounds of the city. Suited men with briefcases zip past on bicycles, and sleek black cars with darkened windows are parked off to one side, chauffeurs standing ready. Three among many obvious tourists, we marvel at the medieval Ridderzaal, or Knight’s Hall, setting of the queen’s annual Prinsjesdag speech to mark the opening of parliament, and of another less glorious event. Adding insult to injury, Nazi Arthur Seyss-Inquart chose this historic building and Prinsjesdag 1940 to stage his swearing-in ceremony as Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands.

Hunger is getting the better of us, and we find a tiny takeout place in a side street. A friendly man, new to the Netherlands from the Middle East, sells us cheese and vegetable croquettes and an artery-hardening Dutch treat: French fries in a paper cone topped with well more than a dollop of mayonnaise. We sit on a bench in the shade across the water from the Binnenhof and filled our tummies. From here we can see Mauritshuis, known for its collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, and the Queen’s Office, where the traitor Anton Mussert was arrested at the end of the war.

We start back to Scheveningen, but decide to cut through Clingendael, the estate used during the occupation by Seyss-Inquart. It is a stately home, centred in an enormous park setting, but most impressive is the emergency bunker at the edge of the property, specially built for Seyss-Inquart, and sporting, in its day, anti-aircraft guns disguised as chimneys.

By now our feet are feeling five times larger and flatter than when we began our day. We have pounded a lot of pavement since morning. We are glad when Jan van Houtstraat comes in sight, and we look forward to a cool glass of wine on our patio.

Saturday, June 10: We spend the morning relaxing in our Scheveningen digs, checking emails and eating a leisurely breakfast. We have a supper date with Dad’s in-laws who live in the tiny village of Genderen, North Brabant, so after packing an overnight bag we walk to the corner store to buy tram tickets. The day is blustery and cool, and we have no intention of repeating yesterday’s marathon trek to get to the train station in The Hague. We hop the tram, appreciative of the efficient Dutch system where tickets are good for any city’s transit, so a tram ticket in Scheveningen works in Amsterdam and vice versa. Equally efficient is the countrywide train system, and at the depot in The Hague we purchase tickets for ’s-Hertogenbosch via Utrecht, where we will meet Aunt Rige as we change trains. All goes smoothly, and the four of us enjoy the ride as the train speeds through the Dutch countryside.

Drive through countryside near Genderen

Drive through countryside near Genderen

Dad’s in laws, Ina and Klaas Hobo, live in a century old farmhouse across the street from a field of greenhouses. Klaas is a motor enthusiast, and part of the yard is filled with cars and tractors and other things with engines. He takes the three of us for a spin in his circa 1960 Volkswagen Beetle convertible with a big wicker basket strapped to the back, and we whisk at almost alarming speeds along the narrow roads that top the dikes. Klaas’s longish hair lifts in the wind as he gestures to a windmill and points out the house where Dad’s wife Helen was born. Our destination is Helen’s brother’s home, where his wife has graciously agreed to show us the cellar, an unusual house feature in this marshy part of the country but typical of the kind we write about in The Occupied Garden. As we crouch in the little room, Helen’s sister-in-law tells us how people fled to these spaces during the German invasion in 1940.

Back in Genderen, we settle under sun canopies in the backyard and enjoy drinks while Helen’s large family arrives. The chatter of so many voices, most speaking Dutch, is interspersed with the wonderful burpy sound of the sheep bleating in the field behind us. We enjoy a pre-dinner treat of fresh strawberries one of the brothers has brought, and head to a local “eetcafé” for supper.

Helen, Ina and Klaas in Genderen

Helen, Ina and Klaas in Genderen

No part of the Netherlands escaped the war, and there are stories wherever we turn. After dinner, we walk along the top of the grassy, tree-lined dike next to the Hobos’ house and hear how the poplars, cut after the war, were filled with bomb fragments and time and again ruined the saws.

Sunday, June 11: We slept in a camper in Klaas and Ina’s back yard last night, and this morning we wake at the crack of dawn to a crowing rooster. Despite our best efforts to convince him to shut up, he has his own ideas about what a decent hour is, and persists. The news of our Genderen alarm clock brings laughter from our hosts, who jokingly threaten to stew him. Of course we want no part in the rooster’s demise, and so we take a vote and the rooster, for now, is given a reprieve.

Klaas and Ina have offered to drive us to Rotterdam in their big people-mover van that will seat all eight of us comfortably, but first they attend church and we borrow their upright Dutch bicycles and go for a ride through the village and along the dike roads.

Biking in Genderen

Biking in Genderen

After the bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940, much of the city needed to be rebuilt. Rotterdam now has a modern, fast-paced feel to it, and boasts some unusual architecture. We search out the famous sculpture by Ossip Zadkine, “The Destroyed City”, and find it in an inconspicuous location among dockyard buildings. But its disappointing location doesn’t detract from the impact of the piece itself. It is a powerful depiction of a man holding his arms above his head as if to ward off an attack. His face is frozen as if in fear and his mouth stretches open in a scream. There is a large hole where his heart has been taken out, and the connection to the devastated city that was 1940 Rotterdam is immediate.

The Destroyed City, Rotterdam

The Destroyed City, Rotterdam

We continue on to Overschie, the childhood home of our oma – Cor in The Occupied Garden. It has become a suburb of Rotterdam, but an old-world feel remains here. The streets are narrow and gently curving, and we locate Zestienhovensekade, the street where oma lived as a girl, and where her parents had a bookstore. Now, as then, a lazy arm of the Schie meanders past, and lily pads shine in the sun. Dad and Aunt Rige reminisce about the fun they had here as children, and soon we move on to the Overschie museum located on the opposite side of the street from a mean white stucco house that Aunt Rige tells us belonged to our great-great grandfather. A for sale sign hangs in the window, and we peer inside. It’s empty, and tiny, one of the smallest and plainest structures on the street, and we try to picture it filled with his many children.

The Overschie museum has a fine collection, and many dishes and toys and household items that remind Dad and Aunt Rige of their childhoods. The old bedstee, a bed within an alcove that closes with wooden doors, is like the one Oma had as a girl in Overschie. We are mesmerized by the many objects, but drawn also to a side room where one of the curators has brought out photo albums. Our family is there in the pages, generations back, the photographs donated to the museum by a cousin.

At the old Post house in Overschie

At the old Post house in Overschie

Monday, June 12: After a busy day yesterday we give ourselves a late start this morning. We’re sticking to Scheveningen today, and stroll the boardwalk. Scheveningen is one of the most popular beaches in Northern Europe, and although the boardwalk is redeemed by its beautiful view of the North Sea, it is also packed with restaurants and ice cream stands and souvenir shops. There are people everywhere; there hardly seems room enough for a towel, but we aren’t sunbathing. In our imaginations we remove the circus-like scene and see the desolation of the war years, when no one came here and the beach was dotted with Rommel’s asparagus – spiked poles intended to keep Allied planes from landing. The ornate Kurhaus hotel was here then; now we stop in its shadow and order kibbeling, bite-sized pieces of battered fish with a tartar sauce for dipping, and later, after a cold Grolsch in a quieter part of town, we return home for supper.

Kurhaus Hotel by Ahmed Elnagar

Kurhaus Hotel by Ahmed Elnagar

Tuesday, June 13: Today we rent some bicycles, and with our fietspad (bike path) map in hand, set out with ambitious plans. Our first stop is the Scheveningen Prison, called the Oranjehotel during the war years because of the resistance workers imprisoned there. It is a prison still, its most recent notorious inmate Slobodan Milosovic. Across from the prison there is a bike path that leads straight into the dunes, and we bike several kilometres through sand hills and low scrub brush, meeting only a few other cyclists. It’s a hot pedal, and the sun presses down on us, and it is easy to remember that these remote dunes were the setting for many atrocities during the war. Eventually, we smell the sea, and over one last hill our paved path ends at a swath of blue water. We lock the bikes and walk down to it, glad to dip our feet in its chill. Far out on the horizon, a massive freighter is turning, its iron sides blurring in the haze.

Biking in Scheveningen

Biking in Scheveningen

Our map indicates that there is a verzetsmonument (resistance monument) nearby, but oddly, shows no road or bicycle path to it, though our map has so far proven very precise. We decide to find the monument, and set off on our comfy Dutch bikes. We follow a zigzagging trail, shifting between one designated for horses, a regular bike path, and the edge of the road. We end up at a NATO facility, and despite gunfire in the distance from what we later decide must be military shooting ranges, the gates are open and we ride through. Finally, we stumble onto an inconspicuous sign for the monument we seek, and we push our bikes into the shade of the woods. The path opens at a glade where a sign declares in Dutch: Here many countrymen gave their lives for your freedom. Enter this place with appropriate respect. Later, searching the internet, we realized we had come to Waalsdorpervlakte, a place of execution for hundreds of resistance fighters. 

Wednesday, June 14: We hop a tram to The Hague’s railway station and buy tickets for Amsterdam, cramming into a photo booth while we wait for the train. Rail travel is fast, clean and efficient in the Netherlands, and before long our train is pulling into Centraal Station. We disembark under grey skies and go shopping, our last chance before flying home on Friday, and we end our day with a return visit to Prince Bernhard’s photo collection at the Verzetsmuseum on the Plantage Kerklaan. Playing in a back corner of the room is footage of Bernhard during a visit to Canada. Bare-chested, dressed in swimming trunks and with flowers tucked into his hair, he paddles a canoe and smiles for the camera. There is amazing stuff here that makes us long for the same kind of meticulous documentation of our own ordinary family’s past.

Walking in Amsterdam

Walking in Amsterdam

Thursday, June 15: We’re sorry to have to leave Trudy’s house on Jan van Houtstraat. Initially nervous about booking private accommodation via the internet, Trudy’s place turned out to be everything we’d hoped for. We leave a favourable note in her guest book, and wheel our bags to Uncle Nick’s car. He and Dad have come to escort us to Oeral Thus, where we will spend our last night in the Netherlands. First, though, Uncle Nick has a treat for us, since it is June and we are in Scheveningen, herring capital of Holland. At a fish shop on the docks, Uncle Nick orders nieuwe haring, and the little grey fish, preserved in brine and laden with chopped fresh onion, are served on small cardboard trays. Heidi, Kristen, Dad and Uncle Nick slurp it down, but Tracy has tasted it before, and agrees only to a small bite. She is not a fan.

Eating nieuw haring

Eating nieuw haring

We leave Scheveningen, and on our way to the boat we stop to see the Panorama Mesdag, a cylindrical painting more than 14 metres high and 120 metres in circumference. Viewed from a central platform built to resemble a large gazebo on the beach, the painting surrounds us, a magnificent vista of the Scheveningen area, painted in 1881 by Hendrik Willem Mesdag.

Our last bit of sightseeing is at Delft, home of the world-famous china of the same name, and also of Johannes Vermeer, who painted his masterpieces Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid, among others, here in the 17th century. We wander the market square, enjoying the sights and smells of cheese and sausage and fresh stroopwafels, and we visit the Nieuwe Kerk, a grand cathedral that overlooks the stalls. The royal crypt is here, and contains the remains of Queen Wilhelmina, her daughter Juliana, and Juliana’s husband Bernhard, each of whom plays a significant role in The Occupied Garden

Our Dutch escorts walk back to Oeral Thus ahead of us, and we three sisters order a beer at an outdoor café kept warm by the flames of a gas heater. Our friendly waiter smiles as he stands beside our table. “Large?” he asks, and we nod, answering in Dutch. “Ja. Drie groot bier, alstublieft.” When the golden lagers arrive, we raise them in a toast to a successful trip, and to going home again.

Wilhelmina's window in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

Wilhelmina’s window in the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

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