For the past 2 weeks I have been in Holland with my family for our annual summer vacation. It was a pretty relaxed vacation, in the sense that I did hardly do any work and not even kept up with my RSS feeds. But it was also quite busy, because my parents in law joined us: it was their first visit to the Netherlands so obviously they wanted to see a lot of the country. Although I did not always enjoy the driving around, I visited a lot of sights that I had not seen in years. The vacation is almost over, I just booked my dinner (Indonesian food!) for the flight back later this week, therefore below already an overview of some of the many pictures that I took during this vacation with a short description. All pictures that I took and uploaded can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157630503176498/
Although I did not work much, I still had a couple of media interviews during the first days of the holiday. For one of them the photographer came to our house for a shoot. Scott and Elaine were very interested in what he was doing.
I like to eat Dutch ‘soft ijs’ ice cream, a bit similar to frozen yoghurt but much nicer. My kids also like it a lot and ask for it each time we pass the ice cream store.
Most of this year’s holiday we spent in Ommen, the place where I lived during my last years in high school. It’s a small town (offically a city, it got city rights in the year 1248 ) in the east of Holland, not far from the German border. Always a good place to relax after the hectic life in Shanghai.
After dinner I normally walk from our house to the Regge river, to watch the sunset (around 10 pm during summer) or just to watch the sheep or other animals grazing on the banks of the small river.
My sister Sonja also came to visit us for a few days (she lives and works in New York). I see her regularly, but because my kids normally don’t travel with me she had not seen Scott and Elaine in almost a year. They still recognized her, especially because they often talk to her on Skype during the weekend.
Close to Amsterdam is the village of Muiden, where the Muiderslot (slot is Dutch for castle) is located. My father in law had read a lot about the history of the castle while in China, so he wanted to visit it. I had not been there since I was a child and enjoyed the visit as well.
After spending some time in the castle we had lunch next to the river in Muiden. Scott and my dad had a great time together joking which each other. A friend and former business partner, Sierk Vojacek, told me a while ago that he bought a house along the river in the center of Muiden. So after lunch I walked around the main street and indeed found his name next to the bell on a house there! I rang the bell, but the person who opened the door told me Sierk was not in Holland. Pity…
We also visited a couple of regional fairs, to show my parents in law some typical Dutch traditions (windmills, making cheese etc.). Especially during the first week the weather was great for this. The picture above was taken in a country fair in the village of Vilsteren, about 8 km east of Ommen.
But the weather changed during the second week of our visit and we had quite some rain. We brought (and bought) a lot of toys for the kids, so they would not be too bored inside. Above you can see Scott practicing his writing skills, he managed to write the numbers from 1 to 42 without our help.
Another place I had not been to in years – and probably only in winter for ice skating – was Giethoorn, the Venice of the North. Or as the Chinese would say, the Suzhou of Holland. A quiet village where the main form of transport is a boat, because instead of roads they only have small canals. We took a sightseeing boat and we turned out to be the only passengers, so we had a private tour of the village and the surrounding lakes.
During summer there are a lot of events in Ommen, because the place is a tourist destination for Dutch tourists. There are 23 camping places (including some huge ones) along the Vecht river and in the woods around Ommen. One of the events we visited was a skeeler race, comparable to long distance ice skating but then on asphalt. Scott and Elaine loved to watch the fast riders and it inspired me to maybe buy a pair of skeelers (they are not the same as rollerblades) if I should ever live in a more quiet place than Shanghai.
Scott and Elaine never met my grandparents, but I decided to show them their grave in a cemetery in the woods in Ommen. They did not fully understand it (they saw the graveyard as a nice big playground), but it felt good to show them the place.
We also took a horse and carriage ride around Ommen one nigth, as I described in my last blog post.
Another place we visited was Maastricht, in the south of the Netherlands. This is the city where I did my university studies. I had been back a couple of times for Christmas dinners of my student club and once to give the opening speech of the Academic Year of the university, but I never spent a day there in summer just for sightseeing.
Maastricht was actually nicer than I had imagined, maybe the great weather also played a role? It was very quiet because most students were on summer holiday and we walked all around the city looking at the sights, such as the old city wall (above).
Even on the main square of the city, the Vrijthof, it was quiet. At least on the middle of the square, on the terraces around it it was busy as usual. It was great to be back in Maastricht and I decided to return to spend more time here in the near future. I think it’s the most beautiful city in the Netherlands, very different (much more French in look and feel) from cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Of course a visit to Maastricht should also include a tour of the caves in the St. Pietersberg. I used to illegally venture into these caves on my own while I was still a student, but with a guide it’s interesting as well (and probably a bit more safe!). Inside the caves we came across this (partial) map of the current cave system.
After Maastricht we spent a night in Brussels, mainly doing sightseeing at famous places such as the Grand Place and Manneken Pis.
And of course enjoying excellent food and drinks, such as this seafood dinner with a bottle of Sancerre on the Rue des Bouchers.
We also spent some time in Antwerp, a city I like even better than Brussels. Too bad the weather wasn’t too good, it got cooler and it started to rain.
That’s the down side of a summer holiday in Holland: it can be great weather but it can also be cold and rainy, like today. This afternoon at 5 pm it seemed to be raining all over Holland!
But even when it rains you can still run, I actually like running in the rain (Grace does not seem to believe this). My dad and I ran a lot over the past couple of days, mainly on trails in the wood. It’s one of the things I miss most when in Shanghai…
But several times after a rainy day it got dry later in the evening and we still had a beautiful sunset, such as this one above the Regge river. Despite the bad weather in especially the second part of the holiday I had a great time. And to be honest, I sometimes prefer the cool and rainy weather over the hot and humid Shanghai summer. Luckily I travel a lot!