Note: This post has been written far too late and I may be including a little too much information! You might want a glass of red and a box of chocolate to read this longer post. I welcome your feedback for future posts.
I love Holland. Always have. Even as a child I remember going to a place on a school excursion that was a mock up of Holland – with a huge tulip garden and possibly a windmill and there were clogs I think. (ahh memory!) My sisters and I wore clogs in our early teens too and loved that they were kind of heels but not. Of course it’s not the windmills and tulips or even the clogs that get me. There is something about Holland that grabs my heart and mind and makes me feel that everything is going ok.
I first travelled to Holland when I was 25 for Christmas and New Year to stay with my friend Jorien in her student-housing apartment. I was living in New York working at a post-production company in Manhattan. I needed to renew my holiday visa so a trip to the UK and Holland was the perfect getaway. I look back on that period of my life with utter nostalgia. We were young but old, anxious but hopeful, adventurous yet focused, and our future lives waited before us, unknown and untold.
After leaving Frankfurt we decided to stop over one night along the Rheine River on our way north to Denmark. For various reasons we gave up on the eastern German route of going to Prague followed by Berlin and then finally Denmark; the main reason being that the kids are much better at nature traveling than city jaunts and my dream of traipsing through Prague and Guy’s first time in Berlin are best realised when the kids are older and/or perhaps not with us.
So Leonie suggested we travel along the Rheine River and our first night in the campervan on real land was spent in a little campground about two hours north of Frankfurt called Camping im Siebengebirg. It was again a soft landing into camper van life as it was so small, not very populated and fairly hidden away. The river itself wasn’t really visible so it was a tad disappointing but for a first night it worked. We met a lovely young Canadian couple David and Eryn and their dog, what’s her name … mmm. David and Eryn had recently gotten engaged and are both biologists who have been living in Sweden for the last four years doing their PhDs. I had planned to have a wine with them later in the evening once the girls were sleeping and find out more about Sweden as a potential destination, but as per many a sleep time routine – I fell asleep. In the morning they were gone. Such is the life of travel.
We hit the road around 11am at check out and happily farewelled the eccentric old couple that ran the place. (FYI they charged 15 euro for wifi for a day because they are paying off the antenna.) We stopped at a small German town where I tried for the second time to order a veal schnitzel only to be served pork, only to be made known to me after eating two mouthfuls. Suffice to say I have been out-schnitzeled and my schnitzel days are over. And to all the vegetarians and vegans – yes, it serves me right.
On the road again we decided to continue heading north. Looking at the map however I noticed that Zwolle, Holland where my friend Jorien lives, was only 2.5 hours away. As an Australian this is truly remarkable that a whole other country, culture, language is a couple of hours away by car. I suggested we see what she was doing and maybe go there. Guy said call her. Nervously I said I would message her – here are some of the messages:
So we did as she said and drove straight to the campsite. We arrived later that night and had to go into town to Ommen to take out some cash. After about four hours of driving highways and pushing ourselves to make it before sundown, Guy’s patience and alertness was at its threshold. We drove into Ommen and its small streets just didn’t like Danke Van. Or was it vice versa? Guy reversed out of a very narrow, cobbled road and despite my suggestion to stand outside and navigate, Guy took a chance and wham. He scraped past a signpost. The sound was miserable, the damage incredibly noticeable but luckily only on Danke. It was definitely a low point for us. (I have to add here that I am not driving Danke as she is manual and I am auto. I had a manual lesson in Sydney but given Danke’s size and Guy’s realisation that it’s pretty full on driving we have agreed that I will not drive.) I dashed out to get the cash and we gloomily and quietly motored on to De Roos.
And blessed be she, what a campsite she was. I now joke with Jorien that she has ruined our trip because she introduced us to the crème de la crème of campsites at the start of our trip and everything else will now fall from grace. Camping de Roos is situated about 45 minutes east from Zwolle near a town called Ommen. It is the perfect place for families with young children as there are lots of little playgrounds, a river for swimming and wading in, a soccer field, café, retro games rooms and a small but very well stocked shop. Bikes can be hired daily and there is wifi between 9-12 every day near the café.
And the actual grounds are just spectacular. It felt like the place was carved out of nature rather than stuck on nature. The playgrounds are not plastic fantastic – equipment is made from wood and rope and suited to all ages and the playgrounds were situated in each camping area so you could watch the kids from your own camp spot. A blessing for parents! The roads felt like paths (however extremely narrow for Danke Van) so there was a meandering feel about the whole place, more fairy tale than brochure, and you weren’t allowed to drive around unless you were filling up water or arriving or departing. If your caravan was parked on the campsite you stayed there. Cars were parked off site in a car park. Ordinarily I watch Noa and Lina very closely at parks but here I was able to loosen my gaze a little and let them run free a bit. Noa is particularly responsible – something I have seen develop in her personality even more so as we travel. She takes Lina under her wing and will report back to me if anything unsavoury has happened. She is growing up.
We spent five days at Camping de Roos. We didn’t do too much there. Was easy to just eat, cook, clean up, cook again, eat again, walk, empty the toilet, read a bit, try and use the wifi and of course the highlight, hang out with Jorien and her husband Sebastian and their two boys – Teun and Bram. Jorien literally came knocking at Danke’s door on the Friday afternoon and I jumped up and we embraced and smiled and embraced again. Has been 12 years since we have seen each other last in Australia when Jorien came to visit. So much has happened in that time. I was living with Guy already but Jorien hadn’t met Sebastian yet. And we have both become mothers and both had our medical challenges with our children along the way, the tender stories retold now face to face, held delicately in each other’s presence. We have aged but we haven’t changed and what’s remarkable is how easily the conversation finds its rhythm, and even more remarkable how well our partners get along! Woohoo! Always great when you like your friends’ partners and gold stars when they like each other too. Makes for an easier time together.
Once the kids were asleep we sat outside and talked for hours, rugged up in the fresh country air with our red wine and copious amounts of chocolate. It was glorious. We talked about lots of things, especially the Dutch way of life. Questions such as: Is there an increase in Holland in cases of autism and children with ADHD? How is the situation with refugees? What kind of government do you have? I also gained further insight into Jorien’s background, her father’s Jewish history and family stories during the Holocaust. Once again I was swept up in the past and my heart ached for all the loss and suffering but I also felt at home and anchored in the familiarities of our common pasts.
A couple nights later Jorien’s parents joined us for spaghetti bolognaise a la Guy and again it was just wonderful to sit around with her parents and have her meet Guy and the girls, after spending Christmas with them all those years ago. On our last day before leaving de Roos we hired bikes for the day and explored the woods surrounding the area. I love bike riding and the kids enjoyed it for the most part. It would be great if they could bike ride – at least Noa and it is on our list of things to do. She is at an age where she likes her independence and likes to be able to do things by herself. She has also become much more physical and much more of a risk taker so we will see if we can buy second hand bikes for us.
The stand out moment of the day for me, aside from the absolute beauty of the nature, trees and freedom of bike riding, was getting lost. Sebastian was using Google maps to help us find a castle that previously housed Krishnamurti. We kept following Google but Google kept getting lost (Clouds? Tall trees? Coverage?). At one point we stopped an older couple that were cycling and asked them for directions. Jorien chatted with them and then suddenly a rather tall and eccentrically dressed, speed-walking Dutchman with long blonde hair and a 1980s sweatband around his forehead walked through the conversation and offered his advice. It was like Ziggy Stardust or the Doc from Back to the Future just walked onto the set into our scene. Won’t sound nearly as funny in writing and I wish we had a better photo of him but it was seriously hilarious. We didn’t take his advice but rather the older couple’s and later when we got lost again there he was, speed walking and yelling out to us that we should have listened to him! Apparently he is famous but I can’t find him on Google. Lost again.
After de Roos we all traveled back to Zwolle and parked Danke right outside Jorien’s house. We spent a very hot night there in the van but enjoyed having Jorien’s house to relax in, cook, do laundry (Jorien did two loads for me!!) and just replenish our fridge and pantry and see a little bit of Zwolle. I also bought a second hand guitar (tick!) so the pressure is on to actually play it. We left Zwolle with our brilliant hosts literally escorting Danke out of the narrow roads of Zwolle, waving goodbyes till we meet again.