I arrived here in the Netherlands how many days ago? Right, 3 days ago! With a mixture of jetlag and holiday nonchalance I’ve already lost track of the time (such an overrated thing anyways). Getting to know that “university town” (my naive explanation) of Nijmegen, an excursion to “Tulip Town” and reunions with nearests and dearests have been my adventures so far.
In no particular order… but perhaps an order inspired by the 2nd spring beer (Lente Bock)… the most recent reunion. Johannes and I met nearly 30 years ago (O-M-G! Or as he would say “Oh my Godness!), and as they say “the rest is history”. Well, it is certainly my history and a significant juncture in a life path. We were travelling in the USA in the late eighties, I’d just had my 22nd birthday, we were innocents abroad; he from Germany, me from Australia, first stop on a year long round the world trip. We met in a youth hostel in San Fran… both looking for adventures in this foreign yet familiar land. We hit it off… we had a similar quirky sense of humour, a similar desire to experience travelling beyond some vacuous consumption, and besides he had his licence and I didn’t. Fast forward 30 years …………………. I’m sitting in a cafe in a smallish European city in Holland, opposite this quite good-looking, slightly balding man who resembles my first born son (as he may look in a future) there’s lousy coffee and an atmospheric sense of deep, rich connection swirling around the more than half empty cafe by the riverfront. Not a moment wasted in platitudes, we discuss our children, the one we have in common, and the other progeny and their progress through life, our flaws, our failures and our futures. And meanwhile the boats/barges go up and down the Waal (the Rhine upstream), the various modes of transport parade by us and provide opportunities for discussing shared memories….that TransAm from the 80’s… (there’s a blast from the past) and the many motorbikes that remind me of his misspent youth, the roar of their engines intrusively suspend our easily flowing conversation. It was not a prediction of my life that I would find myself visiting my daughter on the other side of the world and be spending a day with him in a place in which neither of us were familiar, but with the value of hindsight I knew we would be forever connected and that was before I knew I was pregnant.
We walked on together and did some sightseeing of Nijmegen basically following the path that Rosie had shown me the night before when we did a “reccy”. I was a rather inferior tour guide but we were just happy to shoot the breeze. Some interesting things to be seen by the river and I found myself saying “typical Dutch scene” a few times, even without confirmation this was so and quite often irony because I’m pretty sure that they weren’t so typical. For instance, wild horses on a “beach” by the river, but if there’s a bicycle nearby I think it qualifies as typically Dutch, canal boats, canal house boats, canal sailing ships with keels that fold down from the side as they can’t ensure the depths of the river.
It’s spring here and Rosie assures me that after a cold dark winter the shift to colour, warmth and vibrancy is remarkable. We joined the throngs of tourists and went to the Keukenhof. It’s only open for a few months a year so it was fortunate for me that we were able to visit on the last weekend. Really the photos tell you all! It was all I could have asked for in displays of northern hemisphere flowers. The tulips were of course the quintessential Dutch flower in abundance but I really fell in love with the peonies. Besides the various colourful flower beds there was also the almost neon green foliage on the trees and the lawn to complete the spring splendour.
Beyond the boundary of the acres of gardens are the fields where the flowers for market are grown en masse. But alas they were but bare stalks at this time… I can only imagine how spectacular it would have been a few weeks ago.
The Netherlands is a flat country, which makes the topography of Nijmegen that much more remarkable. There are some hills and of course the river Waal which has obviously been a great incentive for settlement over the years. It has the honour of being proclaimed Holland’s oldest city. There are remains of ancient occupation scattered around the city and influences in architecture from various cultures. I really like the deep red and glossy black accents (often on shutters) and the steep pitched roofs.
The St Stephen’s cathedral bells were being tuned today when Rosie and I were perusing the Monday markets. They were sweetly serenading us and with the plethora of Delft ware and rustic paraphernalia and the sun shining (in fact it was quite hot) it was quite the travellers’ dream. We took a break at a cafe sitting outside in the shade of a large chestnut tree that showered us in the daintiest flowers as we indulged in a generous piece of apple cake with our coffees. And then off for more market shopping, some fresh fruit and vege and on our way home a fresh stroop waffle – oh yes!
It’s been wonderful to be spending time with Rosie in her new digs. I’m full of admiration for her courage to live in a new country and commit to her studies and embrace the opportunities that come from steppping out of the comfort zone of the familiar. Travelling to exotic places is one thing but to have a daily life in a foreign country that is half way around the world from all that you have known is a real testament to the spirit of adventure.