25.05.2013 - 25.05.2013 14 °C
On Saturday, we made ourselves scarce with the promise of our host coming by to clean the place. It wasn’t too hard as we had made plans to initiate travel on the Dutch relative trail. The first stop was to visit Ben’s aunt, Tante Rina, his mom’s only surviving sister, the other four having all passed away. Now, I’ve often said, of all the Dutch speakers I’ve come across, Tante Rina was always the easiest to understand. She speaks so clearly and her Dutch sounds like English so I feel I should be able to understand her. However, I admit I really only understand every tenth word and that’s only because she does intersperse her conversation with some English too. That being the case, we were hoping a translator would be present. Fortunately, Ben’s cousin, Els, also appeared and helped immensely. Els greeted us with Dutch kitsch, adorning us each with Dutch-coloured lei to which a pair of little Delft shoes had been attached. I wore mine for the rest of the afternoon, as much to identify myself as a tourist (as if it was necessary) as to annoy my girls, who took theirs off within minutes.
The afternoon started with a chat and some strong Dutch coffee with stroopwaffels. Earlier that day, we had stumbled upon a store that had a stroopwaffel-making operation. The ‘chef’ had placed the small thin round waffles onto the grill, spread some syrup and topped them with their partners. Kids lined up to get them warm just as they would in Canada for cookies. Our kids’ appetites thus wetted, they were glad we didn’t have to wait long for Tante Rina to serve us some at her place.
Soon, Els informed us we had a ‘programme’ so off we went to follow our designated tour guide. Els had arranged for a visit for us to a nearby windmill. Four hundred years old, it is still operating today to drain the excess water from the neighbouring canals and divert it to the Rhine. This, together with other windmills and various newer contraptions, helps to prevent the flooding that always threatens the area. As we walked along a dyke towards the windmill, I started to feel VERY Dutch. I imagined at any moment that King Willem or blond girls bedecked in white caps and colourful skirts would pop out at any moment. They didn't but that did not dispel any of the feeling. As we approached the windmill, we had a better idea of just how fast its blades were going. The ‘whoosh, whoosh’ next to us was fairly intimidating and we moved back lest we get an inadvertent haircut. The volunteer from the historical society that maintains the windmill explained the various parts to us as he guided us through the small rooms housing the mechanisms. There is a large Archimedes screw operated by the turning blades and large, greased, interlocking wooden gears and this is what propels water upwards from the canal. The various greasing agents include beeswax and pig’s fat– I can’t think of any better use for the latter myself. He invited us up the rickety ladder to see the housing working up near the blades. If this was meant to agitate anyone with a fear of heights, it succeeded. Our fearless tour guide, Els, elected to stay below, forcing the host to practice his English. He succeeded admirably and we doubled our previous knowledge of windmills.
Next up was a drive through the towns of Bodegraven and Niewerbrug to old haunts of Ben’s parents from 60 years ago. It’s always interesting travelling down memory lane, even if it’s someone else’s memories. The views of their old homes, the town swimming hole, and the famous Niewerbrug bridge helped Hannah and Abby to better visualize their Oma and Opa’s growing up years.
Returning to Tante Rina’s home, we had a light lunch and more chat. I, with my limited Dutch but still eager to please tried to work the words ‘onderbrooke’ (underwear) and ‘doekie’ (dish cloth) into the conversation as often as possible. I don’t think my efforts were fully appreciated. Els and her partner Jaco performed a valiant job of translating between the roomful of monolinguists. Tante Rina topped off a great day with a wonderful meal of pannenkoeken (crepe-like pancakes). Just as the kids were intrigued with having pancakes for supper, Tante Rina seemed bemused that we would ONLY eat them for breaky. The Dutch serve both savory and sweet pancakes so we sampled those with bacon or cheese in between having others with ‘siroop’ (syrup), strawberries and sugar. The dessert, as if we needed any after that meal, was yoghurt and, again, we laughed at how we only have that at breakfast while they use it primarily for after a meal.
It was really good to be ensconced in Dutch culture again – it reminded us of family and friends back home! And it was good to meet some members of the family who were new to us: besides Jaco, we made the acquaintance of Igor, a beautiful chocolate lab, Els and Jaco’s canine child. Igor is a senior citizen so moves slowly and only with incentive. Nonetheless, he charmed us completely. Tomorrow, we see Ben’s cousin and her husband, both of whom share their birthday with Igor. And, yes, all three names occupy the same line on Tante Rina’s Dutch birthday calendar. It turns out Abby’s name was not on there so she got a bit of ribbing from us that Igor had more privileges than her.
We returned to our rented abode, not at all sure of the progress that we’d find but hopeful that there wouldn’t be any further issues to worry about. We were greeted by more space in both the cupboards and the fridge (assuming the contents didn't exit on their own accord). It seems that we will indeed have a reasonable place to inhabit after all.