Last April I packed my bags and headed off for my first real overseas adventure. Accompanied by my aunt, grandfather, and brother, I boarded the KLM flight bound for Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to trace my Dutch heritage. At well after 9pm, I settled in for the eight hour flight during which hot meals, free movies, and friendly European neighbors abounded. As it turned out, this flight was just a small taste of the non-stop food, entertainment, and hospitality that would fill the next week.
Upon arriving at our destination and being greeted by the first of many gracious relatives we would meet in the coming days, we wasted little time in the airport and headed for Bosch en Duin where we would spend the afternoon with more family at the home of my great aunt and uncle. Our next stop was the home of my second cousins in Schoorl, North Holland. As I had napped my way through the first car ride, I took this opportunity to get a first look at the country around me and was immediately impressed by the lush vegetation all around. Endless fields of flowers lined to roads, separated by small farms and quaint towns. Almost as numerous as the flowers too, were the people outside walking and biking from place to place, or just taking in the warm spring air.
The succeeding days flew by as family members were generous enough to show us around, from sailing to the wartime island relic of Pampus — built to defend the Netherlands from aquatic assault during the 19th century — to taking scenic bike rides, to visiting the Zuiderzee living museum (a sort of Dutch Sturbridge Village), where I was fairly distracted by the tiny chocolate eggs hidden all over the grounds as an Easter treat for visiting children. Of course, we also made several trips into the cities which were especially impressive in their ability to retain an old-world beauty even amongst the unavoidable commercialization. My favorite city of those we visited was Utrecht, which had all the beauty of Amsterdam with far fewer people and almost no touristy shops.
As the Netherlands is renowned for both its windmills and it flowers, we could not pass up the opportunity to see a little more of either. We thus decided to visit the Museummolen, which is a museum located inside an original windmill that teaches visitors all about the workings of a windmill and shows what life was like for families living and working inside of a windmill. My brother and I amused ourselves there by trying on wooden clogs and carrying old-fashioned water buckets on our shoulders but, truth be told, I doubted we would find half as much amusement at the Keukenhof flower gardens. However, once we arrived it was clear to see what all the hype was about. After visiting, I really believe it would be impossible for someone to visit the Keukenhof and not develop an appreciation for the incredible landscaping and wide variety of flowers that I found myself fascinated by.
While I loved visiting all of the attractions in the Netherlands, it is the culture that really stuck with me. It takes but a glance at the modest homes, small cars, and abundant bicyclists to see that the Dutch find happiness, not in showy material items as many Americans do, but in taking the time to appreciate the outdoors and one another. Even for those who are not lucky enough to have family in the Netherlands, the friendly people and beautiful landscape make for a delightful and memorable trip.
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