Saturday, July 7, 2012

Family, Food, and Farewell

6 July 2012

Yesterday morning, John's friend Wim picked us up and kindly drove us near Uncle Ger and Aunt Gre's house where they picked us up. My mom spend the day with Uncle Jans and Aunt Henny in Westerbork, Orvelte, and at the largest hunebed in the Netherlands. A hunebed is like a mini Stonehenge and they are only in the northeast of the Netherlands. It's a large pile of large rocks that was a gravesite. My Uncle Ger has written many books on them.

I spent the day with my cousin Margreet. When I was in 4th grade, I had to choose someone to write a letter to. My mom suggested I write my cousin in the Netherlands. She is just over 2 years older than I am. We wrote letters back and forth that our parents translated for us for the next 4 years. When I was 13, I spent 4 weeks camping with her and her family in Switzerland on the border of Italy. It was a great experience as a kid. We were with other teens and I was the youngest of the bunch. There were 7 teenagers and 3 adults and we had a great time.

Margreet lives in Emmen. We spend the morning talking and catching up. It's much easier to do face-to-face than in letters. Her youngest child is 19, so they are mostly grown up. At noon, we were going to take the bus into town, but she had an extra bike, so we rode bikes. I love riding bikes, especially in the Netherlands. There is a completely separate "road" for the bikes that runs parallel to the regular road. You have your own set of traffic lights, etc. It just such a smart way to go. It makes it VERY bike-friendly! We biked into the city center and had lunch. I had a ciabatta sandwich with curry chicken salad. Of course, I had cassis to drink;-) After lunch we biked over to an Italian ice cream shop. When we were in Switzerland, we went every evening to the snack shop for gelato. That was the first time I had ever had it and I got pistachio every evening. Whenever I go to a gelato shop anywhere, I always order the pistachio. It's the flavor I compare all others to. Yesterday, I had both pistachio and white chocolate. Margreet had strawberry and milk chocolate.

When we got home, we took Margreet's dog for a walk. The dog's name is Monte, but the kids call him Max. There is a nice path and we went walking by the Oranjekanaal. It was really warm and Monte decided to just dive into the canal and chase some ducks. He was then a soggy doggy, but was almost smiling at his accomplishment.

At 5:30, Ger and Gre picked my up and we went to meet my mom and Jans and Henny at a Pancake house. It's in an old barn and the doorways are really low. There are lots of warning signs about not hitting your head. I'm short enough that I can/could just walk through without ducking...but just barely! We had Dutch pancakes, which are a lot like crepes. We each had one, but they were the size of the entire plate. You put a really thick syrup, called stroop, on them and then roll them up and eat. There are many different types of toppings, like apple, pineapple, ham, cheese, shwarma, bacon, raisins, etc. You can get either savory or sweet or a combination. I had apple and bacon ("spek')...second to the last thing on my "Things to eat in the Netherlands" List. It was absolutely delicious! I have been a very happy camper. I was also feeling great that I got in almost 10,000 steps yesterday--the pedometer read 9099 just after dinner...of course, later I realized it was upside down and was only 6606, but still better than nothing;-)

Today was our re-pack and travel back to England day. We had the opportunity to sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast and then completely re-pack our bags. We had to do some creative rearranging with the gifts we purchased and the gifts that were given to us, but we got it all done! Ger and Gre took us for a car ride to historic buildings and barns in the surrounding area. One of the buildings we went to was for the cow-hearder. Apparently in the Netherlands there are these small houses that the cowherd would live in while he herded the cows. (Think shepherd with cows...) He would live there all year and then travel home to his family on Christmas day. There used to be 100's of these buildings, but now only 2 still exist in the country.

For lunch, we went to the McDonald's in Emmen. I don't know if I've ever been in a McDonald's in the Netherlands, and it was quite humorous. My mother ordered a McCroquet. Apparently, that is only available in the Netherlands and has been a "classic" since 1999. They have McFlurries here, which was not unique, but they had one with Stroopwaffle in it (Yes, the same stroop from the pancakes...) so I had to try it! Very fun to have on my "I've had that" list. It was a nice treat, but stroopwaffels are not my favorite anyway (thus the reason it wasn't on my "things to eat" list.)

We went back to the house to pick up our luggage and headed to the train station. We had figured out that, if we took the 4pm train, we could go directly to Rotterdam and then catch the train to the boat. One of the things about the trains in the Netherlands is that they connect and disconnect. One engine will pull 2 halves and then at certain stations they split. You can be on the "right" train and end up on the "wrong" train. We knew the train coming was the "right" train, but when it pulled in, the 1/2 we needed was way down the track...add a bit a cardio with REALLY heavy luggage and we were on the right train. On all our train travel so far, we have been sitting in the folding seats by the doors. The luggage is not easy to pull down the aisles and the racks above aren't big enough for full suitcases. We ended up sitting next to a nice young lady who was also traveling to Rotterdam. As the train went along, there were times when that entire doorway was jammed with people, but mostly it was a very comfortable ride. Another thing about Dutch trains is that they have an engine at both ends. In one of the towns about 1/2 way, we pulled in riding backwards, but pulled out riding forwards. That was nice for the 2nd half of the ride.

We arrived in Rotterdam station and, learning from past mistakes, we went to find the elevator to go under the tracks rather than lugging all the luggage OVER the tracks. Unfortunately, the elevator for our track was under construction, which meant we had to take the suitcases down the stairs (yeah, for gravity)! However, there was no more lugging since we easily found the elevator back up to our other track. We had some time before we had to get to the boat, so I took the opportunity to cross the last food off my "Things to eat in the Netherlands" List. There was a snack bar in the station and I ordered a "frikandel speciaal" with Cassis. A frikandel is the equivalent of craving a White Castle hamburger...there is nothing special or great about it, but you crave it when you can't have it. I associate it with cheap college food, since that is where I ate them (when I was here in college). It's a specially seasoned sausage/hot dog thing and the "speciaal" part is that it is served with curry ketchup, Dutch mayonnaise and onions. Good stuff and my goals (food-wise) have been accomplished.

We got on the train to the city that we needed for boarding the boat. When we got there, I realized I hadn't mailed my postcards with Dutch stamps on them...that won't work in England! I went to the counter to ask the woman where there was a mailbox. She said there wasn't one, but that she would be willing to take them home and mail them! What a sweet thing to do. Sounded like she does it more often, but I very much appreciated it!

Heading into a rain storm in England tomorrow, but so far the boat has been very smooth. Looking forward to a good night's sleep.

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