5.01.2005

A note from Mari in Holland

April 30th- Queen’s Day- Heesch, the Netherlands

Dear Friends,

Hello from the Southern part of the Netherlands where Spring has arrived at last!

We took a beautiful drive yesterday leaving Heesch which is close to Oss and heading south west around S’Hertogenbosch and onward in a north westerly direction towards the city of Utrecht. However once we crossed over the Harp Bridge which is the first of three bridges that separates the south from the northern part of the Netherlands we turned off the main road and headed west along the top of the dyke at the northern side of the Waal river from Tuil to Gorinchem.

For those of you who have never been to the Netherlands and may remember the story about the little boy who stuck his finger in the dyke to hold back the water so it may be hard to imagine that a car can be driven on the top of the dyke and that the dyke is wide enough to support cars. Actually the story about the boy is true however he put his clothes and wooden shoes in the hole to stop the water. He then ran home to tell his parents so that the whole village was saved.

On both sides of a river you will find the primary dyke which is usually not too far from the river, then a kilometre from the primary one there is a secondary dyke that is called a “sleeping dyke”. In older times the cows and sheep grazed in between the two dykes and the houses were built on the other side of the sleeping dyke. As the country filled with people the need for houses increased and people began to build houses on both sides of the dykes. Nowadays when the floods come and they do, these houses often end up under the water.

Driving on the dyke gives us a glimpse of how it must have been in times gone by. Houses and farms stretch out before us. They were built long ago yet everything is in order, clean and fresh. You are left with the impression that everything must be cleaned before the people go to bed or perhaps some “Dutch elves” are at work in the dark to make everything ready for the new day. At various points along the way small ferries take cars and people to the other side of the river as it has been done for hundreds of years only then it was carts and horses instead of cars. In this part of the country you will also see orchards full of fruit trees that are presently in blossom and many glass houses for growing vegetables.

They have even made platforms for the goats to climb and have a rest and have a better view of what is happening in the fields. I was amazed at the marvellous way they store hay. The roof of the building raises up as more and more hay is added. When it is wet a fire is lit in the room under the hay to provide heat and keep the hay dry. A forerunner of central heat! It is not a modern invention rather it has been used for centuries. Reed that is cut every two years from age old tress are used to weave a fence and to make roofs for the house. Nothing is wasted.

At one place in between two villages there were 4 nests for storks and each nest had a pair of storks sitting on the nests. It seems there will have to be plenty of babies born that will need to be carried to waiting parents with that many storks in one place.

Our trip was made on the April 30th the day before the celebration of the Queen’s birthday and this year they also are celebrating her 25th year on the throne. On May 4th Memorial day will be observed and on the next day, May 5th they will celebrate the end of the 2nd world war. Many festivals and celebrations will be happening over the next week so all the more reason to decorate.

As a frequent visitor it is still hard for me to imagine much less explain how the country comes together to decorate their houses, villages and towns with Orange streamers, (the orange color represents freedom to the Dutch people) It looks like a sea of orange. Their National Flag flies from the houses and public buildings, and what was surprising to me was the many American flags I also saw raised in honour of the American soldiers who helped to free the country. I was so touched by how they continue to pay respect to those who helped them previously.

Each village decides what theme will be used during these days. We drove through Herwijnen renamed for these festival days “Happy Valley.” It took on a remarkable American Western theme. There was a “Last Chance Saloon”, brightly painted Totem poles that looked like the ones the Eskimos make in Alaska; not quite Texas but it sure works, cactus and even an arch to drive through that is made with six shooters and topped with an American Eagle. These are not the normal sights of a Dutch village. Streamers were everywhere and all the people in the village were at work to make things ready. As we passed through Vuren they had turned the village into a fairy tale. On both sides of the road were cut outs of familiar animals and as we drove through Dalem we saw that the village had been turned into a “Butterfly” heaven.

Some of the houseboats that are moored permanently in the town of Gorinchem were also decorated, certainly the town was in a festival mood offering Orange lunches that comprise of Orange soup, Salmon , carrot salad and a dessert that was red, white and blue cake with an orange sauce over the top…and the drink, of course it is Orange Bitters! The center of the city there was live music and a carnival. We sat at a table in the sun and enjoyed coffee and the atmosphere.

Europe is a café society, the Netherlands is no exception. As soon as it is warm enough people sit outdoors in the many small cafes that line the squares. You are not rushed to finish and move on, rather it seems as if you have all the time in the world to enjoy each moment, time quietly passes by. People wave to each other, greetings are exchanged and they join each other to pass the time. The center of the square becomes the meeting point all through the day and evening. Those of us who have never experienced this are indeed missing something. Flowers are every where, hanging from baskets, in large pots, in window boxes and on the tables. The scent is incredible and the colors are so bright.

We came home last night so full of everything we saw and experienced. We were a “good” tired yet we are now planning another day out soon. I wish you could be here to experience it for yourselves.

I have found that slowing down to be present in each moment rewards me with delights to fill all my senses and heart. I am experiencing the Dutch people and their country by being with them as they live their daily life. I highly recommend it.

Blessings and Love,

Mari

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