Dutch Interlude

Our flight to Amsterdam went smoothly as can be. We left Thessaloniki on time and only had a short layover and transfer in Vienna. By late afternoon we were having coffee at my Aunt Margreet’s place in Amsterdam.

The Oude Kerk in Amsterdam.
The Oude Kerk in Amsterdam.

The next day, December 5, was Sinterklaas avond, or the Eve of Saint Nicholas. Sinterklaas is the patron saint of children so when you’re a little kid, this is a big day full of sweets and presents. We went with my cousin Janneke, her husband Paul and their two kids, Moos and Charlie, to a Sinterklaas celebration at Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk (Old Church). Afterwards, we had a lovely dinner at their place and the opening of presents and reading of poems that Sinterklaas had left.  I had completely forgotten this was the big day and it was a nice little ramble down memory lane.

Sinterklaas with his zwarte Pieten.
Sinterklaas with his zwarte Pieten.

The wedding was the next day. My cousin Anneloes and her husband, Gerrit, live in Utrecht, more or less in the middle of The Netherlands. But, like me, Anneloes was born in Oud-Beijerland, in the south, where her father and two siblings still live. Since she wanted to have the wedding in both places the event was a little complicated and there was lots of opportunity for things to get messed up but they didn’t. This is how the day went:

We stayed with Jaap and Geertien in Zeist, 15 KM from Utrecht. Jaap is one of my mom’s nine siblings. On the wedding day, the four of us drove to Utrecht and boarded a chartered bus along with other invited guests from that city, friends of the bride and groom. The trip to Oud-Beijerland took about 75 minutes. Upon arrival, the four of us walked to the house where Ben lives. Ben is Anneloes’ father and another of my mom’s brothers.

De Bijl, the street where Anneloes' parents have lived for a number of years, the same street my grandmother used to live, home of many family gatherings.
De Bijl, the little street where Anneloes’ parents have lived for a number of years and the same street my grandmother used to live, home of many family gatherings.

After a drink and snacks it was time for the walk to the old City Hall. This used to be a common event for weddings in my home town but probably isn’t done much any longer. My mom and dad and all my mom’s siblings walked this walk, and I did as well for quite a few aunts’ and uncles’ weddings in the late sixties and early seventies.

The procession to Old City Hall.
The procession to Old City Hall.

Anneloes and Gerrit walked at the head of the procession with every one else following behind for the short walk down one of the main streets of the village. We got lucky with the weather as the morning had been atrocious with rain and wind but for a brief window we had dry weather.

At the Old City Hall, built in 1622 on a bridge over the canal that runs through town, more people were waiting and inside a town official carried out her duties as marriage commissioner to make it all legal. Half an hour later we were eating cake and sipping champagne toasting the newlywed pair.

Anneloes and Gerrit making it official.
Anneloes and Gerrit make it official.

The bus was parked outside and most of us, including the bride and groom, boarded for the trip back to Utrecht. Ninety minutes, and a couple of beers later we were dropped off at the restaurant where we had a nice dinner with several speeches by various family members, as well as a funny video created by some of Anneloes’s friends.

My uncle Ben, father of the bride, making a speech at dinner.
My uncle Ben, father of the bride, making a speech at dinner.

Following the dinner we all walked across the street to an old church where the evening part of the program began. Waiting inside the church were more friends and family, as well as a complete orchestra and choir, all friends of the bride and groom.

The church ceremony, complete with choir and orchestra. (The moose on the program speaks of their love of Canada)
The church ceremony, complete with choir and orchestra. (The moose on the program speaks of their love for Canada)

What followed was a beautiful program of music, remembrance and a thoughtful speech by our uncle Jaap, who is the ‘Dominee’ (Reverend) in the family. With the lighting of two candles, we remembered Anneloes’s mother, Corrie, who died two years ago, as well as Anneloes’s grandmother, who unfortunately passed away only a few days before the wedding.

Anneloes lighting a candle to remember her mother, who passed away two years ago, and her grandmother who died suddenly only a few days before the wedding.
Anneloes lighting a candle to remember her mother, who passed away two years ago, and her grandmother who died suddenly only a few days before the wedding.

Then, Jaap read a piece from Ecclesiastes that talks about marriage and he masterfully wove that into what a modern marriage can be and what it can mean. All this was tied together with beautiful renditions of pieces by Bach and Piazolla, as well as a piece composed by the groom when he was 11, performed by members of his family, a gifted musical bunch. As you may have guessed, music plays a large role in Anneloes and Gerrit’s lives. Gerrit is a conductor and the two met through their participation in a choir some years ago.

Uncle Jaap, the Reverend, delivering his thoughts on marriage as part of the church program.
Uncle Jaap, the Reverend, delivering his thoughts on marriage as part of the church program.

That beautiful old church was the perfect venue for this part of the wedding. The music soared into the high arched ceiling domes taking me right along with it. It was perfect. With the program complete, there was more socializing with drinks and food for an hour or so before we all moved on to the next venue: a nighclub a couple of blocks away.

The bride letting off steam.
The bride letting off steam.

There we drank and danced the night away along with a bunch of the cousins who always seem to be at these events. At 2 a.m., Jan and I called it quits and took a cab back to Zeist for a short night’s rest.

It’s occasions like this that I miss being closer to my extended family, which is a large group of people, and growing all the time. On my mom’s side of the family, I have a dozen aunts and uncles, 26 cousins and I don’t know how may kids they have between them. So, the family gatherings tend to be large.

Jan and I at the after party where we may have had a few drinks.
Jan and I at the after party where we may have had a few drinks.

It’s always great to see them. A large contingent of family was able to travel to Canada earlier this year to help celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and Jan and I were happy to be part of this wedding celebration as the Canada contingent.

I’ve come to realize over the years that our move from Holland to Canada was a very courageous and difficult one for my parents. We left when I was 16 and my sisters Mieke and Janita were 15 and 9, respectively. It was a big adventure and none of us kids were really aware of the risk our parents were taking with this move. We were lucky and our lives could not have turned out any better.

The house on the Koninginneweg where I grew up.
The house on the Koninginneweg where my sisters and I grew up.

With age comes a different perspective. I can appreciate now how difficult it must have been for our family as we left everybody behind. The family was everything. It was our support network. Gatherings were frequent and many of us lived in the small town of Oud-Beijerland where we grew up together and spent large parts of our lives together. With the move to Canada, all that was gone. But family will always be family and it’s great how every time we meet there is no question about those family ties.

After the wedding, we made a trip back to Oud-Beijerland to spend another couple of days visiting family and friends. After that it was off to Delft where our friend David, from Vancouver, is currently living and teaching at the design school. We stopped off at the Canadian Embassy in Den Haag for some official business (kind of a bizarre experience with all the security) and then back with a train to Amsterdam for a quiet, final night before an early flight back to Greece. It was a great Dutch Interlude.

Here are a few more shots:

My favourite: patatje mayonaise or fries with mayo.
My favourite: patatje mayonaise or fries with mayo.
Den Haag.
Den Haag city centre.
Het Binnenhof, the parliament buildings.
Het Binnenhof, the parliament buildings in Den Haag.
Den Haag path.
Den Haag path.
Old and new Den Haag.
Old and new Den Haag.
A contemplative moment on the train to Amsterdam.
A contemplative moment on the train to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Central Station.
Amsterdam Central Station.
Picking up a Christmas tree with the bicycle. Why not!
Picking up a Christmas tree with the bicycle. Why not!
Java Island in Amsterdam.
Java Island in Amsterdam.
An older model of work bike.
An older model of work bike.
Metal sculpture on Java Island.
Metal sculpture on Java Island.
Now, where did I park my damn bike?
Now, where did I park my damn bike?
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