Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Trip to Paris & The Netherlands

Recently Harry and I, his sister Esther and her husband Art took a trip to Paris and The Netherlands.  Harry and Esti, as she is affectionately known by her family and close friends, were born in Vlaardingen, The Netherlands and emigrated to the United States with their parents and six other siblings in 1956.  Harry, the eldest, was 15; Esti was 10.  Both have been back for a couple of visits over the years, but they have not been back together.

In January of this past year, Harry learned about a conference he had to attend in Paris in October and he thought it would be a great idea to combine the conference with a trip to The Netherlands.  Of course, I was on board :) and he also thought it would be fun to invite Art and Esti to come along.  Harry and Esti are very close and I love (love!) her and Art too.  They jumped at the chance.

None of us could have known at that time that this would be a trip of a lifetime for us all, but particularly for Harry and Esti.  We had the best time!  It was a walk down memory lane for both of them and for Art and me, it was wonderful to be able to share this experience with our spouses. 

Paris was wonderful and we had a good time there, but Harry was busy with the conference and we only saw him in the evenings.  The real trip started when we rented a car and drove from Paris to Holland.  That's when the fun began :)  We visited places where Harry and Esti were born, where they grew up, where they played on the dikes as kids, where their parents got married, where their grandparents had a small business and lived, where Harry learned to play the organ at age 10 (a passion that runs deep in his soul), villages where their parents took them, and on and on.  It was an amazing trip and I feel so blessed and honored to have been able to share this time with them.  

I want to document this trip as much as I'm able to with the photographs we took along they way.  These are not any where near all the pictures I took; but these surely highlight the trip.  I do hope you enjoy!  I wrote this post particularly with Harry's children and siblings in mind who, I think, would love to see these pictures. 

We did the tourist things in Paris:  the Eiffel Tower, a boat trip down the River Seine, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, and Versailles.  We were only in Paris for four days, and we tried to see what we could.  Paris is a beautiful city and the food was great...the croissants were amazing!! 

 The views of Paris from the Eiffel Tower were amazing!

On Wednesday, October 5th, we rented this cool Audi A6 station wagon, loaded up our luggage and headed North!  

It was funny, the car was great, a 2010, with an excellent navigation system, but we couldn't figure out how to change the language to English!  So we had a female French guide the whole trip which made for some light, fun moments :)

Our first stop was Bruge, Belgium.  This city dates back more than 2000 years and it is beautiful!  Old and so well preserved.  Unfortunately, we were not able to spend a lot of time here, only a few hours as we were heading to Vlaardingen for our first night.  But we did get to spend a little time, did a little shopping and had a nice dinner.  Bruge is known for its chocolate and fine lace and tapestry.  And yes, some of each ended up in my suitcase :)

 Harry and his beautiful sister!  Can you see the family resemblance? :)

And I had the biggest bowl of mussels...ever! And they were yummy :)

Once in Vlaardingen, we checked into the Delta Hotel for the next six nights.  The Delta is a very nice hotel located on Rotterdam Harbour, a main shipping port into Europe.  Watching the ever passing ships made for easy entertainment during evening happy hour, breakfast or dinner.

On our first day in Vlaardingen, Harry and Esti wanted to see if they could find the flat (all 600 square feet of it) where Harry, his brother John and sister Mary, were born.  Sure enough, Harry found it.  See, my husband has a map in his head...seriously.  They even got to talk to the woman who lives there now.  I think she told Harry and Esti she's been living there for something like 43 years!

Just a quick aside here.  I swear, as soon as we crossed the border into Holland, something switched in Harry and Esti's brains and they began speaking Dutch.  Not only to each other, but to Art and me!  It was really funny, even as Harry and I were getting ready in our hotel room in the mornings, he would be rattling off to me in Dutch and when he saw the blank look on my face, he said, "I'm doing it again, aren't I Di?"  :-)  It was cute, really.  

Over the next several days we took day-long trips into neighboring little villages that Harry and Esti remember going to with their parents.  We stopped in the town of Delft where the factory is located where the beautiful Delft pottery is made.  Now the term "factory" is a misnomer here.  The "factory" was little more than an old, two story town home, with three kilns that do all the firing of the pottery.  They have four artists on site and about 10-12 who work at home and these artists do all the painting of the pottery.  It was a neat place.  

 These symbols guarantee that a particular piece of pottery is a genuine Delft piece. 

Yes, of course we bought a few things, but the best souvenir of the entire trip is a ceramic tile mural of the ancient city of Delft, a very famous scene painted by a famed Dutch artist whose name escapes me, recreated on ceramic tile by this man (I can't remember his name either:/)  Anyway, he is pretty famous throughout Europe and he will be retiring in a couple of years, which makes his work all the more valuable.  Harry fell in love with this piece and bought it immediately.  We are very excited to have it and can't wait to hang it in our new Michigan summer home (more on that later!).  Clicking on the photograph enlarges it so you can get a better view of the mural. 

Here are a few more pictures of the quaint village of Delft.


Another of my favorite little towns is Veere.  This village received its town rights at the end of the 13th century and it has retained its old world charm.  Beautiful village...I loved it here.  Esti said she could live here!

This is a bed and breakfast that says "Vacancy" :-)

And these next four photographs document how they deliver the mail in Veere!


Harry has hanging in his office a painting his dad did of this church, from this angle, down this alley more than 60 years ago!

And this is Harry looking up that alley, almost, but not quite, certain that this was the alley his dad painted that painting from. 

 All the church steeples in Veere have ships at the very top.

Another favorite town was Gouda and I can't even begin to pronounce it the way the Dutch pronounce it...all guttural and all :)  But it was a neat place and yes, we bought some authentic Dutch Gouda cheese at the local market and it is Harry's absolute favorite cheese!  It is yummy!  Harry and Esti's grandmother was born and raised in Gouda so it has some family significance for them as well. 

My favorite cheeseheads!

I guess one of the highlights of our trip came towards the end of it.  We spent another day in Vlaardingen and what a day it was.  First, we saw the church were Harry and Esti's parents were married more than 70 years ago.  Very cool.

And in walking around Vlaardingen we came to De Grote Kerk te Vlaardingen, which means, I think, The Great Church of Vlaardingen.  This is the church where Harry learned to play the organ more than 60 years ago.  His family life also centered around this Church.  We opened the doors and went into the Church, just looking around.  It is a beautiful Church and I believe it dates back to the 15th or 16th century, maybe even earlier.  And it has a gorgeous pipe organ at its center and at some point in time, Mozart actually played on this pipe organ.  How cool is that!  I'm not sure how the organ made its way to Vlaardingen, but Mozart played it at some point in the past. 

De Grote Kerk steeple

Harry struck up a conversation with an older Dutch man who was in the church.  It turns out his name is Ari, which is Harry's given Dutch name.  Well this man happened to be the organist at the church.  So he invited us up into the area where the organ is played (darn...I can't think of the name of that area).  Anyway, we went up into the "balcony" and Ari and Harry were talking a mile a minute, all in Dutch of course.  Ari asked Harry if he wanted to play and my husband got this big, giant grin on his face, nodded his head, sat down and played the organ, beautifully!  It was a very (very) cool moment.

So yes, it was a very good day.

On Sunday, the Smit (original Dutch name) clan had arranged for a family reunion with all the cousins, et al who still lived in the area.  Harry's dad had 4 brothers all of whom have passed.  But many of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren still live in and around Vlaardingen.  So Esti arranged with one of the cousins for a family reunion, inviting all they could get hold of and all who could attend.  We ended up with 37 people!  It was great fun.  Most of them spoke English, which was good for Art and me.  And they were all wonderful, kind and welcoming and we all had great fun.  In fact, I'm now friends on FaceBook with two of Harry's 2nd cousins!  They are a little younger than my sons and are very nice young men.

Harry and Esti saw relatives they hadn't seen in many, many years.  Harry even reconnected with a boy (now a grown man obviously) that he sat next to and had been friends with in the 3rd grade!  This man married one of Harry's cousins and has stayed in touch with the family.  It was a fun day.  And for that day, I learned the only two Dutch phrases I know (will ever know):
Ik ben Aat zn vrow = I'm Harry's wife and En ik spreek geen Hollands = I don't speak Dutch! 
So that was a fun ice breaker :)

Harry's cousin Marleen, her husband, their two new FB friends :)...and Harry

Monday, October 10, we piled back in the car and headed for Kinderdijk, where there are 19 windmills dating back to the 1400's.  It was a cool, overcast day, perfect for picture taking.  This was probably the most picturesque day of all.  The windmills are simply beautiful and to me, very peaceful.

The day before we left for home, we headed far North, up to the North Sea.  We visited The Hague, which is where the International Criminal Court is located.  It's more of a big city than a quaint Dutch town but the North Sea is pretty amazing.  A very wild sea.  One can understand why so many fisherman have lost their lives on this sea. 

This is some famous hotel.  I can't remember the name of it but it's a beautiful building and it overlooks the North Sea.

And I just loved this...this sign says it's a Pancake House!  Gotta love the Dutch!

The last of the quaint Dutch streets we walked down.

It was, by far, the most amazing trip I've ever taken.  My husband was so happy to visit the places he grew up; and for me, to share this time with Harry, his sister and her husband was truly a gift.

Harry, Art and Esti...I love you all!


  1. YAY! Thank you for sharing! The story about the organ and the smile on Harry's face as he plays it brought tears to my eyes. Um, I'm a big softie... :-)

  2. What beautiful memories you've shared! I love the images of the lady on the bicycle delivering mail...their lives seem so much simpler and quaint than ours. Good to have you back. I've missed you :)

  3. Oh, btw, 8 Austin bloggers are involved in the Austin Independent Nurseries Giveaway...contest closes at 11:59 tonight. There is still time to enter...lots of really great prizes!

  4. Thanks Rachel! I cried too :)

    Hi Cat! So good to hear from you! I was afraid I might lose contact with you due to my loooong absence. I'm so glad I didn't. I've missed you too :) Hopefully, I'm back now. And I will check out the Austin Independent Nurseries Giveaway. Thanks for the tip...and for your friendship.

  5. What a wonderful time! Thanks for sharing the pics! It was great to see many of the places that my dad cherishes so much!

  6. Gorgeous! Can't to see all the goodies you brought home!!

  7. Wow, what an amazing trip! And such a wonderful family archive too - your grandchildren will thank you for recording it. I hope you will write more about some of the nice food you experienced. Do you have any good recipes for Dutch cheese???

  8. Thanks, Nee! I'm glad you enjoyed the pics. We really had a great time!

    Thanks Katie! Can't wait to see you and Michael soon!

    Hi Mark...Thank you :) That's one of the reasons I wrote the document this trip for our children and grandchildren. I'm not sure about more posts on the food we ate. We had a couple of nice meals in Paris (and amazing croissants) but the Dutch are not known for their food...except their yummy cheese! And for me, the best way to eat good Dutch cheese is sliced straight off the wedge and into my mouth! :)

  9. Oh my--what a wonderful trip, great photos, and narrative! Sounds like it was a kind of pilgrimage which makes it even more fun! I had a similar experience trekking along with my husband to his family's Tuscan village a couple of years ago. Welcome back to the states! I missed you, too. Can't wait to hear about the cottage in Michigan!

  10. Thank you Beth! Good to hear from you :) I've missed you too! Sounds like we've shared similar experiences with our spouses. It is great fun, isn't it? :) Oh yes...our Michigan summer home....more to come on that! We are super-excited about it!

  11. What an incredible trip!!! I've been to Paris but never Holland. I love those windmills!! Lucky lucky you!!!

  12. Wow! Now that is a post!! What a wonderful treat to travel to Europe this morning with my morning coffee! I am soooo happy for y'all. I am going to forward this to my grandmother who loves Delft. It will be a treat for her too I am sure! I am so excited y'all are back though!

  13. Yes, TS, it was an incredible trip! And the windmills are beautiful and speak to a different place and time.

    Why thank you, Kelsey :) I had a great time writing this post. I hope your grandmother enjoys it too. It is good to be back :)

  14. Great pics! Looks like you all had a wonderful time. Looks like beautiful little towns.