Urban sketching in the Netherlands – my childhood home
I figure that I am spiritually about 10% Dutch. I lived in Holland for six of the first ten years of my life, and I have wonderful memories of that time – memories that have been soaking back into my veins and reclaiming my soul since the minute we stepped on a KLM flight a few days ago.
Hearing the first guttural Dutch accents of the pilots over the announcement system, followed immediately by the perfect English translation reminded me of the amazing linguists and traders the Dutch are. When I was young I had a friend who went to a Dutch school and she learnt Dutch, English, French, Italian and German, speaking them all fluently. I only had to study three of those at the British School and I can’t say I did any of them very well!
We lived in Holland twice as expats, following my dad around in his various jobs for Royal Dutch Shell, most of which involved travelling the world negotiating oil deals. He just loved it, and at 89 he is also returning to his spiritual roots in Holland with my brother and his wife. We crossed paths briefly a few days ago – us on our way in, and them on their way out. We will catch up again in London in three weeks, as this is trip is nothing if not a family affair!
We first lived in Holland when I was two years old. It was a huge adventure for our Australian family, crossing the world to live as expats back in the late 1960’s. I don’t have a lot of memories of those first three years, as I was so little, but there are plenty of pictures of mini me with my hair in pigtails playing in the snow, or posing with a big grin in front of the tulips.
I went to a Dutch kindergarten – a klouterschol – and there I learnt to speak Dutch without realising I was doing it, as little children do. I wish I still could, but alas all I am left with is a few random words and the ability to pronounce the guttural Dutch ‘g’. When I was 5 we left Holland for Bangkok, but I still picture my little self in the Keukenhof gardens in spring.
We came back to The Hague for another three years when I was 8, and I went to the English School, with its grey uniform and British curriculum. I have so many memories of that time when we lived in Scheveningen, wandering amongst the tulips in spring, gathering conkers from the chestnut trees in autumn, camping in summer and skating on the canals during winter. It was so green and lush, and seasons “really happened”- something we really don’t see much in Australia.
So why am I taking you back forty years to these childhood memories of mine? It’s because this is what influences what I am seeing on this pilgrimage, as I introduce my own daughter to the country that means so much to me, and which I have told her so much about. Finally she can see why it is that I long for proper Dutch mayonnaise on my chips!
So how did it go?
Well, after 24 hours flying from Melbourne we arrived in Amsterdam at 7 in the morning complete with a good dose of jetlag. With time on our hands before we could check in to our apartment we put our bags into the airport lockers and bought tickets straight to Keukenhof, the famous tulip gardens. I’m so glad we did. The flowers were stunning. What a welcome to Holland.
I drew this as we sat down with hot chocolates and a scrumptious piece of Dutch apple tart. Memories galore J
Over the next two days we managed to tick a lot of boxes. We introduced Beth to krokettes, frites with mayonnaise in a cone (Dutch mayonnaise is still the best!), poffertjes from a street market in the rain (how Dutch is that?) the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and even King’s Day celebrations.
So, Amsterdam, tot ziens for a little while. We will be back again at the end of our trip, two months from now, ready for some more frites with mayonnaise (and yes we bought some to carry along with us too).