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A Newcomer’s View of Holland

The first time you arrive somewhere, anywhere, you’re seeing it through fresh eyes. Sometimes when I’m driving around Den Haag, through the Dutch countryside, or close to Amsterdam, I’m transported back to the first time I saw it all.

It was not quite two years ago, when Son, Daughter and I came to visit Husband. He had been in Den Haag working at his new job for a couple months, and we were visiting during the children’s school break.

It wasn’t exactly an audition since we were already committed to moving here. The decison was already made. We would be moving here in a few short months.

Still, there is some nervousness involved when you actually see what will become your ‘home’ for the next few years.  It’s exciting. You’re a bit wary.

You’re hopeful that it will all measure up to expectations. You don’t want to be disappointed or encounter nagging doubts. You want reassurance that you’ve made the right decision. That you’re kissing the prince and not a frog.

I remember thinking how different the countryside looked to me. It was completely flat, not a hill or mountain in sight. There were occasional clusters of old trees here and there, but mainly the area from Amsterdam south to Den Haag (encompassing the two provinces known as North Holland and South Holland, respectively) is devoid of large forests.

I recall looking out the car window and observing how straight lines of trees seemed to flank many of the roads off in the distance. Standing tall, in perfect lines, like straight-backed soldiers.

I saw the occasional old-style windmill, and then several of the modern style nearby. The old and the new co-existing peacefully. Had I really stopped to think about it then, they were both signs of a windswept plain. Winds sweeping in from the North Sea. What would likely be cold winds in winter.

But at the time, that light bulb didn’t come on. I was just mesmerized by the sight of the windmills against the horizon.

Windmolen

I would later learn that much of the flat land was reclaimed from the sea, known as polder in Dutch. Hence the lack of forestland, and the reason for the neatly aligned trees planted after the reclamation. At the time it all just looked a bit strange. Different. Foreign.

Yet oddly beautiful, with the soft greens of the countryside going on as far as one could see. Fields of tulips edged with canals, horses and sheep grazing in the distance. Clear sky and soft sunlight illuminating a beautiful day. Clean and clear and breathtaking.

We soon found ourselves entering the town of Wassenaar on the outskirts of Den Haag. Much of Wassenaar is covered with dense medieval woodland, reminding me of an enchanted forest.

Located near the sea, there are beautiful marsh and tidal areas as well. But what caught my eye that morning more than two years ago were the number of people out on the paths along the roadway. Walking, riding bikes, some even on horseback!

As we approached Den Haag, the area became more populated. I was pleased to see parks and soccer fields and other patches of greenery in amongst the houses, neighborhoods and on well into the city.

Husband was renting a temporary place close to downtown.  The small mews house was in a quiet garden alleyway tucked well behind a busy street. Despite being so near to the city center, it was like living in a tiny country cottage.

What I would come to realize with the passage of time is that this juxtaposition IS The Netherlands. Old and new, modern cars and riders on horseback, city suburbs and bucolic countryside, bustling and peaceful. What I recall at the time was a curious mix of relief and excitement.

The prince was indeed a prince, and not a frog after all. And I haven’t changed my opinion.

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