Sunday, January 1, 2012

forget paris

DSC_6444 toto, i have a feeling we aren’t in kansas anymore…

The greater part of this past week was spent with my in-laws in Holland, or as the French say, les Pays-bas (lowlands).

As much as I love Naud’s parents, it was rough packing our bags for the third time in four weeks and leaving Paris behind.

I’m not complaining, mind you.   

Here we are, living in Europe, gallivanting across the continent with places to go, people to see… It’s just too, too much.  That’s what it is.

My in-laws are gracious, well-traveled, educated types.  They welcome us into their home with open arms and hearts.  Their mid-century modern dwelling is minimalistic, yet warm and inviting, with high ceilings and plenty of natural light.  “I would like that you are making yourself at home,” says my Dutch mother-in-law.  How lucky am I?!

DSC_6488bedtime stories with oma

Each of us had a highlight for the trip.  Mine was sleep.  I probably slept more in four nights than in the prior three weeks combined.  I could make up all sorts of stuff about hospitality and family togetherness but it wouldn’t hold a candle to the luxury of feeling rested for the first time in two months.  I’m guessing Naud would choose family.  He’s been living 5,000 miles away for more than ten years and it’s awfully nice to finally have his family nearby.  Annabelle’s highlight?  Cycling with Opa and Oma, hands down.

the dutch aren’t big on helmets; we, however, remain devout

Our days were spent sleeping late, lounging in pajamas and spending quality time with family.  In between, Naud and I squeezed in a few runs together, which was ‘prima’ (that’s Dutch for excellent).  Naud complained a lot because he’s out of shape; but Holland is totally flat, so he managed.  The whole country is below sea level which makes running more difficult, in my humble opinion. 

DSC_6506 artsy post-run smooch (aka: when the kid is away, the parents will play)

In between lounging and sleeping, we called on family friends, walked in the neighborhood and celebrated a belated Sinterklaas (a Dutch holiday for children, on December 5).  Sinterklaas is the saint whom Santa Claus is based upon.  He comes from Spain, rides on a white horse and brings presents to good girls and boys, via boat, on the fifth of December. 

DSC_6457 sinterklaas did not disappoint

Naud’s parents live in a small town in the North of Holland.  The surrounding area is known as Friesland, where they even have their own language.  The center is densely populated, while outer lying areas consist of sprawling farmland dotted with traditional farmhouses.  Much like the US, farming tends toward passion over profit and many farms are nothing more than scenic pastures.  Old-style windmills are now a rarity.  The new-fangled, high-powered adaptations have all but replaced them. 

DSC_6514 modern windmolen (windmills) dot the highways

When our time with naud’s parents came to an end, we happily discovered that what was once a tearful goodbye is now ‘tot ziens!’ or ‘see you soon!’  A quick hop over Belgium and voila, we’re back in Paris.  But not before stopping in Amsterdam to visit with Annabelle’s Great Opa Schmidt, who has spent his entire life in the center of Amsterdam.

my dutchies  (naud was born in amsterdam)

During past visits, we were lucky recipients of personal walking tours through the city, compliments of Opa and his wealth of knowledge.  His charming manner and knack for storytelling made for a privileged backstage glimpse of Amsterdam, past and present.  This time, we were on our own with just shy of an hour to see what we could see.

amsterdam in a nutshell 

We managed to squeeze in a quick tour of the city for the sake of stretching our legs and soaking up a few rays of unexpected afternoon sunshine.  I was intent upon seeking out an olliebollen vendor.  Olliebollen (literally, oily balls) consist of yeasty dough rolled in a ball, deep fried and doused with poedersuiker (powdered sugar).  They are a New Years’ tradition in Holland and, I like to think, the last fatty hurrah before resolutions kick in.   

DSC_6559 annabelle’s olliebollen initiation in dam square

Then, over the canals and through brick roads to Opa Schmidt’s house we drove.  We were ushered in with big hugs and Dutch kisses.  Not to be upstaged by the French, the Dutch give three pecks instead of two, first on one cheek, one on the other and then back to the first cheek for a third round!  It makes for a lot of kissing, particularly at family gatherings. 

Naud’s grandfather is truly a remarkable man.  At 89 years old, he lives independently, practices yoga and often cooks his own meals.  He relies on public transportation to traverse the city and is fortunate enough to live in a country where this independent senior lifestyle is supported.

DSC_6563 opa offers to give annabelle a hand with her loose tooth

Our time with Opa is always a special treat, filled with happy memories and an overall feeling of warmth and love.  He is thrilled to have us living nearby and hopes to visit in the spring… It will be his first time traveling to Paris and we look forward to playing tour guide.  It is our turn, after all. 

In the meantime, we were ready to head back, just in time for New Year’s Eve in the city of lights…


  1. oh, such a sweet scene. The U.S. is quite backwards where elders are concerned. Such a shame.

  2. it is unfortunate. we could learn a lot from countries like holland, where seniors are treated with respect and made to feel like valued members of society.