Saturday, February 21, 2009


Tonight is our last night in Holland; we were in Germany this afternoon, but go back for almost a week now before heading home. This has been the most amazing holiday and I am really thankful. I'll miss it here, though I'm also starting to be almost ready to come home and start this year at uni and such.

On Sunday, as I mentioned, we went with Sophie and my uncles Wim and Rik to take Opa's ashes to the sand dunes nearby. It's a strange thing, and I've never seen something like it. It was sad, and I think I am glad to have been there. It was cold and raining and there was a really sharp wind, and everyone was quiet and Sophie was crying. When we got back Rik took us to Emmen, and with more tears I had to say goodbye to Sophie for the last time in a while. We had a good time together here.

Rik and his partner Rensje work with puppets and theatre, particularly for disabled people, children and elderly people, and the place where we slept at their place was in the big theatre room out the back, a kind of snoezel room with a theatre place in the middle. It was nice! With them we went to quite a few places, including an old Dutch fort called Boertange, the pre-historic hunebed graves, and a working windmill in which we spent an hour being shown around by the miller. One night we went to visit my second cousin, Oma's niece, who is seventy-something and really nice, along with her son. It was a refreshing week for me.

Today after farewelling Rik and Rensje and picking up the car we'll be using this week, we went to this beautiful place in Germany called Xanten. It is a very pretty medieval sort of town, and we didn't get to look around as much as I'd have liked because we arrived in the late afternoon, but what we did see was the ruins of Roman settlement there. It was unreal! I'm super happy to have been there, and it's definitely a highlight of our time here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

shepherd, shepherd, leave decoying.

We're at Marion's place again, and two nights ago her daughter Evelyn, who's about six years older than I--the only cousin I hadn't then met--came over, which was really lovely as she is a really nice girl. Mlein also had a friend over from school that afternoon, so it was doubly fun. We visited Linda at her house yesterday morning. Also, we've just decided that although we're leaving here for my uncle Rik's house today, we'll be back for a day later on; and I get to see Sophie and Wim once more this afternoon, which I'm really glad about as I'm seriously going to miss them. The last week has been nice.

A few days ago Sophie got the day off school and we went with our dads by train to Amsterdam. When I say by train, that also means by bus to the station and on the back of a bicycle to the bus--scary the first time, but fun as well! It's so different in Amsterdam to the rest of Holland that I've seen so far, being very much a city; it's very busy, and with trams and cars and especially thousands of bikes whizzing past everywhere the place just buzzes to walk through. There's a lot of history there and it's beautiful, and of course there's a tacky tourist vibe as well. It was only Sophie's second time there, so we found it interesting. It was a long day and a fun one.

The first thing we did was take a canal boat for an hour, looking at much of the city from the water. The boat's captain was good (very Dutch humour and also an amusingly blunt way of talking about things, it was funny), and there really was a lot to see. Next we walked around a bit and ended up spending over an hour in the Anne Frank house; it was so strange to be there, to see footage of those things and realise they happened on the same streets we were walking that day. It's too big a thing to really understand or feel. It was good to go there.

When we came out it was raining, so we went to a café with two little cats in it (sweet!) until it was dry again, then walked around the streets and decided to go to the Rijksmuseum where the Rembrandts and such are. It was really cool to see all that art, especially for real. You do kind of get the impression of the excess and pride of the 'patron' class at that time as well, and some of the attitudes and religious or cultural sentiments of the time become clear through the pictures probably even more than the writings. Of course certain works are beautifully composed and really masterfully painted. We spent a while there. After that we caught the tram back to the train and went home, stopping at a little pubfor dinner on the way, which was cosy and nice as it was quite cold outside and we were all tired. That night Sophie slept over in her room at Wim's house where I'd been sleeping (she's normally at Simone's). The next night she slept over again, after we went out to a Chinese restaurant for our last dinner together; she had an English test the next morning and had to learn two pages of irregular verb forms and also be able to recognise exactly which tense any verb is in, which is very hard, so I tested her for a while and that turned out to be quite funny. She's so nice to hang out with--my cousins are great :)

At the moment I am sitting in the lounge room, out the window of which I can see a small, distant window on the house behind, obscured a little by smoke from the chimney. For about twenty minutes now two silhouettes, of a girl with long plaited hair and a young boy, have been dancing across the room together--and now with teddy bears above their heads (sometimes flying). It's amusing, and nice.

Last night we went to a Valentijnconcert put on by the choir that Marion conducts, beautiful. It was in a little candlelit hall with stone walls and pretty design, and she arranged it so they sang classical love songs chronologically, composed from the sixteenth to the twentieth century in mostly English and German. The parts sounded lovely, and twice a harpist played a few songs in between the singing. So that was something of a treat.

This afternoon the whole family here is meeting because they waited for us to be here so they could sprinkle Opa's ashes where Oma's were placed; I don't know how I feel about this. We'll have to see.

And then this afternoon we're going to my other uncle and aunt's place, who are the only close relatives I haven't yet met here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Today is another quiet day. It's been raining and snowing a bit, and we're staying at home doing rather little. Tonight we'll call my other uncle to see if Jess can stay with us there for a few days, and maybe go over to Sophie's place for the evening. Tomorrow we're all going to Amsterdam. Also we have run out of vlokken, to my breakfastish disappointment. There are tiny little birds hopping about in the rain, on the tree outside the window just there, and they are sweet.

It's lovely and rare to just stop for a little bit. Winter here is cosy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

those are some nice stars.

Since writing last on Saturday, we've now spent over a day at Wim's house. Dad has gone to visit a friend (he had to take Wim's spare bike, so I couldn't come) and Wim is at work, so I'm here alone. It's a beautiful day, cloudy and very quiet but not that cold.

On Saturday night we caught the train to near Tilburg, and Wim's ex-wife Simone picked us up from the station. The two, though separated now, are still very involved in each other's lives, and Simone lives with my cousin Sophie, who is also fourteen, about five minutes' walk away. It's interesting, and unusual; in a way it is really nice, as we spent all of yesterday together and they usually also eat together, but Sophie says everything is easier for the family now. Anyway. It was late and cold when we arrived, so I stayed talking with Dad and Wim for a while and then went to bed. Wim is really interested in astronomy, and having researched it a lot for my Extension II story in High School and also having a real (though totally uncommitted) interest in the field, I am pretty impressed by some of the things he's shown me. He's really nice.

On Sunday we came together for lunch, which Sophie and her best friend Stacy (who is from England and has lived here for a year now) had prepared for us. They said they had stayed up till three in the morning talking after being out dancing till about midnight. Stacy tells me that the social life for under-fourteens in Holland is much better than anywhere else. They are rather sweet, very dolled up and capable and pop-music-y and still easy to get on with, despite my being older. I went for a walk with them, hung out with them for the afternoon, and then went with Sophie to watch her dancing lesson which was fun. Her friends also seemed to enjoy trying out their English :)

For lunch we had tea and hot bread rolls, with meat and cheese or with vlokken (a very traditional kind of chocolate flakes, delicious)--the same as I have had for every breakfast and lunch while I've been here, but a bit fancier because the girls had done it all nicely. After walking the dog and Sophie's dancing and all that, we had dinner and then sat in front of the open fire, watched TV for a while (it was a show called Banana Split, which is something like Candid Camera) and then walked home to Wim's place. It was a really good day. I've been learning some new things while I've been here, and having new experiences too, one of which is extended family. I sometimes see my family and child cousins in Adelaide, I rarely see my other family in Melbourne and such, and I never see family on this side of the world. I could get used to it.

I've posted some more pictures on Picasa as well, of the day we went to Helmond and of Oma's friend Mrs. van de Weij.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

regarding the castle with a frozen moat.

As I write, we are about to leave my auntie Marion's house and catch the train with Dad's brother Wim to stay at his place. We've just had Uncle Leo's birthday party with Wim and two of Leo's sisters; Wim is still here, and Dad is packing. We'll be back here for a couple of days later on, so although the last few days have certainly gone fast it's nice not to have to say goodbye to anyone quite yet. It's good that way. Even as I meet people, it feels sad and strange to know how soon now we'll be leaving them.

Anyway. A piece of good news is that Suikerspin is found: this morning I went to say hello to him in his cage and he was missing! We put the cage outside and later on found him sleeping quite happily in his home--though he seemed much happier when we brought him in out of the cold. (I really want a hamster.)

I'm starting to pick up some Dutch, though only really a tiny bit. I can sometimes follow conversation, helped also by the etymological links to English and such, but will have to do a lot of work to even start to know it just a bit. I want to though. One thing I've noticed is the element of things that used to be in old, middle or early modern forms of English as well, but now aren't. Some of the inflection forms are like that; and I don't know a lot of Old English, but lots of words I've seen here and there are also turning up in Dutch words. For example I noticed that the word for king, koning, is a lot like cyning, and the word believer, geloof, is like geliefen, so I could work them out. Anyhow, it's a nice language to start speaking in bits and pieces. As I said elsewhere, pronouncing the spelling feels similar to reading Chaucer in the accepted way (like in those good Year Eleven days...).

The day I last wrote was a nice one: we went to Helmond, a nearby town, to buy a present for Leo (as I said, it was his birthday that day). On the way we stopped in at the local castle, which has been turned into a beautiful little museum of local history and of Dutch art.

When we got home Mlein and Leo were back, so we gave him presents, had a pear and caramel pie, and spent some time talking; then Marjolein and I got to properly hang out, which I really enjoyed. She's the loveliest girl, and she's been through some very hard times especially with her family splitting (her three older sisters live with their dad); her being unwell has also made her move to a school that is socially more difficult and where academically there is pressure not to do well. She doesn't fit in and is teased because she wants to be a friend to people who are really struggling, and she enjoys gothic style fashion, though she says she actually has a variety of tastes. She's really interesting. In a way she's very fourteen-year-old, of course, but she's also insightful and also really compassionate and accepting. We got on straight away: she's vibrant and friendly and fun, and a great conversationalist even in English. She showed me some of her drawings and poems and her favourite music (she's also obsessed with a German band called Tokyo Hotel), and I showed her lots of photos and convinced her to come to Australia with me :) So I rather enjoyed that, and I just so wish I were around more often here.

[Having written most of this on Saturday night, I finish and post it on Monday; I was going to tag it on with today's thinkings, but I find they are long enough alone.]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

bicycles and other things.

I am writing from Holland! At the moment it is Thursday morning; we arrived on Tuesday night. It is so beautiful, I've completely fallen in love with the place and it's wonderful here. I wish you were here and I could show you...

I've never travelled overseas before (well, not since I came here at three months old--apart from that the furthest from home I've ever gone is Darwin, a few weeks ago). The flight was long and I don't fly well, so I felt ridiculously unwell from Singapore to Frankfurt and only slept a couple of hours out of the thirty-four we spent travelling, but it doesn't matter. I have to say it makes all the difference to be flying with someone as well, which I've never done, and it's been nice so far to spend more time with Dad in a different way to usual, and for him not to be really busy, and to be here where he grew up and meet his family, and all that. On the flight I'd been looking forward to having so much time to read (I have a few books, most notably Ulysses, to make a dent in before second semester) but being unwell I watched a few films instead. The highlight was getting up a few times and seeing my first glimpse of European cities by night: Warsaw was the first I think.

We arrived in Frankfurt (this is where the amazing flight deal was to) early in the morning, and a few hours later caught the 300 km/h train to Holland. The little towns just outside Frankfurt are simply gorgeous, and there's so much that is lovely about Holland and how country-like it is all the way through that makes me wonder why my dad ever left. You should see the little houses! They look friendly, and so many of them look very farm-like and old-Dutch. There are dykes and canals and everything, and so many horses and such here as well, which reminds me of when I lived in Kellyville for a few years when I was very young and it was still completely rural (my favourite place I've ever lived)--except that here their paddocks are full of snow! I really love so much about Australia, and of course that's where family and friends are, but apart from that I could definitely live in Holland and will really be sad to leave. It's cold at the moment, and the colours, particularly the greens, are much less saturated than at home, so I can see how it may be a sort of grey place to live in constantly, but for me it is just delightful and home-like and so beautiful. I took a few pictures from the train, but it was so fast that most of what I've seen I haven't yet caught on camera. Anyway, taking the train much of the way across the country before even stepping out was a nice way to arrive there, and I definitely recommend this.

After changing trains twice and sitting next to some really sweet Dutch students who had a good conversation with my dad, being asked directions in a language I didn't know, and finally getting to the place where my auntie was going to pick us up, we found that she hadn't yet arrived so I had a bit of a wander in the nearby stores, including a little florist's shop. Then we went home and I met my youngest cousin from that family, Marjolein, who is fourteen and so still lives at home, as well as my uncle and the hamster and the two cats, and I stayed up as long as I could and then slept. So I woke at about half past five the first morning, and I opened the curtains and everywhere was snow. I've never seen snow before, and I think a part of me has now been found at last :) I love being here.

Yesterday Dad's sister Marion took us to Heusden, a very historical little place with windmills and little old streets, and I so admired it. It feels strange that this is my first time seeing streets and places like there are here, because in a way they are a big part of our awareness of our history and where we're from--for me anyhow. It feels more familiar than strange, though also very first-time-exciting. So beautiful; and I'm such a tourist! On the way we went past their old childhood house, and it started properly snowing and it was just good to be there. We also visited the store where Dad and his friends used to hang out. I have learnt a lot about him. Marion is his youngest sister and they share a lot in common, so their conversations about life (old and recent) are interesting to hear.

Then we went to the best pancake house, and I had this amazing, big pancake with salmon and bree, while they had apple and cinnamon ones (the cinnamon here is good); then we walked around a little more in the town and the snow. The temperature was a bit below zero, but surprisingly it doesn't feel that cold here. I'm actually really liking it (though this could be because I've escaped the current heat wave in Australia). I'd love to live here for a while.

There's so much more to tell, but for now I need to get going again as we're about to go out. Last night I also met my cousin Linda (who is twenty-five) and her boyfriend Sven, and that was really fun. I can't believe I have all this family who I've never known, and I wish the world were so much smaller. Anyway, it's good to be here. Today Dad's sister is taking us somewhere, I can't remember where to, so I need to finish getting ready for that. It's also my uncle's birthday, though he and M'lein are both out at the moment. I'll write more properly, and also post some pictures (I have lots!), when I can.