You may or may not know that last year I spent most of winter and a fantastic New Year in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands with my family. My sister, her husband and her beautiful two kids (now three) moved there about a year and a half ago and that event changed our lives forever. From being able to see them every day on our little island, to having them oceans and continents away was pretty tough on all of us to say the least. I could write on for hours about how much I love those kids and how we miss them back home but being in London these days, the moment I got the notification about promotional seats to Amsterdam, you best know I whipped out my card faster than you can say pannekoeken. My sister didn’t know I was coming, and it’s very hard to keep these kinds of secrets for very long in our little family, so the anticipation all week before leaving was killing me. Everyone I sat next to on the trains and on the plane, must have thought the chick grinning uncontrollably to herself must be a bit crazy. I walked up to my sister’s doorstep on Saturday, knowing that they were home, rang the doorbell and was greeted by complete surprise and confusion followed by big hugs and love all around. I had begun to feel a bit homesick and this was just the dose of family I needed to get me going until Christmas.
This post, however, isn’t about my little Dutch family, but rather about what is, so far, one of my favourite places in Europe. London is definitely up there on my list, along with Paris in France and Florence in Italy. But there’s just something about the Netherlands (at least what I’ve seen of it so far) that captures your heart and just doesn’t let go. Just to give you some situational context, right now, I’m sitting on my sister’s couch in her living room with a cup of tea close by (of course), while my little niece plays beside me with her brothers and my sister is downstairs doing the laundry. Go ahead and imagine the scent and warmth of the crackling wood in the fireplace on a cold winter afternoon. Okay there’s no wood in the fireplace it’s actually freezing but I think I’ve set the image that I wanted. Moving on.
Aside from their glorious genetics, the Dutch are known to be one of the most family oriented cultures in the world. Fun fact: they’re number one on the list of countries in the world with the happiest children. Happy children, make for happy adults and so you can imagine how genuine and caring everyone is. I had an interesting experience picking my nephews up from school where a child appeared to be lost, sitting on his bike in the middle of the side walk crying. He must have been 4 or 5 years old and every single person around us stopped to try and talk to him and find his parents. Everyone made a move to look around and wait until someone came to find the child. There was such a sense of heartwarming comfort and genuine concern that when the child finally found his grandma (who had looked away for one moment to find that the child was gone, as it happens with children that young) everyone breathed a sigh of relief and it just confirmed the kind and child friendly nature of the dutch culture.
Another point on my list of reasons why Utrecht should be a must on anyone’s travel list is the beauty of the city itself. From the mesmerising canals winding their way between the gorgeous buildings and the endless rows of bicycles as far as the eye can see, the city is nothing if not an architectural masterpiece. The windmills and countless parks just make the city so airy and not like a city at all. The fish, cheese and fruit markets add to the charm of the city and the smiling faces behind the stalls just make you want to try all the samples! My favourite thing about my trip over the last holiday season was the salmon sandwiches which I could not get enough of and that I am absolutely obsessed with. I’m currently on my 30-day vegan pledge so I’ve had to sadly and by exerting way too much willpower, stay away from my favourite little sandwich shop just outside Hoog Catherijne. My sister commented, as we walked along the canal, that I had a nostalgic look on my face and honestly I don’t know why but I just can’t help the way the little city makes me feel. I haven’t explored as much of this gorgeous country as I would like yet, but you can be sure that I’ll be back many, many times.
Despite having to complete an assignment while I was there, the little getaway to a family setting was exactly what I needed to be able to regain my focus and get back to tackling the last month of this semester, and face the midsessionals before the Christmas break.
Until then, sit back, grab some Oreos, and let’s see what life has to offer us next.