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A Life Less Ordinary

Long Weekend Away in Friesland, the Netherlands

Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

When my cousin Griet and her husband Wim visited us in Sebastopol, California two months ago, we picked a long weekend in May to go on a trip together while Mark and I are in Belgium for four weeks. The destination was to be determined: Normandy in France or Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands.  The two of us had never been to either place. The coast of Normandy would more than likely remind us of the one in California, so we were happy the decision fell on Friesland, with its famous Waddeneilanden, five islands in the Waddenzee or Wadden Sea. This area (which also stretches into Germany and Denmark) is a World Heritage Site with a character and outlook that changes with the tides. At low tide, people in excellent physical condition can attempt a walk to some of the islands with a guide, certain times of the year.

Wim was our driver last weekend and Griet was our tour guide. She planned the whole four-day vacation and we appreciated the effort very much! After a crazy hectic three-week stop in Massachusetts and the same amount of days in Belgium, we were ready to sit back and relax. Except… relaxing was not part of the plan! Our destination town of Holwerd was four hours away and there was a lot to see and do. We left Thursday morning (a holiday in Belgium and Holland) and returned Sunday evening.

Spring in Holland

On the ride north, we made a quick stop in Staphorst, where traditional houses sport a colorful trim and interesting roofs. It was a certain type of bird, however, that stole the show. After watching a couple of storks mid-air, we spotted a mother and her chicks in a nest high above.

Lunch was had somewhere in the countryside, where windmills abound. They all appeared well-cared for and taking photos of them never gets old! At some point in the afternoon, we checked into our little “half-house” in the middle of the fields, where the reward came in the form of peace and a beautiful sunset around 9:30pm. Drinks all around after an exploratory walk on the dykes in the area.

Friday was filled with a 45 minute ferry ride to one of the Waddeneilanden and its exploration by bike. We picked Schiermonnikoog (as opposed to close-by Ameland) for its size, nature and lack of (many) cars. The island has been voted “the prettiest place in the Netherlands” by the Dutch people and is one big National Park. The picturesque village of the same name is very cozy with many houses that are typical for the island. The four of us walked the 4km to town and rented bikes for the day. We stopped at beaches, dunes, lighthouses and landmarks, but mostly peddled our way around the whole island.

The ferry ride back to the mainland was extra interesting, because the only usable water left, was bordered by mud!

On Saturday the main event of our trip was scheduled: a three-hour wadden walk, which basically means laboriously trotting in the mud without much progress. Talk about good exercise! The guided tour did not start until 4:30pm (all based on the tides), so we visited the picturesque town of Dokkum in the morning. Mark and I loved the atmosphere and size of this cute village. The two windmills looked outstanding, and, who knew there were so many canals and boats in Friesland?

An old-timer rally caught us by surprise! They followed the route of the “Eleven City Trip” (Elfstedentocht), a popular but increasingly rare event, where participants move from town to town on ice skates, by means of frozen canals, lakes and rivers. The last time the ice was thick enough for this race was in 1997. The event originated in 1909 and has been held fifteen times in total. The natural ice has to reach a thickness of at least 15 cm (6 inches) for the race to get the green light.

The weather was incredible the whole weekend: sunny, warm and perfect for a walk in the muck. We followed our guide on “the wad” and for three hours, our group was part of the extensive landscape between the sea and the sky. We were literally walking on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes getting sucked in, but always able to pull our feet back together and restore our balance. Almost always!

Sunday was already our last day abroad. After packing up and checking out, we still had a few stops on the agenda. First up was the capital of Friesland, Leewarden, where many buildings are slanted. Guide Griet showed us around as we checked out buildings, bridges and canals. Walking on pavement was like a walk in the park. 🙂

The owner of our accommodation rental had recommended a stop in Hindeloopen. This unique town was picture perfect and therefore quite touristy. It was a joy to wander the narrow streets and take a glimpse back in time.

Our last stop before returning to Belgium was the Afsluitdijk, a Dutch engineering marvel constructed between 1927 and 1932. It has a length of 32 km (20 miles) and dams off an arm of the North Sea (the Zuiderzee), creating the fresh water lake of the Ijsselmeer, a favorite body of water to sail and surf. All that was left to do was sit in traffic and have a last meal out together. It was a packed, but wonderful weekend indeed!

(I have been extremely busy the last few weeks, flying off for another long weekend tomorrow, but I promise to answer comments and catch up with all my blogging friends next week. See you then!)

41 Comments

  1. What a fabulous adventure (and great photos), Liesbet. I absolutely LOVED your ‘Wadden Walk’! Enjoy your upcoming long weekend!!

  2. Absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for the pictures. Have a great rest of your vacation.

    • Thanks Ryan! On our last weekend away, which was a bit more relaxing than the first one in Friesland, I discovered a feeling that was new to me: a full day of not having to do anything, not feeling guilty about anything, just going with the flow, sight see at our own pace, and… ignore the internet! It was marvelous. 🙂

  3. What a fun and beautiful get away. The hike in the muck sounded very entertaining. Glad you enjoyed some lovely weather.

    • We have been so lucky with the weather Ingrid – very rare for us on a Belgian visit. The walk in the muck was interesting, but we would have enjoyed it better if there would have been a destination at the end, instead of making a big loop for the sake of getting our feet wet and muddy. 🙂

  4. Thank you for taking us on this wonderful journey Liesbet! I love Friesland and the Waddeneilanden, especially Terschelling, where I have been camping since my mid-teens. I had never been on Schiermonnikoog and it was lovely to see. I remember Hindelopen as a quaint and very touristy place back in the 1970’s and it has some lovely corners away from the crowds. Enjoy your next adventure! :o) xxx

    • I”m so glad to read that you are familiar with Friesland, Xenia. Hindeloopen sounds like it hasn’t changed much other than an increase in tourists probably. The nice weather might have played a factor. I have heard about Terschelling, but haven’t been yet. Maybe another time. Our accommodation was in a little town called Holwerd, so we had to pick between Ameland or Schiermonnikoog for our excursion. I’m sure all five of the Dutch islands are worth a visit.

  5. A fascinating post, Liesbet. Like Donna, I love your Wadden walk. I had no idea such a thing even existed. Sounds like a Wow Note post to me!
    Thanks for including all of the photos.

  6. What a beautiful part of the world… thanks for taking us along! The Wadden walk sounds strenuous and like a lot of fun, a perfect combo. Have fun on your next adventure.

    • The walk is definitely more fun when you do it with company! We did have some brave walkers who didn’t mind getting extremely dirty when trying a route the guide recommended for the adventurous ones. You’ll be surprised to learn that I did not join that group and choose the “easy, less dirty route”, Janis. Except for the fact that I was not quick enough running up a hill (ideally, you keep moving and never stand still), got sucked in deep with both feet stuck in the mud, and fell over on my hands, muddy up to my elbows. I ended up dirtier and muddier than my cousin’s husband, who choose the alternate route!

  7. What a fantastic trip! Even the mud walk (which sounds like a lot of tedious work!) looks amazing.

    • It was a fun, but tiring experience. I don’t think we will hurry and sign up for such a walk to one of the islands any time soon. 🙂

  8. That was an action-packed 4 days indeed! I would have loved that mud walk!

    • It is interesting to read in the comments that the mud walk is the favorite of most. I’m excited to have such adventurous and fit readers! 🙂

  9. I would really love to spend some quality time in the Netherlands, and this gorgeous photo tour makes it all the more tempting. However, I’m having a hard time getting over the complexity of names. I’d never be able to tell ppl about it later 😉

    • You sound just like my husband, Gabe. He doesn’t even try to pronounce any of the Dutch/Flemish names and words and, to be honest, I don’t think he has any idea which places we actually visited. I have to admit that when I was in Russia or other countries where I did not remember or manage to read the names, or even recognize the letters, I felt ignorant about all the places as well. Yet, it is all about having a good time, enjoying the immersion in all these cultures and making new memories. And, taking a lot of photos, apparently. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the wonderful tour of your part of the world! Beautiful photos and the weather and company looked amazing!

    • I feel very fortunate to have family members I can call friends as well, Terri. They try to visit us once a year (wherever we are) and we are happy to meet them back here once a year or so as well.

  11. Fabulous trip!…

  12. Wow. Pretty nice area to see. Lovely photos !

    • Thank you, Sue. I”m glad we finally make it “all the way” up there! There is so much to see and do in Europe that we need way more time for exploring… One day! 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading some posts on your new site!

  13. What a wonderful weekend trip and so well organized. I’ve loved the times that we’ve spent in the Netherlands. Looking at windmills never gets old 🙂

    • Yeah… I’m not sure what is wrong with me in regards to those windmills. Nobody else in the car seemed to care about them and we even have them in Belgium. They are just so quaint! All my cousin’s husband ever said about them is “I wish I could live in a windmill one day.”

      It sure was nice not to have to worry about anything that weekend, not even about reading up or planning anything. I truly enjoyed the fact that my cousin organized everything, since we really needed a vacation. 🙂

  14. I’m feeling like I need a nap after all of that activity! As you can imagine I especially like the cycling portion of the adventure. What a quaint and charming area and so much bright sunshine! Enjoy the rest of your trip and looking forward to hearing more.

    • Can you believe my bum hurt for two days afterwards, Sue? I need your cycling pants. And, we actually only sat on the saddle for a few hours in total, I’m sure. We are such biking wimps and I have to admit, especially when it is windy, I’d rather walk. Now that we are in Belgium, where my parents have an assortment of bikes and everything in this household is done by bike, even shopping, Mark is very interested in biking more. He sees it as a novel occupation and above all, a safe one, since in the States, he believes biking is too dangerous. (He is right about that.) Stay tuned for some photos and insights about our last weekend in a week or so!

  15. That all looks idyllic!

  16. Friesland looks gorgeous, Liesbet. I’ve seen photos of it before somewhere. Not a hill in sight so it’s definitely good pedaling territory. And baby storks! How lovely was that? 🙂 🙂

    • Landscapes (or seascapes) and wildlife are the right combination for me, Jo! And, flatlands. If only the views would be as good after a flat ride or hike than a hilly one… 🙂

  17. Absolutely gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing a slice with us Liesbet. Enjoy the rest of your stay. 🙂

    • Thanks, Debby! I can’t believe this visit is coming to an end already. But, if I am honest, I am looking forward to less hectic and more settled times. Although those terms are relative, since we have some other exciting events coming up. My writing projects have suffered, unfortunately (as in: have been totally ignored)…

  18. Liesbet, I really enjoyed the fabulous photos of your trip. Schiermonnikoog looks beautiful, and it must have been so much fun to bike around the island. The architecture, windmills, and canals are so picturesque!

    Jude

    • Friesland is surprisingly beautiful, Jude, so “typical Dutch”! I hope you make it to this neck of the woods one day!

  19. I’m glad that you finally got a bit of time to relax (not 😄). Your post is making me long for another visit to the Netherlands. I started my circumnavigation from there in 2011…almost 6 years ago now. You have captured the place so beautifully. The Captain has been terribly distracted by my oohs and ahhs as I have made my way through your post today.

    • It makes me happy that you are enjoying these posts about our excursions, Lisa. Our stay in Belgium and beyond has been great and especially our weekends away were special and very welcome.

      It looks like you are over halfway with your circumnavigation, taking plenty of time in the places you enjoy. So, in another 6 years, you will be back in Holland?? 🙂

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