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.
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!)