I once had an ambition to write children’s short stories and someone on my twitter TL had suggested that whatever I write must have dragons, because they held an unfailing enormous charm for children. At the time, I wondered. But I thought of his advice the day we visited Efteling, the 60-year old veteran of amusement parks located in the southern part of The Netherlands.
I’d been there before and knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for the high levels of excitement and energy from the children that day. It took us over two hours to get there from Haarlem on a warm day, but no one minded. And how could we, when we were greeted by the most fantastic dragon ever, one who looked oh-so fierce and belched flames too!
Efteling’s architecture recreated the magical world of castles and dungeons, ogres and knights, elves and goblins and my children were absolutely charmed. Udai, especially, could imagine himself inside one of his books (Harry Potter, Eragon, Lord of the Rings…you get the drift) and his happiness knew no bounds.
For Aadyaa, the focus of excitement were the roller coasters, the crazier the better! And we were really glad she was tall enough to do them, In fact, Rahul had asked her to pull herself up to her full height if someone came with a measuring stick. And she did! A full 120 cms little Aadyaa was on the day we went to Efteling, aided a bit by her sports shoes and her gymnastics training! We did three roller coaster rides back-to-back, waiting for about 30 minutes for each one (not tiring, just builds up the excitement!). They were bizarre, topsy turvy and scary, in that order. We all loved them and the rush of adrenaline stayed with us for a long long time!
To wind down, we took a serene boat ride, saying hello to all the ducklings and geese we met. And the final elevator ride high into the sky that offers a bird’s eye view of Efteling and beyond. It is then that we realized that the park is located deep inside a protected forest area and all we could see was the dense green cover all around. All the easier for them to create the magical feeling that makes Efteling so special!
I’ve had several encounters with St. Bavo Kerk, a beautiful late Gothic cathedral located right in the centre of Haarlem in The Netherlands. Like many churches in Europe, St Bavo was built on the site of an older church that existed from the 12th century, however it was only in the 15th century that it was altered and expanded into a large cathedral. St Bavo started off a Catholic church but bore witness to the wave of Protestantism, finally becoming a Protestant cathedral in 1578.
Magnificent in size, with an impressive wooden ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows, St Bavo is designed (like all Gothic churches) to awe the visitor. Its Pièce de résistance, however, is its pipe organ, for a long time the largest in the world and once even played on by Mozart in 1766, when he was all of ten years old!
I remember walking to St Bavo way back in 1999, accompanied by my younger mama (maternal uncle) to hear an organ concert. Having recently finished by Bachelors in Architecture, I recall I spent most of my time staring at the church interiors and also at times dozing off (put it down to a limited understanding of Western music and a full stomach!).
This visit though, the rich sound of the organ struck me as soon as I set foot inside the cathedral and I found I could appreciate much better the texture of the sound, the acoustics of the absolutely stunning space and the atmosphere of divinity that the combination of space and sound created.
For the children, who had never been to a cathedral before, it was hard to decide where to look: the paved floors that marked the graves of important people, the paintings on the walls, the ceiling so so high, the shining organ, the hushed demeanour of those who sat in the pews hearing the music and seemingly engrossed in prayer, the statue of Mother Mary with her benevolent expression…..
After having spent a couple of hours out there in the Grote Markt thinking the cathedral was closed, I was just happy to be inside. For, call me old-fashioned or slightly crazy, it seems incomplete to visit Haarlem and not come here once!
One of the highlights on this time’s Netherlands trip, for all of us, was the lovely dinner Anne and Marijn had planned for us at De Molen, a traditional windmill converted into a restaurant. There are several of these in The Netherlands and it was a great introduction to the Dutch countryside as we drove from Amsterdam through lush green fields, pretty canals and past picture-perfect provincial homes and farmsteads to the this fantastic old windmill, all restored and poised, waiting for us.
It was a lovely summer evening. We had only been in The Netherlands a couple of days and were easing into the peculiar feel of the European summer. Long leisurely evenings full of light, gossip, laughter, relaxation. Time to explore, or just be! The windmill was the perfect place to do all of that.
Built in 1766, windmills like this are scattered all over the countryside, many of them rebuilt from scratch to their original glory. While they performed the all-important job of using the wind’s energy to grind cereal in the pastoral 18th century, today these structures have become a touristic symbol of Dutch culture, along with tulips and clogs galore! The Dutch love to conserve the past and it’s delightful to drive by numerous windmills even as you see the countryside dotted with modern windmills as well! I loved the way this structure has been creatively re-used, maintaining its essence and character. A family run restaurant meant it had a distinct charm and standard of service that made the experience especially pleasant.
So through this perfect summer evening, we (the lazy grown-ups) chilled and chatted with the windmill behind us, while the children explored the nearby canal and a little ‘island’ they found there. At some point, Marijn got them into skimming stones over the water and that kept them busy for a long long time.
The menu at De Molen was a small selection, not designed to confuse certainly. And we could all choose something quite different. Rahul ate a pork Schnitzel (we would mostly give that a pass in Germany, but it was very good this evening), Udai had a dish of pork tenderloin that he pronounced was excellent, I had a very typical Dutch dish that comprised a super thin well-cooked fish fillet. Marijn also had the schitzel while Anne ate something that looked particularly healthy! The desserts were fantastic. Apple strudel and a sinful chocolate concoction sealed the deal for us. We returned home to Haarlem one set of very happy holidayers!