Welkom to the Netherlands and little Houten Castellum

Fietspad-Houten CastellumThe queue for immigration at the Schipol airport is short, just how I like my queues to be. The ever so handsome immigration officer takes my passport, and as expected, upon reading my name, starts going off in Dutch.

“Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.”

“That’s a shame. I am very disappointed in you.”

Me too. Me, too handsome Dutch immigration officer.

I switch my phone off of ‘airplane’ mode and to my delight I have service. That little sim card I bought in Hexham was well worth the £20. My phone is abuzz with messages and I receive one from my dear ‘cousin’ Carina—Carina is the daughter of my grand uncle, Johan, and according to the below flow chart, is my first cousin once removed. I think I will be referring to this chart a whole lot while I’m in the Netherlands getting to know my extended family… or, perhaps more accurately, I will refer to everyone as my cousin. Let’s keep it simple.

Family relationship flow chart

PC: www.washingtonpost.com

The message from Carina is a cute one: a picture of herself letting me know who to look for. Smart. I send her a pic of my tired self and wait for my finally-made-it-under-the-weight-allowance luggage.

It’s a funny thing meeting someone you likely haven’t met (or if you have, it’s been 20 to 30 years since you last met). I recognize Carina right away, summer dress attired, 5’11 gazelle-like self. Hugs and three kisses (as is customary) later, we fast become acquainted.

Back in January, I wrote into our family Facebook group informing every one of my plan to come to the Netherlands in July and shared my desire to meet and reunite with everyone. I was foolishly fearful of making this simple announcement. Foolish because the response I received was immediate and overwhelming—they wanted to meet me too! Seriously, half a dozen family members got in touch lickety-split. Further proving my decision to go on this li’l adventure was well supported.

Carina was the first to respond informing me of her plans to go on holiday with her family for three weeks. She offered up her home and in exchange asked that I take care of her cats. I seem to be a magnet for house sitting and cat minding. After dozens of email exchanges and nearly six months later, we were meeting for the first time, care of Schipol and our summer plans being in total alignment. #blessed

We collected ourselves, Carina introduced me to the Netherlands’ train card (ov-chipkaart) and we were on our way to Amsterdam. Carina treated me to my first, and certainly not my last, appeltaart at a cafe just outside of Amsterdam Centraal where we got to know one another a little bit more. Throughout the day I would delightfully share with her the uncanny resemblance in speech/intonation and mannerisms of my dad’s sister, my lovely tante (aunt) Lisa. It still blows my mind – especially considering how each woman has lived in separate parts of the world away from each other their whole lives, only meeting a handful of times (if that?). Genetics. They’re fascinating.

Sweet tooth satisfied, we took the Sprinter to Houten Castellum (a small suburb of row houses and apartments 10 minutes outside of Utrecht) making friends along the way, a multilingual couple, one from Spain, the other Mexican who are in the process of moving out from Utrecht to Belgium where they’ll be able to communicate a little easier, both knowing more French than Dutch. Travel makes me happy.

We enter #12 and I meet Carina’s beautiful family: Stephan and twins, Yohannes and Kidus. Their home, though modern, reminds me of any number of Vermeer’s paintings of house interiors: checkered tiled floors; high ceilings. A home with artistic personality, creative flair, and a definitive appreciation of the arts is reflected in their wall to wall shelving of books, music, and movies – with a section of shelving dedicated to puzzles and board games. My kind of home.

I witness the inner workings of their family unit as neighbourhood friends of the twins come and go. Carina takes me to meet a handful of neighbours. Everyone is bilingual, everyone is friendly. I was a little blown away by the small coincidence that the neighbours to the left of Carina and Stephan’s house belong to a family that bear Carina’s and my last name. What are the odds?

We sit down to a dinner of Dutch-Indonesian Bami and stroll the neighbourhood après dinner for me to know my surroundings, and more importantly, to know where to buy my ice cream.

I’m now entering my second week of being here in this ever so quiet neighbourhood.

Subdivision-Houten Castellum

I have spent my time cycling and getting lost on the bike, running a stretch west of here on the fietspad (bike path) along the sloot (ditch), and day-tripping to nearby cities and towns, including, of course, Amsterdam.

Surrounding neighbourhood of Houten CastellumThe fietspad and the ever idyllic property I’m lusting over.

Sluice-the-NetherlandsThe thing, I’m almost certain, my family is named after (a sluice).

Houten Castellum outside of city centrePretty views of traditionally thatched rooves, wind turbines, and brickwork as far as the eye can see!

I feel so much love for this country and its people and I am very fortunate to have such welcoming and generous family. 

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