This post goes out to my hosts for all the adventures we shared together over the past few days specifically and for their role overall in the past month and almost a half of a life. Wow. I know that in a sense I am practically already on an extended kind of vacation, but this weekend Nico and Bibi took Charity and I to a holiday home up in the forest in the northwesterly region of the Netherlands then across the country and into Germany and Belgium. The days away were a nice opportunity to see more sights while relaxing a little and finding a perspective that lets me truly appreciate the kindness, worldliness, and love of these two.
Bibi likes to refer to her husband as a walking encyclopedia, but I’m about ready to write an entire book on them.
Our weekend started Thursday evening as they picked me up from school at the same spot where Nico often drops me off on his way to his office downtown some mornings. He knows Rotterdam well and knows that when his traffic app shows red on every possible route, it’s time to make a sneaky quick u-turn and stop off “for a bite” at a local Thai restaurant. As we sat down, Bibi animatedly translated and narrated the menu with descriptions of the food accompanied by stories of her travels, which may have taken even longer to tell than it took to eat, but our table was certainly filled with a Dutch Thai Thanksgiving feast (of which, she kept reminding us, “We could always get more!”)
This meal was a makeshift celebration of not only our American holiday but also the 25th anniversary of Nico and Bibi’s moment–seeing each other across the kitchen while moving in a mutual friend and somehow both just knowing: they were in love.
And they still very much are. It’s evident in just the simplicity of their affectionate little touches and the jokes that perfectly depict their so different but so complementary personalities. I had the chance to be a backseat observer to it all during our trips within the trip.
Friday morning we headed out from the forest and over to Het Loo, Bibi directing the show over the voice of the GPS lady until Nico calmly navigated the hybrid into an electric charging station. We walked through the crisp fall morning upon crispy fallen leaves up to the palace with the sun shining upon it, always the sign of a good day ahead in the Netherlands.
Cue Downton Abbey soundtrack to accompany our entrance and greeting from a receptionist who seemed less than happy to be there, we all agreed over cups of royal coffee and bites of royal chocolate before beginning our tour.
I’m so grateful they sprung for the audio tour because beyond just looking at the impressive contents of the museum, I was able to hear stories and explanations about the significance of the various royalty who passed through this palace across the nation’s history.
Plus I just enjoyed the occasional humor (intentional and not) tossed into the commentary, such as the gleeful Wilhelmina, heir to the throne at all of four years old, playing with friends who were required to say “You’re it, Mom!” upon tagging her, or the miserable Queen Sophie who was buried in her wedding dress because she thought her life ended on the day she got married. I also fell in love, alongside the arduous pre-recorded voice, with the adorableness and kindness Queen Emma, essentially the Netherlands’ collective sweet grandma.
The palace also afforded some nice foto-moments for a couple of other lovely ladies.
The same can certainly be said of our next day’s first stop to the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum (or Netherlands Open Air Museum) in Arnhem. Upon this arrival, we were much more friendlierly greeted and actually somehow were invited to join as friends of the Friends of the Museum to drink their free coffee and go on their exclusive tour of the major renovations happening inside the premises. Like this cobalt/indigo paint we three admired; Charity and I have noticed that we are finding ourselves inherently joining in with Bibi’s interior design observations and obsessions–Nico likewise found his share of architectural flaws, again with the balance.
We stepped away from the tour to walk through the open (albeit very cold) air museum, which holds brick by brick restorations of Dutch homes and buildings across the nation’s regions and history. During the museum’s real season, the little wooden doors are open to interact with interpreters and watch demonstrations, but as they prepared for the upcoming winter festival, we were free to wander, peek in the dusty glass windows, and take many pictures on this also beautiful morning.
From there, we drove into the modern reality of the city, accentuated by the very newly opened Arnhem Central Station. Nico admired and critiqued the design of the organically curved steel walls to ceiling, we carried on with our foto-moments, then as we exited the building, we collectively critiqued the confusing ambiguity of the road/sidewalk/bikepaths that led us to the Arnhem Historical Cellars.
I’ll be honest–I’m still somewhat lost on what this place actually would have been had it not been host to Sinterklaas and Zwarte Peter training, but that is exactly who and what we found beneath the streets. Charity and I were easily the oldest and potentially the most enthusiastic participants, but we successfully tossed presents in the chimney, raced a Peter with a sack of toys, balance-beamed across a rooftop, and (in a somewhat violent turn of events) threw balls at the faces of Peters to obtain our Pieten Diploma 2016.
AND we got to sit on the lap of the big man himself, who informed me that although he lives in Spain, he does not speak Spanish. That tidbit did not stop his friendly helper Peter from inviting me out for cervezas later…
a moment so perfectly captured by our official photographers. Nico and Bibi followed and guided us through this intensely festive hour of my life that I am still trying to process as reality and not some cerveza- or pepernoten-induced state of delusion, but there is even video proof (just a picture here but present on Charity’s stellar blog) of our Peter karaoke session to prove that all of my Sinterklaas dreams really did come true.
Our final stop of the day was maybe a little more subdued in comparison but just as fascinating as a look into another aspect of the nation’s culture at Bronbeek, a former palace that now houses elderly soldiers as well as a museum about the Dutch involvement in the East Indies.
I’ll admit that I found the exhibition frustratingly confusing at first without a full understanding of the context, which wasn’t helped by the fact that we accidentally walked through the first half in backwards chronology. The significance began registering, though, as I resettled and began the second half with the understanding of post-WWII sentiments for decolonization, something I could connect with more personally familiar events in history. I read the personal accounts translated along the walls and pulled out the embedded drawers to view the artifacts within, and I realized something about the way I experience museums–I am interested in the story being told, but I am more so concerned with the way the story is shared. I think it has something to do with my training as an educator and interest in the innate ways that individuals learn, which also explains my frustrations upon initially receiving the information unintentionally backwards.
I was able to walk away from the museum with a deeper understanding necessary to appreciate the significance of another story shared within its walls. After sampling some authentic Indonesian cakes (or maybe Philippine or partially Portuguese…I’m still not certain what the conclusion of Nico and Bibi’s Google research was) in the museum’s café, we met an East Indies immigrant and navy veteran who has volunteered at the museum for seven years. Charity and I learned as much from what he told us in English, but what we later learned through Nico’s translation of the extensive conversation they shared is that this man’s brother was likewise a soldier and was in Nagasaki on the exact moment when and exact location where the atomic bomb was dropped. By the fate expressed in this fateful encounter, the brother was standing in the perfect center of the cloud, unaffected by the radiation just feet away, and he was able to use his own two to walk past the surrounding obliteration and live to tell the story that was told to us.
Crazy. The things you learn by going places, interacting with people, and learning about each other through our stories, the refrain I keep recapitulating in this blog and in the graduate school applications that I finally finally powered through to submit last night. I was inspired and motivated after receiving one more beautifully told narrative for the day as I watched a movie with Nico and Bibi, De Storm, which relates the North Sea flood of 1953 that Bibi’s mother lived through in Zierikzee. The film blended real footage within the fiction in the same way these stories seem to keep weaving in and out of my life in the artful, meaningful way I like to think that they do.
And so much of it goes back to Nico and Bibi, who after the film ended, sat with me in silence for a few moments as the credits rolled and reflected through our empty cups of coffee and mint tea on the table. I have no idea the thoughts going through their minds as we experience these stories together, just as I can never know what impression my short cameo is making in their lives, but as I sit here in the backseat recollecting and composing thoughts while Nico again drives us across the country, I know that they both occupy many many pages in mine.