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Overijssel, Netherlands

One of the most emotional experiences we’ve had in The Netherlands took place in the small town of Holten, in Overijssel. Canadian soldiers liberated this area, from the Germans, and each year, local residents pay homage to Canada. It’s a powerful sight.

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Our last four days here have been some of the most interesting, fun and emotional times that we have ever had in this country. I was ‘hailed,’ adopted and bitten… but I’m getting ahead of myself …

Wednesday night, I was waiting for Andrew to drive home from Brussels. I was watching my usual line-up of English TV, sub-titled in Dutch (I don’t know what I’m going to do in Belgium…). The program was interrupted by a Dutch, live newscast. I didn’t change the channel right away because I recognized Dam Square and wondered what was going on. There was a huge crowd of people and then I realized that it was a Remembrance Day ceremony. The Queen and crown Prince (and I think one of the Princesses), dressed in black, marched from the palace, across the square, and laid a wreath at the memorial statue, at the other side of Dam square. There was total silence as this was happening, followed by two minuets of silence.

Things that struck me: A) there were thousands of people, unlike home where we get a smattering. In addition, these people really wanted to be there; they didn’t look like they felt they had to. B) there was total silence, you could hear a pin drop. C) You could see the emotion on the faces in the crowd, and the face of the Queen. Eventually someone started to cry; a gut wrenching, pain-filled cry; that was when it hit me, that as a twenty-something Canadian… I have no idea. I have no idea what it’s like not to have freedom. I have no idea what it’s like to lose all of my loved ones. I have no idea what it’s like to go hungry because I don’t know when I’ll ever see food again. I have no idea what it is like to live in fear… fear that I can’t walk down the street without being killed or arrested; fear that my family may not come home; fear that keeps me from speaking my beliefs out loud. Of course, I didn’t have all of these revelations right away. It took the rest of the events of the weekend to do that, but it started the ball rolling.

Thursday, Andrew worked from home. Because of the holiday, the shops were closed so we couldn’t have our usual shopping day. I was catching up on the news on Canoe and saw an article about Canadians participating in the Liberation Day celebrations and how this year was special because it was the 60th anniversary and would probably be the last milestone that the soldiers would be able to participate in. There were extra special celebrations planned.

School children had been assigned soldiers and they researched their lives and then the soldiers stayed with the children’s families while they were in town. There had been a service on Wednesday, at the Canadian war cemetery in Holten and children had placed daffodils on all of the graves. Planes flew overhead and dropped poppies. It sounded like a very special ceremony and I was sorry we had missed it. I thought it might be nice to go and visit the cemetery anyway so that was what we planned for the afternoon. We got directions to the cemetery from the internet, but they weren’t necessary.

Once we got to Holten, we were in for a surprise. Nearly every house, business, street corner and sign post was decorated. There were Canadian flags everywhere. Huge signs in red and white saying ‘Thank you Boys!’ were in every window. It was unbelievable. We followed the signs to the cemetery. It was in a wooded park and the sand road out to the site was totally lined up with cars. We found a spot to park and walked in. There were hundreds of people there and I’m sure over the weekend there were thousands; young and old; Dutch, English, French…

The cemetery itself was beautifully maintained. The graves were gleaming white and the grounds were full of flowers and shrubs. Each grave had a Canadian flag and poppy. Some had provincial flags as well and a few that had obviously been visited by family had laminated stories about the people who were buried there. There was even a bagpiper playing. We spent some time there and then drove through Holten looking at all of the displays. Each street had coordinated something different. Take a look at the photos because it was really something to see.

We had supper at an odd restaurant outside of Apeldoorn, called Bud’s. It looked like a touristy spot, with wooden shoes all over the place, but we were starving. The food was actually quite good. It was all chicken, cooked in different sauces (kind of a Dutch Swiss Chalet). The owner was very interested in how we liked the food and assured us that he had lots of English customers because they ‘cook the chicken well.’

Friday was a bit quieter. It was our 5th anniversary. I will fess up and say that I forgot and Drew remembered. (Thanks to those of you who also remembered) In my defense, I’m lucky I know what day of the week it is, let alone the date. Anyway, Andrew worked until 2 and then we had some errands to run. We went to Praxis for kitty supplies and I bought 2 more orchids (on sale for 5.99). We then went to a little Asian grocery and picked up a couple of things. Andrew had to go home for a conference call so he dropped me off in Dam square. I was almost out of reading material so I hit Waterstones and the American book Centre. I got some paperbacks, magazines and a couple of cookbooks. I also went to an organic shop and found my favorite shampoo, so I was a happy girl. I met Drew at Los Pilones for supper and mango daiquiris. A better anniversary supper, I can not think of.

Saturday we took a walk into the city. We went to the World Press Photo exhibit at the Oude Kerk (old church). It was very good. Again, however, I was struck by the images of war. Of course, there were categories other than news; there were arts and entertainment and sports pictures as well. There were also some very striking portraits. The show is traveling (I’m not sure if it’s going to Canada at all, but there is a website,  and I encourage my fellow photogs to check it out.)

After that we went to my favorite Asian market. It’s a crazy store that has everything Asian you could think of, from sushi stuff to Chinese veggies, to Thai curry mixes. I LOVE this place. I could spend hours there looking at everything. Downstairs they have anything you could possibly want to outfit your Asian restaurant; from dishes and utensils to HUGE rice cookers. Upstairs is everything decorative. Need a Giant Buddha or lucky cat… This is your place. I stocked up on fun things to cook and then we were off. We had some yummy pizza from our spot next door and watched Brigit Jones 2.

Sunday was actually the day that ‘I was ‘hailed,’ adopted and bitten.’ We got up early and headed back to Apeldoorn to go to Apenheul, the monkey zoo. This is a wonderful zoo. It is actually a rescue facility that takes in monkeys that are confiscated from circuses and private owners. They get the monkeys that people try to illegally import into the country. It is open air, no fences and many of the smaller monkeys have the run of the place. You get ‘monkey proof bags,’ to put your belongings in because they are nosy and quick.

The first monkeys we saw were the squirrel monkeys. They are small and yellow and have the cutest faces. There were dozens of them. They are all through the trees and will come right up to you and look in your pockets. This is where the biting comes in… one overzealous little bugger thought my thumb would make a good snack. I had visions of the movie ‘Outbreak’ but I seem to be fine today. Actually he just broke the skin and it reminded me of getting bitten by my hamster when I was a kid.

We saw lemurs and gorillas and orangutans. We spent the morning with the monkeys and could have really spent longer. There were tones of babies which was really neat. I hope I got some good pictures. We left at 1 because we wanted to get to the parade in the city.

We followed the crowds to the parade site. It was unusually cold and it was intermittently raining. The weather didn’t keep people in though. There were thousands lining the streets. Again, they were all ages. There were Canadian flags lining the parade route and a lot of people had their own small flag. We saw the Queen’s sister, Princess Margriet, and Princess Maxima, who is Argentinean and married the Queen’s son, drive by. We waited in the rain for the parade to begin. A nice Dutch man took pity on soggy me and loaned me his extra umbrella. He also explained who the people who drove by were.

When the parade started people were cheering and clapping for the Vets. Lots of people in the crowd were shaking the vets’ hands and thanking them. It rained, it hailed, the weather was terrible but people kept on clapping and cheering.

While I was taking pictures and trying to keep my camera as dry as possible, Andrew struck up a conversation with an elderly couple. Eventually, nearing the end of the parade, they invited us to their home for tea. What an experience. We were cold and wet and tired, they had no idea who we even were. But they opened their home to two soggy Canadians and we came even closer to understanding what true gratitude is.

Ton and Fennie van der Veld are in their eighties. They have two daughters and two sons and some grandkids as well. They live in a beautiful condo in Apeldoorn that they have been in for a year and a half. They have lived all over the country. They have traveled all over Europe, and they both lived through WWII. Fennie was a teenager and remembers hiding underground for several weeks, when a neighbor came running in saying ‘We are free, the Canadians are here.’ She said all the farmers took their milk to the pasteurizing plant and they offered milk to the soldiers. That was the first time anyone had fresh milk in a long time.

Ton was arrested by the Germans and put to work in Hamburg for 2 years. He lived though the fire-bombing of the city. He says, a lot of Dutch people hate the Germans, but he doesn’t because it was Dutch people who arrested him. He has even written a book about his life up to 1945. We spent a few hours with these incredibly kind people, drank tea, ate cookies and talked. We took their address and they ours and we left with an understanding of why Canada is so celebrated here.

When I think about Remembrance Day at home, and how little we do for our vets, it makes me sad. I wish, as a child in school, someone made me research the life of one soldier, or told me the story of one person who survived the war. It is the individual stories that make it real. It brings home the importance of our Peace-keepers. I wish every young Canadian soldier could see the gratitude on the faces of the people here. It also drives home the senseless destruction of war. The pain and suffering that we case in the name of God, or money. It was a weekend I will never forget and I hope it will always make me remember…

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