Journey to the North Land

By - June 13, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

Baby SheepI had an interesting experience this morning. I decided it would be a good idea to add my old CheeseWeb blog entries to the new blog site. In so doing, it was the first time I had read through all of my old entries from start the finish. It was interesting to see which of my opinions changed and which did not. It’s kind of funny for me to read my initial impressions of this country and on things that seem normal now. I’m sure we will have similar experiences with life in Belgium. Since we are only a couple of weeks away from that new chapter of our adventure we decided to take advantage of one of our last weekends in the Netherlands.Sheep on StairsWe wanted to visit the north of the country as we had not yet been there. I booked a hotel in Groningen and we set out early Saturday morning on our exposition. We took the highway to the dyke and once we arrived in Friesland we headed for the back roads.Our trick is to find the roads on our map that are white and have no apparent route numbers. This is how we found ourselves driving 10 kmph, beside a dyke, on a one lane track covered in sheep. While I was convinced an angry farmer was going to come after us at any second, we had fun checking out the sheep. We also seemed to be in the midst of Tractor Days as a parade of I would guess 50 or more tractors followed us on parts of our journey.

Our first destination was the Seal Rescue Facility. This little spot is dedicated to saving and rehabilitating seals. We got to see some babies in the nursery and some older seals basking their big bellies in the sun, (reminding us of a certain other four legged white creature). The only slightly disturbing thing was the poster condemning the Canadian seal hunt that depicted the Canadian flag as white snow and a red maple leaf made out of blood. I wonder if they know that a lot of Canadians are against the seal hunt too. Whatever the case we weren’t announcing our nationality there.


After that we found our hotel and had some supper, (probably a bit too much supper as our bellies were full for the rest of the evening.) The next morning after a rather sad breakfast buffet (why do all hotels do such a bad job of these?), we headed to the botanical gardens. Mother Nature was not accommodating and rained on us all day. We had a few clear breaks which allowed us the running tour of the garden. It was huge and beautiful. There were many different areas including; a re-creation Chinese Feng Shui garden with fountains, pagodas and a tea house; a Celtic garden; English gardens; a Dutch woodland and meadow; an herb garden; a rock garden and many small themed gardens.

There was also a large green house, which we could enjoy despite the rain, which was divided into several different climates, much like the gardens in A’dam. They also had a parrot rescue facility with many different varieties of parrots around the gardens. I would really like to go back on a sunny day and enjoy it further.

After our soggy experience we decided to see the sights from the warmth of the car. We left Groningen province and went south into Drenthe. We spent more times exploring the back roads and then finally headed home. One thing I often remark on to Andrew, and it never ceases to amaze me, is how the Dutch take such good care of everything – in particular their homes and gardens.Whether it is a huge farmhouse or a tiny cottage, 9 times out of 10 they are immaculate. The gardens are so elaborate and well tended, that going for a drive is like a driving garden show. I hope I can have the same success with my Belgian garden.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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1 comment

  1. Comment by EuroYank

    EuroYank June 14, 2005 at 09:01

    nice blog. welcome to the neighborhood.

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