In two days I’m back in Belgium.
When I look back to these four months, I feel happy. I arrived here at the end of August and I knew nothing and nobody. Slowly, I have built here a sort of new life. I have learned how to live with my new parents, Hester and Harald. I have met lots of people at school, and the scouting, in my new family. I have learned to speak Dutch. And of course I have learned and visited a lot about The Netherlands.
It was four intense months. I didn’t think I would learn so much! I believe I can say that the challenge of being an exchange student is ending with success. And it’s not at all only due to me, it’s due to all the people I have met here in The Netherlands and with who I walked a moment on the way. I thank them all for what they taught me.
In two days I’m back in Belgium and I take with me a part of The Netherlands, in my head and in my heart.
I hope you enjoyed sharing a part of our experience via this blog. I have found it a wonderful way to show that it’s possible to go across the differences of culture and to live together.
The feast of Sinterklaas is celebrated elaborately in The Netherlands on December 5th. There are many stories on the origin of the feast, the person Saint Nicholas and possible links to Santa Claus. I didn’t think it’d be that interesting to post one of the many variants of the story here, but would like to share a very creative website with lots of information about Saint Nicholas and the traditions surrounding the feast people have created to honour him. One of the highlights I think that can be found on this website and sums up the story and Dutch Sinterklaas traditions is this Flash Greeting Card created by Ojilie.com.
The Sinterklaas feast is not at all new to Zoé as it is celebrated in Belgium too and she loves it. Although we didn’t celebrate it at home, she could enjoy celebrating it fully through scouting, the exchange organisation (no pictures available) and scouting 😉 .
The second adventure made her a very direct part of the tradition as she and the exchange student living near us were invited to be “zwarte piet” (black peet) and visit families at home with Sinterklaas during the day and evening of the 5th of December. Zoé enjoyed it very much as can hopefully be seen in the gallery below…
Since the begin of the scouting year, we were speaking about this two days camp by an earlier member, Margrethe. And it finally happened last weekend! It was two wonderful sunny days that we spent mostly in our bikes. I tell you what we did…
On Saturday morning we met all five at the designed meeting point on the Wageningen campus. To achieve Margrethe’s house, we had first to be able to understand a really complicated route, invented by Lisa. We had actually to “translate” images in words, to move the letters in the phrases… We tried to follow what we understood, but it wasn’t successful. After seven kilometres we realised that we were very far of our previous route! Happily we were lucky with the weather. The sun was shining and we decided to enjoy the journey instead of come back and to try to find the right way. But first we had to eat! Yes, we were very hungry due to the bicycle tour. We drank also a warm coffee (the Dutch people NEED coffee to spend a good day) and then we rode to Margrethe’s house in Driel.
After our installation in her cosy shed, we ate delicious “poffertjes” together. It was for me the occasion to meet Margrethe. She is very nice and also very hospitable. We talked a lot with her and it was simply convivial.
Then it was time to buy our evening meal. We took again our bikes and went to Arnhem, the biggest and closest city of the province. It was quite early in the evening. So we decided to go to the cinema and we chose as film “De Nieuwe Wildernis”, a wonderful documentary about the nature in the Netherlands. We enjoyed the film and then we bought our meal. We intended to “gourmetten”.
But we first had to come back to Driel… under the rain this time. We arrived all wet! We got warm with preparing the meal. The rule with “gourmetten” is that you have to cook your own thing on a big device. Everybody does it at the same time and it’s really great. Later we played cards and we spoke a lot before we fell asleep due to this busy day!
On Sunday we woke up quite early because we had lots of plans again. After a big breakfast we tidied up the place and we left Margrethe. We went to the castle of Doorwerth, a beautiful place along the river Rijn in a wood. We spent there the whole day. This castle is a museum that we visited of course. We learned a lot about its story, but also about the agriculture and the hunting through the centuries for example. After the visit it was time for a coffee that we drank at the café of the castle. We went then for a walk in the surroundings and in the kitchen garden of the castle. It was still sunny weather…
We finally left this place to come back to Wageningen. We finished our trip there, under a cloudy sky. I found it really successful. We have done so many great things in only two days!
Finally, after a very busy couple of weeks during which I couldn’t really find (or didn’t want to have to search for) the time to create elaborate blogposts, here’s our fall break story. You’d think school breaks are about sleeping in, relaxing, walking around in your pyjamas all day, stuff like that, right? Well, not if you’re an exchange student. This was Zoé’s fall break schedule:
Saturday: taking a long walk in nature near Breda, collecting sweet chestnuts and going out for dinner to celebrate my dad’s 65th birthday.
Sunday: finish reading a book for school (this counts as chillin’ doesn’t it?).
Monday: going into town and to the movies with a classmate.
Tuesday: shopping in the beautiful city of Utrecht with another classmate.
Wednesday: THE trip to Amsterdam 😉 .
Thursday: doing a Geocaching winter trail of 31 caches in a forest near us.
Friday: visiting a friend in the nearby town where the scouting meetings are also held. Leaving for a hike with the scouting group later in the afternoon.
Saturday: hiking with the scouting group.
Sunday: yes, finally sleeping in and walking around in pyjamas all day 😉 .
The following galleries will hopefully give a nice idea of the activities that we did with Zoé. Please click any of the pictures to go into a gallery for more details.
And this is what I made later that week with our sweet chestnut harvest:
We’d also planned to (finally!) visit Amsterdam this fall break. Although the outcome of the September poll actually required us to include a visit to the Artis zoo, we skipped that. There was so much to see in the city centre alone and our guide had so many stories to tell and showed us around so many well known and lesser known beautiful spots that we didn’t feel like spending our time in a zoo. For that same reason we didn’t go on a canal tour either. We explored the city on foot and it was perfect. We took loads of pictures, the following gallery is only an impression of the day. Go inside the gallery for more information with each photo.
Thanks Dad for taking us on such an interesting and personal tour around Amsterdam!!!
On Thursday it was time for some serious Geocaching. We had actually introduced Zoé to this adventurous game before, but this time we were aiming for 31 finds in one go through a recently published winter trail. The area where these geocaches are hidden used to be a sand quarry and has been transformed into a recreational area. There’s a height difference in this area of about 50 meters and the land varies from wet marshes to dry moors, so moving through it was a bit of a challenge sometimes. But most of all we enjoyed the company and the beautiful autumn views. And Zoé did SO well! I’d say she found at least a third of the caches all by herself!
The weather was just wonderful for the time of year, on the warm side even! So we were far from the only ones enjoying this trail. We ran into other geocachers all day and later found out that 20+ teams had logged it that same day 🙂 . Thanks Team Tabak for the superb preparations and fun day 🙂 !
That’s it as far as we can share in pictures and stories. An update by Zoé herself should be on its way in the near future and will be about the next big adventure: a scouting weekend “Margrethekamp” with activities yet to be revealed…