Lots of photos again this time! https://photos.app.goo.gl/JYxkyu5tm2vBtsmq9

I just looked back through my calendar, and it was actually only a week between getting back from Norway (April 4th) and then before I knew it we were already starting our Easter Break (Osterferien) and we were preparing to leave for the Netherlands. This whole year really has been quite a whirlwind!

We did decide to just have a chill weekend in Rostock before gallivanting off on our next adventure, however. You maybe wouldn't know it from reading this blog, but in fact I am pretty much equal parts travel bug and couch potato. And yes, I'm aware that "travel bug" is usually used in the sense of a "sickness" that you catch and then are compelled to travel, but I like the image of a cute little beetle traveling the world, so I'm going with it. I am obviously leaning into the travel bug side of my personality this year, being that it is only a year that I'm on this continent with so much history and so many easy ways to travel and explore it all. But still. Every once in a while it's good to just be home and do not much of anything for a couple of days.

The only things we got up to between Norway and the Netherlands were a quick trip across the river into town, where we discovered that there was a sizable Ostermarkt underway. The Easter market was basically identical to the Christmas one (down to the rainy weather) except that all the pine was swapped out for flowers and spring greenery, and the Easter bunny subbed in for the few Santa figurines that had made appearances in December. We strolled through, noticing most of the same food stands, but a few different types of decorations, namely garden ornaments instead of Christmas ornaments. I got myself a candle holder in the shape of a typical Hanseatic house, since I never managed to buy any souvenirs from the Christmas market before it got shut down.

At work the Abitur season had begun, so the 12th graders were setting up some minor "senior prank" style shenanigans around the school. I can't really blame them anyway—you gotta let off some steam before diving into such a high-stakes testing marathon that will casually determine the course of the rest of your life…

students set up cups of water outside the teacher's lounge
I saw this trickster at work outside the teacher's lounge, for example

Our next big adventure began when we got up really early on Wednesday April 12th to hop on the bus that would take us to the train that would take us to Amsterdam and then from there on to the little village where the price to stay for one night was less outrageous than most of the other accommodations in the area. Allegedly "Tulip mania" ended in the Netherlands in the 1600s, but anyone trying to book lodging there during tulip season today might tend to conclude that prices for everything surrounding this floral pilgrimage are still somewhat manic…Anyway, more on that later. The point of this paragraph is that we had to be on the train by 6:25 AM.

The upside of this early start was that when we arrived at the tiny train station in the village of Nieuw Vennep, just a couple stops outside of Amsterdam, it wasn't even 4 PM, so we had plenty of daylight left for exploration. The first of many very kind ("above and beyond" is the phrase I just keep coming back to) thing that our hosts did was meet us at the station and drive us the 10 minutes to their house, which would have taken closer to half an hour on the bus.

We arrived to the charming "Blue Room" with the waiting sandwiches, chocolates and bottle of wine (I know right? All my other airbnb experiences have been "Here's the room, put the key here when you leave, bye!") We were then able to borrow the two bikes that Hans and Aly had waiting specifically for us to use, and begin our expedition to the coast. We debated whether it was more Gabi and Frank or Maggie's influence that led us to casually undertake a 40+ kilometer round trip bike ride to the beach, which we might not have been so willing to do a year ago.

Although we were extremely grateful to have the bikes that enabled this excursion, we did have to stop and pump up the rather flat tires of Adam's bike at a gas station along the way (with the help of a very friendly Dutch family on vespas, which we discovered get to share the bike lanes there!) We also resolved to ask about raising the seat for our next day's biking adventure, since what had seemed manageable in the "seat slightly too low" department was pretty annoying after about 20 km of not ever being able to fully straighten our legs when peddling unless we stood up…We made it though!

We passed by some purple, white and pink fields full of row upon row of fragrant hyacinths, as well as the most beautiful garden round-abouts--there were daffodils, tulips and hyacinths everywhere! After only a couple of wrong turns and near misses of getting run over by vespas zooming past on the ubiquitous (but not exclusively for bicycles apparently) bike lanes, we arrived at the beach.

mermaid statue on the beach with coils of lights slung over her outstretched arms
This cracked me up. No free rides around here I guess, everyone has to help out!

We collected shells, saw a tiny starfish and equally itty-bitty crabs scuttling about as the sun sank toward the waves. It was lovely to have an active afternoon/evening after our morning of sitting on trains. We grabbed a light dinner of soup and salad at a beach bar and enjoyed the wind in our hair and the slowly cooling evening. We had to head back before too long though, so we wouldn't have to do the entire journey in the dark. Luckily our bikes had lights and the paths hand lamps as well, so we made it back without issues. It helped that we knew where we were going slightly better this time.

The night had gotten a bit chilly by the time we got back, so we took advantage of the deep bathtub to wam up and de-sand ourselves before heading to bed. We also took advantage of the tiny glasses of liqueur and crackers set out for us as a nightcap. I'm telling you, Hans and Aly really made it feel much more like a traditional airbnb with all these extra touches.

The next morning we woke up to a delectable breakfast of Aly's fresh waffles, bread, cheese, yogurt, granola and fruit! We also got to meet the guests in the other room who were a mother and daughter from Schleswig-Holstein (the state surrounding Hamburg.) The daughter was also an English teacher so we compared notes and chatted pleasantly through breakfast. She is apparently a big tulip fan and had been gifted this trip for her birthday by here mom, but it had been delayed a couple of years by the pandemic, so they were finally able to come this year. They gave us some good tips about Keukenhof, which is the place to go and see the famous tulips of Holland, where we were headed after finishing the meal.

Hans helped us raise the seats on the bikes, so we set off in time to arrive at Keukenhof gardens within the window of time specified on our tickets. It did help that we had done a similar route the night before, so we were more-or-less familiar with the way. As it turned out, we got there slightly after our 9:30 time slot, but no one at the entrance seemed to care, they just scanned the QR codes on our tickets and waved us on in.

It really was pretty cool. I don't think I've ever seen a garden that big, and certainly have never seen that many tulips in one place. There were rows and concentric circles and zig-zags of the bell shaped flowers in every color, as well as a rainbow of daffodils and hyacinths. We briefly checked out the museum where we learned about the Tulip mania of the mid 1600s, where the Dutch became briefly but completely obsessed with the bulbs. Reportedly, 40 tulip bulbs were once bought for 100,000 florins whereas a skilled laborer would have earned between 150 and 350 florins in an entire year, and on another occasion, just two bulbs were sold for a collection of goods worth 2,500 florins!!

Tulip mania is, according to wikipedia, the first recorded instances of a speculative economic bubble that formed and then dramatically popped, leaving the "greater fools" with some wildly overpriced (if pretty) flowers. It's a fascinating little period of history, which inspired me to re-read the tulip chapter in Michael Pollan's book "Botany of Desire" which dives into the history as well as the sociology, psychology and biology of the plant's brief but phenomenal success as a coveted status symbol and luxury item, and then its more modest but still steady favoritism in spring gardens to this day.

We learned a bit about the history of the tulip and the "lasagna planting method" in which bulbs are planted in the fall in layers so that the top layer will bloom, die, and then be replaced by the layer below resulting in a garden in constant bloom for months. We then left the museum portion and ventured out to explore the extensive gardens themselves. There were fountains, ponds, paths, a gigantic automated calliope wagon thing that piped out cheery tunes in one corner of the vast maze of flowers. We strolled through it all, Adam very patiently indulging my desire to see each bed, though he did eventually impose a selfie cap for the day (I think after the 5th he said I got 3 more.) We strolled and I took hundreds of photos and sniffed the blooms (it turns out they don't smell like much) and eventually headed back to our bikes after nearly 3 hours.

A long row of grape hyacinths with tulips and daffodils on either side
River of flowers

Our next stop was the Keukenhof castle, just down the road. We didn't go inside but walked around the stately house and enjoyed the statues and garden paths. As a girl from a very land-locked portion of the US, I was somewhat astounded by the gravel on the walkways, since it was made up mostly of partially crushed shells. To me seashells are the treasures of the beach, not something to be crushed casually underfoot! But when the ocean is so close, I suppose one could grow a bit immune to the wonders even of shells.

The sky was getting ominously gray by the time we headed out, but luckily we only got hit with a few sprinkles on the ride back. We therefore stopped on the way to pick up some picnic lunch supplies. I was impressed with the fancy re-useable sporks the grocery store just gave us too, and they have come in handy in picnics since. We then sat by a canal and watched some kids rescue a bike that was stranded in a bush while we ate.

Back at the airbnb, we spent a relaxing afternoon researching and planning out a general overview for the next day's adventures in Amsterdam. The sun came back out, so we were able to do the majority of this planning in the sunny little garden outside our room, which was rather nice. The sun stuck around into the evening as well, so we took a nice long stroll through the cute little village. I was a bit surprised to see that the majority of the houses seemed to be right on the sidewalk, with not even a little buffer of yard as separation, and then they also had gigantic front windows with no curtains! I just felt like I was practically walking through everyone's living rooms as we went down the streets…

We picked up some more grocery store ingredients to throw together into a nice dinner back in the common kitchenette area outside our room. We then enjoyed the wine in the garden as the evening wound to a close. We were in bed before it was too late, since there was another big day ahead of us.

The next morning we woke up to another fabulous breakfast from Aly (scrambled eggs as well as fruit torte this time) and then we packed up and Hans drove us to the train station for a surprisingly sunny day in Amsterdam. Upon arrival, we stashed our bags in lockers at the Amsterdam train station where our overnight train would leave that evening, and set off with our day packs into the city.

A typical Amsterdam canal with the house right up against the water
The real waterfront property!

Our day mostly involved wandering around enjoying the sunshine, abundance of canals and large parks. We also walked through the floating flower market. I was expecting to see mostly fresh flowers, but actually the majority of stands had bulbs and garden supplies as well as the typical touristy souvenir stuff. It was neat to walk through though.

We also stopped by Begijnhof, which is a remarkably quiet courtyard in the middle of the bustling city. From the late sixteenth century up until nearly 1800 Catholics were not allowed to openly practice their religion, as Amsterdam had become a protestant city, but Begijnhof was an exception to the general ban. As the plaque at the entrance informed us, Begijnhof was home to "pious catholic single women who preformed good deeds but did not want to live in a convent and did not take vows" and we were asked to stay respectfully quiet because women still live in the houses today. We walked through one of the churches and also saw one of the city's oldest surviving wooden houses, dating from 1475. It's pretty bananas to realize that that building has been there since before Europeans were even in the Americas.

We actually ended up stumbling across the National Holocaust Monument which was interesting to see as well. It has walls shaped like the Hebrew letters for "In Memoriam" covered in the names of the victims, and topped with mirrored panels. We also visited the so called "Homomonument" in the shape of a pink granite triangle, in honor of members of the LGBTQ+ community who were forced by the Nazis to wear pink triangles on their clothes, similar to the yellow stars of David that Jews were made to wear. We also saw Anne Frank's house, though we decided not to wait in the hours long line to go inside, since we only had one day in the city and wanted to enjoy the sunshine.

We attempted to go to the Botanical garden as well, but it was on an island that you had to pay to get onto, as far as we could see, so we sat by the canal and had our picnic and drank our Heineken, admiring the outside of the gigantic greenhouse. It had a large sign saying ">375 Jaar" which given Dutch's similarity to German can only mean that's how many years it's been around--rather impressive.

We rounded off the day by heading to the public library which has an impressive view of the city from its top floor. We also enjoyed the photo exhibition there, which displayed family portraits of recently fled refugee families on the Greek island of Lesbos. The same families were then photographed again in their new homes, mostly in various western European countries. It was impressive to see so many smiles on the faces of people who had so recently been through what was likely the worst experience of their lives. It really underlines the resiliency of the human spirit, and humanizes the often faceless "refugee problem." It's a good reminder that these are families we are talking about.

Even though no one else in the library was wearing a mask, we felt like it was the safe option, given how much travel was coming up, and how inconvenient it would be to catch covid. What was also inconvenient was that we realized we were rather sunburned after our day exploring the city under a surprisingly cloudless sky. A mask trapping your hot breath agains your sunburned cheeks is not that fun, let me tell you.

Before long it was time to head back to the station, pick up our bags from the lockers, and board our train. We left Amsterdam Central Station at 8:30 pm, and were luckily able to sleep fairly well, since we each had two seats to ourselves until we arrived in Bonn just after midnight. It did feel like a looong layover as we waited for our next train which wouldn't depart until 1:40 am. We strolled around the mostly sleeping city and were approached by an extremely drunk man who offered us a glittery plastic Easter bunny. We politely declined and headed back to the station to wait it out.

We were again able to sleep on the way to Hamburg, where we arrived just before 7 am. We then had another layover and eventually made it back home to Rostock by 10ish. It had been a long night, but we felt like we had packed a lot into our short trip to the Netherlands, to be sure. The beach, the tulips and Amsterdam!

The nice thing was that I had almost the entire next week off of work, because there was no school until Wednesday, and my normal Thursday off meant I only had one class on Friday. We didn't do much to celebrate Easter, just had a quiet weekend and rested up after our big adventure, mostly.

By Tuesday we were ready for another mini-adventure, so we biked to the Rostock Hauptbahnhof and hopped on the train to Güstrow. The main idea was to explore the castle there, so we were rather disappointed to find it under construction when we arrived. Luckily it was a lovely day, so we had a nice time strolling around anyway.

We were somewhat shocked to see a building bearing the name "Reichsbahnamt" still standing near the train station too. Literally translated it means "Reich's train office" and although I didn't know the exact history of that office, the mere presence of the word "Reich" carved in stone on a building right on one of the main streets of a German town in 2022 was jarring, and I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing at first.

Building with the German word  Reichsbahnamt carved above the door

After some research it seems that, although the office of the German national railway was founded well before WWII in 1919, during the Nazi period it was taken over and the Deutsche Reichsbahn became instrumental in the transportation of thousands of Jews to concentration camps. Yikes. And there was no plaque contextualizing this ugly piece of history either. I mean luckily the eagle perched over the word wasn't clutching a swastika, but still… It just seems like something that should either be taken down or turned into some sort of memorial.

Then again, my own country still has statues of confederate generals being explicitly honored, and that ugly piece of history is nearly 100 years older than the Holocaust, so I suppose I shouldn't point fingers. Anyway, this was a strange start to our Güstrow trip. We did see the cathedral, which was nice as well as the gardens of the castle, which were also nice. We could even see into a couple of rooms of the castle as well, and they had nicely put up a print of what the scaffolding was covering over, so we got a general idea of what we were missing out on. We strolled through the town a bit before heading back to the station and to Rostock.

And that pretty much concludes Easter break- we spent the next couple of days relaxing and preparing for a visit from Mara and Maggie the following weekend. But that is the subject of the next entry.