I finally made it into the Netherlands, the birthplace of my Opa (grandfather). With a population of around 50,000 (compared to 800,000 in Amsterdam) Middelburg is a small, picturesque Dutch town where “everyone knows everyone” as they told me several times. But being small only enhanced the wonderful experience.
To encapsulate the idea that “everyone knows everyone” there, I stayed with two different CouchSurfing hosts in the two days I was there. Not only did they know each other, I found several people in town who knew them as well. We even ran into the boyfriend of one of them as she was showing me around the city. Talk about a small world. I just wish the rest of the world were more connected like that.
Speaking of my hosts, they were both fantastic. Not only were they great chefs and had really nice apartments to stay in, the first was hosting a great dinner, concert and movie for a couple dozen people the night I arrived, and the second host brought me to a midnight dance party at the uni. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone. I wasn’t really supposed to be in there.) I was also honored to be the first couch surfing guest of the second host, and I wish them luck with all their future guests and travels using couch surfing.
The town itself was fantastic. As small as it is, I still managed to walk nearly 20 km in one day, visiting the two windmills, walking along the star-shaped canal surrounding the city, the Oostkerk (west church) and visiting nearly all the shops. While I still hold true to my post about Belgian chocolate being the best, Dutch chocolate is not far behind. I particularly enjoyed my host’s breakfast of toast with hagel slag (chocolate sprinkles) which was always a favorite of mine when I would visit my grandparents. Other great Dutch dishes I got to try were an apple strudel, stroopwafels (waffle-cookies with a caramel center), honingkoek (honey bread) and dutch frites (fries). The one meal I didn’t get was hutspot (potatoes, onions and carrots). That one was always my favorite growing up. Oh well. Next time.
The architecture was particularly spectacular. I’m sure there’s no way to know for sure, but I’m guessing there are over a billion bricks used in the construction of the city. Nearly every street was made of bricks, so are most of the buildings, even if they are painted white, and many of the other walls and structures are created with them too.
But the best structure was the Abbey Tower of Long John. Aside from it being next door to my first host, it was tall enough to be seen from nearly every part of the city and was great for navigating. It made it impossible for me to get lost while wandering the narrow streets. If I ever lost track of it momentarily, it wouldn’t take long for the tower to come back into view after a few more minutes of wandering. It is 90.5 meters high and capped by a beautiful golden crown.
My only disappointment was not being able to stay for the Stukafest. While walking around, I came across a group of the uni students making chalk drawings on the market square paving stones. After talking to them, I found out it is a festival with several concerts and shows occurring right in the dormitories of the students. It sounded amazing, but it is happening on February 24, 2 days after I leave. If anyone else has the chance to attend, please do so and tell me how much you enjoy it!
Beyond that, it was just a fabulous weekend. The weather was great (light rain one day and beautifully sunny the next). My hosts were fantastic. Delicious food. Simply wonderful. I can’t wait to go back and explore the northern cities of the Netherlands, but those will have to wait for another day.