‘Home’ away from home

Published 10:19 am Thursday, August 2, 2012

For all of my life I’ve had this long Dutch surname to tote around.

During my lifetime I’ve managed all the questions concerning my last name and all the awkward mispronunciations and misspellings as well as the ill assumptions it was a “German name.”

Finally, this past week, I went to the one and only place where bearing the last name “VanDerBroek” means you’ll fit right in, even if you don’t know the mother language.

Sometime last year, my cousin Tracy Martin Bunch and I began to plan a trip to the Netherlands. It was a dream for both of us two fold: we wanted to see where our family was from and we both had never been to Europe.

And after purchasing two tickets to the Netherlands and saving our money up, nine months after our decision we were on our way our ancestors’ “homeland.”

My first peek at the country was out the plane window as we began our descent. Just beyond the shores of the North Sea was landscape dotted by farm plots as well as livestock grazing in the fields. It kind of reminded me of my hometown, Sodus, New York, (where my Dutch relatives settled in the early 1900s) a town with its own farms and a shoreline against Lake Ontario.

Tracy and I decided to stay in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

Amsterdam is perhaps most famously (and infamously) known for its Red Light District, also known as De Wallen, and its liberal laws that apply to the activities that go on in that area.

With that aside, Amsterdam is also known for its variety of museums, not to mention its melting pot of cultures. The city was once a trading hub in the 17th Century making Amsterdam the wealthiest city in the world during that time period.

Straight off the plane, Tracy and I hit the ground running after finding our way from Schipol Airport to the City Centre. We both consider ourselves museum nerds so naturally we found ourselves at the Van Gogh Museum, which features more than 200 pieces of work by Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch post-Impressionist painter. Afterwards we explored the city on foot, awestruck by the canals, and rested awhile in Vondel Park, the most visited park in the country.

Our hotel was located near Leidse Square where nearly every night we found entertainment by way of street performers as well as good eateries and shops.

One of the more poignant stops on our adventures around the city was a visit to the Anne Frank House. Most know of Anne Frank’s story. Her diary was published following her death in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Frank, a young Jewish girl, chronicled with detail in her diary her family’s experiences while hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

Our adventures took us out of Amsterdam as well. Tracy and I dipped our toes in the (very cold) North Sea at Scheveningen Beach, took pictures of windmills at Zaanse Schans and bought wooden shoes on the peninsula of Marken.

Seemingly each night we’d return to our hotel room with our feet throbbing and blisters on our toes to eat “stroopwafels,” an addicting sweet syrup cookie.

I have to admit I had high expectations for the Netherlands before I even got there, but the country lived up to what I hoped for and more.

It gave me an idea of who my relatives were that came from the Netherlands with that cumbersome Dutch name I still bear today.

It’s a vacation I’ll always remember, and I hope someday I’ll be able to return.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.