Bergen, North Holland


IMG_0766We just finished an incredible week in the Dutch countryside where we rented a little farm cottage.  Bergen, North Holland is located about 30 miles north of Amsterdam, nestled alongside the North Sea.   It serves as a both a commuting suburb of Amsterdam, and a seaside resort town, with a landscape to die for. Rolling green farmlands dotted with sheep, cows and horses line the country lanes, with windmills completing the panorama.  There are pristine forests with hiking and riding trails throughout, and if that’s not enough, the coast boasts miles of glorious sandy beach buffered by dunes covered in sea grass.  Really, we might as well have landed in paradise.

We rented bikes on our first day and never looked back.  We are finding that not having a car is liberating and dramatically slows down the pace of life.  Every day, we cycled to the bakery and market to fill our backpacks with groceries.  We explored the countryside along meandering bike lanes, rode out to the beach, and rode through the forests, hopping off to feed horses or explore by foot when the spirit moved us.  We all felt so happy to relax and unwind after some busy days in the cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam!

On our way into town

On our way into town

Doing the grocery shopping

Doing the grocery shopping

Armed and dangerous, with baguettes

Armed and dangerous, with baguettes

Our new friends, The Witts Family

One of the best aspects of our stay in Bergen was getting to know the family that essentially hosted us there, Klaas WItts and his wife Lillian, and their three daughters Zinzi, Linde and Wisse.  Klaas is a lifelong friend of our Portsmouth friend, David Hills, who kindly connected us months ago via email when he learned we were traveling to Holland.  Since that very first email, Klaas helped us plan our stay both in Amsterdam and in his hometown of Bergen, and then proceeded to support us in ways big and small during the past ten days.  We are so grateful to all of the Wiits for the love and attention they bestowed upon us.  You will see their family members in some of our photos below.  We know we have made lifelong friends and look forward to seeing them again (and reciprocating their incredible hospitality) when they next visit David and Catherine in Portsmouth!

Outside Klaas's house, with his New England souvenir collection!

Outside Klaas’ house, with his New England souvenir collection!

The WItts girls took the Demers girls riding

The Witts girls took the Demers girls riding

Our Farmhouse…

Our cottage in Bergen was nestled about a mile and a half from the town center, tucked in a cluster of woods with farmland all around us.  The driveway leading to it was lined with trees, some of which had been carved by our neighbor, Hans, who was (naturally) a woodcarver.

Thayer sketching Hans's woodcarvings lining our driveway

Thayer sketching Hans’ woodcarvings lining our driveway

Our neighbor, Hans, the woodcarver (and apple picker)

Introducing Hans, the woodcarver (and apple picker)

Our little farmhouse

Our little farmhouse

Working on the blog in the morning sun

Working on the blog in the morning sun

We watched cows commuting to their pastures from our large living room window, and fed chickens out our back door.

Cows coming home to milk, in our backyard

Time to get milked, ladies

Breakfast for chickens

Breakfast for chickens

We also had some nice woolly neighbors to pet each morning when we awoke.

Baaaaah

Baaaaah

When not gazing at the farmland around us, we explored the woods and the beach.

The road from our house to the village

Lovely road through the woods

Along the North Sea

Along the North Sea

Sand Angels

Sand Angels

And we explored the town of Bergen, of course!

Learning some Dutch words from a local

Learning some Dutch words from a local retired teacher

Fresh mint tea at a cafe

Fresh mint tea at a cafe

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Jeff giving Rosi a lift into town

Zuiderzee Museum

When we could tear ourselves away from the country life, we ventured to a town called Enkhuizen that has an amazing open-air museum called the Zuiderzee Museum.  For those of you who know Portsmouth’s Strawberry Banke Museum, this open air Dutch museum had a similar feel, just on a larger scale.  To get to Enkhuizen from Bergen was an adventure in its own right.  We cycled to the Bergen village center, took a bus to a nearby train station, took two trains to get to Einkhuizen, and then a ferry boat from the train station to the museum. It was well worth the journey, as the photos will attest.  We wandered for a few hours, losing ourselves in the lifestyle, crafts, and architecture of 17th-19th century Holland.

Making a jump rope from hemp

Making a jump rope from hemp

With the rope-maker

With the rope-maker

Laundry and fishing nets

Laundry and fishing nets

We learned all about baskets

We learned all about baskets

At the old apothecary

At the apothecary

Life is hard for the laundresses

Life is hard for the laundresses

Fisherman's wife welcomes some young visitors

Fisherman’s wife welcomes some young visitors

Old time Dutch fun?

Old time Dutch fun?

Felt like we should make these faces, not sure why

Felt like we should make these faces, not sure why

Schuyler was welcomed into the home of a widow and her sister

Schuyler was welcomed into the home of a fisherman’s widow and her sister

Old school bowling

Old school bowling

Learning old Dutch games

Learning Dutch games

The Price is Right in 17th Century Holland?

The Price is Right’s “Blinko” in 17th Century Holland?

Bergen Reflections from the girls…

Thayer:  I liked the horses everywhere and I even got to ride one thanks to Wisse.  In the mornings I loved feeding the funny chickens out our back door.  One time they came right into our living room and we had to shoo them back outside.  There was a cat that sat near our kitchen window waiting for scraps. I fed him smoked salmon on the first day. We saw him every morning after that. I also liked eating a LOT of cheese myself.  I learned how to slice it the Dutch way.   Bergen was really fun, it is sad to be leaving.

Riding!

Riding!

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Thayer visiting and sketching our neighborhood horses

Schuyler: Bergen was such an amazing experience for me. It was so peaceful and everybody there is so friendly. I loved exploring the countryside with my sisters and  feeding the horses.  One highlight for me was the day Klaas took us for a long bike ride to climb the sand dunes and slide back down! It was so windy but that made it more exciting. We also explored the beach and performed jellyfish rescue operations (they were washing up on shore because of  the wind so we’d throw them back into the ocean).  Obviously, they were the non-stinging jellyfish!

Sliding down the dunes

Sliding down the dunes

On top of the dunes

On top of the dunes

Jellyfish Rescue

Jellyfish Rescue

Zoe:  I really liked going for bike rides and walking along the lanes with Schuyler and Thayer by ourselves, exploring. I also loved the Open Air Museum in Enkhuizen, especially when we got to make our own jump rope out of hemp in the same way that they used to make ropes in the olden days.  My time in Bergen was truly amazing.  All the open space helped me let my energy out.  I would love to go back to Bergen someday.

Jump rope works!

Jump rope works!

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Enjoying the North Sea

Feeding the sheep in our yard

Feeding the sheep in our yard

Bergen’s Architecture (Jeff):

IMG_1166One of my favorite activities while in Bergen was the “cycling architecture tour” that Klaas took Blair and me on one evening.  We pedaled around the streets of town while Klaas explained the different styles and the history of building here.  There is a neighborhood in Bergen called Park Meerwijk, that was constructed in 1915 as low-cost housing for artists and designers.  A local ceramic tile company commissioned five architects to design the “villas,” as they were called, using the new ‘Amsterdam school of architecture’ style.  This style was based in expressionism, characterized by brick construction with complicated masonry, relatively traditional massing, and the integration of an elaborate scheme of building elements inside and out.  Many of these villas still exist today and are being carefully maintained and tended to by conscientious stewards and enthusiasts of the Amsterdam school.  Thoughtful details and well-executed craftsmanship within the masonry work offer a definitive logic to the massing as found in the “de Ark” villa.

de Ark Villa

de Ark Villa

Second elevation, de Ark

Second elevation, de Ark

The most impactful aspect of this development, for me, was the skillful combination of the rigid brick and the organic, sculptural expression found in the thatched roofs.  Thatch is still a popular roofing application in Northern Holland, not only reserved for historic revitalization, but also employed in contemporary buildings. The combination of thatch and brick provides both a directness of idea and a softness of approach, creating a sense of whimsy. Two great examples of this are the “De Bark” villa and the duplex unit seen below .

De Ark Villa

de Bark Villa

Second elevation of de Bark

Second elevation of de Bark

Duplex entry

Duplex entry

Entry 2, Duplex

Entry 2, Duplex

Along the tour, we again noticed a variety of influence and mix of historic and contemporary design throughout Bergen.

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Many thanks to Klaas for such a fabulous exploration of Bergen!

So… if anyone is looking for a fabulous family vacation spot, particularly in the spring, summer, or early fall, Bergen is the place for you.  There are oodles of seaside and village cottages available for rent or for home exchange.  Between the beach, forest, and town, there is something for everyone!  We are all sad to have to say goodbye to Bergen, but we have Venice to look forward to, so that is a pretty nice consolation prize.  We are off once again, with a very long travel day ahead (car to train to train to airplane to bus to train to water taxi to our Venice apartment!).  See you in Italy!

We miss everyone!

We miss everyone!

Categories: Bergen, North Holland, EUROPE

7 comments

  1. Just let us know when you know, which of these amazing places we’ll be moving to with you all! Wow!! I’m torn, but I’m thinking a horse & chicken farm in Bergen may be my thing! I want to live in that teletubby home highlighted by Jeff:) I must say reading your posts and looking at the pictures of you all brings great joy! I’m so happy for all of you!! You are missed and we really look forward to seeing those beautiful smiles in person next year, but in the mean time – go!!

  2. We miss you too! Thank you so much for the photos and captions. We feel as though we are experiencing it all with. You are all such great explorers.
    As we watch you bike, climb, run, slide, explore, and all other activities, we feel compelled to thank God for your good health and phenomenal spirit.
    We are blessed indeed! Love and kisses to you all….Mem and Pep

    • Agreed! Their phenomenal spirit is something to be celebrated! You guys look like you are having the time of your lives! We love getting to see into your experience through this blog.

  3. I loved reading your blog. And so many nice pictures! So happy that I could meet you all and that we could have fun together. Great memories!
    Enjoy Italy!
    Love, Linde

  4. Yes, I fully agree: we had a great time together. Thank you all for spending your time with us in Bergen ! Welcome back anytime….we already miss you. One of the parts I enjoyed thorougly was squeezing seven people plus backpacks and daypacks into an average sized car at 06.00 in the morning to catch the train to the airport…. and I missed your comment on the glorious victory (2-1) of our local AZ over PSV. AZ olé olé olé !
    Keep us posted on your adventures!

  5. B,J, S, Z, T –
    We love this whole set of stories – thanks for sharing. We do have some questions, mostly for the girls:
    1) Can you please send a photo of the “dutch way to slice cheese?” We are very curious
    2) How many jellyfish did you save?
    3) Having had a taste of smoked salmon, is the cat still following you around?
    4) Are your parents’ faces still stuck like when they were in the barrels?

    And, finally, before you go to Italy can you please upgrade the blog to include smell – and taste- functionality? We happy to love Italian food and know we will be salivating through the next stage of your adventure.

    Love and miss you – L, P, and H

  6. Your trip looks amazing!! Have fun in Venice. I hear they have some great seafood there (for adventurous eaters). Missing you all!

    P.S. How are your slippers, Schuyler?

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