Small Dutch Towns

Thinking about a topic for today’s post, my first thought was to publish the entire journal of my first trip to the Netherlands. As soon as I saw that it was over 12,000 words, I decided that wasn’t going to happen.

The main reason for the trip was to attend a family reunion. I had been working on my family’s genealogy for many years. My mother and I traveled together and were able to stay with relatives – some more distant than others – throughout the trip.

On that first trip, we visited and drove through several small towns- more than any other European trip I’ve taken.  Here are some (highly edited) excerpts from my journal of our visit to the Netherlands.

July 2 and 3 – St. Annaland

We landed about 11:30 am and after getting our luggage and rental car we were on our way to C. and T.’s (distant relatives). They live in St. Annaland, in the southern province of Zeeland. We got to their house about 3:45 and found them outside waiting for us. We had tea and a snack and visited for awhile. 

Field of Flowers in The Netherlands

After our tea, we drove around with our relatives and guides for a little while. We saw the town, the church, and homes of some relatives.  We met a lady on the street who was another distant relative – she looked a lot like my grandma.

The next day we saw more of the surrounding area. We saw the dikes and polders, lots of acres of flowers, and the sea.  We saw the orphanage in town where my great grandpa lived for awhile as a child. 

St. Annaland, The Netherlands

St. Annaland was having a festival the week we were there, celebrating their 525th birthday. The original name of the town had meant “witch’s village.”  St. Anna came to save the village so the name was changed to St. Annaland.  Witches, ghosts, and spider webs decorated the town along with pictures of  St. Anna with sheep, and shepherds – all depicting parts of the legend.  The town is typically Dutch – two windmills, red-tile-roofs, and tall narrow buildings. 

July 4 – Hoge Veluwe and Leeuwarden

On Wednesday, we left C. and T.’s around 10 am. We went to the Hoge Velluwe National Park and the Kroller-Meuler museum. The museum houses paintings by Dutch painters, Van Gogh and Mondrian, and additional works by Monet, Manet, and Picasso. 

Sunset in Birdaard,
the Netherlands – The Town Where my Ancestors Lived

We drove through the country to see Birdaard and other small towns on our way to Leeuwarden.  We saw beautiful homes and gardens, with a windmill in every town. There were cows, sheep, and some horses in this rural area.  We got to the city of Leeuwarden about 6 pm. We stayed at the home of R. and J. – very distant relatives we were connected with through the reunion committee. 

The city of Leeuwarden is very old. The buildings are close together with narrow brick-paved streets. A canal runs through the center of town.  Everything was unlike anything at home – very European. (Remember, this was my first trip to Europe, so I was in awe).

July 5 – Birdaard, Groningen, and More
Windmill in the Town of Birdaard, Netherlands, where my Great-grandfather Lived

We were up early Thursday morning to go to Birdaard, the birthplace of one of my great-grandfathers.  We found the house and walked down a path to take pictures because it was a ways off the road.  We walked back to the town and saw the windmill. There was a canal right through the center of town, with drawbridges at the roads.  We had to wait to walk across one of the bridges to go to the bakery for some rolls. We saw men fishing in the canal near a small campground.

After Birdaard, we went to the city of Groningen to find the Groningen Archief (archives).  We did some genealogy research and found information about my mother’s side of the family.

We left the archives and drove through the surrounding area. We found the small towns of Bierum (where my mother’s father was born) and Uithuizermeeden (where his father’s bakery was located).

On our way back to Leeuwarden we stopped in Lutjegast where my husband’s ancestors were from. We met a distant relative of my husband, talked with him for a bit, and exchanged email addresses.  We got back to Leeuwarden at 7:45.

July 6 – Maakum, Schermerhorn, Volendam and Maarkum

Friday we were out by 8:30 and and spent about an hour in downtown Leeuwarden at an open-air market.  We left and planned to go to Alkmaar, Leiden and Delft.  We drove toward the dike to cross the sea.  Just before we got there we realized we wouldn’t make it to Delft and Leiden so we stopped at Maakum.  We wanted to see how they make Maakumer pottery (similar to Delft pottery).  We saw some displays, but no tours were offered.

Windmill at Schermerhorn

We stopped at the viewing tower on the dike and learned about it’s construction.  We got to Alkmaar a little after noon. We had planned to watch the cheese weighing demonstration, but were too late.   We saw a restaurant in the area and ate lunch.   We were hoping to find pancakes, but settled for hamburgers.  They were interesting with a fried egg on top, but I didn’t really enjoy them.   

After lunch, we visited a nearby greenhouse or nursery business.  Since we had decided not to go to Leiden and Delft, we had some extra time. A clerk suggested we go to Schermerhorn to see the windmills or to Volendam.  We first went to see the windmills.  One was still in operation – just for show. We toured it and learned about the mills pumping the water over the dikes. 

Cheese Factory, Volendam, The Nether;lands

We went to Volendam – a cute town with houses all connected. (I found out later we didn’t get to the cutest part of the town – the harbor). On the way from Volendam we stopped at a cheese farm.  We saw how the cheese was made and tasted a few samples.  The cheese was very good. 

We continued on to the old fishing village of Marken. It was a very touristy area – many people were dressed in costume for the tourists. We finally found a pancake restaurant, so we stopped for supper. Very good! We got back to Leeuwarden around  9.

July 7 – Joure, Hindeloopen, and the Family Reunion
The Windmill in Joure,
The Netherlands

We started out for Joure to see the town’s windmill – named after an ancestor of my husband.  We asked for directions at the edge of town and then found it right away. The overseer gave us a personally guided tour up all 5 floors.  They still grind corn and grain there at times, but not the day we were there. It was very interesting, so we took lots of pictures.

Harbor at Hindeloopen, The Netherlands

We spent quite a while at the mill so we weren’t able to see much of Hindeloopen, another small harbor town with very narrow streets and lots of souvenir shops.

The Church of my Ancestors
in Zweins, The Netherlands

The reunion was held in the small town of Zweins, in the province of Friesland, where the earliest known ancestors lived. After some introductory remarks, we were put onto groups to tour the area. We started out down the road to the church in Zweins. We learned about how the rich people were buried in the church. The richer you are, the closer to the front you could be buried.  My ancestors were buried in the very front (what happened to all their money?)  The church was small but beautiful. A woman demonstrated the organ by playing a song and then we sang a hymn in Dutch (or tried to follow along).   

After this, we walked across the street to the hall.  Here we had a lecture on the history of our family and the coat of arms. We walked back to tour the property of the family estate, while an archaeologist spoke to us. Finally, we walked to the town of Kingmatille, where we saw the tea house. Way back when, people did not drink tea in their homes, but instead went to a tea house. 

July 8  – Spijkenisse and Rotterdam

After the reunion, we followed R and T (the genealogist I met online and his wife) to their home in Spijkenisse. It took about 2 ½ hours. We saw Rotterdam – the largest port in the world – as it was getting dark. We got up around 7:30 the next morning to get ready for church. We had breakfast – bread, cheese, chocolate-hazelnut spread, and meat.  The church building was quite modern and relatively small. The service was similar to ours, except in Dutch. We didn’t understand anything. We had coffee and pie when we got home. Later, we had lunch – soup and French bread. Rather than touring, we talked all afternoon.  

Small Towns – and a Few Large Cities

In this short trip, we were able to travel to the south, then north, and then back south in the Netherlands. We saw many small towns that would not have been as easily accessible if we were not driving. Getting to the larger cities would have been easier on public transportation, but we didn’t spend much time in the cities.

We traveled in the summer, and since the Netherlands is one of the northernmost countries in Europe, the days were long. We were able to see and do more than we expected.

As I read through my journal entries, I started thinking about how much I’d like to go back for another visit. Although I’ve been to the Netherlands since that first time, there are several places I haven’t revisited. Maybe it’s time to start planning another trip.


  1. I’m glad I did the 8 day person to person experience. We had an excellent Cuban for guide. He answered any questions even political ones. We went to places and ate in private palidars. You would never see as much on your own. Wonderful, friendly people
    One of my most memorable trips.

    1. I hope to have an opportunity to visit in the future. (For readers who do not understand the Cuba reference, the comment was in response to the newsletter this week. There isn’t an easy way to comment to the newsletter).

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