I started off my summer in Amsterdam by hanging out with my nieces for a couple of weeks. If you are ever jaded about travel (and I’m not, but, I dunno, some of you might be … ), go travelling with a couple of teenagers. It lets you look at a foreign country with fresh eyes. I felt privileged to be able to introduce those two to Europe and I am pretty sure they went home with the travel bug firmly planted.
My own travel bug was also firmly planted on a trip to Europe while a teenager. Coincidentally, I ended my summer in Amsterdam with a day trip to where it all began.
That would be Kampen.
Kampen is a small city in the province of Overijssel, about 90 minutes from Amsterdam by train. Overijssel means “over the IJssel” — the IJssel being the river that runs beside Kampen. Because of that river, and its proximity to the Zuiderzee, Kampen became an important trading town and it joined the Hanseatic League (a loose union of towns that controlled the maritime trade of Northern Europe during the Middle Ages).
Which means Kampen is just one more well-preserved medieval Dutch town.
Well, not exactly. Kampen is more than that. It’s where I first learned how to live in a foreign country.
Kampen is not quite as pretty as Leiden or Delft — it doesn’t have as many cute canals and bridges that those other cities have. What it does have are three poorten, which is Dutch for “gates.” They are what’s left of the city’s walls.
Kampen also has a bunch of churches. The Bovenkerk stands out because of its height (boven means “above”) and it makes for a pretty picture from across the IJssel River. Below is the view you have when you arrive in Kampen by train.
Once you cross the IJssel, you are immediately immersed in the historic centre of Kampen. This is the stadhuis or town hall.
And this is Oudestraat (Old Street), the main shopping street. When we lived in Kampen, cars and delivery trucks were still allowed to drive up and down Oudestraat. Total chaos, it was.
The tower at the end of Oudestraat is the Nieuwe Toren (New Tower). If you look closely, you see a cow hanging from the tower. (Not real, I assure you.) The story goes that the fine people of Kampen wanted to get rid of the grass growing on the roof of the tower. Someone had the bright idea of putting a cow up there (to eat the grass), but she died on the way up. They hang a replica every summer to remind themselves of how clever they were.
And yes, that is probably the weirdest story I can tell you about any place I have ever lived.
About those city gates. Facing the IJssel River is the Koornmaarktpoort. It is the oldest of the three gates.
This is the Cellebroederspoort.
And this is the Broederspoort.
Here it is from the other side.
On the one side of the Cellebroederspoort and the Broederspoort is a rather large and lush park, full of geese and ducks and rather large trees. I have always thought that the Netherlands made such an impression on my first visit not so much because it was a foreign country (though there was that, too), but because I had grown up on the North American prairies where large, leafy trees are few and far between.
We kids spent a lot of time in that park, if I am remembering correctly. Our mornings were spent studying, our books spread across the dining room table with the French doors wide open to the garden behind the house. But in the afternoons, we were free. We had our bikes and we had that park and we had an entire town to explore. We also went to the weekly market with our mother, and on drives through the Dutch countryside with both of our parents.
I am sure my memories are romanticizing the experience. I do remember feeling homesick for Canada, and I am sure we drove our mother around the bend, not going off to school every morning. But even so, I feel blessed that our family had that time together.
There is a lot to be said for visiting the European capitals when you go to that continent for the first time — and I’m so glad my nieces had their chance this summer. But I also know they found the traffic and the people (and the bikes!!) a little overwhelming. And so, there is also a lot to be said for exploring a small, Dutch medieval town on your own when you’re just a kid, as an introduction to Europe.
On your own on a bike.