Adventures Close to Home

I am originally from Den Haag, but I have been living in Groningen for a good 4 years now. Slowly I have started to get used to some of the peculiar customs, unique traditions, and interesting foods that they eat here, such as the “Eierball”.

Lately, however, it has come to my attention that there is an unspoken rivalry between the Frisian people and the people from “Grunn”. You wouldn’t notice it at first glance, but the two provinces share brazen opinions about each other. Never afraid of a little exploration, I decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

This was an adventure close to home, but honestly, I was rather stoked. It felt like a tiny investigative vacation. I would be visiting Waterdorp Burdaard, a set of comfortable holiday villa’s in the Frisian heartland. I packed a small bag, threw my camera around my neck, and sped off towards the Frisian border.

After a short drive with many roundabouts giving me a slight headache, the road narrowed into a single lane. I drove through a number of little villages nestled against canals or rivers, their brick-and-mortar facades and gable roofs looking highly similar to those of Groningen. So far so good. Then the road got even narrower and the sleek tarmac gave way to cobblestones. I found myself creeping forward until the sign “Burdaard” loomed up ahead. I found a parking spot near a small field, where two goats were eyeing me dismissively.

I stepped out of the car and took in my surroundings. A canal with low-lying barges, a woman carrying her two children on a bike, a windmill slowly swaying in the warm Autumn breeze. Typically Dutch? Yes! Typically Frisian? Not necessarily. The surroundings were, however, truly charming. The village vibrated with life. People were fishing on the old-wooden embankments, a local supermarket cashier greeted everyone by their first name, and everywhere village-goers stopped to have a chat and enjoy the remarkably warm weather.

As I carried my bag toward the park, I was greeted by everyone I passed. It made me smile and I wanted to believe that it was something typical Frisian. But then again, I thought, it might just be the custom of small villages all around the Netherlands. Yet, when I reached the outskirts of the village, I finally found what I had been anticipating all this time: two boys, no older than 12, taking turns hopping over a small pond using a long, sturdy stick. It’s called “Fielrjeppen”, and in Friesland it’s an official sport, with hundreds of professional contestants going toe-to-toe each year. I smiled and stared for a while as the boys kept daring each other to make larger leaps until, eventually, one tripped and got his trousers soaked. I chuckled and moved on, hearing the boy behind me hurl a string of swear words into the air.

Just before the park, I found a small supermarket, no larger than a garage, but charmingly decorated by an older woman. I stepped inside, drawn in by the various interesting products, from rurally distilled liquors and sweet pots of jam to freshly baked Frisian pastries. I couldn’t resist and went for a loaf of typical Frisian “Suikerbrood”, very sweet and sticky bread with sugar in it.

It took me a little while to spot the park, their similar gable roofs blending seamlessly with the quaint surroundings. Once inside, I walked to the back of the large living room and threw open the floor-to-ceiling glass doors. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a slice of Suikerbrood, seated myself in the sun near the doors and started recollecting what I had seen so far. I soon realized that the differences weren’t as great as some made it out to be back in Groningen. The people were kind to strangers and very sociable. The village was typical for any Dutch village, with its charming waterside church, endless canals, drawbridges, and windmills. Yes, the Fierljeppen and the Suikerbrood (now sticking to my hands and beard) were typical, but they do not necessarily define the character of the people.

In the meantime, the sun has set, and I find myself still sitting near the terrace, looking out over the dusk-swept fields. I now realize, reading back, that my study is wholly inconclusive. You would think that I would be dismayed, but what can you really learn in a day’s time? If people understood each other after just one day, there would be no more hatred, crom and war. Instead, I smiled and thought, “I guess I will need to stay here for a little while longer to get to the bottom of this”, a prospect I wasn’t to worried about.

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