When I was young and living in southern California, my family made a day trip to Los Angeles and that included Beverly Hills. We drove around looking at the homes of movie and television stars. It was kind of a weird thing to do, but there were many cars doing the same thing as us. It was like being at a drive-by zoo. The homes or mansions were certainly impressive and we all wanted Lucille Ball or Bob Hope to come outside and water their front lawn and then wave at us.

The other day we went on a little drive along the Vecht River and it reminded me of touring the stars’ homes. The Vecht River runs from Utrecht to Muiden and is almost 26 miles long. Along the course of the river, on both sides, are small towns and stately homes. These homes were built in the 17th and 18th centuries by Amsterdam merchants, so they had a place to escape the city life during the summer months. They are absolutely beautiful and very well maintained. Along the river are many restaurants that have outdoor seating, so that you can watch the boats come up and down the river as you drink and eat.

On this day, we drove on both sides of the river and that led us to drive through Breukelen. As we drove out of Breukelen, we lost sight of the river and were now in farmland. There were the most beautiful green and lush pastures. Black and white cows were dotting the land as if they were extras in a movie, it all looked just so perfect. And then I saw something that was out of place: a large cement box, about the size of a shed. I was told that it was left over from the war, it was a German bunker. Before I could comment on this, I saw two more on my right and left. Three bunkers from WWII were just sitting on these farms, surrounded by cows and trees. And then all of a sudden, the river was back again and the bunkers were gone.

I was a passenger on a strange tour. I was completely entranced by the boats, the homes, by the castle that is now the University of Nyenrode, by the small bridges that boaters have to pay a toll to go through, and by the historic legacy of this river. And at the same time, I could not get those bunkers out of my head. Seventy years ago, this country was occupied and those bunkers were filled with ammunition. They are certainly reminders of what life was like along this river, it was not always calm and peaceful. This was a country at war. No matter how long I live here, I will not ever stop being moved by the knowledge that this country was occupied during the war and that its citizens survived the best they could.

I end with this one image. Towards the end of our drive, there was a huge downpour. There was a man and a woman bicycling. They were senior citizens and they did not speed up or stop even though they were getting drenched. The woman held an umbrella straight up and steered with her left hand. When we passed her I could see she was smiling. This is who the Dutch are. They have been through it all. Some of them remember those bunkers being used and they now ride by them. Life goes on. They see the beauty in a river and the joy of being able to ride a bike. It is a lesson for me to remember.

Recommended reading:

Too Close To The Falls – Catherine Gildiner

Sea Room – Norman Gautreau

House On The Salt Hay Road – Carin Clevidence

Goudenstein in Maarssen

University of Nyenrode in Breukelen

Bunker in Breukelen

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  • Judy Savage  On September 6, 2011 at 3:52 am

    I have always wanted to cruise up or down a river, whether it be the Mississippi, the Seine, the Rhine or the Thames. Now I’ve added another to my list. Thanks for the geography lesson, too. I finally had to look up and see where Utrecht is in relation to Amsterdam. Your blog is expanding my world again.

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