Der Nederlanden: Part 14

Venlo – Day 7

We started with another delicious Dutch breakfast buffet – several slice-it-yourself breads, croissants, butter and jams, sliced meats and cheeses, boiled and scrambled eggs, hot sausages and bacon. The hotels, even the smallest, had the coffee machines we saw last year in Eastern Europe, which grind the beans and allow you a choice of espresso, latte, cappuccino – and, if you must, Americano, at the press of a button.

We had planned to go back to Sint-Martinuskerk, which was posted as open from 9:30 to noon, walk through some streets where ancestors had lived or had property in the 18th century, and then go off to Moers with maybe a stop in Kaldenkirchen, where a completely different set of ancestors on the Hersman side of the family had lived.

The church was not yet open when we got there, and almost as soon as they unlocked and we went in, we were asked to leave as it wasn’t open until 10:30. We were out from discussing what to do in the meantime when a woman who lived nearby introduced herself, and kindly spent the next hour or so with us, looking for the verger, recruiting someone to answer questions, and admiring the church with us.IMG_20190917_104400850.jpg

The earliest church on the site is thought to have been in the 9th century, although there was a church in Venlo dating to 760. Around 1000 it was replaced by a Romanesque church, and the beginnings of the Gothic building was in the 1420s. It was expanded over the centuries, and the tower was replaced after World War II, when the tower and roof were destroyed by bombing.

The copper baptismal font dates from 1619. The sculpture on top represents a baptism in the river Jordan. On the lower left you can see the levers used to raise the lid so the font can be used.

Hundreds of my ancestors’ families would have gathered around this font over the centuries to welcome each new baby.

In the baptistry side chapel, there is this carving of a pelican mother. In medieval times, the pelican was believed to be a particularly good mother, to the point of providing her blood by wounding her breast when no other food was available. The pelican became a symbol of the passion of Jesus, and we saw it in many churches, but I thought it was particularly apt in this chapel.IMG_20190917_104826335-1.jpg

The Baroque pulpit dates from 1701, and my various families in Venlo would have looked at it every Sunday.IMG_20190917_103336719

My ancestors were also buried in the churchyard, and at least one is listed as being buried in the church, but the churchyard is no paved or built over, although a few gravestones have been set into the foundation walls of the church. I was told that no-one was buried in the church except the Bishop of Roermond, Damianus van Hoensbroeck, who died in 1793, and was exhumed and reburied in the church in 2018-19, to make his grave in the floor visible again. There is a documentary teaser here.

IMG_20190917_104714481.jpgIt seems likely to me that, like most churches of the time, the rich were buried in the church, the gravestones forming the floor, and they were all removed or covered, as the Bishop’s was, in the 1830s. Arnold Schoncken’s 1735 death record in the church book says he was buried in the “moederkerk”, when most other death records from the church say “kerkhof”, which is churchyard. I lit a candle for them all.

It was time to walk back to the Markt for lunch. We went along the Lomstraat again, and along Peperstraat, and Steenstraat, which leads into the Oude Markt, and where Jan Venhorst and his wife Helena Schoncken owned property.

In 1760, Wolterius De Gruyter and his second wife, Anna Catharina Spee, bought half of a house and yard “op de hoek van de Oude Markt“, a corner of the Old Market Square, and also a share in a saltworks. There is no clue to which corner, and most of what surrounds the old market square is now new, or with new facades. But here is an older building just off the square, on the corner of Heilige Geeststraat (Holy Ghost Street). IMG_20190916_120037810

His son Martin is listed as a zoutzieder – a saltmaker (also a speldenmaker (pinmaker), kruidenier (grocer), and koopman (merchant). The de Gruijters in Den Bosch had been speldenmakers. Martin was also kerkmeester, what the English call church warden, at Sint-Martinuskerk.

Lunch was at the Hungry Hippo, a Middle Eastern place which was one of the few we found with vegan choices.

We walked back to the Wilhelmina to get the car, and set off east again into Germany for the afternoon, to Moers, where my great-grandfather deGruyter’s family moved in the late 1830s, not long before he was born.

 

Der Nederlanden: Part 13

Meerlo, Maasduinen, Blerick – Day 6 afternoon

Meerlo is a small village about ten miles north of Venlo. This is where Peter Venhorst, son of Jan Venhorst, innkeeper and apparent bon vivant in Venlo, was appointed burgemeester – mayor – of the district, which included Meerlo, Tienray, Blitterswijk, and Swolgen. He continued serving under the Dutch administration after the defeat of Napoleon, until 1831, and died soon after. Louisa Venhorst, Otto de Gruyter’s mother, grew up there, and married Ferdinand Jan de Gruyter there in 1829.

It was still drizzling when we got there, and the church was not open. We walked around it, and through the graveyard, although I didn’t expect to see any family graves, since in most of Europe land is limited and old gravestones are removed and the space reused.

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Sint Johannes de Doper, Meerlo

Sint Johannes de Doper is St. John the Baptist. Something I noticed in the graveyard is that the married couples (marked with an infinity sign on the stones) had different names. I hadn’t realized it was still the custom, as it was formerly, making genealogy research much easier, since the christening records give both parents’ full names.

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“Carnaval is een bijzonder onderdeel van de volkscultuur in Limburg, en tijdens Carnaval hebben vele dorpen, steden en haar inwoners een alternatieve naam. In het verleden zijn de dorpen in de omgeving van Meerlo sterk met elkaar verbonden geweest waarbij men een scheldwoord gebruikte voor de inwoners uit de andere dorpen. Heden wordt dit echter niet meer zoervaren, maar als een erenaam gevoeld.
De Carnavals-naam voor de mensen in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (vossen).”

This is the fox in the town car park next to the village hall and across from the church. The sign says “Carnival is a special part of folk culture in Limburg, and during Carnival, many villages, towns and its inhabitants have an alternative name. In the past, the villages in the vicinity of Meerlo have been strongly interconnected using a swear word for the residents of the other villages, but today this is no longer boasting, but felt like an honor. The Carnival name for the people in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (foxes).”

Since we always like to get into the countryside, we went across the Maas to the Nationaal Park De Maasduinen.    The Maasduinen – the dunes of the Maas  (Meuse) are a long stretch of sand dunes formed by the wind during the last ice age, along the east side of the Maas. The area has heathland, lakes, and forest. We walked along a sluice, across a bridge, along some dunes through the woods, and had hot chocolate in a cafe and visitors center with a lovely water view, built on the dam, and with a sod roof – seen here in the distant from the footbridge.

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Maasduinen

There were many tree-stump sculptures along the path through the woods, including this dragonfly.

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Our last stop of the day was somewhere special, to me, at least. In my research before the trip, I had found these beautiful old maps of Blerick, a farming community across the river from Venlo. In the upper left corner of this one, made about 1650, is a farm labelled Baesdonck.

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Baesdonck at Blerick

Jan Venhorst the innkeeper’s wife was Helena Schoncken. Her father Christian’s family, and her mother Maria deLeuuw’s, had been in Venlo since the available records started. But her mother’s mother, Helena Caniels, was the daughter of Ida Verheijen, daughter of Hendrick Verbaesdonck, later known as Verheijen, born 1629, son of Matthias Verbaesdonck, whose grandfather Wilhelmus, born about 1550, is one of the farthest ancestor I can document in any of my lines, and the oldest I can tie to a specific plot of land. Christening and marriage records still exist.

Verbaesdonck is a farm name, and Matthias later moved to a farm called Ter Heyden (Verheijen) and became known by that name. The farm is one of the few farms still in the area, and is at the intersection of two elevated expressways. The medieval house is still there, but with a modern exterior.

We walked down the lane, now a dead end. It was dusk, and not much to see but the pasture, vegetable fields, and modern greenhouses. But it was good to stand on land I knew my ancestors worked 500 and more years ago.

We went back to dinner in Venlo at a restaurant, Grand Café Bonaparte, whose logo

had captivated Judy that morning. Robert and I had been wanting Indonesian, and had satay, with Venloosch Alt, billed as the Netherlands first Altbier (although altbier originated in Dusseldorf, which is less than 30 miles away).

Something I learned when we visited the Netherlands briefly in our long Europe trip with our children is that saying “deGruyter” the American way is incomprehensible to the Dutch. Here is the Dutch pronunciation:

I still didn’t get it right, I think. I had a conversation with the waitress about why we were in Venlo, and we eventually were writing the name on a napkin – she thought I was saying de Ruijter, a completely different name.

The Wilhelmina in the sunset, and the sunset itself, were lovely.

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Der Nederlanden: Part 12

Venlo – Day 6 continued

[Our new grandson, Aidan Jacob McKissick, arrived just as I was finishing this post, so I have been occupied with other things for a while.]

Here is a good summary of the de Gruijter family of Venlo, from the Limburg GenWiki. I suspect the information on Otto’s family, and his brother Martin’s, came from either Julius, Martin’s grandson in Charleston, or my aunt Elizabeth deGruyter Turner, or perhaps from me in correspondence years ago.

Venlo has been a trading center since probably Roman times, a major port, and a member of the Hanseatic League. I wanted to explore the area between the Markt and the river, where the Schonckens had property in 1609 on Peperstraat, which leads down to the wharf. The wharf area is now a park, with views up and down the river, and sculpture.

 

 

I also found my first interesting manhole cover. There were lots in eastern Europe last year, not so many in the Netherlands. This has the city arms and motto – Make haste slowly, with a sound mind.

Geemente Venlo Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

Geemente Venlo – Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

We had a bit of lunch in the Grote Markt – Robert and I split more bitterballen – and headed back to get the car and visit Meerlo, the Maasduinen national park, and Blerick.

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Der Nederlanden: Part 8

The Hunebedden, Day 4 afternoon

Robert and I like the small towns and countryside as much as (or more than) cities, and are interested in history, prehistory, geology, and nature wherever we go. I had noticed De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, a large fen – formed by centuries of peat- and reed-cutting – north of Meppel. When Judy told us about the Hunebedden, we were ready to go. Saturday afternoon, after picking up the picnic  ingredients, we drove west, along the south side of the fens, and then north  past the lakes. We missed a turn, didn’t find a convenient place to walk in the fens, and went on to find the hunebedden, specifically D53 and D54, which are a pair, and two of three that are apart from the long line of them along the eastern border of Drenthe. A wonderful site and map here, no English version.

So, what are hunnebedden? In the UK, they are called barrows – burial mounds, in this case stone tunnels covered by earth, but now only the stones remain. These are from around 4500 BCE, and built by Beaker people, who belonged to a culture which spread from Spain all over Europe, without a migration, and then Beaker people from, probably, the area of the Netherlands migrated to Great Britain, replacing the farmers who had moved in from the steppes, who had replaced the hunter-gatherers who had built Stonehenge.

While we try not to do a lot of research or have expectations when we travel, at the same time, seeing through a lens of reconstructing/imagining what was rather than just what is. And afterwards, researching what we didn’t understand or what we want to know. Here is a site on the geography and geology of the Netherlands. Almost all of the Netherlands is the flat delta of the Rhine, and the major divisions of the soil types are sea clay and river clay, sea sand and river sand. The few hills and stones are sand dunes and boulders pushed ahead of the glaciers in the ice ages, including the boulders used for the hunebedden, and the low ridge near the two we visited.

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Deltawerken.Com / Delta Works .Org

We looked at the first hunebed and took a walk through the woods on the dune above it, which was full of bomb craters from World War II, now filled with water and home to salamanders. The Germans built an airfield here during the occupation, dismantling D53, which the Dutch reconstructed from photographs and field notes after the war.

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Woods on the Havelterberg

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“Een bulldozer van ijs”

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Huunebedden in the distance

We walked back up to the parking, where there were picnic tables, had our picnic supper, and drove back through the country to Meppel.

Der Nederlanden: Part 7

Liberation

On our plane to Amsterdam were a group of  US World War II veterans going to the Netherlands, where they had been part of the liberation from the Germans 75 years ago.

In Meppel, this plaque was on the wall of the Grote de Mariakerk

Geknecht, verdrukt, doch nooit gebukt, noch ooit de strijd gemeden Met bronzen klank aan God bedank en aan wat helden deden

Liberation plaque Meppel

Geknecht…Verdrukt…Doch nooit gebukt
Noch ooit de strijd gemeden
Met bronzen klank aan God de dank
en aan wat helden deden

(Enslaved, oppressed, but never stooped, nor ever the battle avoided
With brazen sound to God the thanks and to what heroes did)

The Netherlands was occupied by Germany for five years during World War II, and nearly a quarter-million Dutch died, including an estimated ten to twenty thousand by starvation in the last year of the war.

May 4 is a Memorial Day for all victims of war, and May 5 is Liberation Day, celebrating freedom. The Allied troops who liberated the Netherlands were mostly Canadian, but the Dutch remember and are grateful to all the Allies, including the US. All of the Dutch we talked to mentioned the liberation and our role, and Hannie Huigsloot, who we met later in Venlo, told us how her mother went every year to her home town for the Liberation Day celebration.

This is a film on the occupation and resistance from the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam.

Der Nederlanden: Part 6

Meppel, Day 4

We discovered that Saturday was Open Monumentendag (Open Monument, or Heritage Day), when thousands of historical buildings and museums are open and free. It’s part of a Europe-wide program. We started out with a map of the sites in Meppel, but soon got lost. We saw the modern Stadhuis (Town Hall), which is more beautiful than the photographs. We got to the Grote de Mariakerk, where Judy’s ancestors would have attended, just as they were opening for the day, and an art exhibit. We talked to artist Thea Gerritsen, who told us about her portrait of Queen Beatrix, after a photograph Thea’s brother had taken, and she was excited that her son, King Wilhelm-Alexander, would be visiting the church and see it.

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

After lots of talk, and coffee and cookies, we went out to find the windmills, and Stichting Oud Meppel (Old Meppel Foundation), which turned out to overlap. It is in the building at the base of this windmill.

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We had a good visit with the folks at the history center (where there was more coffee, and poppyseed cake, which we declined, since we had just done coffee and cookies.) It is all-volunteer, and they have over 90, and maintain a library and an incredible and well-indexed photograph collection. Judy had a long talk about her van Alstyne ancestors from Meppel, and when they learned my name was deGruyter, reminisced about the deGruyter grocery store in town, which their mothers had all used, and that children got 10 cents worth of candy when they went with their mothers. They searched out pictures of the old store, which is now offered to print pictures of the old store, which is now an electronics shop, next to a Subway (they are everywhere0, and kindly emailed them to me.

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Piet de Gruyter, who founded the grocery chain in 1818, was from Den Bosch, and probably a sixth or seventh cousin or so of my great-grandfather, Otto deGruyter, who was descended from Walter de Gruijter who moved from den Bosch to Venlo about 1740. A distant relation, but the chain grew to over 500 stores, and it is fun to see the family name. When my Aunt Elizabeth visited the Netherlands in the early 60s, she brought back chocolates and matchboxes with the de Gruyter brand.

After the history center, we climbed up into the windmill, which is being restored and has shops in the lower levels, and a wood-worker’s shop at the top. They are awaiting the arrival of a millstone, and plan to grind mustard seed and produce mustard. They had mustard from elsewhere, and when Judy said she had never had Dutch mustard, gave us each two samples. Fortunately, the jars were small enough to pass TSA guidelines.

This is the other windmill, which is not working, but which is also a historic site, with a museum.

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We had planned to visit the fens and hunebedden north of Meppel in the afternoon, with a picnic supper, so we stopped at De Brasserie again for a bit of lunch. This time I wanted to try bitterballen, even though I had no idea what they were, and Robert and I split an order of eight, which was too much, even though we persuaded Judy to take one. They are deep-fried balls of meat and gravy, what we would call bar food. (Do look at the recipe link.)

We stopped in the Jumbo supermarket near our hotel, and got a brown baguette, sliced (.99 euros, a bit more than half the price at our Kroger’s and better bread), some “red berries” I had also seen in the outdoor green market by the church, a convenient small package of a variety of cheeses, half a dozen small pies with a nut filling, and a paring knife, since we hadn’t checked luggage and Robert didn’t have the pocket knife we usually use for these occasions. The red berries were labeled “rood bessen”, which just translates “red berries” and was obvious, in any case. I thought they were currants, which you never see fresh in the US, and when I tried translating “currants” into Dutch, sure enough, it told me “red berries.”

For more about our Meppel visit, see Judy’s blog.

Der Nederlanden: Part 5

Meppel by way of Zwolle: Day 3

We all took the train to Amsterdam, where we left Arend, who was spending the weekend with his friends — more interesting for him than “looking at Judy’s ancestral lands” as he had put it.

We had a scenic train ride to Zwolle, where we were picking up a car so we could explore outside town from Meppel, and then three towns where I had ancestors over the German border, on the way to Venlo.

It looked like the walk from the train station in Zwolle was a pleasant walk along canals. As it turned out, we missed a turn at the beginning, where there was construction around the station, and it was a bit of a slog.

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You can still see on the map today that Zwolle was a classic star-shaped fort, and surrounded by a moat fed by the surrounding rivers. It was a member of the Hanseatic League.

We got the car almost instantly, but none of us had had a hybrid, and figuring out the controls took a bit.

Meppel is about a twenty-minute drive.
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This was our first hotel with self-checkin. We had key-pad codes, which let us in the front door and the room doors.

We set out to explore the town and have some lunch, which we found at De Brasserie (and Huberts IJs – ice cream – we didn’t have any) near the church and market. I had a Hawaiian tosti, which I remembered fondly from our visit to Amsterdam on our 1999 Europe trip – what we would call a grilled cheese, with ham and pineapple. And cassis, a Fanta flavor you don’t see in the US. We sat outside, another pleasure common in Europe, not so here.

Here is the hobo dragon atop the world in front of our hotel.

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After lunch, we wandered about the town center, getting lost, finding a bookshop with a tourist information center for maps, and finally visiting the public library, which was quite near our hotel.

We had dinner near the library, at a restaurant which was clearly a place for local gatherings and nights out, Proeflokaal Bregje Meppel, where we had Brand porter. They’ve been brewing since 1340. This picture’s for you, cousin Mark.

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Der Nederlanden: Part 4

Amsterdam and Harlem – Day 2 Afternoon

We found Bake My Day, an organic (bio in Dutch) bakery and deli, just down Haarlemmerstraat.

Having done the spots we wanted, we walked down to the old market square, saw Rembrandt’s house

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Train Station

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Lock House (de Sluyswacht)

De Vergulde Arend

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Rembrandt’s House

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Street Art

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Canal

We took the subway back to the station, and the train to Haarlem.

This is a plaque on our hotel, which was the house of Dirck Volckertszoon Coornheert, humanist and “fighter for freedom and tolerance.” Arend, our son, was named for several of his Dutch forebears (Arnold is an English form). Arend means eagle, and the house was “The Gilded Eagle.”

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Some believe that Coornheert wrote the Dutch national anthem “Het Wilhelmus”

Haarlem Markt

Haarlem Markt

We did various things we each missed the day before, and went to dinner, improbably, at an Italian restaurant just off the square, Dodici. I was a bit snitty about it at first, but I got the lobster bisque that we had missed on our trip to New England in June, with Dutch shrimp. Judy also had the shrimp in her salad – they were about a quarter-inch long, but lots of them, and full of flavor.

We puzzled over this sculpture, which is unmarked. It is “De Zonnevechter” (Sun Fighter) by Arthur Spronken. The fountain at its base was apparently originally intended to spray high above it.

Der Nederlanden: Part 2

Haarlem, Day 1

Robert, my friend Judy Ball, and I arrived at Schiphol Airport quite jet-lagged early in the morning, after trying to get some sleep on the plane. Schiphol is not only an airport, but also a train and bus station and an enormous shopping center. After some confusion, we got regional transportation passes and were off on a bus to Haarlem, which gave us an introduction to the area. Public transportation in the Netherlands, like most of Europe, is a joy. The bus had its own dedicated highway for most of the route, with platforms like a train.

We got off a stop short of the train station, closer to the market square, which was a short walk and not hard to find. The hotel was another matter. After a tour, in a drizzle, through a number of streets around the square, we found it. It’s on the far right of this picture of the square, the name on the front obscured by that awning.

Markt, Haarlem

Markt, Haarlem

The church is De Grote of St.-Bavokerk, which dates from the 15th century, and became Protestant in the 16th. Its organ, built in 1738, has over 5,000 pipes and was played by Handel and Mozart. The entire floor of the church is made up of gravestones.

Gravestone, De Grote of St.-Bavokerk, Haarlem

Gravestone, De Grote of St.-Bavokerk, Haarlem

Since it was long before check-in time, we stashed our bags in a corner of the hotel restaurant and had cappuccino and hot chocolate. Arend, who had flown from Chicago the day before and spent the night with friends in Amsterdam, appeared, and we ventured out to explore and find street food for lunch, which turned out to be a pizza bread from a bakery for me, and frites at Frietkamer for everyone else, and a walk down to the river.

Robert and I visited the visitor’s center Anno Haarlem in the ground floor of the Stadthuis (City Hall) for a quick overview of the city’s history – and a long conversation with a friendly volunteer.

We also had the opportunity to be in a Frans Hals painting.

Anno Haarlem

Anno Haarlem

We visited the church, and Robert rested while I went to the archeological museum, in the basement of the Frans Hals Museum. Then we rousted out Judy and Arend for dinner, at a tiny restaurant, Balletje, where we all enjoyed stamppot – mashed potatoes and vegetables – topped with a meatball (balletje), (one of us a vegan one) and a choice of sauce.

And so back to The Amadeus and bed.

Der Nederlanden: Part 1

Robert and I just returned from a trip to the Netherlands – the nether (low) lands low.

This morning I did the service at church, and we practiced drifting, a practice defined by Phil Smith, author of Mythogeography, a practice for “for walkers, artists who use walking in their art, students who are discovering and studying a world of resistant and aesthetic walking, anyone who is troubled by official guides to anywhere, urbanists, geographers, site-specific performers, town planners and un-planners, urban explorers, entrepreneurs and activists who don’t want to drive to the revolution.  We like to make our travels pilgrimages, and I think an important part of a pilgrimage, like a drift, is not having too many expectations. We have some goals, in this case visits to places some of my ancestors lived, but we try not to know to much about where we are going, so that what we see is unexpected, and we pay more attention to what we see and experience rather than looking for what we expect.

We spent 9 days in the Netherlands, in Haarlem and Amsterdam, Meppel in Drenthe, a Sunday drive into Germany where we stopped in Bocholt, Rhede, and Dingden on our way to Venlo in Limburg, with day trips to Meerlo and Blerick, and Moers and Kaldenkirchen in Germany, ending up in s’Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) in Noord Brabant. I will be posting at least 15 posts over the next week or two, with our adventures in town and country and some stories about my Dutch ancestors, the forebears of my great-grandfather Otto deGruyter’s parents, Ferdinand Jan deGruyter and Louisa Arnoldina Alydce (Adelheide) Venhorst.