A Member’s Trip to the Netherlands

Recently, Member Bill Van Cleave and his wife, Patty, took a trip to the Netherlands to visit a former Dutch foreign exchange student. Read more about Bill’s trip below!

Twenty years ago this year, we hosted Floris Kooistra at our home for a year as a Dutch foreign exchange student. Floris insisted that we visit him in Holland this year. We left on April 26th and returned on May 8th, 2018.

Floris met a fellow Youth for Understanding student from Venezuela named Diana while he was living with my wife, Patty, and myself, as we served as his substitute parents for a year. To make a long story a little shorter, Diana and Floris met 20 years ago and have now been married almost 10 years. They have two beautiful children, Jacob and Sofia.

To celebrate this 20 year anniversary, Patty and I planned a visit to Holland. The day after we arrived was Floris’s 39th birthday and Diana threw him a family birthday party. His sister Petra, who is now a family doctor, her four children, his brother, Roelf, (whose wife is Diana’s cousin, Ingrid) and 2 of their children were in attendance, although sadly Ingrid was busy with sports and could not come. Roelf is an Assistant Principal and really fun to have at any party. Floris’s parents, Jacob and Toos Kooistra, were there too. Floris barbecued the hamburgers and steak himself, even though it was his birthday. His family expressed their gratitude to us for hosting Floris 20 years ago. We all had great fun on this day of celebration.

That would have been enough fun for the whole week, but Floris had plans for us. After breakfast the next morning he piled Patty and me in the car and headed for Leiden, next town over from where he lives. To understand the importance of Leiden, consider this from Dr. Robert R Schenck, Past President of the Holland Society:

“During the Eighty Years War between 1568 and 1648, of the Dutch fight for independence from Spain, the city of Leiden was besieged twice by the Spanish, in 1573 and 1574. Rather than surrender and be killed, half its (Leiden’s) citizens chose to starve to death. William of Orange and his sailors broke the dikes and used 200 flat-bottomed boats pushed by a strong west wind to provide the survivors ‘white bread and herring.’ Simultaneously the Spanish fled, never to return. Ever since then, the Dutch annually celebrate the 3rd of October, 1574, the date of their relief.

Leiden was a town established by the Romans and had one remaining city gate to guard the city. That first day in Leiden ended with a cruise around the town’s perimeter of canals by boat with a running commentary provided in several languages, including English. Later, Floris and Diana prepared and served a memorable dinner, the first of many to come.

Our second day in Holland was the first of two days in Amsterdam featuring Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum. The following day, we returned to Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum along with some well known Vermeer paintings.

Floris took us to der Haag on our fourth day in the Netherlands to see the exhibit presented in the home of Queen Beatrix, which is now being used to display M. C. Escher’s life work. As you may recall he was the somewhat eccentric genius who had the ability to trick your vision to accept impossible 2-dimensional patterns and drawings of impossible architecture. Many of these patterns left me wondering how a human could achieve these tricks even in their simplest stages.

On the fifth day of our visit, Floris left us to explore Leiden on our own as he was occupied with a business trip. Patty and I took the bus back to Leiden. Holland impressed me with its devotion to its history, its cleanliness, its well organized and innovative ideas about government and efficiency. Most of all I was impressed with its rightful claim to be proud to be Dutch.

On the sixth day, Floris took us to the Dutch Cities of the Hague and to Delft. We toured the Delft factory and saw at the end a display of ancient Delft tiles representing a group of children leading a six goat team pulling a cart with two more kids in it.

Day seven was a sunny day to visit the Keukenhof Gardens, where we spent 5 hours with Floris and his family and thousands of gorgeous tulips artfully displayed in a very large park that must have been laid out by the world greatest landscape architect. The tulips were donated to the Park by almost all of Holland’s growers and are handsomely displayed throughout the large park with wide comfortable paved walking paths.

On the next day, which was a Saturday, Floris took us, and the family to see a marvelous display of all the major sites in Holland in miniature.

On Sunday Floris drove us to Kleve, Germany, to culminate our trip. Kleve is sometimes spelled with a K and sometimes with a C. We went to Cleve to explore the possibility that it may be the genesis of the name Van Cleave. I have much more to share on that subject.

On the way back from Kleve, we drove north through from Germany to Arden in the Netherlands, where Floris drove us through a beautiful Dutch National Park which was unlike much of what we had seen. It was quite hilly, and it was interesting to see very different plants and trees. When we emerged from the park we were very close to the home of Floris’s parents. They, like many citizens of the Netherlands, live in a house connected to other houses of other families. Their home was in a row of two very beautiful and new homes with extensive backyards and top-notch architecture, and was very lovely. Jacob and Toos Kooistra, both retired, had met us first twenty years ago when they came to Connecticut with their other two children Petra, Floris’ sister, and Roelf, his brother, to watch Floris get his diploma from Newington High School and the letter he won playing Varsity Tennis. Both Jacob and Toos are wonderful parents for these three talented children. To thank us for taking Floris into our home, they prepared a splendid meal for us of ham with fresh white asparagus, hard boiled eggs with orange yolks, and potatoes artfully presented. it was as delicious as it sounds, and they added fresh strawberries and ice cream for dessert.

Bill Van Cleave, a descendant of Jan Cornelissen Van Cleef, arrived in New Amsterdam 1653