We’re at the one year mark! 🗓 On May 20, 2016, we arrived in Brunssum, NL to begin this expat adventure. We knew the time would go by quickly, but dang that was fast! As we look at the year ahead, we just want it to last. When I started talking about the transition to life back in the US, Dick made me stop. He said he just couldn’t think about it right now. We will have to address the challenge at some point, but I think he’s right — let’s not think about it just yet. 🙂 I’m planning some more travel and more visitors are coming, so there’s a lot to look forward to in the near future!
My brother Alan is the family genealogist and has done extensive research on our family tree, mostly the lineage of our grandfathers. I’ve always been curious about the Neuroth line, not only because that is our surname, but because information about the family was so vague. Grandpa Neuroth told us many stories, but I don’t remember him ever talking about his childhood. We grew up knowing some of his siblings, but I don’t remember them talking about their parents. I suspect this is because their parents divorced when they were young. Anyway, Alan has been able to fill in the Neuroth family tree back to the 17th century. He’s been able to determine where the family lived in Germany and when they emigrated to the America. Our great, great grandfather, Heinrich Neuroth, made the long journey via Amsterdam to New York in 1882. He followed his brother Johann who arrived earlier and several aunts and uncles who emigrated in the 1850s. Alan and Natasha arrived here Friday and the primary purpose of their vacation to Europe is to follow some family roots. First the Neuroth family in Germany and then the Eisinger family (Natasha’s maiden name) in Austria.
Saturday, we took them with us do some shopping at the green market and try some kibbeling. When we got back to Oirsbeek, the windmill was turning so we stopped in to see the grist in action and buy some flour.
After that, we went to Maastricht to see the limestone mine tunnels and walk around the city (with stops to sample frites and waffles). We ended the day with a pannekoeken dinner in Valkenburg. I think we provided them with a good day of Dutch culture!
On Sunday, we travelled with Alan and Natasha to Gross-Zimmern, Hessen, Germany. This is where great, great grandfather Heinrich and his brother Johann lived with their mother and father before they went to America. Alan made a serendipitous connection with a woman named Christel who has just published a two volume book on the families of Gross-Zimmern. She is a fount of information and generously offered to give us a guided tour of our ancestral land.
We had a brief get acquainted meeting with Christel on Sunday night, and then met up with her Monday morning to begin our tour. We walked to the Evangelical Kirchengemeinde (church) in the center of the old part of town. The last residence of our ancestors was a house located right next to this church. After my 3x great grandfather died in 1892, the house was inhabited by two brothers for a few years and then Christel’s grandfather bought the house. What a coindidence that she also has a connection to this place! So cool. The house was purchased by the church in 1985 and torn down to make room for an office/classroom building.
The pastor was kind enough to show us around the church and tell us about the history. The original part of the church was built in 1407! Heinrich was christened in this church and the baptismal font from that period is still used today. I started to get a little emotional realizing that I was standing in the very place where my great, great grandfather was baptized and where he attended church until he was a young adult. I didn’t really expect that it would mean so much to me.
There are two other houses in Gross-Zimmern where the Neuroth family lived for periods of time. They both still exist today on the same street and we were able to take pictures of them.
Following the family back another two generations, we went with Christel a short distance by car to Spachbrucken. We stopped at a cemetery where there were several Neuroth gravestones. There was a concentration of Neuroth families in this town and likely distant cousins of ours still live there. We didn’t make contact with any of them, though. Going back another century to the 1600s, our family lived in Gundernhausen. This village was also close by and we drove there to look at the church, which unfortunately was closed. This is as far as the family has been traced so far. It’s possible that they migrated from another area of Germany before that.
It was so exciting to make these connections and very special to share this experience with Alan. It’s so much fun to have family visit and share a part of our adventure with them!
I need to jot down the events of the last two weeks to document the memories! Jenna arrived on the 20th of April and we toured sights in three countries in six days! We started with Brugge, one of our favorite places. I think it became one of her favorite places, too. We did the brewery tour at Halve Maan, which Dick and I missed on our last visit. Jenna and I took the train into Maastricht the next day after she caught up on sleep. The Friday market was in full swing and we were able to get some kibbling. Next up was Aachen to get a taste of Roman history and German. In Cologne, we did the walking tour and the chocolate museum (highly recommend!). Jenna got to experience delicious bratwurst and saurkraut at a German restaurant. I had sauerbraten for the first time and Dick had liver (ick!). We had an amazing day on Monday: Kinderdijk, Keukenhof and Sushi! The windmills at Kinderdijk are a lot of fun to see and we managed to stay dry the entire time. Keukenhof! What can I say in words that are befitting? It’s glorious and you really must experience it in person. I’m so happy that Jenna was able to do that with us! I know it’s something we will never forget. After we saw every flower, we drove to Haarlem. We found a great sushi place and gorged ourselves (it was all you can eat). Jenna and I stayed at a barely adequate hotel in Haarlem that night and took the train into Amsterdam the next morning. We had another great day: canal tour, Heineken tour, Albert Cuyp market, Musuemplein, Vondel park and more. Whew! It was so sad to see her leave and for the first time I felt very homesick.
After we dropped Jenna off on Wednesday, we headed to Friesland to spend a few days with Els and Frans (Dick’s cousin and husband). It ended up being a long drive because traffic was backed up in several places along the highway. We arrived in time for a delicious dinner and settled into their gezellig huis. Thursday was Koiningsdag or King’s Day, which is a national holiday in NL. April 27th is King Willem Alexander’s birthday and this year he is 50, which made it even more of a big deal. The King visits a different city each year to celebrate and this year it was Tilburg in Brabant. The celebration was televised and we watched some of it to get a sense of what King’s day is all about. The main event in almost every city and town in NL is a rommelmarkt or vlooiemarkt (flea market). Yes, the Dutch celebrate the King’s birthday by selling and buying unwanted stuff! We went to Leeuwarden where there was a huge flea market. I bought an Oswald Chambers devotional in Dutch and Dick just had to have an upside down light bulb lamp thingy. Frans is very familiar with the city and gave us a little tour. There are some beautiful old buildings there. We had a nice lunch at the old weighing house in the square. The drive back was a scenic tour of the Friesland countryside. It’s so beautiful!
On Friday we had a relaxing day eating, chatting and walking around the environs of Oldeholtpade. We learned so much from Els and Frans. Later in the day we travelled to a nature preserve for an evening canoe tour. There were two tour guides, each in a boat with us and another couple in a third boat. The guide with Dick and I graciously spoke English during the tour thanks to a tip off from Els! It was such a lovely outing with beautiful sights of birds, water and sky. The guides were very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna. Much of this area is sort of being reclaimed and restored with birds and animal species coming back to the habitat. At one point, we canoed down an little inlet and floated in silence for awhile listening to the birds. So peaceful and soothing! We were out on the water for over two hours and the time flew by. We left Els and Frans Saturday morning feeling rested and encouraged by our visit with them. Dick had to work a little while we were there, so I probably felt a little more rested than he did!
On our way home Saturday, we stopped at the Hoge Velluwe National Park. Inside this park is the Kröller-Müller Museum, which has a large collection of Van Gogh paintings and a huge outdoor sculpture garden. Just inside the entrance to the park, there are free bikes available to ride throughout the park. We rode the bikes first to the information center, where we stopped to eat our packed lunch, and then on to the museum. The park was a lot of bush and not as picturesque as we though it would be. The museum was nice and the sculpture garden was cool, though we didn’t leave enough time to see it all. We decided to travel further towards home and stopped in Roermond for dinner. A tasty dinner at an Irish pub was gratefully consumed and then we did a short walk around the market square. We need to go back and spend more time in Roermond some time.
Sunday was Dick’s birthday and we agreed that it would be a quiet day of relaxation. It was a beautiful weather day and we enjoyed being home!