Our first workaway is coming to an end. Whilst Stuart prepares a final supper for us and Aafke, I’m reflecting. I’m sad this fortnight is coming to an end. It’s been fantastic. A whirlwind. A great learning experience filled with wonderful people, stories and sun. These are the highlights…
First things first: the people,
Maud and Dagobert were our hosts and we had a brilliant time with them and their family. They have been so welcoming, understanding, relaxed, funny – you name it, they got it. They welcomed us into their lives and offered us the opportunity to see so much more of the Netherlands and of Dutch culture than we otherwise would have. Buitenwerkplaats is an incredible place and I feel honoured to have had the chance to be here, meet such great people and to have shared their lives and their project with them. Also, Stuart’s banter with Dagobert has been endless entertainment.
We also had the opportunity to meet some other fantastic people.
Aafke helped made this fortnight what it was – her stories, her kindness, her laughs and her wonderful family gave richness to the experience. It was so reassuring knowing she was here too with us as I knew that whatever the situation; Aafke would be able to deal with it. She is a wonderful person and a joy to have met. We were lucky to meet her family, her son in law and grandkids, her brother and his wife and one of her three daughters, each of whom taught us something.
I say ‘I love’ a lot, but I love Saskia, she is so kind and compassionate, and entertaining. I’ve so enjoyed talking with her about all things – she made me feel comfortable from our first meeting. I also feel like if I had any question about cooking, ingredients or new combinations of creating meals, Saskia would know the answer. I wish we had the chance to speak more, and hope so much we’ll meet again.
Then the place,
Where we stayed, Buitenwerkplaats, was magical. You can read more about my first impressions here but they lasted. It was ace. The environment was perfect for us; plenty of people during the day, and our own space on an evening where Stuart could play piano; where I could sit and read or write. Isolated in its own way, Buitenwerkplaats was tranquil; a place for peace and calm, but a place filled with fun and laughter each and every day.
Though it’s 30km from Amsterdam and there’s no local shop, or anything like that, our stay at Buitenwerkplaats has enabled us to see some fantastic local Dutch places we would have otherwise missed. We cycled to De Rijp in the rain and enjoyed lunch at a cafe where the egg mayonnaise was laced with gherkin, we went in a supermarket and accidentally bought spinach (and pork!) lasagnes which we thankfully didn’t eat and we got a bit lost but the houses were nice. We cycled to Wormerveer and had a great soya flat white (we so Australian) whilst waiting to wave at Petra (a gardener with a veg plot here) in a boating championship. The teams rowed for an hour and a half and I am still jealous.
We also cycled to Zaanse Schans. The most touristic but fantastic place, we explored it through Aafke’s eyes, sharing her bank of knowledge and personal stories. Aafke used to cycle through Zaanse Schans to school during her mid teens, and lived not far from it, growing up in Wormer. In the museum, you see one of the first photographs of a mill. Standing in the centre is Aafke’s Great-Grandfather. This area and the mills here, are in her blood. It’s where the industry started in Holland and there were – at one time – over 59 different mills working to produce all kinds of materials and ingredients from talc to paint pigments all in this area. We made our own hot chocolates from milled cocoa and bought stroopwafels and postcards.
Some of the best parts of these cycle trips were just cycling through small villages where we saw how the Dutch live from the outside. I felt lucky to have this experience, reaffirming the notion that it’s not about the destination but the journey itself.
Then, what we learnt,
I didn’t know what permaculture was until I got here; well, other than that the word is often thrown around in the same sentences as ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’. Permaculture is (as far as I’ve grasped, in not very long…), the practice of growing produce that complements one and other and so needn’t be tended to, nor weeded, and can be harvested all year round. Tomatoes grow with asparagus and chervil, courgettes grow with herbs. It means that the produce is more natural, (left to its own devices) and all year round, you can reap from what you sew.
We were lucky enough to be joined by Aafke’s son-in-law Rene who keeps bees outside of his job managing the research and development of a bio-gas company. We enjoyed an evening with Rene and Aafke chatting over beers before, the day after, he did a small presentation to us, Maud, Dagobert, Saar and Saskia about beekeeping.
Bees are incredible! I wasn’t aware of the inner workings of the hive but we go chance to understand them. From the main roles for bees – from queen to burglar and how committed a bee is to its blossom of choice; it was fascinating and another string to add to my bow of unusual knowledge. I’ll spare you the details and write about it another time.
After finding out how much effort goes into creating honey, wax and how invasive the acquisition of Royal jelly is, I see bees differently – and bee products. They are at risk in the UK due to overuse of pesticides and they need protecting. They are fascinating; nature really did think of it all.
Our first workaway was truly unbeatable. Our next experience is now just around the corner but I can tell we had something special here. If we save any pennies on our budget, I really hope we return.