Searching for Family Roots in Den Haag

Den Haag, Netherlands
Just the two of us again…

It was sad to wave goodbye to our friends Karen and Steve after spending a fantastic 2 months traveling with them. We had planned the adventure for a year prior and it was awesome to see it come together. But sadly some adventurers take different turns and it was our turn to continue on while they went home to Canada.

Den Haag, Netherlands
The Stay OKay International Youth Hostel

We had 5 days left of travel on our Eurail train passes, we now had time to do some family root searching. I wanted to see the street in Holland where my Dad’s family is from and get a better feel for the Dutch culture by experiencing other cities then just the Red Lights of Amsterdam. We boarded a train from Amsterdam straight to Den Haag and found an International Youth Hostel called StayOkay. I didn’t expect much as the other “International Youth Hostel” we stayed in Belfast wasn’t that great.

So it was a great surprise when we got our private room for a wicked price, and it was a massive sized bedroom with private ensuite and even a balcony! The breakfast the next morning was decent with fresh juices, toast and cereals. The best part was the Dutch addition of three different types of tempting sprinkles to choose from to put on your toast: dark chocolate flakes, milk chocolate sprinkles or strawberry vanilla flakes. I remember receiving these types of sprinkles from my Oma when I was a kid. It was perfect!

Den Haag, Netherlands

We only had plans to see my family’s hometown, Wassenaar, a suburb of Den Haag for just a day. Finding our way to the main bus station with tickets in hand, a photo of the city map on our camera and only a street address from 50 years ago to work on, we hopped onto to the only bus that said Wassenaar. As we left the city into more of the suburbs, we didn’t know exactly where we were going. The address didn’t pull up on Google maps or on my iPhone. We were just talking about how to find this street when I saw a sign blur past. It took me a moment to realize, but I told Dee,

“That’s the street we just passed!”
Dee, with a doubting frown on her face said “No it’s not. I didn’t see anything. You probably got it mixed up”
It’s true, the street we were looking for was called ZIJLLAAN, and we passed other streets like ZIKNMNOP and such.

Wassenaar, Netherlands

But no, I was certain I saw it correctly. I jumped up and pressed the stop button for the bus, and a minute later it pulled to the curb. Dee sighed as she got off and it took some convincing to let her let me lead the way, as it’s usually her that is directing the way to go. But I was on a mission, even if my soldiers were looking to frag me I had to go on.

Wassenaar, Netherlands

We had been walking for about 10 minutes, when Dee was saying “This isn’t the way, let’s turn back now.” It was at that moment we walked over a bridge and a story I had once heard came back to me. My dad remembers learning to skate on the river in the back yard that would freeze every year. His sister used to bug him that it wasn’t anything more than a small creek. So standing on this nice looking canal, I knew we were close. And walking up to the next street it was ZIJLLAAN!

Walking up to the address we had, I wanted to see if we could go in their back yard or something.. I didn’t know if we would just be viewed as creepy Canadian mass murderers and dispatched with a wooden shoe or invited in for a tea. As we stood in front contemplating one of their neighbors walked out. I quickly explained our story and he reminded us we came 5000 km’s and should just get on with it.

Wassenaar, Netherlands

Knocking on the door an elderly lady came into view and eyed us up. Once again I explained that our family was from here and we believe this was the house my grandparents moved from, but doubt was staring me back with her eyes. She asked me “When did they move?”
I was put on the spot, because I wasn’t really sure. “Sometime in the 50’s I believe” and quickly she replied, “I’ve been living here since 44. Sorry, don’t know any Vanderlee’s.”
I quickly said I was sorry to bother her, and said “Thanks for your time”. It didn’t really matter if this was the exact house or not, I could have had the wrong address and she may have thought we were crazy canucks trying to sell beaver coats or something. But the actual house doesn’t matter, it’s more of the area to go and see. So I took photos of the streets, canal and schools and we went a short walk into town to get some food and explore.

Wassenaar, Netherlands

The town of Wassenaar is how I imagined a typical little dutch town to be. Two main roads, only for pedestrians, with delicious bakeries, markets and shops. Finding a coffee shop we grabbed some delicious roast beef sandwhiches and coffee while filling out a couple postcards. We then decided it was far too much of a walk to the beach (about 2 KM’s of sand dunes to negotiate with) and went to see the wooden windmill.

It was a great day of visiting the area where the Dutch side of my family comes from! The only thing that was missing was a plate full of Bitter Ballen for lunch. (but we did find some for dinner at a restaurant near our hostel!)

Wassenaar, Netherlands

Check out the rest of our pics from Wassenaar and Den Haag, including the MC Escher Museum at our flickr album by clicking here or on a thumbnail below:

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