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Weekend getaway in time of a pandemic
On the evening of March 13, 2020, when the Dutch government imposed a lock down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were offline enjoying the swimming pool at Hotel Sterrenberg. Our planned activities were cancelled, including a visit to the zoo and museum. Fast forward to July 2020, against wisdom and the government’s advice, we booked a weekend getaway back to Gelderland as a make-up trip. Gelderland is becoming our favourite Dutch province, escaping to the nature of the Veluwe whenever possible. Armed with face masks and two bottles of alcohol gel, we drove to Wolfheze on Thursday morning.
I’d been hesitant to travel. Our Asian trip was cancelled in May and we decided not to fly until 2021, or before a vaccine is approved. We busied ourselves renovating the garden and avoided crowded areas when the pandemic began. But half a year without vacation was tiresome to the soul. We needed a proper break from work.
Murdered tigers at Kröller-Müller, Otterlo
We checked in early at Fletcher Hotel De Buunderkamp in Wolfeze, and quickly ate our packed lunch before heading to Kröller-Müller in Otterlo. We scheduled a 2:30PM visit, hoping that visitors would have already gone home because the museum closes at 5PM.
While I thought that it was nice exposing the kid to Van Gogh at an early age, I went to Kroller Muller this time for two reasons, the exposition called Inopportune: Stage two and the museum’s sculpture park.
Artist Cai Guo-Qiang is famous for his artworks using gun-powder. I wouldn’t have gone to Krolluer Muller for that alone. What intrigued me was his installations of life-size tigers pierced with arrows. I thought it was a good way to teach my child about the devastation of nature and man’s arrogance towards wildlife.
In a big, white hall, nine huge tigers were exhibited, indistinguishable from real ones, some of them hanging in the air, pierced with hundreds of arrows. We could get very close to the tigers and see how panic and agony were reflected on their faces. My kid isn’t using the word “why” yet but she uses the sentence “what does it do?” a lot. She was asking us that the whole time.
I’m not sure how big of an impact it has made on her young mind but out of the blue, she just bursts with remarks like “I’m sad for the tigers, Mama” or “People are mean to tigers, they killed him.” Of course she had heard the last comment from me but I didn’t see the need to sugarcoat the truth.
Although the museum was not as crowded as it normally is, visitors weren’t keeping distance at all. I saw four people wearing masks, and two of them were my husband and I. You would get jittery at this kind of carelessness during a pandemic. After a little more than an hour, we decided to leave and spend the rest of the afternoon at the sculpture garden.
TRAVEL TIP: Don’t skip the sculpture garden at the Kroller Muller museum. Although it’s not huge, one can easily spend a whole afternoon here, and it’s perfect for kids. It’s not all about boring sculptures or weird installations. Artworks like Jardin d’émail, the Ampitheater, and the Needle Tower are especially enjoyable.
A separate ticket to the National Park The Hoge Veluwe is required to visit Kroller Muller museum. Because we were rather lazy, we bought a car pass so we could just drive instead of biking through the park. That sets you back €50 easily but a combined trip to the Kroller Muller museum and The Hoge Veluwe can be an affordable day trip if you bring your own food, and a big blanket for picnicking. You can use the free bicycles located at the entrance of Hoge Veluwe, which actually the best way to go around the park.
Suffocating at Burger’s Zoo, Arnhem
We had an open ticket for the Burger’s Zoo expiring at the end of July. We wanted to use it at a later time but the management refused to extend it. So on the last day of the month, at a vacation period and with such a nice weather (i.e. crowds), we trooped down to Arnhem.
At 10AM the park wasn’t that busy yet. Keeping within the 1.5 distance was still possible, however difficult it was for other people. The kid was very excited, so was the husband. Until her father started telling the kid about snakes, so the daughter only wanted to see the snakes. Not the elephants nor the penguins, neither the giraffes nor the birds, not even the real tiger interested her. Unfortunately there were only two kinds of snakes at the Burger’s Zoo, a python lazily hiding from the spectators, and two rattlesnakes which refused to move because of the heat.
Probably the best part of Burger’s Zoo is the Bush, a mini tropical paradise with ponds, streams and the largest man-made waterfall. But in such an enclosed space, with 32 degrees scorching heat that day, wearing a mask was suffocating. Avoiding people who didn’t keep distance was equally stressful so despite wanting to spend more time here we left quickly. Thankfully, my daughter enjoyed the Ocean very much, where she got to observe the fishes up-close.
We were dead-tired, running out of breath and very nervous after two hours. It was already noon, the crowd was thicker like there was no pandemic ravaging the world, but the worst part was that people didn’t seem to care. Never mind that they didn’t keep distance because that was quite impossible in some areas, but I’m not exaggerating, nobody was wearing a mask. And people were looking weirdly at us for wearing masks, sometimes shaking their heads as if we were doing something hilarious. Technically us wearing masks lessened other people’s risk of getting the virus if we had it, not the other way around but nobody seemed to get that. The selfishness of people knows no bound indeed.
After escaping the horror at the Burger’s Zoo, we headed back to our hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. At least here, the corona virus wouldn’t survive chlorine. And my daughter didn’t have to fight for space.
Dinner at Restaurant Planken Wambuis, Ede
After a rather disappointing dinner at the hotel, we decided to dine out at a roadside restaurant about 5km away.
Despite being with a toddler, our dinner at Planken Wanbuis was very relaxing. The best part was perhaps the scrumptious, melt-in-the-mouth boar chop and calf ossobucco from Eco-Fields organic farm in Wekerom. The worst part was being seated near a sewer pit, with an unpleasant odor wafting every now and then while eating dinner. But it was the nearest to the outdoor playground, and the farthest from other tables so we could eat in peace while the kid exhausted herself in the trampoline, and we needed not worry about keeping within safe distance from the other diners.
Breakfast in bed, morning at the pool, Buunderkamp
To avoid people at the restaurant, we ordered room service for breakfast. Since our suite was facing the forest, we had breakfast with a view every morning, with the sound of the waking birds and passing train.
On our last day we booked for a late check-out so we didn’t have to rush in the morning. A lazy breakfast until 10AM and the rest of the time at the swimming pool, which was very much deserted at lunch time, was a nice way to end our stay at Hotel de Buunderkamp. Otherwise screaming kids and retired seniors love hanging out here.
Thai massage by Lanna, Wolfheze
I was already googling massages in the area when I saw the small road-side sign of Lanna Thai Massage a few kilometres from our hotel. It was probably not the wisest thing to do during a pandemic but my shoulders were painful and I needed a massage. After all a good massage was part of a relaxing weekend break, especially after carrying a 13-kilo toddler all the time.
It was life-changing. Maybe I’m exaggerating but Mon, my masseuse, was so good I was in a different dimension during the whole hour that I was lying on her massage table. She had such strong hands, so I was cracking and creaking at the right places. She spent a particularly longer time massaging my back and shoulders. It was supposed to be an hour but because it wasn’t busy due to Covid-19, I got 15 mins extra.
Travel tip: Gelderland and the Veluwe are ideal for an active vacation like biking, running and trekking in nature. A massage at Thai Lanna is probably the best treat after a week of holiday here.
From siesta to dinner, Hoge Veluwe National Park
We didn’t have much planned for Saturday. At the last minute, we decided to spend the afternoon at the playground in Hoge Veluwe and eat dinner at Park Restaurant in the newly-opened Park Pavillion. Again, we ditched the bikes and went with the car.
TRAVEL TIP: For parents who are tired of running after their offspring, the playground near Park Pavilion is a safe area to sit back while the kids have fun. It’s not very big so you don’t have to worry about losing sight of your child while you enjoy a gin tonic at the restaurant.
Don’t expect culinary masterpieces at Park Restaurant though. The menu is limited, after all you come here for nature. But they were serving deer meat from the herd living in the park itself, so from a sustainable point of view, it couldn’t be any better. I have to admit that the dishes, we had grilled and rendang, were not mind-boggling delicious but they were good and served in decent portions.
We were hoping to see the wild boars and the deer since it was already sunset but we only managed to see a male deer from afar. The park though was splendid in the dusk, bathed in the golden light of the sunset. We drove home happy and satisfied, planning our next family trip already.
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Dheza Aguilar is the Managing Editor of The Filipino Expat Magazine. She was a former Netherlands correspondent for ABS-CBN, and freelance writer for other publications. She works for a supply company in Rotterdam and is eternally juggling passion and career. She also blogs at www.girlfromthebarrio.com.