L and me in her front garden.

Allan had the foresight to tuck his copy of Mennonite Your Way, a directory of Mennonites around the world willing to host travellers (essentially, “couchsurfing for Mennonites”), into one of the suitcases he took with him to London. We used it once last December for a very economical trip to Paris, staying with a lovely couple outside of the city, and since it had worked out so well we decided to try our luck again in the Netherlands, especially since hotels in Amsterdam, like Paris, are quite pricey.

That was how I got in touch with L and we Mennonited our way to Amsterdam. From the moment we arrived at her doorstep, we knew we were staying with someone special. L is 81, lives independently (with children within easy commuting distance), and is what we should all aspire to be as seniors. She still rides her bike everywhere – to church, to doctor’s appointments, and to get her groceries, which she puts in her bike’s saddlebags. Just a few weeks ago she went on a week-long hiking trip which she does every year with the same posse of seniors. “We used walk 19 km every day,” she told us. “By now since we are older we can only do maybe 17 or 15 km a day.” She also gardens, quilts, does exercises with free weights and reads the newspaper daily. Up until a few months ago she was taking computer and photography classes.

Every morning L squeezed us fresh orange juice and served us, among other things, the ingenious Dutch hagelslag – basically chocolate sprinkles for bread (I am just lukewarm for Nutella but sprinkles, whoa. Amazing. And it was perfect timing – Allan and I were just reminiscing about how much we love Tim Horton’s Hawaiian doughnuts). She made us countless cups of tea and there were always biscuits nearby. She had hot homemade tomato soup for us when we arrived home one chilly and drizzly evening, and strawberries with whipped cream the next.

L reminds me so much of Allan’s grandmothers. She is generous, warm, funny, wise, hospitable (but not over-bearing), sharp as a tack and full of energy. We didn’t know L when we arrived in Holland but it didn’t feel awkward to stay in a stranger’s home at all. In fact, it made our trip even better, like how staying with friends when you’re travelling always makes your journey more special (even if it’s an extra effort to get into the city) because half of your warm memories are from the hospitality and conversation and getting to know a place through the eyes of a local. Some of my favourite memories of our trip are sitting at L’s kitchen table in the evenings as the sun went down, listening to stories about her life and telling her stories from our own.

We have really great memories of Amsterdam and we brought a bunch of goodies home with us to extend our enjoyment of Holland, including: a few boxes of the aforementioned hagelslag (I may or may not be eating small palmfuls of them as a study snack); a fat wheel of Gouda-like farmer’s cheese sealed in wax; Dutch process cocoa (or what I think is Dutch process; the box says it was made in Germany, hmm); a sleeve of tender stroopwafel caramel sandwich biscuits; and almond Speculaas, the crisp and spicy cookie that’s usually served alongside a steaming cup of dark coffee in Europe. There’s more to tell you about our trip – the relaxing bike trip we did along the lush canals and through the farms of L’s hometown, the delicious Indonesian food we ate (“the only good part of colonialism,” Allan says) – but I think you get a sense of our trip. Also, I haven’t posted a same-day photo for a week now. Tomorrow we’re planning on going to Street Feast, a night food market in London, so hopefully I’ll be back with some “real-time” photos!