The first thing Jasmijn says when we exit Schiphol airport is:
‘Mama, you said it was summer in Holland.’
There is a cold wind boxing our ears, and a drizzle makes the already chilly air feel downright freezing. All I can do is shrug. Welcome to the Netherlands. Yes, it’s July.
We spend the afternoon huddled in front of the fireplace, nursing cups of hot cocoa. Outside it’s fifteen degrees, with raging wind, branches flogging the windows, and rain coming down in buckets. We don’t venture out until the next afternoon, when the sun cautiously peeks through fluffy clouds.
Whilst we were packing, our Indonesian help did not understand why I was packing long trousers and cardigans. Like Jasmijn, she asked ‘But it is summer there, right?’ I tried to explain the concept of light summer coats, and our lack thereof, but she did not really get it.
Despite the wary sunshine on our second day, I tell Tijm to dress warmly. Remembering the day before, he demands a long-sleeved top. He wore his only long-sleeved T-shirt yesterday, and it is smeared with hagelslag, so I dangle a short-sleeved one in front of him. He objects; his arms will get cold. I show him a jumper, and he stares at me, unbelieving. ‘I cannot wear two things,’ he exclaims. I wonder whether this is the time to tell him we’ll be adding a third layer when, or if, we’ll venture outside.
The sun perseveres, and we have a few hours of fun in the dunes with cousins and all the blown-over trees from yesterday’s storm. Layers get shed, shoes thrown in the sand and just in time for tea the rain starts again. The following week we see a lot of museums.
After a one-week break in balmy Portugal we head back north, to Friesland, where we are treated to a whole week of summer. Real summer. We swim, we sail, fish, we traipse through mud, and get dragged behind boats on a rope. We discard the hastily bought light summer coats – wind and rainproof – and sport our swimsuits most of the time.
At the end of the week I realise the Dutch summer has done it again: The rain is forgotten, and the sun filled days on the lakes are etched in my memory forever.
Back in Singapore’s clammy heat I miss the freshness of northern summers, the crisp air that fills your lungs with energy at every breath that you draw. I miss the sweet, gentle sunshine that you can sit in without burning to a crisp. But I am no fool. I have lived in Northern Europe long enough to know how extremely rare those weeks are.
I pick a shady spot in my garden, suck in the hazy sweltering air, fraught with heavy, murky and mouldy smells, specked with whiffs of tropical flowers. Our European summer was great. And I’m happy to be home.