By: Emily Parker - Tulane University
A few weeks have passed since the CIEE overnight event of the semester, where nearly fifty of us boarded a bus to head three hours north to the petite island of Schiermonnikoog. Less than ten kilometres long, home to fewer than 1000 permanent residents and only a handful of cars, Schiermonnikoog was the perfect getaway from busy Amsterdam life.
The weekend began with many of us still slightly groggy on Saturday morning but excited for the trip, obvious by all the chatter on the bus. Tired from my Friday night and blessed by the ability to sleep almost anywhere (planes, trains, automobiles.. you name it; the first a skill quite envied), so I dozed for most of the ride. Awaking a few times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at Holland’s beautiful countryside tulip fields, soon we were ready to pile off the bus and onto the ferry across the sea to Schiermonnikoog.
The ferry took about half an hour and soon we were all being fitted for our bikes for the weekend. In a nearly identical pack of bright yellow bikes, we began our ride to the farmhouse, many of us getting accustomed to back pedals as we rode alongside North Sea. With fresh air, green fields, and the ocean as far as we could see, contentment was felt through the whole group as we pedaled along the coast of Schiermonnikoog.
Settling into the farmhouse, games of kickball and frisbee began in restless anticipation for dinner. The soon site of hot food plates being delivered out of the only car I saw all weekend (what service!) was a delight, and soon we were all delving into some pasta in a very crowded but cozy room. Enjoying dinner, drinks, and good company for an hour, it was next time for the pub quiz! With Jonathan as our host, teams formed around dinner tables as questions from pop culture to Dutch history to CIEE staff abounded. A few beers and nine rounds later, only one team took the prize but all of us left with some learned Dutch facts and a bit of leverage on a few of our lovely staff ;)
The next morning began with an early wake up call, ready for a day full of bike tours, mudfalt walking, and exploring the island. Breakfast was as expected, and as I looked around at us all content with our meals of bread, cheese and salami I couldn’t help but think back to those few orientation mornings way back when (time really flies). The group split into two, with half of us having a morning bike tour and the other having some free time for the morning. For a few hours we biked the island of Schiermonnikoog following our guide, a native and long time resident to the Friesland province. First stop began in town for a short history lesson on Schiermonnikoog, as we learned about the German occupation of the island, the Dutch reclaiming it, and the difficulties of having a land mass so low in elevation surrounded by sea (the Dutch have long since had this figured out though, no sweat). With Schiermonnikoog being such a small island, we were able to see nearly every aspect of it from shore to shore. Riding through the fields, along the coast, amidst man-made forests, and ending with a pretty spectacular view of the North Sea, our guide filled us in the whole way through on the amazing range of wildlife that inhabits Schiermonnikoog.
Soon it was time for our mudflat activity, where half of the group got to walk out on the ocean floor with another hilarious guide in tow. The mudflats of Schiermonnikoog remain to be some of the most fertile land in the world, and are alive with a diversity of meals fit for the assortment of the birds of Schiermonnikoog. Surrounded by nothing but mud, sea, and wind, we trudged through the plains, often sinking in enough for screeches of fear. Being out on the mudflats made the diversity of the island all the more obvious.. we had just spent a day seeing everything from dune valleys, salt marshes, forests, to our present site. It’s no wonder the Dutch made the whole island a National Park and protected natural reserve.
That night we had enough BBQ food to feed an army, and with everyone relieved that the rain seemed to be holding off we all headed as a big pack for a bonfire on the beach. Equipped with drinks, snacks, and the makings for STROOPWAFFEL SMORES (what what), we all happily enjoyed a setting sun and hot fire for hours. Surrounded by good company, full bellies, and the whole beach to ourselves, life was grand! After burning our last wood pallet, many of us were enthused to bring the party to Tox Bar, one of the only two nightlife establishments on the island. Accompanied by our lovely CIEE staff, still smelling like bonfire, we piled onto the Tox dance floor, a much livelier place than expected for an island of 950 residents. Gettin’ jiggy with it for hours passed with great fun and enthusiasm, and the weekend began to near it’s end. The next day we would be back on a bus heading home, but all very full with the joys of our group getaway. Many thanks to the CIEE staff for organizing such a great trip!