ERMELO, Gelderland, Netherlands – In a way, where you’re from depends on who you’re asking.
To some people, I’m merely from Europe. To others, who either take a better look at the map or oppose too much European integration, I’m from the Netherlands. And to people in the Netherlands, I’m from Ermelo. And when someone doesn’t know Ermelo, which happens from time to time, I tell them I’m from Harderwijk, where my school is.
Ermelo is a small town in the middle of the Netherlands. It has the quiet coziness of a small town, but at the same time, you’re never far away from bustling places like Utrecht and Amsterdam, thanks to the town’s railway station, with two tracks that can take you almost anywhere.
Ermelo is surrounded by woods. Now, don’t imagine dark and impenetrable forests, untrodden by humans. The Netherlands are way too small for that sort of thing.
We have a lot of people living on a really small piece of land, and sometimes it seems like they’re trying to build on one square millimeter.
Considering that, the woods we have in Ermelo are rather impressive. There are trails everywhere, so it’s used a lot for recreation. People ride mountain bikes, go horseback riding or walk their dogs.
During the summer months, Ermelo is packed with tourists, mainly from other parts of the Netherlands and Germany, who come to enjoy the woods and heathlands as well as everything this region has to offer. Ermelo really is a lively place then, with an evening market every week and terribly long lines at the supermarkets.
However, once cold and rain start to creep into the air again, it becomes much quieter.
When you see the local ice cream salon that in summer was so crowded you weren’t very likely to find a seat, completely abandoned, you know fall has started.
Even then, Ermelo is by no means a sleepy town, though. There are clubs, churches, gyms, a small theater and stores of most important chains.
You could probably live your life without hardly ever leaving Ermelo, if you wanted to.
Harderwijk, where I go to school, is very different from Ermelo, even though both towns are practically adjoining.
Harderwijk is much bigger and truly breaths history, with its medieval buildings and quaint little streets. It also has a small harbor.
Besides the usual ships, Harderwijk’s habor is also home to a couple of ‘woonboten.’ These rectangular-shaped boats are not for sailing; they’re like floating houses that people live in.
The town is at what used to be a sea, but thanks to a long dike – our national specialty – it’s been a fresh water lake since the early 1930s.
Nonetheless, Harderwijk still has the atmosphere of a town at sea. Sometimes I’d swear I can recognize the salty smell of the sea in the often harsh winds.
Something that adds to this ‘sea-feeling’ is the sound of dolphins that you occasionally hear, though these dolphins aren’t exactly in their natural environment. They belong to the Dolfinarium, the only dolphin park in the Netherlands.
The dolphins are probably the number one reason why most people in the Netherlands know Harderwijk.
When I think of my country, I automatically think of these two towns. To me, they represent where I come from, even though I only moved to this part of the country when I was 10 years old.
There are days when I hate the gloomy weather and pledge, along with the rest of the country, that I will move to a warmer place as soon as I can.
But there are also these moments when I feel a jolt of happiness, just by walking down a street in one of these towns and enjoying everything that’s happening.
There’s certainly nothing of the excitement of New York or the elegance of Paris here. Frankly, it isn’t that special, but I guess that’s part of the charm.
Both towns have a certain atmosphere that makes me happy.
I feel at home here.
Caroline Nelissen is a Reporter and Senior Photographer for Youth Journalism International.