Arnhem - A Walk Through Sonsbeek Park to the Open Air Museum


Arnhem- A Walk Through Sonsbeek Park to the Open Air Museum

Alison and I are setting out this morning to walk to some of the top attractions in the city of Arnhem, Holland. Here’s why.

Liberation Tour 2105

Liberation Tour 2015 is winding down with the second of three days of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by forces made up of many Canadians. Yesterday things kicked off with a ceremony at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery where the Prime Minister’s wife, Laureen Harper was a featured speaker. Today’s ceremony is to take place at Holten Canadian War Cemetery and the featured speaker will be none other than the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. From speaking with tour organizer John Cannon, I know that Liberation Tours has arranged for our group to have lunch after the ceremony at the same restaurant the PM and his guests will be dining at.

Sounds like a great opportunity, but guess what – Alison and I are not going. The reason has everything to do with the P.M., but not because we do not like him or disagree with his policies. The reality is that Alison, as a member of the National Energy Board, should not be present at any event where prominent politicians are on display, and there are none more prominent than Stephen Harper. Pipeline opponents seize on even the most innocuous of things to convince themselves that the members of the NEB are not impartial decision makers, but rather stooges for the energy industry which they are decidedly not. So, better safe than sorry – Stevie, we hardly knew ya!

There are worse places to have to spend the day than the small city of Arnhem which like all the Dutch cities we visited on our bike and barge tour in 2014 is clean, safe, walkable and has lots of green space. There is a certain irony to our missing the Holten ceremony in that we get a chance to visit the most famous WWII site in Arnhem which the others do not. The 70th Anniversary liberation ceremonies commemorate the final victory of the Allies in Holland in the spring of 1945, but that was not the first attempt to take Arnhem. In the fall of 1944 Operation Market Garden was launched, largely at the insistence of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. It was an attempt to end the war early by making a major thrust through northern Holland and then into Germany. Montgomery, the victor at El Alamein, was usually right in his military thinking, but he really blew it with Market Garden.

The plan was to use a substantial number of paratroopers to land behind enemy lines and secure vital bridges. If that sounds familiar it is – the very first WWII site we visited on this trip was Pegasus Bridge where on D-Day British paratroopers and gliders landed behind enemy lines and carried out a near flawless operation to capture a bridge that became known as Pegasus because that was the symbol of the paratroopers. Here is their symbol on a plaque commemorating the death of Lieutenant Den Brotheridge, the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day.

Pegasus Symbol
Pegasus Symbol

To make a long story short, Market Garden was a disaster with almost 2,000 killed and, somewhat incredibly at this stage of the war, almost 7,000 captured. As I make my way through the deserted streets of Arnhem long before most people are up and about, I see the Pegasus sign once more.

A Bridge Too Far, Arnhem

Pegasus Redux
Pegasus Redux

The sign is in a small park commemorating the losses the British airborne took in trying to capture this bridge. Recognize it? It is the infamous Bridge Too Far made famous by the movie of that name.  It has a cast that was a who’s who of British acting royalty at the time, including Sean Connery who went from being Private Flannery in The Longest Day to Major General Urquhart in this one. Not a bad promotional rise for just over two months.

The Bridge too Far in Arnhem, Holland
A Bridge Too Far

Returning to the hotel to pick up Alison I pass through the old Arnhem city gate

Old city gate to Arnhem
Arnhem city gate

and come across a giant, dead animal. It reminds me of road kill armadillos you see all over the U.S. south, but on closer inspection it’s an aardvark. Sometimes you have to wonder if there is any rhyme or reason to public art, but on reflection it’s pretty funny. I’m just glad my taxpayer dollars didn’t come into play.

Arnhem and the dead Aardvark
The dead Aardvark

Arnhem is home to one of the most popular attractions in Holland, particularly amongst the Dutch – The Netherlands Open Air Museum, whose motto is Experience Holland in a single day. The museum is just on the outskirts of Arnhem and contains a collection of dozens of historic buildings from all parts of the country. The museum was founded way back in 1912 to preserve a way of life that was rapidly disappearing in the face of increasing industrialization and urbanization. It is the sixth most popular tourist attraction in Holland and Alison and I are about to find out why.

Looking at the city map I can see a green corridor that goes almost from the hotel to the museum so we decide to walk the approximately two miles to the museum (I’ll leave out the part where we made a wrong turn and made it into a three mile walk). The route goes through lovely Sonsbeek Park which is traversed by a series of canopied lane-ways that make it easy to ignore the up and down contours of the park.

Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem, Holland
Sonsbeek Park

Aside from the greenery, Sonsbeek also has fields where cows munch contentedly, ignoring the fact they are in the middle of a city and the mandatory swans swimming in ponds throughout. It also has this pristine white manor with accompanying Jessica Rabbitlike sculpture.

 Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem
Alison in Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem

If we had confined ourselves just to Sonsbeek Park I would have considered it a successful outing, but after our slight detour we arrived at the gates of the Netherlands Open Air Museum. We paid our admission of 16 euros and stepped back in time about a hundred years. The museum is laid out in a manner that you can walk it in a circular pattern stopping into any of the many historic buildings and gardens along the way, but before doing that we boarded the tram that circles the park and got a preview of what there was to see. Unlike many for-profit amusement parks, this place doesn’t nickel and dime you with other fees. Once you pay the very reasonable admission fee the only other cost is food and drink. You could easily spend an entire day here by visiting the interior of every building, but I suspect most people would be content with two to three hours. Here are some of the highlights.

This is a pyramid house very similar to those we saw on our bike and barge tour in 2014 in central Holland. They combine a thatched roof with tiles to create this unique and eye pleasing design.

Pyramid House, Open Air Museum, Arnhem, Holland
Pyramid House, Open Air Museum

Here is an entire farm complex transplanted to Arnhem from elsewhere and still fully operational.

Dutch farm, Open Air Museum
Dutch farm, Open Air Museum

This is a collection of buildings with traditional Flemish style architecture of brick and wood.

Across the water, Open Air Museum, Arnhem, Holland
Across the water, Open Air Museum

And of course you can’t be in Holland unless there are windmills.

Windmills at the Arnhem Open Air Museum
Arnhem Open Air Museum

All the walking and gawking had made us peckish so we stopped into an old-fashioned poffertjes shop on site. These are tiny Dutch pancakes with an unpronounceable name and absolutely delicious taste. Nothing like Dutch beer and poffertjes to cap off a visit. We couldn’t help but notice all the young Dutch families that were enjoying the museum – there’s something that is just plain wholesome about this place and I now know why it is so popular. If I was a Dutchman I’d take my kids here for sure.

We made our way back to the hotel via another part of Sonsbeek Park, stopping along the way at Brasserie de Boerderij for another beer on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace. It has a great location in the park right on a small lake where a small boy was doing everything he could to fall in from a protruding dock, while his parents blithely ignored him. Fortunately he didn’t succeed.

We arrived back at the hotel just as the rest of the group was getting off the bus from the Holten excursion. My sister Anne had the look of the cat that swallowed the canary and rushed up to us saying” Picture of the trip!” and she held out her iPad which had this photo. As mentioned the Prime Minister’s party was dining in the same restaurant as the Liberation Tour 2015 and the rest is history.

Anne and friend
Anne and friend

Tomorrow is the last day the tour will be visiting a WWII site before moving on to Amsterdam. It was nice to have a respite, but I’m looking forward to the ceremonies at Wageningen. Won’t you join us?