Category Archives: The Netherlands

We saw, we rode bikes, we sang Ginuwine’s “Pony”

To counterbalance all of the snacking in the Netherlands, beer drinking in Germany, and eating of very large pastries, we decided to not be huge fatties and do something healthy.

At Neil’s delightful suggestion, we took a short train ride and then a decently long bus ride to De Hoge Veluwe.

Neil was prepared for any occasion — with baby food.

Neil and his sauce

Neil and his sauce

It is apparently “world famous” which means “Just famous in Holland” for its 1700 white bicycles. Bike rental is included in your entry ticket and they are cruisers where you break by pedaling backwards. Like straight up child bike styles.

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The bikes were hilarious to ride.

1.)    Most of them had child carriers on the back. Which was particularly hilarious given my company.

Neil chillaxing

Neil chillaxing

Dave constantly making sense of maps in languages he does not speak

Dave constantly making sense of maps in languages he does not speak

2.)    They were VERY uncomfortable seats. VERY. We sometimes had to ride standing up a bit just to give our… errr… undercarriages a break.

VERY NECESSARY UNDER CARRIAGE BREAK FOR THE MENFOLK

VERY NECESSARY UNDER CARRIAGE BREAK FOR THE MENFOLK

3.)    They were cruisers and the Netherlands is incredibly flat so you could go really fast. And then make the mistake I did which was yell, “WWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” and then swallow a bug and cough for a while.

COUGHING FROM BUG SWALLOWING / ARTSY MIDDLE SCHOOL PHOTO BREAK

COUGHING FROM BUG SWALLOWING / ARTSY MIDDLE SCHOOL PHOTO BREAK

However, this was maybe the most fun thing we did in the Netherlands, aside from sit on Neil’s couch and sing “Maaad Men, Maaaad Men, Maaaad Men, Maaad men” to the tune of the Mad Men themesong. Neil was an excellent host and pointed us in the right direction often, but this felt very fun, very not tourist hustle and bustle.

We spent the whole afternoon biking around, enjoying the sun, and trying not to swallow more bugs. Then we came home and cooked a healthy dinner and for about five minutes forgot about our unhealthy previous 6 months.

Our chariots (note the child holder whatever)

Our chariots (note the child holder whatever)

Poor Dave suffered a bit during this ride — Neil and I had been particularly cruel about his understanding of pop culture during the 90’s. Dave has suddenly realized that there was some awesome 90’s music that WASN’T stupid pop-punk, ska nonsense that he stuck to as a (gulp) high-schooler. All of a sudden he is super into awesome 90’s R’n’B. As he biked– since we were more or less alone– he would sing Ginuwine’s “Pony” or Salt N Pepa’s “None of your business”.

For reference:

For reference:

For reference:

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YEAH.

The Hague: Behind the Scenes of Dutch Politics

I lived with a Dutch guy, Joost, for a few years in grad school. We parted ways about 8 years ago. I became an international unemployed vagabond and Joost became a city councilman in the Hague and the senior staff member of a mid-sized Dutch political party. I think it’s pretty clear who made the most of their Master’s degree.

I think it's clear which one of these two clowns is going places.

One of TWO Joost’s that I know. True story.

Joost was kind enough to take us on a tour of the Dutch parliament as well as give us a pretty decent walking tour of the city. Due to the variety of international institutions in the Hague (Peace Palace, International Criminal Court etc) the city, allegedly, has one of the largest international communities in all of Europe. I can’t really say that it felt all that international — this is still the Netherlands after all – but it did have a unique feel to it. More sophisticated and business-like than other Dutch cities.

Stay classy, the Hague.

Stay classy, the Hague.

The Peace Palace. One of the Hague's many international institutions that are all doing a fantastic job of ridding our planet of war, hunger, and disease.

The Peace Palace. One of the Hague’s many international institutions that are all doing a fantastic job of ridding our planet of war, hunger, and disease. Keep up the good work, guys!

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It was great to see an old friend and the Hague was a fun place to spend a few hours. I also got to engage in one of my favorite past times – complaining to public officials! (There was a broken ATM at the train station, so I complained to city councilman Joost about it. He promised to get it sorted immediately). Plus, the sun came out for, like, 2 hours and we were able to have a nice drink outside.

On the train ride home, we stopped off for a 20 minute detour in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. That’s not a typo. This stupid town’s name actually begins with an apostrophe followed by a lowercase ‘s’ and then a hyphen.

Look Dutchies. You can't just go around giving towns names that begin with an apostrophe. This isn't Vietnam. THERE ARE RULES.

Look Dutchies. You can’t just go around giving towns names that begin with an apostrophe. This isn’t Vietnam. THERE ARE RULES.

Of course, we stopped here to do more than just mock this stupid place’s stupid name. ‘s-Hertogenbosch is home to Boschballen, a local delicacy. It’s basically just a giant profiterole. In fact, it is just a giant profiterole. Which, of course, means it’s awesome. We hopped off the train, scarfed down a couple of boschballen, and then hopped right back on the train. It was pretty great.

'it 'was 'really 'delicious. ''''''''

‘it ‘was ‘really ‘delicious. ””””

 

Dave REEEAALLLLY loves that herring

 

 

Offered without comment.

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Amsterdam: Let’s be (Anne) Frank

Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands with a population of about a million people. Which is to say, that it’s actually not a very large city at all. Still, it’s a very unique place and well worth a visit. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its endless canals and old rowhouses. In a weird way, I compare it to Las Vegas: It’s really great for 24-48 hours, but you eventually think to yourself “Uh….is there anything else to do here?” And once you have that thought, you are filled with an intense desire to leave immediately. Fortunately, we were only there on a long day trip, which I think is the perfect amount of time. Of course, the weather was Typical Dutch, so it was cold and raining all day and we were ready to get home by the end of it.

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The two things that Amsterdam is sadly most known for are two things that we didn’t do. Of course, the first thing Americans think of when they hear “Amsterdam” is about the city’s liberal drug laws. This is a shame because there’s much more to the city than its “coffeeshops” as they are known. Besides, smoking pot (in public, anyway) is very un-Dutch. The coffeeshops are aimed at tourists and they’re filled with exactly the sort of thrilling people you’d expect who engage in drug tourism. There’s also Amsterdam’s famous red-light district, which we didn’t go to this time (again, full of tourists) but I had walked through (AND THAT’S IT) in the past. It’s an interesting scene for about 5 minutes. Windows full of scantily dressed eastern European women all looking incredibly bored talking on their cell phones. The streets thronged with gawking tourists (male and female alike), though I never saw anyone actually go into any of the brothels. It’s weird and unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but again, after a few minutes you get bored and are ready to move on.

The big touristy thing which we did because Kat insisted on it was visiting the Anne Frank House. Kat read Anne Frank’s diary repeatedly as a child and had always wanted to visit the secret annex. I had little interest in it. As a kid, I’d been inundated with Holocaust education and it somehow just sort of numbed me to all of it.  I have to say, walking through the secret annex was interesting, but I still wasn’t as affected by it as many others there. Some were in tears, while I was thinking “Yeah, it’s pretty small. Must have sucked to be trapped here. I wonder what we’ll do for lunch?”

Something I DO have to give the Dutch credit for, something that I think should be in all cities: The outdoor urinal.

When you gotta go, you gotta go

When you gotta go, you gotta go

In Nijmegen, the urinals elevate out of the ground at night and then go back underground during the day. Amazing!

Kat and I touristed for the day in Amsterdam and then met Neil at a fantastic bar specializing in Dutch beers for a few drinks. We then went to dinner for a Rijstaffel. This is basically the Dutch equivalent of how the English would “go for a curry.” It’s Indonesian food – though having been to Indonesia I can confirm that it’s about as “Indonesian” as American Chinese food is “Chinese.” It made me think of being in Melaka, Malaysia, a former Dutch colony, and seeing all the Dutch architecture and historical sites there.

Ah, the spoils of centuries of colonial exploitation...

Ah, the spoils of centuries of colonial exploitation…

Then it was time for a late train back to Nijmegen to rest and prepare for another cold, rainy day.

Neil and I both developed a nasty cold thanks to the typical Dutch weather.

Neil and I both developed a nasty cold thanks to the typical Dutch weather.

 

The Netherlands — An Introduction (AKA Typical Dutch)

While Kat and I were in Paris with Britt and Erin I kept lamenting about how we’d soon have to leave beautiful, vibrant and delicious Paris and head to the Netherlands. Kat didn’t really understand what I was so upset about. I explained to her that that’s because she had never been to the Netherlands before. I had been last year for nearly two weeks. I explained “The weather is crap, people are rude and the food is terrible.” Kat insisted I was being melodramatic. “Ok, dumdum,” I said, “We’ll see…”

Of course, the whole point of going to the Netherlands was to visit my best friend Neil who has lived there for the past three years. Some of you may remember Neil as the best man at my wedding. Neil lives in Nijmegen which as Holland’s 10th largest city is every bit the thriving, booming metropolis you’d imagine it to be. Still, we were very excited to get to spend some time with Neil and eat, drink and be merry.

Things got off to an amazing start, actually. The day after we arrived, we were able to attend Nijmegen’s craft beer festival. Incredibly, it was warm and the sun was shining the whole day and we had a great time.

Vanilla Ice and Rhythm Nation reunion tour

Vanilla Ice and Rhythm Nation reunion tour

It was the last time we saw the sun in 2 weeks.  The Dutch have a phrase that they use to describe just about everything in their country. You’d ask “So, what’s this restaurant like?” or “What’s this town like?” The answer is invariably “Oh, it’s nice. You know, typical Dutch.” We’ve latched on to that phrase to describe all the things that make the Netherlands and infuriating country. The weather, as I’ve mentioned “Typical Dutch” meaning, gray, cold and windy with a constant threat of rain regardless of time of year. Then there’s the food. The Dutch haven’t really added much to global cuisine. Their national dish is something called stampot which is basically just a pot of boiled vegetables, potatoes and cheap sausage. I will say that they produce some very fine beer and cheese, which is great and all, but that can’t sustain you for every meal. Other foods dutch are known for, which are actually decent:

French Fries covered in mayo. First, get over the mayo thing because it's delicious. Secondly, I know they're just fries, but they're really good. They know what they're doing here.

French Fries covered in mayo. First, get over the mayo thing because it’s delicious. Secondly, I know they’re just fries, but they’re really good. They know what they’re doing here.

Stroowaffel. How to describe this? It's like two thin buttery sweet biscuits with a layer of ooey gooey caramely type stuff inside, made fresh in a press. Delicious.

Stroopwaffel. How to describe this? It’s like two thin buttery sweet biscuits with a layer of ooey gooey caramely type stuff inside, made fresh in a press. Delicious.

Herring. My absolute FAVORITE. Like a mild, oily smoked salmon.

Herring. My absolute FAVORITE. Like a mild, oily smoked salmon.

Kat and Neil don’t like the herring at all, but it is actually a favorite of mine. Of course, eaten the traditional Dutch way – dipped in onions and then held by the tail and dipped into your mouth. There’s not much to do in Nijmegen. It’s a cute, small city. Depending on your point of view, it’s amazingly or terribly located. Nijmegen is all the way in the eastern part of the country, very close to the German border. So within 2 hours you can be in Dusseldorf or Cologne (I went to Dusseldorf during my last visit, so this time we opted for Cologne). You can be in Amsterdam within 90 minutes or within 2-3 hours the other way in Antwerp or Brussels in Belgium. Of course, the Netherlands being such a small country, their ideas of time and distance are rather warped. When I asked my Dutch friend Joost, who lives in the Hague, what he thought of Nijmegen he said “Oh, man. I’ve never been there. That’s far.” It was less than 2 hours on the train.

Which brings me to Dutch people. Bear in mind, I lived with Joost for 2 years and had several other Dutch friends in grad school. I like Dutch people – as long as they’re outside of Holland. What I’m saying here is nothing they wouldn’t say about themselves. First, partially because the country is so small and space is perceived differently, Dutch people are constantly smacking into each other on the street. Never intentionally. They just seem to exist in a constant state of geo-spatial fog. If I had a nickel for every time a Dutch person walked in front of me and the just stopped dead in their tracks, I’d be a wealthy man. Every time Kat or I got elbowed or shoved by a Dutch person, we’d just look at each other and say “Typical Dutch.” It happened so many times we eventually just abbreviated it to “TD.”

Further, the Dutch are quite proud of their no-nonsense, tell it like it is directness. If you are in a group and you take the last cookie, it’d be quite Dutch for someone to say something to you like “Oh, I see you like to eat quite a lot, don’t you?” The Dutch call it being “direct.” The rest of the world would call it being “rude” but to each their own, right? Of course, it’s a world of pitfalls, because it is also quite Dutch to be able to take just about any statement made to them the wrong way. One of my favorite Dutch factoids is quite telling, I think. In the Netherlands, on your birthday it is your responsibility to provide cake for everyone else.

The more I think about it, Japan and the Netherlands are actually quite interesting analogs to each other. Japanese are so polite that it can cause you to become enraged, whereas Dutch as so “direct” as to also cause you rage. Their cultures are both unbelievably insular and homogenous, but whereas Japan prides itself on this fact, the Dutch have an interesting culture of “tolerance” of foreign cultures (though how tolerant they are and have been in practice is something worthy of debate). Finally, whereas Japan is a culture that thrives on convenience – everything automated, convenience stores every 15 feet that supply anything you could ever need – the Netherlands has to be the most inconvenient (first-world) country I have ever been to. Everything closes at 5 pm and nothing is open on Sundays. Nowhere would take my credit card because it was a swipe and not a chip and pin. Last year my friend Neil misplaced his ATM card so went into the bank (only open until 3 pm, of course) to try to make a withdrawal at the counter. He was told that this had better be a real emergency because you can only make an in-person withdrawal once in your lifetime. Trains pull all the way to the end of the platform so the entire train has to walk a quarter of a mile to the exit (or, in the case of a tight connection, sprint a quarter mile down the platform, cross under the tracks, and then sprint a quarter mile down to the end of the other platform because that train has pulled to the opposite end of that platform). In Japan, public restrooms are always available, free, and spotlessly clean. In the Netherlands, no matter where you are, they are dirty AND you have to pay to use them. One thing that is the same between Japan and the Netherlands is that when you ask why things are this way, you get the same answer: Well, that’s just the way it’s always been done.

One thing that’s great about the Netherlands is that you don’t really need to explore the whole country to get a good feel for it. Should you go to Amsterdam? Absolutely. Should you go to Utrecht? It’s just a smaller version Amsterdam, so no. I asked Joost what the Hague is like “It’s a bigger version of Delft,” he said.

Am I being unfair? Perhaps, but something I’ve learned on this trip is that you don’t have to like everywhere you go. You’re allowed to not appreciate aspects of certain cultures and it doesn’t make you a bad person. Believe me, I could write a novel on things about certain aspects of American culture that infuriate and embarrass me.

So, now you know how I really feel about the Netherlands. I just had to get it off my chest. We DID have a great time hanging out with Neil – drinking, eating, burping, goofing off and watching Mad Men. Now we can have a few posts about things in the Netherlands I do like: Amsterdam! Bike riding! And, of course….being able to go to Germany and Belgium.