(un)conventional(y) Dutch

26Feb10

Originally written on February 26, 2010

In mid January I got invited to come to Amsterdam. At first I was hesitant to go, but since the offer was very tempting, I couldn’t say no to it. Right around the same time, I got laid off from work, and any idea of going away wasn’t really on my mind anymore. After receiving some advices, I decided not to cancel my trip to the Netherlands. Moreover, I got a promise that once I’m there, everything will be taken care of so that I’m distracted from all the problems and worries which have occupied my mind. This promise was kept, and I had nothing but lovely and relaxing time with my family and friends.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

I won’t say much about Amsterdam. Many of you have been there, and I’ve written about it years ago as well. It truly is a unique place and perhaps the only city where you’ll find the oldest city church (Oude Kerk) adjacent to a kindergarten, a brothel and the Prostitution Information Centre!

Belle The Statue - Respect Sex Workers All Around the World

For days, I didn’t do anything – I slept, ate, watched movies, played with my little cousin and socialized. My friends took me around the town on their scooters which gave me a completely different view of the city. Mind you, I didn’t dare even to bike over there; the traffic especially at the intersections looked too violent for me. Anyhow, there was something magical and tranquil about the city once the snow fell. It gave a completely different appearance and charm to it which I enjoyed only for a brief moment. The freezing temperatures made my legs stiff, and I thought my nose and ears would fall off from zooming through Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Under Snow, the Netherlands

This was also an opportunity for me to get to know Dutch from a very different perspective. What I’m about to describe is a collection of traits seen amongst people that surrounded me at one point during my holidays. It is by no means conventional description. Despite the belief that many Dutch people feel more comfortable speaking English than their mother tongue, Dutch are very proud of their country, it goes beyond cheering for their soccer team and wearing orange clothing. During my stay, I’ve learned that windmills, gas torch, stroopwafel (waffle sandwich with caramel) and many others were Dutch inventions. That the first industrial area in the world was in Zaanse Schans and it consisted of more than 1100 windmills. Today only several of those remain. Walking amongst these windmills definitely brings one back to the 17th century when things were much simpler than today.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans, the Netherlands

Dutch is also a gracious host, a coffee lover, a voyeur, an exhibionist and a professional who would take a shot of G after work in order to relax instead of having an alcoholic drink as most people do. He and his wife might have children in their teens, but that doesn’t stop them from going to circuit parties at least once a month, or to be regulars every summer in Barcelona and Ibiza. This was the type of Dutch people that I got to know. 🙂
Since I’m still on the topic of drugs, the ‘it’ thing right now is mephedrone – a cheap drug that gives the same sensation as ecstasy. Yet it’s legal because it’s used as a fertilizer for bonsai trees. Perhaps it’s time to considered horticulture as hobby?!? LOL Mephedrone definitely wasn’t a Dutch invention, but the Dutch did bring it to carnival parties in Florianopolis, Brazil this month making it the talk of the island.

Maastricht at Dusk

The second half of my stay was spent travelling around the Netherlands. I was taken to the southern part of the country and the picturesque city of Maastricht, the birth place of EU. We stayed in a two-storey hotel penthouse overlooking the city, and I, as a third guest, had to sneak into the hotel. I didn’t mind it though. The suite was great and the view amazing! Maastricht and surrounding don’t look anything like the rest of the Netherlands due to the strong French and Spanish influence in the past. Leave it to the French to flare it up! hehe… This also might be the most chic Dutch city. There are plenty of shops with funky furniture design, a stunning cathedral that was turned into a bookshop, and more Michelin reviewed restaurants than in any other part of Holland. Being positioned at the foot of Ardenne mountains, one suddenly sees hills instead of the usual flat land by which the Netherlands is known. If you ever happen to be in this part of the world, don’t miss out on visiting Maastricht. It’s absolutely lovely! 🙂

Bookshop within a Church, Maastricht

One morning we hopped into Aachen, Germany for breakfast. Thank God for that because Dutch cuisine isn’t the greatest, or perhaps I’m a bit biased when it comes to German pastries. hehe…

Rathaus (Town Hall) in Aachen, Germany

Over there we visited the most important sites of Charlemagne and the seat of Holy Roman Emperors for over 500 years. The Aachen cathedral from 800 is also one of the main pilgrimage sites in the Western Christendom as it contains four important relics; one of them being Jesus Christ’ loincloth. These relics are exhibited every seven years. Upon the display, the relics are put back into the golden casket, locked, and sealed. The lock is filled with lead so that nobody can open it, and the key of the lock is split into halves. One is kept by the Cathedral and another one by the City Mayor. This procedure has been done for centuries, and it insured that nobody opens the casket before the required time.

The Shrine of St Mary Containing Aachen Relics

The time spent in Maastricht flew by quickly and on the way to Amsterdam, we stopped in the Hague, the political epicenter of the Netherlands and the home of royal family. Our main interest in visiting this town was Escher’s exhibit in a former royal palace. I had no clue who he was, but once I saw his work, he immediately became recognizable to me. This was the guy who was creating optical illusions in his etching and drawings, and without doubt you’ve seen some of this work too. While going through the rooms stunned by Escher’s work, I realised that aside from talent, patience and attention to details, all these worldwide-known artists had to be a bit eccentric as well. Perhaps, that’s the most important trait that distinguishes them for everyone else.

Escher's Work at the Paleis Museum, the Hague

So that’s how my ten days in the Netherlands were. Thanks to the fantastic people I stepped out from the reality for several days and got to appreciate parts of Holland that often are omitted by tourists; yet they might be more beautiful than anything the capital city can offer. My journeys went fine, and the customs surprisingly didn’t give me a difficult time. I guess my passport has finally been stamped enough times not to cause any questioning.
However, no trip can be prefect. That’s why I was seated next to a middle aged ‘businessman’ from London, ON on my way back home. There wasn’t anything unusual about him except his morning breath and the fact that he would steal little bottles of red wine off the food carts. He must have drunk more than 5 bottles of wine making it a total of over a litter. Feeling embarrassed for him, I waited impatiently for the announcement of welcome to Toronto and thanks for flying with KLM, the Royal Dutch Airlines. 🙂

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