Of Canals and Bikes…

August in Europe is overwhelming with hordes of tourists overrunning cities, while the locals themselves holiday somewhere else. So while Paris left me quite cold (quite literally at times), Holland with its quintessential European cobblestone streets, museums and churches and pretty flowers decorating window-sills left me wanting more. That it was sunny all through my stay (which it usually isn’t) was the cherry on the cake! This is not to say that Holland had any less number of tourists, but that despite the crush it was just as impressive.

I started writing with the idea of having a chronological narrative of my stay, as I usually have in the past, but my brain shut down and wouldn’t think of anything past the first paragraph (I will flatter myself and call it my writer’s block).  SO, I decided instead to list 5 reasons why I thought Holland was so amazing !

Fine Print: Having spent most time in Amsterdam, it is only fit that I spend most of my virtual ink on this city and that my perceptions are coloured by my experience of this city.

Here are the top 5 things I loved about the country.

1. Bikes: One of my lasting impressions of Amsterdam is its bikes. In the four days I was there, I saw more bikes on the road than cars, come rain or shine, with just about every kind of person riding them: men in business suits, women with their children stowed away in baskets attached to their bike, and a group of chatting revelers heading to a nightclub a little before midnight among a few. I also realized that it may just be possible to catch 40 winks on a bike- for a child!

2.Wining and Dining: I don’t know why it took me so long to  put my finger on it, but I realized that a lot of holiday experience is as much about food as about the ‘sightseeing’. Some of my best vacations have involved happy food memories and the bad ones have definitely been salvaged some by good food and drinks. So it is with somewhat surprise and dismay that I find that I have no pictures of the glorious manna like food I ate over the course of my travel across Europe! Of course, I hope to rectify this omission when I travel next.

Holland isn’t exactly known for its culinary delights like Italy or France, but I had some great stuff here! Here are my favourites:

  • Surinamese and Indonesian Cuisine: It’s very interesting that the cuisines of the former Dutch colonies have now become a part of the city-Indonesian and Surinamese being hot (no pun intended) favourites. ‘Hot’ reminds me of what the hostess said when we ordered our food in a Surinamese restaurant: “yes, the food is hotter than Indian hot”. And sure enough, I was sniffing into napkins and downing glasses of water  all through my meal! But, the food and especially the rice plates, was awesome: Like Indian thalis, but not quite! Ah, just what you need in Pardes– a tantalizing hint of your country.
  • Stroopwafels and Poffertjes: Dutch waffles and pancakes with lots of sugar and a dollop of butter. Does it get any better?
  • Hoegaarden: Ok so granted that this is not a Dutch, but a Belgian brand. But this is where I was introduced to witbier (white beer) and particularly Hoegaarden and it’s remained my favourite. Not for me the Triple Karmeliets or Rocheforts!  I did find Hoegaarden in the US but it isn’t the same sadly, and so I’ll go back to my Budlight. Oh no, I’m not a beer snob nor do I have any pretensions to it.
  • Frites: Can anyone not be a fan of fries?! But Holland does it even better and takes it to the next level by adding a delicious dip of mayo, ketchup or curry sauce with chopped onions. I could definitely make a meal out of it!

3. Canals: There isn’t much that has not been written about Holland- from its red light district, Anne Frank, Van Gogh to its canals. So I’m pretty sure that whatever I say isn’t going to be new and I won’t be exactly imparting pearls of wisdom here.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

4. Dutch Museums: I wonder if the Dutch simply do their museums better than anyone else. Or maybe they don’t have an overkill of exhibits which numb your brain after a while from the information overload. Either way, I found that I took away as much from my visit to a couple of Dutch museums-Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, as my visits to all the other museums so far!

5. Dutch kerks: Where can you expect to find a little café in a church? Where do you find models of ships-a gift from the shipbuilders Guild-in a church? Where else can you see a portion of the church called Dog Whipper’s Chapel ( dog-whippers were entrusted with driving away dogs from the chapel and maintain order in the church)? Church in the middle of the red light district? Well, only in Holland! The icing on the cake? The organ in the Grote of St Bavo’s, Haarlem which was played by Mozart and Handel!

Special mention- Graffiti Art: This isn’t solely Dutch and so I did not include it in the list. However, I love graffiti in Europe. Coming from a country where the only form of artwork on walls is advertisements for everything from cure for sterility to getting rid of the ‘other’ woman by some good ol’ totem magic,  graffiti art to me is the most sublime expression of an everyday individual’s art!