HollandPosted: May 10, 2011
When in Holland, do as the Dutch. We bought bicycles!!!!! Dutch Bicycles – a pair of Gazelles!!!, including my two main stipulations, a basket and a bell!
Antonio has been reluctant to add bikes to our fray, BUT, it may have been a subtle form of peer group pressure, or perhaps the sunny weather and flatness of the ground. He has relented and I am soooo happy.
The first thing, the very first thing to notice as we cross the border to Holland, are bicycle tracks. The next thing is people using them. Hundreds of kilometers with hundreds of cyclists. If I ever live in Holland, I am going into the bicycle repairs and maintenance business. We thought Germany had a lot of bicycle tracks, but that was nothing on Holland. If Italy was densely populated with the stereotypical little village on the hill, after little village, perched on a hill, Hollands stereotype is certainly bike trail after bike trail. Today on this sunny Easter Monday if the people of Holland are not out on their bike they are a part of a flotilla of boats, all shapes and sizes, motoring gently along the canals of Geithoorn where we sat relaxing with our salmon and prawn lunch. What are the poor people doing today???
The next thing to notice is horses!!!! Almost every available paddock has a horse or more, especially Shetland ponies! Unlike the bicycles, we have not seen anyone riding a horse, but trust me, they are there. After that; flat, flat, flat terrain over green, green, grass fields (populated by horses!) chocolate ploughed fields, blue sky, sunshine, excellent roads. Much in common with Germany only flatter! We are both loving it!Before we left Germany Antonio, as he does, starting chatting to a lovely Dutch artist, Herman. Herman lives in Germany on the border as he finds houses the same style and quality of house is 3 to 4 times as cheap in Germany as in Holland, “and no one knows it“ he says with a happy gleam in his eye. We have a long chat and he becomes our beacon for our Netherlands tour as I would have been traveling blind on knowing what to do.
We are directed on where to find windmills, tulips & Van Gogh paintings (an amazing museum, the Kroller-Muller Museum, (www.kmm.nl) housing 180 drawings and 87 paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, plus 160 sculptures in 5,500 hectares of woodland including kilometers of ………… you guessed it – bicycle paths, with a whopping 1700 white bicycles available for FREE USE!!!) We, or course, had our own bicycles!!!!
Kroller-Muller is just south of the lovely city of Apeldoorne, previous home of the Dutch Royal Family and Palace Het Loo. (www.paleishetloo.nl) Once again, we had the pick of the hotel rooms in Cubby by the Lake of Apeldoorne. During our evening after dinner “passeggiata”, we passed a young chef sitting out the front of his Italian restaurant who greeted us with a Buona Sera. Antonio taken aback wondered how this young man knew he was Italian. It was just a fluke, Gigi greets all the “passeggiatas” that way! Italians love meeting Italians and soon we were sitting down eating after dinner pizza, drinking coffee and sharing photos and horse tales. Gigi and Pia live most of the year in Sardinia on 7 acres with 4 horses, just like us. A friendship was formed over a couple of hours and we will visit them next March, at their home in Sardinia!!! We will, of course, never get home at this rate, BUT that’s another story! It was a lovely evening and we look forward to seeing them again.
The next day we excitedly arrive at Amsterdam airport only to be thwarted in finding a park at the extremely busy airport. Our Cubby is too high for all the standard parking. Not giving up quickly, we continue to look, determined, and uncover the most unbelievable park. As we wait for Elizabeth at arrivals, we can actually see Cubby, just through the glass doors, in some kind of delivery parking area where NO ONE has given us twice a look. We cannot believe our luck.
Its wonderful to see Elizabeth and have family in our midst. We head to her hotel in the heart of Amsterdam and park out the front! That’s our camp for the next two nights.!!
Sightseeing is fun. Elizabeth has been here before and explains two quirks of Dutch architecture to me. One being the predominance in some areas of big windows in houses, always with curtains for a full view of the interior. This was the design of the Calvinist era and proof to all the world you have nothing to hide. Many Dutch still hold with this tradition. The other is the peculiar skinny lean that many of the buildings in the city have. This was due to land tax, skinny to not take up too much land, and leaning as they are actually built out further as the building rises. Extra space in the air did not accrue the tax!!!!!!!
We visit the village of Zaandijk and I am enthralled and delighted by the working windmills. The one we enter is making Peanut oil, crushing the peanuts to paste and pressing the oil from the paste. It is awesome!! The size and the smell of the machinery of cogs and wheels and presses is just FANTASTIC! And we are up close, close enough to reach out and touch if we wanted. The top level provide a door to duck through to arrive on the landing as the amazing wings of the windmill swoop by just past our heads! Occupational health and safety, happily not majorly enforced.
We eat well in Amsterdam, one night sampling the Lonely Planet recommended cuisine of Indonesian due to a large colony in Holland and the second night, traditional Dutch, Elizabeths Herring dish being the best choice of the evening.
Finally we indulge in a morning of Tulips at Keukenhof, Lisse, before sadly, (we will see her again soon), dropping Elizabeth back at the airport (unbelievably we park in the same spot with the same excellent result!) and make our way back to Germany.
We are both a little surprised how much we have loved our time indulging in the stereotypes of Holland; windmills, tulips, dykes and Van Gogh. Certainly the locals have helped to make our stay so enjoyable. Often tall, always friendly, their openness and English is excellent. Who could help but love a race of people whom, no matter how young, old or fancy you are, over many hundreds of years, have favored a push powered, two wheeled mode of transport – surprising to me, probably more of an icon than the windmill, but going hand in hand – Have Bicycle, is Dutch!
Postnote: For those of you who may have wondered, yes the streets of Amsterdam do smell of the wafting smoke of the marijuana cigarettes available for sale in the cafes, and the prostitutes in the Red Light district do stand in full size glass windows touting for business in bras, undies and high heels!! We smelt it and saw them. We thought Amsterdam may have been about sex, drugs and rock and roll but found a whole lot more than that.