1. The Renaissance Man still exists.
Greetje is married to one. Ron is a master chef having cooked the four of us homemade paella from scratch. He is a creative genius, he works as modern versions of a Don Draper "the idea guy" from Mad Men. In addition he casually whips up his own contemporary gorgeous light fixtures made from branches of wood he chopped down only moments before, just for fun. He captained his boat filled with four female bloggers up and down the canals of Amsterdam for a full day, his dog Charlie nestled at his feet.
Photo courtesy of Anja from The Curly Traveller
How delightful to meet a man of so many varying talents and interests with such a generous heart.
2. Apple pie is the secret national dish of the Netherlands.
This is not like a traditional North American version of an apple pie as it has more of a cookie crust rather than a pie crust but is equally if not more addictive, especially when served with real whipped cream on the side. All in the name of journalistic integrity and research I test tasted 6 different apple pies while on my trip. I am willing to make these sacrifices in the name of blogging. You can thank me later. Cash is always appreciated.
I became so obsessed about these cakes that upon my return I decided to make my own version…which I will have in an upcoming post. I don't like to brag (okay that is a lie) but I think I might have made the best version of Dutch Apple Cake yet.
3. The sound of silence is golden and it is all around you in the Netherlands.
Due to the lack of automobiles in the centre of the city and the abundance of bicycles powered by people there is no "city vibration" or noise. It is wonderful and strange to walk the streets and only hear people's voices mixed with a few bike bells. I marvelled at the silence in the evenings in Haarlem where I stayed.
I could hear the odd person's footsteps on pavement as they passed by in front of the house, birds and little else.
4. Most shop keepers do not want you taking photos in their shops.
This is a real shame because the interiors of the shops there were gorgeous. Not to mention the displays.
Even if you ask to take a photo and they say yes and then you happily start snapping away only to be bluntly told,
"You said ONE photo. That is more than one."
Which is what happened when I took the photo of the mannequin above for my husband.
Overwhelmingly though I was told I wasn't allowed to take any photos inside the shops. Even if I wanted to buy something for someone and simply wanted to send them a photo to see if they wanted me to buy it or not.
I did run across some truly lovely shop keepers though and they brightened my day.
Also: Be sure to take lots of cash with you. Many of the shops and restaurants do not take credit cards or debit cards unless it is a Maestro debit card.
5. Netherlanders aren't private people.
Well at least in their houses.
Many of the houses have vast tall ceilings and no curtains. They like the natural light in Holland which I must agree is spectacular but the "no curtains bit" takes some getting used to.
One morning while getting out of the shower I glanced out of the window and saw a man cooking breakfast in his kitchen wearing nothing but some tighty whities. I can't complain too much since he wasn't hard on the eyes, but I silently hoped for his sake that he wasn't cooking bacon.
I see some curtains at the very top (for the birds?)…otherwise none.
6. They have fast food vending machine shops.
They carry enormous amounts of food in these old fashioned fast food emporiums that are nothing other than vending machines that dish out rewarmed chemically laden snacks. Croquettes are among the favourites. I thought these might be like a meatball but when you cut into them they look quite liquidy and are filled with a thin stew.
Some croquettes that Anja ordered.
They also like their bread in the Netherlands. It is most often brown and grainy, right up my alley.
7. You can eat like a kid for breakfast.
This is a typical Netherlanders' breakfast.
Pre-toasted round bread that comes in a tin, spread with a bit of butter and then generously covered with chocolate sprinkles…like the ones you use on ice cream or decorate a cake or muffins with.
Although I wonder about the nutrition value ( slightly less than Captain Crunch?) it was pretty tasty.
That Dutch process chocolate that everyone goes on and on about? Yeah…it's really excellent. I should have brought back a whole lot more chocolate bars with me.
8. The Red Light District Wasn't How I Imagined It
It sneaks up on you.
Some towns have one small street like this photo I took of a bordello in the small city of Haarlem.
Or the photo below which I took in Amsterdam.
One minute I'm taking a photo of an amazing massive old church and the next thing I know some almost naked gal magically appears as if from nowhere and yells, "No photos!"
She had snuck out of a little hole-in-the-wall-room from behind me. Clearly the opposite direction of the camera. Also, she was on the same level of the street as myself making it easier for people to walk in and out of her tiny room. And I mean tiny. Just big enough for a bed and wash basin really. No extras.
The ladies weren't high above me dancing or anything like I'd imagined. There were no stripper poles.
They were also all shapes and sizes all of them obviously ridiculously comfortable in their own skin. Most of them looked rather bored with the whole idea.
Some wore hardly any clothes at all. I suppose showing the goods gets more customers.
I think I'd expected it to look more like a dance club for some reason. I don't know why.
Also we were there in the middle of the day. The safest time to go into that neighbourhood. Maybe that is why some of the "ambiance" I expected was missing.
9. The phrase, "Going Dutch" came from the Netherlands
They are apparently a very frugal people. My experience was the opposite. Not only were they willing to generously open their homes and hearts to me… they were overly generous with their wallets as well. This shall not be forgotten ladies ( Greetje, Anja, Sylvia) …and Ron! I owe you all big time. Consider an open invitation to visit me here in Toronto any time.
10. Look out for bikers!
They own the road in the Netherlands. Those little cobblestone and brick streets aren't really for cars…they are for bikers pedalling fast and hard. They sometimes don't pay attention to traffic signs, and are happy to run you over if you get in their way. I saw one guy get run into by a biker that was going too fast. He was lucky since he didn't seem to be too badly hurt. So beware! Look both ways before crossing the street and pay attention to bike bells. They mean business.
Were you ever surprised by something when visiting another country?