Monday, April 9, 2012

Netherlands - A Welcome Respite

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Scheveningen,  Photo credit: moscau.de 
Saturday, August 13

Monique and Hugo live in a small house within a mile of the North Sea. After a quick breakfast we went grocery shopping then headed to the beach for a leisurely stroll. The breeze was warm and humid. I took my shoes off and we ambled, mainly catching up with Hugo and getting to know Monique. I admired her tall frame and poise. Mostly it was her ease and friendliness that I found alluring and was delighted that Hugo had found such a wonderful partner. I tried not to be too shocked at the topless sunbathers, but for our Dutch friends it’s normal, so I overlooked the “scenery” (as best I could) and tried to fit in.

Berries with quark.
Photo credit: FitBodies Food
For dinner our friends cooked a fabulous fish entree with salad, potatoes, zucchini, and dessert. I relished the change of cuisine – anything other than one pot pasta meals – and ate too much. I bypassed the dessert glass filled with berries on quark, a soft cheese that resembled yogurt. I’d try it in the morning.

Sunday, August 14

All four of us went by car to Amsterdam for the afternoon. Part of the city was built on reclaimed land, meaning it’s below sea level. A canal is constructed, sectioned off, water is pumped out, and that land is filled with housing and businesses. It seems like odd urban sprawl. But these European countries have a culture that is so old that I cannot help but shake my head in wonder. There is so much to learn.

A common sight in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Flybee.com

We walked and walked - a mode that felt particularly good after too many long days in the saddle. Of course there were bikes everywhere, outnumbering automobiles, and it was something I didn’t marvel at anymore. To be Dutch is to cycle. Hugo and Monique did daily errands with their own bikes. But for now we pleasantly strolled along the canals, with a midafternoon cappuccino and apple torte break at an outdoor cafĂ©.

Hugo, Andy, Monique and I enjoy a cappuccino with apple torte.
As if to confirm the dense urban population, houses are only two rooms wide but many stories high, all connected like brownstones in New York City. Monique pointed out one turret-topped place, a single room’s width. She remembered it from a canal tour. It’s the narrowest home in Amsterdam. Most homes sport functioning hooks and ropes jutting from roof tops. Staircases are too narrow, so this is how occupants hoist furniture up and through large windows.

The narrowest home in Amsterdam is the one with the red door.
Canal boat homes moored in spots. Potted plants and benches adorned decks. It reminded me of houseboat living along the Columbia River in Oregon. But here a few supported makeshift shelters; on one an old man lived, his floating home completely covered with stuff as if he was having a garage sale.

The Red Light district. Photo credit: Hannah Briggs

We headed towards the city’s red light district, a maze of narrow cobblestone alleys. Amsterdam is well known for its prostitutes and drugs. Neon signs advertise sexual favors in four languages. Nederland is also the only European country that legally sells marijuana. It is listed on menus in “coffee houses”. Andy and I gawked and giggled at a window display. There were condoms with flavors, some in the shape of roosters and dolphins, and even a style for soccer fans. And prostitutes provocatively sit in floor to ceiling glass windows in various stages of undress. Vacant windows displayed drawn red curtains. On a Sunday, tourists flock to Amsterdam so we weren’t the only ones taking in the show.

In the evening we took our friends to an Italian dinner in their hometown, Den Haag. Afterward, we all enjoyed the simple life, sipping coffee and chatting in the living room. Hugo and  Monique are not married, but it’s obvious how smitten and comfortable they are with each other. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, I loved the cycling culture when I was there about 15 years ago but I have heard it has become even more dominant since then. The houses are so quaint, they also lean forward to the furniture doesn't hit the building when it is being hoisted up through the windows.

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