A country never on my list

The Netherlands was one country I never wanted to visit. Although I was fascinated with tulips as a child, somewhere along the way, I lost all interest in anything Dutch.  For a person who lives by “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”, my lack of desire to visit the Netherlands says a lot.
But then a few years ago, fate brought me to Holland for the first time. And I mean to most of Holland, not just Amsterdam. A Dutch man stole my heart and the rest is history.

We all have this image of tulips, cannabis, canals, cheese and bicycles when it comes to this below the sea level land, but actually exploring its sombre beauty has made the Netherlands grow on me. On a sunny day, I might even say I could love this country; until the reality of the cloudy skies kicks in 🙂

It started with the bicycles. While people bicycle all over the world, it’s difficult to describe the relationship between people and bicycles in Holland. It seems like the bike is an extension of the person and that most destinations in this small country could easily be reached by bicycle.  In the morning, there are hundreds of children riding together to school, rain or shine. On a day when most people would jump in their car due to rainfall, kids of all ages are seen happily peddaling through the puddles even if drenched to their bones. Dutch people make cycling look so smooth, as if they are gliding in the wind. Hands free, texting, drinking, carrying other bicycles with one hand, grocery shopping, car repairs, the mail delivery,  everything in Holland can be and is done on a bike. This makes driving look a tad scary to a North American not used to having to constantly check for bicycles.

When it comes to flowers, I now completely understand why the Dutch are world famous for their gardening capabilities. It feels as though people spend half their lives in the garden,  constantly ensuring their flower arrangements and lawns look like a picture on a magazine cover. Certainly homes in Holland are all about visual aspect rather than functionality. While visually appealing, as someone who loves to cook, it saddens me to see so few gardens filled with herbs, fruit trees or vegetables. This might be a reason why most of the local cuisine is unimpressive as it lacks in fresh and bold flavours, except for the Indonesian and Surinami influences which add a great nuance to Dutch cuisine. The street food however is delightful. Fried fish (Lekkerbek, Kibbeling, Heilbot), nieuwe haring with freshly cut onions and pickles, Flemish fries, fragrant stroopwaffels with melting caramel, dusted sugar pofertjes and fresh cheese are always a treat. The markets around Holland display an array of these local products and many more. I love the life around markets all over the world; it’s a place where one can always feel like a local, even if just for a few moments in time.

What I really love to do in Holland is to stroll through the flower covered bridges of places like Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Depite the smell of marijuana in Amsterdam, the city’s narrow streets and bridges are very charming. I fell in love with the Jordan area which has a vibe of its own especially on market day at the organic Noordermarkt. The myriad of canals makes it possible to escape daily life while gliding on water on small or large boats. And while the Dutch language can be a challenge, almost everyone in Holland speaks English, from the countryside to the city and everywhere in between. Although very direct and blunt, Dutch people are quite open to new ideas and understanding new cultures. I felt happy when I saw the influence of my cooking on the neighbours’ gardens who had started planting herbs and using them with new recipes we shared.

While living in Scheveningen for three months, we enjoyed lovely sea views from our balcony, lively strolls through the marina filled with restaurants and long walks on the beach. Once the summer season is over, the large beaches are empty and private sunsets are breathtaking. There were evenings when my daughter and I were the only ones playing on the beach and marvelling at the indigo jellyfish washed ashore.

Unlike some other countries I have visited, I felt that in Holland it took locals a longer time to open up, but once they did, they were quite warm and welcoming. I can’t stress enough the importance of seeing a new country with someone who already lives there. The best moments of all my travels have been shared with locals who enhance the charm of a country. And so I am thankful for worldwide friendships built for life and for departures with warmth filled good-byes.

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