Two weeks in the Netherlands

Self Portrait by Serene Wood

We Americans live in something of an isolated country. For most of us, the next country over (usually Mexico or Canada) is days away by car. What we know of the Netherlands (or Holland) and the people who live there is, shall we say, limited to wooden shoes, windmills and tulips. I didn’t even know what those windmills were used for. I think I had some idea they had something to do with draining dikes and maybe some of them did. Most of the old ones are gone.

We did visit a windmill. It was actually used to grind wheat into flour. Well, still is. It’s not too far from where we stayed in Brielle and operated by volunteers. It was originally built around the 15th century but it’s been burned down and been rebuilt  a number of times. Now the flour is sold in small bags to tourists. Ingrid is bringing back a couple of small packages of bread mix she bought there. And, interestingly, there’s one big difference between it and the picture we have of windmills: it’s a variety that’s mounted on a post. A very fat post. They can rotate the windmill so it faces into the wind. On other Dutch windmills, they only rotated the top of the windmill.

Climbing the windmill

Then there are wooden shoes. Do they actually wear those funny shoes? Supposedly, yes, but I have yet to see a pair on someone’s feet. Although, a few days ago my daughter bought a pair of fuzzy pink faux wooden shoe slippers. It’s my understanding that in German, you don’t add all those extra words (e.g. fuzzy pink faux etc) to describe something. Instead, you combine the bits into one giant word. Ingrid got a little crosseyed when I suggested figuring out how to turn ‘fuzzy pink faux wooden shoe slippers’ into a German word.

Tulips actually tell you more about the Dutch than either wooden shoes or windmills. Tulips were a fixation in Holland many centuries ago. So much so that the price kept increasing. People thought, that’s a lot of money but I’ll be able to sell it for more later in the year. So they kept buying and the price kept increasing until the price passed ridiculous. And then the price kept  increasing. I suspect the Dutch (or perhaps those in Paris in a foreshadowing of their need to ridicule us Americans) invented several new variants of ‘ridiculous’ to indicate just how ridiculous the latest ridiculous price was. Finally, the price became such that even a nation of completely obsessed tulip lovers decided they didn’t need those tulips quite so much. And, the tulip market collapsed. The Dutch had invented the bubble. And like the recent bubble in the United States, those still holding the tulips had no way to sell them and no way to pay back the money they had borrowed. Ye olde grande recession!

Apple Blossoms and de Sint Catharijne Kerk

Ingrid’s Father perhaps doesn’t think of the tulip bubble when he says it, but he does say that the Dutch like to be first. It’s the world’s first Republic (yep… we got there later even in our government form does have its own unique firsts). To make it even stranger, the Dutch monarchy was added later. While the House of Orange was instrumental in the creation of the Netherlands in the 16th century, they didn’t become the ruling monarchy until centuries later.

Earlier in the week, they celebrated the Queen’s birthday. Although, it was technically the Queen’s mother’s birthday. The weather is much better this time of year than on her actual birthday (in the middle of winter when, I’m told, the canals actually do freeze and people take time off from work to skate). Although there were celebrations, it bears a strong resemblance to certain holidays in the U.S. with people more interested in being off from work, hanging out (beer or wine?) and shopping. But, there’s one key difference (besides orange being everywhere instead of the American red, white and blue): the shopping focus is garage sales. It’s the only day of the year where you can hold a garage sale without a permit. Well, and garages are almost non-existent so people spread blankets with their old and not so old items. Where we were it translated as the old cobble stone streets in the center of Brielle being covered with blanket. You don’t really drive through most of the center of Brielle under normal conditions. On the Queen’s birthday, it overflowed out of the core up to the neighboring docks. We ended up parking our bikes a quarter of mile down a dock from the bridge over the canal/dock and walking into town.

Sander and de Kabouter van Orange

Another difference that was interesting is the way the Dutch have adapted to having so many people. The large cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam were dense but not like New York City. The skylines are not dominated by skyscrapers   And the public transportation works. We rode bikes around Brielle, took buses in and out of Rotterdam and subways (and our feet) while we were there. Which sounds like some mix of Colorado Springs and either New York or San Francisco. The real difference is how mixed things are. Ingrid’s parents live in a three story apartment. Across the street is a working farm. Around the corner are green houses and businesses (a car repair shop, a this, a that) with more farms mixed in.  Much of the country is that way. In the States, there was talk of taking a similar approach with businesses mixed with homes and so on and so forth. To us Americans, it would seem strange to walk a block and see sheep (and smell cows) or bike two minutes to eat at a very good Pizzeria (think something much closer to a very nice Italian restaurant than a Pizza Hut) but it’s amazingly livable.