Or Good morning Hague!
No matter how difficult is for one to learn to write Dutch, it is infinitely easier than trying to speak Dutch or even listening to Dutch.
When I was a child and my mom could not understand what I was mumbling about (not that now she fully understands 🙂 she used to say I speak Chinese, but little did she know…In fact, from experience I could say Chinese is way easier when compared to Dutch.
Having said that, the people of Holland are very proud of their language. All the signs are only in Dutch and in all the restaurants the menu is, of course, only in Dutch.
Do you want to know what you will eat? Tough luck! Trust their goodwill.
But, there is one word I wanted to learn and no, it is not the famous “I love you” or the less famous “shit.” Although, now that I think about both could be quite useful in times of war and peace.
It is stroopwaffel, which is a delicious Dutch cake made out of caramel.
Once you have one, you go for another one, and another one, until…oh well, until you taste the Dutch cheese and the cycle repeats itself. Dutch people eat their cheese with mustard or figs. To each type of cheese, a certain kind of mustard corresponds. As unusual as it might sound, the combination tastes quite good, for the adventurous ones. But, never better than the fresh Dutch mussels found in all the supermarkets cooked with garlic and fresh basil. Now we are in business!
After such daily feasts, no wonder they need to exercise which is why you can find bike lanes everywhere.
And, as long as there is a bike lane, who needs a footpath?! Indeed, there are places where there are only bike lanes. Biking is a real option in Holland. People go to work by bike, go between villages by bike, go shopping by bike, take their dogs for a walk on the bike. In the old days you might have associated Holland with windmills, but in the present days, when you say Holland you say love for biking. It might stem from economical reasons as well, as one way trip by tram is 3 euros. You can buy their Ov- chipcards and it can get cheaper, but still trams and trains are expensive.
Now let’s talk about something really interesting. Let’s talk about toilets.
Their design or their availability it is a point of interest for me wherever I go. If in Monte Carlo they are clean and all over the place, in the Netherlands they are just incredibly expensive: it starts from 50 cents and it goes up to 1 euro, which I found hilarious if it would not be a rip off. But, where there is a will, there is always a way…out.
One restaurant which I simply loved in Hague was Simonis. It does not look like much from the outside, but it was one of the best fish restaurants I have been to and quite decently priced.
It is close to their famous Scheveningen Beach which is a beautiful wide beach packed with cozy and elegant restaurants where the Dutch are stubborn enough to go to, no matter if it is warm or cold. The cold weather seems to be the norm here, even in the summer, and armed with warm sweaters, blankets, and wine (Spatlese nahe being my favorite) they sit on the beach, dance and listen to live music.
Despite the weather or the tiny flats, the Hague has the charm of an international city. It is named the legal capital of the world and more than 150 international organisations have their headquarters here.
Peace Palace is home to International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It is an impressive and beautiful building. In the Japanese Room, each state has its own seat for which it pays 25000 Euros and the ones who cannot afford are having regular chairs. Like in life, we are all equal, but some more equal than others.
At the entrance of the palace, on the marble floor, there is a famous Latin dicton: Sol Justitia ilustra nos, meaning justice should shine above us all. The message which can be found all around the palace in paintings or sculptures is one: each State needs justice and peace to progress. How those can be achieved it’s a more complicated issue and one should look no further than the symbolic story of the chairs in the Japanese Room to realise that.
If the Hague is the legal capital of the world, Amsterdam is the gay capital of the world and the gay flag presence wherever you look, is certainly a proof of that.
Amsterdam is charming. It’s classy, elegant, trendy, packed with all sorts of museums, shops, restaurants, events and the most famous red district.
I have been only to the Diamond Museum and the Boat museum. Next time I promised to see the Cannabis museum, the Beer Museum and the Movie Museum.
Diamond is the hardest mineral known and their name comes from Adamos which in Greek means hard. Because of its hardness when it was discovered, it could not be processed and it was used in decorations.
Diamonds were first discovered in India and the only continents where they were not found are Europe and Antarctica. For each diamond found, 250000 kg of rocks has to be extracted.
Only 20% out of the total world production of diamonds is processed into jewelry diamonds, the rest is used for industrial purposes.
The value of a diamond is determined by four quality factors: Carat, Colour, Cut and Clarity (the 4C factors).
The word Carat derives from the Greek Keration. Kerations are the seeds of the carob tree which, because of their constant weight of 0.2 grams, were used to determine the weight of gemstones.
The museum also has on display a large collection of crowns. The crowns are classified by function, such as: religious, marriage, ceremonials, dance, warrior and coronation crowns. If you’ve always dreamt of being a princess or a prince you can take your picture with a crown on your head and send it to yourself, your friends, or the whole world to see you.
Personally I have never fancy the royal life, but faced with the option, I could not resist and I took the picture. However, I did not get the email with it… One more proof that some things are meant to happen only in our dreams and we should get this into our head!
Amsterdam is also famous for the legal use of cannabis and others alike. One cannot produce it but can certainly use it. Stores sell relaxing herbs or more energetic ones.
I remember one saying: if you never want to get off the sofa, this is it. I could not figure it out why someone will never want to get off the sofa. Does it suppose to promote a blissful slow painless death or what? Of course, I want to get off the sofa… at least once, at some point during the day…
I even found one pill with my zodiac sign: Aquarius, the cosmic experience…
If you say so…who am I to contradict you?
Once one is done with the herbs, organic or less organic, he or she can more or less safely move to the red district.
But before that, a stop at one of the shops selling condoms will not hurt. One of them was in particular fun to get into and the website is condomerie.com.
Let’s protect the knight for the night!
In the red district, beside condoms, money will also come in handy. 50 euros for 20 minutes of good time… or bad/ bed time. No idea if there is a discount for more than once:)
I could understand the herbs, I could understand the girls, but my mind could not make sense of the punch line found at the entrance of a strip club: “Here, you find writing shows.”
Are they for real? Banana shows, I get it. Candle shows, I get it. Vibrator shows, I get it. But, writing shows?? What a quirky combination of mental stimulation and other kinds of stimulation…
I have to admit I was never a fan of Woody Allen. I felt either depressed or stupid after watching one of his movies. None of those states of mind being quite a happy ending for me. But, I had to come to Amsterdam to discover a different side of him.
Here is what the maestro said:
“Is sex dirty? Only when its done right.”
Or another one:
“Don’t knock masturbation-it’s sex with someone you love…”
So, there is a sense of humor in all of us.
Giethoorn – the Venice of Holland
Giethoorn is my perfect Holland city. No cars are allowed, only boats and bikes.
The houses are all tidy and beautifully decorated and all with thatch roofs.
For 15 euros per hour you can rent a boat to visit the whole place and the natural reserve that surrounds it.
Volendam – Cheese factory
The Dutch version of hanging clothes. I assume it is learnt from their Italian friends. Next time your thrust for knowledge hits please pick and choose :))
Although quite a touristy place, it was interesting to see how the cheese is made. You need ten l of milk for one kg of cheese.
Zaanse Schans – Visiting windmills
I have never known that windmills made paper. And not only any kind of paper, but the windmills in the Zaan area made the best paper in the world starting from 1601.
The paper was made out of used clothing and rugs crushed into fibers, then soaked in water. Mixed with water, the fibers made a slurry which was the basis for the paper.
Zaan area was the first industrial area in the world with more than 1000 mills (grinding mills, paper mills, oil mills, watermills, peeling mills, corn mills). A mill was build in such a way so it could even be moved to a different location. People were working long hours and were remunerated poorly and on top of that there was the rule: no wind, no wages.
You can visit one of the mills or learn about them the Windmills Museum.
Marken-Clog (Klompen) making
There is a famous Clog making place in Marken. But, it is more than touristy. All you find is a huge shop with tons of clogs and no demonstration of how they are actually made.
On top of it, you cannot drive into the village and you need to park your car in the one and only parking lot where you will pay 3.50 euro plus 0.50 per person. Appalling!
But, if you drive further towards the city of Hoorn, you will find a beautiful store with free parking where you will have fun watching how a simple block of wood can be transformed into a wooden shoe (clog= klompen).
They are yellow because the farmers used cheese wax. Clogs are made out of green poplar and it takes about 5 weeks to dry them. They are very protective so you can wear them to work, hard so you can use them as a hammer or as a defensive weapon 🙂 Only when you have a date do not wear them.
The guy who makes them has been working in the shop for 16 years and I assume he still lives by the motto:
“7 days without laughter makes one weak.”
He was fun to listen to and made the experience quite interactive.
Sabotage comes from the French for clog: sabot. They sabotaged machines throwing in clogs.
My final story from Holland is from The Hague.
One day I was walking around the beautiful streets of the Hague when I have seen a man leaving on the doorsteps of a woman’s house a red rose and an envelope.
I guess even if the big world around us is not always beautiful the small world surrounding us can be beautiful… And it all depends on us…
We all need from time to time a rose on our doorsteps…
You can read more on my adventures in The Netherlands in my book, When Dreams are Calling. The book has been featured in numerous travel magazines in Australia and around the world.