Pet Sitting and Meowndering
Spending July in the Netherlands was a real joy. So clean and peaceful, a perfect break in these Covid times, in complete contrast to noisy car-jammed cities and the crowded beaches of the Med.
The Weird and Wonderful
- Cyclists of all ages are everywhere and are #1 priority when it comes to town planning. We were told that cycle lanes and parking for bicycles are planned before roads and many companies do not have car parks for anyone driving into work. We saw some truly wonderful cycles, some capable of transporting a whole family! Everyone cycles. By the age of six, children can be seen cycling alongside their parents, easily and safely on wide, dedicated cycle lanes that run parallel to the road…it was also so moving to watch elderly people cycle everywhere.
- The transport system is probably the best we have seen anywhere: buses, trains and trams all running frequently, connecting together perfectly to time and spotless. Because it is such a relatively small country which favours public transport, the payment system is ingenious and so very handy. Eight euros buys a public transport card, valid for five years that then simply needs to be charged to have access to all forms of public transport countrywide. To take a train, the card needs to be loaded with a minimum of 20 euros as that is the maximum to pay for any train destination. If only buses are needed, the 20 euro minimum does not apply and the card can be topped up on train platforms , in stations and even inside each bus.
- We hardly saw any of the global brands. It was refreshing to visit lots of independent cafes serving delicious home made apple pie, rather than see streets filled with Starbucks!
- A popular thing sold in supermarkets is a box full of all the ingredients needed to make a certain meal, so people just buy the box rather than look everywhere for the different ingredients.
- The chips/fries (patats in Dutch) are the best we have ever tasted. Sorry Belgium! They are fried in vegetable oil (unlike the Belgian beef suet) and served with mayonnaise as a matter of course. We twice made the mistake of ordering one large portion to share between the two of us. It was a big mistake as we were presented with a helping that would have satisfied a family of four. We would have had enough had we shared a normal size portion and looked in amazement as these lithe people wolfed down on huge helpings and yet, we did not meet any obese people in the Netherlands…must be all that cycling.
- Around one third of Holland is under sea level and some of its thousand plus windmills are still used today to pump rain and ground water into the sea. All Dutch residents, even those who live above sea level, pay a small fortune for water management in order to avoid becoming flooded. One day, it may become cost effective to sell all this water to drought prone neighbours rather than flushing it into the sea.
- We passed through a town which is filled with factories producing 20% of the world’s cocoa. The smell was intoxicating! However, the inhabitants seemed totally immune to it…they could not smell it any longer.
We ventured into the bigger towns, most just 30 minutes away by bus or train, for the grand museums. Amsterdam was over crowded, even during a covid virus peak, but once inside the Rijks, which restricted visitor numbers, we had tons of space to admire the Old Masters. Trips to Rembrandt’s House, Mauritshaus and a Mondrian exhibition in The Hague gave more feasts for our eyes.
Leiden and Haarlem
Leiden and Haarlem, both small towns, were our favourite places. Leiden is most famous for its Pilgrim Founding Fathers who escaped persecution in England to settle there before heading off to the US. Haarlem has a special house where the Ten Boom family hid Jews and members of the resistance in transit to neutral countries during the war. Like in Anne Frank’s house, visitors can see where they were hidden. A remarkable and moving story.