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Published: August 11th 2019
As we sit at Schiphol airport waiting to board, here are some final reflections on this trip. Not a top twenty, only 18 I think. Marion and I corroborated in these. So here they are, Netherlands best, not in order:
Family, friends, people. We saw a lot of family and friends, some I saw in 2015, and some before that on other trips. All were just as welcoming as they ever were. It did not seem like I moved from here some 53 years ago. People we met along the way. Strangers. Staff in museums. Store workers. All very helpful, with a smile, and most often speaking in English.
Highways. So many highways, so many interchanges. Speed limits at 130 km/hr in many cases. Fast-moving traffic, lane changes at high speed, and drivers signal lane changes now. No time for cruise control, everybody moves fast, and gets back to slower lanes immediately after passing. Expect cars to come up close behind before passing, cut in front of you, and all at high speed, with no-one blowing horns. No one stays in faster lanes when going slower. Lane closures are managed well and people don’t wait until the last meter to push their way in, others let you in when lanes merge.
Byways. Beautiful roads through gorgeous country side. No pot holes or tar snakes. Speed limits are adhered to because speed bumps are designed for the speed limits. Separated bike lanes several meters away from the pavement. Narrow bridges with one-way traffic. Leisure driving. Many, many traffic circles. Most importantly, unless the road you’re on is identified as having the right-of-way (yellow diamonds), you must yield to traffic coming from your right into the intersection, because they will take the right-of-way.
Pastoral views. Land use certainly looks well managed. Not a piece of land appears wasted. Well-balanced use between farm land, wooded areas, wetlands, waterways and buildings. Trees are huge, mostly hardwood or willows. Byways overgrown with trees, peaceful meadows with cows and sheep. Many canals and ditches. Misty mornings. Maybe that’s why Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, The Pastoral, is one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. This is what I envision when I listen to it!
Cities and towns. As I keep telling Marion, they’re all cute towns or historic cities. Centuries-old houses, churches, cobblestone or brick streets, canals, bridges and museums. Museums are plentiful but are a bit expensive if you go to many. The annual pass at €66 would have been cheaper for us had it not been limited to only 4 uses in the first month, which appears designed to exclude visitor use. Architecture in most towns is gorgeous, many buildings are centuries old. Exceptions are towns or part of cities bombed during the last war where new buildings now stand. Some of the small villages I remember from long ago, are now much larger with lots of big industries. All necessary because big cities are out of space. Good for the economy, lots of work, few really poor areas.
Bicycles. There’s no country in the world that makes use of bicycles like the Netherlands does. It’s perfectly suited for it. Primarily because of the climate, people use their bikes year round. Secondarily, the infrastructure has been created over decades and ensures that bike paths are segregated, even within city limits. Where they’re not, streets are clearly marked to give priority to bicycle riders and everyone knows this and lives by it. Thirdly, bicycle riders obey the rules of the road and are fined if they don’t! Fourthly, bicycle parking is well accommodated to allow for thousands of bikes, even with covered bike stalls at major destinations like train stations and centre town areas. And lastly, many city centres, even in small villages, are closed to car traffic. Only bikes and scooters are allowed in, and even those must be parked or walked in some areas. Sounds like utopia to some Ottawa bike enthusiasts, one that cannot possibly be achieved in our climate and with our distances.
Alcohol. What can I say, one of the fine qualities of life, be it beer, wine or spirits, can be enjoyed here at a much lower cost, responsibly. People we’ve met are very responsible about drinking and driving. Outdoor cafés are enjoyed in the city, in the villages, and along intercity bikeways along byways, rivers or canals. Many groups of both younger and older people can be seen taking advantage of these great spots and I have not seen or heard of any abuse while we were here.
Cheeses. One of the Netherlands major products. Many different types and ages. Sold everywhere, even in small stores and on open-air markets. We sure had enough of this delicacy, at very affordable prices!
Transit system. The entire train system is electrical and runs on time. Trains every few minutes. Trams and many buses are also electric and interconnect very well with trains. Schedules and stops can be found on smart phone apps and we had no problems using these apps when using public transit. We did find however, that we could not possible have done what we have done over the past month, without a car. A car gets you to smaller villages and to people to visit much quicker than by bicycle, and public transit would in many cases not have been easy to use for this kind of touring. At normal prices, train travel is quite expensive and is really not worth it for two people over more than just a short visit. Visitors cannot get the residential transit passes since a local address as well as a local bank are required for that.
Weather. We had a few days of rain. Nothing out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary was the heatwave. Reaching temperatures as high as 42C is unheard of. Experiencing this without air conditioning was difficult, but manageable in our situation, although not for most people whose homes are not suited to deal with this kind of heat. Almost all of our explorations and outings were done in perfect weather and we wore shorts almost all of the time.
Our AirBnb. Our residence for the month turned out as good as or even better than expected. We had our own living room, bedroom and bathroom and were able to share the kitchen and backyard, including a small swimming pool, with our hosts Ooks and Richte. They went out of their way and helped us with many things, like getting us tickets to PSV, and suggesting discount train fares to Nijmegen and Amsterdam. Our quarters were kept spotless by them and linen and towels were changed every 2-3 days. Nespresso coffee makers with coffee and cream were provided and even topped up to complement our own purchases.
Efficiency. The Dutch are very efficient, in everything they do. No materials wasted, no time wasted, no words wasted, no energy wasted. Solar is big here. Fracking is causing earthquakes in the north and plans are afoot to make the Netherlands entirely independent of oil, gas and coal.
Flowers and gardens. Everybody loves flowers and their gardens. Everywhere you look, there are flowers. Grocery stores have huge displays and sell them at very low prices, compared to what we are used to.
Houses. People are proud of their homes. Kept organized, clean and welcoming. Windows and walls are washed regularly, sometimes by professional folks. Cleanliness is evident everywhere.
Fitness. People are very active here. Not only do they use their bikes to go everywhere, even to nearby towns or cities, you can see groups of seniors go on bike trips and stop at roadside cafés, our host Richte like many others, gets on his racing bike first thing in the morning, even when it was 40C here, and rides 30-40 km before breakfast. People generally appear fit and able to handle all those rich desserts! Everywhere you look, there’s a good mix of generations and ages, all appearing quite fit. Many people with grey or white hair are on their bikes, walking on trails, shopping or walking in the city centre, sipping on a beer or a glass of wine at cafés. Often they’re accompanied by their children or grandchildren. It’s a delight to see.
Desserts. I’m not much of a dessert eater, I prefer my calories from alcoholic beverages (lol). But here, it’s difficult to resist all those rich desserts with loads of real whipped cream. Everything is delicious, but first place goes to the Bossebollen, whipped cream filled pastry with dark chocolate coating. After we weigh ourselves back home this Sunday, we may have to diet a bit!
Clothes. Canadians may not think there’s much difference in the way people dress in other Western countries. We found there is here in the Netherlands. At the Appeltern Gardens, I noticed several men from a seniors’ tour bus wearing suits and dress shoes, as they walked in the heat among the gardens, although no neck ties. Women similarly wore dresses. Many of the people we visited also wore clothes that looked better than my shorts and golf shirts. Marion also felt underdressed at times. But the big difference is with younger and middle-aged women. Most wear dresses shopping and riding their bikes. Along the beaches beautiful long summer dresses were normal, as well as the short skirts worn by younger women. Definitely a fashion statement.
Dogs. Dogs are plentiful here, not so much cats it would seem. Dogs are brought into stores, into restaurants and into open air museums. We’ve seen people bringing three large dogs to the Appeltern Gardens. People don’t seem to mind any of that, and that’s different from Canada. Man’s best friend.
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