The Merits of Clogs

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July 23rd 2019
Published: July 24th 2019
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Today we had planned to visit Keukenhof, which is a massive garden an hour or so by public transport south west of Amsterdam. It is otherwise known as the Garden of Europe and is one of the largest flower gardens in the world. We had carefully plotted out our route there which involved the Metro, the train and then the final leg on a bus. Issy was very excited about this visit and had been drooling at the prospect of seeing endless fields of tulips and other flowers in a spectacular landscape setting. Unfortunately her drool all dried up quite suddenly a few days ago when she Googled Keukenhof and found that it’s only open for two months of the year, and July isn’t one of them. At least one of us is on the ball, and the other one clearly needs to brush up on his knowledge of tulip flowering seasons. I’m not sure that either of us would have been all that happy if we’d negotiated the long and complex route to the gardens only to be confronted by locked gates.

It’s going to be a hot 31 degrees here today, so we decide to go to the beach. Our host Paul told us when we arrived that not a lot of people come to Amsterdam for its beaches, but he thinks they're very underrated and that we should try to visit one of them while we’re here. We head off towards Zandvoort aan Zee which is about a half hour train ride east of Amsterdam. The beach is wide and stretches for as far as the eye can see in both directions, and it is jam packed with people. The standard rental package here is a pair of sunlounges and a wind shield, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of demand for umbrellas. This all becomes a bit academic at the first place we try as everything is already taken. We walk further along the beach and eventually discover a couple of empty looking lounges near a vacant wind shield, so we throw this ensemble together and settle in. The beach is all fine sand and looks like it would blast you in a light breeze, which would seem to explain the need for the shields. I brace myself for a dip in the freezing waters of the North Sea, but it’s actually not all that cold. The beach is calm and very gently sloping and ideal for swimming, although the water is very murky and I can’t see anything below the surface. Hopefully there aren’t any stone fish to stand on and that the small plane that flies past quite low every now and again isn’t looking for sharks.

I wonder north along the beach. I find out later that this was a good choice. If I’d wandered south I would have apparently found myself on a nudist beach. This seems to be very consistent with our observation that just about anything seems to go here in The Netherlands. The air in Amsterdam seems to be thick with the smell of weed, ladies of the night aren’t shy about advertising their services, people apparently prance up and down the beach naked, and we’ve seen lots of advertising signs here that would make the censors’ hair curl back home. Issy says she wonders how the Dutch cope when they go travelling abroad, where just about everywhere has laws that are stricter than they are here. I don’t think it would end well if you sat down on a beach in Saudi Arabia, took all your gear off and started puffing away on a joint. I’m not aware of the world’s jails being packed with Dutch tourists who assumed that their own laws applied everywhere, but we do start to wonder whether this might be an issue.

The discussion over dinner turns to Dutch clothing. We’ve seen a lot of clogs for sale here. Some souvenir versions look so big and heavy that you’d need a trolley to cart them home in. Others, that look like they are meant to be worn, have high heels. I ask Issy if she would ever contemplate wearing a pair of clogs. She gives me the look. She says that she couldn’t imagine anything more uncomfortable, and that the only redeeming feature of clogs that she can think of is that they would float if you happened to drop them in a canal. I do some research. The jury seems to be still out on the merits of clogs. On one hand they are officially endorsed safety footwear, and are still worn by a lot of farm workers in The Netherlands. Under some circumstances they are said to be safer than steel capped boots. If you shot yourself gently in the foot with an arrow for example (and I’m not quite sure exactly why you’d want to do this), the wood in your clogs would crack rather than dent, so your toes would be less likely to get crushed and they’d be easier to get off afterwards. On the other hand, someone recently dug up the skeletons of 500 19th century Dutch farm workers from a local graveyard and found that a lot of them had unusual bone damage to their feet which was almost certainly caused by their clogs.

Issy wants to order another liqueur so we can move onto the next exciting topic of discussion, but we’re the only people still in the restaurant and the owner says that he needs to close up for the night.

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