Holland, Part I of II - 2001

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July 1st 2001
Published: January 25th 2009
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Central LeidenCentral LeidenCentral Leiden

That is De Valk windmill in the background - a super landmark


Yes, another trip back in time in keeping with my getting our 5 years of living outside the USA onto my blog site. This was originally written in July, 2001 right after we moved to Leiden, The Netherlands. Much happened after that, 9/11 for one and I’ll tell you more about our experience on that day - we were traveling in Ireland at the time. When we returned to Leiden a sea-change had taken place among the Dutch. But that is for another installment; all was sunshine and roses when this was first written.

Leiden, The Netherlands 2001
Installment I of II

The Sky is low
And the sun is slowly
Smothered by mists
Grey and many colored,
And in every region
The voice of the water
Telling of endless disaster
Is heard and feared

Hendrik Marsman (1899-1945)

Indeed the sky was so low when we first
Our Canal HouseOur Canal HouseOur Canal House

Our wonderful, narrow canal house is between the blue and red cars toward the right; 3-stories high, but the bottom is a garage (which we didn't have access to)
arrived in late June that I lived in the raincoat Marcela had given me for my 50th birthday. Our collapsible umbrellas were constant companions and we felt chilled to the bone. Welcome to a Netherlands' SUMMER!!

We were very fortunate that the University of Leiden, where Bernie will be taking his Public International Law LLM course, rented us an extremely reasonable apartment while we hunted for a place of our own. Within the week we had found a typical canal townhouse and set up housekeeping.

The canal house sits on one of the many canals that surround and criss-cross this once walled city. It has two stories, and the stairways are so narrow I can’t imagine how they got furniture in. It is fully furnished, has two bedrooms with a full shower room upstairs where the bedrooms are (shower room has a combination clothes washer/dryer), and a toilet/sink room on the living floor. The kitchen is modern (has a dishwasher) and includes the eating area. Out the kitchen door is a terrace/patio area big enough for a table and chairs and flowers and plants once we return from our summer travels. The front room looks out of big
Canal House Living RoomCanal House Living RoomCanal House Living Room

Our space might have been small, but we filled it to capacity often. Here we have our neighbors Stephan & Katherine on the left; that is their daughter Sophia on Bernie's lap; Hugo Fernando, Jackie's cousin; Celia a Dutch friend; Marysia, Poland; Jackie and sister Mercedes, Guatemala; and finally Mieck, Marysia's Significant Other
windows onto the tree-lined canal street. There is an office area on the top floor between the bedrooms where we’ve set up the computer and Bernie's study area. Our living space is roughly 750 sq. ft. - small but functional. As you can see from the photo of us in the living room below, the entire width of the house is 2-windows wide! It is a bright and cheerful space.

LOCATION. Leiden is (all times via train) 15 minutes from Amsterdam airport, 30 min. to central Amsterdam, in the other direction about 15 min. to The Hague (aka Den Haag), from The Hague another 10 min. to a popular beach town of Scheveningen, from The Hague about 10 min. to Delft. From Leiden it is about 20 min. by bus or bike to Noordwijk or Katwijk, beautiful beach/sand dune areas - not as built-up as the beach near The Hague. We are in the most populated area of Holland, and indeed this part of The Netherlands is the true Holland, South Holland actually. As you travel between destinations you see the vast flower fields, dairy farms and plots of land near the cities where for centuries city folk have
Leiden Side StreetLeiden Side StreetLeiden Side Street

Leiden had numerous picturesque small side streets - walking and biking (we didn't own a car our first year in Leiden) was a joy
kept plots for growing vegetables. Nowadays there are small cottages on these approx. 20 ft. by 20 ft. plots, and the “crop” is most likely flowering shrubs or exotic flowers. Bottom line: visitors could easily base with us and see the entire of the Netherlands on day trips or with a minimum of overnight stays in other locations.

TRANSPORTATION Several people have asked about renting a car if they visit and we’ve advised against it. First of all the public transportation system is so good and convenient, but also there are so many bikes everywhere (and they have total right-of-way) it makes driving a hazard. Hell, it is scary just walking around in that you have to be constantly looking both ways (for cars and bikes). The thought of driving terrifies me. Needless to say, we’ve been taking public transportation (the trains and buses are coordinated) or walking. Mostly we’ve been walking and it is great. The stone streets took getting used to in that they are hard on the feet, but it is picturesque and the narrow streets, often along canals, lined with charming buildings and houses are a joy to meander. We plan on getting bikes when
Central Leiden - Different ViewCentral Leiden - Different ViewCentral Leiden - Different View

There are canals everywhere and in the summer restaurants add tables to barges that are parked in front - more than doubles their capacity and are popular places to have a meal
we return from Ireland, but for now walking has been a great pleasure.

WEATHER. One of the reasons walking has been so much fun is that the weather took a turn for the better and for the past week and a half has been downright hot! The down comforter we had on the bed went back in the closet and we’ve been sleeping with just a sheet. The beach areas have been packed and these fair-skinned folk glow with sunburns.

The climate is very much like Seattle in that rain is the norm, so you can imagine why these Netherlanders take total advantage of whatever sun they get. We know these wonderful balmy nights spent watching the boats full of happy sun worshipers slowly cruise the canals are only temporary. Motorboats, canoes, kayaks, paddle-boats, and sculls all share the waterways. Some of the boats are so big they have large parties of people, and tables of food and drink set out. Generally they go by slowly (and quietly - no loud music) so as not to leave a wake, and since the point is to be on the water, speed isn’t the issue anyway.

Leiden, Rooftop ViewLeiden, Rooftop ViewLeiden, Rooftop View

One of our favorite places to have coffee was on top of a popular department store, Vroom Dreesman. This was taken from their rooftop garden

LANGUAGE. Before we came we were told that approx. 70%!o(MISSING)f the Dutch speak English, and in fact the percentage might be higher. They learn in elementary school, so just about everybody has at least a grasp of English. The only person we came across who didn’t speak a word of English was an immigrant (looked like a Mid-Easterner) who spoke Dutch, but most likely went to elementary school in his home country where English wasn't taught. Most of the immigrants in Holland are from Morocco, Turkey or Surinam (formerly Dutch Guyana, So. America). The Surinamese speak Dutch because they grew up in a former Dutch colony, and they speak English too, so they have assimilated the best. Everyone's facility with English makes it relatively easy for foreigners to travel and live here. The only difficulty we’ve found is on the telephone in that many of the companies have menu-driven programs only in Dutch.

English/Dutch Words. The most successful American English export, according to an expert, is the word “Okay.” It is used constantly here, as is “shit” and “f---.” In fact “shit” is the most popular curse word of the year. Still takes us
Veggie Vendor Veggie Vendor Veggie Vendor

This was my favorite vegetable vendor in Leiden - the ladies in red always helped me pick the best produce and suggested ways to cook the ones I wasn't familiar with
aback to hear someone rattling off in Dutch and then suddenly saying shit or f--- clear as a bell and without accent.

Tons of English words and phrases are interspersed throughout the Dutch language. I’ve picked up many a brochure I thought was in English because the title said, for example, Express Service Sleeper Cars, only to find the text in Dutch with the title phrase appearing throughout in English. Of course computer terms are almost exclusively in English, lots of advertisements too. Movies are shown in their original language with Dutch subtitles, and most of the movies are American so we are in fat city in that department.

Saturday Market. Must tell you my favorite activity so far has been food shopping at the open-air Saturday market, with a smaller one on Wednesdays. There are stalls selling only mushrooms - must be 30 different kinds of fungi being sold. Naturally the cheese sellers and vegetable vendors are plentiful. I bought all my spices and herbs from a spice vendor who also sold teas of all kinds. The fishmonger stalls were delightful - so full of fresh fish I couldn’t make up my mind. My current favorite are
Arab Food VendorArab Food VendorArab Food Vendor

We always made a meal from this vendor on Sat. market day; and Wed. market day we'd get fresh fish cooked up in front of us
the mid-eastern food stalls - there must have been 20 bins of olives. Green ones stuffed with almonds or currents, black ones in oil, mixtures of olives and artichoke hearts and every other kind of mixture imaginable. They also sell dolomites (the rice stuffed grape leaves), humus, falafel - you name it. We often buy 5 or 6 different items for lunch. The nut sellers have bins with every nut and seed the world has to offer. I look forward to discovering more interesting stalls, as I’ve not completely covered the market yet.

There are dry goods stalls as well, and material seems to be a big item - not surprising because Leiden was once a thriving textile town. You can get all your electrical supplies, vacuum cleaner bags, knives, and Lord knows what else. The flowers here are a steal. You can buy a bouquet of 40 small roses for $10; a big bunch of fresh sunflowers went for $3. I bought a flowering plant as a thank-you for the woman at the University who was so helpful to us and it cost $2.*

So that is it for now - the first installment of my “journal”
Delft Train StationDelft Train StationDelft Train Station

This is in Delft, but all of the train stations are the same - full of bikes. People ride to the station, leave a bike, ride to wherever, get the bike they left at that station, etc. That is why there are so many bikes - more bikes than people!
- and hope I haven’t bored you all to tears. Having said that, I'll be doing a second installment on our first year in Leiden - we had so many visitors and did so many wonderful things that year! I'm saving the photos of visitors for the next installment.

*The Euro hadn't come into circulation at this point, not until January 2002. There was a favorable slant towards the dollar vs. the Dutch Gilder. When the Euro debuted it was 1 Euro = $0.86, but after 9/11 and the wars that followed, the dollar was devalued considerably and our cost of living went up 52%!b(MISSING)y the time we left three years later.

Below are more photos, including some of Bernie and his classmates at the University of Leiden, 2001 - 2002. I apologize for any misspelling of your names and also for not having everyone's photo. One glaring omission I can think of right off hand is no photo of Marcel and Vera. Marcel was a Dutch classmate of Bernard's (lived in The Hague/Den Haag) whose lovely wife, Vera, and family became good friends. Also the Serbian students and the Belgian young lady - somehow I managed
Bernie w/classmatesBernie w/classmatesBernie w/classmates

Back: Ellie, Hong Kong; Mohamad, Egypt; Tina, Greece; Kate, Australia; Bernie; Jose, Guatemala; Anna, Australia Front: Andy Scotland; Rajesh, Scotland; Sergio, Mexico; Anna, Norway; Sharam, Iran/US/Australia; Nao, Japan
not to get photos of you - sorry.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Classmates - The LadiesClassmates - The Ladies
Classmates - The Ladies

Anna, Norway; Anna, Australia; Kate, Australia; Tina, Greece; Kathy; Ellie, Hong Kong
More ClassmatesMore Classmates
More Classmates

Petra, Germany; Christine, Canada
Another classmateAnother classmate
Another classmate

Alexi, from Belarus, was a wonderful young man. I caught him here asking Bernie "do you know so much because you are so old?" after they'd been in a class where the Vietnam war came up
Classmates - Study GroupClassmates - Study Group
Classmates - Study Group

Bernie with his study group: Meredith, England; Andra, New Zealand; Anna, Norway; and Tina, Greece

It was an intimate ceremony - they did each graduating student separately, talking about their thesis, their time at the University, they even mentioned me and how my support helped Bernard complete the course. He is shaking hands with his supervising professor, Prof. Dugard from South Africa. On the far left is Thomas, the administrator of the program
Graduation - Signing the WallGraduation - Signing the Wall
Graduation - Signing the Wall

The walls in this room (the "Crying Room" because students waited here to learn if they were indeed going to graduate) are filled with the names of graduating students - names of various Dutch royalty, Winston Churchill, among many other famous people, have signed the wall. Only the graduate is supposed to enter the room, but while the powers-that-be weren't looking, Bernie's classmates pushed me in so they could take my photos too

26th January 2009

Lovely Reminder of the Leiden times
Can't believe that it is eight years ago already. Thanks for a great reminder (and happy new year of the Ox), cheers, Kate. .
28th January 2009


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