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          Definitely Dutch - an impression of the Dutch culture and living on an outsider

Men should be like coffee - hot, sweet and strong!

                                                                                                                - Dutch proverb

I have had an opportunity to stay in the Netherlands for quite some time, and I must admit, I had a great time there. The following is a list of things which I would consider "Definitely Dutch" as any thought of any of these items reminds me of the great time I had in Netherlands.

Bicycles

Netherlands, as a country, boasts of among the world's largest cycling routes, and it is practically possible to go from one end of the country to another on a human powered bicycle. The fact that most  of the Netherlands is a flat-land certainly helps. Cycling to the Dutch comes naturally, with there being more bicycles that the number of humans in the country!

Within Amsterdam, nearly half of all traffic movements are by bike. The Dutch are proud of their biking culture and can be seen pedaling rain or shine (although never with a helmet) through the city streets. Bike paths connect the entire country and cyclists are well respected on the roads, making cycling an efficient as well as healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around.

People in Netherlands go, wherever they have to go, on a bicycle. To emphasize, *everyone* goes *anywhere* on a bike *anytime*. The bankers would wear a business suit and ride a bike to work, the KLM air hostesses will wear their nice sky-blue short skirts and ride a bike to work, even the lady of the house will often be found biking to the nearby shop, with children in toe. What is more amazing is the *very old* people also riding a bike to wherever they have to go! Mind-blowing!

The following are some of the snaps I had taken which gives you a fair idea of what biking means to the Dutch, but they are in no comparison to the great source of Amsterdam bike pictures here

The following are the more amusing things I learnt about the bikes in Amsterdam:

- all bikes in Amsterdam, and likely elsewhere as well, need to have head lights and the tail lights. Since the fine for non-compliance t this rule is significant, some riders will stick these flashing tail lights on their backpacks, or jackets as well. As for the head-lights there is *always* a dynamo provided, which is attached to the front wheel of the bike, getting power when the bike is in motion

- Amsterdam also has a big market of stolen bikes. The junkies will steal any bike they can, and sell it off for a meager amount to have their fix for the evening! Owing to this, there is a huge demand of heavy duty steel chains and locks, and the cost of these sometimes is as much as half the bike cost! Some people, will  have the bikes fitted with easily removable saddles, and carry the saddle when they park the bike, thus making the running-away on the stolen bik

- Be sure to follow lane discipline and restrict yourself to the biking lanes. The traffic cop can haul you over for not obeying the rules, so what if you are on a bicycle!

Here's some of my pictures of bikes in Amsterdam - begins with a family heading for a holiday - on bikes of course!

Bikes are a part of the Dutch everyday life


Gouda cheese

As you might know, this cheese gets its name from the Gouda village in the Netherlands. The cheese is derived from the cows milk, and is then aged to give it a more stronger pungent taste. The older cheese also are more brittle, and is preferred by many people, especially with drinks. The younger cheese (aged up to 6 months) has a more mellow and creamy taste, and is easy to cut using a slicer.

Traditionally these cheese are made and sold as Gouda wheels - yellow in color, with or without a  paraffin wax coating,  and normally the source of milk and the age of the cheese mentioned on the label. As with most other cheeses, the taste will vary based on the geography of the region from where the cheese comes. As an example, the milk from the cows from the sea-adjoining regions have more salt content, and this reflects on the cheese derived from them.

In Zaanse Schans, you can even have a close view of the cheese making process, and taste various flavors - including my favourites  - the smoked Gouda cheese and the pepper Gouda cheese.
A photo of the cheese factory at Zaanse Schans with the shelves decked up with Gouda cheese of various maturities:



 


Windmills

The windmills, though now mostly a pretty and unique sight all over the Netherlands, served some very useful and practical purposes until recently. They were used for a variety of purposes, from crushing groundnut seeds to extract oil, to pumping water.

Many of these windmills, being a major tourist draw, are still kept in working condition, serving the same purposes they used to fulfill in their prime years.

The windmills are so important in the Dutch tourism scene that there is even a National Windmill day (usually the second Saturday in May every year) when all the windmills across the country are open for public - for free - and the millers give a demonstration of their activities.

Windmills of Holland - some photos:

 


Windmills of Holland


 

Speculaas

Speculaas is a type of Dutch biscuits (cookie), traditionally baked for consumption on St Nicholas' Eve - Sinterklaas in Dutch - in the Netherlands (December 5). However, in recent years, Speculaas are available throughout the year and can be bought from stores like Albert Heijn. They are either thin or thick, but always very crunchy, slightly browned and, most significantly, have some image or figure (often either from the traditional stories about St. Nicholas, or of the Dutch windmills) stamped on the front side before baking; the back is flat. Owing to the prevalance of images of windmills on these cookies, many people even refer to them as windmill cookies.
The unique taste of Speculaas comes from cinnamon and ginger. Some varieties use some almond flour and have slivered almonds embedded in the bottom (and these are called Amandel Speculaas). It is popular throughout the country around Christmas.

 


Stroopwafels


 


Anne Frank



Oliebollen
Oliebol is the singular word, and its plural is Oliebollen, and literally means "balls of oil". It is a traditional Dutch food, consumed around New Year's Eve and also a fun-fairs . If you are in Amsterdam in December, you are more than likely to find a Oliebollen vendor at the Dam square!
The flour it is made from is no different from doughnut flour, but often times has currants, raisins, and apple pieces insite it. This flour made into spherical shapes and deep fried, and sprinkled with copious amounts of powdered sugar.

 



Delft blauw
Delft Blauw (Delft is the name of a Dutch village, and Blauw means Blue (color)) is blue pottery, and gets its name from the Dutch village which made it famous - Delft. Though the origin of this kind of pottery is not Dutch, but the name sticks due to the prevalance of this kind of pottery from the areas in and around Delft. In addition to the pottery, the Delft Blauw name also encompasses other articles made from the same technique, like tiles, coasters, flower vases, and cheese slicers.
Today, Delfts Blauw is the brand name hand painted on the bottom of ceramic pieces identifying them as authentic and collectible.

 




Red Light District

For many tourists the Red Light District is the main tourist attraction, though they may not always admit it! Owing to its history as an old trading port, Amsterdam has always had a flourishing prostitution business, and the Dutch openness towards sex has resulted in a legal and well established red light district. The red light district dates back to the 14th century when sailors arrived in need of some female company, and is full of coffee shops, sex shops, theatres, video shops, brothels, gay bars, and some eateries and hotels.

The Amsterdam red light district occupies a large part of the oldest part of the city, and is only a couple of minutes of walking away from the Centraal station - the main train station of Amsterdam. The place is a good walkabout any time of the day due to its beautiful buildings and canals, but the later part of the day is quite busy with tourists flocking in for some window shopping, or some business.

The main draw of the red light district is the fluorescent red color lit glass windows with a sex girl inside in a bikini - often a fluorescent one as well. The girls often tap on the inner side of the window to attract attention, and you are allowed more than a peek if you show some interest.

It is not uncommon to come across junkies in this part of the town, and you should guard your belongings very carefully. That said, the red light district is among the most policed areas of the town, and is quite safe. All the shops, and business owners, are licensed by the government, and any nuisance is quickly handled by the able policemen.

When you go on a walk in the Amsterdam red light district, or the red light district of other major Dutch cities (like Utrecht), you will find narrow alleys between centuries old stone buildings, with their ground floor houses converted to small cabins, with the full front doors showing off bikini-clad prostitutes perched on stools.

Between customers they occasionally tap the windows from the inside to attract the tourist attention (and dollars!), flip through magazines, punch keys on their cell phones, pretend to file their nails, apply lipstick, or simply stare back at the onlookers. Many of the girls are immigrants - African, Middle Eastern. The store-front style display of the prostitutes was shockingly unabashed and frank; as if Dutch society had simply given up trying to fix the problem, handed out condoms and business licenses. Theatre Casa Rosso and the Banana Bar are two very popular theatres with live shows.


Red Light District of Amsterdam


 




Amsterdam's Canals
Although the large number of canals in Amsterdam are a major tourist attraction, they, just like most other water bodies elsewhere in the country, serve a very practical purpose - to keep the water out.
Having majority of the Netherlands below the sea level, has led to innovative ways of managing the land mass available, and to ensure that water is controlled and restricted at all times.

Owing to the large number of canals in Amsterdam, and their use for transport, has led to Amsterdam being dubbed as 'the Venice of the North'. Beginning from the city centre - or the Amsterdam Centraal railway station - the canals start in more or less concentric circles. The first being the Herengracht, followed by Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht. The fourth one - Brouwersgracht - actually interconnects the other three canals. Other than the above four, there are some other smaller canals like Bloemgracht, Leliegracht and Singel.

A trip to Amsterdam must include a boat cruise in the agenda. The canal tour by boat gives a very different view of the city, and the ideal time would be late evening, when the buildings and bridges along the canals are well lit giving the city a surreal look.
 



Open markets - farmers' markets

Open markets, aka farmers' markets are a regular feature in most of the Holland cities. In fact, each neighborhood in the city holds an open market on a particular day of the week. This is a market for the nearby farmers, and other merchants to setup temporary shops and sell their wares.

The atmosphere at these markets is very lively, with adequate options for eating, and often live bands performing and live food on offer. One of the most popular open markets is the Albert Cuyp market.

One of the largest and the oldest open market is in Amsterdam and is "the Albert Cuypmarkt". It is arguably the best-known and busiest outdoor market in the whole of Europe. It attracts thousands of visitors every day, and is especially busy on Saturdays. There are over 300 stalls and goods range from fresh produce, sea foods, to clothes, to fashion accessories, with prices among the cheapest in Amsterdam. The market is located in the Pijp district, surrounded by many pleasant cafes and small shops. As always, if you visit the open markets, skip the breakfast and arrive hungry to savor the delicacies on offer -  my favorite are the hot waffles with chocolate or banana sauce.
 


Attitude towards sex

The Dutch tolerance towards sex and soft drugs have made them quite (in)famous, and brought them more tourist money that they could have imagined. Having stayed in Netherlands more than a weekend, I can safely say that the tolerance has as much to do with business sense on the part of the Dutch government, as it has to do with the Dutch culture.

Amsterdam is famous for its tolerance toward sex and soft drugs. During summers, when most colleges have a break, its hostels brim with herds of backpackers attracted by the gaudy sex shops - which occupy those buildings’ bottom floors - that draw tourists. When you go on a walk in the Amsterdam red light district, or the red light district of other major Dutch cities (like Utrecht), you will find narrow alleys between centuries old stone buildings, with their ground floor houses converted to small cabins, with the full front doors showing off bikini-clad prostitutes perched on stools. The sight may make you
drop your jaw, but neither the government, police or the churches mind it.
 


Marijuana, space cakes and smart drugs

The places identified as "coffee shop" in major Dutch cities are normally not what you would expect from a regular street-side cafe in a European city. Instead they are all, without exception, places where you can buy and smoke your legal pot. Coffee is the last thing you would expect to be served there. The attendants are normally pretty knowledgeable at handling first-timers and tourists, and you would do well to heed their advise. Drugs are available in a whole range of strengths - sometimes mentioned on a scale of 10.

The soft drug industry in Netherlands has a jargon of its own, where phrases like "space cakes", "magic mushrooms", suddenly don a new meaning. Again, just like the Dutch tolerance of paid sex, the tolerance of soft drugs is an inventive form of adventure tourism - the attraction that puts the otherwise modest city of Amsterdam on the backpacker radar.

By the government's standpoint, by legalizing the soft drug industry they have allowed experimenting teenagers and occasional adrenaline seekers to get their fix in a low dosage retail environment, and thus ensure that these categories of adventure seekers do not fall in the illegal and dangerous world of hard drugs. This policy of tolerance of soft drugs has thus prevented the occasional adventure seekers from becoming a client of a shady dealer, who would then push harder drugs.
 


The Dutch food

The Dutch food, though limited in variety, is a veritable mix of meat and vegetable preparations, sweet and sour dishes, and some revolting tastes.

The Dutch have been more of vegetable eaters than meat consumers, where the main meal had often mashed potatoes (available all year round) with other mashed vegetables. This dish is called "stamppot" in Dutch.

The Dutch fast food may consist of French fries, with some kind sauce (commonly mayonnaise or tomato ketchup) and a meat sausage (e.g. Frikandel). There are unsubstantiated stories of the Dutch Frikandel being made up of horse meat, or of left over and often unedible parts of other animals. But these are just that - baseless stories.

Other unique and popular Dutch food items would include Oliebollen, Gouda cheese, and sweet and salty liquorice.

 


Monarchy

The Dutch are a monarchy since the early 19th century and the ruler of the throne can be either a king or a queen. The Dutch constitution clearly describes the rules governing the succession, accession, abdication and removal of the King.

The Dutch love their monarch, and the current queen is received warmly with large crowds wherever she visits.


Queen's day and the garage sale

The 30th of April, every year, is celebrated as the queen's day in Netherlands, and is a national holiday. On this day, the whole country turns into a free market (vrijmarkt), where anybody can sell anything (akin to a garage sale), without having to worry about the permits or taxes.
Besides, the whole country wears a festive color (predominantly orange) and the streets swam with people reveling in the various eating, drinking and entertainment options that abound.
On the queen's day, the current queen would visit one of the Dutch cities, or receive visitors at her royal residence.


 

Gay parade


Surinami population, the Ujala radio and the Indian connection

Due to historical reasons, Netherlands happens to have a large Surinami population, and, by a twist of fate, there is a large community in Surinam, once a Dutch colony, which originated in India. Story has it that, many many years ago, the Dutch imported Indian labourers by ship-loads to Surinam. India was never a Dutch colony but this emigration of labourers was facilitated by the British, who ruled India then. Most of these labourers were picked up from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Upon visiting the Netherlands, you will be surprized to find a large Indian-looking populace. These are mostly Surinami people, and their culture and language are still stuck in the late 19th century India. It's no surprise that they still call themselves Hindustani (or another variant of this word). Hindustan is a name that India abandoned soon after its independence in 1947. Their language is a derivative of Bhojpuri, still widely spoken in the northern India.

Admittedly, the Surinami people are very proud of their India lineage and are often found to interact with Indian tourists and proudly demonstrating their knowledge and love of India and its festival. They do worship the Hindu gods and celebrate the Diwali fesitval - the biggest festival for Hindus all over the world.

The Ujala radio caters it precisely this audience and often plays very old Hindi songs, and occasionally Bhojpuri and beautiful folk music. Better still, the radio also airs freely over the internet to the international population.


Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a very popular Dutch food preparation, which is prepared by fermenting very finely shredded cabbage. The shelf life of Sauerkraut is several months when stored in air tight containers, and the Dutch prefer having it with meat, mashed potatoes, or baked beans.


 

Frickandellen


 

Tulips

 


Night time farming of flowerss


Dykes and the water management - football sized gates to keep the sea at bay


 

Front tilting houses and the hooks


 

Orange and the football fever


 

Attitude towards medication


 

Attitude towards criminals


 

Bicycle rickshaws


 

Directness of Dutch people

 


Wooden Shoes
Wooden shoes, also known as clogs, are a Dutch specialty and a very good option if you are looking for something Definitely Dutch to buy while you are there. They are, still, traditionally worn by the farmers when working in the farms and are quite rugged. However, when worn with thick socks they are known to be quite comfortable and safe.


Wooden shoes are a Dutch specialty

 

 

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