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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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
Speculaas is a type of Dutch
biscuits (cookie), traditionally baked for consumption on
St Nicholas' Eve -
Dutch - in the Netherlands (December
5). However, in recent years, Speculaas are available throughout
the year and can be bought from stores like
. 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 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
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, 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
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.
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 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 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
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.
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 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.
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
Directness of Dutch people