Sharing the bill – paying your part – going Dutch as it is known. My Dutch friends joke that they have earned their reputation of being … well let’s call it frugal. Taking a close up look at the Dutch and their history makes you think twice about calling them frugal. After all many Dutch almost starved to death in the second world war after the failure of Operation Market Garden. A tour of the cemetery in Arnhem is a sobering experience. How touching that people visit these graves regularly. One young glider pilot buried there has a postcard at the foot of his tombstone. It’s from his buddy in the war who made it out. On the postcard a picture of a young man in uniform and a much older man sitting in a glider. “Hi Sport” says the postcard “I said I would come back and thank you for paying the ultimate sacrifice.” Each year the local schoolchildren place bouquets on each grave as thanks for the soldiers who tried to save them.
Our guide for this moving tour was surprisingly a witness to the bombing and attack on Arnhem and told us how she still vividly remembers hiding in the cellar with her family who told her that the loud bangs were just from a big thunderstorm overhead. Years later she would have the urge to run into the cellar if ever there was a thunderstorm.
The Netherlands is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you are going to get but are sure to be surprised around every corner. Little gems like Volendam and Edam are well worth exploring. You can be ambitious and explore it by bike as I did. Bit of a disaster actually. I think I was a danger to every other biker, motorist and pedestrian around, but the joy of being on a well maintained bike path biking through the Dutch countryside was really well worth the high level of fear I was experiencing. My shoulders were quite sore afterwards – not from the exercise but from the tension. Probably similar to the amount of tension the motorists experienced when they saw me coming.
Williamstad is another lovely gem. Tiny little cobbled stone streets with orderly little houses facing onto squares of green space, old churches and cycle paths. A delightful little place. Again this is another place that goes onto my “Worthy of Another Visit List”.
Finally back to Amsterdam – be sure to avoid the central area of the city. The tourist masses around the station and the red light district can result in a crowded, dirty and noisy experience. Instead head out of the centre of the city to the more residential side of Amsterdam. Areas around the Jordaan district are quite delightful with leafy canals and cute pavement cafes with tables and chairs perched on the very edge of the canal. The sun was shining but the air was still frigidly cold so a hot gluwhein was a welcome treat.
Amsterdammers love their bikes…. the city survives on its bike transportation and bike lanes are an important part of the landscape. But be careful on those lanes. The bike riders are not patient with bewildered tourists wandering vaguely into their path. It might be safer crossing against the traffic on the road. A few pictures to conjure up the experience.