In Dutch you don’t say, ‘I love you’. You say, ‘Godver mijn klote fiets is alweer gejat,’ It means, ‘Our hearts will be together forever, even when we’re apart.’ I love that. Such a beautiful language.
Somebody else’s words but I agree with all my heart.
But first things first. We took a cruise ship from Harwich to cross the English Channel and what ship it was! Our coach trundled into its belly where several coaches and cars were parked. We picked up our overnight bags and were swished up to the main deck, spacious with dining spaces, bars, lounges, duty-free shops, kids play zone and a casino. Huge windows gave wide views of the harbour and later the sea. Open decks at various levels provided 360 degrees range of vision but the English rain and wind discouraged viewers.
Rocked to sleep by a smooth crossing in a very comfortable cabin, we woke up to golden sunshine as the Hoek of Holland approached. Closer ashore, the windmills marching up the coastline waved their arms welcoming us. We lost no chance of photo-ops on the now-dry open decks with the windmills blessing us from behind. We decked and realized that we were actually entering Europe and the Schnegan region as immigration proceeded. I tried out my ‘dank u’ on the Immigration Officer and was rewarded by a smile and a ‘thank you’.
As we drove down to Amsterdam, rolling fields dotted by random farms were evidence of Netherlands dependency on agro products. For the famous cheese, apparently they still use huge wooden vats to stir the milk, adding citric acid, herbs, etc to give it taste as we were shown in a cheese-making factory. I was inspired enough to pick up a wheel of chili cheese. Nowadays, to suit the inclination of Indian tourists, they even make cumin cheese. By the way, the lady explaining the process greeted us with a ‘namaste’!
Red poppies bloom wild (tulip season was over), the air was clean and pure and cyclists pedaled everywhere. Apparently every citizen in the country owns a cycle and Netherlands is one of the first countries to have a network of cycle ways that takes you anywhere in the country. In Amsterdam, we had to look out more for the cycles zipping past than cars and trams while crossing the road.
Amsterdam, a city of charming canals, elegant gabled houses, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, is delightful. Its patchwork of waterways forms about 90 islands that are connected by 1,500 bridges which have been financed by the wealth the city acquired during the Dutch Golden Age, when Holland was the wealthiest nation in the world. Most of the prosperity poured into the country from the Dutch East India Company. So one can assume many of our ancestors funded the beauty of Amsterdam.
Today the city’s gilded mansions, beautiful facades that look like gingerbread houses and vibrant people make it a very pleasant place. I loved Dam Square which has the Palace of the Queen, the monument of freedom, a beautiful protestant church – Nieuwekerk and an elegant department store De Bijenkorf. The square was named Dam probably as early as 1270, because the River Amstel has been closed here, and the harbour has been created behind. The cafes off this square spread their tables on the pavement. Leisurely conversation with bottles of wine toasted the long, serene evening.
We took a boat tour on the canals of Amsterdam, passing well-appointed houseboats. The white garden chairs among pots of riotous summer flowers set out on their decks were so inviting. Amsterdam is known for its icons of art history – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh. We sailed past the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum but unfortunately did not have the time visit them. Continuous sequences of arched bridges, some very old, spanning the canals were picture perfect while it was intriguing to examine the huge flood gates that controlled the sea water from entering the city in the earlier days. Netherlands’ intricate system of flood gates and dikes prove that the Dutch believe in ‘Live with sea. Don’t fight it’.
Driving out of Amsterdam on the way to Brussels, we came upon a true-blue windmill. There was a general clamouring for photo-ops. We posed with the old, dark mill, its four huge hands spread eagled across the blue sky splattered with fleecy clouds.
Did you know that there isn't a single windmill owner in Holland who doesn't have a second job, for when there is no wind? Anyway, in Netherlands unemployment is unheard of. The country tops in work-life balance and is above average in jobs and earnings, housing, education and skills, in subjective well-being, environmental quality, personal safety, and health status. No wonder, it is one of the countries in the world with highest scores in the percentage of happiness index.
First published on www.storyfuntastika.com. Copyright@Sutapa Basu 2016