Coming from Australia, yet having Dutch grandparents, I’m not a complete stranger to Dutch things. Growing up, we had Poffertjes, Stamppot, and Braadvlees (– not all at once! ). We had Krokets, and Oliebollen between Christmas and New Years. I’ve had my fair share of chocolate sprinkles on bread for breakfast, and I even had a set of clogs to klomp around in at Oma’s house. I thought the calendar behind her toilet door with everyone’s birthdays written down was completely normal. I had heard Opa use various colourful language in Dutch when things weren’t going right, and heard Oma say “weet je wel?” a hundred times on the phone to her friends.
However, when I visited The Netherlands for the first time, it was fascinatingly different. An amazing juxtaposition of familiar sounds and things in a strange environment.
Here are a few of the things I found interesting on my first trip to Holland:
• Parking stations for bicycles – now this really makes sense, given that there are more bikes in the Netherlands than there are people, or so I am told. ( I personally haven’t conducted a census or anything). I know that it is practical and logical and all that, but still – unique!!
• Unbelievably steep stairs – When we arrived at our apartment, with luggage in tow, we opened the door to go in and – there they were! We just stopped dead. How on earth do we get up there – with luggage??? It was like looking at a ladder. Tiny little narrow tread, steep stairs. Well, no good standing in the street – up we go. Mum and I went first. About half way up, we got the giggles about the whole situation, and we just stood there balanced precariously on these amazing stairs, holding heavy suitcases and shaking with laughter. Dad probably thought we were going to come toppling back down the stairs, luggage and all, and end up in the street like humpty dumpty. We didn’t though, we managed to hold it together and hoik that luggage up the ladder staircase.
Well that was just the first hour or so in the country. After that, we found that the stairs were actually that steep everywhere you go, apparently space being a premium and all, one doesn’t waste it with luxurious stairs that you can actually place your entire foot on…..
These photos show the stairs in our apartment, and the stairs in the windmill that we went into at Zaanse Shans. Even the trains have a narrow little step to climb in and out of the carriages with!
• Buildings that lean – Now, after making the herculean effort getting our suitcases up those stairs (mental note – now I understand the wisdom of the phrase “ travel light” ) the first thing we did was put the bags down and look around the room. Next thing we hear, is the bag rolling across the floor towards the street. We all looked at each other and cracked up again with laughter. Turns out the building was leaning into the street, so you walked downhill towards the street, and uphill towards the back of the house. It took us a while to get the hang of the house, but we thoroughly enjoyed staying in it!
• Wonky buildings that make you think your eyes are playing tricks on you – As we walked around Amsterdam, we saw some other incredibly wonky buildings. Some leaning into the street, some leaning sideways. Others looked like they started building and the foundation shifted and the building started to lean, so they corrected the building by continuing on at a different angle.
• Oliebollen to go! – I had been told stories of how you could buy the oliebollen – I was looking forward to finding them. (Usually if I want to have oliebollen, I have to spend 2 hours making them first! So this was a complete novelty!! ) Here is the place we found at Zeist on one of our day trips.
Their Krentenbollen certainly were delicious!!
• Febo – krokets in the wall!! – This was truly a ‘wow’ moment. Again, usually to eat a kroket you have to first stand there and cook the mix, then cool it so you can roll, crumb & fry them. So to just walk up to a wall full of different things including krokets – awesome!
• Windmills – Molen – as intrinsically Dutch as klompen (clogs)
I loved the fact the most of these windmills were built before Captain Cook even discovered Australia! The Kinderdijk windmill area is a UNESCO world heritage site, and that being a special interest of mine, made it even more amazing for me to finally see them in person.
• Paddocks that have canals instead of fences – An owner of horses at the time, I found this captivating. We could barely keep our horses in separate paddocks with wire and wood fencing – but canals of water?? What actually stops the animals from going for a swim and escaping?? As we travelled around, I saw this all the time. Canals of water dividing paddocks, and then just a gate every now and then. Maybe a Dutch farmer who reads this will tell me how it works!
• Zaanse Schans – aww… this village is all about showing you what it was like in the Netherlands in the 18th – 19th century. They have houses on canals with bridges that open by hand, a clog making workshop, and cheese making. There are also windmills that you can go inside and climb up the very steep stairs (ladder) to get to the top (see picture above, re: stairs). We even saw some hand painted ice skates – the kind my Opa used to have to strap on his shoes and skate along the canals in winter.
The village is easy to get to by train from Amsterdam centraal, and well worth a day trip out to see it. Here’s the link to the site for more information: Zaanse Schans
• Bicycles are everywhere – no really, they are just everywhere you look. Either with someone riding them at the time, or chained up to a nearby fence or post. I saw bikes that had a shopping cart at the front, and many different types of child seat attachments. I even saw ladies in skirts and high heels riding bikes around ( I don’t have a photo of this, so you’re either going to have to take my word for it, or go there and see it for yourself)
I was wondering if this was the equivalent to Dutch training wheels?
• McDonalds – McKroket – My sister has this penchant for seeing what’s different in all the McDonalds restuarants around the world. (Until I travelled with her, I didn’t even know that every country has a different, individual, menu item unique to that country) So every visit to another country involves at least one visit to McDonalds. (Not to mention that you can always rely on there being a toilet if not actually in McDonalds, then at the very least, close by!!). We were so chuffed to find the Dutch menu item was McKroket!! Yeah!!
• Houseboats – lining the Amstel river and the canals in Amsterdam are an assortment of unusual house boats. Originally, these houseboats were a way to deal with the Amsterdam housing shortage, however, nowadays they are in high demand. Some started out as cargo ships and were converted into accommodation, whilst others were purpose built to be lived in. They are many and varied, and all completely unique, including greenhouses, conservatories, and outdoor entertaining areas. There was even a two story one, and one that was constructed with bricks! Many of these houseboats are available to rent as accommodation for a stay in Amsterdam.
This one even comes with a grass lawn space on the roof!!
• Van der Linde Ijs – we loved this place, not just for the delicious ice cream ( de lekkerste) but also because this is our family name too!
I had a fantastic time and I can’t wait to go back! See if you can find yourself a deal on accommodation, or even a houseboat, for your next visit to Amsterdam: